Incident at Woody Creek

Friday, September 15

We never got any notice of the schedule for our day at Woody Creek. At dinner last night I asked around but never got a definitive answer. Somebody said that they’d be driving the race cars to the track with police escort in two groups, one in the morning and one around noon. But there was no agreement on when the morning group would go. Also, I was told that it would just be parade laps, twelve cars at a time. Another said we’d get some “spirited driving”. If it was just to be parade laps, we would get an early start for home.

A couple of people suggested that I couldn’t go wrong if I showed up at the track at 7:30. So that’s what we decided to do.

We arrived promptly at 7:30 and the gate was still locked. Within a few minutes we got in, signed the waivers, and were sent to the paddock. It wasn’t a paddock so much as a short go-kart track. We went the wrong way a couple of times and finally had to be escorted to the parking area on the little go-kart track.

We were there quite early, as it turned out. We chatted with the guys running the track: Jason, Kevin, and Canadian Paul, who’s actually an Aussie. They mentioned that there would be a guy there later with a drone getting aerial shots. He’d share the footage and they said I could use it in my video. Sounds good to me!

By the time the call came that the RMVR guys were on the way, it was suggested that I go run a few laps. Get out there, do a “sighting lap”. It rained last night, check on the puddles. Check out the cone chicane. Chad could verify that all the signal lights were working. Basically just a list of excuses to get out on the track before anybody else showed up.

You don’t have to twist my arm to get me out on the track. I started off slowly, as the car had cooled off. It took a lap to get up to temperature. I ran two laps, then a third. I was starting to figure out where the track went, was starting to add a little speed.

Then, on the fourth lap, we heard a “pop” and the car spun and stalled. The right rear suspension was deranged, reminiscent of several years ago when the left side failed on my first lap at HPR.

As I was the only car on the track, I got out of the car to investigate. I waved at the guy in the control tower and they dispatched a truck. We jacked the car up and put dollies under both rear wheels. As I only have a tow ring in the front, we towed me the wrong way back off the track. By this time, the race cars had arrived. The paddock overlooks the track, and dozens of people were watching, taking pictures of me as I was slowly dragged off the track..

It was an odd sensation, having no control over the back end of the car. I had to brake sometimes to keep tension on the strap. Because the rear wheels were on casters, they’d go in any direction and I had no rear brakes. I tried to steer such that the back of the car was in line with the strap, but that wasn’t always possible. In retrospect, I should have had the cameras running.

Going down the hill we hit the only pothole in the place and the left side dolly got kicked up into the bodywork, causing some minor collateral damage. It happened again, not as badly, when we hit the transition from asphalt to concrete.

I spent a miserable morning trying to figure out what to do. Jason and Paul would help at the end of the day. If it was an easy fix, it might not get done in time for us to head home before dark. If it wasn’t an easy fix, where would I get it fixed? How far would I have to tow it? Bill suggested I ask around, perhaps I could find some RMVR member who had towed a street legal car. Maybe they could trailer my car and drive theirs.

I texted Michael, who gave me the number of a shop in nearby Carbondale run by his friend’s dad. If it wasn’t an easy fix, perhaps he could tow it to his shop and do the repair there. Maybe I’d need Genae to come get us. Maybe Chad should try to get a ride back home. I was definitely not having a fun time.

We had skipped breakfast to get here early and now had no transport available to get some lunch. Paul offered us the use of his car, or maybe we could walk to the Woody Creek Tavern, a “rustic tavern wallpapered with Hunter S. Thompson memorabilia.” As luck would have it, somebody bought a bunch of sandwiches for the general consumption. I don’t know who did it, but it’s much appreciated.

I tried to keep occupied. I talked to the guy with the Mercury Comet. He hadn’t caught on fire. Some fuel got dumped and that’s what burned; his car was fine. When I first saw it yesterday, I thought it was a Maverick. This car was red; one of my cousins had a red Maverick back in the day. I haven’t seen one in ages. I’ll admit that I think it’s a pretty good looking car.

They guy with the #27 Mustang was there. I told him what car I drive and said that he’d passed me at the RAKC lunch with every passenger I took out. I told him that I was intrigued by the line he took in turn 11 at HPR. I said that I’d tried it and it was faster for me than my usual line. He said he does it because he doesn’t have power steering.

The afternoon group turned out to be only a handful of cars. Jason felt things were under control so he came over to help me with the car. When I say “help me”, I mean “do all the work”. We pulled the wheel off and he quickly came to the conclusion that all we needed to do was replace two bolts that had sheared. These bolts connect the hub carrier with the ball joint plinth. When they failed, of course, the shims were scattered. Chad found one right away, I found a second a before we moved the car. Kevin came back with a big one a couple of hours later.

So, the damage: The remains of the two bolts had to be extracted from the hub carrier. Some part had machined the inside of the wheel, a narrow, shallow grove. Aluminum curly cues were hanging from the rear panel. A brake line got a pretty bad scuff and needs to be replaced. From the car falling off the dolly, the left side of the rear panel is bent and there’s some fiberglass damage. Everything else looked to be in good shape. No bent suspension parts.

I gave Jason what meager assistance I could as he worked on getting the sheared bolts drilled out. He was eventually able to do this without disassembling any of the suspension or brakes. Then we searched through big bins of bolts – metric large, metric medium – that they’d salvaged from cars over the years. We found some of the correct size and thread pitch (but not hardness!) and I helped him install them. This was about the best possible outcome. I was so relieved.

Jason is a Lotus guy. He used to have an M100 Elan, in British Racing Green. Now he’s working on a barn-find Europa. He was going to put a TDi engine in it, but has had to go another direction. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say again: Lotus isn’t just a car, it’s a community.

