Monday, July 16, 2018

Strange roads and even stranger sights – yes, one more summer road trip is in the books!

It was barely a week that passed before we were packing our bags again and heading back out onto America’s highways. For this trip, we had the BMW i8 back in the garage following its minor traffic accident in Plano, Texas, so it once again became the chosen mode of transportation. Our BMW M4 was given time off following its trip to Las Vegas for the HPE big tent marketing event, HPE Discover 2018. It continues to surprise us how well the i8 is suited to grand touring and there is ample room to fit our soft bags along with a couple of soft suit carriers. With summer prices for gas skyrocketing, having a hybrid that only needs a top-off of its miniscule gas tank every three hundred miles or so, it proved an advantageous choice once we crossed into California and saw how expensive gas had become – almost $5 at one gas station!

This trip would take us back to Las Vegas and then on to Simi Valley, California, before we turned north to Half Moon Bay for a week of meetings over the other side of the hills and much deeper into Silicon Valley. We elected to drive to the west coast using the backroads that took us through Capital Reef, Dixie National Park, and we then kissed Bryce National Part before heading into Las Vegas. We have driven this route a couple of times now, but as with any trip we embark on, the time of year and the prevailing weather meant that it provided a different vista for us. And the roads had been upgraded, too!

This post is a story of differences – different routes, different hotels and different people. The true value that comes from travelling by car soon becomes obvious – there are no real schedules and no lines to join. Business continues to do well and it offers us more opportunities to plot our own course and it is this newfound flexibility that, for Margo and me, is a true testament to “luxury in modern times.” Not to put down any of you good friends who head to the airports and fly from town to town as we have both lived that lifestyle, but to be able to spend time together is, as they say, priceless. And a lot more – we have gone out of our way to have cars we enjoy driving so they rarely stay in the garage long and this past week and a half in the i8 more than doubled the pleasure of being together, enjoying the ever-changing scenery western United States provides.  

Las Vegas, for the July 4 holidays, wasn’t our original intent and we didn’t see any fireworks – why is it that so many cities now put on their fireworks displays the evening before? July 3? What have we missed all these years? But Vegas is always Vegas and having only just returned from spending a week in Vegas for HPE Discover it was a lot more relaxed this time, with no meetings to attend. On the other hand, we are now into our second year of publishing the digital magazine, NonStop Insider, and as it so happened, we spent a goodly bit of time hunched over our laptops editing the final submissions. 

Fortunately, our colleagues in Scotland helped out a lot and we were able to go live July 12 and if as yet you haven’t been following us on this new undertaking, check out the link: Margo is the Managing Editor and it is proving to be a lot of fun working with the HPE NonStop community even as we continue to grow the readership so yes, if you visit the site, make sure you click the button and become a subscriber. Vegas meant more than work, of course. We have been dining at Mastro’s almost from the time it opened and we make sure each time we stop by The Strip we take the time to enjoy one of Mastro’s finest steaks. And the martinis as well – this is the home to the smoking appletini served over dry ice!

While the price for fine dining seems to be creeping skyward with each visit, we did save a lot of money even as we tucked into another great steak. Directly across from the entrance to Mastro’s Ocean Club is Christian Louboutin, and a visit there never ends well. But not this time – Margo finally found the pair she had been looking for, with a discount she appreciated, but the fit just wasn’t comfortable. So no, not this time. No Prada purse and no Jimmy Choo shoes! So dinner was a pleasant escape from what otherwise could have been a more costly outing. We finished our July 4 evening at the Paris hotel in the bar where there were the dueling pianos and that too has taken on an almost ritualistic air as we stop by whenever it’s late at night and we are down at that end of The Strip.

With a shorter day’s driving ahead of us we skipped breakfast electing instead to drop in on the 1950s dinner, Peggy Sue’s. An attraction on the interstate, after you pass through the agriculture gates into California and alongside a massive Marine Logistics base, the food can only best be described as average but  it’s always a heck of a lot of fun to check out the small print on the photos and other memorability plastered all over the walls. After eating lunch for some unclear reason we elected to finish with a slice of banana cream pie and that was a huge mistake. We both looked at each other as we continued our drive into Simi Valley and asked each other, what have we done? 

