Shelf Lake, Solitude Lake

Saturday, July 27

I killed Victor.

We hiked to Shelf Lake and Solitude Lake. I don’t know why I have so much trouble finding where we leave the Black Lake trail. When I hiked to Blue Lake this spring I looked for the spot and missed it. I missed it again this time. We went a bit too far up the trail. We headed across a marshy meadow and made an easy crossing of Glacier Creek and headed upslope.

I heard water to our right and knew we needed to be on the other side of the stream so we worked our way over, passing through some nasty deadfall at one point. When I saw the stream, I also saw the trail and knew we were finally in the right place. I don’t think Victor was much of a fan of our little bushwhacking expedition.

We had just started a kilometer section of trail that climbs eight hundred feet. And it’s not really a trail and there are a few places where you need to use your hands. Earlier in the day Victor had joked about not wanting to do the Bataan Death March and here I am leading him off-trail and then up just about the most grueling kilometer of hiking I could have picked.

Here we ran into some other hikers. Two young guys came up behind us and passed us like we were standing still. We may have been standing still. Closer to the top we chatted with a couple coming down. They’d been up there since Thursday, said they’d had a couple cold nights.

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Shelf Lake

Above the trees it was quite blustery. The sun was shining brightly but it was cool, and the wind was cold. We had lunch at Solitude, trying to take shelter on the lee side of a boulder along the water’s edge. We needed a bigger boulder.

Even though I didn’t expect we’d want to sit there very long, I attempted to set up the GoPro for a time lapse. There wasn’t much cloud action but you never know how things will turn out. In this case, not at all. I couldn’t get the camera to work in multi-shot mode. It kept emitting a series of beeps, showing a message that said “camera busy.” So no time lapse.

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Solitude Lake

By the time we got back to the trailhead, Victor could hardly walk. He may never want to hike with me again, but at least he had a memorable day 🙂


Saturday, August 20

I was the beneficiary of Scott’s misfortune. He had registered and paid for the track day with CECA at the Colorado State Patrol training facility. But his car was still in the shop. The original plan was I’d show up for a while and he could give me a ride. Instead, I ran in his place and I gave him a ride.

This was my third time here, the other two were back in 2012 and 2013. Back then the dirt road leading to the facility was heavily rutted and a challenge to navigate. We had to crawl up, often switching from one side of the road to the other to avoid bottoming out. It was a pleasant surprise to see that it has been substantially improved. It’s hardly the same road. This road will never get ruts like it used to.

There was a nice turnout. The event was limited to forty cars. I had heard that with a week to go there were only eleven entrants. I didn’t count but would guess there were twenty five or thirty cars. I could be over estimating, though. CECA allows second drivers for free, so several cars went out in more than one group. In any event, CECA is back to break-even for the season

Nissan Skyline GT-R

Nissan Skyline GT-R

It was an interesting mix of cars. There was another Elise, Mark, who’s had his pretty blue car for only a few months. A Caterham made up the rest of the Lotus contingent. There was quite a group of 1960’s cars. CECA days always have a Hertz GT 350. There was also a nice orange Mustang fastback, a green Firebird, a white Falcon (1964, maybe?), and a red Corvair that smoked like he was spraying for mosquitoes. There was a later Mustang, a race car, but pretty beat up, and a recent GT 350. A few Miatas, a few very expensive 911’s, two silver Scion FR-S’s.There must have been a Corvette, certainly, but… perhaps not.

Two cars in particular attracted my attention. I couldn’t help but notice a Nissan Skyline GT-R, right hand drive. Not a flashy car, grey inside and out, but unmistakable. It has something I’ve never seen on a coupe or sedan: a wiper for the back window.

The other was a recent Mustang. Metallic blue, with gold stripes, a GT-500 Super Snake. He just had it dyno’d – seven hundred ninety something horsepower at the flywheel. He thinks it’s capable of 180mph and says that to get it to 200mph it would cost an additional $20,000. He was running in the green group and we were never on the track together.

Mustang GT 500 Super Snake

Mustang GT 500 Super Snake

I have no data from my earlier visits. I may have had a lap timer on my old phone, but if I did the data is long gone. Laps are counter-clockwise and cover about 1.4 miles. Depending on how you count it’s either eight turns or three turns and a chicane. A lot of the guys say it’s flat, but that’s not true. There are two big humps that make some passengers nauseous. And the entry of one turn has enough downhill grade to make late braking more challenging. One thing I like about it is that there are no long straights: it’s not a horsepower track. That said, I manage to hit 100mph twice each lap (well, most laps) and average 70, which is a higher average speed than I manage at HPR.



The weather couldn’t have been much better. It was cool in the morning, clear and calm. It stayed clear, with the usual brilliant blue Colorado sky, but never got hot. In the morning, oversteer was a common complaint. Everybody expected it to get better as the track got some heat into it, but my car felt loose all day.

