Loomis Lake

Saturday June 16

Loomis Lake sits in a cirque at the top of the southernmost tributary of Spruce Creek. It is surrounded on three sides by the steep cliffs of Gabletop Mountain. The official trail ends at Spruce Lake. Although there is an unofficial trail from Spruce to Loomis, it can be challenging to find.

There’s a large storm system entering the state and so we expected cooler temperatures and a good chance of rain in the afternoon. When I hit the trail, the sky was mostly cloudy and there was very little wind. The main parking area at the Fern Lake trailhead was full, so I parked at the first overflow that’s just a few yards away. While I was putting on my boots, two cars pulled out, and by the time I got back to the car mid-afternoon there were plenty of empty spaces. I wonder if it ever really got full.

The first section of the trail parallels the Big Thompson River for 1.7 miles to the Pool. It’s easy hiking and I made great time. At the Pool there’s a trail junction that has given me a little trouble in the past. Somehow I once managed to misread the sign and ended up on the trail to Cub Lake and had to backtrack.

From the Pool to Fern Falls the trail climbs about four hundred feet. The Fern Lake fire didn’t do much damage to this area. The fire did cross the trail in a few spots but you can hardly tell any more. Occasionally the trail affords views of the opposite slope where the fire was intense erasing that part of the forest, north of the Big Thompson and south of Trail Ridge Road.

When I arrived at Fern Falls I was a bit surprised by the quantity of water in the stream. I’ve been here quite a few times but don’t recall seeing this much water before. I’m thinking this must be the earliest in the season that I’ve hiked here. If all my trips were in July, August, or September, that would account for the difference in the flow.

Although it’s another seven hundred feet or so climb from Fern Falls to Fern Lake, this part of the trail always seemed easier to me than the part between the falls and the Pool. There aren’t any views along this section of trail so it’s a bit pedestrian. Going to Spruce Lake we don’t actually make it to Fern Lake. It’s an easy side trip, though, being about a hundred yards after the trail junction.

To this point, I’d only encountered six or eight other hikers. But just before the Spruce Lake trail junction I got passed by some trail runners. A group of three came by, talking as they ran. If they could still hold a conversation, I figure they need to run faster! Then a couple more passed me. And then even more. It was a veritable marathon.

Turning up the Spruce Lake trail, I left the sudden crowd. I really like the trail from Fern Lake to Spruce Lake. It has character. For long stretches, it hardly qualifies as a trail as it crosses a number of rocky sections. It’s not so rocky that the trail needs to be marked by cairns, but there are a couple of prominent blazes posted on the trees. Spruce Lake is only about a hundred feet higher than Fern Lake. Even with the trail crossing a bit of a ridge between the two lakes there’s very little elevation gain.

Although the trail remains in forest, approaching Spruce Lake you get glimpses of Castle Rock and the Gables. The outlet end of Spruce Lake is fairly marshy and has been closed to hikers for a number of years. This area is the habitat of the boreal toad. I don’t think the toad is endangered, but it may be threatened. So the park service has posted maps here indicating what’s off limits. Anybody entering the area may be fined.

The trail officially ends here at the campsites. However, there are social trails that thread along the northwest shore. The lake is popular for fishing and these trails provide access at least as far as the inlet stream. To get to Loomis Lake, we need to stay on the west side of this stream, so I don’t know if these trails continue farther around the lake.

Here’s where the challenge starts. The trail is faint near Spruce Lake. We’ll be climbing about 400′ in an eighth of a mile, so it’s pretty steep here. I gained and lost the trail a couple of times before finding it for good. After this steep climb the terrain levels out on the approach to Primrose Pond. The first time I was here was in late August, and the water level was about two feet lower. Navigation was easy – I could walk along the dry edges of the pond.

Primrose Pond

In mid-June, though, the pond is at its fullest. And, of course, the trail pretty much peters out. I found a series of cairns that led me on the north side of the pond but before long it became obvious that this was not the best way to go. I backtracked and crossed the outlet and bushwhacked along the southern shores, recrossed the stream, and found the trail again.

The trail dumps you out onto large granite slabs that have no access to the shores of Lake Loomis. The first time I visited, I was content to sit here to watch the world go by while I had my picnic. This time I wanted to get down to the water’s edge, so I crossed the outlet steam and scrambled across a section of boulders spilling from Gabletop Mountain and forming the southern shore of the lake.

I relaxed here for about an hour. This was not only a break from walking, but a break from the constant attack of mosquitoes. I’m not generally bothered by the critters and so I don’t carry mosquito repellent. Sometimes I regret that habit for a few minutes when I pause for a sip of water in dense forest. Today was different. For most of the hike I was besieged by them. I swatted at them constantly. Generally I’d smack them before they had a chance to feed on me; even so, I still managed to have bloody spots all over my arms and hands.

Loomis Lake

Sitting on my rock by the lake I couldn’t help but notice the gathering clouds. That’s not exactly correct: the clouds were ever present. But now their nature appeared to be changing; getting darker, pregnant with rain. Clearly it was getting time to hit the trail for the hike out.

I’ve said before that I often hear voices when I’m alone at these lakes. I’ve decided that they’re generally delusions. Today, though, I didn’t hear voices but breaking branches. A few moments after crossing the outlet I caught a glimpse of other hikers. It was just a glimpse, though. They weren’t close to the trail and I never saw them again.

Nearing Spruce Lake on the way down I managed to lose the trail. Usually I can manage to follow these faint trails once I find them. Today I think I lost the trail on the return farther from Spruce Lake than when I managed to find it on the way up. This time I found myself atop rock outcroppings a couple of times and had to work my way more side to side than downhill to find an easy way.

Satre famously said, “Hell is other people.” When I got back to Spruce Lake I found it inhabited by about eight people. I could hear them well before I gained the lake. They were a noisy bunch, yelling and laughing, splashing in the water. One had even brought a small boombox which could be heard clearly from quite a distance. It’s easy for me to get spoiled on my hikes. Aside from the brief non-encounter with the hikers at Loomis, I had had about three and a half hours of solitude.

It started sprinkling about when I lost the trail above Spruce Lake. It never really rained. From Spruce Lake back to about Fern Falls it alternated between no rain, a light sprinkle, and a thin drizzle. It was never heavy enough for me to bother with my rain jacket.

There are a few lakes nearby that I haven’t visited yet. Hourglass Lake, Rainbow Lake, and Irene Lake all feed Spruce Creek. A fair amount of bushwhacking looks to be involved in reaching these three from Spruce Lake, but I think if I get an early enough start they may be reachable for me on a day hike. I won’t know until I try.

Timetable

There Back
Trailhead 07:40 AM 02:37 PM
The Pool 08:11 AM 02:00 PM
Fern Falls 08:35 AM 01:30 PM
Spruce Lake trail jct 09:07 AM 12:53 PM
Spruce Lake 09:35 AM 12:27 PM
Loomis Lake 10:34 AM 11:54 AM

LeMons B.F.E. GP 2018 – Part 2

Sunday June 10

I arrive at the track a few minutes before 8. The weather forecast for today calls for high temperatures a few degrees warmer than yesterday. One of Brett’s great decisions was to rent one of the carports to keep us all out of the sun. Instead of brilliant clear blue skies, we have some smoke that has blown in from the wildfires near Durango. I don’t think it will help with the heat, though.

Tiny discs

When I left the track last night I was under the impression that the brakes had been completed but Brett told me he’d worked on the car until nearly 3am again. When they installed new pads there was an issue. They kept an old pad on one side of the rotor and put a new pad on the other and things were still a bit tight. I’m not sure what the implications of that might be, but I don’t think pad wear was the critical issue. When they bled the brakes, the fluid that came out was quite dark. I think the controlling factor is that the discs are so small. They’re not vented and can’t shed the heat, so the fluid cooks.

I don’t know that “all is forgiven”, but when I got to our carport, Jan was applying my name to the car. The guys continued to make tweaks to the car, and continued to struggle with fuel filter issues. By now we had a number of little water bottles filled with the backwash from the filter, each with a thick layer of sediment on the bottom.

