The Trial of the Headlight

I don’t know what it is about the headlights on the Lotus, but it seems like I’m always replacing the bulbs. That’s an overstatement, obviously. I’ve had the car nearly ten years now and although it seems like I’ve replaced a headlight bulb a dozen times, it’s probably more like four or five.

On my Ohio trip my passenger side headlight died and last week I finally got around to replacing it. No trip to the store was required, or so I thought, as these bulbs are sold in two-packs and I still had a new one from the last time I did this.

Under normal circumstances, changing a headlight bulb is your garden-variety pain in the ass. Jack the car up, dismount the front wheel, remove the fender liner, unscrew the three bolts that secure the headlight cover, swap the bulb, then put it all back together.

Taking it all apart, though, it became obvious that it wouldn’t be the garden-variety pain in the ass this time. The bolts thread into little brass fittings that clamp over a piece of plastic. On the passenger side at least, one of the three brass fittings is missing. And the plastic where all three fittings go is broken. To be completely honest, I think two of the three were broken last time we replaced a light bulb. To continue the honesty, it may be that I’m remembering the plastic being broken on the driver’s side. So the problem likely exists on both sides. I’m going to ignore the driver’s side until one of those bulbs fails.

After a couple of hours of labor it became obvious that we wouldn’t be able to secure the headlight cover back on the car with the plastic all busted up. Before we started this operation the headlight cover was in place and secure, but we were unable to return it to that state.

A quick search of the internet provided some bad news: a replacement piece from Lotus will cost something on the order of $650. If you could order one. To say these parts are made of unobtanium wouldn’t be an exaggeration.

One fellow said he’d placed an order, but none were available. This was from a rather old forum post, but even if they were now available, I don’t particularly want to spend $1300. Because with the condition these are in, even if I didn’t think the other side was busted up the same way, it would look really silly to have one brand new one and one beat up one.

Michael found another forum posting about how these things could be fixed. That thread had a couple different flavors of the same solution. We’d buy some wire strapping from the plumbing department of the local home store, cut and fold and drill as necessary, and rivet them in place.

We only did two of the three mounting points. When we took it apart, only two were connected. And with the repair it’s much more secure than it was when we started all this.

The end product wasn’t quite a pretty as the second photo above as we had to enlarge the hole a bit to get the bolt to align with the fitting. But after some judicious Dremel work we had our fix completed.

In the end, Michael and I spent on the order of six hours over two weekends to replace one light bulb. The only supplies we needed to purchase was the 10′ roll of tab tape. It was the smallest quantity we could buy, but at least there’s plenty left to repair the other side when that light bulb calls it quits.

Upper Ouzel Creek

I don’t know what I was thinking. Obviously, I wasn’t. To think that I’d be able to reach Isolation or Frigid Lakes in early July is pure fantasy. So if you’re just curious what I found at either of those lakes, I’ll save you the trouble: I didn’t even make it to Bluebird Lake.

I ended up with a permit on this date because this site was already booked on the weekends later in July. For some reason, I fixated on doing one of my overnight trips in July, and only considered dates that included at least one weekend day. I could have had a date later in July had I been willing to do it in the middle of the week. Or, I could have had an August or September date had I been willing to make two trips in either of those months. But I was unwilling to take, or didn’t consider, those options.

But clearly taking a mid-week hike in July to try to bag Isolation and Frigid would have failed just the same. Certainly, this year. We had a very wet spring and there is still a lot of snow on the ground in the high country. That much is obvious from Denver.

The plan was to hike in to the Upper Ouzel Creek campsite, spend the night, explore whatever territory I could above Bluebird Lake for a day, spend a second night, then hike out on the third day. Even before setting out I knew it was unlikely I’d reach my goals. But so what? It’s a few days in the backcountry.

I filled the backpack with the usual stuff, then added more stuff. For these overnight trips I haven’t been taking the SLR. I decided to take it this time. I’ve been concerned about having my phone or GoPro batteries die, so I took along a battery that I could use to charge them. And, of course, the associated cables. And I knew I’d be trekking across a fair amount of snow so I included the micro-spikes.

Saturday began mostly overcast, but that changed as I approached Allenspark, where all skies to the west were a clear, clear blue. I wanted to arrive at the entrance a few minutes after eight. My permit was for 2 people in the party. I had asked Ed if he wanted to join me. He was in, until he was out, and a substitute could not be found. So I wanted to tell somebody that my party was just me.

At the gate at 8:10, they told me I might not get a parking spot. I was a bit concerned by this very thing; that’s why I wanted to be there pretty much as soon as the entry station was manned. Much later and the lot would be full for sure. When I got to the (first) bridge across the river I ran across a volunteer. She flagged me down. I told her I was backpacking and she said they generally save a spot or two for permit holders. But we happened to be in a radio dark spot and she couldn’t contact the other volunteers. She warned me that I might end up in the winter parking lot. Nothing like adding another mile to the trip!

At the trailhead lot I managed to shoehorn the car into a spot between a truck and an SUV. I had told the first volunteer at the lot that I had a permit, and asked where to park. He just told me to look for a spot. The second volunteer remarked that I’d parked where he didn’t know there was a spot, then said “You should have told me you have a permit. We have a couple spots saved!”

I was on the trail by a quarter to nine. That’s a bit later than I usually start on this trail, because on my day hikes I need to be six or eight miles in by noon. No such restriction today: I had all day to do about six miles. So I took my time.

Ouzel Falls

I’m using a backpack a friend gave me. This is my third trip with it. I’ve decided it’s too small. Other than that, I like it. Well, except that I can’t get my water bottle properly secured when I have the backpack on. I can get the water bottle out, but can’t put it back in properly. So, at least when I’m going solo, I have resigned myself to taking an extended break every time I want some water.

Then there was an additional break when I realized I’d packed my sunscreen in the bear vault. So much of this hike is in direct sunshine that the old SPF is in no way optional. It’s never optional for me, but especially so on this trail. So I stopped where the trail splits and Ouzel/Bluebird is to the left, Thunder/Lion to the right. And again along the top of the ridge where regrowth in the burn scar hasn’t blocked the view up the canyon. And again where the trail splits between Ouzel and Bluebird. Did I mention I was taking my time?

Big sky over the upper Ouzel drainage

I know people generally aren’t big fans of forest fires. I figure they’re a natural part of the life cycle of the forest and try to take the bad with the good. This area burned back in 1978. About ten years ago, along the top of the ridge above Ouzel Falls, you still had unimpeded views of all the surrounding terrain. But now the new growth is getting taller and thicker. Open views are still common and shade is sparse, but the forest is returning here.

Tree growth is considerably slower up higher, and by the time the trail is even with Ouzel Lake, it looks a lot like it looked in the first few years after the fire. The ground is covered only by grasses and a scattering of wildflowers. A few dead trunks stand upright over their fallen neighbors, and the trail is lined by raspberries for long stretches.

Along the way, I talked to a pair of twenty-something women and a thirty-something couple. It struck me that in both discussions we described the terrain in fundamentally different ways. They all oriented around peaks, I orient around lakes. I know the names of many of the mountains, but too many of the names are just names. I know Mahana Peak and Tanima Peak are around here, but it’s not important to me to know which ones are which. So there was some back-and-forth in these conversations translating geography: Hunters Creek to Mt. Orton, and the like.

When I got to about the end of the burn scar on the Bluebird trail, I ran into a guy in black shorts and no shirt that had motored past me earlier. “If you’re going to the lake, you may want to reconsider. I made it 95% of the way there, but had to turn back due to all the snow.” I asked if he made it to the campsite but he didn’t know. He showed me on his map how far he thought he’d gone.

I mounted the micro-spikes and continued. It was pretty easy going, but lots of big snow drifts to cross. Before long, it’s snow as often as not. Did he think this was too much snow, or that next stretch? Then I arrived at a place where I had to traverse high up on a steep snowbank. Even with traction, I didn’t like the looks of it. Without the backpack I’d have done it. It was an easy choice to descend a bit and climb some rocks rather than risk a fall.