Scott seemed reluctant to take a ride. He said he didn’t want to slow me down with the additional weight of a passenger. But I like giving rides. I told him I don’t really notice much change in the car, and doubt that my times are significantly slower. We speculated that it might be two seconds a lap here. It turned out to be more like a half second. I was able to do a 1:13.6 in the second session and 1:13.4 in the fourth. Most days my times improve each session so I might have been able to do a 1:13.5 in the third. With Scott as a passenger, I managed six laps in the 1:14’s with a best of 1:14.1.

When Scott got out of the car he complained of a bit of nausea. I hope it was the humps and not my driving. I missed a lot of apexes and took some funny lines. And made my biggest mistake of the day: braking too late on the downhill section. I couldn’t get the car around the corner and put four wheels off. I wasn’t black flagged but should have self-reported. I didn’t. I had the car straight and under control, down to 25mph.

The fourth, final, session was open track – all groups could run. But a number of people had had enough by then. There weren’t many cars on the track, even with whatever green and blue drivers were out. I managed six consecutive laps without traffic. Scott took a few laps in Mark’s car; he exited the track just as I was catching him. Then Mark drove and did the same thing. I was hoping to get his car on camera for a few turns but so it goes.

After the last session I had a nice chat with Bill and Heike. Bill had an interesting proposition. “The track,” he said, “isn’t really a track. We use it like a track but it’s really an endless two-lane highway.” He’s correct, of course. It’s built like a road. It has a crown like a road, it is striped like a road. The Troopers use it as a road. Bill suggests “Stay in your lane and see how fast you can do a lap.” Next time I come here I’ll have to give it a shot.

The video is two laps plus my off. The map gauge worked this time. I have no idea why it works sometimes and not others.

Cony Lake

Sunday, August 14

Cony Lake sits on a bench 11,512′ above sea level, surrounded by Mount Copeland, Ogalalla Peak, and Elk Tooth. It also sits on the southern boundary of RMNP. To get there, you must first get to Pear Lake, which is six or seven miles from the trailhead (depending on where you start). At Pear Lake, follow the trail by the hitchrack. This trail passes a small pond where it crosses the park boundary.

Lower and Middle Hutcheson Lakes are in Roosevelt National Forest. The faint trail leads to the lower lake before heading uphill on the northern bank of Cony Creek. The trail gets fainter and eventually disappears. Route finding from here to Upper Hutcheson can be difficult over terrain of rock benches, grassy ramps, and bands of dense willow and krummholz.

This is the fourth year in a row I’ve set off for Cony Lake. It doesn’t bother me to fall short when hiking in the Park. I’ve almost never had a bad day hiking. Each of the other times I tried Cony were memorable. The first time I had to stop at Pear Lake but got to watch clouds roll in just feet off the surface of the water. The second time I saw a bear sitting on the trail in front of me. Last year I watched an eagle catch a fish.

I started from the Allenspark trailhead rather than the Finch Lake trailhead. It saves a little distance and elevation. I wanted to drive the Chrysler because the parking lot is not Lotus friendly but it was in the shop. It was drive the Lotus or stay home, and I wasn’t about to stay home. There are two entrances to the parking lot at the trailhead. The first one features several large craters but the second is not so bad. I was able to get in and out without scraping.

The weather was ideal. Clear, cloudless sky, a brilliant blue all morning and only a slight breeze, even above treeline.

Over the last few days I’ve spent some time visualizing the hike, mainly the approach to Upper Hutcheson. I saw myself working my way uphill without getting into the willows. I could see the ramp you descend to cross the creek right below the lake. Last year I made it as far as the inlet to Upper Hutcheson and was stymied there. I had stayed along the shore and intended to ascend alongside the creek. It’s not a good route. This time I’d start climbing almost as soon as I got on the other side of the lake, traverse the slope to above the obstructions.

Just as I saw it in my mind, I made my way up without getting stuck in the willows. I crossed the stream right at the outlet of Upper Hutcheson. This is easy to do this time of year when the water level is down somewhat. It’s probably not a good route in July. There’s a nice grassy ramp right down to the water, a few stepping stones and you’re across. I made it the rest of the way without hitting any willow. Instead, it was a lot of rock hopping. Perhaps an excessive amount of rock hopping; I was certainly tired of it by the time I was done with it.


My approximate route (drawn on a 2015 photo)

I spent an hour at the lake. I was happy with my pace all the way up. I put boots on the trail at 7:30 and dropped my pack on a rock at the lake at 12:15. It took me fifteen minutes longer going back down, but that includes a stop to refill the water bottle. I didn’t get back to the car until after six, the latest finish I can recall.

The lake is bigger than I was expecting. I sat on a giant rectangular boulder the size of a bedroom, got the GoPro running and tucked into my lunch. There were no squirrels in this boulder field, and there were no birds. A few mosquitoes buzzed me and a few flies were somehow attracted to the camera. It was quite calm, which is unusual along the divide. Some clouds were attempting to cross but were never more than incipient. They got more energetic shortly after I left Cony, some white puffs drifted over Elk Tooth, diffusing the shadows and taking the edge of the bright sunshine.

Cony Lake

Coming down from below Upper Hutcheson I ended up in a maze of krummholz and willow. I found myself in a few of the same spots I was in last year, or the year before. I went one way, back tracked, tried another. And another, and another. Eventually I dove through a particularly nasty clump of krummholz and from then on was in the clear, but I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to retrace my steps.