Jan is out first in the car. She’s out about an hour. James is next, also about an hour. I’m up third, Brett wants me to go an hour and a half. While Jan is out, James and I spend some time shooting the breeze. We talk about lap timers and he downloads RaceChrono. He had been playing around with a different one, one that also does video. They made an attempt to mount his phone onto the dashboard of the car with zip ties, but that really had no chance. I told him it would work with the phone in his pocket, so that’s the route he went. I saw a tablet in one of the cars nearby; that looks like a good way to go. You can mount it securely and the display is plenty big.

Jan in the car

I help refuel the car twice. For LeMons, it only takes two people. Each must be in full gear – driving suit, helmet (with visor closed), gloves, fire proof shoes. One pours the fuel and the other stands ready with a fire extinguisher. The driver can’t be in the car. Yesterday, I poured gas during the one refueling exercise I participated in. Today I did both roles once each. During the second refueling of the day, I had to help Hank get back into the car. When I was buckling him up, I made the mistake of taking off my gloves. This is a big no-no and could have gotten us penalized.

In my stint in the car, I again try to count laps. Yesterday my 22 laps took an hour and nineteen minutes. That’s from the time I started the lap timer to when I stopped it. To get an hour and a half, I should count laps again and go an extra lap or two. So I get to 22 and go one more before exiting the track. When I get to our garage, nobody is expecting me. Hank isn’t suited up and nobody else is there. Brett arrives and asks how I’m doing. I say I’m doing fine and that I figured my time was up. He tells me I should do 3 more laps to give Hank time to get suited up. When I’m out of the car I find the lap timer has logged 23 laps. So clearly I’m unable to count.

I really thought I was doing a better job counting. How hard can it be to count to 22, you may wonder. Each time I crossed the start/finish line I’d announce to myself the count. I’d repeat it in turn four. I’m sure if I was the only one on the track it would be dead simple. But whenever I’d get stuck in a clump of traffic, with cars passing me and me passing other cars, it can get quite busy. It takes all my concentration.

Attrition has been working on the car count the whole race. There are a number of cars in the paddock when I start my session and traffic is noticeably lighter than yesterday. I am able to run several laps without having to pass or be passed. But I occasionally hit clumps of traffic. At one point, we’re going three wide up the hill on turn 11. Still, there are some really aggressive drivers who I must take action to avoid hitting when they’re passing me. One BMW steals my apex in turn 2, then gives me a wave. I take it as a “thanks for letting me by”, but when I relate the story to James he suggests that perhaps it was a “sorry” wave. Funny how there’s no doubt in my mind in the heat of the action but afterwards I can accept the possibility that it wasn’t exactly how I saw it at the time.

I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m seeing lots of “unique” racing lines. I’ve done in the neighborhood of a thousand laps at HPR and certainly a bunch of the drivers on track this weekend are here for their first visits. Many, undoubtedly, have never lapped anywhere before.

I don’t know if it’s because there’s less traffic or I’m just getting used to the car, but today I ran nine laps that were faster than my best lap yesterday. James says his best lap was a 2:41, which is a pretty good lap considering his lack of experience. He said he thought Jan was running more like 3:00 (but I’m not sure how he knows). When I later reviewed the video of the wheel coming off yesterday, I see that Hank’s times were in the mid to high 2:40’s. I would assume everybody’s times were better today than yesterday.

Hank came back in after only a few laps – fuel filter problems again. It worked fine for me, but seemed to crop up after we put more gas in the car. Not every time, but often enough. They back flushed the filter and sent him back out. Again, he was in after a lap. Turns out the filter wasn’t installed quite right. There was a tense moment between the mechanics but Brett reestablished the chain of command, the car was fixed, and Hank was back on track.

By the time Hank was in the car, the tenor of the race changed for us. I hadn’t been at all concerned with the results. I figured we had no chance at a win of any sort, so I wasn’t particularly interested in how we compared to anybody else. Brett now told us that we were in a race. One of the awards is the IOE. He explained it as the Index of Effort, or doing the most with the least. Turns out it’s the Index of Effluency. Our competition for this award was a Pinto station wagon. At that moment, we each had run the same number of laps. We needed to finish with more laps than them to win the IOE.

There’s an app available to keep on top of the results, but I didn’t bother installing it. Also, the post a hard copy of the standings in the classroom. The standings show our place, how many laps we’d run, and our fastest lap. That fast lap was a close match to my fastest lap according to RaceChrono. So I was fastest in the car. I expected this, as I have much more track experience than the other drivers.

Brett kept Hank in the car the rest of the day. We fueled him up one more time. James and I went looking for current standings with something like half an hour to go. By then we were up by 5 laps. As long as we didn’t have a wheel come off again things were looking pretty good. Nobody had run double the laps we’d completed, but half a dozen had run a hundred laps more. We had a couple of hours in the pits, so that would account for maybe 40 laps.

A big crowd gets all lined up where the cars come off the track when the checker flew to cheer all the cars. Standing at the fence, we met the crew of another car. They were in our class (C), and a lap ahead of us until their car broke down just before the checker. So we not only beat the Pinto but moved up from 6th to 5th in our class. There are three classes: A, B, and C. Aaron described them as “might win”, “might finish”, and “good luck”.

When Hank got out of the car, I asked him how the brakes were. “They’re gone. Double pump and get just a little braking in the rear.”

Turns out the IOE award is one of the top trophies, if not the top. I believe it has the largest cash prize. It also means Brett gets a free entry to the next LeMons race. The trophy is an overturned car with the driver running away. All the drivers get patches, too. We got the award because of the issues we had in getting the car running Friday, the fuel problems Saturday morning, and the wheel coming off Saturday afternoon. We had no gauges: no fuel gauge, no speedometer, no tach, no temperature gauges. By the end of each day we had no brakes.

Conclusion

We had 5 drivers in the car and turned 157 laps. (At least, that’s what I recall. I can’t find the official results.) If they were equally divided, that’s 31 or 32 laps each. I ran 45 laps according to RaceChrono. Hank undoubtedly ran more. Brett didn’t drive at all the second day, so he shortchanged himself. I certainly got more than my share of seat time, in spite of my lack of participation in getting the car built and keeping it running.

My instructions were to be kind to the car; not to rev too high, not to abuse the brakes. I think I did this, not only taking good care of the car but turning consistently fast laps. I’m sure there’s a fair amount of luck involved, but I was the only driver who didn’t have any problems with the car.

As to the car, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. This LeMons car is not at all like my Arrow. About all that’s the same is the body and the steering wheel. It’s a different engine and transmission. Mine was a 1.6l 4-speed, this has the 2.6l and 5-speed from a Fire Arrow. The wheels and tires on the Lemons car are bigger than on mine, and the car rides maybe three or four inches higher. My young self thought the car handled well, but of course my young self had no real clue. This LeMons car has considerable body roll due to the high ride height. When I was in the car, everything worked, but all felt … imprecise. I occasionally had trouble finding 3rd gear (never missed a shift, but struggled a few times). In the uphill right hand turn 11, I often experienced a nasty hop in the rear end under acceleration. I was able to alter my line in that turn and by not getting on the throttle as early or as hard more or less eliminate it.

Brett’s take on LeMons racing is that it’s more for and about the mechanics than the drivers. I have no aptitude for working on cars and it’s not particularly interesting to me. That is, it’s not something I want to learn, at least not in the context of running a LeMons race. For me, it’s all about driving the car. I’m more an “arrive and drive” guy. I’ll be surprised if Brett asks me back.

I have to thank Brett for letting me drive his car, and big thanks go to everyone on the team. They really put forth a great effort and they’re fully deserving of the IOE trophy. Aside from some tension early Saturday, I enjoyed the weekend.

LeMons B.F.E. GP 2018 – Part 1

What is LeMons?

24 Hrs of LeMons is an endurance racing series for cars costing less than $500. There’s an emphasis on absurdity. The title is a parody of the long running annual 24 Hours of Le Mans race, and lemon cars. Teams of four or more drivers compete for up to 24 hours.

