Mid-Ohio Trip – Naperville to Denver

Day 8 – Saturday, June 1

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

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

Riverview Park, Clinton, IA

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

US 30 bridge, railroad bridge, at Clinton

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

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

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

Hoover grave site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 9 – Sunday, June 2

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

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

Total trip miles: 3,185

Mid-Ohio Trip – Toledo to Naperville

Day 5 – Wednesday, May 29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diversion: Indiana Dunes National Park

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

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

Great Marsh, south of the dunes

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

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

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

Keep Off Dunes

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

It was a brief stop, but well worth it.

More photos here: Indiana Dunes National Park

Mid-Ohio Trip – Mid-Ohio Track Days

Day 3 – Monday, May 27

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

McLaren 600LT

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

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

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

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

Ken on the start/finish straight

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

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

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

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

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

A good, fun day.

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

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

At the front gate

Day 4 – Tuesday, May 28

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

KTM X-Bow GT4

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

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

Ferrari

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Porsche

Chin Motorsports

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

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

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

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

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

Mid-Ohio Trip – Denver to Mansfield

Day 1 – Saturday, May 25

Before heading out I was feeling a bit of … trepidation isn’t the right word. More like low-grade anxiety. A good chunk of the center of the country has been getting hit with nasty weather the last several days. Tornadoes, some fatal, have hit Missouri, and that’s where I’m spending the night. I didn’t make hotel reservations because I didn’t know how far I’d get. My goal was Monroe City, and as it turned out I easily made it another 30 miles or so to Hannibal, right on the Mississippi River. Not that I’ve seen it yet; my motel is ten or twelve miles away. So far the weather has been good. My phone tells me no precipitation is expected in the next two hours. We’ll see.

I picked what I thought was a fairly cheap motel, at least according to Google. All I’m after is a bed and shower. When I got here, there were only four rooms left, all smoking. I’m surprised anybody still offers smoking rooms. I’m not happy, but it’s a room, and I’ve been in worse. It turned out to be on the more expensive end, about what I’d expect to pay in these parts for a Marriott property.

I can’t get internet here in the room. It never challenges me for a password. I managed to connect down in the lobby, but shortly after returning to the room I lose it. At least I managed to plan my route for tomorrow.

Today’s route was US 36 the entire way. Here in Missouri it’s four lane divided highway the whole way. Not exactly like an Interstate, as it’s not limited access. And although there were trucks, there weren’t many. Through Colorado and most of Kansas I couldn’t have asked for much better conditions. It’s not hot yet, so the clear blue skies and bright sunshine weren’t a problem. And there was almost no traffic at all. There’s an event going on at HPR, so I followed a Porsche with a giant rear wing from the gas station in Byers to the track, but after the track I didn’t see another vehicle going my direction until I got into the small towns of western Kansas.

Before reaching Kansas, I saw a fox crossing the highway in front of me. Close enough to easily identify it as a fox, but not close enough to worry about hitting it. Shortly after that, I saw a couple of pheasant standing on the shoulder of the road. At first I thought they were turkeys, but they weren’t that big, and were slender. I was a bit surprised they didn’t take off as I passed them.

Nearing the Missouri River there was quite a bit of standing water on the fields. Sometimes just large puddles, other times it was acres of field under water. I didn’t get much of a look at the Missouri and I don’t really know what it normally looks like, but it seemed it was running high. A few of the other smaller rivers I crossed, again just glimpses, looked like the trees along the banks were in the water. Tomorrow I’ll start my day with a short visit to Riverview Park here in Hannibal and get a good look at the Mississippi.

When I do my trip planning, I typically check the box to avoid highways. What I really want is “avoid Interstates”. I didn’t give it much thought, and was under the impression they were the same thing. But the other day when scouting routes for the return trip, I noticed that it was keeping me off US 36 here in Missouri. It’s not an Interstate, but it is a four lane divided highway. I’m not sure they’re consistent on this. I drove quite a few miles on US 20 through Iowa last year on my Road America trip, and that’s more Interstate-like than US 36 is here.

For tomorrow, I could easily take Interstate most of the way. But I find it so much more pleasant to take the smaller roads; I’ll gladly trade some time for the near elimination of traffic. I find it much less stressful to take the scenic route than the super-slab.