I’m wearing my hiking shoes, not the boots. On the way up I hit my right ankle on a rock, tore a flap of skin. This was situated right above the shoe and when I little toe was uphill of my big toe, that flap rubbed on the shoe. About half my steps when rock hopping had my foot situated that way. By the time I was back on the trail my ankle had gone from irritating to annoyingly painful.

I was surprised at how few people I encountered. On the way up, I exchanged hellos with a group of three and a group of five. I had a brief chat with a fellow from Luxembourg. He hiked Mt. Idea a couple weeks ago, then camped in the Grand Tetons. Then it was the Badlands and a stop in Nebraska before returning to RMNP. His plan today was to lunch in Estes, then drive to the Great Sand Dunes. A pretty cool trip. I met him just below Pear a few minutes before ten.

I didn’t see another person until I was nearly back to Finch, almost six and a half hours later. I’m usually the one asking people where they’re headed, or where they’ve been. Today, though, I was the one being surveyed. After passing Finch Lake, I saw only six people. One young guy coming the other way asked “Finch or Pear?” I told him “Cony.” He hadn’t even slowed down to ask the question, but my answer stopped him in his tracks. “Way to go, buddy!” It was deja vu just after the big trail junction. A guy passing me asked “Finch or Pear?” “Cony.” “Wow”.

It’s been my habit to say something along the lines of “I felt great when I got back to the car.” That would be a fib today. I was pretty fatigued and the ankle didn’t help. It’s not the longest hike I’ve done, or the biggest climb. But I’d say it’s one of the most difficult. It’s a long hike to Pear, then miles of no trail and challenging route finding.


Up Down
Trailhead 07:30 AM 06:10 PM
Trail Jct 08:10 AM 05:26 PM
Finch Lake 09:05 AM 04:26 PM
Pear Lake 10:05 AM 03:20 PM
Lower Hutcheson 10:40 AM 02:50 PM
Middle Hutcheson 11:00 AM 02:35 PM
Upper Hutcheson 11:25 AM 02:10 PM
Cony Lake 12:15 PM 01:10 PM

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 14 – Bayfield to Denver

Friday, July 22

Today was a day of waiting for pilot cars at road construction sites. I had eight, and the one on US 50 east of Gunnison had me behind at least a hundred cars.

I’ve driven Durango to Denver (or vice-versa) dozens of times. Somehow, I’ve never taken CO 149. LoCo did the road a couple of years ago, but we didn’t participate in that drive. Today I rectify that oversight. I’m driving it south to north, which is start to finish according to the mile markers.

The upper Rio Grande flows through a U-shaped valley, open and grassy, forested only on the slopes. There is a railroad as well as the highway; each runs along one side of the valley or the other. They often switch sides, crossing each other and crossing the river. At Creede, the road makes an excursion up a gully, makes a U-turn, and returns to the main valley. The forests on the southern ridge are almost completely beetle-killed. The road leaves the Rio Grande and starts climbing Spring Creek Pass. I’d been running topless all morning. When it started sprinkling here I stopped and mounted the top. For once I got the timing right – it rained heavily moments later.

With the mounting of Spring Creek Pass, the road goes into its second phase, a pair of two lane mountain passes. Many of the epic pass roads of yore have been widened and lost much of their character, including two today, Wolf Creek and Monarch. Although this route gets more traffic than I expected, it’s not likely to be widened anywhere along its length for some time. Climbing the pass, they’ve removed about sixty yards of beetle-kill on each side of the road, leaving only an occasional survivor standing sentinel.

Spring Creek Pass was in use by the old Taos trappers in the 1820’s as the shortest summer route from Taos to Gunnison country. It appears as Pass of the Rio del Norte on the R. H. Kern army map of 1851. It was also occasionally referred to as Summer Pass. It tops out at 10,858’ and crosses the Continental Divide. (This is the second of three CD crossings of the day. The aforementioned Wolf Creek and Monarch are the first and third.)

A few miles later the road crosses Slumgullion Pass, five hundred feet higher than Spring Creek Pass. It was named by pioneers from New England. Slumgullion is the multicolored refuse produced by butchering a whale. These New Englanders thought a large rock slide on the west side looked like slumgullion and thus the name. I don’t know if that slide is visible from the road; I didn’t know to look for it. Instead, I was too impressed with the result of beetle-kill removal at the summit. The entire saddle of the pass has been cleared giving an impressive view of the mountains beyond. The extensive beetle-kill is not a happy sight, but this view is a positive side-effect.

After the passes you descend to Lake City. We arrive here in a string of traffic, the result of a long wait for a pilot car where they’re repaving the road a few miles up the hill. The town clearly makes it’s living catering to those who fish and hunt. It’s very rustic. For about three blocks, I saw no cars. There must have been fifty Jeeps in a row. ATV rentals everywhere.

The third phase of CO 149 begins now: the descent through a narrow canyon carved by the quickly flowing waters of Lake Fork, a tributary of the Gunnison.