These races set themselves apart from the typical road race by the unusual penalties and punishments dished out by judges, as well as a blatant disregard for traditional motorsport politicking. The series is similar to the ChumpCar World Series which developed out of it (and which I ran at Road America in 2015), but retains a more carnival-like atmosphere. The cars and teams tend to have themes and costumes. The series has been in operation since 2006.

Teams come from all over the country to enter these races. This weekend’s race has entrants from Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Illinois, and Michigan, and who knows where else.

The Car

The first car I owned that was titled in my name was my 1978 Plymouth Arrow. I bought it new in May of 1979 for $4,604.19. I had been looking to buy one for several months. I’d made offers on them and been turned down. There were five Plymouth dealers in Denver at the time, and I visited all of them. In January of 1979 I made an offer of $4,600 for a car at Colorado Chrysler Plymouth. They turned me down. It was this car that I bought for $4.19 more five months later. I drove that car 192,000 miles before trading it in. It was nothing like a race car. Shortly before I replaced it, I timed it from 0-60 at 22 seconds.

My old car, photo circa 1982

I met Brett when I was arranging with Dennis to drive his Chump Car. Not long after I met him, Brett sent an email to the group telling us he had an Arrow he wanted to turn into a race car. I couldn’t believe it. I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen one since I got rid of mine back in 1987. I went to his house and he showed me that he had three of them. This was a few years ago and I had more or less forgotten about it. In December, for some unknown reason, I wondered if he had ever gotten around to building his Arrow race car and reached out to him. I told him if he built it I wanted to drive it.

I told him I had no mechanical aptitude and just wanted to drive it. He and his team worked frantically for about six months getting the car ready. I made a few token appearances but was fundamentally uninvolved in developing the car. But I had talked to Brett about costs and agreed to his fee. I bought my Lemons license and wrote Brett a check. As the race approached we were still in touch via Facebook, going over trivia such as what our uniforms were and whether I’d camp at the track or commute. They were working feverishly on the car, and I thought I’d made it clear that I had nothing to contribute mechanically speaking. And Brett never made any specific requests to me for help, so I thought we were good.

Saturday June 9

I arrived at the track about 7:30 and found the team. I greeted Brett and he asked if I was there to race. “Yes, I am.” But he’s upset with me because I wasn’t helping on the car. They’d had some long nights, staying up until 3am and I was absent. They all assumed I was going to be a no-show today and he’s not sure he wants me to drive. He wants to think about it; he’s ready to give me my money back and send me home. This is clearly not an empty threat. They have the drivers names on the car and my name isn’t there. While he’s thinking about it, he said I should take my gear and get checked in.

My clothing passes tech and I get my tech sticker placed on my helmet. They check my name off the drivers list.

In the mean time, the team is making the final adjustments in preparation for getting the car to pass tech inspection. One of the problems they’d been having included a fuel leak near the fuel filter. Also, the filter had clogged up, so they find a replacement (a giant filter that would work on a Ford F-150 truck) and install it. With the car running, there’s no leak and they call it done and drive it over for the inspection. It passes.

The car runs, but we had no gauges: no fuel gauge, no speedometer, no tach, no temperature gauges. Brett gathers us drivers around and goes over some final instructions. The object is to get the car to the end of the race tomorrow afternoon. Don’t stress it, don’t overtax it. Keep it under 5100 rpm (without a tach!). Go easy on the brakes. Then there’s a deal for charity. Do we want to contribute $100? That would be $20 each. We agree, but (as is usual for me) I’m carrying about $12 cash. I tell Brett I’ll pay him back tomorrow and he agrees, but gives me an exasperated look.

While they were getting Jan in the car I managed to mount the old GoPro. I have a spare battery for the old camera so between the two cameras and extra battery I should be able to get video for three drivers. Each camera should run about an hour and a half. I don’t get it turned on, though. (It looks like Jan spotted the camera and tried to get it running, but there are two clips totaling less than 30 seconds, so she didn’t get it figured out. I assume it was Jan; whoever it was had a helmet on and I can’t see their face.)

Jan is first in the car. While she’s driving, we need to get some supplies. Brett divides the list among us, sending me and Steve to get gas. We throw eight 5 gallon containers into the back of his truck and head off to the truck stop twenty miles away for fuel. I pump the gas and Steve grabs some Mountain Dew and snacks. I learn that, at this gas station at least, you can only pump $95 worth of gas on a single transaction. I do another transaction for $43 more. I pumped forty one and a half gallons into our eight 5 gallon jugs.

Along the way we chat. He’s an interesting guy, spent a number of years in the Navy on nuclear submarines. He’s had some rough times and faces some challenges. We’re gone about an hour and at one point in the conversation he mentions that they had a guy who just wanted to drive, which is frowned upon by the team. I’m not sure whether he’s talking about me or not.

When we get back we find that the car has been out for only one lap. Brett reimburses me for the gas, and I clear my $20 debt with him then.

Bad gas from filter

James goes out next, comes back in pretty quickly with a fuel filter problem again. I have all my gear on the ground near the rear of the driver’s side of the car. As part of their diagnosis/fix of the problem, somebody has taken the gas cap off the car and when they blow compressed air through the fuel system, gas fountains out of the tank, drenching all my gear. Only moments before I had picked up the SLR, so it didn’t get doused. But all that was in the bag – my drivers suit, Nomex underwear, Nomex socks, driving boots, both GoPro cameras and the bag of accessories – got drenched as did my helmet sitting next to the bag. I spread all my gear out to get it dry, wipe off the cameras, squeeze out the gas soaking the padding in my helmet. My undershirt wasn’t hit too badly, but my long johns got it pretty good across the front. It all dries fairly quickly but everything I have smells strongly of gas.

I’m next in the car. I managed to swap the camera so I know I have a fresh battery. We have no radios, no pit board. How long should I stay in the car? Brett says it’s hot and I won’t want to be out long. I tell him otherwise; that I will have no problem staying in the car as long as he wants. He wants me out for an hour. I figure 20 laps will be about an hour and attempt to count my laps. I miscount, come in after 22. Half way through my stint a piece of the roll cage padding comes off. It’s a piece of plastic about four inches long. It rolls around by my feet, never getting stuck behind any pedals but annoying me several times. By now my groin area is a bit uncomfortable because of the gasoline on my long johns. It’s not bad and goes away shortly thereafter. They were dry by the time I put them on, so perhaps it was just my imagination.

At the end of my session I am black flagged. We were told that we can race after we pass the incident that caused the yellow flag. I’m following two cars and after we pass the tow truck, I pass the other two cars. It looked like the first guy was holding up the second and I got a good run. But no, we’re still under yellow and I get black flagged immediately. When I report, I tell them I’d passed the tow truck and thought we could race. “Don’t you think it was odd you passed somebody in this car?” But most cars were slow in the corkscrew and turn 3. Many are on the brakes when I’m on the throttle, so I’m faster than a lot of cars in those spots. Two or three other cars are reporting for their black flags immediately behind me so I wasn’t alone.

Later, a driver for one of the other teams comes up to us for a chat. He was a car or two behind me when I got black flagged. He says, “You got robbed!” He agrees with me that we had passed the incident and were okay to race. The track had not yet gone full-course yellow until after I made the pass. Previous corners had one white flag and one yellow. It wasn’t until after the start/finish that I saw two yellow flags. He said the corner worker at the station that flagged me wasn’t paying full attention and had to look up from her phone to wave the black flag at me. While it’s nice to have somebody siding with me, and I find it odd that so many of cars got flagged at the same time, I have to take his report with a grain of salt.

Hank is next in the car. We want to call him in for fuel. Brett and I are waiting near the pits for him but he never shows. Finally we see him on the flatbed. He’d had a wheel fall off. A spacer failed and the front left wheel went its own way just before turn 7. The arrival of the flatbed and stricken car draws a crowd, everybody snapping cell phone pictures. Hank looks a bit forlorn sitting in the car.

