Fifth Lake – Day 1

East Inlet is a stream that flows roughly ten miles from the northern flank of Isolation Peak to the eastern shores of Grand Lake. There are five lakes along this stream, like beads on a string: Lone Pine Lake, Lake Verna, Spirit Lake, Fourth Lake, and Fifth Lake. They ran out of names.

I tried to get to Fifth Lake back in 2009. That was the first year that I kept a log of my hikes, but before I was blogging. I attempted it as a day hike, hitting the trail at 7:30 and reaching Fourth Lake at noon. As that was my “bingo” time, I stopped there, ate my picnic, then headed back. I returned to the car a bit before 5:00. Given that it might take about an hour to get to Fifth Lake from Fourth Lake, I figured it was out of range for me for a day hike.

If I can’t do it in one day, perhaps I should try it in two. So when March 1 rolled around I went online to make a reservation for one night at the Lake Verna campsite. I didn’t get my request but when I visited the back country office to make my reservation for zone camping for my Gorge Lakes hike, I managed to negotiate a good alternative. The Lake Verna campsite was booked up on all the dates I was interested in, but Upper East Inlet was available for September first. It’s just a couple tenths of a mile below Lake Verna so there’s no real functional difference.

The plan was to hike in to the campsite on day one, rise early on day two to get up to Fifth Lake and back to the campsite around noon, then hike back to the car. When I made the reservation, I didn’t have anybody lined up to accompany me but I booked it for two people anyway. About a week ago Gordon volunteered to go.

Saturday, September 1

Because we essentially had all day to get to Lake Verna we made a leisurely start, putting boots on the trail at about 10:00am.

It has been nine years since I hiked this trail but I have a few very distinct memories of it. I remember encountering a bull moose just below Lake Verna with a lame left front leg. I remember it being on a section of trail that traversed a rather steep treeless slope. There is no such section of trail. I’m the first to admit my memory isn’t the best, but in this case it’s a pretty disappointing mismatch. As to the rest of the trail, only a couple of short sections of that hike stayed with me. So in a sense, much of it was somewhat like being on a trail I’d never hiked before.

On that hike long ago, I found a moose in the marshy meadow quite near the trailhead. Today we found two moose even closer to the start. They were quite near the trail. Almost too close for comfort when I realized it was a cow and yearling calf. I probably have that nomenclature wrong. It was a young moose, but now nearly fully grown. I know moose can be unpredictable and wouldn’t want to get between mother and calf.

These two were quite calm, probably used to being in the presence of people. The only other time I’ve been this close to a moose was that earlier encounter on this trail with the lame one. We quietly watched them for a few minutes and took a few pictures. As they slowly worked their way into the trees and away from the trail, the cow let out an odd little moan, then pooped. I realized I’ve never knowingly seen moose poo before. Last year I learned that much of what I’ve taken for years to be deer poo is actually llama poo. This year I learned that moose poo looks a lot like horse poo.

Lone Pine Lake is the first lake in the chain, 5.3 miles and 1500 vertical feet from the trailhead. The first two miles or so follow the stream as it meanders through a broad marshy valley and gains only about a hundred feet. After that easy first two miles, the trail climbs about 1400 feet in just over three miles. This section of trail goes through some fairly rugged country, and the trail between here and just above Lone Pine Lake is what I’d call “highly engineered”. There are a number of stretches where you climb rather a long series of stone stairs.

When we got to the campsite it seemed to me like we’d climbed a thousand of these stairs. That’s a ridiculous number, obviously. When we got to the first of these on the way down I asked Gordon how many he thought there were. “I don’t know. 232?” I said it seemed like a thousand, even though that was an exaggeration. I said that I didn’t intend to count them, but then went ahead and counted anyway. I lost track a couple of times, but by the time we got back to the car I’d counted 725. The actual number is probably between 700 and 750. Those are just the obviously engineered stairs and doesn’t include the many rocks that naturally lie on the trail or are set to divert rain water off the trail.

In addition to the many stairs, there are long lengths of trail that lie on top of carefully built stone walls. There are also some spots where the trail was laid on a ledge that was carved out of large rock outcroppings. Some serious work went into constructing this trail. I really appreciate it, as when looking at the terrain from below it doesn’t look like the kind of country I would be willing to cross without a trail.

