Friday, July 13, 2012

Dream a Little Dream

I'm assuming you've read part I and part II of this latest road trip? If not, get to it....

All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
-- Edgar Allan Poe, "Dream Within a Dream"
Bits of cottonwood fluff drift through the late day sunlight near Gold Creek, MT
I was so close, I could taste it. Well, if it was Hershey, I would have been at least smelling it at this point, considering 10 hours in the West is like 3 in the East. Everything is just scaled differently out there, from the size of the mountains (bigger) and the speed limits on the roads (faster) and the size of the cities (smaller). Maybe when I grow up, I'll move out there...

I left Missoula around 7:30AM, being a bit lackadaisical about getting up and on the road. Idaho wasn't too far off, and then it was a short jaunt across the panhandle into Washington. 
At the Idaho/Montana border
A rest stop in Idaho netted another "small world" episode, as two former Marines who were manning a trailer handing out coffee and cookies hailed me and asked if I needed anything. I moseyed over to see what they had, and the older of the two badgered me into taking two oatmeal cookies (which actually were delicious) and a bottle of water. I dropped some money into the donation can, and they asked where I was coming from. When I said, "Maryland," they asked specifically where, and of course, I said, "Baltimore."

Turns out, the older Marine was originally from Baltimore too. We reminisced about places where most people don't dare walk alone anymore, talked about some old haunts in Glen Burnie and Pasadena, and how things have changed since he was last back there. By what he was telling me about selling Baltimore Sun papers during World War II, I would venture to say he was in his 80s, and had seen a lot more than I could imagine. It was a cool little interlude in my long journey.

Soon enough, I was through Spokane and approaching the Columbia River. All I remembered from the trip last year was the windmills on the other side of the river, and I was just glad that I didn't have to see them in the dark again. As I approached the gorge, I decided to stop and take a few pictures at the Wild Horses Monument viewpoint.

Vantage Bridge. I can't see how it survives if the Columbia River floods.
The windmills aren't as terrifying in the daylight
Ryegrass Summit Rest Area
I don't know why they scare me. But they do. Like combines and bridges
Through Yakima and Naches in the broad daylight, I got on US12 and kept plugging away. In the meantime, Sammy had taken a bus to Billings, then another train to Sandpoint, ID, where Shelly picked him up. While I was still on the road, he was at the event site before 2PM!
The site of Sammy's rescue
I took my time arriving in Packwood, partly because I wanted to, and partly because I got stuck behind John Vitamvas's typical nightmare -- a gold Camry that thought the world revolved around them. I stopped at a viewpoint to get a few pictures, which got me out of that train, and then checked into the Cowlitz as I rolled into town.
Mount Rainier hidden behind clouds, likely condensation.
Hey, I needed more than just my car on the salt flats this time!
I paddocked across from Andy Hollis and Joe Austin, got my tires changed and car teched, checked into registration, then grabbed some tacos from the welcome party (they had a taco truck!) and walked the course with some of the local guys who were convinced that I was fast and I'd show them the fast line. It was weird having them following me, like I was Sam Strano or Mike Johnson conducting an official course walk. But I went along with it, making sure they understood that I was walking the course for the first time and hadn't really thought a whole lot about where I'd be looking and all that.
My little paddock spot
The inside view of the taco truck, where the magic was happening!
After doing some course walks, I heard that Shelly was pulling out the glass pumpkins she'd brought for any interested autocrossers. Evidently, she and Ken Mollenauer make these glass pumpkins for a festival in Los Angeles, and they sell out every year. I went over with Ann Hollis, Kristi Brown and some others to look, and fell in love with this little orange one.
The stem is silvery in color and there are 24K gold accents all over.

So, as often happens at a ProSolo or National Tour, there were the Friday night parties around the site, but they all seemed to congregate at the Hymans' RV. As the sun set, the frozen margaritas were poured, and then Kevin Dietz and Terri Mayo showed up with the Tron2000 and glow sticks.

