Nearly There

Michael has been putting a few hours into the car. We’re He’s very nearly done with it. The big milestone today is getting all four wheels on the ground for the first time since… November? December?

Perhaps next weekend we’ll get it running.

Six Benchmark

It has been more than two months since I last posted anything. That’s by far the longest I’ve gone without an update. I started this blog as a sort of replacement for my personal journal. I occasionally write things that I don’t publish to the public, but it’s rare. Perhaps in these two months I should have made a private entry or two, but instead, I’ve been totally silent, even to myself. (I can almost hear the objections: “Dave loves the sound of his own voice too much to be quiet.”)

Although I don’t limit myself here, I’m generally writing about my two passions: hiking and my car. The short version is, for two months nothing has happened in those realms.

But other things have happened. The COVID 19 pandemic, for example. Early on, my family and I were largely unaffected by it. I work from home, so on a personal level, it was pretty much the status quo for me. I couldn’t get a haircut, and RMNP was closed in March, but it wasn’t a huge adjustment. The libraries closed, but Genae’s paychecks kept coming, and diesel mechanics are considered essential, so Michael was still working.

In mid April, my employers held a national meeting over Zoom to give us an update on the business. We were told that there would be adjustments. Training was cancelled. Travel was cancelled. Temporary and contract employees were let go. But there would be no need for layoffs any time soon. In the days after that meeting, I was told that there was plenty of work in the pipeline and that I’d soon be lead consultant on a project Real Soon Now.

Then, on May 1 (International Workers’ Day, for those paying attention), I got a call from my boss. I have been concerned for quite some time about my being chronically underutilized. It seemed to me there is a limit as to how long an underutilized asset could be kept. The corona virus put its thumb on the scale, so to speak, and in spite of the recent “dreaded vote of confidence” I was let go.

The last time I was out of work, I could hop in the fun car, drive up a twisty canyon road to a trailhead in the Park and take a nice, long hike. I really feel that getting out on the trails did a lot for my mental health. I could clear my mind, envelop myself in nature, breathe the clean pine-scented air and enjoy myself.

But, as I said, the Park is been closed. And the car is still in pieces in the garage. Michael has been enlisting the aid of his friends to do my engine replacement and with the COVID lockdown, the car has been on hold. I think I have all the parts and supplies required, so the loss of my job shouldn’t be an impediment, and now that there is some loosening of restrictions, Michael will have the assistance he wants. So, although the car hasn’t moved since October, there is hope that it’ll be running by June.

As to the problem of the Park being closed, there’s not much I can do.

But, for my mental health, I needed to take a hike. So I reached out to Ed and asked if he was interested in taking me up to the top of Button Rock Mountain. He took me up there back in 2012. I had to look it up. I was pretty sure it was before the 2013 floods, but that seems like a long time ago now. Anyway, he agreed and we picked a day.

Tuesday, May 12

The morning wasn’t exactly foggy, but the ceiling was quite low and the weather didn’t look at all promising. Forecast high for Denver was in the mid-60s, and the sun was supposed to shine, but that looked far from certain at 7:30am.

I only vaguely remember where the trailhead is, so we arranged that we’d meet at Ed’s place and both drive. Just a few miles out of Lyons we emerged out from under the blanket of clouds and found ourselves in bright sunshine and blue sky. Things were looking better already.

Button Rock Mountain is situated about two and a half miles west of US 36 where that road leaves Boulder County, at the top of the hill just outside of Pinewood Springs. To get to the trailhead, however, you proceed past Pinewood Springs to county road 47, the road to Big Elk Meadows. Follow this about 2.6 miles to a small dirt parking lot on the south side of the road.

Wild Basin and Longs Peak

This is national forest, and there’s a fairly large network of established trails. Ed, though, is not one for established trails. He and his friends have been working for decades on his route to the summit of Button Rock, or more accurately, a point on the map called “Six Benchmark”. The actual summit is about half a mile away. Six Benchmark has a nice view to the west: Indian Peaks, Longs Peak, Twin Sisters, and the Mummy Range. To the south is Button Rock reservoir. Six Benchmark is about 8400′ of elevation while the true summit is a few feet higher, at 8,440′ or so.

Ed is proud of his route, and rightly so. In my mind, it doesn’t qualify as a trail. Some parts of it are fairly obvious to me when I’m on it. And in a few places, someone bushwacking cross country would recognize it as a trail, but for the most part, it is much less obvious than your basic game trail. I’ve hiked it twice now (granted, seven years apart) but there’s no way I could follow it unaided.

As we hiked, Ed kept up a more or less continuous effort at grooming the trail: flicking pine cones out of the way, occasionally picking up a rock here to deposit there, that sort of small thing.

I’m sure I was less than the ideal hiking companion. My mind wasn’t exactly clear. Ed kept up a running monologue, in places describing the effort he and his friends put into clearing fallen trees and moving large rocks. But I will admit that I wasn’t always paying attention, and no doubt I occasionally failed to respond to his questions.

We hit the summit a bit after 11:00. To the east, the clouds we drove out from under were still blanketed across the landscape, with some tendrils of mist lying in the canyons. I set the GoPro facing that way, rather than over the Divide. We relaxed on the summit for well over an hour and a half and by the time we departed, the clouds below us to the east had almost entirely dissipated.

It was good for me to get out and hike, even if it didn’t serve to fully get my head in a good place. I’m aching to get back into the Park, to visit the alpine lakes I love so much.

And here’s the video. Everything is too far away for the GoPro, and the clouds that cast shadows on the camera cause an annoying strobe effect, but so it goes.

Dreamin’

Last Monday I went up to the backcountry office and got some permits.

Just like last year, it snowed. Last time it was pretty bad weather. I’ve done that drive many times in bad weather, it didn’t bother me. But most other drivers were having problems. One went into the river in the narrows. This time it wasn’t nearly as bad, just a thin snowpack, a bit slick here and there. Nobody was off the road this time.

Quite some time ago I made up a wish-list of four trips with the intention of buying two. Last year I bought three, but one was too early, the first week of July, and never had any chance of going where I wanted to go. I probably can’t count on getting to any lake much above 11,000 feet until late July.

