Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Everybody Have Fun Tonight

Make sure you've started with Part I....

July 18th, 2013. I couldn't go back to sleep the first time I woke up, and that's pretty unusual for me. But, the Badlands were just a few hours away, and I really couldn't wait to get there. I grabbed a shower and made myself a makeshift breakfast sandwich from the breakfast room, and headed out to I-80.

My first stop was actually just about a half mile outside of the Badlands entrance, at the sod house called the Prairie Homestead.
Built in 1909 by Mr. and Mrs. Ed Brown via the Homestead Act
I'd seen what looked like abandoned homesteads along I-80 during my trips, and I wondered if they had tried and failed at establishing a working homestead, per the letter of the law.

Hard to remember than South Dakota was barely inhabited in 1910.
It was pretty neat to see the tiny home, with antiquities that I grew up with in my own home, such as the stitching horse in the bedroom.
Black and white seems to capture the essence of the time period for me
From the main house, I moseyed over to the root cellar and other buildings.
Root cellar
They used Sears and Roebuck catalogs for TP!
Farming implements on the homestead
Prairie dogs were everywhere, chirping warnings and their holes making walking a bit hazardous!
Chicken coop, in sod to protect from predators
Well that has almost run dry at this point
Old car in the barn
Chickens and all sorts of random things in the barn
After spending a while at the homestead, it was time to move on to the main stage. The Badlands. I know I didn't spend nearly as much time there this year, but I still wanted to see it again, much like going to the salt flats. At least this year, I was early enough that there were a lot fewer people around.

End of the Window Trail.

Someone lost a hat here. It was kind of windy....

Back to the Yellow Mounds

So, gorgeous, and not enough time to just let it all soak in. :( It was back on the road for me.

Strangely enough, I'd been seeing a ton of Corvettes -- of all vintages -- on I-80 during my trip, and the further west into South Dakota I drove, the more I saw, all heading the same direction I was. When I stopped for a late lunch in Spearfish, it became clear -- they were convening in Spearfish for a convention! And at the bar where I went to get lunch, it turned out that the bartender was originally from Newport News, VA. She even knew exactly where ACU-4 (where the Virginia Autocross Championships are being held) was.

After lunch, I grabbed a sixpack of a local IPA (11th Hour IPA) and hightailed it towards Bozeman, Montana, to try to catch a late dinner with James from NASIOC again.
Bozeman Trail
I opted to just stay on I-90 through Wyoming this time, following the rough pathway of the Bozeman Trail that angered so many Native Americans 150+ years ago as Mullan made his way to Washington State. Pulling into Bozeman around 8PM, at the tail end of the music-in-the-streets-festival, I found a parking space and met up with James before heading over to the Montana Ale Works for a quick bite to eat.
James says there are always cool cars on the streets in Bozeman. We also saw a Viper RT/10.
We talked about our engine rebuilds and how we've done autocrossing since last year, then it was about time to head out. After unsuccessfully looking to see if James' lost ATM card was still at the ATM, I bid adieu to Bozeman and drove to Butte for the night. While I had been aiming for Missoula, I figured that was close enough to make it to Packwood, easily, by Friday.
It was almost frigid on Friday morning, leaving Butte. I still took the car through a car wash to remove the bug bra.
Excitement awoke me early on Friday, again, and I was ready to head out by 8AM (actually earlier, as I discovered you can't buy beer before 8AM in Montana!). I stopped for lunch in Post Falls, Idaho where I had an elk burger, then continued on to try to arrive in Packwood by 5PM, since I told my codriver Sam Krauss that's what time I should be rolling in.
Outside St. Regis, western Montana
Early into the trip, I thought I saw fog to the west. I was wrong. It was smoke, and it was insane. Wildfires through the areas of Superior, Gold Creek and St. Regis had smoke so thick, it may as well have been fog. I was coughing up a storm inside the car.

Lookout Pass on the Idaho/Montana border

Columbia River gorge
Wild Horses Monument at the Gorge
Karl Bender says there was nothing here six years ago and has the photos to prove it.
Mt. Rainier.
I was able to roll into the paddock building just before 5PM, as I'd planned, and Greg McCance and my roomie Annie Gill were already there. Greg helped me change tires, I registered, and then Sam showed up to take the car to tech. We walked the courses, and were as ready as we could be for Saturday morning competition.

Two WRXs, one Mustang.
I passed the DuClaw beers I'd brought on to Greg who shared some Red Hook ESB with me, and then it was on to a late snack (since I was still full from the elk burger) and nighty-night.

Next up : the ProSolo

So Lonely

July 16th, 2013. I started off the morning with a biology curriculum meeting in Potomac, MD, talking about the project ideas that were voted highest by the various biology students in the county. I volunteered to start working on an idea, and was allowed to leave at 12:30 to start working on it.

