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 dot. 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?

RMVR/RAKC

Saturday, July 29

It’s that time of year again, when Rocky Mountain Vintage Racers do their big event and raise money for the Race Against Kids’ Cancer, benefiting the Morgan Adams Foundation.

On the road to the track, it was overcast and cool, and a few raindrops fell on me. I was looking forward to a cool day. It was not to be. At the track the sun was shining brightly through scattered clouds, and it was warm and muggy.

My contribution to the event involves giving rides during the lunch hour. It’s called ‘Ticket to Ride’, and people donate $50, $100, or $250 for a ride, depending on the car. A couple years ago I was a $100 car. This year I’ve been demoted to a $50 car, which is where I figured I should be, given the other cars that were there.

Photo courtesy Mike Rogers, Driven Imagery

This year the goal is to raise $150,000 that will be used to purchase a machine called an IncuCyte ZOOM. It’s used by cancer researchers in the Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Program. Just before I went on track, Heike came out of race control and chatted with me a bit while I was lined up waiting to get into pit lane. She said they had already exceeded their target. It gives me a bit of a “warm fuzzy” to be able to contribute, even just a little.

The program says people are buying three laps: out lap, fast lap, and in lap. I did this year what I did last year, and ran a second fast lap. I asked them all if they wanted to do that extra lap, and the all gave me the thumbs up. Sometimes we got stuck for a while behind slower cars, so I felt that was a good excuse to put in that second lap.

I gave four rides. My first rider was a kid who could barely see out the windshield. You can’t even see his helmet in the video. My second rider, maybe 20 years old, told me the Elise was his childhood dream car. Third and fourth riders were grid girls. They get free rides. The first girl screamed a lot. It was her first time in a car on track. At first I thought they might be cries of terror but she kept giving me two thumbs up. The second grid girl had just gotten a ride in a BMW.

The first thing I did when I got out of the car was turn off the cameras. The rear mounted one wasn’t running. It was powered up but not recording. I was sure I had pressed the shutter. The battery wasn’t dead, and the memory card was empty when I started so I’m not sure why it stopped. My lap timer recorded for 54 minutes, I got 54 minutes on the front facing camera, but only 44 minutes on the rear one. Seems like it’s always something. If my major malfunction for the day is losing 9 minutes of video it’s a good day.

Each year, the array of cars running lunch laps gets more interesting. This year, Kent brought his BMW i8. There was a 2006 Ford GT, a fully race prepared Aston Martin Vantage, an Ariel Atom, a Porsche Carrera GT, a Subaru rally car, and an assortment of 911s, a Corvette, a recent Mustang, and a 350Z. A few of the RMVR racers had passenger seats, and these ran as well: a classic Mustang and Firebird, and an old MG. Ralph Schomp BMW brought out a bunch of BMWs and Minis. I was the only Lotus today.

With Tanner Foust. It looks like I’ve been sucking on a lemon.

This is the seventh year RMVR is doing this. This is the fourth time I’ve driven the lunch laps. The whole event seems to get bigger each year. I think this is the second or third year they’re doing a Pro-Am race. This years pro drivers include Alex Figge, Nick Ham, Robb Holland, Robby Unser, Randy Pobst, Tanner Foust, and a couple of others. One of the others is a guy called Paul Gerrard, who was The Stig for the American version of Top Gear.

Last year, after we were done giving laps, we drivers were treated to a lunch and plenty of cold beverages. I looked around but didn’t see where to go. I was hungry and thirsty so I bought a burger and soda and sat in the pavilion and ate. While I was eating, William came by and told me he had gotten a ride with Randy Pobst. William told him he wanted to learn something, so Pobst kept up a running commentary of how to get around the track, all the while going at a pretty good clip. William particularly wanted to see Pobst’s footwork, but said taking his eyes off the track made him a bit queasy.

About half way through my burger I saw where the lunch drivers were congregating. I didn’t need any more to eat, but certainly could do with some more hydration so when I finished my burger, I went over and joined the crowd.