I’m planning on attending LOG 40 this year. That’s in Salt Lake City in late September and includes a track day at Utah Motorsports Campus. Check-in is Friday, the 18th. Track day is Monday. A day for the drive back and that’s a five day weekend and should probably take the place of the third permit.

So two trips is probably the way to go.

But I bought three again. They’re all on the west side. The first is the second week of July instead of the first week, so probably too early again. The second is in mid-August and the third is a few days after LOG. I’ll have a day off at home between the drive home from LOG and the backpacking trip. Should be an exceptional week.

Their credit card machine was broken, so they told me to expect an email with instructions on how to pay. I haven’t gotten any instructions yet. I called and asked about it. The gal I talked to said she appreciated that I was so eager to pay. I told her I’d be patient and wait for the email.

Permits arranged, I headed up to Bear Lake parking lot with the idea I might make a quick visit to Emerald Lake. The Lexus has summer tires, but the road was plowed. There were a few drifts already, as it was quite windy. I got to the lot at 9 or 9:30, I wasn’t paying particular attention. There were only eight or nine cars there. I was all kitted up and ready to go when I saw that I forgot to bring a water bottle. Ah, well.

I didn’t bring my snowshoes, just the micro-spikes. I had no plans to go off the beaten path. And I now had no plans to go any farther than Dream Lake. There in the parking lot it didn’t strike me as particularly windy. And it wasn’t bad in the trees, as usual. But it was blowing fiercely at Nymph. Somebody had built a large snowman on the lake. Hallett was obscured by a cloud of blowing snow.

After checking out the snowman, I headed up the winter route. There I ran into a young couple from southwest Michigan. “Is this the trail?” They followed me up to Dream Lake. They were dressed for the weather but were just in boots, no spikes. It had snowed a few inches overnight, or perhaps just been blown down from above, who knows. There were a couple of ski tracks and at least one set of boot prints. We weren’t on a firm trail but never sank more than ankle-deep. I was happy to have the micro-spikes.

They said they wanted to go to Emerald. I described the route for them guessed they’d have no difficulty finding the way and to take care. I found a place sort of out of the wind and sat down. The couple found shelter in some trees thirty yards away for a while before heading across the ice towards Emerald. I sat there for some time. I’m sure it wasn’t as long a time as it seemed. Then I ventured out onto the wind-blasted lake to investigate the ice. A gust nearly blew me over. I didn’t stay there very long.

I ran into another couple not far from Bear Lake. They were car people, too. For some reason, I was a bit surprised to meet car people. I don’t know why I should be surprised. While I was chatting with them, the Michigan couple passed us. Clearly they didn’t make it to Emerald Lake.

I drove down to Moraine Park and found a parking place with a view and tucked into my picnic lunch. Here I will confess that in the place of my usual soda I had a beer instead.

Not a bad way to spend the day.

Car Update

The weather this weekend was glorious. Running errands in the SUV I lamented the unavailability of the fun car. But we had a bit of a milestone today.

Michael had the engine and transmission mated and ready to hoist into the car. All the good bits were on the new motor. All, that is, except for the A/C, which we’re deleting. Michael found a routing diagram for the A/C delete configuration. The other night we wound a cord around it and marked it for length.

So today we fetched the hoist from the shed and got to it. When we took the old motor out, we were an inch short on the lift. Putting this one in we had no problem with height. There was a significant amount of jockeying around. The first mount was on pretty easily. We had to make a couple of stabs on the second one. At that point, Michael said he’d accomplished what he wanted, so he released me. But he kept at it and did the other two. without my encumbrance assistance. I’m not sure I can be of much help for most of the rest of the job.

A significant milestone, I think. I’ve got to get off my duff now and buy some coolant and new pads for the rear. Oh, and a belt that best matches our string.

Some time ago Michael and I discussed driving the car around the block without the rear clam. Today he pointed out that we have nowhere to mount the battery without the clam. Still, I think it would be a kick to drive it clamless.

Bitter Wind at Lake Haiyaha

Sunday, January 26

I’m repeating myself when I say that it’s been too long since I’ve had a walk in the park. This time, it has been five weeks. So I reached out to Ed to see what he had going. He was taking a group up to Haiyaha but said they’d allow one more.

I collected Ed at his house, just a few minutes late, and we headed to the Bear Lake parking lot where we met the rest of the group: six ladies, whose names I would get wrong if I attempted to list them here. I’m sorry I’m so bad with names.

Every time I’ve had Ed lead me to Haiyaha in the winter we’ve gone the same way. This time we took a different route. I’ve seen Ed post pictures of “Beard Falls” many times, always wondering where the heck it is. Well, now I know. Pretty much. As with his other route, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to go this way without his help.

Nymph Lake

Rather than starting up the paved trail towards Nymph Lake and striking cross-country at the large boulder, we took the back way from Bear to Nymph, then headed southwest. Before long, we found ourselves at the base of a series of switchbacks that climb steeply uphill. At the top of this climb, we connected with the summer trail from Dream Lake to Haiyaha pretty much where that trail crosses the outlet from the lake.

It was very pleasant walking through the woods, where the trees protect the hiker from the wind. I’ll say, though, that even at the parking lot it wasn’t particularly windy, so I was thinking it might even be pleasant at the lake. Certainly, there was no indication of what we were to see while we were making the climb.

I always find it interesting how the snow piles up on the terrain. Often, the rocks were topped by giant pillows of snow, and in some of the open areas the wind piles up the snow, then seems to carve it into intricate shapes. I’ve tried many times to get photos of some of these sights, but the most interesting ones are often subtle, and there’s just too little contrast in the white shapes for my photographic skills to deal with.

We had a short pause just before reaching the lake to add back on some of the layers of clothing we’d removed during the climb. And sunglasses or goggles were recommended. It’s always windy on the ice of these high alpine lakes along the Continental Divide. Still, I was hoping it wouldn’t be too extreme.

It was extreme. I hauled the SLR in my pack thinking I’d spend some quality time trying to get some interesting photos of the ice. But to use the SLR, I need to take off my gloves and sunglasses. It only took me a minute or two to decide it just wasn’t worth it. My hands were cold almost instantly, and I didn’t care too much for the snow blowing into my eyes. So I packed the SLR away and set up the GoPro for the time-lapse. I’ve been here before, and I’ll be here again.