It’s a very scenic and fun drive. I was able to have long stretches where I could maintain a bubble around me – nobody in front to deal with, nobody coming up from behind. There’s no need to go particularly fast to enjoy the road. There are a number of long sweeping turns, like the carousel at Road America, easily enjoyed at sixty.

Going this way, using CO 149 and US 50 to replace the San Luis Valley, requires an additional investment in time. It doubles the time it takes to get to Salida to four hours. I will look to take this route again on a future drive to Durango, as long as I have the time to spare. You haven’t really driven a road unless you’ve gone both directions, have you?

I grabbed a quick sandwich in Gunnison and promptly got stuck in the longest line of traffic of the day. Although I had a good view of the road ahead, I couldn’t see far enough to see the flagger. I was easily behind a hundred vehicles. I probably passed thirty ascending Monarch. From here on home there was always somebody in front of me. At least I wasn’t leaving Denver – 285 coming out of town was stopped for miles.

Home again, home again, jiggety jig.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 13 – Henderson to Bayfield, CO

Wednesday, July 20

Today is a “zero day” in Henderson with Chris. A corollary to “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” is “Nothing happens in Henderson.”

Thursday, July 21

In a feeble attempt to exit Vegas before it gets hot, I was out the door by 7:30.

Google wants to take me west to go east; it will suggest I make four turns or have me on a dirt road in Death Valley to save a quarter mile but will take me miles out of my way to put me on the interstate. Chris gave me a different recommendation: Boulder Highway to Nellis to Las Vegas Blvd to I-15. I take Chris’s route and for fun leave Navigator running to see how long before it reroutes me to my current path. It gave up about half way up Nellis after recommending about thirty left turns. This, perhaps, is a ploy by the Las Vegas chamber of commerce to keep me on the Interstate rather than driving through their town. Either that, or Google is still messing with me.

I’m not a particular fan of Vegas. I’ve only visited the place a few times, but it strikes me as a crummy little town. Every place I’ve seen off the Strip is run down, somewhat dilapidated, desiccated. I don’t like the weather there, and even when it’s not baking hot I find nothing appealing about it. If it weren’t for the gambling, this place wouldn’t exist, it would be just another Great Basin valley, an isolated Air Force Base.

My Vegas escape route takes me by the speedway and the location of the proposed Tesla giga-factory before depositing me on I-15. I take the interstate a few miles past St. George, Utah. In order to get Navigator to take me on my desired path, I had to give an intermediate destination. That’s St. George. So it got me off the highway and sent me left and right and left again until I was in front of the local college’s football stadium. “You’ve arrived at your destination!” Maybe I should have looked for that Starbucks instead. Actually, if I wouldn’t have wanted to top off the gas tank, I’d never have gotten off the interstate here. I get back on I-15 for a few more miles before heading east, ending the trip’s last Rule #1 violation.

This is the road to Page, Glen Canyon Dam, and Lake Powell. I’ve never seen so many boats on the road before. Boats outnumber RVs. Big boats, pulled by dueller diesel pickup trucks. Big, shiny, black pick up trucks.

I often say of Wyoming that all the interesting bits are around the edges. I’ve decided that Nevada has it worse. It has no interesting bits. Pretty much as soon as you leave Nevada the terrain gets much more interesting. Nevada, in my experience, is like a wrinkled table cloth – just one valley after another. Sameness followed by sameness, with minor variations in vegetation. Back in Utah, the wrinkles are replaced by layers. At St. George you enter red rock canyon country. We’re at the western end of the Grand Escalante Staircase (even if we’re not in that particular park). We can see different kinds and colors of rock, interesting formations. I’m happy to be leaving the Great Basin in my rear view mirror.

Not long after St. George the road takes me through Colorado City. There’s a Colorado City in Colorado but this one is bigger. It’s one of those places I’d heard of in the news over the years but never bothered to figure out where it was. It was in the news because it’s where a splinter sect of fundamentalist Mormons live. These Mormons are polygamous; believing that their god wants their leaders to marry as many fourteen year old girls as possible. In all the small towns through here, I see women in the old style garb. These dresses strike me as not far removed from the bee keeper suits women are made to wear in parts of the Middle East.

Not only are there a lot of boats on the highway, approaching Lake Powell there are lots of places to store your boat, so you don’t have to tow it up and down the highway. Lake Powell appears, side roads lead to marinas. When I see a sign for Wahweap Overlook, I stopped to look it over.


Lake Powell from Wahweap Overlook

The next obvious stop was the Glen Canyon Dam’s visitor center, followed by a walk part way across the bridge.

Glen Canyon dam and bridge

Glen Canyon dam and bridge

Navigator’s penchant for short cuts kicks in again in Page, with the result that I drive by the lumber yard instead of any restaurants. I need to eat in Page as there’s nothing available until Kayenta, still quite a way down the road. The Maverick station has a store with a grill offering burgers and Navajo tacos. I grabbed a burger and ate it at a picnic table outside. I share the table with a young French couple. Seating was limited to two picnic tables. The other was occupied by a family. Guns were not welcome here, they were encouraged. Show your gun and a permit, get a 10% discount (not good on fuel). You can also get the discount by showing ID that says you served in the military. I wonder if that includes the military of other countries? I wonder what the French couple thought of the gun discount.