I suspect that these two bolts that sheared are in fact the point of failure of the incident back in 2011. That happened exiting turn 2 at HPR. Everything was damaged except the toe link brace, but nobody could tell me what the point of failure was. I think the difference in the resulting damage is down to having it happen at a lower speed.

The first one happened at the start of my first lap of the day, this one midway through the fourth. That would make both of them after less than five miles of driving. Neither instance happened at a particularly high speed. This one I was in second, the other in third. In fact, I’m much faster through turn 2 of HPR now than I was six years ago. In neither case did I hit a curb or a bump; there was no abrupt force applied.

It was good that it happened when I was solo on track. Had this happened with somebody behind me, it might have been trouble. I spun and came to a stop in just a few car lengths, diagonally across the track in a place with poor visibility.

Jason got it all together just after three and I took it for a quick little test drive. Paul joked that I could do the test drive on the track, but that wasn’t going to happen. This is a temporary fix, sufficient to get me home and the car to Ferrari of Denver for Ryan to get the correct bolts and make sure everything is actually okay.

I may have him replace the bolts on the other side. It’s clear now that these are a maintenance item. I’ll get some advice as to how often to replace them. I’m pretty sure I can do the job myself without much difficulty.

I had been pretty stressed out all day and was relieved that I got out of this without major difficulties. Jason was a real life saver.

But I was still feeling some stress. This is a temporary fix and should be okay. But I was somewhat paranoid. I thought it would be better to go through Glenwood Springs, taking interstate or four land highways the whole way. No sharp turns, no cliffs without guardrails. Approaching Glenwood, Navigator announced “There is heavy traffic in your area” and routed us a way I’ve never been. We wondered how much of this was caused by the big bridge project. Is it like this every day? It took us forever to go fifteen miles.

Many times on the drive home I imagined what would happen if the bolts failed right now. What if I hit some big bump and it broke? What would that eighteen wheeler behind us do to us? Every rough patch of road made me nervous. That trepidation mellowed as I got closer to home, but it never really went away. We went through several bridge repairs in progress: the asphalt was ground off and the seams were big, sharp bumps. Each one was excruciating.

We made it home without incident. I was exhausted.

Woody Creek isn’t defined in my lap timer’s library. I needed to set the start/finish location before I could get lap times. I figured I could do that before the first actual session of the day so I didn’t run the lap timer for this “session”. Note that you can see one of the shims hit the ground in the rear view camera.

RMVR Snowmass Crowd Control

A few months ago, Chad and I decided to volunteer to do crowd control for the Rocky Mountain Vintage Racers street race in Snowmass. We would be responsible for controlling pedestrian and vehicle traffic. The only better view of the race was had by the corner marshals. A big motivation for me was that the volunteers had the opportunity to run laps at Woody Creek the next day. If a free track day is involved, sign me up!

It takes a lot of people to put on a street race. A race at a track requires people to do race control, deal with the grid, and maybe a dozen corner stations. You need all the gear for those people: radios, flags, fire extinguishers, brooms. You have to be able to get the corner workers to their stations, make sure they have food and water, and you have to be able to collect them at the end of the day. For a street race, you have all that plus the town’s police department, fire department, emergency workers, and enough volunteers to control vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Before the event, somebody has to place barriers and signage and when we’re all done it all gets taken down. Oh, and there’s a massive communications effort to keep the citizenry informed.

I kept wondering just how many people were involved. I’m guessing about fifty people were required to do race control, grid, and corner workers. Another fifty for crowd control. Add in another handful of folks in supporting roles and you may be approaching 120 people. That’s before you add in the town’s side of it. And, of course, the sixty or so drivers and their support. It’s a big operation.

Our plan was to leave Denver late afternoon Wednesday, drive over Independence Pass, and check in at the hotel before ten. Thursday would start with a 7:30am meeting, then get into our positions until 5:00pm followed by a nice dinner starting at 6:00. Friday would be Woody Creek, leaving for home no later than 4:00pm. A couple of nights in a hotel, a couple of tanks of gas, a couple of pleasant days in the Colorado mountains. Sounds like a plan.

We were told that we should bring fold up camp chairs, water and snacks, sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, a fully charged cell phone, and a cooler or backpack to carry it all in. We’d be spending two nights, so we needed a couple changes of clothes. Because I wanted to run laps, we would also need our helmets. Of course, we stood no chance of getting all this into the Elise with us so we crossed off a few of the items. No chairs or coolers for us.

After all the final adjustments, we managed to be out the door before four, which meant we’d get over Independence Pass before total darkness. It was a beautiful drive. The aspen are just beginning to change. We went up I-70 then over Fremont Pass to Leadville, where we had burritos. The highlight of the drive is Independence Pass. The sun hadn’t set yet, but the road was in shadow on the eastern end of the pass. It was dusk as we descended the western side. We had to keep a keen eye out for wildlife. We saw goats, deer, and an elk.

September 14: Race Day

We were out the hotel door before seven and went to the Westin, next door, in search of food and drink. Oddly, there was none to be had until seven when the Starbucks downstairs opens.

Our Crowd Control meeting was held immediately after the corner workers meeting, so we got started a little late. The meeting was pretty quick: “Here are the position assignments, here are radios, we put the ladies closest to the porta-potties, We’ll be closing and opening the track for traffic all day, no lunch break but we’ll hand out sandwiches. Bring your radio back or you don’t get a dinner ticket.”

On the way out the door we were to collect a whistle, ear plugs, a t-shirt, patch, and poster, and our credentials. I only saw one sort of badge and grabbed it, but it turned out to be the incorrect one. The corner workers badge was blue and said “On Track Access”. The crowd control badge was green and said “Trackside Access”. I grabbed the blue one in error.