I don’t know the fire history of this area. None of it has burned since 2000, but there’s a pretty good section that looks to me as if it has recently burned. There aren’t any large swaths of dead trees, but the tree trunks for quite a stretch of trail look like they’ve seen some fire. There’s one stretch of stone stairs that I recall quite well from before and through here it seemed to me that there were quite a few more downed trees now than then.

We stopped for a rest perhaps half way up the climb to Lone Pine Lake. That’s not half the trail distance, but half the climb, so maybe three and a half miles in. To that point I thought we were making pretty good time. But carrying the pack was starting to wear me out. We took another break at Lone Pine Lake. I really struggled to get there, as I wanted to stop about half an hour earlier. But Gordon took the lead for a while and convinced me to continue until we arrived at the lake.

Lone Pine Lake

It was nearly 2:00 when we got to the lake, and we paused for about fifteen minutes. The weather forecast for the area called for a 60% chance of rain in the afternoon, with some snow possible overnight (with “little to no accumulation of snow”). The skies by now were clearly threatening, with the occasional rumble of thunder. So we didn’t delay too long.

It’s just over a mile and a half from Lone Pine Lake to Lake Verna, and our campsite is a couple tenths below Verna, so we didn’t have much farther to go. Verna, Spirit, and Fourth lakes lie in a valley that hangs above Lone Pine. There’s not much elevation between those three lakes, but the trail climbs a bit over two hundred feet in the next half mile or so. This is another highly engineered stretch of trail that includes a few bridges and a rather large retaining wall. The trail tops out on a rock outcropping with a nice view of Lone Pine Lake.

Above Lone Pine Lake

From here to the campsite it’s pretty easy walking; a nearly straight line for about two thirds of a mile. The campsite itself is a few yards north of the trail, up another thirty or forty feet. It looks like a number of rather large dead trees have recently toppled, their thin disks of soil and roots standing upright. The large trees were dead, but in toppling they took with them some young, live trees. These were still green, so they haven’t been down for very long. I’m sure that if anybody was in the campsite when the trees came down it was quite thrilling.

Upper East Inlet campsite

After we set up camp we headed to Lake Verna. On last month’s trip, I carried two full bottles of water. This time I carried both bottles but only one was full. I figured we’d never be far from a water source so I didn’t need to carry the extra weight, but at camp I’d probably want to have more than one bottle of water, given I’d use something like half a bottle to cook my meal. After I filled my bottle, we sat there and watched the world go by for a little while.

Lake Verna, early evening

Back in camp Gordon surprised me by pulling a couple cans of beer out of his pack: Left Hand Brewing Traveling Light Kolsch. Much the way that I find a peach always seems to taste best when on the shores of an alpine lake, I was quite satisfied with this tasty little Kolsch, even though it was warm.

By sunset the clouds had cleared and by the time I turned in, the first stars in the night sky were shining brightly above us. Had I tried to stay up long enough, I might have seen a little sliver of the Milky Way as the moon wouldn’t rise for a few hours yet. I was happy that the 60% chance of rain hadn’t materialized, other than a few sprinkles when we sat at Lake Verna. With no clouds overhead at sunset, I was confident we wouldn’t get rain (or snow!) overnight.

 

CECA CSP

Saturday, August 18

I didn’t enter today’s event but went out anyway just to hang out. We wanted a big turnout from Lotus Colorado and I’d have to say we did it. By my count we had nine cars entered, but I’ll admit that I’m not certain every Lotus there was brought by a club member. Still, I’m not sure we’ve had that many Lotus at a track day other than for LOG at PPIR.

It started to rain just before the lunch break, and by noon it was coming down quite hard. As I was improperly dressed for the weather – shorts and t-shirt and no rain gear – I figured it was a good time to make my escape. I hope the squall was short-lived and the folks who stayed managed to get additional track time.

I had a good time visiting with everybody and taking pictures. Somehow I talked Junmo into showing up with his drone. I hope he found the morning worth his time. I shot quite a few pictures, thinking I got at least one of each Lotus in attendance. I managed to miss getting one of Gordon, though. Don’t know how that happened. Sorry, Gordon.

Gorge Lakes – Day 3

Sunday, August 5

Rain started again at about a quarter to six. We had breakfast in the rain, taking shelter under the trees. The sky was a uniform gray, giving no indication that the rain would break any time soon. We had a short discussion as to how long we were willing to wait before packing up in the rain. We came to no conclusion but fortunately before long the rain stopped and the sun poked through the clouds. We were packed up by shortly after eight.