Just after Page the road passes parking lots for Antelope Canyon tours. This will have to go on the list of places to visit. We’ll certainly have to come back here and explore the place in more detail.

I’m taking AZ 98 from Page to a junction with US 160. This junction is about 30 miles from Kayenta. This is my least busy road for the day, a relaxing drive. From then on, it’s familiar roads for me – Four Corners and the oddly named Teec Nos Pos, through Cortez, past Mesa Verde, and skirting Durango. When I got to about Mancos the place looked and smelled right: I’m back in Colorado.

To top off the day, I had dinner at the Seven Rivers Restaurant at the Sky Ute Casino in Ignacio. I had the petit filet mignon, jalapeño mashed potatoes and the corn dish. Yum.

Grace and Greg kindly put me up for the night. Grace was a good sport, suffering through the modern equivalent of getting out the slide projector: going through the photos on the laptop.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 11 – Monterey to Henderson

Tuesday, July 19

Now we enter the phase of the trip where things are a bit more free-form. So far, everything has been pretty well planned – the route is known (even if not perfectly followed), activities defined, lodging reservations made. Now, though, things are more like ideas than plans. The idea is to visit Yosemite, but it’s not well enough defined to call it a plan: drive through the park, stop at the visitors center, chat with a ranger to determine a hike for tomorrow, perhaps take in a short hike, then off to the Inyo National Forest to search for camping.

With that in mind, I want to do a little trip preparation. The internet in the motel room is nearly worthless and isn’t connecting so I figure I can go to a Starbuck’s, grab a bagel and some internet. I use the Google Navigator app on my phone: find Starbucks. It thinks about it for a few seconds and presents me with a choice: which Starbucks would I like to visit? There’s one in St. George, UT, and a couple near home in Arvada. I know I passed one within a few blocks of the motel and might guess there’d be about thirty in a five mile radius of my position. Why does Google want to send me to St. George?

No matter, I find the Starbucks. It’s in a Safeway. I grab the laptop and head inside. Get the laptop booted up and search for wi-fi. None of them seem to be Starbucks, but Safeway has an open network. Get connected to that only to find it doesn’t have internet. So no further planning for me at this point. I’ll rely on the phone app for navigation.

This goes well enough. The drive from Monterey to the approaches of Yosemite is pleasant; scenic but not particularly noteworthy. Well, except one bit: Google has me make a turn onto Road 9. This is a farm road, paved sometime in the last century and barely maintained. I’m taken through the farms of the central valley – some sort of nut orchards, corn eleven feet tall, olive orchards, various other crops. Next is a right turn on Sandy Mush Road. It’s in only slightly better shape. Why is Google sending me on these odd roads?

I arrive at Yosemite around 11. If our national parks were named for their most prominent feature, RMNP would still be RMNP. Bryce would be Hoodoo. Yosemite would be Granite Slabs. As soon as you see the first giant slab of granite that forms a cliff wall you see the entrance station.

At the gate I ask for the visitors center and am directed to Yosemite Valley, the most crowded part of the park. Here, people have parked cars at every available turn out or wide spot. I find a place to pull over and consult the park map. I see that I passed the turn off for the tunnel view, so I decide to check that out before hitting the visitor center.

I get lucky here. I imagined the parking lot to be bigger. It’s not very big, and it’s crowded. The three cars in front of me are waiting for spots and blocking ingress and egress. But they didn’t notice that a car behind them wants out, so I snag a spot before those folks. I take the opportunity to snack here; I’m starting to get hungry what with having skipped breakfast.


Part of the Yosemite crowd

The view here is pretty magnificent. The car normally draws a lot of attention. But here I’m mobbed by comments and questions. Nearly as many people take pictures of the car as they do of the view. I’m used to the car getting such attention. Even when there’s another Elise people like the green and yellow. But I’ve never seen anything like this. I have my snack, snap a few pictures, and am back on my way back downhill into the valley.

Yosemite Valley tunnel view

Yosemite Valley tunnel view

There’s a trailhead! I should stop here and take a short hike. I pull into the lot. Sort of: I can’t actually get into the lot because not only are all the spots full but there’s a long line of cars hoping to get a spot. I make about a 9 point turn to get out and note that cars are parked along the road below the parking lot, too. Clearly, I’m too optimistic. I’m going to have trouble parking anywhere in this place.

I decided to skip the visitors center and head to Tioga Pass. There are pullouts up and down all the roads in the park. I find one here with a view of the valley and park the car. I did a quick u-turn and park so that I can try to get a picture with the car in the foreground and climb a few feet up the hillside across from where I’m parked. I missed the opportunity for a quick shot. Other cars and people are arriving and they all seem to want to get a shot of the valley while standing by my car. I wait patiently and eventually get the shot.