The coastline of southern California, just north of Malibu, is one of the most spectacular coastlines anywhere in the world. Coming from an Australian who happened to grow up spending a lot of time on Sydney’s fabulous beaches, this is really saying something. As the photo above attests to, the isolation is complete even if just around the tip of this particular section of coastline lays the bustling masses of humanity that invade Malibu around the clock. 

This is one more reason why we do the driving that we do – add opportunities to find peace and quiet to the list that includes flexibility and choice of roads. If not now, at this point in our lives, then when? Those following us on Facebook know we are finishing the lower, walk-out, level of our Windsor home for exactly the same reason. If not now, then, what are we waiting for and, isn’t it a lot better to be able to enjoy our home while we can? Returning to old haunts and checking out all the sights we grew to love so much reinforced the decision we elected to make years ago to get out there to join our friends as often as time allows.      

What drew us to Simi Valley this time was a combination of work and social interactions. We were able to catch up with a former client even as we took advantage of our good friends’, the Kenny’s, swimming pool.  California is all about backyard grills and time spent in the pool. It’s also about dropping in on fishing ports and sampling seafood right off the boat. Our destination this time was Brophy’s at Ventura and the day provided perfect weather even if it was a tad hot – on this day, it was hotter than Las Vegas and that rarely happens along the coast. While we were in Simi Valley temps climbed as high as 118 degrees, so spending time by the water or in the pool shouldn’t come as a surprise. As this road trip was primarily business focused, I have to admit we did feel a little guilty spending the weekend in this fashion. On the other hand, there are many roads that lead to California and taking one less travelled seemed to us to be more than enough compensation for taking time away from home.

The Saturday night proved memorable as our hosts, Brian and Jan, threw a small dinner party that saw us rekindling friendships with folks we had gotten to know so well when we lived in Simi Valley. Even though we returned to Boulder in 2011, time has been very kind to all of us and the conversations picked up pretty much from where they left off. There were some new faces, of course, and when the Kenny’s friend, Maurice, turned up in his newest car, a Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera, it proved to be too much eye candy to ignore. But once outside, guess which car then attracted the most attention – yes, the i8 and it came as a surprise to Margo and me to find out from Maurice that only the V12 Lambos came with scissor doors! One surprise came when our former client remarked, on arriving for the evening, when he and his wife said, OK so that’s the Buckles new car and it’s yellow, again! There have been stranger sightings through the years …

There is no question whatsoever about the best route from Simi Valley to Half Moon Bay is via the Pacific Coast Highway and then up 101 for a short spell before crossing over to the coast and driving California Highway 1. Well, almost no other option, if you want to experience California coastal living at its finest! Unfortunately, after passing Cambria, it all went downhill for us and even though the bridge near Big Sur has been fixed, a new landslide had closed the highway so it was back to good old highway 101, one more time. We did manage to get back to highway 1 at Monterey and then continued all the way up to Half Moon Bay, but somehow, we felt robbed. I guess we have to leave it for another time.

Margo’s niece, Asia, and her husband Jens live in a development that is part of the Ritz Carlton complex a little south of Half Moon Bay proper. Although we did manage a fish dish port side in Half Moon Bay it was all too tempting to eat at the hotel and so yes, we did try out a different restaurant each night before wrapping up our stay returning to the kiosk we visited the first night. Listening to the mournful sounds coming from a bagpipe made the setting of the sun experience rather special, more so than the piper pointing out a pod of whales that happened to be passing by close to shore. And yes, I was able to see three separate whale spouts thanks to our friendly piper. 