As I started down, another couple caught up to me. She wanted to follow the tracks, but he thought my way was better. Turns out this is their third attempt to get to Bluebird Lake. First was in December. They snowshoed. They only made it to Ouzel Falls and the round trip was seven hours. Then in May they made it to “that boulder right there”. They swore they’d make it this time.

Snow-lily, Erythronium grandiflorum, all around my campsite

I pushed on a little farther, then took a breather. They took a breather then pushed on, and we happened to reach the spur to the campsite at the same time. They started up toward the campsite. I told them where they were going and pointed the other way. “See that log bridge over there? You go that way.” I’m absolutely certain they didn’t go much farther and will soon be making their fourth attempt.

Campsite

I was relieved to find the campsite free of snow. It was not exactly dry, though. It was pretty obvious that water had flowed here quite recently. Flowed here and puddled there. Luckily, the least wet spot was almost exactly the size of my tent. I got it set up then took a jacket and some water and headed up to Bluebird Lake. I quickly found myself at the bottom of the last steep bit to the lake. Later in the summer, this little section is one of my favorite fields of wildflowers. But right now it’s just snow.

So that’s where I stopped. In snow shoes, with an able companion, I’d have done it. With just the micro-spikes and solo, no way.

And that’s when I decided I didn’t need to stay two nights up here.

I sat for a while beside the stream, the outlet from Bluebird. The water was running fast and clear; a distinct blue. It cascades out of a tunnel it’s bored through the bottom of a huge drift of snow. The sound of the water was, in a way, intense. It is unwavering. It’s not as loud as nearby thunder, but it is certainly louder than the wind through the trees. It’s quite loud.

Front porch view of Copeland Mtn

By about six I made my way back to camp. It’s a nice camp. The view from the pad itself is nice, but it’s atop a large rock outcropping. A few feet down a gentle slope is a half log, seats two. Twenty feet below is the trail. I sat here after dinner and watched the shadow of the setting sun climb the flank of Copeland Mtn.

Although I’m a fair distance from the stream, the sound of rushing water is a dull roar, louder than any airliners passing overhead. I can’t see my stream, but across the canyon I can see six significant water falls. There’s still so much snow here, water is flowing everywhere, (except, thankfully, for my campsite).

By eight it was time to turn in. There wasn’t anything to watch for a while, and I knew I’d fall asleep before I’d get a good look at the night sky so I set an alarm for ten. Had to use the phone because the Fitbit wouldn’t sync with my phone without internet access. At ten, there were some scattered clouds. The crescent moon had set, or at least fallen behind out of sight beyond the divide.

I was awake again at 3:30 for a comfort break. The clouds had cleared and the Milky Way was spilled across the sky. I rarely see the Milky Way. Seems like few times I get to experience a dark sky, the moon is always shining brightly.

Surprisingly, I was able to sleep almost until seven. I took my time breaking camp and was on the trail by a quarter to nine. I hadn’t seen any big mammals on the hike in, but did see a solo deer in the evening and three more in the morning, below my porch.

Morning visitors

I was not exactly looking forward to putting that backpack on. Because it’s too small, almost none of the weight is on my hips; it’s all on my shoulders. My shoulders are sore, it it would be nice to have a day off. My one adjustment is to put (clean) socks between my shoulders and the straps. This worked better than anticipated. The discomfort was much reduced and I didn’t feel the need to stop as often. It took me more than six hours to go up, but not much over four on the way down.

Although I didn’t get to where I wanted to go, and I spent one night instead of two, I still had a good time. Any day in the Park is a good day.

No time lapse this trip. But there’s this, instead.

Lake Irene

Note that I’m talking here of Lake Irene, just down the road from Poudre Lake, not Irene Lake, near the base of Sprague Glacier. I hope to write about Irene Lake before summer is over.

Last of the low-hanging fruit, perhaps?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven the section of Trail Ridge Road west of the Alpine Visitor Center. But I can tell you, before today, how many times I’ve stopped at the parking lot for Lake Irene: zero.

It’s a small parking lot that will hold about a dozen cars. There are a couple of picnic tables and an improved trail of not much more than a hundred yards to small Lake Irene. There’s not much to recommend here, other than it’s easy to get to. I am fortunate to be able to make long hikes to the many beautiful lakes in the park. I probably take that for granted. But I do know that not everybody can hike like I do, and it’s good that there are some places that are more accessible. That said, it’s not ADA compliant. But it is relatively low effort.

Of course, I didn’t make the trip up here just to visit this lake. My real reason was to stop by the back country office to pick up my permit for next week’s hike. So we made a day of it, stopping in Estes for lunch then heading over Trail Ridge Road and returning to Denver via Winter Park and Berthoud Pass.

I would have liked to have taken Old Fall River Road up to the AVC, but that road isn’t open yet. And the snowbanks at the AVC are still something like ten feet deep. Lake Irene sits at about 10,600′ and there’s still snow on the ground there. Trail Ridge was so crowded we weren’t able to stop at the Rock Cut, but a brief glance at the Gorge Lakes told me they’re still well frozen.

My backpacking trip next week may be much more challenging than I was hoping. I’ll be staying at Upper Ouzel Creek. I don’t know exactly the elevation there, but it’s somewhere close to that of Lake Irene so I’m guessing there will be snow at the campsite. And my hope is to reach both Isolation Lake (11,985′) and Frigid Lake (11,824′). Frigid Lake will be, not doubt, still quite frigid.

At least it will be interesting.

Concours and Weigh-In

I’ve been negligent recently. I attended two car events the last two weeks without making any notes. So here I am, in catch-up mode.

Colorado Concours d’Elegance

The 36th annual meeting of the Concours was held at the Arapahoe Community College back on June 9. It has been five years since I last went, so I figured it was time to make another appearance. Last time, the day began with nice weather but in early afternoon we had a tornado warning and everybody had to go into the school for a short while.

This time, the day began quite chilly. I took a jacket and a hoodie and ended up wearing both for much of the morning. It looked like it might rain heavily, but aside from a few sprinkles early we stayed dry. And as the day wore on it warmed up considerably, with the clouds breaking up and bright sunshine (if not totally clear skies) by the end. We had so much sun, in fact, that I managed to get a bit of a sunburn on my face.

We had eight Lotus turn out: a Stalker (a Lotus 7 replica), a Europa, an Evora, an Elite, an Esprit, and three Elises. I thought I was the last to arrive, but another green Elise showed up a few minutes later. We were directed to opposite ends of the line, so our Lotus contingent was bookended by green Elises.

I almost never have the roof mounted on the car. It hangs on a bracket on the garage wall. I’ve pretty much decided the only time I’ll put it on the car is for car shows. I have vinyl outlines of all the tracks I’ve lapped displayed on it, but nobody ever gets to see them. So the car shows are a good excuse to put the roof on, and the track decals serve as an explanation of the somewhat rough condition of the car.

I made a lap of the field mid-morning to get a look at all the cars. Because it’s not my first rodeo, I pretty much knew what to expect. The show is put on by the same car clubs every year, so the bulk of the entrants are regulars. Although Lotus Colorado is one of the hosting clubs our turnout this year is fairly typical for us, which means we’re one of the smaller clubs to appear. The other clubs tend to have much larger appearances: Alfa, Aston Martin, Audi, Ferrari, Maserati, Mercedes, Porsche, Jaguar, Saab, Triumph, and a few others. A highlight for me was seeing a handful of really old cars: what I might tend to call horseless carriages, those cars that are now a hundred years old or older.

As a part of my recon lap I scoped out the food choices. There were a handful of food trucks there with a variety of menu choices. Towards one o’clock I wandered over to grab some grub and first picked on the Cajun truck. I decided I’d have the jambalaya. The line was fairly long; I found myself behind about a dozen people. After a short while, there were only about six folks in front of me. Then a gal came out of the truck with a sharpie and crossed off about a third of the menu, including the jambalaya. That was disappointing.