The route back to the trailhead was up the high ridge. We’d turn north at Love Lake, climb up to the unnamed lake above it (‘Lake Amore’ in the Foster guide) and refill our water. From there, circle to the west then south to head up the ridge. Somewhere between 12,400’ and 12,600’ we’d gain the Mt. Ida trail and be home free.

When we got to where I said we should find Lake Amore we instead found just a puddle of water. The guys were confident that their filtration systems would handle this, so we filled up as this would be our last opportunity. I still had nearly a liter of good lake water but filled my other bottle anyway. In the end this was unnecessary and proved to be dead weight as I drank none of it. But better to carry water you don’t need than need water you didn’t carry.

Love Lake (near) and Arrowhead Lake

I suspect we were on a rise slightly above and south of Lake Amore as my phone told me we were about forty feet higher than the map indicated for the lake. But I didn’t waste the steps to verify my suspicion. Once we filled up, Brad asked me if there was any reason we couldn’t just climb straight up the steep slope above us to gain the top of the ridge. It looked to be about two hundred fifty feet and quite steep. I’d have rather gone my route: longer but not so steep. I was outvoted, so up we went.

Yours truly, atop the ridge

We took our time working up the ridge and back to the trail. At altitude none of us was moving very swiftly and we took a number of short breaks. The wind was blowing fairly stiffly and the clouds to the west were building up threateningly. At one of our pauses, James asked “Did you hear that?” I didn’t hear anything until there was a break in the wind. It wasn’t the bugling of elk, but the yipping of coyotes. Not the howl I used to hear regularly during the night when I lived in Estes, but a definite yipping. I don’t think I’ve ever heard coyotes except at night.

View to the northwest. We crossed this valley (toward the right of the picture) Friday.

When we got to the trail we could see a rain squall to the south. Tim said he thought we’d miss it. We may have missed that one, but almost immediately after his remark we found ourselves getting rained on again. Back on the trail, and heading mostly downhill, our progress was a bit faster. Which was good, because we soon saw the flash of lightning. We had about three miles to cover before we gained treeline. For a short while, we got hailed on. The wind was stiff and blew the hail nearly horizontally.

The rain ended before we got back to treeline and we made it back to the car by 1:00pm without getting hit by lightning. On the drive back over Trail Ridge Road we stopped at the Rock Cut to review our trip. The general consensus (joking, I think) was that it was good we couldn’t see anything on Friday morning: “We’re going where?”

In the picture below, taken from Trail Ridge Road a bit west of the Rock Cut, we could see most of the terrain we crossed. The Mount Ida trail is on the other side of the ridge that climbs from right to left ending in about the center of the shot. We went off trail starting to the right of the snow field moving east (right to left) a bit below treeline. Gorge Lakes lie in the left third of the shot, under the pointy peak (Mount Julian).

View from Trail Ridge Road.

Conclusion

From the maps, it looked to me like I could reach all those lakes given enough time. I could have started my assault on the lakes an hour or more earlier than I did. And the weather worked against me. But it’s the terrain that stopped me, not bad weather or a lack of time. I just don’t have the skills or temperament to reach all these lakes. I certainly can’t get them on a day hike, and there are enough other remote places in the park that I’d like to visit that I’m unlikely to do another backpacking trip here.

I was quite happy with the borrowed backpack. It is borrowed no more: Paul has kindly given it to me. Thanks, Paul.

On the clothing front, I’ll have to look at getting some rain pants. I’m pretty sure my boots would have kept my feet dry had I not had water running down my legs. For around camp, I had my sweat pants and hoodie. I was comfortable with these, and used the hoodie as a pillow, but they’re on the bulky side and space in the pack is at a premium. So I’ll start investigating on that front. And I learned that I need to have enough socks.

I was pretty happy with my food selection, with the exception of the jerky bars. They left an odd aftertaste and the texture wasn’t at all like jerky. They were not what I was expecting. Next time I’ll go with your basic jerky.

All in all I enjoyed the trip. I won’t lie: I am disappointed that I only managed to get to one of the four lakes I was after, and that one only marginally. And the weather was, shall we say, less than ideal. I was tempted several times to say that I was cold, wet, and miserable. But I don’t think I’ve ever spent time in the park that I felt truly miserable. It’s an incredible place, and I’m happy to be there to experience it in all its variety.

Gorge Lakes – Day 2

Saturday, August 4

We broke camp by 8:15 and headed east around the buttress of the ridge in search of our next campsite. We needed to be a mile away from last night’s location, and I wanted to be as close as possible to where we’d be spending most of the day. We also needed to be in reasonable proximity to a water source.