I was in CC 11, which was the western end of the driveway for Tamarack townhouses on Carriage Way. Corner 12 was directly across the street, and Chad was posted at the driveway next to them. And the porta-pottie was there.

It’s a fairly steep uphill section. I first see the cars below me, to my left, as they exit an off-camber right turn. They’re wide open throttle from there until they reach my position, where they enter a braking zone for the left hander above me on my right. It’s my job to keep people behind the tape and stopping anybody from exiting the driveway. I was to keep them the double-taped areas entirely.

They say “three is a crowd”. That’s about what it was for me. I only had to deal with one car, a bicyclist, and a few pedestrians all day. When the track was open to traffic, I’d stand at the top of the driveway. One of the corner workers at 11 said if he was driving, he’d want to put his right front tire right where I was standing. The instructions were to keep people thirty feet back, which I paced out to be at a seam in the asphalt. An easy reference point.

I put myself a few feet up toward the track. Through some trees, I could see the cars slide into view at the bottom of the hill. The cars roar up the hill and pass my driveway. I’m standing a few feet below the road, so the cars go by at eye level. There are three classes: small bore, big bore, and open wheel. When the big bore V-8’s blast up the hill it’s a very visceral sensation. I’m not particularly a V-8 fan, but there’s no denying the spectacle.

I have so little to do when the track is open that I spend a fair amount of time across the street visiting with Chad and our corner workers. They aren’t RMVR regulars, but were in town with the Porsche club who had an event on Saturday. They were a hoot. He wore the radio headset all the time and couldn’t hear us well. He clearly operated on the principle that if he couldn’t hear us, we couldn’t hear him, so he tended to yell a lot.

The corner workers were on a different channel than crowd control. Ours was almost non-stop chatter of about three stations up at the paddock and grid. A litany of “I’m sending one down, a white F-150” or “Three down, the last one a green Mazda” and once a “UPS coming down.” I did get to make call one time to say some people were in front of the tape at a station below me.

Our corner workers kept us informed. He’d signal five minutes to track closing. When the track was open, cars could go one way, counter to the race direction. We closed the track when a police car would pass us, making eye contact with each volunteer and announcing that the track was closing. He’d come by again after the session and the track would be open.

Early on, there was nearly a coming together right in front of me in the small bore group. One car catching another, got a bit unsettled by getting a bit of curb, came within inches of the car in front. That said, the event was fairly accident free. A BMW hit a barrier lightly, causing some front fender damage. A Mercury Comet was said to have caught fire, and somebody hit a hay bale.

The morning was gorgeous, and the time passed fairly quickly. After lunch, though, was a different story. Clouds had been accumulating. We had a short shower and later got hit with a bit of a downpour. We even had sixty or ninety seconds of light hail. A session for the big bores started in the dry but encountered a moderate shower. Only one of the cars had windshield wipers, but it didn’t seem to slow them down much. Then lightning was reported seven or eight miles away.

We stopped the race and they brought the truck around and picked us all up, drove us to a covered area where we waited for the storm to pass. Of course, to get back to our position with one-way traffic, we got to go around the whole course. From my place, I could also see a downhill section of Bush Creek Road. I was wondering why they weren’t going faster. Turns out there were several hay bale chicanes.

This interruption broke the flow of things; seemed to make the day longer, forced a recalibration of the schedule. Entropy set in a bit, instructions were announced, then quickly countermanded. Still, given the circumstances everything went off without any major issues.

It was raining again before Robert came by in the van to collect us after the last race. Everybody reconvened in the room we had our morning meetings and we had a beer. Then it was off to dinner. We took the gondola from the hotel down to the restaurant. We rode with the BMW driver who hit one of the barriers. He showed us a photo; the damage didn’t look to bad, but that’s easy for me to say.

They had closed the restaurant for us and we packed the place. Chad and I were among the first to arrive. Nobody asked for our tickets, other than the guy at the door who was curious what they looked like. I had the pulled pork, corn bread, and raisin coleslaw.

I had a good time, really enjoyed the day. I talked to a couple of locals who said the village was more crowded than usual for this time of year – summer over, but the aspen not yet turned. They enjoyed seeing the cars and said they thought it was a successful event. If they do it again next year, I think I’ll volunteer again.

Loose Battery, Revisited

When I said I’d dodged a bullet when my battery came loose at the track, I was incorrect. I should have waited to make that declaration until after washing the car. With a pretty heavy coat of dirt and road grime and in the garage I didn’t get a good look at it. Now that I’ve bathed her, I can see the extent.

There’s a little “pimple” just above and left of the center of the photo, along with an array of spiderwebbing.

Now that I’ve put it all back together, I see that the battery was installed “backwards” when it was replaced on my way to Austin. I had no idea the base of the battery wasn’t symmetrical, so I didn’t know to check it. So that would mean that it stayed put for COTA, La Junta, and the RAKC lunch laps. It had to come loose on a left hand turn. La Junta only has one, and all of COTA’s fast turns are right handers.

The charity laps amounted to about a session’s worth of laps. With passengers, I was five to six seconds a lap slower. RaceChrono logs g-forces, in theory. The data for Thursday’s sessions looks reasonable but the lunch lap data is clearly bogus. It indicates a max of 3.4g’s, which is pure fantasy and double what it records for Thursday.

I can’t help but wonder what made it come loose, and how long was it banging around? I had the boot open between sessions, so it was sometime in my second session. I didn’t hear anything. The engine is between my ears and the boot, I have a helmet on, and with no top there’s some wind noise. Still, shouldn’t I have heard it? And I didn’t hit any curbs and didn’t go off; there was no jarring event. (I went two off in the first session, not roughly, and the battery was still in place before the second set.)