So I decided to switch to Plan B: toasted ravioli from the Italian truck. Again, I found myself at the end of a significant line. I turned to the guy behind me and said I hoped he wasn’t looking to have the ravioli. “Why? Do you think you’ll get the last order of it?” “No,” I answered, “Somebody in front of me will get the last order and neither of us will get it.” Sure enough, a few minutes later somebody came out and crossed off a number of menu items. Luckily, the ravioli wasn’t one of those deprecated.

I spent most of my time hanging around my car. Lots of people commented on or asked questions about the track decals. I challenged a number of people to name as many of them as they could. Some had some off-the-wall suggestions, including Brands Hatch and Sebring.

It was an enjoyable day, in spite of a couple issues at the end. I’d neglected to plug the car into the trickle charger in the preceeding days and when I went to leave it wouldn’t start. Wes and Toni gave me a jump and I was on the road. Dave G., however, locked his jacket in the boot. That’s not a big deal, except that his key was in his jacket pocket. We tried to get the boot open without success, so he had to Uber home to get his spare.

Lotus Only Car Show

The next Saturday, the 15th, we had a LoCo Meeting at Ferrari of Denver. It wasn’t just a club event, but it was mostly club people. The big event of the day was a weigh-in. Prizes were given for lightest Lotus, heaviest Lotus (an ironic prize, no doubt), lightest Elise, and lightest car overall (because, even though it was a “Lotus Only” event, there were other kinds of cars). Oh, and there was a food truck serving up fish and chips

The whole time I’ve owned the car, whenever anybody asked what it weighed, I’d tell them “the previous owner told me 1965 pounds”. This was my chance to see it weighed and get a number that wasn’t hearsay. I didn’t know whether that 1965 pounds was accurate, or which wheels were mounted, or if the hardtop was on, or how much fuel was in the car, or even if I remembered the number correctly.

Photo stolen from Ryan’s Facebook post. Don’t know who took it.

We did the Elises first, and I was second on the scales. Dave G’s car was first and came in at 1964 lbs. He and I were joking before we were on the scales about who had less fuel in the car. My low fuel light came on on the way to the event, so I knew I was nearly empty. He said the same thing, so with his car at 1964 I figured he was lighter. As it turned out, mine came in at 1901 pounds, lightest Elise by 24 pounds. Knock me over with a feather. So I’m guessing that 1965 figure is with the lighter wheels and a full tank of gas. My prize was a gift certificate good at Ferrari of Denver.

Total weight: 1901 lbs

When they were going over the results and giving away the prizes, there was talk of doing it again next year. They’ll have to come up with different competitions than this time, or chances are all the same cars would win. Ryan said maybe something along the lines of “the biggest loser”, seeing who could shed the most weight for next time.

I’m game!

Emerald Lake and Bierstadt Lake

Sunday, June 16

I think it has been four months since my last visit to the Park. That’s way too long. But it’s too early to do a nice long hike because that generally means a decent elevation gain, and from down here in the big city it looks like there’s still quite a bit of snow on the ground in the high country. So I figured I’d do a short hike to get a sense of how much snow there really is.

Lacking any good ideas, I resorted to an old standby: Emerald Lake. For nearly twenty years, I managed to drag a rotating group of friends up to Emerald on Memorial Day weekend. It’s a bit past that time now, but close enough. I was hoping to make it around the lake and gain some elevation on the west side of it for a change of pace.

I arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot a bit before nine. There were only a few empty parking spaces left. I probably should have grabbed the first one I saw, but hoping for a closer spot I found myself up at the top. There, one of the volunteers said, “Hey! We know that car!” Doc and I exchanged greetings; he wanted me to tell him about the car after I got parked. Well, Ed’s usual spot was empty, so I parked there. Before I was out of the car, another volunteer parked next to me. So I answered all of Doc’s questions and chatted with the both of them before hitting the trail.

Emerald Lake

Just before getting to Emerald I met a guy who had just skied down one of the couloirs from near the top of Flattop. Being a non-skier, this sort of thing strikes me as pretty hard-core.

At Emerald, I worked my way around the norther shore far enough to get out of the ever present crowd, but I didn’t try too hard to continue west to higher ground. Having failed to execute my original plan, it occurred to me that this hike is so short there isn’t any reason I can’t add another short hike to the day. When I recently redid my online photo gallery I noticed that I didn’t have any pictures of Lake Bierstadt. Why not make a side trip to Bierstadt and rectify that oversight?

Having arrived at the lake a few minutes before ten it was too early for lunch, so I just relaxed and took in the views. I couldn’t help but notice a bunch of debris on the ice over on the west side. There was an avalanche here back in early May. This debris is likely from that event. How else would a bunch of pieces of pine tree be on the ice in the middle of Emerald Lake?

Avalanche debris on the lake

The hike back to Bear Lake was at times painfully slow. This is what I call “conga line hiking”. There were so many people around the end of the trail at Emerald that it sounded like a high school cafeteria. On the way down, the only places I could make my way past long lines of people was on the snow: I had my micro spikes but most others were in sneakers. I would have taken the shortcut from Nymph to Bear, but I’ll only do that when nobody is watching – don’t want to let the general populace know about the shortcut. No chance of stealth today, so I took the long way.

Lake Bierstadt is named for Albert Bierstadt, a painter known for his landscapes of the American West. I saw a few of his paintings when I visited the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. They’re big paintings of dramatic landscapes. So I find it a bit ironic that, in a Park with so many stunning lakes, the one with his name on it is, shall we say, not that impressive.

The hike from Bear Lake to Bierstadt Lake is about two miles. The first section is along the Flattop Mtn trail. This section of trail climbs a bit, and after the trail junction it continues to go up for a short distance. After that, it’s all flat or slightly downhill. It’s a forest hike with no views at all, except for a very short glimpse of Halleck and Flattop on a few yards of trail that goes west. The walking is very easy, with few roots or rocks to deal with. I was able to keep up what I call a “sidewalk pace”.

There were a lot fewer hikers here than at Emerald. Between Bear Lake and Bierstadt I ran into about two dozen other people. I made my way to a rock on the southwestern shore of the lake and ate my picnic lunch. I was joined in lunch by a duck who was working his way back and forth through the grasses nibbling as he went. And not far away I was somewhat surprised to hear the almost constant croaking of frogs. I know there are frogs in the park, but I’ve never seen any, and until now hadn’t heard them either.

Up to now, the weather had been quite pleasant. But to the north, some ominous clouds had formed and a chill breeze had picked up. I’d wanted to circumnavigate the lake, but with the threat of rain I packed up and headed down the trail to the Bierstadt trailhead.

Threatening clouds

So I still don’t have any pictures of the best views of Bierstadt.

The trail from the lake to the trailhead climbs something like 600′ in a mile. It switches back and forth across the mostly treeless slope on its way. I’ve made that climb a few times, but the last couple passages on this trail have been downhill only, like today. Just when I started down, I ran into a family coming up. They were only a few yards from the top. I couldn’t resist: I said, “Only another mile to go!” and waited a beat before adding “Just kidding.”

Mid-Ohio Trip – Naperville to Denver

Day 8 – Saturday, June 1

Slightly late start to the day. On weekends the hotel starts breakfast at 7 instead of 6. My plan was to have the car loaded before 7 so I could be out as early as possible without skipping breakfast but my route planning took a bit longer than expected.

First leg of the trip was to Clinton, Iowa, where I wanted to take a short break at a park by the Mississippi River. I took two lane roads almost the entire way; very easy driving. The park in Clinton was a hive of activity with some softball games going on. I walked maybe a half mile down the river, then back. US 30 crosses the river on a suspension bridge and the rail bridge is almost at the water line. It’s one of those bridges that has a center-pivot to let river traffic go by. I didn’t see this one in operation, but later when I crossed the Missouri I saw a rail bridge pivoted and open to river traffic.