IMG_2268sNow a tour bus pulls up. Because I’m parked where I am, he can’t get in. The ass end of his bus is blocking traffic. The driver sees me; I point to my car and to me, run across the road and hop into the car to move it down far enough for him to get parked. No key in my pocket. Where the heck is it? It’s not in the ignition, not in the seat. How the hell could I lose my car key? I need to move it downhill, so I just take it out of gear and let it roll. The bus gets parked and the driver gives me a thumbs up. I’m in a bit of panic, though. I finally find the key in the wrong pocket (I never put keys in that pocket). I make a pantomime of “cant’ find my keys” for the bus driver, then show that I found them. He laughs.

I continue up Tioga Pass, stopping at most of the pullouts. Early on, we get a view to the east and see damage from a recent forest fire. The road continues to climb and turns back to the west. Overlook after overlook is crowded. All the trailheads have full parking lots plus lines of cars on both sides of the road in both directions. Doesn’t look like I’ll be hiking today.

But, frankly, for the last few hours I’ve been considering just heading directly to Vegas. The congestion here is just an additional factor. Perhaps the deciding factor, but just one factor. I continue to take my time through the park, seeing what sights I can (and answering questions about the car at every stop). When I was looking at the map earlier, I saw there’s another visitor center at Tuolomne Meadows, so when I get there I make a quick stop. This is not the visitors center I’m looking for; it doesn’t have much to offer. And it offers me no reason not to head to Vegas. I decide to table my decision until I reach Lee Vining for a late lunch/early dinner.

Over my meal I call Chris to make sure it won’t be a problem arriving at his door two days early. This done, I call home and let Genae know the change in plans. I let Google Navigator select the quickest route to Vegas and hit the road. Now, up until now the idea was that I’d drive a somewhat longer route and see what Death Valley looks like. Yes, I’m probably insane for wanting to go through Death Valley in July in a convertible with English air conditioning (probably works great in London, cooling from 80 to 75, but it’s certainly not good for desert southwest climes). With the updated itinerary I’ll be skipping Death Valley.

The first bit of the next part of the trip is CA 120. What a fabulous road. I’ve seen a road built like this before, near Joshua Tree. The road was built using no cut-and-fill. It looks like they drove a road grader to clear the weeds, then just poured asphalt right on the ground. I didn’t see a single culvert and the only shaping of the roadbed they did was to bank the road enough to prevent any cases of negative camber. The road lies directly on the terrain, unlike most roads. If the ground falls two feet, so does the road.

This is actually quite fun. You can’t go terribly fast, but you don’t need to. It has more curves per mile than you’d expect, and it rolls up and down so much you generally can’t see more than a few hundred yards. One section descends through a gully not much wider than the road. It’s a series of S-curves a few miles long. Tightening, loosening, getting steeper then not so steep. Next comes a sign: “Dips Next 5 Miles”. This section is a straight line but the road goes through depression after depression. Again, you can’t see very far, so it’s strictly no passing. But the road goes up and down like mad. The dips come in combinations: one, then three quick ones, then a big one, then a double. Sometimes the dips are so steep you feel like you’re going straight down. None are more than perhaps thirty or forty or fifty feet deep, but they’re big enough to give you that “light stomach roller coaster” feeling, followed by some serious compression at the bottom. I was having so much fun, I laughed out loud several times. What a great Lotus road.

After this fun section, I was directed through a couple of navigation points. By now I notice that the map doesn’t show my route in a blue line. In fact, the map is empty save for the pointer that indicates my location. But it’s still telling me where to turn. Okay, I must be out of cell range. I’m sure it loaded the required info when I started and I’ll be okay. Remember, I lack an atlas.

I also use the phone as a speedometer. I notice that as I speed up or slow down, the reading doesn’t change, and the compass heading is stuck. I arrive at a T-intersection but Navigator is silent. The phone has locked up. I cycle the power and relaunch Navigator. The phone actually says “No Sim” before it says “No Service”. In any event, Navigator will be no help here.

Last gas, of course, was Lee Vining. I’d seen one sign indicating how far I’d have to drive to get gas. The signs here told me that town was to the right. I need to go southeast, and it’s south to the right, north to the left. I go south. It isn’t long before I see this is the wrong way to go. The road makes a right turn and heads directly into the sun. Yes – directly: we’re climbing a steep pass, the road still poured directly onto the terrain. I know I can get gas in about 25 miles this way, I have no idea how far I need to go the other way. The safest course is to proceed to the known gas station.

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

This is all a big adventure. The road I’m on is not quite as fun as CA 120, but it’s still a gas. It climbs steeply, twisting and turning all the time. Like the other road, the surface is good. Near the top of the pass the little canyon we’re going through is so narrow as to support only a single lane. “Yield to Oncoming Traffic.” Like the other road, it’s not heavily traveled: occasional cars but not a single truck. I’m having fun, it’s all good. Another fun Lotus road.

In the next town I gas up, get connected with Navigator, and answer more questions about the car. Navigator wants me to retrace my steps, but I see that the route through Death Valley is only 20 minutes longer from here. I’m not a big fan of repeating routes when I have so many to choose from, and as it’s only 20 minutes, what the heck? Perhaps I’m fated to go through Death Valley.