Following our business pursuits that took us to nearby Palo Alto, the trip home was one that followed a very familiar course, at least for me. We had made plans to pass through Yosemite – with a side visit to the park itself also part of the plan – cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains at Tioga Pass (some 9,900+ feet), swing by Mono Lake before taking the craziest road on the planet – California Highway 120. Staying overnight at Tonopah (yes, Queen of the Silver Camps) we then took the Extraterrestrial Highway that swings thought a number of air force “protected areas” before picking up Interstate 15 outside Cedar City.

There is a reason why this route was familiar to me, if not to Margo. It was back in 2004, as I recall, that Margo allowed a small group of her Insession management team to leave the ITUG event in San Jose to ride motorbikes back to Boulder. You read that right – myself and colleague, Andrew Price, rode our big motorcycle cruisers for all of the 1400 miles it took to get us back to Boulder. Riding sweep was Peter Shell and Neil Coleman in our Cadillac Escalade. Talk about your extreme team building then this just has to be one of the better examples you could ever find as we put in 400+ mile days for four days. This may be a story for another time but I cannot leave it alone before referencing how well Andrew rode our bike from Durango to Boulder while suffering from one of the worst bouts of food-poisoning we had seen: Don’t eat the fish in Durango is all I can add!

Fast forward almost fourteen years and Margo and I elected to stay in the very same motel that our group had stayed in all those years ago.  I just don’t happen to recall the additional signage pointing to where motorcycles could park but then again, maybe our small cavalcade may have started a tradition for the motel. Tonopah would be as far as we would go as we followed that previous route as we headed east to drive the Extraterrestrial Highway. Then again, all those years ago, we had headed south to Las Vegas where some of us swear we saw strange sights indeed that could only be best described as other worldly.

More correctly identified as Nevada State Route 375 (SR 375), the Extraterrestrial Highway stretches for almost 100 miles before you come across anything remotely representing civilization, although the township of Rachel does everything it can to get you to stop (but no gas, mind you) and there are plenty of stylized images of aliens plastered on decaying buildings along the highway. But again, this was a road we just had to take and if folks think US Highway 50 is the loneliest highway in America, think again. SR375 has it all over that busy thoroughfare. On the other hand, residents sighting our i8 gliding noiselessly down the highway may have thought they had seen one more tangible piece of evidence that aliens are among them. Surely the i8 is otherworldly enough to start those still living out that way talking to each other! 

We did pay a price for this latest business trip. It wasn’t the gas, as we barely touched a drop, but rather, we wore the tires down to where there wasn’t any tread left. Fortunately, in today’s internet world, we ordered a replacement set and they were ready for us as we walked into our garage. Perhaps it was symbolic after a fashion – how often do we say we drove the doors off this or that car? This time, it wasn’t the doors, but the tires. Oh well – small price to be paid, in reality. But tires weren’t the only thing waiting for us as we quickly unpacked the i8. Headed to the kitchen and there we were able to round up the first martini for the night. 3,000 plus miles to see strange sights? Priceless!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Pulling the pieces together; from technology to recreational, it’s all good!

These past few weeks it’s all been about the miles we have covered. Road trips took us to Dallas and then after just a few days back in the office took us to Las Vegas. As we work on this post we are looking at yet a third road trip, this time to southern California and then on up the coast to Palo Alto in northern California. It’s summertime so it’s not all that bad even if the temperatures have been scorching hot, but that’s the nature of travel at this time of year. It hasn’t been totally incident free, mind you, but the time out and about on America’s highways still beats standing in line waiting to pass through TSA security even as we hope our upgrades come through.

Dallas proved to be a fun place to visit. Actually, our conference was well north of Dallas as it was held in Plano. This has become a regular part of our summertime routine as we have been to this part of Texas a half a dozen times already in just the past couple of years. In a manner of speaking it has also kept us quite distracted as one group  of contractors after another have been walking through our basement as the work to complete our walkout basement continues. Plans call for a media room, bar and wine cellar, new offices for Margo and me, a number of bathrooms / powder rooms and yes, one more guest bedroom. And it will all open out onto a patio where we will be building in a grill and a fire pit.