Everybody was on their own for a few minutes investigating the ice before we met up on the west side of the lake, out of the wind. Ed had an igloo not far up the slope, so we made the short climb up to it. I didn’t go in, but we dug the blown snow out of the entrance. The top had sagged somewhat since it was built. Ed didn’t think I’d be able to stand up in it.

We all noshed our lunches and relaxed for a few minutes before heading back down. I had one challenge to complete before we left: find the GoPro. I set it in the snow rather than on a rock, figuring that the wind would blow it over. Well, there is no shortage of rocks here, and the camera is small. And, I worried, maybe it got buried by the blowing snow. Luckily, I managed to locate it without too much difficulty.

Our return route was my usual route with Ed. I lollygagged a bit to be at the end of the line, to be “tail-end Charlie”. I hiked in the middle for a while but found it more comfortable to be at the back, neither tailgating nor tailgated. I could stop occasionally to take in the sights.

Since we left Nymph Lake in the morning until we regained the trail in the afternoon, we met no other hikers and saw only one set of footprints. This solitude is a common occurrence on my hikes to Haiyaha with Ed. I’d call it “high-efficiency” solitude: I usually have to walk much, much farther to get three hours of the stuff.

All in all, it was another beautiful day in the neighborhood, even if it was uncomfortably windy at the lake. I usually prefer hiking with a smaller group, but I have no complaints and variety is the spice of life. Good people, stunning scenery, pleasant weather (in the trees!).

It’s tough to beat a day like this.

The Loch

I have been aching for another walk in the Park. I was thinking it has been two months since my last hike, but I see it’s more than three. Definitely past due. I reached out to Ed to see what he had on his calendar. Thursday worked for both of us, so Thursday it was.

Thursday, December 26

I told Ed I’d pick him up between 8:10 and 8:20. For a while, I thought I’d be late. There was more traffic than I’d expected. And it was foggy. Dense enough that you couldn’t see much past your headlights. And a surprisingly large number of drivers didn’t bother with headlights.

North of Boulder the road goes alongside the foothills and up the slope I could see blue skies while everything to the east was in the soup. By the time I got to Lyons, I was out of it. There wasn’t much traffic north of Boulder. I made up the time I lost earlier and pulled up in front of Ed’s house right at 8:20.

We got to the Bear Lake parking lot in good time and met the third of our party, Judy. She’d hiked with Ed once or twice in the past. Since I can’t drive wearing my big hiking boots, I have to get ready when we get there: take the shoes off, put on the snow pants, put on the gaiters and boots, change to the heavy coat, and all the rest. Ed and Judy went up and chatted with the volunteers while I got it together.

We began by taking Ed’s winter trail to Lake Haiyaha. Or, two-thirds of it anyway. At the meadow at the top of the gully, instead of heading uphill to the right we went left. I keep thinking I should know my way on this route, having been on it several times now. Today, his trail was pretty easy to follow. He’s been working on it all season, and for most of the way I’d have been okay wearing micro-spikes instead of snowshoes, the base was that good.

Our route took us between West Glacier Knob and the eastern flank of Otis Peak, along the shores of “Beautiful Lake Marv”. Today, not so much along the shores as right across it. This is one of three unnamed lakes in the immediate vicinity that Ed has named.

Just before arriving at The Loch, we met up with the last few yards of the summer route. I was a bit surprised to see so many footprints here. The other times I’ve been to The Loch in winter, I came up the stream. The hike so far had been quite pleasant. A bit on the cool side, but no wind at all. The skies to the east were still quite clear, but above the Divide was a maelstrom, often blotting out the sun.

At the lake, though, the wind whipped in a steady gale down the valley, blowing snow across the ice. All the nice sunny summer picnic places today were instead cold, bleak stone benches blasted by blowing snow. Naturally, I had to suggest we stay here long enough to get some time-lapse video. I sent Ed and Judy to find a place out of the wind, following after I got the camera running and set in a place I thought the wind wouldn’t move it.

I found them a hundred yards or so away, in a hollow half surrounded by a fifteen-foot snowdrift. There wasn’t any place to sit, but it was out of the wind. We told each other stories until we decided standing still wasn’t the most fun thing to do, whence I went and collected the camera. It ran for not quite twenty minutes and looked to be exactly where I left it.

We left by the route I’d always used in winter: down the outlet stream. When we started down it occurred to me that my other winter trips here were later in the season. Today there isn’t nearly as much snow here as before. I could see why the summer trail was still carrying all the traffic: this was not the easiest way down.

We took another short break at the hitching posts near the bridge to Mills Lake. The snow was deep enough to make them nice benches. I ate about half my lunch here. After a few minutes, we were moving again.

Ed took us from the trail junction on a route that included the two other unnamed lakes that Ed has named: Joyce’s Pond and Zone Lake. As bodies of water, they’re not much to brag about. But all three of these little ponds have three nice attributes: they’re a short hike, have nice views, and very few visitors.

All day on the trail it was Ed leading, Judy in the middle, and me at the back. When you’re hiking, anything you say is projected forward. Being in the back I couldn’t hear what Ed and Judy were talking about. Which, actually, was fine.

I could be unengaged. I was always following, never leading. I didn’t do any navigation, I didn’t set the pace, I generally wasn’t involved in any conversation. We weren’t on any sort of schedule. It was easy walking. It was a beautiful day. I could let my mind wander. I soaked in my surroundings. I enjoyed myself immensely.

Engine Removal

It has been a bit more than a month since my last post, so I’m a bit overdue. Last time, we’d put a fair amount of effort in and didn’t even complete the install of the rear clam kit. And I made some sort of promise as to how far we’d get by the next (this) post. Given that everything we do seems to take three or four times as long as the instructions say, it’s a no-brainer that I over-promised. So it goes.

I wanted to (more or less) finish with the clam kit. The first step was to make that minor repair to the rear clam where the boot lid hinge attaches. I waited until we had a fairly warm day so that I wouldn’t have any issues with the epoxy. Given our stretch of weekends where it was cold, this simple step took a surprisingly long time. Sure, it was just a few minutes of actual work and an hour or three of drying time, but this elapsed over three weekends.

After that, Michael spent a few evenings after work tearing the car down. I’m pretty much useless for this portion of the work so I left him to it, venturing out to the garage after he was done each night to snap some photos.