Everyone was decked out in glow sticks, compliments of Kevin and Terri
The party soon moved from the event site to "downtown" Packwood, specifically the Blue Spruce. Geoff Clark and I rode down in my WRX, dropped the pumpkin off at the hotel, then met up with Ron Bauer, Karl Coleman, Matthew Braun, Dennis Healy, Scott Fraser and pretty much half of the entrants. At one point, Geoff ordered a drink called a "trash can" and then proceeded to ignore it until we teased him about how full it still was.
Geoff never got this low, not even close.
Last call rolled around a lot quicker than anyone thought it would. Geoff said he'd walk back to the event site (he was camping), and knowing it was close, but not so close that I would want to walk 15 minutes in an area where elk and possibly other large mammals roam at night, I told him I'd drive him back. So, we walked the 3 minutes back to the hotel, I drove him to the site and then was back in my room within the time he would have been able to walk the entire distance.
I wanted to let people know I wasn't ignoring them if they texted or called! So what if I posted it at 2:30AM? ;)

Right outside my room on Saturday morning.
The intent was to get to the event site around 6:30AM, walk the courses again, make sure the tire pressures were close, and just generally be ready to go ASAP. The reality? I left the hotel at 7AM, ran into Sammy and Shelly at the gas station next door as I put a few gallons in the WRX and grabbed a breakfast sandwich, and then after walking the courses, ran into Kristi Brown who was asking if Greg was definitely not coming.

"Definitely not. He texted me on Tuesday. Why?"

"Do you want a class?" she asked me. I'd seen the orange Boss 302 Mustang on my way into the paddock building that morning. I was intrigued. "Stacey Molleker is trying to put something together."

Laura Molleker came over at that point to tell me the tentative plan. "Stacey will switch from AS to ESP, and then Kit Gauthier's wife, Jess, will switch to run open," she says.

"I appreciate the effort," I told them, "but I'm very particular about who I let drive my WRX. If it was the Camaro..."

Laura nodded in understanding. "Stacey's got a plan," she said and I told her to just let me know.

Turns out that they enlisted Jodi Fordahl's friend Tim Weidemann, who was signed up to run FS in his Cadillac CTS-V. And just like that, there were five in ESP, and I didn't have to run a futile race against Marshall Grice and Tom Berry and Scott Fraser in bump class.
My car is still the out of place one, being the non-domestic :(
We ran in group five, so we worked shift A, and that was fun, working course with Brian Coulson and Matt Tagles. Our station wasn't too busy, and the pace was good, so we weren't bored nor were we overworked. Then, it was time to prep the car and bring it to grid.

First runs were not good. As usual, I did not do practice starts, and I haven't autocrossed the WRX since the DC ProSolo. So, I pull up, stage, and promptly have a low 0.4 redlight on my very first right side run. No worries, right? I cross over to the left, launch and manage to cone an otherwise decent run. Blah.

Back to the right side, and I'm thinking that I just want to get a time in the books. Nothing worse than going into the afternoon with no time on one side. The shot clock ticks down, one second left, and I see the stage light go out. What. The. F.... damn it. No time to fix it. I launch, cutting a 0.3 light, dive into the first slalom and almost lose it, opting to take the failure trifecta with a DNF at that point. I meekly pull up for my last run, and rip off the fastest time in ESP on that side. Small consolation.

So, results come out to impound and I see I'm not the only one struggling with the right. Stacey, too, has no time in the books with a RL and a DNF on the right, so we're the ones trailing the pack. The afternoon would start with Kit and Tim paired up with Stacey and I trailing. I shook my head at the absurdity of getting beat by a stock CTS-V and then went out to the Hancock Cafe for lunch on Geoff's recommendation.

I get back in time to walk the courses again, once each side. I'm not quite sure what I'm looking for; I just feel I should walk them, and I need some time to just think. I'm not launching well. In fact, my clutch smelled terrible when I got to impound after morning runs, and I know that part of it is just relearning how to launch the car with this new Competition Clutch. The start seems pretty well rubbered in, and I just figured maybe I'm more tired than I thought and I should just rest up before my runs.
The view from our worker station.