Hank in the stricken car draws a crowd

One of the teams nearby loans us a wheel that fits. After an hour to effect repairs, the car is back on the track with Brett behind the wheel. He gets called in because of a report that we’re leaking fuel. The LeMons guys can’t smell gas, so it’s not us. Brett thinks it’s the multi-colored 5 series BMW (which turns out to be the car driven by John F, one of my Lotus friends). Brett goes back out. I hang around the LeMons guys, curious to see what they’re doing. One looks at me: “Are you with the 5 car?” Yes. “Go to race control and watch the video to see where your wheel went.” I do. Glen tells me we can retrieve it with a truck after the track goes cold.

Brett stays out for the rest of the day (about another hour). A few minutes before the checkered flag we see him coming back being pushed by Glen on his quad. Brett ran it out of gas and ran it out of brakes.

We go looking for Glen to get permission to take a truck out for the tire. Can’t find him. We ask the LeMons guys where Glen is so we can get his clearance to go retrieve our wheel. They say no motorized vehicles are allowed on the track without Glen’s permission and are a miffed that we’re even looking to bother Glen. So we have to walk out with a wagon to get it. I borrow a wagon from the team next to us in the garage and we go searching. Aaron and James ride bikes, I drag the wagon. On the track, rolling the wagon behind me, my inner six-year-old wants to jump in the wagon and go sailing down the hill. I resist the temptation.

Glen is out sweeping the track. He stops and we talk. “I thought you were going to take a truck out to find your wheel.” LeMons guys said we couldn’t, and didn’t seem to like us looking for you.

We spend 20 minutes searching before we find it. I’m wearing shorts, traipsing through waist-high weeds and thistle. I get a bunch of burrs in my socks and later learn I got about twenty mosquito bites. Aaron and James ride back to the paddock and I trudge along pulling the wagon, chatting with a group of guys out walking the track.

Retrieving the missing wheel

Back in the paddock, they’re replacing the brake pads and fluid. I worked the brake during the flush, which is about the limit of my technical expertise. Brakes flushed, I ask Brett “would you be upset if I asked to leave now?” I get permission. It’s 9pm.

When I get home and start copying the video files to the hard drive, I discover that the gasoline has damaged the plastic on the housing for the newer GoPro. I’ll need to get it replaced before I go to Road America.

Grid Walk

Saturday June 2

If you’re an F1 fan you are probably familiar with the “grid walk”. American fans watched Will Buxton do it for a few years. British fans have been watching Martin Brundle do it for twenty years. It’s the segment of the F1 broadcast where Martin (or Will) walks through the grid just before the race, chatting up whoever he finds, whether it be drivers, team principles, or celebrities.

Today I did my little version of it. It’s nothing so glamorous. Today I helped run the grid for the CECA event at HPR. My job was to check the cars as they formed up on the grid before being released onto the track. I was to see that they had the proper wristband for the session, they had their tech sticker, their helmets were on, their seatbelts fastened, and were properly attired (long pants, long-sleeved shirts, no open toed shoes).

Each group is called to the grid starting about ten minutes before their session starts. Although there are typically a few cars that don’t arrive until their session starts, most of the cars in the group get lined up beforehand and wait in line for a short while. That allowed my garrulous self to have a quick chat with just about everybody. As each driver runs three or four sessions, the only drivers I didn’t talk to a few times were those who were late to join their sessions. Perhaps they were the only ones smart enough to avoid my small-talk.

Obviously, I’d rather be out running laps than working on the grid. But I had a good time nonetheless. Sure, I stood in the sun all day and got a bit sunburned (there wasn’t a cloud in the sky the entire time), walking up and down a short section of tarmac. But I got a good look at all the cars and although I didn’t have a radio, I could hear Joe’s and thus had a pretty good idea of what was going on everywhere.

The obligatory list of cars: three Elises and an Exige, two Ferraris (a 430 Scuderia and a 355 F1 Berlinetta), a Pantera, a couple of Miatas, a Mini, a 1969 Mercury Cougar XR-7 (boasting a built 351cid motor pumping out 450hp), 3 Scion FR-S, 2 Vipers, a Camaro, a stable of Mustangs, a fleet of Corvettes, and a scad of Porsches and a few miscellaneous others. We had twenty or so cars in each group, so a busy day for a CECA event.

Here are a few tidbits I gleaned:

  • I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Ferrari 355 was no garage queen, having over 46,000 miles on the odometer being tracked regularly.
  • One of the Vipers was being driven by a fellow who had not driven the car before that morning.
  • A chap in a Corvette not only hadn’t driven that car before today, but this was his first time driving a left-hand drive stick shift. (He was a recent transplant from Australia.)
  • A fully race-prepared Mustang hit the track with the ECU still in transport mode, where the engine wouldn’t rev more than 3,000 rpm. The owner managed to get it sorted before his second session.

We had no tow truck for this event. Instead, we relied on a pickup truck with a tow strap. We had to deploy it three or four times. One stricken car (a brand new Mustang) had no tow hook. Luckily, he was just out of gas so the sketchy tow was avoided.

One of the cars that needed to be towed in was Mark’s black Elise. The battery came loose. When it happened to me last year, it stayed hooked up and I didn’t know it was flopping around until I opened the boot in the paddock. In Mark’s case (or his daughter’s, actually) the battery not only became disconnected, it leaked acid in the boot. The car stopped, the gauges froze, and they had a bit of a mess to clean up. They didn’t seem to suffer any clam damage though.

I spent a lot of my time standing next to the wall at the end of the pit straight and entry into turn 1. I was a bit surprised how quiet most of the cars were. I may be wrong, but I’m thinking my car is louder than any of the four Lotus that were running today.

This is one of the three passing zones on the track. It’s up close and personal. One of the others is on the highway straight, which is also visible from here. The third is between turns 5 and 6, out of sight over the hill to the west. Obviously, this isn’t racing, but it’s interesting to see which cars are fast, and which drivers are fast. Best example perhaps was one of the FR-S’s. When I thought I saw it pass the yellow Ferrari, I asked Joe. “That FR-S just pass the Ferrari?” “Yup.” Next time around he passed a Viper. The next lap the Ferrari passed the Viper but both were still on the tail of the FR-S. Then the FR-S opened up some space. At the end of the day I talked with the FR-S driver. He says the car is totally stock. But he does have some racing experience, so he knows how to get around a track.

Late in the day, a 1969 Mustang came off the track and when they parked it in the paddock it promptly caught fire. The fuel filler is above the rear bumper in the center. He had an old gas cap which evidently leaked, spilling fuel on the exhaust. They managed to put out the fire with little damage, but it did cause a bit of excitement.

I think the oddest part of my day was during the lunch break. They allow for some “parade” laps. With no corner workers out, we were allowed a few slow laps, limited to about 60mph. I did three laps. It felt strange being on the track with no helmet, going slow. The idea was that Joe would lead the parade. But he and I were the only cars out, and we were half a lap apart. I made a half-hearted attempt to take all the slow turns as fast as I could, so long as I never topped sixty. It felt pretty weird.

I’d much rather be driving than working grid, but I was happy to lend a helping hand. I don’t see why I can’t do this again, perhaps once each year.

Black Lake

Saturday May 26

Black Lake sits at the top of Glacier Gorge. I think it is one of the most beautiful lakes in the park. Going to lakes that are farther from the trailheads has spoiled me when it comes to getting some solitude at these lakes. I figure I’ll never be at Black Lake alone, as it’s a popular destination. Even in March there were quite a few people there. I was hoping that in late May it wouldn’t be too crowded.

The drive up was uneventful. I believe US 34 is now open to traffic, but it seems US 36 is still more crowded than usual. I could be mistaken, though. Perhaps what I’m seeing is the new normal. And I think more people are taking my shortcut through Estes because of the construction there. This morning, I was actually in a short line of traffic going by the hospital.

A minor tragic note here: my car is a killer. Since I’ve owned it, I’ve hit five birds. And this morning, going by the hospital, a rabbit attempted to cross the road, darting out after the car in front of me. It didn’t make it. I hit it with a sickening little thump and in the mirror saw it tumbling, inert.