Riverview Park, Clinton, IA

From the satellite photos, this little lighthouse is generally 70 or 80 feet from the water and there are four or five more light posts that are submerged. Clearly, the levees here are high enough to handle a lot more water. But if this were to be breached, the major part of this little town would be submerged.

US 30 bridge, railroad bridge, at Clinton

The next leg of my trip was from Clinton to West Branch for a quick visit to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. Again, two lane roads, this time almost all state routes rather than US highways. I don’t think I had to pass anybody the whole way from Naperville, other than in the towns. I’m sure I’m sounding like a broken record when I say how much more I prefer the small roads to the interstates.

I didn’t spend a lot of time at the library. I watched the film that they show hourly and toured the exhibits in the museum. And, of course, the gift shop. For some reason, they have a bunch of trinkets related to ancient Egypt. I don’t recall Hoover having any connections, but I could be forgetting. In the museum was a hunk of the Berlin wall. Again, I’m pretty sure he had no specific connection to the Berlin wall, but it was cool to see it. In general, I don’t go around touching museum exhibits, but I couldn’t resist this time.

Most of the building is off-limits to the public, so I had to ask: If I were to be writing a book about, say, Belgian relief, could I get access to the library? The answer was that all I’d need to do is get a research license, which is about as hard to obtain as a library card. In the mean time, I was free to ask any of the staff researchers questions and they’d do their best to respond. Interesting. Not that I’m planning on writing about Hoover. Or anybody else, for that matter.

Hoover grave site

The Hoover library is only a few hundred yards from I-80. I’ve driven by here many times and never bothered to stop. Or even notice how close it was. Add this to the long list of places I ignored because I was in too big of a hurry on the Interstate. The more I avoid those roads, the happier I am.

Third leg of the day was from West Branch southwest to join US 36 somewhere in Missouri, then as far west as I could get. I had the endpoint tentatively at Bethany, Missouri. I reached Bethany before 6:00pm; clearly too early to stop. In my first iteration of the plan, weeks ago, I was looking at St. Joseph. As it turns out, I made it to Hiawatha, Kansas, about forty miles farther.

One of the reasons I don’t drive after dark is the danger of animals. This was illustrated perfectly just a few miles before Hiawatha. I came upon what I thought was debris in my lane. It wasn’t obvious to me at first what it was. Then I saw it was moving. Slowly. It was a good sized turtle, moving from left to right and about where my drivers side tires belonged. I avoided it, and the smaller turtle a few yards past it, which had almost reached the shoulder. I sure hope they both made it. Frankly, I’m a bit amazed they didn’t get clobbered by the clump of traffic about a quarter mile ahead of me: two semis, two tour buses, a motorhome, and two cars. I have no idea how they all managed to miss both turtles.

My minor irritations with technology continued. As soon as I pulled up to the hotel, my phone decided it didn’t want to talk to anybody. I had no cell service and no GPS. At first I thought it was just the cell service that was lacking. But I saw other people yakking on their phones and spotted a cell tower a short distance away. All was good after rebooting the phone. I guess the day wouldn’t have been complete without some sort of technical glitch.

One of the key events of Herbert Hoover’s tenure as Secretary of Commerce was his relief work in the aftermath of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. This was the most destructive river flood in the history of the United States. Twenty seven thousand square miles of land was inundated and 630,000 people were displaced from their homes. To try to prevent future floods, the federal government created the world’s longest system of levees and floodways.

Yesterday, one of these levees failed in the West Quincy area, and other levees were breached along the Arkansas river as well. Luckily, I was in neither of those places and saw nothing so dramatic. However, I did drive by a huge amount of acreage that was under water. Not being from the area, I can’t look at a river and tell if it’s high compared to other severe flooding years, but every river I saw looked very high. At Clinton, all the access stairs leading down to the river were closed, and lampposts on the river side of the levee were under water.

In Missouri, just east of the Mississippi, there’s the Platte River. This is not the same one that flows through Denver an on through Nebraska. I didn’t know there was another one. This one is sometimes called the Little Platte River. This Platte was well out of its banks, flooding perhaps a half mile on each side of the river. Most of Iowa and Missouri that I traversed through the day was rolling terrain, so there wasn’t much flooding to see. But quite a bit of land on the Kansas side of the Missouri is flooded as well as large areas of Illinois that I drove through. Of course, I also mentioned flooding last weekend through the section of Illinois that I went through farther south.

We aren’t in need of someone to do what Hoover did 90 years ago (feed and house more than half a million people), although there are still quite a few people affected by the high water. But I think I can say that the levee system did what it was intended to do (regardless of other good or bad side-effects). In 2011, the Mississippi rose a foot higher than back in 1927. And the flooding along the Missouri this year is worse than it was in 2011. But the damage and displacement of people is far, far less than back then.

Today’s miles: 525 road Total miles: 2,254 road, 407 track

Day 9 – Sunday, June 2

A fairly straight-forward and uneventful drive through Kansas and eastern Colorado. I well remember last year’s range anxiety on this same road. Today I filled up in Smith Center, Kansas, three hundred miles to Byers. I’d been getting a bit over 33mpg and figured I could make it easily. Just the same, I topped off the tank at my lunch stop in St. Francis, at the last working gas pump before HPR.

Today’s miles: 524 road Total miles: 2,778 road, 407 track

Total trip miles: 3,185

Mid-Ohio Trip – Chicago

Day 7 – Friday, May 31

The weather guy on TV said the sky today would be “milky”. That’s not a description I recall hearing before. Turned out to be fairly apt.

When picking a hotel for my stay in Chicago my first consideration was to be roughly half way between downtown and Autobahn. That meant a western suburb. Next consideration was proximity to a train station. Without knowing anything about Chicago mass transit I had to ask around. Bob suggested the best way to go was on the Metra. This is an entirely different train system than the “L” operated by the Chicago Transit Authority. With this in mind, I picked a hotel just a few miles from the Naperville Metra station.

I didn’t want to have to get to the station early enough to find a parking spot, so I grabbed a Lyft. At the station, I was expecting to buy tickets from a machine. That’s how it works for the BART in San Francisco and the Metro in D.C. It works differently for Denver’s train system, at least the one I’ve ridden. There are no turnstiles but you still get your ticket from a machine. At the Metra station, you actually go to a ticket window and buy from a person. How quaint.

The train cars are tall double-decker affairs. The lower level is two seats on each side of the aisle. The upper level is one seat each side, with some seats facing forward and others that are jump seats that fold down, and you face the aisle. Up there, you’re on one side or the other as there’s no floor in the center. A conductor comes through and checks tickets, and from the lower level he can collect from the folks above.

The train deposits you in Union Station. The trains are below ground level and there are many platforms. Not knowing where to go I just let myself be carried along by the crowd, turning right and left, going up escalators, I finally was deposited on Adams St on the bank of the Chicago River. The general plan was to wander the public spaces by the Lake, then spend some time at the art museum and go to the observation deck at either the Willis Tower or the Hancock Tower. I could either find dinner downtown or head back to Naperville.

So finding myself on Adams St at the river was a good starting place. All I needed to do was walk a few blocks east and I’d be at the museum. It wouldn’t open for a while, so I’d have time to wander through the parks and gawp at the skyline.

Bean There, Done That

I didn’t have a clear sense of how the place is laid out, so I just started at the northwest corner and went around clockwise. This meant I’d start in Millennium Park. The big attraction here is “the bean,” which is actually called Cloud Gate. When I arrived there were only a few people. Great luck, I thought. I can get some pictures without a huge crowd. I managed to take one or two photos before a busload of kids showed up. Ah, well, so it goes.