Hopefully, as we just passed inspections covering HVAC, plumbing, electricity and framing the dry wall will go up while we are away and when that is complete, we will have a better idea of what we will be facing when it comes to furnishing and decorating. In the meantime we have been in no hurry to live our life in pieces as we watch construction happening all around us. However, the curtains have been chosen so at least the basics will be covered. There has been a lot of additional wiring made to ensure multiple speakers can be fed with soundtracks and music even as we are beefing up security. Getting our offices off the main floor wasn’t our original intent but after working as we have from a third bedroom on the main floor, we really needed a lot more space! So yes, we will be moving offices yet again.

Our most recent road trip took us to Las Vegas where HPE really looked after us. As participants in HPE’s independent bloggers program, we were HPE’s guest for the week and they did it right. First night’s welcome reception saw Margo and I join with other members of the social media community to participate in a fun night of golf – swinging clubs and hitting gold balls into the night from the top floor of a mixed entertainment facility. Not all that certain about just how much fun this would be we were pleasantly surprised by just how congenial everyone participating proved to be and yes, we can recommend a visit to Topgolf, Las Vegas – part of the mixed entertainment located at MGM Grand.

It was a perfect introduction to what turned out to be a pretty intense week as HPE really stepped up its game in terms of reassuring its customers that the R&D being spent was delivering the products and services that they needed. And by all accounts, HPE did exactly that. Ever enjoyed a convention where you had mirrored rock bands performing? By this, the main entertainment at the end of the conference was provided by One Republic, but in the build up to the keynote address the day before, they had a One Republic cover band playing for the audience as we waited the arrival of HPE CEO, Antonio Neri. As we saw at the HPE Discover event in Madrid last November, once again we had race cars on the exhibition floor – not quite as many as in November but still an attraction that pulled in a steady stream of attendees wanting to know what was up with a prototype race car being a part of a tech show.

Golf parties, rock groups, race cars and some great restaurants – HPE certainly pulled out all the stops for us. But for this trip, we resorted to driving a different BMW as the i8 that made the trip to Plano was involved in a very minor traffic incident that required some tender loving care once back in Windsor. It wasn’t a big deal, but it did mean we had to take the M4 to Las Vegas and it was quite a surprise. The heritage of the M4 suggests a brutal track-focused car, but not really these days. Competent enough on the track as it continues to be, it proved to be a pretty good touring car and neither Margo nor I were in a hurry to let the other take over driving responsibilities. Of course, too, once we had the i8 back in our hands we had to give it a thorough cleaning and our neighbor and good friend was quick to demonstrate how a leaf blower can become an effective drying appliance!

In the post of May 20, 2018, Friends – it’s all about time and timing! I wrote of how our good friends’ (the Kennys) grandson (Colton Herta) had managed a clean sweep of all three races at Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Never been done before and it catapulted him to the top of the Indy Lights series ladder. This month, it was off to Milwaukee and the Road America course – a massive four mile lap with elevation changes and just a mess of corners to master – where Colton continued on his winning way. He won the first race on Road America making it four in a row before working hard to fight off other drivers to secure second place in the second race. All of which is to say that he extended his lead in the series. 

The team has been doing very well – Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, a marriage of two royal families – is paving the way for a great career for Colton, but he still has to win and to date and, unlike last year, he is proving that his sophomore year is less about what-ifs and could-haves and better populated with podiums. For grandparents Kennys it is still all a whirlwind of activity as they plan their attendance at different events around the country, but now with a plane, the game plan has changed somewhat. The pieces most definitely fell into place for them this year and they are taking full advantage of the opportunities a quick flight in their plane now avails them -   our next trip that takes us to both south and north California will include a stop at the Kennys home so we fully expect to hear even more about their grandson. 