I probably should have gotten an earlier start. As it was, I didn’t arrive at the Bear Lake parking lot until about 8:00 and it was already nearly full. Alternatively, I could have parked in the park and ride as that would have saved me a little effort. The trailhead proper for Black Lake is Glacier Gorge Junction. When parking at Bear Lake, I have an extra half mile each way. It’s not the distance so much, as that it makes the last half mile of the hike uphill.

I knew I’d be hiking across quite a bit of snow before I got to the lake. The snow gets steep enough just below the lake that I won’t go there in spring without microspikes. I started seeing snow on the fire trail, in the shady spots on the north facing slopes. Snow here will probably be gone in a few days, given the high temperatures we’ve been seeing.

The snow hiking didn’t start in earnest until I reached the Glacier Gorge campsite. I stopped at the bridge there and mounted the spikes. There were still quite a few bare spots on the trail for the next third of a mile or so, but after that it was snow all the way. I ran into two groups of three hikers who were making their way down. I asked each if they made it to the lake. The both said they fell short and complained about postholing badly. This did not discourage me, and I never saw where they might have been having trouble.

It was when I got to within a couple hundred yards of the lake that I first encountered a hiker who made it. We chatted for a little bit, and as we talked two guys passed us on their way up, going at a pretty good clip. When I got up there, they were the only other people. I was thinking I’d go up above the lake a bit for my picnic, but instead I parked myself right at water’s edge. Or, I should say, at ices edge. Other than the area right around the outlet, there are only a few square yards of lake that are open water. This, too, should change rapidly in the coming days.

I brought the GoPro with me. I generally don’t bother using the app on the phone but I wanted to make sure I was framing the shot correctly. I couldn’t get the phone to talk to the camera, and as I was struggling with it a young woman came by. She was walking a lot closer to the edge of the water than I did, and a few steps from the rock I was planted on, she postholed knee deep right into the water.

“I was planning to take a swim, but not with my shoe on!”

I was incredulous. “Really, you’re going to swim?” She was serious. She worked her way along the shore to where there was open water, but I never did see her take her swim. I sat there for about twenty minutes, ate my picnic lunch, and let the camera run. When the skies over the lake cleared completely, I shut off the camera and moved to the outlet and pointed the camera north, where the only other clouds were.

By now there were a dozen people at the lake, all congregated at the outlet with the exception of the swimmer. I relaxed here for another half hour or so before packing up and heading back down.

It was a very pleasant day, with brilliant blue skies and warm enough that I never needed a jacket. Perhaps a bit too warm for May. I enjoyed the hike; the trail wasn’t too crowded and I avoided the congestion at Alberta Falls by taking the fire trail. And I had a nice little workout – my Fitbit logged more than three hours of cardio and almost a half hour in the peak zone.

Timetable

Out In
Trailhead 08:15 AM 02:45 PM
Lower fire trail jct 08:25 AM 02:30 PM
Upper fire trail jct 08:55 AM 02:00 AM
Mills Lake 09:15 AM 01:45 AM
Black Lake 11:05 AM 12:15 AM

 

Colorado Good 2018 – Day 3

Monday May 21

Today will be our last day of the tour. We will separate from the group at Great Sand Dunes National Park, heading home. The rest will proceed on to Trinidad for another day of scenic byways.

Many times we’ve made the trip from Durango to Alamosa, so I’ll keep the notes short. In keeping with the motif of misinformation about bathrooms, we noted that where there used to be facilities at both the western and eastern feet of Wolf Creek Pass, there is now nothing. Also, we were expecting we’d stop at the scenic overlook on the west side, but that is temporarily closed, being used as a staging area for construction equipment.

Our route bypassed Alamosa, saving some miles. Just east of South Fork we abandoned US 285 in favor of County Road 5, a direct shot toward the park. Well, not exactly direct. At CO 17 we head north a few yards to County Road 6. These roads are no doubt sufficient for their usual purpose: low speed farm traffic. They’re a bit less than ideal for stiffly sprung sports cars. The ride wasn’t exactly quiet and comfortable. Last time I went to the Sand Dunes I was with Michael in the Chrysler. We went between CO 17 and the Dunes at well over 100mph, slowing only for the cattle guards. In the Elise, 65 was plenty fast.

The last few miles into Great Sand Dunes National Park are on CO 150. On that previous trip with Michael both sides of the road were lined with sunflowers. I’m guessing those weren’t there naturally, as they’re no longer there. It was a nice touch, adding a bit of color.

After a short stop in the visitor center, we headed to a picnic area close to the dunes. Mike found us a place with two large sets of tables and plenty of parking. We were the third car there, and right behind us a minivan arrived and started setting up at the other tables. We warned them that we’d have a big group here which seemed to scare them away. As our crew trickled in, they kept coming to the first table and just when it was about full a large family walked in and snagged the other table. No worries, as we early arrivals finished, we gave our seats to the latecomers.

Atop the first dune

The stream that usually flows off the mountain isn’t running right now. I’m not sure when it typically dries up, but I was expecting to have to wade across it to get onto the dunes. Some kids were playing with their toy construction equipment, digging holes, and we could see the sand was wet under the surface. But definitely no stream in sight.

Intrepid explorers Terry and Peter

We walked to the top of the first small dune and people watched for a while. Gordon struck off for the top of the largest dunes. I was thinking it would take a couple of hours, but he made really good progress to the point where I could no longer spot him. I learned later that he was successful. I suspect that made him the last to leave by a large margin.

Storm and sand panorama; south on the left side, northeast on the right.

While we were standing around on the sand, a rather nasty looking thunder storm was working its way toward us across the valley. We said our goodbyes and started our trek home. It looked like the group would miss the rain as there was a gap in the clouds above CO 150. But to the west it looked like we’d be running the gauntlet. Almost immediately after turning onto the country road we started getting rained on. But our timing was pretty good. A few miles down the road, the tarmac was covered with the remnants of a significant hail storm. Judging by the few tracks through the hail, it must have just finished a couple of minutes before we got there.

These thunder showers are typically pretty localized. Hailstones lined the road for less than a half mile. And we were out of the rain well before we regained CO 17. Showers were spread out across the valley, their drafts kicking up the dust before them as they scooted toward the Sangre de Cristos. We missed most of them, but it looked like we had another chance to get wet as we crossed Poncha Pass.

We missed the heaviest of the rain until just after the junction with US 50. We were in a little knot of traffic when the clouds burst. I had the wipers going as fast as they’d go, but it wasn’t much help. The windows started fogging up almost immediately. Genae worked the defrost controls, and we had the windows cracked. My left arm was getting soaked. The car in front of us gave up and pulled off the road. We continued at about 20mph. Genae got some napkins out and worked on wiping the inside of the windshield. Then it ended, almost as quickly as it began. Driving the straight lines of San Luis Valley I was complaining that I was falling asleep. This sure woke me up!

From there on home the trip was uneventful. We got back to town just in time for evening rush hour and exchanged the wide-open roads and mountain vistas for bumper-to-bumper traffic and suburban Denver.

Another great Colorado Good! A hearty “thanks” to all who participated, particularly to Mike who put it all together.

Colorado Good 2018 – Day 2

Sunday May 20

Today’s drive was from Montrose to Durango with an extended visit to Mesa Verde. The route was over Lizard Head pass and through Dolores and Cortez. As with most of the rest of this trip, it was a route we’ve taken before. It’s a beautiful route. Our only concern was the timing of potty stops. John has people in Ridgway and told us that there are bathrooms at the park there, so as we passed through town we dropped out of line and into the park. Sadly, John’s info was bad and there were no bathrooms to be found. So we were tail-end Charlie again.

We caught the group before long at a wide spot on the road just before Telluride. We weren’t going to Telluride, but making a right turn near there. This wide spot was an opportunity for a group photo. John’s next piece of info was that there were no bathrooms at the summit of Lizard Head pass, so we figured we needed to stop before then.