I hit another bird today. What is it about this car that causes me to hit so many birds?

Today’s miles: 660

Day 2 – Sunday, May 26

I was awakened by a peal of thunder at 4:15. I didn’t hear any tornado sirens, so that was good. But I wasn’t exactly sure I’d hear any if they were sounding. I glanced out the window and things didn’t look too bad so I went back to bed.

Breakfast wasn’t scheduled to be available until 6:30, so I loaded up the car first. It was raining pretty good. I was in the breakfast area by 6:25 and people were already eating. So I loaded up a plate with sausage gravy and biscuits, some sort of cheesy scrambled eggs, and potatoes. Then back up to the room to brush my teeth and I was on the road by 6:54.

By now the rain had slackened somewhat. But I quickly fogged up the interior of all the cockpit glass. Cracking the windows didn’t help much, and neither did the defroster. Good thing I carry a towel with me. Usually it’s in the boot, but I had anticipated just such a situation and had it in the cab with me.

I found my way to Riverview Park easily enough. It’s a dark forest early in the morning in the rain. I found a place with a view of the river (not as obvious as you might think, given the park’s name) and took a look around. It was still raining, so I didn’t hang around. Had it been nicer, I’d have explored the park a bit more. I was hoping to see some barges on the river. I did see some when I was back on the highway, crossing the bridge, but they weren’t visible from the overlook I visited.

Mississippi River, Riverview Park, Hannibal, MO

The first section of the drive was on the Interstate. My biggest issue with interstate highways is the truck traffic. There was none this morning, so I was unbothered.

My planned route had me heading north on I-172, but Navigator decided to send me farther east on I-72 instead. This turned out to be an interesting route. My first intermediate destination was Havana, IL, on the Illinois River. The route I ended up following was IL 100, along the western shore of the river from Beardstown to Havana. The river was well outside its banks through here, but it looks to me like they’re prepared for this and perhaps it’s a regular occurrence. One house on the river side of the road was built on stilts, and many of the trees along here were standing in water.

As it was, I crossed the Illinois River three times. Once on the interstate and twice on US routes. These two bridges are older, steel girder bridges. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I won’t say these old bridges are more beautiful. It could be argued that the newer bridges have a simplistic beauty to them. But I find these steel girder bridges more interesting.

Writing up these notes and referring to the map, I see that I narrowly missed visiting Lotus, Illinois. I passed within a few miles of it, but it’s so small it never appeared on any signs. Had I been on the correct road I’d have had to make a short detour. I doubt it is big enough to merit a post office; from the satellite photo it looks to be a grain elevator and about six houses, about a thousand feet from the highway. Presumably, there’d have been at least a sign of some sort. Oh, well, I’ll never know.

My third intermediate navigation point was Logansport. (The second wasn’t interesting enough to get a comment.) I generally edit my route for these navigation points so that I stay on the highway rather than detouring through town. I’m glad for this one that I didn’t. Logansport sits beside the Wabash river and my route was on a side street on the south bank of the river. It, too, is running high, submerging one of the islands in the middle of the river.

The rest of the trip was fairly boring. US 24 and US 30, with a short shot on I-469. Both 24 and 30 may as well have been interstates, being four-lane divided highway, often limited access. In Ohio the speed limit was 70.

I made good time. Rather than having the motel as my destination, I had the track. Chin Motorsports does registration and tech the night before, but I figured I’d miss that, arriving after 6. But today’s event there (either NASA or PCA, I heard both) went late due to some weather and when I arrived I found myself at the end of a long line waiting to get in. So rather than just taking a picture of the sign and heading to the motel, I waited around, got registered and teched. Tech inspection amounted to me giving them my completed form and them checking that the number on the car matches the number on the form.

After checking in at the hotel, I found a gas station and a restaurant. So I’m all ready to go in the morning. It’s about a 20 minute drive to the track, and the drivers meeting is scheduled for 7:10, so I’ll try to be out the door by 6:30. That should give me time to find a spot in the paddock.

Today’s miles: 557 Total miles: 1,217

Independence and Loveland Passes

Long delayed, here’s the final post about my trip to Snowmass for the RMVR race there. At first it was delayed because I was busy, then it was just a matter of inertia.