The driver of the Ford GT was there. I needed to apologize to him. He was going quite slow and I needed to pass him a couple of times. The first time was between turns 2 and 3. I was sure he pointed me by on his right but before I was around him he was moving toward me. He was pretty casual about it. It looks pretty close to me on the video. Rather than pointing me by, he was putting his fist in the air, which signals he’s going into the pits. That was inappropriate here, we were nowhere near the track exit. Fortunately, I passed him pretty quickly and there was no drama. In viewing the video, I see that he was always using this gesture.

I grabbed my second bottle of water and a tiny square of dessert and took a seat. I was with Foust and Pobst and a few other guys. It didn’t take long to figure out that they were the pros. It turned out to be Ham, Figge, and Holland, but nobody was using any names. Robb Holland and I finally introduced ourselves to each other in the end, but I didn’t know who they were until later. I had it pretty well narrowed down, but didn’t know which names went with which faces.

I would say that I spent an hour chatting with them. It may be difficult to believe, but I didn’t say much. I just listened. It started with somebody asking Foust if he was going to watch the new season of Top Gear, which led to him to talking a bit about his time working on the show. He said it was one hundred fifty days of work a year, and the days were long with every hour planned. He said nobody on the show knew who the Stig was except whoever wrote the paychecks. He knew who it was, though, as he knew Paul and helped get him the job. When he was on the set he never spoke and didn’t shake hands with anybody. But sometimes Paul would show up for dinner on shooting days, “just coincidentally” in the area. Nobody ever suspected he was the Stig.

Foust got up and left after a while. The rest of the guys kept chatting. They had all raced against each other for years, sometimes as teammates. They were waxing nostalgic. “Remember that time at Miller where my car broke?” “And mine broke at the same time and I parked behind you?” “And the time you had that crash at Miller.” “That was a bad one, but the crash in Detroit was the worst.” I could have listened to them for the rest of the day.

I wonder how many of the pros were on track while I was doing laps. William tells me that only a couple were doing lunch laps, but that many of the others were out with their Pro-Am partners testing the cars. I know Pobst was driving the Focus and I did see a couple of the Schomp Minis in and out of the pits. Although I was running laps with five or six or seven pro drivers, I don’t think I passed or was passed by any of them.

I’m a big football fan but I’ve never had the delusion that I could ever do what Joe Montana or Terrell Davis could do. I was never going to throw a perfect spiral fifty yards down the field while stepping up in the pocket, facing a safety blitz or catch a screen pass in the flat and go the distance. I also don’t have the delusion that I could do what Michael Schumacher or Lewis Hamilton could do. But I can watch a sports car race or a touring car race and imagine doing it, and doing it well. Sure, it’s a delusion too. But I just ran a bunch of laps on a race track with a half dozen accomplished professionals and never got passed. My delusion survives intact!

And I think it’s pretty cool that I got to see some pretty cool cars get out on the race track.

I had a really good time.

Small Claims Court

I was hoping that this entry would be the end of the story of the Ordeal of the Camshaft. We had our day in court but we don’t have the end of the story yet. It’s a cliffhanger!

Monday, July 24

This is Victor’s case, I’m just a witness. I’ve been called up for jury duty a few times, but never had to serve. So outside of traffic court I’ve had no dealings with the justice system.

We arrived in Judge Ecton’s courtroom at about 8:00am. A docket is posted on the wall just outside the doors. We were second on the list. After we seated ourselves in the gallery, the court clerk came by and did a little roll call.

Shortly after that the judge entered the courtroom. “Everybody rise!” He took his seat at the bench and gave a little introductory speech. This is not an episode of Judge Judy, or whatever court show you watch on TV. We follow some rules of evidence. There are no surprises here. If you want to introduce an exhibit into evidence, your opponent has to know about it and will have an opportunity to object.

Each side can make a one minute opening statement. Each side may call as many as three witnesses, and each witness is given ten minutes. Then there’s an opportunity for the other side to cross-examine. Then the first side can ask any additional questions that may arise from the cross-examination. The judge controls the stopwatch.