Oh, well. What’s done is done. I’ll have to have it repaired sooner or later, but it will have to be later. I’ve needed some fiber repair on the front clam for quite some time. I’ve worn holes, so you might say the nose has nostrils now. This battery damage essentially doubles the bill. None of it will likely get fixed in the next twelve months.

Junco Lake

Sunday, September 3

Leading up to this hike, I was telling myself that I only need to visit two more lakes in Wild Basin and I’ll have been to them all. I was thinking I only needed to go to Junco Lake and Isolation Lake and I’d “have the set.” I was a bit off. In addition to those two, I also have yet to hike to Frigid Lake and Indigo Pond. In any event, my goal for this next hike was to get to Junco Lake.

Originally, Chad was going to go with me but his plans changed. We were going to meet Bob at the trailhead. Bob wouldn’t go with us, but would accompany us the first few miles. But I didn’t properly communicate where Bob was to us me and we didn’t connect. I waited a few minutes past our appointed rendezvous for him then hit the trail. I discovered later that he was there, just at the wrong trailhead. Entirely my fault.

Anyway, to get to Junco Lake we will essentially start with Bluebird Lake. The hike to Bluebird Lake has a lot to offer. It has three notable water features: Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades, and Ouzel Falls. Then there are the open views where the trail goes along the top of a ridge that was burned by the Ouzel fire back in ’78. And the last three times I’ve hiked to Bluebird, other hikers have said they’ve spotted moose. I never can find them, but that’s just my luck.

Just above Ouzel Lake the trail passes through some talus and with no trees there, it’s an ideal place for raspberries. There are a number of stretches where raspberries grow in abundance. I couldn’t resist tasting a few. The berries may have been small, but they were delicious. The leaves were starting to turn dark, and there were no immature berries. The plants are much smaller than the ones in my back yard. But the weight of fruit as a percentage of the total weight of the plant is much higher. These little plants were densely covered with the sweet little tasty morsels.

A little farther up the trail I came across a couple who had passed me on the trail a bit earlier. Looked like they were picking berries, but there were no raspberries here. “We found huckleberries!” I’m sure I’ve had a slice of huckleberry pie, but I could certainly never identify them in the wild. These were growing on very small plants, close to the ground. Most of the berries were red, about as red as a not-quite-ripe raspberry. “You want the purple ones.” They were quite tiny, not much bigger than a BB but quite tasty.

The steepest part of the trail below Bluebird Lake is also quite lovely. The hillside is covered with an avalanche of wildflowers. I was thinking it might be a bit late in the season, but here the flowers were still quite vibrant.

I was pleased with my progress thus far, reaching Bluebird in a few minutes over three hours. It’s less than a mile from Bluebird to Junco, but there’s no trail and about a 750′ climb.

The Foster guide says to go around the base of the ridge and follow the stream. The last few times I went to Bluebird I spent some time studying the terrain and was never happy that that was the way to go. So I asked around. Kristin sent me a couple of pictures with two suggested routes. Each looked to be better than Foster’s suggestion.

So, without taking a break here, I headed up the ridge to Junco. It was easy enough to start, there are all sorts of grassy ramps and shallow gullies. But before long I managed to get to a spot that I didn’t like and backtracked a little. Then I ran into the couple I shared huckleberries with. I followed them for a bit, until they went down a section that made me uncomfortable. I let them go their way; I headed to the top of the ridge. Kristin told me it would be easier up top and I think she was correct.

I made it to Junco pretty much at the same time as the Huckleberries. I made my way to a comfy spot near the outlet and tucked in to my picnic. The wasn’t a cloud in the sky, but there was a faint haze from wildfires half a continent away. I brought the GoPro with me but didn’t bother setting it up as, without clouds, there’s no point in trying to do a time lapse video. Meanwhile, the Huckleberries had changed into their swim suits. She did a bit of sunbathing but he took a dip in the lake. I put my soda can in the water for a few minutes so I’d have a cold drink.

Ouzel Peak and Junco Lake

I headed back down after a half hour break. Having told myself that I’d be better off staying on the top of the ridge, I found myself heading down one of the many grassy ramps. It started off well enough but soon had me in a spot I didn’t like at all. I backtracked and chose another ramp. Again, no joy. As I was backtracking the second time, I ran into the Huckleberries again. I followed them for a good while, but they were moving faster than me and soon were out of sight. But by then I was pretty sure we were retracing the route we used on the way up.

Mahana Peak, Bluebird Lake. Longs and Meeker in background.

I took another break at Bluebird – snacked on my peach and slathered on another coat of SPF. At the Upper Ouzel campsite the trail crosses the outlet from Bluebird. I refilled my water here. By the time I was back to the car, I’d used up all the water. That’s the flip side of the open views in the burn area – there’s no shade and I feel a little broiled in the afternoon sun. I drank as much water in the last five and a half miles as I did in the first nine.

It was a full day, and by the time I made it back to the car I was exhausted. The Foster guide tells me it’s 7.2 miles from the trailhead to Junco Lake, with a 3,210′ net elevation gain. I’m guessing that with my backtracking I didn’t add much distance but did add a non-trivial amount of elevation. The hike was not only physically challenging, but I’ll admit to more than the usual difficulty route finding.