When I got up this morning, I had the choice of wearing yesterday’s wet socks or the one pair of dry socks I carried. As my boots were still thoroughly wet, I went with the wet socks. I figured if I used the dry ones, they’d be wet pretty quickly and then all my socks would be wet. I wanted to keep a pair dry for the night. It made for cold feet for the start of the day but once we got going it wasn’t so bad.

In our passage through the forest we came upon the occasional bone. Yesterday I found a scapula, deer or elk I’m not sure which. Today we saw two more. I’m not sure why I see so many scapulae. I see more of them than anything else, with vertebrae next most common. I rarely see skulls. But we found an elk skull today.

Elk skull.

We bushwhacked more or less due east and came upon a small unnamed lake that lies at 11,000’. We needed to go a bit farther. The map shows a sort of plateau between 11,000’ and 11,200’ about two tenths of a mile ENE of Love Lake. I’m not sure that this area is within our zone, but I figured it was close, and it met all the other requirements of a legal campsite. We dropped our packs here and Brad and I went off in search of Love Lake.

Our navigation was spot-on and we arrived there after about fifteen minutes hiking. It sure was easier without our packs, but we should have at least carried a filter and a couple of empty bottles. So, other than the simple fact that we verified where we were, it was a wasted trip.

We headed back to our packs and selected our campsite on this plateau. I think it was a better spot than last night. The vegetation wasn’t as thick and we had some nice rocks to sit on. A couple of the rocks were in sunshine and would be handy for putting our wet items on in an attempt to dry them.

Once we set up camp, we decided on our day’s action plan. The guys all wanted to fish. The park’s website said there were fish in Rock Lake and the outlet from Arrowhead. I wanted to bag the four lakes I missed last time. So we went as a group up to Love Lake and from there down to the outlet of Arrowhead. I left them there and headed across the large rock outcroppings along the eastern side of Arrowhead toward Doughnut Lake.

Tim takes in the view

From the map, it looked like I could go from Doughnut up a gully to the southwest, over a ridge and then descend to Inkwell. From there, I should be able to follow the inlet stream up to Azure Lake. If things were still going well and I had enough time, I could follow that inlet stream to Highest Lake. From the slope above the northern end of Arrowhead, very little of this was visible. The terrain looked rugged, but passable.

So off I went to Doughnut. The ridge I traversed had a couple of large gullies leading up to saddles and so had three distinct summits. I made it to the first saddle easily enough. And from there to the second. The saddle between the second and third summits is shown on the map with two contour lines, or on the order of sixty to eighty feet. What I was faced with was a thirty foot cliff. I worked around the east side, but it’s quite steep here, too, essentially a fifty or sixty foot cliff. I was stymied.

I took a few pictures but never made it to the shore of the lake. I’m going to add it to my list, though. I’m saying I made it there, or close enough. I went west through the saddle looking for a way to get to the top of the next little summit, but no dice. So I found a place to sit down, eat my lunch, and run the GoPro for a while for a time lapse video.

Doughnut Lake

When we were up at Love Lake, we heard voices but didn’t see anybody. Now, down below me at the far southern end of Arrowhead I saw the other hikers. At first I only saw two, but there were four. They made their way to the base of a nice waterfall – the stream that flowed from Inkwell. It looked like they had found quite a nice place and they were there the whole time I was sitting there. They were a noisy bunch. They were about three hundred yards away and a hundred fifty feet below me. Once I thought perhaps they had spotted me and were yelling at me. I waved my arms but couldn’t see them responding.

I ran the camera for about thirty five minutes and watched the clouds roll by. I had a nice view of Trail Ridge in the distance. Had it been calm, I probably would have been able to hear the louder motorcycles and trucks. But it was quite windy. I tried to keep an eye out for incoming weather, but the high ridge to my west obscured my view. Before long, dark threatening clouds came over the gorge. I packed up the camera and started heading back to camp.

When I got to the top of the gully I took to get to the first saddle it started to rain. I popped into a small grove of trees just as it began to hail. I pondered how long I was willing to wait there. This squall could be over in a few minutes, or it could rain for hours. When the hail stopped the rain increased. Visibility across the lake was noticeably reduced. I waited a bit longer and the hail returned. After hail abated the second time, I set out again.