Obligatory group photo

At the right turn there’s a gas station, so we again dropped out of the queue. Just as we approached the summit of Lizard Head we caught up to a motor home. I was looking for a way around it when I caught a glimpse of orange in the parking lot. We weren’t expecting a stop here. It was the original target for the group photo, but as that was already taken care of we thought we’d be skipping it. Turns out John’s second piece of intel was incorrect, too. There are, in fact, bathrooms at the summit of Lizard Head pass. It was our error to doubt Mike.

The drive from Montrose to here at the summit of Lizard Head Pass is gorgeous. Mile after mile of fantastic views – snow-capped peaks and aspen groves – connected by roads that curve and swoop, rise and fall. There are many scenic drives in Colorado but this one certainly goes near the top of the list.

The Galloping Goose

Our next pit stop was in Dolores. Our chosen gas station here was next door to the an old train station that now houses the Galloping Goose Historical Society. In the 1930’s the Rio Grande Southern Railroad was facing financial difficulties. They came up with an interesting solution: the Galloping Goose. It’s a railcar operated by motor rather than steam, much lighter (and therefore reduced impact on the railroad), and has a front-end that looks like a bus. Seven of these were produced, and the one here in Dolores operates as a tourist attraction.

From Dolores we headed to Mesa Verde National Park. We weren’t sure if the restaurant in Mesa Verde was open yet, being early in the season. So we made a detour in Cortez to stop at the Subway for sandwiches. We left Dolores before the rest of the pack but still ended up at the visitor center after everyone else.

Genae, having lived a while in Durango, has visited Mesa Verde many times. I have been here a few times, last being in 2013 when I hiked to Petroglyph Point. I never really explored much of the park, having each time had a specific goal in mind. A few days prior to this trip, Genae had intended to go online and book some tour tickets. That never happened, and when we went to the ticket counter in the visitor center we found that (surprise, surprise), the day’s tours were already sold out.

Cliff House

So we were free to explore at will and see what there was to see. First task was to stop at the restaurant at the Far View area (which was, indeed, open) for beverages to go with our Subway sandwiches. We ran into Peter and Rebecca there. They said they’d never been to Wetherill Mesa before so that’s where they were headed. I’d never been there, either, so that sounded like a good place to go. Unfortunately, I immediately made a navigational error and we ended up on Chapin Mesa, which is where most people find themselves.

So we worked our way to the loop that takes us to Cliff House and Balcony House. Cliff House is closed for the season for reclamation work. There’s an overlook that gives a nice view of it, but we couldn’t visit it. And Balcony House is reachable by guided tour only, and sits in an alcove pretty much underneath the parking lot, so it’s invisible as well as unreachable. So that whole loop was disappointing.

Spruce Tree House

Next we headed to Spruce Tree House. This one is a self-guided tour, but the path to it is having some structural issues, so it’s closed as well. At least it’s visible. I was thinking the trail to Petroglyph Point takes hikers right in front of the ruins, but signs indicated we wouldn’t get a better view than where we stood, so we didn’t go any farther.

Yucca in bloom

So we got back in the car and headed to Wetherill Mesa. This turned out to be a nice little Lotus road. We encountered very little traffic, which added to the pleasure. The road is a bit on the rough side, but not terribly bad. It’s quite a drive to the end of the road where the ruins are. For future reference, count on the Long House tour taking half a day. The tour itself takes two hours, and if you drive the speed limit you can count on another forty minutes or so driving each way.

Not having tickets for the tour, our only activity was the self-guided tour of Step House. So, after spending a few hours wandering the park, we finally got to tour one of the ruins. In a way, this one is more like two ruins. One side of the alcove features the pit houses of the “Basketmakers” who occupied the place circa A.D. 600. The other side is a small multi-story pueblo built about six centuries later. It is estimated that about thirty people lived in each settlement.

Step House

Driving between the sites one can’t help but notice the frequency with which the area is subject to wildfires. The dead trees still standing in the 2002 burn area are still black. Signs along the roadside indicate other fires. Between 1989 and 2003, five fires burned over half the acreage in the park. Thunderstorms range over the area all summer long, and about 95% of fires here are started by lightning.

Overall, Mesa Verde was a bit disappointing due to our lack of proper planning (no reflection on Mike, of course, I’m talking of our own preparation) and that so many of the ruins are closed this year. That means, on the flip side, that there are still plenty of sights to see the next time we visit the place.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Back in Durango, the group went out to dinner. We elected to go our own way and instead dined with Grace. We requested a brew pub and she recommended we go to Brew Pub and Kitchen. (Break the usual cadence when you say it, though: it’s not “Brew Pub” and “Kitchen”, it’s “Brew” “Pub and Kitchen”.) It’s right next to the narrow gauge line. While waiting for our meals a train pulled into the station. It’s quite the conversation stopper.

They have an unusual naming convention for their beers. They have “Darlene”, a Belgian ale; “Kelley”, a stout; and “Jesus”, their “righteous yarrow double IPA”. I passed on those and instead had a couple pints of “Greg”, which their menu says is “an easy drinking Kolsch to inhibit your social graces”. Naturally, Grace had to call Greg to pass on this little tidbit.

Colorado Good 2018 – Day 1

The Colorado Grand is an annual charity tour over the highways and byways of Colorado. The Colorado Good is a Lotus Colorado tour that has almost nothing in common with it. They drive 1960 and older sports cars and cars of distinction. Our cars are almost never that old, but are often distinctly colored. They attract entrants from around the world, ours come mostly from the Front Range. They get help from the State Patrol, we generally try to avoid the State Patrol. They have a storied history of charitable giving, we tell a lot of uncharitable stories.

As has been the case for the last several years, Mike was again the organizer. He did another great job, with this edition taking us through some of Colorado’s finest scenery with overnight stays in Montrose, Durango, and Trinidad, and visits to three outstanding National Parks. I think this is the club’s twelfth Colorado Good, but I may have lost count. It is the seventh that Genae and I have taken part of. This one was a big trip – a bit too big for us so we cut it short, skipping the final day. But I jump ahead. Please allow me to begin at the beginning.

Saturday May 19

As I said, most of the participants come from the Front Range. We can break the Front Range folks into two groups: those from Denver or thereabouts and those from Colorado Springs and environs. But that’s not particularly important. The drive officially begins at a Shell gas station in Johnson Village, a wide spot in the road a few miles south of Buena Vista. Typically, those of us from Denver make a token effort to gather together for the drive down US 285. Mike left us to our own devices to arrange a caravan, and those devices weren’t working. That is, we all made our own ways to the assembly point.

Had the group met at our usual jump-off spot, the parking lot at The Fort restaurant, we’d have done little more than wave hello as we passed. Our intention was to stop at the Wendy’s in Conifer for breakfast and bathroom. Genae checked their website and learned they open at 7am. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case and would prove to be a foreshadowing of a minor motif of the trip for us: misinformation regarding potty stops.

We were thinking we were likely ahead of many of the Denver folks and thus under the delusion that we’d be one of the first cars at the rally point. We’re typically one of the last cars to arrive. We remained true to form and found ourselves to be one of the last cars there.

Two of the cars on this trip started on the Western Slope: an Elise from Gunnison and a Europa from Dolores. John made the drive here from Gunnison but we wouldn’t be meeting Barry and Anne and their Europa until later. Nevertheless, I’ll provide the full census of cars here: we were six Elises, three Europas, an Evora, an Elan +2, an M100 Elan, a Westfield 7, a Mini, a Jaguar XKR, a Porsche Boxster, and a BMW.

In the final moments before we departed, Gordon asked me for a little mechanical assistance. I told him a little was about all I was qualified to give. All he needed to do was reattach the panel under his engine, the one you remove to change the oil. It wasn’t on quite right and it needed to be adjusted. We made the adjustment and tightened down the large bolts. All he needed to do was attach the thirteen or so small bolts and he’d be ready to go. I’m not sure how long it takes to do this, but I am sure we were all out of the gas station before he had any chance of completing the task. So we essentially pulled a “Top Gear” on Gordon, leaving him to deal with his stricken car all by himself.