Tuesday, September 18

Having determined that a trip to Hanging Lake was not going to happen, I was back to my original plan of returning home over Independence Pass and Loveland Pass. I don’t entirely avoid I-70 this way, but it is arguably the most interesting route from Aspen to Denver.

I was out of the hotel fairly early and found myself in Aspen’s weekday morning rush hour traffic. I hadn’t considered that such a thing existed, but so it goes. I had several minutes of stop-and-go traffic that broke up by the time I made it to the center of town.

The drive from Aspen to the foot of Independence Pass climbs slowly through the upper valley of the Roaring Fork River. This is a particularly scenic valley at this time of year, with the turning of the Aspen. The town of Aspen was originally called Ute City. It’s easy to see why the name was changed.

I stopped the car well before the official start of the pass so I could mount the camera. Unfortunately, it was a bit too early to get good footage of this part of the drive. I was hoping that much of the road would still be in shadow, but the sun was peeking over the mountains still low enough to be directly into the lens of the camera, so much of the footage is blown out. In any event, the road snakes along the bottom of the valley, through alternating aspen and pine forest with plenty of clearings giving nice views.

Independence Pass is only open a few months of the year. It’s the highest paved crossing of the Continental Divide in the U.S. Most highway passes in Colorado have, over the years, been improved to the point where they’re no longer particularly interesting. This is not true of Independence Pass. Not only is it open only during the summer, no vehicle over 35′ in length is allowed. I don’t think it’s because of the switchbacks – Red Mountain Pass has more and tighter switchbacks – but there are a few short sections on the west side that are too narrow even to stripe as two-lane road.

It was originally called Hunter’s Pass and crossed below – but not much below – the top of Mount Elbert (Colorado’s highest peak). Hunter’s Pass was “a revolting thing to get over, summer or winter, with cliffs to climb on both sides, and a rock-bound top so mournful that even the ravens stayed away.” When silver was found near present-day Aspen, the Independence Pass trail was improved so that horses could use it. At this point, some men in Leadville formed the Twin Lakes and Roaring Fork Toll Company and started collecting tolls for traveling over the pass.

Adventurous motorists began driving their Model-T’s across Independence Pass as early as 1913 and by 1916, Colorado maps showed it as an auto road. After World War I there was a period of frantic road building in the Rocky Mountains. For the most part, a six percent grade was used so that “no motorist should suffer the indignity of shifting gears.” I don’t know… some of us enjoy shifting gears.

I made a short stop at the summit to get out and walk around a bit. It’s not the mournful place it once was. The Continental Divide Trail goes through here, and there are bathrooms and a short walking loop that motorists can use to take in the views in a leisurely manner.

As I said earlier, my video from Aspen to the summit of the pass didn’t turn out. Also, I spent a fair amount of the time stuck behind slower traffic. The rear end of a Nissan doesn’t make for the most interesting video. I did manage to get something a bit better going downhill on the east side, so I put together a bit over eight minutes.

I stopped across the street from the little general store in Twin Lakes. This store serves as a reprovisioning spot for the hikers on the Colorado Trail. This is the third time I’ve been through here in the last five years. There’s been a county sheriff’s car parked here the whole time with a mannequin behind the wheel. I guess it fools the tourists.

The clever observer will note that Twin Lakes is on the east side of the Continental Divide. The same observer will also note that I intend to cross Loveland Pass from west to east, and that Loveland Pass is also on the Divide. That means I’ll need to cross the Divide between here and there. The obvious choices are to go to South Park and cross Hoosier Pass into Breckenridge or to go through Leadville and cross Fremont Pass. I chose the latter.

The highway from Twin Lakes to the foot of Fremont Pass more or less follows the Arkansas River. The Arkansas is the sixth longest river in the US and is a major tributary of the Mississippi. Before it drains onto the plains, its mighty waters carved the Royal Gorge and upstream of that it features some nice white-water rafting opportunities. Here, above Leadville, it’s not so much a mighty river as a minor stream that one could easily wade across.

Fremont Pass is named for John Charles Frémont. He was a noted explorer of the West and the first Republican candidate for president. He didn’t get elected president, and he never crossed Fremont Pass. As a lieutenant, he was in the neighborhood in 1844, near present-day Dillon, and was more or less chased out of the area and across what is now Hoosier Pass by a band of Arapahoes, thus finding South Park. About 1880, William Palmer, a founder of the Denver and Rio Grande Western railroad came to Leadville with a construction crew larger than the US Army and put a narrow gauge railroad over Fremont Pass.