Before long, he notified me that he’d gotten as far as he could and it was finally time to take the engine out of the car. Which meant it was time to go to Harbor Freight and pick up an engine hoist (some assembly required).

Silly me, I didn’t realize until we assembled it that it doesn’t include the load leveler bit. So, naturally, it was more than one trip to the store before we could get around to extracting the lump from the back of the car.

This is a major milestone.

With the motor out and the area around the back of the car more or less accessible, we figured it was a good time to test fit the clam back on the car. The word on the street is that sometimes things don’t line up exactly as expected and we might need to come up with a way to shim things so it all matches. From our quick look at things, we look to be in good shape. We didn’t tighten everything down, but everything lines up okay. That means, next time we need to get some room to work, we’re not looking at four hours to get the clam off. It should be more like fifteen minutes (famous last words).

Now let’s take a look at some (perhaps) interesting details.

I noticed what could be a date alongside some Japanese writing. I have no idea what it says. I shouldn’t be surprised to see Japanese writing inside my Toyota engine, but I got a kick out of it. Take a good look at the left side of the photo. This is why the engine has to go. That bit should be a nice machined surface and the snout needs to fit rather snugly inside the flywheel. Other than this bit of damage, the engine is still good. But replacing the crank is a bit more than we’re willing to deal with on our own. So the engine has to go.

Here’s one of the flywheel bolts. Note the damaged threads.

Here’s a closeup of the center of the flywheel. This bit mates up with the bit to the left of the Japanese writing. Not exactly a precision fit.

Finally, with the rear clam back on the car, it looks like a car again. Except for the giant hole in the center where the engine is supposed to be.

Next step is to order a gently used 2ZZ-GE long block, a flywheel, and flywheel bolts. The vendor is closed until the start of the year so I’ll need to be patient.

After a great deal of back and forth between “yes I will” and “no I won’t”, I’ve settled on “yes I will”. Yes, I will go with a lightweight flywheel. Several times now I’ve had the choice of whether to stick to the original equipment or to make a performance upgrade. So far, I’ve stuck with original equipment. Although I track the car a handful of times a year, I think of it as predominantly a street car. I don’t really want to make changes that result in it being hard to drive in traffic. But I’m going to go ahead with the light flywheel. Most everybody I’ve talked with regarding a light flywheel says it’s not a big adjustment.

One more piece of foreshadowing: There are some “creature comfort” features the car has that I never use.

One is the air conditioning. I’ve turned it on three our four times in the near-decade I’ve owned the car. It fails to cool the tiny cabin. We’ll leave the plumbing in but take out the heavy bits, the compressor and condenser. Since I never use the A/C, I don’t see the point of keeping it in the car given that with it all taken apart it’s a simple job of removing it. So we’ll need to figure out how long of a belt we’ll need as the original will now be too long.

The second is the radio. Even before I did the motor mounts, the radio was only of use when sitting at stoplights. I thought maybe I’d leave it in as it shows the time. But due to one thing or another, the time displayed was almost always wrong. I’ve already removed the two rear speakers. We’re not digging into the dashboard as part of this work, so I’ll have to take it to a car stereo place for the work. After some searching on the internet, I see I can replace it with a small storage area with a door. So it’ll be a mini glove box.

I probably need to make this video a bit shorter, but here’s us using the hoist to extract the engine.

Clam Removal

Sunday, November 17

Today we take our first steps down the tortured path of replacing my engine. Hopefully, we can get it all done in a reasonable amount of time. I have no particular target date in mind, but I’m hoping we’ll be done by March.

My goal for today was to get the rear clam off and install the “modular rear clamshell kit” from Radium Engineering. I’m not sure why they call it “modular”. There’s not a lot to it: a billet aluminum decklid hinge brace, 4 black anodized laser cut aluminum body shim pads (73% lighter than stock), 4 green anodized aluminum body shim spacers, 2 sets of precut super adhesive velcro, and stainless steel hardware. The hinge brace is available in black (“Bright Dip Black”), silver (“Titanium Silver”), or green (“Radium Green”). I went for the green. I’m not sure how much of it will be visible when it’s all done, but I felt it necessary to go with the green.

Rear clam kit, $211.94 including shipping.

The idea is that with this kit it’ll be easy to remove the clam. I’m not sure how often, after this engine ordeal, I’ll want or need to remove the clam, but if there’s ever a time to do it, it’s now. Okay, maybe the time to do it would have been last winter when we did the clutch job. So it goes.

The instructions said, “Allow 1-2 hours for initial disassembly.” We managed it in four. From now on, when the instructions give us an expected duration, we should guess how long it’ll actually take. I’m sure it’s faster if you’ve done this before, but this is our first time. The instructions were pretty good. The only surprise we had was that, because I have the Track Pack, I have a harness bar. The instructions don’t cover that possibility. There was much head-scratching and wondering what sort of parlor trick would be involved in getting it out so we could remove the rear speaker panel. We managed, and it probably only added 15 or 20 minutes.

Rear clam, temporarily sitting on the back deck.

When we finally gave up, we had the clam off but didn’t complete the install of the clam kit. The flange where the kit mounts is broken. I need to get some epoxy and make a repair. It won’t be visible, so it doesn’t need to be pretty.

Minor repair required.

In any event, as I say, the clam is off and now we have unrestricted access to the engine. Next time, we’ll complete the installation of the kit and get the car back on the ground. We have lots of parts scattered everywhere, including the seats. When the clam kit installation is complete, we can put the interior back together.

Now we can begin?

Then we can start the disassembly/removal of the engine.

Money Shift Postmortem

I very nearly titled this entry “Money Shift Forensics”. I was thinking “forensics” was a suitable synonym for what I really want to say. But forensics is defined as “scientific tests or techniques used in connection with the detection of crime”. I’d say my missed shift lies more in the neighborhood of negligence than criminality. Although the car isn’t dead (and never was alive, for that matter), parts of the car certainly are dead so I think “postmortem” is a better word in this case.

Monday, October 14

In spite of Ryan having a few other Lotus to work on, he was able to start digging into my issue on Monday. He started it up for a few seconds to hear the noise. Then he got to work pulling things apart and assessing the damage.