Arrowhead Lake panorama, above the eastern shore

Much of the way back to Love Lake was across open rock. The rock has quite a bit of lichen on it, and when that stuff is wet it can be quite slippery. I more or less was able to retrace my steps but did end up going through a nasty bit of krummholz that I didn’t encounter on the way up. Going through that, I got my pants soaked, which led to my damp socks getting pretty wet again.

Forest Canyon rain squall. Rock Lake visible 700′ below.

I made it back to the outlet of Arrowhead, crossed the stream without incident, and climbed the talus slope up to Love Lake. I went pretty slow, taking great care on the slippery rocks. Up on the shore of Love Lake I let my guard down and nearly slipped on rocks there.

On our way out for the day, we refilled water bottles at Love Lake. Everybody took what water they needed for the afternoon and we left some full bottles and our filter gear there. When I got there, everything was gone, so the guys had already returned to camp. If they quit fishing when the rain started, they had about an hours head start on me.

By the time I returned to camp, the rain had stopped and shortly thereafter the sun was shining brightly. I took the opportunity to take off my boots and socks and lay them out on a rock. Sadly, the sunshine didn’t last long and nothing quite got dry.

The guys told me they didn’t venture far from Arrowhead’s outlet. The park’s website said fish could be caught there, and down below in Rock Lake. The terrain is pretty rugged at there the outlet, and Rock Lake is something like 700’ below. They didn’t catch anything, but all had hits on their lines.

The evening was uneventful. The rain didn’t return before we turned in. Even so, it was an early night with everybody retiring before dark. I slept about as well as the night before; one excursion before midnight and otherwise sleeping in fits and spurts. It rained for about an hour starting at three. No dreams tonight, at least that I recall.

Gorge Lakes – Day 1

Friday, August 3

When we made the reservations back on the first of March we had no way of knowing what the weather would be like five months hence. We were reasonably expecting warm, sunny days with a chance of afternoon thunder showers. That’s not at all how it turned out.

Tim picked me up a few minutes after eight and we met Brad and James in Estes Park. They left their car at the visitors center. Parking there for the two nights was free, but they did have to fill out some paperwork. We were soon on our way up Trail Ridge Road. My plan was that we’d stop at the Rock Cut and get a good view of our destination and the interesting bits of our routes in and out. Instead, we drove into the clouds at about Many Parks Curve and visibility was on the order of a couple hundred yards.

We got to the Milner Pass parking lot shortly after eleven and were on the trail by 11:15. We’d been getting rained on since Lyons, lightly at first, but by now it was moderately heavy with no sign of letting up. We had the trail to ourselves, as nobody else was willing to venture more than a few hundred yards from their cars at Poudre Lake.

Just before we hit treeline, we decided to look for a place to eat a snack. We found a copse of trees not far from the trail that provided scant shelter from the rain. We shed our packs but didn’t have anyplace to sit, so it was a bit of a miserable picnic.

My original plan was to take the same route in and out – along the top of the ridge immediately west of Gorge Lakes. Although we hadn’t seen any lightning or heard any thunder, I didn’t really want to put us above treeline for an extended time. From treeline to the summit of Mt. Ida, it’s three and a half miles. We wouldn’t be reaching the summit, but would come within a quarter or half mile of it. Along the top of the ridge and back to the forest is another two miles or so. Also, one of the main appeals of this route is the view of the gorge. Today we had no view at all.

The alternative I decided on was to take the next ridge to the west. This is where I left the trail the first time I hiked here. At that time, I thought I was on the ridge overlooking the gorge but was mistaken. This ridge is lower and shorter. At the end of the ridge we could work our way down to about 11,000’, cross open, unforested ground, and hopefully be high enough to avoid the worst of the marshy areas.

It turned out to be a pretty good choice. The hiking was easy with good footing everywhere except one place where we had to skirt a rather large snowfield. By this time of year it wasn’t so much snow as ice. We’d have preferred to contour across it and not lose the elevation but even with microspikes I think it would have been sketchy. The ground we descended was loose and without much vegetation and was not ideal, but we made it down without incident.

To this point, even in the continuing rain, my feet were still dry. But now that we were off the tundra we were crossing open meadows. We made a point to avoid the greener areas, feeling that these would be pretty marshy (which was correct), but we still crossed quite a bit of ground with taller grass or ground cover that reached our knees. I didn’t have rainproof pants. (None of us did.) Walking through this vegetation, my pants got soaked and the water wicked down my legs and into my boots. Before long my feet were thoroughly wet.