Timetable

Out In
Trailhead 07:30 AM 05:04 PM
Calypso Cascades 08:12 AM 04:19 PM
Ouzel Falls 08:31 AM 03:56 PM
Thunder/Ouzel junction 08:41 AM 03:45 PM
Ouzel/Bluebird junction 09:20 AM 03:08 AM
Bluebird Lake 10:42 AM 02:00 PM
Junco Lake 11:55 AM 12:30 PM

Thursday Night Open Lapping

Thursday, August 31

High Plains has offered Thursday night open lapping for the last two summers. I’ve been wanting to do it but somehow never made it a priority. They run a hot track from 5 to 9pm. Last week Scott asked if I wanted to go. I pondered it a day or so before responding in the affirmative. Scott and Mark met me at the park and ride.

I’ve never lapped at night and I’ve never lapped in wet conditions. With sunset at about 7:30, I would certainly get to drive in the dark. And this time of year is perfect for evening thunder showers on Colorado’s eastern plains so I felt there was a better than even chance of some rain.

Heading east on I-70 we could see a dark cloud above Byers, dropping rain from one end. We had to stop at the gas station for fuel. I pulled up to the pump but stayed in the car. The roof isn’t exactly rain proof and I had a couple of big leaks dripping on the sills. I was pondering how long I’d sit there, delaying the inevitable drenching, when the rain noticeably slackened. Even though I sat in the car while the gas pumped, my shirt got pretty wet. Which, in turn, caused all the windows to fog up.

Mark and I were fueled up but Scott hadn’t started yet. So we ditched him, Top Gear style, and headed to the track. A couple of miles down the road we were out from under the cloudburst and back on dry roads.

I didn’t get a car count, but we had a small enough turnout that we didn’t run any groups.

I may have been the fastest car on the track when I headed out the first time. Nobody ever passed me, and I passed six or eight cars. It was sprinkling a bit; for a short time I had to put the wipers on intermittent. The track surface never got wet. It never was wet enough to glisten. But every now and then, I could feel a little loss of traction.

I guess it was a little perverse of me to want it to rain. There were a few showers in the vicinity, none likely as wet as what we had at the gas station. They’re happy to run the track in the wet, as long as no nearby lightning endangers the corner workers. But although lightning occasionally flashed on the horizon, neither lightning nor rain was an issue tonight.

I finally got a working suction mount for the phone. The last few track days I’ve had to keep the phone in my pocket where I can’t see it. It’s a big help to get the immediate feedback on what you’re doing. I tried changing my line through one turn. Run a couple of laps the old way, then a couple the new way and see whether I’m gaining or losing time.

During my second session they had to deploy the tow truck to collect a stricken BMW between turns 6 and 7. I was expecting it to take a lap longer than it did for them to complete the operation. The tow truck was on the move before I got to the start/finish line. As I approached turns 1 and 2, the yellow lights were getting turned off. I passed the truck on the highway straight. Next time around, he was hooking up the car. He took the short-cut at the top of the hill and were off the track by the time I came back around again. That’s something like eight minutes. Very efficient.

After the second session I opened the boot lid to find my battery out of its mount, laying on its side. I got lucky here. I’ve seen pictures of rear clams damaged by a loose battery. It can cause serious damage. I never heard it banging around and there’s no damage I can see.

The bracket had not come loose, the battery just popped out of the mount. I attempted a repair but was unable to get it secure. So my day was done. When I expressed my disappointment that I didn’t get to drive in the dark, Scott, the generous guy he is, offered to let me take a few laps in his car. Twist my arm.

Although I’ve ridden in many Elises, this is the first time I’ve driven one other than my own. It’s only the second car I’ve tracked that isn’t mine (the Mazda Chump Car being the other). Scott’s car is supercharged and he’s on better tires. I had my doubts about the tires, though. They had been stored in the cold over the winter and I’ve heard bad things about that. Also, the suspension is different, his being standard and mine being track pack.

He gave me the keys and said, “Don’t break it! Try to do more like a 2:20 than a 2:13.” I ran a few laps. I had the phone in my pocket, so I couldn’t see what my times were until I was out of the car. My first impressions were how different the car is. The seats are different (mine are cloth, his are leather). The clutch had a different feel, he’s got a different shifter.

And the most obvious difference is the power. I never pushed the car. I short-shifted and was on the brakes much earlier than usual. Even so, I was often in fourth gear in places where I’m always in third. Turns out I did a 2:17 and topped 119mph on the highway straight. That’s 10mph faster than I managed in my car tonight. Without pushing it.

I was really looking forward to driving in the dark, and would have enjoyed driving in the wet, but missed out on both. I was hoping to get four sessions, which would have made the event about half the cost per lap as a day with CECA. But with the mechanical failure, I only got two sessions so it was back to par.

Battery

Turns out it was an easy fix – I didn’t realize the lip on the base of the battery was not symmetrical. If I’d turned it around 180 degrees I’d have been in business. I had the battery replaced on my trip to Austin in June. I’m wondering if it was installed improperly since then. If so, it managed to sit tight for about three track days (COTA, La Junta, and the RAKC lunch laps).

I’ve seen photos of damage done to other people’s Elises due to the battery flopping around in the boot. I’ve had a good look and don’t see the slightest sign of damage to my car. I’d say I dodged a bullet.

Turn Signals

From the time I bought the car, the left turn signal has blinked at twice the rate of the right. Some have said this is an indication that the turn signal will fail. It kept working for me for quite a while. But for the last five years or so the left rear hasn’t been working. I’ve tried a couple of proposed solutions without finding a fix. I was told that the entire unit needs to be replaced. There are two problems with this answer. First, the parts are about impossible to find. Second, the assembly is quite expensive.

So I’ve been using hand signals. I still use the signal, as the front works okay. I just use the hand signal when there’s somebody behind me.

Last week on the way home from the LoCo picnic I noticed that the left turn signal was now blinking at the same rate as the right side. Back home in the garage, I got out to look. Sure enough, it was working! As I stood there watching, it began to alternate between blinking slow and fast. The joy was short-lived, though, as it quickly went back to blinking fast and not working. It worked for perhaps two minutes.