Initial reports looked good. In an email at the end of the day he said, “I actually think we may have dodged a bullet here!” At that point the extent of the damage looked to be limited to the flywheel. But the investigation had just begun. He wanted to remove the transmission, continue the inspection and record some measurements of the crank to verify no damage has occurred. Ryan suggested that, all said and done, I might get out with a bill for parts and labor “near the 3k mark. This is assuming that there are no engine issues found or any other hidden gremlins.”

He asked me for authorization to remove the transmission to continue the inspection. So far, I’d be billed for 2 hours of labor. To continue, it starts to get expensive: “11.5 hrs for transmission removal and inspection, clutch and flywheel replacement.”

I consented and waited patiently.

Later in the week I was telling a coworker my tale of woe. I made the rather flippant remark that “I’d taken the car to the most expensive place I could think of” to get the work done.

Monday, October 21

That bullet that we dodged? Not so much.

Here is the email Ryan sent me late on the 21st:

I was able to get the transmission off this afternoon and have a look.  I first removed the clutch and found all 8 of the flywheel bolts to be EXTREMELY loose and had backed out. This allowed the flywheel to vibrate at such a rate where it almost welded itself to the nose of the crankshaft.  After about 5 minutes of prying with 2 pry bars (side to side) I was able to release the flywheel from the crank. This should normally pretty much fall off once the bolts have been removed.

The galling was so bad between the flywheel and the crank that the remnants left on the mounting flange of the crank as well as the nose is very severe. I noticed a couple things during the removal as well. There was an oil leak from the back of the engine. This was because the bolts were loose without any type of thread seal/lock applied. These holes are open to the crankcase through the crankshaft.

So, here we go. Because the galling and build up on the flange mounting face and the nose is so bad we pretty much have 2 options.

OPTION 1)  I attempt to remove as much of the galling as possible, replace the rear main seal, flywheel, and bolts and hope for the best.  Having this professionally machined would be just about impossible with the crankshaft installed in the engine and/or the engine installed in the vehicle.

*** THIS I DO NOT RECOMMEND. The crank is a perfectly machined piece where the flywheel and clutch assembly are designed to fit flush with almost zero runout. A small variance here will be very large at the outer circumference. Apply this to an 8500 max rpm limit and track use, the repercussions down the road may be worse than what we have seen here.

OPTION 2) We replace the engine. New, used, rebuilt, whatever you’d like. This will provide the safest option for the future, the best outcome, and guarantee the most trouble free in the long run. 

Option 1 doesn’t sound too good to me, so that means I’ll be replacing the engine. The first decision to make, then, is who will do the work. As I said above, this is pretty much the most expensive place I could have it done. It may very well be that no one would do a better job than Ryan. Even with the club discount rate for labor, I’m already near twelve hundred for the diagnostics.

We initially thought we dodged the bullet because the timing chain is okay and there is no damage to the pistons and valves. So perhaps there’s some salvage value to be had out of this engine. Compression is good, and the top half was rebuilt less than two years ago.

Ferrari of Denver doesn’t get as much work over the winter as summer, so it would be better for them to utilize Ryan at a lower rate than for him to be idle. And as I’m in no hurry to get it done, they would have scheduling flexibility. So Ryan put together a quote for the work with a deep discount.

It was not an unreasonable quote, but it’s not a small number. I don’t want to go into debt to get the car running again. With the luxury of having four or five months to get it running again, I think Michael and I can get the job done. It doesn’t look like it will be difficult to get a good replacement engine. Michael has done an engine replacement before and he graduated with high marks from the same school as Ryan, so I have every confidence in him.

Now I just need to get the car home.

Friday, October 25

The other Ryan came to the rescue again.

We met at 10:00 at Ferrari of Denver. They got a few guys to help us push it out, thinking perhaps that we’d need to push it into the trailer. They seemed impressed by the winch in the trailer, and that my little tow ring was robust enough to pull the car. They asked Ryan if he had the same tow ring. “No, but it threads into the same hole.”

My big concern was getting it into the garage. We could winch it in, but not winch it out. The driveway is sloped enough that the car is almost level when the back tires are on the ramps. With the tongue of the trailer as high as it would go, we’d still have to push it uphill. And at tipping point, it would start to roll down the ramp and into the garage, so somebody had to be in the car to hit the brakes. Which meant only one of us could push.

But Ryan backed the trailer up, inch perfect, and we easily got the car into the garage. With it backed into the garage it’ll be a lot easier to deal with than when we did the clutch; we should have backed it in then, but I didn’t give it a second’s thought.

This one hurts

I’ve spent quite a bit on repairs, but this one is different. Brakes and tires and the clutch are all wear items. The ordeal of the camshaft was engineering failure: first the excessive wear on the cam, a widespread problem, and then compounded by defective parts from Toyota. The suspension failures were both due to failures of bolts. Those bolts aren’t generally considered wear items, but I now have their replacement on my calendar. The wheel studs will also be replaced on a schedule.

None of those repairs was due to any fault of mine, other than putting miles on the car.

But this one’s all on me.

Shame at La Junta

I’ve run laps at La Junta one time before, two years ago with CECA. I really had a good time. I describe the track as “rinky dink” yet outstanding: it’s short and flat with six right turns and only one left turn. And yet it’s the only track I’ve been on with a turn that I can take at 100mph. On street tires.

I’ve been wanting to get back there. Last year I made a half-hearted attempt to get the LoCo track rats to do a day. Nothing came of it. This year I put in a bit more effort. After a series of emails with Ryan and Dave to come up with a few possible dates I reached out to Allan at La Junta Raceway to see what we could do. And so we had our first LoCo Track day at La Junta Raceway.

Saturday, October 12

Google Maps tells me La Junta Raceway is 192 miles from my house. The sensible thing to do would be to get a room, as I did last time. But I often get up before 5:00am when I’m hiking, so why should I treat this any different? So I packed the car last night and set my alarm for 4:40. I was out of the house at 5, at the gas station in La Junta a few minutes after 8, and at the track in plenty of time for the 8:30 drivers meeting.

Entry was $100, which is about what HPR charges for half a day. We were hoping we could get 5 Lotus out there. We did get 5 signed up, but Dave’s Elise is up for sale at FoD and his Porsche is leaking fluids, so he scratched. When I looked at the roster Thursday evening there were 9 cars. We had six show up and one of those wasn’t one of those 9.