I felt pretty bad about this so I assumed the position of “tail-end Charlie”. I lagged a little, checking the mirrors and hoping to see him catching up. But I knew he was quite a bit behind us. I asked Genae if we should wait at the navigation point in Saguache for him to catch up, but she said he’d be okay. I’m guessing that the Top Gear guys have plenty of time to catch up to their associates, as everybody is probably spending as much time making a film as they are actually going anywhere. We, on the other hand, don’t lollygag around, and are lucky if we can keep to within single digits above the posted speed limit. We may not see Gordon for some time.

In my reports of these drives I’ve been known to spend a lot of time describing our route. But because we’ve done quite a few of these it’s a challenge to come up with roads we haven’t been on before. That is very much the case today. So while Gordon is pedaling furiously to catch up to the group I will go off on a bit of a tangent, now having the opportunity to describe a new road.

Heading south on US 285 in the northern end of the San Luis Valley we find ourselves in the little town of Saguache. It is perhaps one of the most mispronounced place names in the state. The proper pronunciation, or at least the way the locals pronounce it, is along the lines of “sa-watch”. It’s a Ute word that refers to the range of colors that includes both green and blue. Some modern Ute speakers say it refers to green vegetation while others maintain it refers to some bluish stones. In any event, Saguache is where we leave US 285 and head north on CO 114 and begin a 67 mile stretch of road I’ve never been on before.

The literal high point of this stretch of road is Cochetopa Pass. Actually the road goes over what the sign says is North Cochetopa Pass. But no matter. “Cochetopa” is another Ute word, this one for buffalo. (And when I say “buffalo”, I of course mean bison.) This pass was the original ancient all-weather Ute and buffalo trail linking the San Luis Valley to Gunnison country. It also figured in the first penetration of the Rocky Mountains by Europeans. Governor Juan Bautista de Anza crossed it in late summer of 1779 when he was chasing a group of Comanches led by chief Cuerno Verde. I don’t know of any places in Colorado named for de Anza, but just east of the Sangre de Cristo mountains you’ll find Greenhorn Mountain. Cuerno Verde means “green horn”.

The Rio Grande River flows through the southern part of the San Luis Valley, so it would be natural to think that the streams that flow from the mountains on the northern end of the valley are Rio Grande tributaries. De Anza learned that this isn’t true. These streams, like the ones that pour off the western flanks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains above the Sand Dunes, just disappear.

We had a much easier passage to the Gunnison drainage than de Anza had 239 years ago, as the northern end of CO 114 is a nice Lotus road. Our greatest difficulty was finding places to pass the cattle trucks and lumber trucks we came upon. It was while attempting to dispatch one of these cattle trucks that I noticed a green Elise coming up behind me on the double. Gordon had caught up to us. (“How did you catch us so quickly?” I later asked. “I spent a lot of time over [redacted]. It was fun!”)

After we ate lunch at Legion Park in Gunnison we headed to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Here you’ll find some of the steepest cliffs and oldest rocks in North America. Over a period of about two million years, the Gunnison river cut a deep gorge through 1.7 billion year old gneiss and schist. The river drops an average of 96 feet per mile in the park, falling more in 48 miles than the Mississippi River does in 1500 miles.

Painted Wall – at 2,250′ it is the tallest sheer cliff in Colorado. Can you spot Gordon?

Arriving at the park’s entrance station we asked for an interagency pass as we’d be visiting three parks on the trip. The ranger, though, was all out of them. So he let us in for free. “Make sure you buy your pass at the next park you visit.” We will do exactly that.

After a brief stop in the visitor center, the group broke up. Our next group activity was dinner in Montrose and we had a few hours to spend in the park so we headed to the western end of South Rim Road. There are a number of vantage points along the road with names like Dragon Point, Pulpit Rock, and Cross Fissures View. It seemed to me to be a good idea to start at that end and work our way back, but it turns out all the parking spots are on the rim side of the road. So our retrograde path meant we’d be parallel parking facing the wrong way every time. You can’t take me anywhere.

Chasm View

This is fairly arid country, made somewhat worse by the extreme drought we find ourselves in at the moment. One of the rangers there told us that the river is flowing at only about fifty percent of it’s normal for this time of year. In spite of that, most of the shrubs along the rim are in abundant bloom and this is perhaps the prettiest time of year to visit.

Pulpit Rock and another episode of “Can you spot Gordon?”

Having stopped at almost every vista along the road we exhausted our allotted time. We made our way out of the park and into Montrose a few miles down the road. We got checked in to the hotel, then headed to dinner at a restaurant called Camp Robber. They sat us outside. It was a bit cool, with a breeze and we got sprinkled on once or twice. We didn’t know we were going to sit outside, so we weren’t prepared. I had my jacket in the car and gave it to Genae. I was pretty cold by the end of the meal.

I had a salad – Parmesan encrusted chicken on spinach, with strawberries and pineapples, tomatoes, onion, and strawberry vinaigrette dressing. The soup was hatch green chili potato soup, tasty with a bit of heat. I enjoyed the meal in spite of the chilly conditions.

Yet Another HPR Video

Sunday, April 29

It’s time for the spring running of Emich’s track day at HPR. I signed up for the afternoon sessions only. It’s a good bargain – four half hour runs for $85. It’s always a crowded day because I’m not the only bargain hunter. This year it sold out. But I figure many of the folks who sign up for the entire day leave early so the last couple sessions will feature a lot less traffic.

Today it seemed like the mix of cars was a bit more upscale than in the past – the vast majority of the cars were new Mustangs, Porsches, Corvettes, and Camaros and not so many older cars. In fact, I don’t think there were more than a handful of cars older than mine.

Scott and I drove out together and got there just in time for the drivers meeting. When we pulled in, I figured we’d park close to the pavilion so we wouldn’t be late for sign-in and the meeting but as we went by the carports Ryan flagged me down. There were two slots that morning entrants had paid for, so we snagged them.

The runners

So the Lotus contingent for the day was Ryan, Scott, and me. Unfortunately, Ryan again had injector issues. Not the same injector as last week, but evidently the same root cause. He thinks he has the solution and expects to be ready to go for next time. I hope he’s correct.

Ryan already in the trailer

Not much else to report.

I checked the settings on the lap timer and found where to connect it to the OBD II dongle, so I collected a limited amount of engine data. And I finally bought the unlimited version of Race Render 3 for making my videos.

I’m quite happy with it so far. It greatly simplifies the process. Before, I had to use my video editing software to do the picture in picture. It takes it about two and a half hours to complete that process. One thing that bugged me about it was that the rear-view camera isn’t a mirror image. That is, when I get passed by a car on driver’s right, the car goes to camera left. I couldn’t find any option that let me flip the image.

Race Render 3 does the horizontal flip of the rear view camera automatically. And it does the rendering in a few minutes. It also makes it fairly easy to sync everything up. I advance the main video to the first time I cross the start/finish line, adjust the rear camera to the same point (it will be off by several seconds – the time between starting the cameras). Then, for the data, tell it to find the start of lap 1. Bingo – all synced up.

The lap timer handles the GPS, so that’s the source of position and speed. The OBD supplies RPM and throttle position. I can also get coolant temperature and intake temperature. I may play around with this data next time. Throttle position percent comes through in the range of 14.9 at the low end and 77.6 at the high end, rather than 0 and 100. I edit the gauge display to adjust for that and it comes out okay. The ODB also records speed, so I may play with using that rather than the phone data. I haven’t checked yet if they match.

I’m open to suggestions for the display, so feel free to leave comments.

Pueblo Motorsports Park

Saturday, April 21

The first CECA event of the year is at Pueblo Motorsports Park. I’ve only been there twice, and I think the last time was back in 2012. So it’s long past due for a visit. The day after I popped my check in the mail I received an email saying that the event would be cancelled if they didn’t receive eight more entries. Turns out they got twenty.