It is now the site of the Climax Mine, which at one time supplied three quarters of the world’s molybdenum. Although the pass clocks in at 11,318′ above sea level, it’s not a very dramatic road. The southern end is a gentle climb from Leadville and much of the road is multi-lane for the uphill traffic. The most striking features of the pass are the mine itself and the giant tailing ponds on the eastern side of the Divide (actually to the north of the pass).

After a few miles of I-70, between Copper Mountain and Frisco, I worked over to Swan Mountain Road to join US 6 for the trip over Loveland Pass. This used to be a very busy road but it sees much less traffic since the Eisenhower Tunnel was built in I-70. Now it’s just a relative few tourists and the hazardous cargo that’s not permitted to go through the tunnel. Because of this, there hasn’t been the need to add passing lanes to the road and it’s pretty much unmolested for the last forty or fifty years.

Loveland Pass is named for William A. H. Loveland. He was another railroad magnate, owner of the Colorado Central Railroad. Although no rail line was ever built over Loveland Pass, the “High Line Wagon Road” was hastily put over it during the winter of 1878-9. About a hundred men with teams, dynamite, scoops, and chuck wagons did the work. They were fortunate to have little snow impede their progress over the winter and on June 4 fifty wagons made the crossing.

It’s a lot easier now. This video is the ascent from the west, reaching the summit, and the first views of the eastern side. In spite of appearances, I didn’t exceed the legal speed limit by that much.

All in all, it was a pleasant late summer drive. After crossing Independence Pass I had the top off and took in the sunny day and the hillsides dotted with golden aspen.

Road America Blitz – There and Back

It has been my habit for these road trips to give some details of my route and the sights and points of interest along the way in a more or less chronological fashion. We’ll go about it a slightly different way this time.

I spent two days driving, each way, for my day of driving in circles in rural Wisconsin. The terrain between Denver and Elkhart Lake is not the least interesting that can be crossed in these United States (the caprock of west Texas is both boring and desolate, while Nebraska and Iowa are just boring), but it’s close. So we won’t go into excruciating detail of the trip.

I laid out my route a few weeks in advance, keeping in mind my two rules: no Interstates and no night driving. I’m splitting the trip almost exactly in half by staying with Frank in the suburbs of Omaha, so avoiding night driving is trivial. But I did do some pondering as to whether I should break Rule #1. In the end, I stuck to it, and I’m happy I did.

I’m not always able to entirely eliminate Interstate travel, but I do try to minimize it. On this trip, I began with about an hour on I-76 and had another hour or so navigating around Des Moines. But that was it. That first hour was not a problem; it was a holiday and traffic was light. However, both passes through the Des Moines area were no fun.

On Thursday I found myself two cars behind a truck. The truck was periodically dropping clods of dirt which broke up when bouncing down the road. These clods could have rocks in them for all I know, and even if they’re just hard dirt I didn’t want to run into any of it. I managed to avoid him, for a while at least. I’d almost forgotten about him until about thirty miles later. I was in the left lane and in heavy traffic. People started moving out of the left lane, which became increasingly covered by tire debris. My clod dropping friend was half off the left side of the road with a blown left front tire.

In contrast to the traffic and peril of the Interstate, on the first two hundred miles of US 34 starting in Ft. Morgan, I was passed by a motorcycle and passed one truck. I encountered no other traffic going my direction. And passing through those first few small towns I got to see men in pickup trucks putting up flags along the main streets in preparation for the celebration of Independence Day. I may not go quite as fast on the back roads, but there’s a lot less tension and traffic and I see a lot more real life.

Both Nebraska and Iowa are wall-to-wall corn. People call it “America’s bread basket”, but that connotes wheat to me and I saw none. Two sections of road in Iowa stand out, though. First is the Covered Bridges Scenic Byway which goes through Madison county. I didn’t make any of the side trips as I was feeling short of time and besides, all these bridges were three or four miles down dirt roads.