We ran in two groups: LoCo at the top of the hour, the “mixed group” at half past. It wasn’t so much a mixed group as a German duo: a Porsche and an M series BMW. Allan provided pizza for lunch and coffee and donuts for the drivers meeting.

The meeting had all the usual stuff: talk about the flags, passing, entering and leaving the track. The unusual stuff took up most of the agenda.

My first visit here we ran the whole day counter-clockwise. This is the orientation the track was built for. Today we’d do the morning sessions clockwise and do the normal way in the afternoon. So that was a big topic in the meeting. There are non-trivial concerns when running the track the wrong way. One of the (concrete) corner bunkers is on the outside of the exit of a turn and there are no tires on this side of it. There’s a giant cottonwood tree on the outside of the end of the fastest turn on the track. And the end of the pit wall would be a bad thing to hit.

Oregon Raceway Park was designed to be run in both directions, and that’s what we did on my visit there. I found it disorienting and never had enough laps to get comfortable on it in either direction. La Junta is much smaller and simpler, and I was certainly comfortable running it the normal way. Our first session was only about fifteen minutes as we got a late start. But that’s okay. It was still fairly chilly. Nobody would be going very fast with cold tires on a cold track.

I ran with the top off, as usual. Under my driving suit I had my sweater and hoodie. I was bulky but warm. By the second session I shedded those layers as the weather turned ideal. Sunny, calm, mid-60’s or even low-70’s.

The track is adjacent to the airport. Back in WWII it was La Junta Army Airfield, a training base that accommodated a large number of twin engine aircraft on its three runways. Deactivated in 1946, it’s much calmer these days, and only two runways have been used since then. The track uses the southern end of the disused runway and taxiway. I may have missed one or two, but I saw four or five planes and a helicopter all day. The helicopter is that of the local medical transport outfit.

One of the pilots stopped by and visited with us. Interesting guy. Flew for the Marines for 26 years, recently started doing medical transport. Works seven days on, seven days off; twelve hours on, twelve hours off. He had lots of questions about the cars. I loved his language. The cars are ships, horsepower is thrust, speeds are in knots. Upgraded brakes and tires are “varsity” brakes and tires. I’m surprised he didn’t call us drivers “pilots”. I told him if he could borrow a helmet I’d give him a ride.

Got him strapped in, told him I wouldn’t be able to hear him once we were going, and headed out. He was very enthusiastic, giving me a big thumbs-up after each turn. Then I made a mistake. Exiting the fastest turn and onto the long straight, I miss the shift from fourth to fifth and instead did fourth to third. I caught it in an instant and got into a correct gear. Damn. But nothing happened. Well, it seemed nothing happened. Half a lap later when I entered a braking zone and lifted off the throttle the car made a bad rattling noise. I went back to the paddock.

It sounded and felt good on the throttle, only making the rattle off throttle. After a short trip around the paddock I didn’t drive it again. I did start it twice more for a few seconds each time. The consensus was a rattling exhaust or a broken motor mount. I didn’t say anything about my missed shift. We took the diffuser and access panel off and poked around. No problems with exhaust or motor mounts. Listening to the last few seconds I ran it, it was clear to me it was inside the motor. I’m screwed.

Finally somebody asked if I’d missed a shift.

I lied. I said “no.”

Why did I do that? Obviously, I should have led the investigation with the admission that I missed a shift. Would have saved everybody the trouble of looking for rattling exhaust or broken motor mounts. Why did I lie?

I’ve driven stick shift cars for thirty years, more than four hundred thousand miles, and about fifty track days. Only missed shifts I’ve ever made have been second to fifth instead of second to third. Never the money shift.

For a long time, I’ve taken pride in the notion that I’m kind to the equipment, getting more miles out of brakes and clutches and tires than most of my peers. But this notion is under assault: twice I’ve had suspension bolts fail on the track, had wheel lugs fail, broke a motor mount, and replaced the clutch at 80,000 miles. Now the money shift.

I also take some measure of pride in thinking of myself as an honest guy. I claim to value honesty, openness, and transparency. If I was open and transparent I’d have said I missed the shift first thing. If I was honest, I wouldn’t have denied it when asked.

We gave up looking at my car when the pizza arrived, and I tried to relax for the next few hours. When I could think of things other than the events of the morning the time seemed to pass faster. So when Kevin asked if I’d like to ride with him and maybe drive his car for a couple laps of instruction I agreed. I’m not an instructor. I often have to reflect on events after the fact to realize exactly what’s going on. My videos help a lot on this. Maybe I rely too much on the videos, and if I didn’t have them I’d be better at being in the moment.

In any event, I did my best to see what tips I could share with Kevin. This is only his second track day, so he’s a bit of a clean slate. I didn’t try to communicate anything to him until after we did a full lap, then I tried to correct his line in a few places. In general, he wasn’t getting the car close enough to the apexes, he tended to apex early, and often didn’t let the car run out to the edge of the track exiting the corners.

After five laps we swapped places and I drove. I drove three laps; an out lap, a hot lap, and an in lap and we switched back. He then drove another five laps. His times after seeing what I did improved by four or five seconds a lap, and were more consistent from lap to lap. He’s so new at this, I’d expect his times to steadily improve with practice without my input, but I think I helped him out quite a bit.

The guy in the BMW was there giving a ride to his grandfather who used to race cars back in the fifties. The grandfather, whom I’d never met before and who, to this point, I’ve exchanged maybe a dozen words with, said if he still had his trailer he’d get me and the car home. You meet some pretty nice folks at the race track. (Addendum: I wasn’t the only mechanical victim of the day. The BMW driver had a broken strut and when we left, his car was still out on the track.)

The obvious next issue was how to get the car home. The obvious answer was to ask Ryan what it would take to get him to drive his Exige home and put my car in his trailer. All it took was to ask. Ryan is a lifesaver.

Ryan drove his car and I drove the truck with trailer. I got out of the gas station before he did, so we were separated from the start. He’d programmed the GPS in the truck to navigate to his house so I didn’t bother with using my phone. This turned out to be a problem. The truck’s satnav didn’t know there’s a bridge out. I stopped and consulted my phone. It said I could go a few hundred yards ahead to take a county road east. I should have turned around right there, but instead I followed my phone’s directions.