On the way home from HPR it worked for the entire drive. It has failed again since then, though, so I’m back to hand signals. I find it odd that it doesn’t work for years and now all of a sudden decides to work every now and then.

Tires

I bought Yokohama tires last year for track days. I got four days out of them. The rears are almost slick. The fronts have tread, but I’m pretty sure they’re heat cycled out. I expected to get at least six days, so I’m pretty disappointed. On the first of those four days I recorded my personal best lap time at HPR: 2:09 and a fraction. Since then, a 2:14 has been my best. I’ve managed 2:14 on the Dunlops, so I’d have to say my disappointment isn’t limited to their longevity.

So now I’ve done a 2:13 with the Dunlops. That’s with a full fuel tank and a light rain falling. I’m certain the 2:09 is out of range on the Dunlops. But I’m out there lapping for fun, not to win any races. I see no reason to buy sticky track tires. I’ll see what I can get in the 300 treadwear range. A little stickier than the Direzzas, but should last a good long time if I use them only for track days.

The Video

When I’m searching through YouTube for track videos, I tend to whine if they don’t have any gauges, track map, or timer. So I’m being a naughty boy by not having any gauges or a map in this day’s highlight reel. And it only has a lap timer because you can see it on my phone.

Carhenge Eclipse

Sunday, August 20

Originally, it was just going to be me and Jerry but Jerry’s brothers Chuck and Jay joined us. I wanted to hit the road fairly early, so asked if they could pick me up at eight. We were in Jay’s Chevy Colorado. It was cramped quarters. It’s not a crew cab – the back seats are hard, the backs are vertical and there is no leg room. At all. Even with the front seats all the way forward. Jay was sitting so close to the dash, he inadvertently engaged four-wheel drive on more than one occasion.

It’s temporary discomfort, though, right? We’re only going 250 miles. Google maps tells us it’s quicker to take I-25 north of Cheyenne before heading east. I’d rather take I-76 to Ft. Morgan, then through Kimball and Scottsbluff on state routes from there, hoping to avoid traffic. I think it was a good route; we indeed had no traffic but that was largely because we were ahead of the crowd.

We arrived in Alliance ready for lunch. A few blocks into town we came across Wonderful Kitchen, a Chinese place. There were two notices on the door: “Special Eclipse schedule, open until 9:30pm” and “Special Eclipse Menu”. I suspect the hours were longer than usual and the menu shorter. When we arrived, we were the only patrons and during the time we were there they only seated two other tables. I’m figuring they were expecting a bigger lunch crowd.

As to the menu, there were only six dishes available; a choice of shrimp, chicken, pork, or beef. No vegetarian options. Chopsticks were by request. Chuck has been on a vegan diet for four years. He’s not religious about it, says he enjoys a nice steak on his birthday. He ordered the chicken chow mein and the chopsticks. I had that most traditional Chinese dish: beef and potatoes. It had onions and green peppers and a dark spicy sauce.

What little traffic there was in Alliance was all heading the same way we were, northeast of town. The land here is mostly center pivot irrigation: literally, crop circles. Seen from above, the land is divided into obvious squares, and most of those squares are filled edge to edge with circles, sometimes half circles. Carhenge sits at the south west corner of a square without a circle. If the land in this square was leveled off a bit and a center pivot sprinkler installed, Carhenge would still sit unmolested in the corner. It’s not terribly big.

Across the street, and a few yards north, is Jeske Lawn Sprinklers. This operation occupies a wedge of land cut out of one of these circles, a Pac-Man of corn with the Jeske buildings in Pac-Man’s mouth, with the campground as the next doe. It is Jeske who I called to get a camp site. I looked at the satellite image before calling them, but I didn’t zoom in real close. At first glance it looked like a crude, primitive campground. Looking closer now, I see that’s not true. It looks more like a collapsed building and a bunch of junk surrounded by truck tracks.

Today it’s more like an actual primitive campground. They’ve called it “Over the Hill”, which it is. It’s over the hill from Carhenge. The terrain isn’t flat and there are no hookups of any kind. No showers, no bathrooms. Just port-a-potties. Those were sited on freshly poured concrete pads. People were filling the edges of the field first. When we arrived, perhaps a quarter of the field was occupied, and people were starting to arrive at the adjacent fields to the north and east. If all this area filled up, there would be quite a crowd.

We pulled into a place close enough, but not too close, to a port-a-pottie and set up the tent and awning. Jerry and I made a trip over the hill. I was looking for a prime spot, trying to judge where the sun would be at the appointed time. I decided I wanted to be as close to the thing as I could get. After scoping the place out, we went to the souvenir stand. This was outside the small permanent building – a tent and tables. They had laid out a line, TSA fashion, that zigzagged back and forth enough times to accommodate maybe thirty people. We were the only ones. We bought t-shirts.

I asked how many people they were expecting. “Ten to twenty thousand people, is what they’re saying.” Red Rocks holds just under ten thousand. Ten thousand people here would allow everybody to sit on blankets but it would pretty well fill the place. I had a hard time imagining twice that many people here. If they were really expecting twenty thousand, they’d have ordered more port-a-potties.

A steady flow of people kept arriving at the campground. By dusk there were a bit over twice as many people there as when we arrived. It wasn’t a party crowd – there didn’t seem to be any serious drinking, anyway. People chatted loudly, kids chased each other, screaming. Nearby, somebody played their car stereo, imposing their taste on everybody. At one point, the minivan across from us had their headlights on for quite a while for no apparent reason. But overall it was a pleasant evening, good weather, few bugs.