The other interesting stretch of Iowa is the Iowa River Bluffs Scenic Byway. For the most part, everything east and north of Des Moines is flat. I always remember Iowa as rolling hills, but not this part. It’s the tyranny of straight, flat roads. Except for the Bluffs, where grids of corn farms are replaced by forested bluffs with rolling, curvy roads. A nice interlude.

I entered Wisconsin at Prairie du Chien. This looks like a place that deserves more exploration. Effigy Mounds National Monument sounds interesting. I also noticed a sign for Pikes Peak State Park. I can’t help but be curious about that, given that it’s along the banks of the Mississippi River at an elevation of roughly 650′ above sea level.

On these trips I prefer to do a loop rather than retrace my steps. On this one, though, Saturday was the reverse of Thursday with only a few miles variance. Part of that variance was through Amish country where I passed a few horse-drawn buggies on the roads and even saw one tied to a hitching post in front of a general store.

On Sunday, though, I managed to improvise a variation in route. Rather than returning the way I came (along US 34 and US 6), I decided to head south into Kansas and follow US 36. It provided a bit more variety than I was expecting. As I said, Nebraska is unbroken cornfields. Kansas at least has a variety of crops. The road was straight as an arrow for the most part, but it offered something other than corn to look at.

My only real excitement on my four days travel was once I got back to Colorado. US 36 passes through a number of small towns. It turns out that none of them has a gas station. And the highway department didn’t see fit to warn travelers that they would be unable to refuel until they reached Byers. I was about forty miles east of HPR when the low fuel indicator illuminated. I was thinking it was touch-and-go making it to the track. Being a weekend, I figured it was near certainty that the track would be open and I could grab a half gallon of race fuel to get me to Byers. I made it without incident, but I was pretty tense and nervous for half an hour.

So I put seven tenths of a gallon in the tank (for seven dollars) and when I filled up in Byers I was able to pump only 8.9 gallons of gas. I have a ten gallon tank, so that means I had plenty of sufficient fuel to get me there without the splash of 98 octane. But it was probably worth the seven bucks saving my nerves.

Frank and Mary kindly put me up both Wednesday night and Saturday night. Frank is an old family friend who is also passionate about cars. He has quite the collection of old English cars and used to do quite a bit of SCCA club racing. He doesn’t have any Lotus, but does have a variety of Triumphs, Minis, MGs, and Jaguars. He has an interesting TVR, a couple of Alfas, and the occasional American car thrown in for good measure. It was a pleasure visiting with them.

Now, on to the reason for all this driving across America’s heartland…

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.

2017 United States Grand Prix

This was Chad’s trip. He did all the heavy lifting, all the logistics. He reached out to me with a question phrased as a hypothetical: if you were to go to the Formula One race, would you go for race day or all three? Where would you sit? Next you know, he’s made lodging accommodations, ordered the tickets, and rented a Cadillac.

Thursday we’d drive Denver to Scott’s place in Liberty Hill, TX. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the track, and return Monday. Fifteen hours of driving each way, sandwiched around three long days. Our housing was sixty miles from the track, so another seven and a half hours in the car.

Most of the way there we followed my route from June, altered only for the different end point. We made one navigational error – in Lubbock where I didn’t see the exit for the loop road until too late. We violated both Rule #1 and Rule #2 without remorse, beginning and ending each day’s journey in the dark, and covering about a third of the miles on the Interstate.

When renting the car Chad elected to purchase the damage waiver. He thought it seemed a bit high, at just under a quarter of the week’s rental fee. I told him I never buy it, being covered between my credit card and my own insurance. But then again, I’ve never had any incidents.

It’s still total darkness at 6:30am in late October an hour west of Austin. I’m driving. We are making good time up a two lane state route. The car in front of us is just taillights, a bit ahead of the reach of our headlights. The lights ahead take a bit of a hop. A split second later our lights reach a deer carcass, dead center in our lane, dead. We hit it square, a quick crack/thud combination that lifted the car a bit.

No warning indicators illuminated, the car felt fine, nothing seemed out of whack. We pulled into a gas station in the next town a few miles up the road. The front fascia was broken, smeared with blood in three places, but not missing any pieces. An inspection of the undercarriage revealed a big bone wedged up against the exhaust. The car smelled vaguely of cooked meat for the next couple hours.