I got to this first county road and it looked like somebody’s driveway. Phone says there’s another one up ahead. So I went to the next one. It was a nice gravel road, but it looked like it dead-ended. On I went. The next county road was a just a double track, like a single lane jeep road. No way I was going to pull this trailer down any of these roads.

So I had to turn around and go back. I got to sort of a wide spot and managed to flip a u-turn without sinking into the shoulder, having to back up, or jack-knifing the rig. The detour took me six miles east to cross the river, then six miles back to the road I was on. But I think it was still a better route than dealing with the construction on I-25.

Ryan was using his phone for nav, so he got routed across the river without incident and was now almost ten miles ahead of me.

Our first waypoint was Limon, where we could stop and grab a bite. But this is quite a bit up the road, so I had plenty of time to reflect on the day. I was pretty down about my driving error and tried not to think about how much it might cost to repair. I was also quite ashamed about lying about it.

I phoned Michael and confessed about the money shift. I was originally thinking we’d take the car home, but given our limited resources it was obvious the best plan was just to drop it off at FoD. The LoCo meeting was scheduled for the next day, so I’d be able to explain it all to Ryan and discuss the way forward. (Oh dear. I generally don’t use last names here, but we now have two Ryans in the story. I was going to use last initials, but they’re both Ryan C.)

We dropped the car at FoD at about 8:00pm. Ryan offered to give me a lift home, but that’s not an optimal choice. I took a Lyft instead.

Sunday, October 13

The meeting was scheduled for noon, so I got there about 11:30. Ryan was right there when I pulled up, and I gave him my tale of woe. It would be the first of many tellings, as we had a nice turnout. Before long, I realized I was a topic of conversation. Everybody knew the story pretty quickly. So it goes. I was a little surprised that so many people weren’t familiar with the term “money shift”.

I told Ryan to take his time getting to it. I’m sure he has a few cars in front of me. He’ll take a good look at it and let me know the diagnosis and we’ll discuss a treatment plan.

Here’s the video. A couple of laps to get a feel for the track when going the wrong way. Note the unprotected bunker (0:34), the tree (1:00), and the end of the pit wall (1:07). I had a couple of faster laps later in the session, but the forward facing camera died half way through. Evidently, I need to plug that camera into the charger after every session.

LoCo Fall Drive

Our last sojourn with the club was spring of last year. If I’m counting correctly, that means we missed two trips since then. So we’re due for a weekend outing. This time we’re sticking closer to home and shortening the trip to two days/one night.

Mike has now put so many of these trips together that he’s probably driven every paved mile of every state and US route west of I-25 at least twice, and certainly many miles of county road as well. His routes are well designed and documented, and thoroughly scouted. Thanks Mike!

Saturday, September 28

Our rally point was an Alta station in Woodland Park. A quick drivers meeting at 9:45 for a 10:00 departure. We left the house at 7:30 and would grab breakfast and stop at a Subway to make our picnic lunch on the way. We hit the superslab and went through the Springs. This may have been our first suboptimal decision. I think the route through Deckers is as fast, but I figured food would be easier the other way.

I’m not a big fan of Interstates to start with. But the stretch between Denver and Colorado Springs is at the top of the list of Interstates I particularly dislike. There’s been too much traffic for twenty-five years and it only gets worse. A bunch of people go too fast, and another bunch never gets out of the left lane. Now the level of difficulty has been bumped up with a twenty-one mile stretch of construction: narrow lanes, lane diversions, concrete barriers, reduced speed limits.

But today is a beautiful, clear Saturday morning in early fall and perhaps a lower than average number of inattentive drivers are out and about. The worst offenders today are the ones who you catch up to at a steady rate but speed up when you go to pass them. If that’s the worst behavior we encounter all weekend, that would be great.

We had a fast food breakfast, got our picnic lunches, and made it to the rendezvous with time to spare.

This trip is not only 2/3 of the normal duration, but about 2/3 of the normal number of cars. The Lotus contingent is a Europa, four Elises (one each of red, yellow, green and blue), and a Westfield 7. In theory, we could have had two more Elises, both orange, but the passenger count required larger vehicles so two M series BMW’s were substituted (an M4 and an X3). Also on the substitution list were two Esprits. One went down with an electrical problem a few days ago, so it is replaced by a Range Rover. The other is an X180R and is not as well-suited to these trips as the Jaguar XK-R. And, finally, a sharp, sporty Cadillac piloted by a former Elise owner.

Our first stop was the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. It might be natural to try to compare Dinosaur National Monument to this place, but they’re not at all the same. Florissant is six thousand acres of sub-alpine forest, while Dinosaur is high desert with deep canyons and is thirty-five times bigger. Forissant’s treasures are 34 million years old, a world dominated by mammals, while Dinosaur’s are, well, dinosaurs.

Only photo I have that shows the scale of these stumps

Thirty four million years ago, the Florissant area was prime lakeside land in a forest of giant redwood trees. Then a nearby volcano erupted and filled the place with lahar and ash, preserving the stumps of the giant trees. In addition to the giant stumps, there are layers of “paper shale” that hold fine specimens of plant and insect fossils.

The place has a smallish visitor center. There are displays that describe the geology and have examples of the fossils and interactive dioramas. There’s also the usual gift shop. Outside, there is a set of large stumps with roofs over them, and several trails that go out into the fields. We took the one mile loop and saw a number of the stumps in various conditions.

The fossil beds were notorious a century ago and people came from all around to take home pieces of the stumps. The place was comprehensively looted. As late as 1956 it was still going on. Walt Disney visited Florissant and arranged to buy one of the stumps. I understand it’s still on display at Frontierland.

After a bit more than an hour at Florissant we hit the road for Victor and Cripple Creek. These were flourishing towns in the gold rush days. In those days, most of the fortunes were made by the people who supplied and supported the miners, rather than the miners themselves. A story I find amusing is that of the guy, building his hotel in Victor, who struck gold digging the foundations.

Cripple Creek has lived on tourism and gambling for decades, but gold mining made a bit of a comeback. The road from Victor to Cripple Creek passes around the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine, operated by Newmont Goldcorp. Newmont is the second largest producer of gold in the world, but this is not one of their larger operations. It is large enough, though, that I expect the mine to completely level a mountain.