Those are the basic rules, but before we could get to any of that, each case was sent to mediation. This mediation took place in another room, with just the principal parties. As a witness I was not a party in the mediation. The judge instructed that there would be a minimum of fifteen minutes of mediation. If mediation failed to produce an outcome, both parties would return to the courtroom ready to follow the process above.

While Victor and the defendant were in mediation, and after a short pause, the first case was handled. In this case the defendant didn’t show so the plaintiff won automatically. The plaintiff was awarded his claim of $1500.

Then the first case came back from mediation. This was between a Mr. Benson and a Mrs. Benson. Mediation produced a result, and Mrs. Benson would pay Mr. Benson $1300. Because everything was handled outside the room, we in the gallery were left in the dark as to exactly what this was all about. The imagination runs wild: are they man and wife? Brother and sister?

I didn’t check the time, but it was more than half an hour before the mediator for our case returned to the courtroom, Victor and the Ehrlich Toyota people in tow. Mediation failed to provide an agreement, so we would come to trial. But one key point was not disputed: Ehrlich did not contest that the parts they supplied were defective.

So now the fun begins. I admit that I’m not a court reporter, not a stenographer, don’t take shorthand, and didn’t even have a pen and paper to take notes with. I was able to key a few short notes into my phone, but that was the extent of it, and I can’t type worth a damn on my phone. So it’s very likely that my record here contains some minor errors or omissions. I do feel that I’ve recorded the major points fairly and completely.

The woman in charge on their side was the one Victor had been dealing with over the several months this has gone on. I don’t know her position in the company, and managed not to record her name (surprise, surprise) but she’s not one of the owners. She was supported by one of their technical people and at the last minute was joined by one of the Ehrlich family. Between mediation and the start of the trail, Victor wondered aloud why he was dealing with her and not one of the owners. He went out into the hall for a couple of minutes to try to talk to him but returned unsatisfied.

We began with the short opening statements, Victor going first. Nothing particularly interesting was said by either party, with the exception of Victor being mildly chided by the judge. Victor had interrupted the judge. This is a no-no. When it happened I didn’t even notice it, probably because I have a tendency to do the same thing. Almost immediately after that, the judge cautioned Victor for making “inflammatory” remarks. These remarks had to do with our feeling that Ehrlich’s warranty policy was just a policy and didn’t carry the weight of law. It doesn’t absolve them of responsibility for the damage the defective part caused. After this mild dressing down, there were no more cautions from the judge, although I think Victor may have gotten close when he made the same point later in the proceedings.

Victor was the first witness. As he’s also the plaintiff, it obviously wasn’t the usual question-and-answer process one sees on TV. Most of our exhibits were documents, but we did have the damaged head and sprocket. He set the head right on the witness stand, although he never had to point out the damage that was caused by the bad cam. He spent a few minutes going over the events that led us here. He did a pretty good job, even though he seemed to me to be a bit nervous. He was then cross-examined by the defendant.

One of the key parts of Victor’s testimony relates to why Victor is the one with the claim instead of me. Essentially, I assigned the portion of the bill relating to rebuilding the head to Victor. He felt it was wrong to stick me with this bill and that he would make the claim rather than force me to do it. I think the Ehrlich people thought explaining this thought process was a weakness, and they brought it up later in a derogatory way later on.

Victor called me as the second witness. “Raise your right hand. Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” I do. No bibles were involved, and no swearing to god. “State your name, and spell your last name.” I took my seat at the witness stand.

Victor started with High Mountain Classic’s reputation. What was said about their work? After this experience, did my opinion of their reputation change? A few other questions of that nature. Then Victor had me read a few paragraphs from my blog, a printout of which had been entered into evidence as one of the exhibits. The judge said it wasn’t necessary for me to read any of it, as he’d be able to read it himself, but Victor had me read a key passage anyway.

Next up was cross-examination. Why did I go to High Mountain Classics rather than a Toyota dealer? What was the nature of the work I had them perform? Did I consider using parts other than from Toyota? Is my car a daily driver? Do I take it to the race track, do I race the car? I said that I never considered taking the car to a Toyota dealer. I’ve not known any Lotus owners to do this. I explained my thought process, that I considered going to Ferrari of Denver or to my usual shop (Peak Eurosport) but chose Victor after discussing the issue with him after a club meeting.