A few yards south of Cloud Gate is the Crown Fountain. I don’t think I’d heard of this before. I’m pretty sure I’d remember it. There are two sort of obelisks that face each other with water cascading down the sides. And I literally mean “face each other.” They have human faces on them. The faces are animated. That is, they slowly change their expressions. Periodically, they purse their lips and streams of water pour from their “mouths”.

Heading toward the lake you come across the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, an interesting open-air venue, obviously designed by Frank Gehry. From there you can take a pedestrian bridge across Columbus Drive to Maggie Daley Park. It has all sorts of little nooks and crannies for kids to explore: forts and pirate ships, hall-of-mirrors gardens, sculptures, and so on. Heading south along Lake Shore Drive eventually takes you to Buckingham Fountain.

From here I crossed Lake Shore Drive and walked along the water’s edge. To the north you can see Navy Pier, to the south the planetarium, aquarium, and the Field Museum. Heading back west takes you through the south end of Grant Park. Before you get to Michigan Avenue you’ll find the loop’s railroad tracks below grade, out of sight. I skipped some of these little parks and worked my way back to the art museum, the Art Institute of Chicago.

It’s a big museum. I didn’t make it through the entire place, but I got close. I’m not the biggest art fan. That is, I like art, but there are some types that don’t appeal to me. So I was perfectly willing to skip various exhibits. As it turned out, I don’t think I skipped much. I’m not an expert on art or art museums by any stretch of the imagination, but I’d suggest that this is one of the top art museums in the world. Perhaps not “top ten” material, but not far from it. I was surprised how many of the works I recognized, and how many works by artists I recognized.

American Gothic on the left and Nighthawks through the doorway on the right

Among the exhibits that didn’t appeal to me are some of the works of modern art. This would include Jackson Pollack, who I suspect just sold his drop cloths. Another one was just a set of colored panels: a block of blue next to a block of red next to a block of green next to a block of white, or things to that effect. I don’t understand this stuff. Picasso may not be my cup of tea, but some effort obviously went into it. It’s a different view of reality, but there’s a viewpoint there, even if it doesn’t speak to me. A series of paint swatches seems like they’re just trying to pull one over on me.

The rest of the exhibits are amazing in one way or another. The miniature rooms were incredible. A woman did a series of rooms either based on real houses or her imagination that represented a place and time. Furnishings, art, lighting, rugs, views into adjoining rooms. I almost skipped that one and I’m glad I didn’t. I really liked the impressionists, too. The American art included quite a lot of furniture. “They don’t make them like that anymore” is an understatement. The level of craftsmanship is insane. The several rooms with armor and arms was great, too.

I did get a bit of a kick out of all the people taking pictures of the art. I’ve done this on occasion myself, to be honest. But these days I’m more interested in the room as a whole, or the people looking at the art. Because I can go on-line and find a much better picture than I can take of that Picasso.

The admission ticket that I bought for the art museum included a trip up to the Skydeck attraction at the Willis Tower. That’s the observation deck on the 103rd floor. I entered the building through the wrong entrance. A doorman there immediately asked if I was looking for the Skydeck. I jokingly asked him if he thought I looked like a tourist (because I obviously did: Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and a camera around my neck).

Other than the views, the attraction is The Ledge. They basically took out four windows and made bay windows with transparent floors. Groups of three or fewer people get sixty seconds, four or more get ninety. Everybody does it, so the line is long: maybe 20 minutes. I got to chatting with a group there where one of the guys wanted to do a handstand. He said he’s been doing handstands all over Chicago. Here, he was reluctant because he’s afraid of heights. I said, “Hey, don’t worry: nobody has fallen out the entire time I’ve been waiting here!”

I have a problem with heights, but this didn’t bother me

By now I was done. I’d been walking all day and I was looking forward to sitting down on the train. I managed to find the correct train without looking too much like a rube. I sat on the upper level this time, thinking there might be a view. There wasn’t. After some time, my phone rang. It was Bob. After chatting for a couple minutes I couldn’t help but notice that several people were giving me the evil eye for talking on my phone. I told Bob I’d call him back. Once off the train, I got the phone out and started to call a Lyft. As soon as it asked where I wanted to go, it told me I was down to 3% charge and shut itself off. (I left the hotel with a fully charged phone. Most days, it’s down to 55-60% by the end of the day. Some days it gets happy and goes through 90% by bed time. This day, it must have been positively ecstatic, to use 100% in 10 hours. And I hardly even used it.)

That’s just great. Not only can’t I call a car, I can’t even bring up a map to tell me which way to hoof it. I didn’t even really know how far it was. I was hoping it was closer to four miles than seven. On the way to the station I didn’t really pay attention to where we were going, but I did have a general direction. So off I went, expecting that I’d be able to stop at any number of places to ask for directions. I passed a Little Caesar’s Pizza place and a DQ. I considered going to the pizza place and ordering a pizza for delivery to my hotel, then catching a ride with the driver. But the line was out the door, as was the line at DQ. After that, I was in a residential area whose few businesses were all closed.

There were no other pedestrians and when a hippyish bicyclist came by I stopped him to ask directions. He told me I was going in the right way and that if I got to the highway I’d gone too far. I found the street I was looking for and soon found my hotel. The last hurdle to jump was the lack of a crosswalk across a multi-lane road with a high speed limit. As you may have guessed, I managed to cross without getting run over. Back in my room, I plugged in to recharge. I checked how far it was: less than three miles.

I had dinner at a brew pub next to the hotel and had a large beer.

More photos here.

Today’s miles: 0 road Total miles: 1,729 road, 407 track

Mid-Ohio Trip – Autobahn Track Day

Day 6 – Thursday, May 30

Autobahn Country Club is a country club that, instead of being focused on golf or tennis, is all about performance driving. Members there have access to a race track that can be run in three configurations (North, South, Full Course), a skid pad, and a go-kart track. They can build a garage on-site for all their toys. Most such facilities are open only to members and their guests, but Autobahn sometimes hosts club track days. When I started planning this trip, I thought it would be worth a shot to ask if I could lap there on a guest pass of some sort. After a few emails and phone calls, it was all arranged.

And so, here I am, ready to see how the other half lives.

It was a leisurely morning as I didn’t need to be at the track until 9am. On Thursdays they run a later schedule that varies through the summer, based more or less on when the sun sets. So my first session wouldn’t start until 10:20am. Before that, I needed to visit their instructor. It wasn’t to get any instruction, per se, but to cover all the stuff we usually cover in the drivers meeting.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The clock radio in my room went off at 6:10 this morning, tuned to a Spanish language station. Much of this trip I’ve been getting up at 6:10, but today I wanted to sleep in a little longer. Didn’t happen.

Went downstairs for breakfast. Same fare as the hotel in Toledo, likely because it’s the same chain. The TV was on the news as it usually is in these places. I’m never particularly interested, but the weather report did catch my attention. They said that this May is now officially the wettest May recorded in Chicago history: a bit more than 8 inches of rain. We get about 14.5 inches of precipitation all year in Denver.

At the track, after getting registered at the front gate, I went to the clubhouse to introduce myself to Ron, the fellow who arranged for me to be here. He told me a bit about the place – when they opened, how many members they have, what improvements they’re working on, and so forth. Then he took me down to meet Tony Kester, one of their instructors. I guess you could call him their resident Stig. He raced professionally for some time, participating in the American Le Mans Series as well as at least one 24 Hours of Le Mans. (A golf club has golf pros, a tennis club has tennis pros, ergo a track club has race pros.)

We covered the usual drivers meeting material – flags, passing rules, passing zones, their LED lights, entering and exiting the track – and sent me on my way. I unloaded the car in an out of the way place. (“Over there by the bleachers is probably best. Members aren’t used to people laying out a bunch of stuff” as those who don’t have garages on-site probably trailer their cars.) Then I headed on to the track.

By now I had two wristbands. One said that I’d paid, the other that I’d had my meeting with Tony. (Presumably members get different color wristbands that indicate they only need the one.) The drill is to go to the end of pit lane and stop. Race control will have you sign in (actually, he just asked me my name) and when they’re ready they’ll release you onto the track.