Instead, I busted ass back home, and started packing and loading the WRX for the third installment of the Packwood ProSolo trip. This year, it would (hopefully) include the Toledo ProSolo on the way home, as well as a codriver. The rest of the curriculum committee knew I was going to be away for the next two weeks, so it wasn't that big of a deal to leave when I did, though eventually I'd have to get around to putting my ideas on paper and uploading them to a SharePoint site.

By 3:30, I was ready to leave. But Pat had come home, then gone to pick up his new Hoosiers in Finksburg and then over to FBC Performance to have them mounted. I didn't want to leave until he came home. 
Heat index was more like 105

When Pat came home around 4PM, it was a quick kiss goodbye-don't-forget-to-take-care-of-the-hermit-crab-I'll-text-you-when-I-stop-for-the-night, and out the door I went. I made a stop at a local craft beer emporium to grab some brews for friends on the opposite coast, then I was off. I paused as briefly as I could in Breezewood for gas and a Sheetz-stop (hint -- if you stop at the Sheetz in Breezewood, and need to turn left, it's quicker to turn right then do a U-turn up the street; otherwise, you might sit there for up to ten minutes. No kidding), then pushed on as far as I could, which dropped me in.... Toledo.

Wednesday morning was hot and humid (again), but my gas mileage was terrible, so I opted to go sans A/C and windows down. I eeked through the Chicago traffic post-rush hour (it was still iffy), and suffered through the constant construction of I-90 north of the city into Wisconsin (through 2014? Yikes, I think I need to find another route!). Finally free of the traffic and the congestion, it seemed like smooth sailing. I wondered what to do next, and how it would impact my arrival time.

The Hades 360 wooden looping coaster looked like something I really would enjoy, but I didn't want to buy entry into a park unless I could spend extended time there. One year, I'm going to just have to dedicate a day to Mt. Olympus in Wisconsin and Silverwood in Idaho. I kinda wanted to go back to the House on the Rock, but I knew I didn't have time for that either. It was push on, push on, and try to make up some time so I could go see the Badlands on Thursday.

I did stop in New Lisbon, Wisconsin, when I was low on gas, and saw a few police officers. I stopped and asked one of the "town of New Lisbon" officers if he could give a suggestion for lunch. He profferred the idea of the Body Shop, saying it had great atmosphere and the best burgers around.
Wasn't much to look at, but I was willing to give it a try.
I drove to the other site of town (not that there was much to it), found the place in question, and entered. I immediately felt like an outsider, but sat down at the end of the bar nevertheless. The bartender asked if she could get me something, and I asked for a local brew (Farmers' Daughter), and a menu, while telling her how I was referred. She laughed and said that all of the cops show up there, that it was their favorite. The atmosphere seemed more relaxed now, and I ordered a "burner burger."
It was hot, but not too hot. In fact, as the officer had said, it was a damned good burger, and I'm not a big burger person. I finished up, left my tip and swung back into town to pick up two New Glarus brews to bring home with me (Spotted Cow and Moon Man).

The rest of the trip on Wednesday was pretty uneventful, as I was just trying to get as close to the Badlands as I could before sleepy time. There was a brief pause in Minnesota while I watched some silly birds buzz around the rest area.
Unhappy about anyone going near the nest.
But, otherwise, I just drove, no-AC-windows-down, until I was approaching the banks of the Missouri, and I found a hotel outside Chamberlain, South Dakota. While I was on the phone and making the reservations, I was at a rest area, and the waxing moon and starlit sky were beautifully accented by a meteorite. It was so near perfect, I almost didn't want to go on to the hotel.

Next : The Badlands and Smoke on the Horizon

Monday, July 1, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect

What a long weekend! Two days of autocrossing with two different clubs. Three different courses. Lots of ESP competition. And me needing to scrape a lot of rust.... okay, let's be real here. It's not rust. It's fear I'm trying to overcome out on the course. Fear that the car isn't going to handle the way it's supposed to. Fear that the tires aren't going to stick. And, the biggest fear of all -- that the car is going to break again. I went through this two years ago after the driver's side control arm failure, and after last year's passenger side failure, followed by the head gasket, I find myself questioning every little squeak, groan and thunk, which can be pretty distracting on less-than-glasslike surfaces like FedEx Field and the Blue Crabs Stadium.

The Autocrossers Inc. double felt more like a triple when all was said and done. The morning saw ESP running in the last heat, and I had concerns about a sweeper leading into a far-too-short finish area. After a few cars did, indeed, have problems there, some minor changes were made, but non-ABS cars were still making things look a bit hairy from the timing van, where I was working the computer.

As for my morning runs, well, to put it succinctly, they sucked. The first run wasn't too awful in comparison, but while everyone else was dropping seconds, I dropped tenths plus coned. The third run felt great, but coming into the finish, when I went to hit the brakes, I only caught the pedal with the edge of my shoe. The result was that my foot slipped off into that little space between the gas and brake, the car was in that split second of overboost where it keeps accelerating, and I went through the outer wall of the finish chute, punching at least one cone so hard, the bumper cover popped off on the driver's side. Having been told during the first heat that anyone who coned in the finish area was a DNF, I just pulled around to get off the course. Of course, that run was a second faster than my first run, and clean until the end, so I was pretty angry with myself.