When it came to the specific work, the judge interjected some questions. I explained that there were issues with the hardening failing on the cams and that it was recommended that they are periodically inspected for abnormal wear. HMC performed the inspection and found wear was starting and recommended replacement of the parts. I made clear to the judge that the wear problem was totally unrelated to the defect in the parts where the burrs were sent through the motor, damaging the head.

I was a bit surprised by some of these questions. Why was it important to know if I considered other sources for the parts? I told how I came to the decision to use Toyota parts: I looked into the Stage 2 MonkeyWrench racing cam, but dismissed this because it would involve a lot of additional work. I felt that the known, good, Toyota part was the best way to go, and that Toyota reliability was a large factor in purchasing the car in the first place.

I also didn’t understand why they wanted to know if I raced the car. I said that I don’t have a daily commute, that I put an average of eight thousand miles a year on the car and that track days account for a small fraction of the miles. I told the judge that an HPDE day is not competition. In any case, it seems irrelevant to me. This is about the defective part wrecking my engine. I don’t know why they felt it was an important issue.

Van was the technician at HMC that did the work on my car. He was the third witness. Before the trial started we sat together in the back of the gallery and chatted. When I asked him how he got into auto restoration he quickly gave me his entire CV. It starts with him earning a BS in Auto Restoration. I didn’t know such a degree was available. He told me there’s just the one school that offers it. After graduation he’s worked in a number of jobs that sounded quite interesting, including a stint at Tesla.

So, of course, the first thing the defendant did was attack his credibility. Are you a certified Toyota mechanic? Have you ever worked on this particular engine before? Why didn’t you notice that the part was defective before installing it? Why didn’t you do the rebuild of the head? Van is, of course, an ASE certified mechanic. He routinely works on engines he’s never seen before. He says he followed Toyota’s procedure for replacing the part, and that procedure didn’t include anything about checking for burrs in the camshaft internals. Ryan was brought in because HMC was falling behind on the other projects.

Next there was a line of questioning about labor rates. HMC doesn’t use the flat rates. They bill for actual hours, not book hours. I suppose that was to call into question the amount of the bill. But this is misdirection as well, because the hours worked on the rebuild were not Van’s, they were Ryan’s, the certified Lotus mechanic.

Again, I’m somewhat puzzled by many of these questions. There is no dispute that the parts they supplied were defective. They seem to be trying to say that it wasn’t the defective parts that caused the problems, but an inexperienced or incompetent mechanic. (Van, is, of course, neither.)

Ehrlich’s only witness was the woman Victor has been dealing with through this whole process. She emphasized that all the receipts have a disclaimer on them, saying that their warranty does not include implied merchantability and does not cover any labor. During my testimony, the part of my blog that Victor had me read included the bit about all the cams in their stock were also bad. The judge asked if this was true. She said she didn’t know.

In Ehrlich’s closing remark, they proudly stated that had all this happened in their shop, they’d never think of sticking the customer with the bill. This, clearly, was in response to Victor presenting the bill to me with the full amount, which then had the rebuild backed out. I paraphrase, but they essentially said, “We would never leave the customer holding the bag.” And, yet, that’s exactly what they’re trying to do here. HMC is the customer. HMC bought defective parts that caused me extensive property damage, and they’re adamant that they’re not responsible. The didn’t seem to see the irony.

One of the final questions that came up was why Victor is going after Ehrlich rather than Toyota USA or Toyota Japan. Here’s the one place where I thought Victor’s response was weak, but I couldn’t help him out. He said that he was afraid it would cost too much to pursue a giant Japanese corporation, didn’t want to go out of state or out of the country. Ehrlich said that Toyota USA has people here in Denver, so none of Victor’s fears are valid. My answer would have been that we hadn’t had any dealings with Toyota USA or Toyota Japan: we’ve been dealing all along with Ehrlich.