We had our picnic lunches at a park in Cripple Creek. They had a festival going on, with the main drag downtown closed to traffic. A stage was a the top of the road with a live band playing sixties radio fare. Lots of the usual sorts of vendors, and a few food trucks. We’d heard that there was a car show, but we missed it. We did see another group pass through: a few Corvettes and a Ford GT.

“Acclaimed all over the world”

Our third leg of the day takes us to the Royal Gorge over a series of Teller County roads. Much of this leg was on roads I’d never been over before. There wasn’t much traffic. We weren’t going particularly fast, but it’s always nicer to pick our own pace.

At one time, the Royal Gorge was the highest suspension bridge in the world at nearly a thousand feet above the river. There are now a couple higher bridges in China. Those probably are used to get from one place to another. The Royal Gorge, though, is a bridge to nowhere. When I was a kid, you could still drive across it. Even then there wasn’t anyplace to go on the other side: you had to cross back over the bridge.

Today, of course, it’s pedestrian traffic only. I haven’t been here since I was a kid, and nothing was familiar except the bridge. A forest fire burned through the area a few years ago. It burned some of the facilities but not the bridge. So the place is mostly brand new, with a large visitor center and a number of thrill rides on the other side. We didn’t stop for very long: get some photos, walk around, take a comfort break.

From the Royal Gorge we headed west on US 50 to Salida and our lodgings for the night. We’ve been seeing a surprisingly large number of RVs so I expected to get held up in the canyon. But there are several passing lanes and the only RV we came across pulled over after two of us passed it.

Approaching Salida we ran into a construction zone that had several sections of unpaved road. We also started to smell smoke. The Decker fire is burning nearby. It’s not a particularly big fire, having burned about 1,500 acres (so far). It was started by lightning and is burning an area with lots of beetle-kill. We saw fire fighter trucks from various places; the fire is only about 5% contained but the forecast is for strong winds, so that won’t help.

We had dinner at the Boathouse Cantina. They made room for our large group near the front door. The room was dark enough to make reading the menu difficult, but we managed to decide what we wanted. Genae had the scallops while I had the tacos al pastor (pork and pineapple with jalapeno and cilantro, with a slice of lime).

Sunday, September 29

We’d spend the morning driving: over Monarch pass to Gunnison, then north through Almont, past Taylor Park Reservoir, and over the newly-paved Cottonwood pass to Buena Vista. While I enjoyed our visits to the fossil beds and the bridge, I most anticipated the drive over Cottonwood pass and it ended up being the highlight of the trip for me.

Decker fire

Genae jokingly (I think) suggested we hit the pancake house down the street. Somebody else did go there; said it’s a crowded place and you have to get there early. I wasn’t going anywhere early. Breakfast in the hotel was underwhelming. Their bagels were miniature, too small to put in the toaster. Almost everything else on offer was sugary. So I had toast.

Down to ten cars with the departure of the Cadillac, we were were a relatively easy group to wrangle. Everybody was ready to go. We left promptly at 8:30. We’ve done the drive from Salida to Gunnison a number of times. We had very little traffic this time, which is nice, but Monarch Pass is a fairly run-of-the-mill road.

Part of the fun of the trip is to see the aspen. Yesterday, I’d say the aspen looked a lot like my car: mostly green with some yellow. Today there was more yellow, so much more scenic. The western side of Monarch is grassy, with cottonwood near the water. The cottonwoods had turned, a bit more gold compared to the yellow of the aspen.

To get to Cottonwood Pass, head north out of Gunnison to the confluence of the East River and Taylor River. This confluence forms the Gunnison River. From here it’s county roads to all the way until it turns into Main Street in Buena Vista.

Taylor canyon is quite pretty. The river is still flowing nicely, and the road is often close to it. It is open range, so there are quite a few cattle guards. I’ve driven many miles through open range and rarely see cattle. Today there were some, right on the side of the road when we resumed after a short rest stop.

At Taylor Park Reservoir

Cottonwood Pass doesn’t have a storied history. No notable expeditions of exploration crossed here, no railroad conquered it. And only this year did it finally get paved. It is now the highest paved through road in the state. Only the roads to the summits of Mt. Evans and Pikes Peak are higher. The road was built in spring of 1880. Nearby Tincup Pass got a road at about the same time, but although Cottonwood is higher, it was used more than Tincup because of the gentler grade.

Cottonwood Pass has some character. Almost all the passes in Colorado on US highways have been widened and straightened to handle high traffic loads. Wolf Creek used to be so treacherous they wrote songs about it. Today it’s three or four lanes all the way over the pass. Cottonwood still has a healthy number of hairpin turns, even if it lacks precipitous drops. It’s twisty and turny: a nice Lotus road.

East side of Cottonwood Pass

The road crosses the Continental Divide Trail at the summit and the Colorado Trail a few miles down the west side. I was expecting to see another crossing on the east side as well. The CT splits: hikers can use either the Collegiate East option or Collegiate West. Each is 80 miles, and we’re passing between Mt. Yale and Mt. Princeton. It doesn’t get much more collegiate than that.

At the summit we parked next to a small SUV with writing all over the back windows: “Triple Crown AP 2017 PCT 2018 CT 2019”. Seems to me they’re running a bit late. Certainly, if they’re only this far on their way north they won’t finish.

Roadside colors

We arrived in Buena Vista about noon. We split from the group here. The itinerary called for a lunch stop here for an hour and a half or so, followed by everybody going their respective ways: the Springs folks down US 24, the Denver people down US 285. This is where we made our second suboptimal decision. We left early and went north to I-70.

This takes us through Leadville and over Fremont Pass and by the Climax mine. We stopped in Silverthorne for lunch. The electronic signs near the Dillon exit indicated “Up to 90 minutes to Denver”. That’s not bad. With no traffic it takes an hour. So thirty minutes of delays on a Sunday afternoon doesn’t sound too bad. And “up to” means it could be less, right?

Only that’s not how it turned out. It took us half an hour just to get to the tunnel. Then it was stop-and-go off and on to US 6. We’d have been much better off going 285. So it goes.

It was a really nice weekend. Big thanks to Mike for all the effort he puts in.