Then, just before my last run, Mike Lane had to come by and ask questions about my Crawford AOS, like why there wasn't a clamp on the tube off the top of it. I am often happy that I can bleed my own brakes, so knowing how the AOS works and what that tube on the top is... yeah. So, Mike squeezes the tube and proclaims that it's "barely on there," so I start messing with it to see if there is any "slack" to push it on further. Next thing I know, I'm holding the tube in my hand, and it's not connected to anything. Crap. I have no idea what I may have just done and how to correct it, but after a quick (and somewhat panicked) phone call to IAG, I find out that it's an unpressurized vent tube, and all I have to do is put it back on and make sure the other end isn't going to dump any possible venting on something hot.

I had to take a short mechanical for the phone call, and after the third run my head wasn't really in it. Still, my fourth run was sadly my fastest, almost a second slower than the blown run. :(

I managed to correct some of the craniorectal inversion in the afternoon. I knew the car was rotating more that I was used to on the Blue Crabs Stadium lot, so I started to try to trust what the car was going to do a bit more, and take advantage of it. I was still too tentative in a few spots, and I never did feel like I got the second half of the long slalom right, but I finished 7th in Pro class (versus 10th in the morning), and 17th on index (versus 20th). Baby steps.

In the end, while I wasn't particularly happy with my overall finish at the event, two things occurred that somewhat changed my mental approach to the next day's event. First of all, just before my third run in the afternoon, there was a significant timing delay after I was sent to get in the staging line. Bored, I pulled my phone out of the glovebox and saw I had a text message from an unfamiliar number. It turned out to be from a former student, who'd moved to the Clarksburg district last year, and she just wanted to let me know that I was "still the best." After all I went through this past year, at points literally being told that I was crushing students' hopes at being successful, this text meant more to me than I could possibly explain. I think it was little wonder than I dropped a second on that run.

The other thing was that I saw an older man sitting a few grid spots away in his faded red SN95 Mustang, sporting novice class magnetics. I went over to chat with him to see how he was doing, and after talking to him for a bit, I find out that he had just had chemotherapy the previous week. Why? He was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago, and given a year to live. !!! He's a Vietnam veteran who'd been exposed to Agent Orange, and after his diagnosis, he has been trying to cross as many things off his "bucket list" as he can. Going out and having as much legal fun in his Mustang as he can is one of those things. Talking to him suddenly makes finishing second or third against the rest of ESP so trivial.

The WDCR autocross was the next morning, and ESP was in the first heat. While I despise getting up so early, I hate working and changing tires in the rain even more, so this was actually a good thing.

I backtracked on the trust of the car that I'd been building on my first run, and was off the pace by 2+ seconds. When Pat says to me that he was carrying so much speed through the finish, he didn't think he was going to be able to get his Hot Wheels Camaro to slow down, I knew I was sucking. I knew it all boiled down to trusting that the tires would stick, especially on the wonky surface that is FedEx Field.

Pushing the car harder from the start, making sure I was looking at the correct spot through the showcase turn so that I didn't turn in early, getting on the gas earlier -- all of these things together made for a significant time decrease between my first and second runs. Of course, that put me where I should have been on my first run, so I was still behind the eight ball in the standings. So, on the third run, I needed to, as Pat would say, "make it fast or make it entertaining."

Well, someone else made it entertaining, so I was going to get a rerun. And it was starting to sprinkle. I did not have my hopes up as I went out for my third run (again), especially when I blew the right hander coming back towards the finish. The car just did not want to slow down, and I attributed it to the moisture.

With it definitely starting to sprinkle even harder, at this point, I was worried about stuff sitting out getting wet. Grid sent me back to the line at barely the five minute mark (I just left the car running, and nearly froze when I got back in since I had the air conditioning on full blast).

Shockingly, it was my best run, though only good for second in class, as Adam is finally getting his head around Vassallo's Mustang... more proof that I can't just sail through ESP on the merits of owning a fast car any more. Still, in a less-than-optimal course conditions, I was only 0.1 back, so I wasn't too disappointed.... except for the fact that all my stuff ended up getting soaked in the deluge, and the weather hasn't improved enough that I can leave the floor mats and such out to dry, so they are still mouldering in the trunk.

Next event? Well, for the WRX, it's Packwood, where Sam Krauss will be joining me. I might try to make it out to the AI event on the 14th, but since I plan to start my trek on the 16th, I don't want to play with fire there. Guess I'll look for a codrive or something.

Oh, and tremendous thanks to Gabe Dunn and Jerry Byrd for letting me use their GoPro cases this weekend! Hopefully, mine is delivered today.