I had hoped to take a shot at some simple astrophotography. Because there was no moon and no nearby large cities, I was hoping it would be dark enough to see the Milky Way. But by dusk we were starting to get a few clouds. And because everybody had lights on, it wasn’t as dark as I’d hoped. Also, Alliance cast a surprisingly bright light to the southwest.

We spent a lot of time chatting. Jay told us a bit about seeing an eclipse a while back. He was scuba diving around Bonaire. They didn’t even know about the eclipse until the day before. They hopped on a plane for the thirty mile flight to Curaçao and watched the total eclipse from the beach. This was 1998.

Chuck and Jay slept outside, Jerry and I in the tent. This time on “What Did I Forget?” it was my sleeping pad. Jerry had an extra blanket which he kindly loaned me. I woke up at 1:33. Somebody nearby was still chatting. I laid there a while before deciding to head to the pottie. It was occupied, and someone was waiting. So I’m second in line.

By now, most of the lights had been extinguished. Most of the clouds had vanished and I could easily pick out several constellations I forgot the names of years ago. It would be a great time to try to take a picture. If I’d planned properly, I’d have readied everything. As it was, the camera was in the bag in the cab of the truck, tripod who knows where. And, as a bonus, I’d neglected to bring a flashlight.

I was awake for an hour then slept, dreaming odd dreams, that I forgot immediately upon waking.

Monday, August 21

I awoke in a bank of fog a bit before six. Chuck and Jay were up, awoken early by a light drizzle. Water clung in small drops on the tent and awning but the ground wasn’t soaked or muddy. Yesterday I talked briefly to a local, standing in line for the latrine (but not at 2:00 am). She said that for the last week or so, the mornings had been cloudy but that it had burned off by mid-morning. So, faced with visibility of a hundred and fifty yards, I tried to remain confident.

And it did clear up considerably by eight or nine. For a time, clouds hung low to the ground all around us, but the sky above our little hill was clear and blue. After breakfast I headed over the hill to see what was happening. Not many people were there yet.

Near the top of the hill I came across a gentleman and his Speed Graphic.Versions of this camera were produced for sixty years, and for a long time was standard equipment for press photographers. This man assembled his from parts. The image in the viewfinder is upside down and backwards. To focus, one uses a magnifying glass while underneath the black hood. His wife is a chemist, and she does the developing. He said he planned on doing a thirty second exposure.

The spot I scouted yesterday was occupied by a number of credentialed photographers; a copse of tripods. I set up nearby, leaving a small void. I got the tripod set up, had my chair and a jacket but forgot sunscreen. I asked one of my neighbors if he’d watch my stuff and I headed back to the camp. On the way I ran into Jerry coming to meet me. I pointed out my location and continued to fetch my sunscreen.

Chuck and Jay stayed at camp. Jerry and I hung out right by Carhenge. We chatted with the folks around us and took turns wandering around in the crowd. A few people were climbing on the cars, and there was a constant circulation of people across, around, and through the field and Carhenge.

An unusual assortment of people gravitated to the center of the structure. Some did yoga. Some laid crystals out on the ground and periodically clanged brass bowls that chimed like bells. One guy was using a pinhole box camera. A reporter took his photo and asked him a couple of questions. He took his name and home town and wrote them in his pocket sized spiral notebook. “A pinhole box you say?” People posed for pictures next to the cars. Surprisingly, I didn’t notice anybody taking selfies.

I met a woman who had come from Utah. Jerry talked to some folks from Texas. I saw license plates from Wisconsin and South Dakota. There was a guy from Washington, D.C. He told us he met other people from D.C. here. Everybody else I talked to was from Metro Denver. A couple next to us were speaking Spanish. I thought perhaps they were from a more distant place. They were from Thornton, but the guy was in Mexico City for the 1991 total eclipse.

It’s an odd collection of people, in an odd place, anticipating an odd phenomenon. Freaks and geeks. Hippies. It’s easy to let the mind wander perhaps a bit more off the beaten path. Doesn’t it look like the guy in the black t-shirt might be an alien, in the act of taking off his fake human head?

When the moon took its first bite out of the sun a murmur rippled through the crowd. It has begun!

A guy came through the crowd handing out the paper eclipse glasses. He gave us each a pair, even though we already had our sunglass style ones. People still moved around quite a bit, but the forest of tripods the subject of more intense attention. Just seconds before totality a cloud passed in front of the sun and people with their glasses on oooh’d prematurely. The cloud quickly passed and a few seconds later the crowd oooh’d again, this time for totality.

Since the start of the eclipse, the clouds had been quite variable. It was generally clear, but clouds would come in quickly and dissipate rather than blow away. I shot several pictures partially obscured by clouds. I could only test exposures with a “full” sun so I had no clue how much I’d need to change the exposure as it progressed so I did a 2 stop bracket. My tripod isn’t too good, I had difficulty following the sun as it climbed. So it was a crap shoot.

The sunlight was still bright, but it had an odd quality about it. Partial eclipses cause odd shadows in the leaves of trees, for example. But we had no trees here, just old cars. It was getting windy. It was good Jay and Chuck stayed at camp; they told us later that a gust nearly took away our awning. The temperature was dropping noticeably. It was about eighty when partiality started; by totality it was more like sixty.

The plan was to get a picture of the diamond ring, try a couple different exposures for the corona with the big lens. With the wide angle, I wanted to do a quick panorama. Also, I had the GoPro mounted on the arm of my chair and had started recording about ten minutes before totality. I didn’t expect much but it was easy to do.