Sammy and Matthew both talk to me about my driving. Sammy points out the obvious -- that I'm launching poorly -- and tells me that maybe I need to launch at a higher RPM. Matthew talks to me about how tight I need to be through the last part of the right course; I take his advice as saying it's similar to the Youngers course at Nationals last year, where you can only lose time, not gain it. As I work the course in the afternoon, I try to pay more attention to the lines of the fast people I see. All three of us are dissecting what people are doing coming into the opening slalom; are they braking or just lifting? Has does that translate to our cars? We were watching STS Miatas and BS S2000s, not XP LSx powered RX7s and ESP WRXs.
STU is gridded up? Must be time to pull the WRX over 50 ft from paddock to grid.
So, I'm paired up with Stacey again, and we pull to the line for our runs. I am thinking, "Five grand.... yeah, five grand sounds like a plan," for my launch, though I never launch that high. First run, very smooth, and, most importantly, clean. I jump over to the left, same launch, and I'm a tick slower than my fast run from the morning. Okay, no biggie, back to the right, I'm in a groove now, guess what? Oh hell, yes, 1.1s improvement from the first run, and it's back to the left, I've got this.... 28.6.... plus a cone. Crap. Damn. I'd be legitimately leading ESP if not for that. So, I'm still sitting on the 29.1 from the morning, and it has me 0.4 back from the lead, in third for Sunday.

I have the time. I have the car to do it. I just need to do it.

We wrap things up at the site, and Geoff tells me a bunch of people are meeting for dinner at Cruiser's Pizza. I go back to the hotel, clean up and change, and walk over to the pizza place. Geoff's already there, and we order a split pizza (since neither of us is hungry enough for a whole one), and as we finish up, Gretchen Everett and Tasha Mikko bring in a cake and start singing, "Happy Birthday" to Geoff. Like the previous night at the Spruce, it seems half the entrants are there, and everyone's joining in. Turns out Geoff's birthday is just a few days after the event, so they decided to celebrate it early.
Geoff's cake with a picture of his car; he didn't cut the car section at Gretchen's behest
It was back to the Blue Spruce after dinner to watch some more karaoke (and boy, did we get a show when Scott Fraser's girlfriend did her rendition of the infamous Davinyls' song!), then when the gigantic tequila shots came out, I slugged it down, then as Geoff was leaving, I took the opportunity to cut out early myself. I did not need to start tequila shots when I had a legitimate chance of winning the class. I usually save the tequila for when there's no hope.

Back to the event site at 7AM, I managed to not get anything for breakfast -- this would become important later -- but I did take another set of course walks before checking in to work. It was do or die for me, as third place wasn't even a trophy, much less a tire, and it was somewhat frustrating to know that stupid cone was the current determining factor, plus I knew the cone was one of those "barely" cones, where I caught it with the rear tire, and it slowly lost its balance and fell.
STR grid. Kevin's car only glowed when light was directly applied, so I took this photo with the flash.
As group five's turn came around, I was paired up with Tim in his CTS-V. It didn't seem fair, but Jessy was in fourth, and as a two driver car, she was sitting out for the time being.
ESP Sunday morning grid

Dennis Healy captures me pulling to the line.
I am starting on the left for the first time all weekend, and I know I have the time on this side. I launch, slip the clutch just a little, and come in with a 28.606. I'm feeling good, but don't realize there is a cone on that run. Jump over to the right, and I don't go any faster. Damnit. Kevin announces that I'm still in third. What? I don't know what times Kit and Stacey are running because they are finishing just as I'm launching. This sucks. I go back to the left, and I just want to drop time. Matthew ran a 27.7, and ESP should be close to SS times, right? Launch, dive into the first slalom... whoa.... no! I know I've coned it, and I risk the glance in the rearview that confirms it. I'm angry at myself, I'm frustrated at how I stupidly got late in that slalom, and I almost consider bagging the run and just driving straight off. But I stay on course, and when I come across the line, I see a 10.6 and Kevin's saying I might get a rerun.