I’m guessing Chad was happy to have bought the damage waiver.

Having jumped ahead to nearly the end of the weekend, I’ll dispense with any pretense of chronological order.

We were slow to the track on Friday, but sorted out off-property parking right across the street. Our purpose Friday was to scout the best location for race day. Although the track is only slightly more than a mile longer than Mid-Ohio, it seems a lot bigger when you’re walking around it. We only managed to cover about half the territory, never venturing anywhere near turns nine, ten, and eleven.

We spent the most time on the hill above Turn 7, which has a nice view mostly over the fences, all the way back to Turn 2. There was no overtaking here, but we got to see the cars change direction several times. We could also see glimpses of the cars across the track, through 13 and 14 and then again through 18.

We also spent some time on the grass in front of the grandstands at Turn 1. This grandstand might be the best vantage point on the property. Get high enough, you can see a good chunk of the track, a prime overtaking area directly in front of you, the main straight below and to the left where nice field glasses or a long lens would let you see the action in the pits.

We were there for the Formula One cars, of course, but that’s not all. We also had some historic cars, the Formula Four support race, and people getting rides in the pair of two-seaters. The F1 cars were much quieter than I expected. Off throttle the engines make a noise like the hitting the rumble strips, but louder. Funny, I don’t hear it on TV. The historics sounded fantastic. I think the best sounding cars of the weekend were the two-seaters. High revving and loud, we could hear them from our parking spot.

The support paddock was open to all fans, and we got a nice look at the old cars. The paddocks at all the Champ Car events I’ve attended were much more crowded; this was surprisingly crowd-free. But we didn’t visit it on race day, so that probably made a big difference.

I don’t think they’re releasing attendance figures, and I’m not particularly adept at judging crowd sizes. At our parking lot, I asked one of the attendants how many cars they parked in their lot. He said last year it was 200 on Friday, 400 on Saturday, and 600 on Sunday. He also said there were more cars on Friday this year than there were last year. Last year’s attendance was reported at something like 290,000. So I’m guessing half of them for race day; and perhaps fifty thousand on Friday and a hundred on Saturday.

Slumming with the amateurs

In the minutes before the lights went out for the start, a group of skydivers jumped from planes overhead. At the Broncos games, they bring the game ball to midfield. Here they didn’t even land on the property. One was flying the US flag, another the Texas flag.

Texans are nuts for their flag. It’s flown everywhere. We passed dozens of ranches proudly flying both national and Texas flags. I always understood that the national flag should be flown higher than lesser flags; evidently Texans don’t see their flag as lesser than the US flag as it was without exception flown at the same height. They put it on everything. I’m used to seeing the Colorado or Arizona or California flags primarily as flags. Sure, they’re on the occasional building or t-shirt. But the Texas flag is everywhere. There were several designs of event tees available; more with the Texas flag than the US flag.

Casual

We were subject to some official misinformation. Materials we read indicated we couldn’t bring lenses longer than ten inches, and tripods, selfie-sticks, and monopods were strictly verboten. In actual fact, giant lenses and monopods were commonplace. Scott kindly lent me a monopod and one of his long telephotos.

I struggled with my reflex lens. I hand-held on Friday. Very difficult. Focusing was a challenge. With the monopod the second day things were easier, as I could simulate a tripod by bracing the monopod against the lawn chair. Scott’s telephoto was much easier; auto-focus and image stabilizer. And much faster. I tried to shoot all the cars the first two days and relax on race day. I shot about 800 pictures, none of which are stellar. We confirmed in June I’m no Lewis Hamilton, and this weekend that I’m no Bernard Cahier.

As you’d expect, prices for food, drink, and merchandise were high. I had a giant sausage one day, piled high with onions for $14, a six cheese mac with bacon for $12, and a trio of sliders for $17.25. Yikes! Beers were nine bucks and up. The lowest priced t-shirt I saw was thirty bucks. Hats for fifty. Polo shirts eighty five.

Water was widely available. They had a number of giant dispensers around the facility. I watched them pour two hundred pounds of ice into one that wasn’t at a water source. I carried my empty container in and refilled it as necessary.

All in all, I enjoyed myself. I look forward to going to another one, but I probably won’t return to Austin for F1 in the next few years. Maybe I need to think about Montreal…