A few miles down the road, Navigator gives me a new message: Shorter route available. Do you want to take it? It can’t be the one I’ve already been on, can it? I’ve been going 20 minutes already, and turning around here would be longer, wouldn’t it? I accept the change. Of course, it wants me to make a u-turn. I cancel and reselect the Death Valley route.

Passing through the next town I can’t help but notice a bunch of runners. They’re scattered along the road side in pairs or pairs of pairs. I think the guys at the edge of town are stragglers, but after making a turn to the east I see they’re running along here, too. They’re coming my way, running on the foot-wide shoulder. There’s not much traffic, so I can almost always give them the full lane. Along the other side of the road, spaced irregularly, are vehicles deployed to assist the runners, always in pairs. I’m guessing one of the pair is the competitor, the other is providing support or assistance.

By the time I’ve gone sixty or seventy miles I’m really curious. The sun went below the mountains to the west some time ago; dusk is turning to dark. How long will I need to keep an eye out for runners in my lane? There’s a pullout ahead, so I pull off and ask the crew there. “How far are we running?” “One hundred and thirty five miles.”  This isn’t just a 135 mile run, it’s the Badwater Ultramarathon. It’s a 135 mile run out of Death Valley to the Mt. Whitney portal, which means it includes over 8,500 feet of climbing. The things people do.

The road here starts a serious descent: tight turns and steep grades. Drop offs on one side. And still there are runners. I pretty much have to crawl down the mountain to be sure I don’t run into somebody around a blind corner. By the time it’s fully dark I haven’t seen a runner in fifteen minutes, but there’s one final straggler.

The road is now clear of runners, but with the dusk and dark other critters are appearing. A coyote is ambling down the road toward me, following the center stripe. Rabbits occasionally make a dash across the road, or sit and watch me go by. It would not be fun to clobber one of these guys. Are there really as many rabbits as I’m seeing, or is my imagination getting the best of me? Now, instead of a 9:30 arrival in Vegas it’s more like 11:30. I have a couple more hours of night driving.

Shortly after Stovepipe Wells, Navigator directs me to take a left on Scotty’s Castle Road, followed by a right on Daylight Pass Road. I’m not happy that it’s taking me onto named roads. I much prefer numbered routes. After a few miles of Daylight Pass Road I enter Nevada and Navigator tells me I’m back on a numbered route, a Nevada state highway. All is well again! Except that it’s not. Now Google says to make a right turn on Airport Road. This is a dirt road. Does Google want to kill me, have me dispose of my own body in the desert? Why is it taking me this way? Should I rebel? In the dark, with no map, I follow directions. It turns out that the road is dirt only two miles, which doesn’t take long, even at 15 mph. Shortly after regaining pavement I arrive at an intersection with US 95 which will take me right to downtown Vegas.

I have survived the various tests Google as presented me: I found a Starbucks in Monterey, I overcame resetting the phone in the middle of nowhere with no service, I was not left for dead in Death Valley. And one final minor annoyance: Navigator left me at the end of Chris’s street rather than in front of his house.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 10 – Laguna Seca

Monday, July 18

The low flying planes quit buzzing the motel soon enough, and I was finally able to sleep a troubled sleep. I tried to remain positive. This couldn’t have happened in a better place. Eight miles away are the region’s Elise experts. I topped off the gas tank then headed to the track. When I arrived at the entrance to the track, another green Elise with a wide centered yellow stripe was behind me. There’s a entrance booth that was unmanned. I pulled aside and he pulled up. “Don’t stop here. Follow me.” So I didn’t, and I did. I just met Bryan.

GBMC2167sThe check engine light hadn’t come back on, not yet at least. But the car wasn’t warming up. I didn’t think I’d be able to run if it didn’t get up to temperature and by now it should have. Just as we enter the paddock we had to stop to sign the waiver. While I was queued up behind Bryan that the temperature finally got into the operating range.

We pulled into spots right up against the pit road, just a few car lengths from the pit lane entrance. After checking in, I went back to chat with Bryan. His 2005, Lotus Racing Green, not BRG, is his track toy. Supercharged, and sporting a new device for his exhaust to mitigate the sound. He’s had some experience at this track, but only his second time in this car.


Chasing Eleanor down the Corkscrew

There was an excellent turnout. As expected, a good proportion of Lotus. Mel, who I met yesterday, brought is ’74 Elan. There was an X180R race car, “Eleanor“, the second of two type 105 race cars built to compete in the SCCA World Challenge series. There were a ton of Elises and Exiges, a 2-Eleven. In addition, there was the usual complement of Porsches, Miatas, Minis, Audis, and BMWs. What I thought was a Noble turned out to be a Rossion. There were several Mustangs. Most were new, but there was a 1973  Mustang that was a race car when new and still is. A Cobra, I believe, and not a knock-off. Even an old Volvo station wagon Lemons car.

A Golden Gate Lotus Club track day is a well-organized event. Snacks were available at check in. The drivers meeting was efficiently run, everything covered yet succinct. The photographer, Dito Milian, spoke, giving pretty much the same spiel as he did on Friday. “If you’re in the front of a line of cars, it doesn’t mean you’re holding them up. In the picture it looks like you’re winning!” We were dismissed; let the festivities begin.