This question, in fact, is the only part of this whole suit that bothers me. Before we started down this path, my research indicated that if we were to go after the wrong party, we could win the case but still never get compensated. If there’s something in the law that we don’t know about (and we don’t know much), we could very well be going after the wrong party.

I don’t know anything about the law, but here’s how I reason this part out. I dealt with Victor, not Ehrlich. Victor dealt with Ehrlich, not Toyota USA. Ehrlich’s transaction was with Toyota USA, who presumably had a transaction with Toyota Japan, who may have had a third (sixth?) party like Denso actually manufacture the part. It’s a chain of command and you can’t go out of sequence. If Victor had stuck me with the bill, it should be obvious that I’d have to make a claim against him and no one else. In fact, it’s generally the case that the chain above Victor is invisible to me. I have no idea, for example, where Peak Eurosport gets their parts.

So Victor has a loss caused by a bad part. And just as the chain of transactions above Victor are invisible to me, the chain above Ehrlich is invisible to him. He can guess, just as I’ve guessed, what that chain looks like. But he can’t really know. The only party he can go after, then, is Ehrlich.

Victor’s only remedy against Ehrlich is this small claims proceeding. Ehrlich, on the other hand, certainly is in a different situation. Had they done the right thing and paid a warranty claim to Victor for the work, they can surely make the claim from where they got the bad part. And we’ve seen that this relationship exists and works. The engineer that came to HMC to inspect my car was from Toyota USA. It was this engineer that authorized the replacement of the defective cams. This is the undisputed fact: Toyota USA admits the part was bad.

It’s a no-brainer that Ehrlich would pay Victor and make a claim to Toyota, because Toyota admits the fault. So why doesn’t Ehrlich do the right thing? Why make Victor take them to court? I can only assume that the claims resolution mechanism in whatever agreements and contracts exist between Ehrlich and Toyota USA do not allow for payment of damages unless one of their guys does the work. You’d think there’d be some sort of arbitration mechanism. Doesn’t anybody in this chain have any general liability insurance that covers this sort of circumstance? I’d hate to think that the only remedy is going to court. Yet, here we are.

It was approaching noon when we headed out the door. It had taken quite a bit longer than I had anticipated. The judge did not come to a verdict. Not knowing how it all worked, I was a bit surprised. I expected an answer. As the man said, this isn’t Judge Judy. It only makes sense that he should have some time to go through the exhibits and review the testimony before making up his mind.

Leaving the courtroom I was unsure of how things would turn out. But after writing it all out here, I feel pretty good. Ehrlich is the only party we can logically go after. Toyota accepted from the start that the parts they supplied were bad. That’s the key piece. Ehrlich’s only defense was misdirection. I made a mistake in not taking it to a Toyota dealer. I abuse the car by racing it. Van can’t possibly fix a Toyota engine. HMC wasn’t qualified to do the work and had to call in the Lotus mechanic. Victor is going after the wrong people. None of this is true, and none of this changes the fact that all the parts they supplied were defective.

I think chances are good that Victor will win. So the question now is, how long before we get an answer? I will, of course, share the results of the case when I learn the verdict.

The Muffler

When Victor called me last week to discuss the case, he mentioned that he saw the video of my exhaust barfing out its insides. I told him half the shops I’d talked to about repairing it had never heard of repacking the exhaust and that said they could send it to Canada for repair. Victor said they do this sort of work all the time on the Bugattis. It only makes sense: where do you go to replace the muffler for a Bugatti 39? Victor had me bring my exhaust with me so I could give it to him to fix. Rather than repacking with fiberglass they’ll use steel wool. It will sound a bit different, but it should last longer.

When I handed it over, I shook it a bit and we could hear the innards rattling around. They both knew immediately what had happened. Through the center of the can there’s a perforated steel pipe. This pipe has rusted away and could no longer hold the packing. (Rust? It took me half a beat. Water is one of the main outputs of combustion.) They’ll cut the end off, replace the perforated pipe, pack with steel wool, weld it back together and I’ll be on my way. I told them there’s no need to hurry as I’m fine running the stock exhaust for a while.