Two years into the Indy Lights program, Colton has only just turned 18 – his first win of the series last year occurred prior to him turning 17. Last year, when he turned a lap of the Indianapolis Speedway in excess of 200 mph, his dad, Bryan Herta, was being interviewed and when the journalist pointed out Colton’s average lap speed exceeding 200 mph you could tell Dad not only caught he breath but smiled as he muttered something like, “that was quick!” Now, it is really impressive and it shows that with raw talent and abundant opportunity, Colton has taken to open wheel racing unlike any other racer I have seen and he is certainly looking at an exciting future unfolding for him.

This summer I have been posting more about Kenny’s grandchild than our own grandkids, but with nannies and nurses now lined up and the whole family travelling in a car for a week to Minnesota to visit the other Grandparents well, we have not been spending very much time babysitting. Suffice to say our grandkids are growing and it is fun to watch them play together with trains, bikes and yes, cars! As for time with family, on this upcoming road trip, our stay in northern California will be very short this time but we are looking forward to seeing Margo’s niece Joanna and her husband, Jens, even if for a very brief time between meetings back down in Palo Alto!

After two futile attempts at picking up our RV, the day finally arrived when it looked like we would be getting our company command center returned to us … after five months of being in the service bay. Well, almost; getting back into the driver’s seat, the steps once again wouldn’t retract. Unbelievable! Fortunately the problem was quickly diagnosed and even though the RV repair place didn’t have a spare part in inventory, fully aware of its history with us, the service manager pulled a working component from a new RV on display and facilitated an eventual departure back to our new storage facility. Utter relief and as we drove down the highway, it certainly felt wonderful to be able to read all the gauges and to see everything reporting normally. Later this month we will take it out onto the highway for an overnight test of all the systems and really, we can hardly wait to return to our former gypsy’s life!

As it so happens, we have a National Auto Sports Association (NASA) event scheduled for the end of the month so we pulled up the sight and registered for a return to HPDE 3 on the last Saturday of the month. We also took advantage of the events location at High Plains Raceway to book time on the Friday afternoon as it is an open lapping day for all NASA participants. With a little luck we will be able to have a client join us for the Friday affair and so fingers are crossed that this comes to fruition. As for the Corvette, Margo and I have now both driven it on nearby streets and it feels better than new. Suspension upgraded as were tires, brakes and a whole lot more – stiffer drive shaft, for instance, and a more reliable clutch. Only outstanding issue now is whether we make the grade. The car is the sum of many parts and with the pieces all back together again, it will be up to us to make it all work. Again, can’t wait to be back on track after nearly four years of absence – we both think it was late October, 2014 when last we were on track.

Our RV shop did do us the courtesy of washing our RV and, if you recall earlier photos, the difference is pretty remarkable. It is shining and the windscreen has never looked better. We still consider ourselves fortunate to have found a storage facility that is heated through the winter months very close to where we live, so no, there will be no more need to winterize and then summarize our RV. Translation?  Any good weather that comes our way during winter gives us an option to take the RV for a weekend vacation. We have so many parks just north of us – Yellowstone, Glacier and even further north into Alberta that we simply haven’t driven to so just in our conversations this week, we have more or less decided to look at heading up that way next year. 

This summer has seen us attending events where we have caught up with the HPE NonStop community – looking at how NonStop users will be piecing together solutions from a raft of new NonStop product offerings. We have picked up the pieces of our cars that we “scratched” and have them all back on the road including our beloved RV and Corvette. Glistening like new, washed and pampered as they all have been it’s finally dawned on us of how fortunate we are to be able to get out onto America’s highways and go wherever business and  leisure time takes us and we know that this is not always an option for many we know.

For as long as I can recall, we Aussies have always been told we are from the “Lucky Country” but you know, I don’t think we are doing it all that bad this far from Australia’s shores. Margo now prides herself as being an honorary “New Australian” but living as we do in America, getting out and about as often as we do, we can’t help but be thankful that so many moving parts – all those scattered pieces that make up our lives together – do on occasion come together and it’s all good! So, for those we are about to meet, we look forward to the occasion and for now, it’s back to packing our bags, pulling out maps and checking hotel bookings! Yes, Mr. Joe Walsh, Life's been good to (us) so far …