GBMC3885sI’ve been carrying a second helmet the whole trip. I’d invited people to Sonoma but I didn’t really expect them to show up. I had the spare helmet on my trip two years ago and never had a guest. Carrying it is a waste of space, and I should bring something else. But today Caleb showed up so it wasn’t a waste of space after all. I like giving rides. I’ve probably had riders at nearly half my track days. But nobody was ever as excited as Caleb. He was like a kid at Christmas.


Mel and his Elan

We would have a 20 minute session each hour and a twenty minute break for lunch. Everybody got seven sessions; I drove five and a half. To start the first session, Bryan offered to lead me around for two laps. He was giving a ride to another intermediate driver; would do two laps, drop him off, and resume. I could follow the two laps.

This worked out pretty well for me, he showed me a good line. The first session was a madhouse. It seemed like there were too many cars out. It’s partly down to the rush to do three sessions an hour – they release the cars from the grid quickly, not much space between cars, so we start the session bunched up. In the drivers meeting, they announced that if you spin or go four off in the first session, or put two off with a passenger, you’ll be the Bozo. They’d actually put a Bozo sign on your car. Although I put two off with a passenger it wasn’t in the first session, so I avoided being Bozo.

IMG_2246sThat first session never really loosened up. At home, checkered flag means cool down lap, don’t use the brakes. In this trip, checkered flag is “hustle home, boys.” Keep at eighty percent of your pace, and bring it in. Today checkers were displayed at 1 and 7. In this lap. We took the checker at turn one, so had nearly a whole lap. Even at the relaxed pace, half way through the lap I was setting my best lap time for the session.

In the second session the CEL illuminated again. I had talked to Rob Dietsch earlier. He said I’d have no problems running today and no problems driving home; the only issue will be extended warm-up times. Unless, that is, the misfire code returns. I wasn’t experiencing any misfire and when Rob checked the code it was just the thermostat. [In the subsequent two weeks, no codes have been thrown and warm-up times have been normal.]

Each session got progressively better, which is the usual case. Had I given more thought to it, I might have skipped the first session and run a later one instead. Each session was better than the previous. I was starting to figure out some of the turns, working out the braking points. I was getting used to the other drivers in the session.

IMG_2249sI don’t think I passed anybody in the first session. By the third session I was really starting to get comfortable. Now I was getting stuck behind an orange Exige. I’d get close to making a run on him and I’d have to let a faster car by. Finally got up on him, got large in his mirrors, but his extra horsepower let him pull me on the straights. Not being able to get around him, I let a space open up; I could start away from him in the next session.

As odd as it was that my fastest lap in the first session would have been my in lap, had it been complete, my fastest lap in the third session was the one where I made the most mistakes. That gave me confidence. Make fewer errors, I’ll obviously get faster.

I’m sometimes surprised at how fast my modern car is compared to some classic race cars of not that long ago. The X180R is a beautiful car, sounds fantastic, it was a real pleasure to get to see it in action on the track, to run with it on the track. I was surprised I was able to catch it so easily. One of my neighbors speculated the car had a timing problem and wasn’t running properly. But it shows how automotive technology has advanced that my little 2006 street car can outrun a championship race car from 1990.

The thermostat didn’t give me much grief. The engine didn’t cool down too much between sessions, except for the lunch break. I was now faster than Bryan, so he wanted me ahead of him on the grid. Unfortunately, it took two laps to get the temperature back up. I’m fifteen seconds a lap slower without the second cam. After the two laps, I took off like a scalded cat; was able to execute a pass on the orange Exige that had flummoxed me earlier.

GBMC1132sI improved my best time in each session, until my final aborted one. I put two wheels off twice, just barely, and was a little sideways or had wobbles a number of times but felt in control the whole time. With one lapse. In my final full session I came up on a black and yellow Mustang. He waved me by, pointing me right. I passed him on the left. After the session was over I found him in the paddock and apologized. Looking at the video, I see why I did it. He was moving right as he was pointing me right. Still, I was correct to apologize.

By mid afternoon, Bryan’s exhaust gadget was discoloring his license plate. He unmounted the device for the final session and was not black flagged. He didn’t need to use it.

I ran half of what I thought was the final session, due to low fuel. Okay, I admit I was beginning to get fatigued. I didn’t have the best night’s sleep, and we had gotten a good dose of track time. I certainly won’t complain that I didn’t get my money’s worth.


Bryan follows me into the Corkscrew

At the end of the day, Caleb asked me which of the three days was my favorite. It didn’t take me long to say that today was the best of the three. There’s no doubt that a big part of it is the iconic nature of the place. I still can’t believe I got to run laps at Laguna Seca. Incredible, the stuff of fantasy. Lapping Laguna Seca in a Lotus is definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

My feelings now are quite a contrast to just 24 hours ago. I’m relieved and elated, still somewhat adrenalized, looking forward to a sound, well-earned night’s rest.

At Willows we switched gears. Now we switch directions: homeward bound.

The upgrade to Windows 10 has interfered with my video editing. Although I haven’t been able to do one yet for Sonoma, I did manage to make this two lap clip, second lap is my fast lap for the day.