Really? I'm giddy, and thinking, "No way!!" I pop the hood and start to pull towards the two driver lane as Kevin's announcing that I am the only one with a chance to take the lead from Kit since I have two runs left....

Two? Wait... left... right....left.... crap!!! I suddenly realize that for the first time since my first ProSolo in 1997, I've forgotten to take my last run. I whip the car around to the right side staging lanes, yelling at Matthew to get my hood closed and praying that Sammy is delaying the shot clock.

I have 12 seconds left on the clock as I pull up. I fumble to get the car staged, get the radio off, check for first gear, and I'm out of time, I've got to launch. It's not my best, but it gets the job done, and I keep it tight through the nasty back section, though I don't really get on it as quickly as I should coming through the finish... 28.9. All that, and I'm a tenth quicker? Holy... wait, I have one more run, and this is where I need to do it. No one else is around -- SMF is the next full class to pull up, and they are waiting for me to finish -- and I staged, just telling myself, "Don't fuck this up," over and over until the shot clock beeps, I remembered last year. I remembered not capitalizing on my rerun that could have had me beat Tom Kotzian for second place in bump class. And then the lights came down, and I launched. I was still too tentative in that opening slalom, especially after coning the last attempted run. I wasn't nearly as tight on the exit of the left hander as I should have been. I wasn't anywhere near as confident coming through the finish as I should have been. I left time everywhere. But when I came across the line, Kevin Dietz was screaming to everyone on site and Ustream that I'd just won ESP.

I started crying. People were clapping as I drove by as if I'd just won a Challenge. I was shaking and could hardly see through the tears as I pulled up to impound where Ann Hollis was taking photos for contingency. I just won ESP at a National event!!! And with the win came the automatic berth for the Super Challenge.

The fact that the WRX was impounded was actually kind of a problem. I hadn't had breakfast, and now I wouldn't get lunch. I looked over what kind of snacks I had left for the trip home, and opted for a granola bar and some beef jerky to get me through the afternoon. It probably wasn't enough, but I was high enough on adrenaline.... And then it hit me.

Ocular migraine.

This is only the fourth time I've had one, and in most cases it's not going to be as bad as it sounds. There isn't pain involved with it, not like a regular migraine. But I have a very difficult time seeing because everything is hazed with an iridescent ring. Shelly tried something to hasten its departure, and while it went away in one eye, it lingered in the visual field of the other (which was really weird). So I sat in the dark as much as I could, eyes closed, hoping it would go away before I had to run. Fortunately, the Super Challenge is the last one of the three, but unfortunately, I was in the first paring.

Against an SSM Viper
It would not end well for me. I was really out of it by the time my runs rolled around.
At least the car looked good on the line! Photo by Dennis Healy
I started on the right and was 0.4 back when we came in. That was to be expected, as the right side was the slightly slower side, but I was too tentative where it counted on both sides, and while I made most of it up on the left, I still lost by 0.039s. No biggie; it just meant I could change tires and get on the road sooner.

Of course, I had forgotten to charge the battery in my cordless impact, and I also forgot to pack a block of wood, so I was left looking for some help. Geoff let me borrow his stuff, and I was quickly able to get the tires changed and car loaded so that when trophies were done, I could head out.

I'm still pretty incredulous about my first open class win at a National level event. PAX-wise, I was 15th overall, between Andy Hollis (in his STF Mazda 2) and Kevin Dietz. While Andy may have had some sand, I don't think it was much as he also went out in the first round of the challenge (unexpected red light). Packwood has been good to me, result-wise, and it has me hoping that I'll do better than just limping into the trophies at Nationals if I go this year.

It was sad heading out of the event site, but other places beckoned. There was salt to see.
Rainier came out from behind the clouds on Sunday afternoon
Results from Packwoood.

1 comment:

  1. Great job, Karen. Thanks for sharing.

    And for the sand here. I had to pull out all the stops to beat Paul B in Bump class. I could not have runs those times consistently in the Challenge.