The first session was horrible. Although it wasn’t raining, it rained overnight and there were rivers running across the track. Not just one or two, but nearly everywhere. At the time, I think there were only three turns that were dry. I crawled around the track. Even so, I was going sideways quite a bit. Not “sideways, this is fun!” but “sideways I’m not in control!” I put four wheels off once and was sliding around quite a bit. It was not fun.

As well, I managed to pick the wrong configuration for the lap timer so I wasn’t getting any data (I had selected the North course instead of the South course). In this case, good riddance. There wasn’t any worthwhile data from this session.

Back in the clubhouse I talked to Ron again. “Have Tony show you the wet line.” Great idea. We tracked Tony down. Rewind a bit here. When Tony and I had our little drivers meeting, somebody showed up and asked him if he gave rides to a couple of guys yesterday. “Yes, both at the same time. It was really wet. I don’t think they puked, but they sure looked sick.” So Tony gets a car (an Audi RS5 Quattro, I believe) and takes me for a ride.

The first time around he’s more or less on the line you’d take in the dry. Periodically, he’s doing massive steering inputs or abrupt throttle or brakes to see how much grip there is. It’s a little unsettling. The next two times around he’s following the “wet” line, which is taking the outside of the turn rather than hitting the apex. He was giving a running commentary: “It’s good here. Still pretty slick through here. You have to avoid this puddle” and so on. The wet line works most places, but not all. Anyway, I think I get the idea and he drops me off and puts the car away. His parting shot was, “It’s easier with all-wheel drive!”

While Tony was schooling me on the wet line, a Corvette was out on the track. Well, he was out part of the time. He put it well off the track in the same location I did, but while I was able to regain the track, he needed a tow. He gave up after that, having completed two laps. His times were in the three minute range, probably about what mine were.

After my lesson from Tony, Ron came and found me. He tells me he’s signed me up to drive their BMW M2 Competition Coupe for their touring lap session. In this session we’ll be driving around behind the pace car, not above 50mph or so. No helmet required. They have a Jag I’d like to drive, but Ron tells me it’s always reserved. So the M2 works for me. During the course of the day, several people tell me that’s their favorite car of the bunch. (They have a dozen or so cars for this purpose – Audi, Lexus, BMW, the Jag.)

By now I see that I’m the only one dumb enough to waste his time at the track today. It’s just too wet. And the consensus is that the track won’t dry out, and we may actually get more rain. I’m not exactly pleased. I’ve decided that this whole thing may be a waste of my time and money. If it’s not going to get any better, I may as well leave and do something else. I was pretty down.

But I go out for another session. It’s still wet almost everywhere. I can’t follow the line I’d like to learn: the fast way around a dry track. I can’t turn in where I want, or apex where I want, or brake where I want, or even shift where I want. I’m always looking for the water. It’s drying out a little. I think. Maybe. But I manage to keep it on the track. For a long time. Technically, each run group is given a twenty minute session. But because I’m the only idiot out there, they’ll let me run until I give up. So after 35 minutes I give up. The good news is, I manage to steadily improve.

At lunch time I discover that I’ve somehow lost my credit card. It’s not my only one, so it’s just a pain in the ass and not a total disaster. No idea how I’ve lost it. I didn’t leave it at registration, and haven’t had to use it since. Where could it have gone? Anyway, after lunch is the touring lap session. Just as I’m finishing my sandwich, a gentleman comes by to give me the keys to the BMW. Well, a key fob anyway. There’s no such thing as a car key any more. Then he says, “Not to be demeaning or anything, but do you know how to put this car in park?”

Move the gear selector to “P”? This is not the correct answer. “When you pull into the parking space, leave it in drive and turn it off.” We head off to the cars for the laps. It takes me a few seconds to figure out how to get it into drive. Old dog, new tricks, I guess. It has paddle shifters but I don’t even try to figure this out.

BMW M2 Competition Coupe

Heading on to the track it’s the pace car, another BMW, me, and the Jag. We’re following the dry line even though there’s still quite a few wet spots and puddles. After a few laps it’s pretty obvious to me that we’re doing pretty good lap times. We’re not going very fast down the straights, but we’re not really slowing for the turns. I manage to dig my phone out of my pocket and get the timer running. I didn’t try to turn off any driver aids, but perhaps not all the nannies were enabled. I managed to get it somewhat sideways through the puddles a few times, as did the other BMW driver.

By the time we exit the track my soul has been a little bit crushed. Our parade laps were faster than what I managed the previous session. When I got out of the car, the other BMW driver was talking to Kyle, who was driving the pace car. “Thanks for those last two laps!” Kyle winked and said, “We never went over 50, did we?” Then I showed him my lap timer and my times from my previous session. He laughed (not in a malicious way). It is somewhat funny.

I got to talking with Kyle. He noticed my HPR hat and asked how I liked the place. He says he’s been wanting to run there but hasn’t been able to make it work yet. I told him about the facilities, that it’s a bit crude (no running water, for example) but that the track itself is great. He said he’d worked at a place like that: in the middle of nowhere and porta-potties instead of toilets. I asked him where that was. “Oregon Raceway Park”. Hey, I’ve been there!

By the time of my next session, the sun had been shining for a while, and we had a little breeze. The track was very nearly dry. I started really trying to get on it, on the dry line. There were still a few places where I couldn’t do it, where I had to adjust to avoid some water, or tiptoe through a turn to avoid spinning, but I was easily faster than before. All my laps were under two minutes, and my best was 1:53.27. Not a particularly fast lap, but maybe better than I’d have done in my first session had it been dry all day.

I had two more sessions after that. I improved my time to 1:48.05. In the clubhouse, they have a screen that is constantly updated with members times. All (or maybe just most) members run with transponders. Their times are displayed on a large monitor. I don’t have a transponder, of course, so my times weren’t included. But by now there were two members out running their spec Miatas. They were lapping in the 1:43’s. Tony asked me which Miatas they were. I described them and he said they were both very good drivers. He thought my time was pretty good given the conditions, my tires, and my lack of experience on this track.

Yours truly

In my penultimate session, I managed to kill another bird (my second on this trip). For a short while I was concerned it was stuck to my car somehow, mashed into the grill or something. Next time around the dead bird was in the middle of the track. At least is wasn’t in a place where I was going to run over it again.

In the last session I failed to improve my time. I got close, but couldn’t best it. (I’d have liked to run a few more laps, but I timed it perfectly. At the gas station down the street I pumped 9.8 gallons of gas into my 10 gallon tank.)

I finished the day with a beer in the clubhouse, packed up all my stuff, made a final search for my missing credit card, and hit the road. My first stop was the gas station a couple miles down the road. I’m glad it wasn’t any farther: I poured 9.8 gallons of gas into my 10 gallon tank.

My last session started at 6:05, so I didn’t leave the facility until about 7. On the way back to the hotel, at a stoplight a guy in the next lane told me my right headlight is out. So now I’m missing the right front turn signal and right headlight. There’s no damage from the bird strike, so I guess I’m just lucky all my lights are going dim at the same time. (Luck is when bad things happen; everything else is skill.)

Addendum: I found my credit card a couple days later, and now all the turn signals are working again. So it’s just the headlight.

Today’s miles: 72 road, 126 track Total miles: 1,729 road, 407 track

Autobahn Impressions

This is a very nice facility. This is the third track I’ve been to that is “members only”. The first was ORP, mentioned above. When I was there, it was more primitive than HPR. The other is Woody Creek, also very primitive. Nothing primitive about Autobahn.

The track is more or less what I expected. We’re in Illinois, so I was expecting it to be as flat as a tabletop. It did have some subtle elevation change, just enough to catch the eye but not enough to challenge the driver. Drainage was a bit of a problem, but as alluded to earlier, this was the rainiest May recorded for the area. In addition to the rivers that ran across the track there were several places where the water percolated up through the asphalt. They really have worked hard on drainage, but what can you do in extreme conditions?