So the crowd gives out it’s oooh! It’s the diamond ring. I press the shutter release and … nothing. I have Err 99. The dreaded unknown error. I swap camera bodies and get a couple of corona shots. The problem is, the borrowed camera doesn’t work the same as mine, and I don’t know how to work it in the dark. I take a couple of shots and call it quits on the camera.

It really is quite a remarkable event. By the time I was done with the camera my eyes had adjusted to the darkness. All around the flat horizon it was sunset, or perhaps sunrise. The dome of the sky was filled with stars and not quite directly overhead, the sun was black and hairy! Venus was about the brightest “star” in the sky. Mercury was likely visible, but I couldn’t have pointed it out.

And, suddenly, the lights come back on.

Wow.

I’ve been hearing a lot about how some people travel the world to see total eclipses. I’d be surprised if there weren’t people who’d do it. I didn’t go into this thinking that I’d travel the world to see more eclipses. But there’s one that will go from Texas to Maine in 2024. Jerry suggested we fly and stay in a hotel. I’m sure he was just joking, but it’s something to ponder

I can’t help but think about what one of these was like for your primitive peasant. We eagerly anticipated the event, watched the sun get eaten by the moon for an hour using high tech glasses. We have the advantage that we know exactly what’s going on. But that shepherd in sixth century Wales has no clue. He may not even notice the sun getting dim, and all at once that sun turns all black and hairy and the stars come out. And then it goes back to normal.

Take the Long Way Home

We didn’t dilly dally for long after the lights came back on. Maybe ten minutes after totality I started packing up the equipment. By the time we got back over the hill to the campsite, Chuck and Jay had everything packed up. They got an early start, what with having to take down the awning because of the wind. They weren’t alone in the camping area during the event; our neighbors had a birthday party and they shared some cake. Not only were we all packed up and ready to go, Jay made sandwiches. Time to hit the road!

It took us an hour and a half to go about five miles. Even after all the Alliance traffic merged onto the highway it took a while to get up to near the speed limit. It wasn’t helped by the many drivers who evidently weren’t interested in going anywhere near the speed limit.

Eventually we were on our way. We retraced our route through Scottsbluff and Kimball. We got stuck in another mess in Kimball. Just as we arrived, an ambulance came the other way to help a motorcyclist who was down on the ground. It didn’t look like an accident, though. Perhaps just dehydration. It took forever to get through town and when we got to I-80, the traffic on our desired route was blocked, an unmoving line of cars up the hill

We decided it was best to stick to a four lane road so we got on I-80 and headed to Cheyenne. I wasn’t too happy about going that way, but we had little choice. I couldn’t get a GPS signal, thought perhaps it was my phone so I rebooted it. But Jerry couldn’t get GPS, either. We had cell but without GPS we had no traffic data. I’d heard warnings for weeks that they expected problems with cell traffic. But that worked. I didn’t expect to have problems with GPS.

As long as we went west, traffic was okay. As soon as we hit I-25 it was a parking lot. Genae texted me that traffic was green in Colorado, but here we were, crawling along at five miles an hour, three miles from the border. By the time we crossed into Colorado we were moving again. There was another big knot between Ft. Collins and Mead.

We kept passing the same vehicles over and over. We came across a string of six rental cars, all the same model, all with magnetic signs on the doors and bumper stickers on the rear windows. It was a Russian astronomy club. I was trying to read the bumper stickers but couldn’t get a good look. I tried to take a picture of the sticker with my cell phone and I think they saw me doing it. Next time we passed them they smiled and waved. So we smiled and waved back. This happened a couple of times.

We arrived back at my place after an eight and a half hour drive. It only took us four to get up there. Eight and a half hours in the back of that truck was torture.

Yup, might have to fly to the next one.

Solar Eclipse Preparation

I’m heading up to Alliance, NE, for the solar eclipse. We’ll be staying in a campground just a couple hundred yards north of Carhenge. I made camping reservations several months ago but have manged to procrastinate on all other preparations since then. Now that we’re just a week away, I figured it might be time to get things a little bit more organized.

I dug through the shed and found a tent I didn’t know I had. I was looking for the two man tent and couldn’t find it. Instead I came across a larger four man tent. I got it out and did a quick set up, so I’m all set there. Found the gazebo and a lawn chair, too.

I had been thinking all along that I wouldn’t bother trying to photograph the eclipse at all. My first impediment was that I don’t have a long enough lens. In addition, I don’t have a solar filter and I’m not likely to get a picture anything like as good as somebody who’s done this before. But then when I was chatting with Mike at the Warbirds show he said he’d be happy to lend me his 600mm zoom and convinced me to give it a try in spite of my reluctance.

I got online and found a filter I thought would work. It’s for a telescope but should work for his lens. I ordered it and when it arrived I was disappointed to discover that it’s too small. It’s too late to send it back and try to get one the correct size, so I’ll make this one work by taping it onto the lens.

Then I went into the back yard and tried to take my first picture of the sun. With the solar filter on the camera, everything except the sun is black. I tried for a few minutes was unable to even locate the sun through the lens. I did verify that the filter works as expected using my regular lens, where the sun shows up as a fairly small, unimpressive circle.

Center the white bit on the back panel and I more or less have the sun lined up.

I asked around for suggestions and Jim and Travis provided the answer. They said I could fabricate a little solar viewfinder out of cardboard that would do the trick. So I just put one together and went into the back yard and had another go at it.

My first sun photo. Nothing to see here…

I was thinking I’d need 1000mm of lens, and briefly considered buying a teleconverter. But this shot is at 600 and looks like it will be sufficient.

Being that we’ll have no moon next Sunday night, and we’ll be a couple hundred miles from any large cities, if the skies are clear we should have a nice view of the Milky Way. I will take a shot at astrophotography. Again, not something I’ve ever tried before. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, eh?