The hitch in the plan is variable spring weather along the Front Range. A week ago, the forecast was for a high in the upper fifties with snow and rain in the morning. Well, I figured, if it was going to get near sixty, any snow would melt as soon as it hit the ground. And although I’ve never run laps in proper rain, I’m up for it. Wet conditions would mean my street tires might be an advantage rather than a detriment.

CECA fees are a bit higher than a typical open lapping day, but there is one big advantage: entries are by the car rather than the driver. That means we can have Michael drive a session or two at no additional cost. So I put his name on the entry form as second driver and told him to plan on spending the entire day with me.

The fly in that ointment is that he went to a concert last night and didn’t get home until 2:30. It’s a two hour drive to the track, and we needed to be there before the start of the 8:00 drivers meeting, so I told him we’d leave no later than 5:30. He said he’d set his alarm for 4:45 and be ready to go. There were no signs of life downstairs so I woke him up with a question: “Are you coming with me?”

I had the car all packed up last night, so even with him getting a few extra minutes of sleep we were on the road by our desired time. At 5:30 we backed out of the garage and into a snow storm. I don’t normally drive the car in the rain, unless it’s unavoidable. Snow is out of the question. I’m not running track tires, but they’re summer tires and not made for snow. But we’ve had warm weather for a while, and the snow will melt as soon as it hits the ground, right? Right? That’s what I kept telling myself.

The Elise is neither quiet nor comfortable, but as Michael had only a couple of hours of sleep he was unconscious almost immediately. It was probably just as well. It was a bit of a white-knuckle drive much of the way. I’m not a big fan of driving the Elise in the dark, as it sits so low. Add the snow (even if it was melting right away) and visibility was bad – very difficult to see the lane markings, and the spray from other cars didn’t help. Add to that, there was a fair amount of standing water on the road; I hydroplaned occasionally.

Visibility improved once I got out of the city, and traffic thinned out a bit. At speed, the snow doesn’t really hit the windshield, so the snow didn’t look to be too heavy. Until I passed the occasional street lamp, when it looked far too much like blizzard conditions for my taste. The test of the weather would be at Monument Hill, which is notorious for bad weather. On the approach, it looked like the snow was starting to stick to the shoulders of the road. Because the snow flew over the car, I didn’t often need to use the windshield wipers. By now a line of slushy snow had accumulated underneath the wiper.

The weather seemed to be clearing as we went farther south. Just as snow had been stacking up under the wiper, it has been accreting on the nose of the car. Near Fountain, a big slab of it came loose and splattered on the windshield. But the worst of it was over, and the snow had turned to light rain. Even so, I couldn’t help but wonder if the conditions had caused enough people to bail out that we would cancel.

When we arrived at the track it looked like a fairly sparse crowd, but at least we weren’t the only ones who braved the conditions. We gathered in the “VIP” room. I use the term loosely. It’s air-conditioned, which I’m sure is welcome in summer. But there’s no heat. At least it was dry, and out of the wind.

When we first pulled into the facility, I saw an orange car on a trailer. From a distance, it might have been Ryan’s Exige, but he doesn’t trailer his car. Turns out it was a Viper, not a Lotus. In fact, it was a Viper TA, which doesn’t stand for “Trans Am” but for “Time Attack”. It’s an 8.4 liter V10 that pumps out 640bhp. I understand they were available in two colors: orange or black.

Viper TA

And it turns out Ryan recently bought a trailer, so he now trailers his car. We parked side-by-side and rather than lay out our things on a tarp on the wet ground, we stashed our stuff in his trailer.

He mentioned that he recently had a problem with one of his fuel injectors and hoped he had it fixed. This proved to be a bit of foreshadowing.

After our tech inspection, we went back to the VIP room for the drivers meeting. We still had some waiting to do, so spent the time visiting. I took a look at the entry list and saw 28 cars listed. Turns out it was somewhat less, as some people didn’t brave the weather after all.

1969 Shelby GT 350

As this was Michael’s first time, he had to take the ground school session for the novices. The red group was out first, which included me. While we were waiting for the drivers meeting to start, we watched them trying to dry the track, or at least the drag strip portion of it. They had the brushes out, and a blower. It had stopped raining, but our first red session would be under yellow flags because of the wet. For that first session, I didn’t bother setting up the cameras.

Michael’s first session was a “lead-follow” session. The idea is, all the novices line up behind the instructor car. After the first lap, the car immediately behind the instructor lets all the other cars pass then gets back in at the end of the queue. The process is repeated each lap until everybody has had a chance to follow right behind the instructor.

The Lotus contingent

Because I was in the red group, Michael didn’t get to line up with the other green group cars on the grid. So he would be released after everybody did their first lap and he’d be at the end of the line. Unfortunately, three cars in the group were unable to keep up to the line, and because we enter the track down the pit lane, by the time we got on the track even this last group of three cars was well ahead of us. So I had to put my instructor hat on and try to tell him the line.

Eventually we caught the pack. But for some reason, a few of these drivers seemed unable or unwilling to follow the rules. Instead of just the lead novice letting the others pass, two or three cars did this each time. As a result, we made our way up to the instructor pretty quickly. After our one lap, we tried to go to the back, but a couple cars stayed behind us and after three more laps we were back to the front. That was good for Michael, as he got a couple of nice looks at where to put the car.

The weather seemed to be improving a bit, so for my next red session I took the top off the car and mounted the cameras in their usual places. The track was nice and dry now, and we could finally give it a proper go. In my previous visits to PMP, my personal best lap time was 2:01. By my fourth lap of this session I’d matched that and before the session ended, I’d broken the two minute barrier three times, logging a 1:57.67. I was happy with that, particularly given that I had a passenger.

About half way through the session, though, we saw Ryan parked on the side of the track. When we got back to the paddock we learned that he’d had a recurrence of his fuel injector problem. Sadly, his day was done.

It was now lunch time, so we returned to the VIP room. Michael and I got burgers and fries. Sitting there eating, I couldn’t help but notice that the rain had started up again. It wasn’t particularly heavy, but I’d left the top off the car. I was more interested in having a hot lunch than running out in the rain to put the top on the car. Luckily it didn’t rain hard or long, so neither the car interior nor the track got very wet.

Michael was pretty cold. Neither of us was properly dressed. We were expecting temperatures in the high fifties, but I don’t think it managed much more than fifty, and with the breeze it was fairly chilly. I couldn’t wear my sweater under my driving suit, so I wore my jacket over it. I was happy to put the top back on the car, and even ran the heater. So for the next red session, I went out solo while Michael tried to keep warm in the VIP room.

That third session was much fun. I managed seven laps in a row under two minutes. There was very little traffic by now, many people having given up. I only caught up to two cars, and those on the first two laps. If there were any faster cars on the track, we were separated by quite a bit as nobody passed me the whole time. In the end, I logged a new personal best lap of 1:54.56.

By now I was getting low on fuel. Because the paddock is inside the track, nobody can leave while a session is in progress. So, rather than pack up our stuff and wait in line to exit, we decided we’d run two or three more laps to pass the time. I called it a day at the end of three laps when I had a big moment. I didn’t spin it, but got quite a bit sideways.

Once we were packed up, the track was closed for a break and we were able to exit without having to wait.

Michael did a great job behind the wheel. There’s a lot to take in the first time you’re on the track. It’s easy to get focused on the road in front of you but you need to be check out the corner stations and have to be aware of your mirrors. He did watch his mirrors very well, but I’m not sure he was looking for the corner workers. That’s easy for me to do as passenger, so I wasn’t terribly concerned. If I thought he’d have missed something, I’d have let him know. I had the lap timer running, but not where he could see it. It’s natural to want to know how you’re doing, but I didn’t want another distraction for him.

Due to the blustery conditions, I ran all but one session with the top on. So the video is from the harness bar mount rather than my preferred location on top of the car. And I still haven’t figured out what I’m doing wrong with the lap timer – I seem to be disconnected from the OBD dongle, so no data. Hopefully I’ll get that issue wrestled to the ground soon.