For most of the day, I had the place to myself. The aforementioned Corvette made two laps, and a couple of Miatas ran maybe a dozen laps each. When they left the track, they headed to their garages. So I never met another driver all day. I met quite a few Autobahn employees in the clubhouse, and perhaps one or two members who were there but not driving. The lack of other drivers to talk to was largely due to the track conditions.

Having the place to myself was a bit odd. It was great not having to deal with any traffic at all. Every lap was unimpeded. That’s never happened to me before and probably never will again. On the other hand, track days are very much social events. I like wandering around the paddock talking to the other drivers. Mine was the only car in the paddock. But I’m sure if the conditions had been more normal I’d have had somebody to talk to.

I’m not a man of the means required to be a member. My guest pass was a one-time thing, as a courtesy to an enthusiast passing through. If I lived in the area, I’d go back for a club day (North Woods Shelby Club runs there). I think it’s great that they open the facility up to non-members occasionally.

In spite of the rocky start, I had a great time. Everybody was friendly and made me feel at home. So I give a tip of the hat and a hearty “thank you” to Ron and the rest for hosting me.

Mid-Ohio Trip – Toledo to Naperville

Day 5 – Wednesday, May 29

I was awakened during the night by a brief thundershower, but wasn’t curious enough about the time to actually check. A lazy morning, sleeping in and taking my time to get going. A nice breakfast, as far as these things go (eggs, sausage, fruit, bagel).

I visited with Joan, Junior, and Susie before leaving Toledo at noon. Because I wanted to take a break at Indiana Dunes National Park it seemed expeditious to violate Rule #1 and utilize the interstate. In this case, it’s not just interstate, but turnpike. In retrospect, I’m not sure it was worth it. I had to pay $11.25 in tolls between Ohio and Indiana. There were several construction zones that slowed things down, the road surface was some of the worst of the trip, and truck traffic was so heavy they were running nose to tail in groups of six to eight the whole way. On top of that it’s monotonous; I really fought to stay awake. Back roads might have taken me thirty or forty minutes longer, but I’m sure would have been better.

I took a lunch break at one of the service plazas there. I always try to get a seat with a view of my car. Not because I want to watch the car but because I want to watch people looking at it. People go out of their way to check it out. Highlight this time was when a father took a picture of his 6 or 8 year old son standing next to it. (And another one, a few miles from my destination: in a car next to me at a light, the father asking the son if he sees my car. “It’s a green race car just like the one you have. Can you see it?” Then he turns to me and says “Nice car!”)

I’ve been fighting technology the whole trip. Navigation by phone has not let me down on the cross-country drive. (I nearly credited that to having brought an atlas with me, but that can’t be the reason because I managed to leave it in the motel in Mansfield.) But things have not been all roses. At Ruth’s I tried to bring up a map of nearby motels. It kept showing me motels in Mansfield. But I’m not in Mansfield! “Maps is off-line”. Tried to connect to her WiFi but my phone didn’t see it. Managed to find a hotel almost at random. In the hotel I couldn’t connect to the internet. But if that’s my biggest complaint on this trip, I can live with it.

On the plus side, getting through Chicago, I imagine, is much better with the navigational aid. Had I had to do this the old-fashioned way, I’d have picked a route before hand and had to stick with it regardless of delays. It would have had to have been a simple route with minimal turns. Anything complicated would require a passenger to keep me on route. But with satnav, when there was a delay it rerouted me, and the final route was actually quite pleasant: along a section of the Little Calumet River and through the Waterfall Glen Forest Reserve (passing by the Argonne National Laboratory).

On I-94 I saw a red car stopped on the side of the road. Too late I identified it as a Ferrari. Had I seen what it was quickly enough I’d have pulled over and stopped. I’m pretty sure I’d have been totally unable to provide any assistance unless the guy’s cell phone was dead.

Today’s miles: 288 road Total miles: 1,657 road, 281 track

Diversion: Indiana Dunes National Park

This was a very brief visit, so I’m sure I’m not seeing the whole picture.

It’s an interesting little park. It lies along about fifteen miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. It’s not a big park, but it’s one of the most botanically diverse of the National Parks. It’s also one of the newest. I was wondering how I had never heard of it until I looked it up: it became a National Park in February of this year.

Great Marsh, south of the dunes

I intended to take a very short hike, about three quarters of a mile on the Dune Ridge trail. From the map it’s pretty straight-forward. A lollipop: hike south from the parking lot to a junction, go to the right, make a loop, return to the junction and take another right turn to return to the parking lot. But it wasn’t that simple. Somehow I never made it back to the trail junction. Instead, I found myself north of the parking lot, overlooking the shores of Lake Michigan.

Well, that saved me the trouble of getting in the car and finding my way to the beach. And it was probably twice the distance I intended on hiking, so that’s good. I made my way down to the beach and walked west a bit. There I met a man who was clearly searching for something. I asked him what he was looking for. “Rocks. I collect interesting ones for my garden. My wife sent me out today to get more red ones!” While we chatted, he found one that looked to have some fossils in it and one that was a piece of beach glass, along with a few others of a variety of colors.

I never did see anything resembling the sort of sand dunes I had imagined. I was thinking along the lines of actual piles of sand. Like the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, or the Imperial Sand Dunes in California. These dunes are considerably different. They’re covered with vegetation. It’s only obvious they’re sand where they’re eroding. They have signs up saying not to walk on the dunes. The trails I walked were sandy only in a few places. Not at all what I expected.

Keep Off Dunes

To the south is some wetlands. I’m not sure if there’s more water there now than usual, given all the flooding I’ve seen elsewhere. The vegetation on the dunes isn’t exactly sparse; it’s like walking through a forest with lots of ferns as ground cover. Also appears to be something like blackberry brambles, although I don’t know what for sure. And they regularly do controlled burns there, so there’s lots of charred wood on the ground. I saw only a very few wildflower types and no animals. I did hear quite a few different bird songs, but never saw the birds. I understand it’s a popular place with the Chicago bird watching crowd.

It was a brief stop, but well worth it.

More photos here: Indiana Dunes National Park

Mid-Ohio Trip – Mid-Ohio Track Days

Day 3 – Monday, May 27

I was out the door by 6:30. I grabbed a spot in the paddock and went looking for where the meeting would be. I was early and watched some of the late check-ins, including a fellow who drove his McLaren from Ontario. He didn’t have a tech sheet with him, so they gave him one. He signed it and handed it back. “You need to check the boxes”.

McLaren 600LT

Meeting was at 7:15, all the usual stuff.

In the paddock, I ran into Ken, the only other Lotus in attendance. There were several others registered, all Exiges, but all but Mark canceled. That was a little disappointing. I’m used to seeing a bigger Lotus turn out.

My paddock neighbors were Mark and Don. Mark trailered in his Corvette, Don trailered in his S2000. Both very nice gentlemen. Don had a couple of 5-gallon gas cans and before we went to lunch we used one to fill my tank, then when we went for food we refilled it so he was back to his full allotment. I was a bit surprised that I took the whole 5 gallons. From the gauge it looked like I only needed 4. After running the two afternoon sessions, I was about to pull onto the track for “happy hour” and noticed that I was reading empty and the light was on. So I didn’t run. Later, when leaving the facility, the gauge read about a third of a tank. When I fueled up, I had four gallons left in the tank. Oh well.

Our first session was under full course caution, and everybody ran. I was immediately concerned as I thought it was extremely slippery. The consensus is that it’s a low-grip track. It got better as it warmed up, and by the time my group was out conditions were about as good as they’d get. It was pretty slick, but not any worse than, say, Portland was. By the time I’d run a couple of sessions at speed I was comfortable with the grip level.

Ken on the start/finish straight

For the two morning sessions I didn’t bother running the cameras. I was still trying to figure the place out. The organizers said they’d try to find an instructor for me, but I told them part of the fun for me was figuring it out on my own. This struck them as out of the ordinary. Why not get the advice of an experienced driver and get up to speed quicker? Different strokes.

After lunch, after Don and I got back to the track from our Subway/BP run, the novice group had a second classroom session. I had skipped the first one. This second one included a turn-by-turn analysis of the track. I figured it would be good for me. It was helpful. The best thing, in my mind, was that I’d figured out most of what he told us. One thing that I hadn’t started doing but knew I needed to, was using the curbs more. Most of them are quite flat. He told us to get a good time here you’ve got to treat the curbs as part of the track. For the rest of the day I took that advice. The only other helpful tip I hadn’t already figured out was gear selection for turn 11. I was taking it much too slow. He said that’s the most “under driven” turn on the track (everybody tends to take it too slow).

I was running in the Green group with the novices. We had forty cars in each group, I believe. That’s a busy group. I may have gotten a clean lap in my third session, I’ll have to look at the video. I didn’t get a clean one in the fourth. In spite of that, I managed my best time of the day in that session: 1:53.33. My goal is to lap in the 1:52’s, so if I get a few clean laps I should be able to reach it.

I have to spend a lot of time in my mirrors because there are so many fast cars in the novice group. I think the only car in my group with less hp is a Miata. There’s a Mini (I met the owner at the restaurant last night), he’s turbocharged and has more hp but is heavier. Then it’s Porsches, Mustangs, and Corvettes. Oh, and the McLaren. There was a WRX and a couple of BRZ’s (or variants). Some of the Mustangs and Corvettes were slower, but I think they were all more capable cars. One of these Vettes pointed me by then dragged me down the straight so I couldn’t pass him. (Yes, I specifically brought this up during the meeting.)

The weather couldn’t have been better. It was a bit warm, but not hot. It was dry, although the consensus is that we’ll see rain tomorrow. I talked to a couple of Porsche guys who will swap today’s slicks for something with tread for tomorrow. I’ll happily run in the rain. (Easy to say that now, never having done it.) It will send a lot of people home, that’s for sure.

A good, fun day.

For dinner, pulled into a Mexican place across the street from the motel. It was closed. Plan B was Arby’s, two doors down. It was also closed. I ended up at Bob Evans and had breakfast for dinner.

Today’s miles: 18 road, 134 track Total miles: 1,235 road, 134 track

At the front gate

Day 4 – Tuesday, May 28

For the most part, today was much like yesterday. Only muggier. Uncomfortably warm. The same temperature at HPR would be comfortable but the humidity made it not so much fun for me. It wasn’t bad, just not like yesterday.

KTM X-Bow GT4

One item at the drivers meeting was an instructor saying he saw some drivers waving “thanks” for a point-by. Here with Chin this is a no-no. Drivers need to keep both hands on the wheel. I was one of those drivers. Near the end of the day I mentioned this to a couple of the other guys and they said they thought it’s not a big deal. These things happen on the straights and not in the turns. I noticed that nobody gave me a “thank you” wave yesterday, so I realized it was different in this group. But even after it was mentioned this morning, late in the somebody did give me a “thanks”. So I wasn’t the only one.

Yesterday I don’t think I got a clear lap the whole day. I probably got a few, but it was a very busy day passing and being passed. Had you asked me yesterday if there was a way to improve things, I’d have said “fewer cars”. We started with forty cars in each group. That’s more cars per length of track than I’m used to.

Ferrari

I purposely didn’t make any attempt to move up to the blue group. Two reasons: I was comfortable with this group and by now was accustomed to their behavior and if a few drivers did move up, that would be more guys running blue and fewer running green. And that showed up today. I had several long sequences of clean laps. Maybe not fully unencumbered, but I did feel I had lots of “clean air”.

Today my best lap was 1:50.30, which exceeded my goal by quite a bit. This was in the fourth session. I’m quite happy with these results. Unfortunately, neither camera was running as the batteries died in both of them. I’d moved the old camera to the nose and the new one to the rear mount hoping to get a greater sensation of speed, but got nothing instead. I’ve had one camera poop out on me, but never both. I’d even swapped out the spare battery for the old camera and had the new one plugged in and charging. So it goes.

Incidents of note. In the second morning session, I was reeling in Don. I caught him early but there was quite a bit of traffic, some we caught, some caught us. By the time we’d cleared it, I thought he’d worked quite a way ahead but I found myself right up with him. He’d been having minor clutch problems and was ending his runs a lap or two before the sessions ended. When he pointed me by, instead of ending his run he decided to stay out for another lap so he’d get some good footage of me. He was right with me from the start/finish to the chicane, but when I got on the back straight he was nowhere to be seen. Next time around I saw him parked on the infield.

I was concerned something bad happened, as he never moved again. Turns out he just ran it out of gas.

By the end of the day, most folks had cleared out. So the last session was great and I was looking forward to “happy hour” when everybody can run (and we use green group passing rules). Don donated a couple of gallons to me so I didn’t have to worry about suffering his fate. For those laps, I ditched the hot fire suit and went out in shorts and t-shirt (but still with gloves). I was much more comfortable. That comfort ended when it started raining. In reality, I’d be better saying that it started sprinkling. I was getting raindrops on the windshield, but I’d had this much rain at HPR and it was really no big deal.

Everybody who’d run here in the rain said it was really slick. I figured they were exaggerating. The first drops hit my windshield about turn 1. Coming out of the keyhole I half spun the car, coming to a rest in the middle of the track, facing 90 degrees to the right. I got going quickly and continued at a somewhat reduced speed, only to nearly do it again in the next turn. I thought I was going to go off sideways (which I never want to do) but managed to somehow keep it on track. That was enough for me, and I made my way, slowly, back to the paddock. I think everybody else did the same.

The rain looked quite threatening and as I started packing up it really began to come down. So I packed up in a bit of a rush. Just as I was finishing up it quit raining, at least here at the track.

I headed to Toledo. Leaving the track I had short journeys along state routes, then followed a combination of US 30 and US 23 through some heavy weather. Big lightning strikes were hitting in the near distance, but somehow the highway turned slightly each time to avoid the worst of the rain. I did encounter a short cloudburst that had traffic down from 75mph to more like 40, but never hydroplaned. Finally, a short Rule #1 violation up I-75. Had a nice visit with Ruth and Loral. Found a motel and checked in.

Porsche

Chin Motorsports

This event was put on by Chin Motorsports. They do these a a long list of tracks east of the Mississippi. They run a well-organized event. As is usual, it’s a bit on the expensive side compared to home, but that’s mostly because I’m spoiled here. It’s more everywhere than here. This one was more than either of the Hooked On Driving events, and like them you need to buy an annual membership. This two day event plus the membership would get me three full days plus half a day of open lapping at HPR.

There were a lot of high dollar cars here, probably the most expensive crowd I’ve run with. Not a LeMons car to be seen. Quite a few of the cars were fully prepped race cars. I saw a Miata with a hammer and sickle on the hood and wanted to talk to the driver. He left not feeling well. When I saw it back out on the track I thought he’d returned. But no, the guy driving the car was his coach, working on some setup changes. So it’s a bit of a different crowd than I’m accustomed to.

They had plenty of instructors on hand and at least three classroom sessions for the novice drivers. Everyone followed the rules and there were no incidents that I’m aware of. Certainly no contact, either car vs car or car vs wall. The only yellow flag during any of my sessions was for when Don ran out of gas. In the meetings we were told to expect blue flags but I never once saw one, so I’m guessing they use them at some of their other tracks.

They had a photographer there. I glanced through his shots of me but passed. His prices were a bit lower than the other guys doing this, but I’ve already blown my budget for this trip. I tried to talk him into giving me five or six shots for twenty bucks. His counter offer was one for twenty. As long as it was cash.

Today’s miles: 134 road, 147 track Total miles: 1,369 road, 281 track