There were a couple of notable observations in this section of our hike. As we were now below the clouds the view of the valley below us had opened up. About a half a kilometer away we spied a small herd of elk making their way along the Big Thompson. To my surprise, we heard one or two of them bugling. I’m certainly no expert, but I didn’t expect to hear bugling for another few weeks. That was the good observation. On the bad side, we came across a bit of litter. I picked up a disposable water bottle. It collapsed small enough to not be a burden. But the tent poles and stakes we found were a different matter. None of us wanted to carry them out. We made some noise about collecting them if we found them on our way out, but I wasn’t expecting to return this way. So we were bad citizens and left them where we found them.

We worked our way into the forest to about where I thought our camping zone began. I wanted to be as far south and as high as possible in this zone. I neglected to bring a map showing the zone, but wasn’t too concerned. The only map I had available was at a very high scale and didn’t show terrain, so I don’t think it would have been much help.

In any event, we found a spot that fit the rules for zone camping. By this time the rain had stopped. I was hoping to go a little farther, but there was no certainty we’d find as good a place or that the rain wouldn’t return. Also, we had to move our camp at least a mile between nights and going any farther toward our goal might make that problematic. So we made camp. It was about 2:30.

Our campsite had no large rocks to use as seating, and while one large downed tree made a good platform for preparing our dinners, none were suitable to sit on. So other than a quick recce of our nearby water supply we spent our time standing around. This standing around came to an end at about 6:30 when the rain returned and drove us into our tents.

When we first scouted our water supply, a small stream a hundred yards to our east, I managed to slip and fall. It was more embarrassing than painful. Nobody saw me fall, and no harm was done. It wasn’t until after I got home that I noticed I’d bruised my right forearm.

I was in my one man tent while the others all had two man tents. This allowed them to keep all their gear inside. On my tent, there’s a gap between the tent and the fly, which the manufacturers call an “atrium”. It’s not very big, but it did allow me to keep my boots and backpack both outside the tent and out of the rain. Probably not ideal, but it worked.

I don’t know what time I finally drifted off to sleep, but it was much earlier than usual. It might have been nice to have a book or the iPad, but I was unwilling to pay the price in weight or volume for either. I slept fitfully, waking up at irregular intervals. I only had to make one excursion before daylight and managed to sleep until six, which was much better than I anticipated.

The other guys said they slept, but never got to REM sleep. I dreamt, though: odd, disjointed dreams. The only bit I recall was one where a Frenchman was living in the house behind us. He had an old tractor which he used to plow his back yard. In the process, he knocked down a portion of our shared fence. He chattered what I presume to be an apology but I can’t be sure as I don’t speak French. (So, was it French in my dream, or just nonsense?) In the end he kissed me on one cheek, then the other, then square on the mouth.

Gorge Lakes – Preparation

Gorge Lakes are the lakes visible directly across Forest Canyon from the Rock Cut parking lot on Trail Ridge Road. There are five named lakes there, or maybe seven, depending on which ones you care to include. This high gorge is surrounded by Mount Ida, Chief Cheley Peak, Mount Julian, and Terra Tomah Mountain. It is both some of the most visible and most remote terrain in the park. Visible, because millions of people have seen it from Trial Ridge Road. Remote because there are no trails there.

Background

When I was on a business trip to San Francisco back in January I had a beer with Tim. As I tend to go on a bit about my passions, I naturally brought up the subject of hiking. I told him that I wanted to do a two night backpacking trip with the object of bagging the four Gorge Lakes that I didn’t get on my day hike there back in 2013. He thought it sounded like a great idea, as long as it involved fishing. I don’t fish, but if he wanted to go with me, there wasn’t any reason he couldn’t bring his fishing gear.

By the time March first rolled around and we could apply for back country camping permits, it had grown into a four man expedition including his brother-in-law Brad and nephew James. I went up to the back country office and picked up a zone camping permit for the group and it was on. They all wanted to fish, I wanted to visit Doughnut Lake, Inkwell Lake, Azure Lake, and Highest Lake. We’d hike in on Friday, each do our things on Saturday, and hike out Sunday.

Preparation

I would call myself a seasoned hiker but a novice backpacker. This is only my second backpacking trip. I’m using a borrowed pack. I have an old sleeping bag that’s heavy compared to modern ones and I have no idea what sort of temperatures it’s rated for. I have a reasonably light one man tent, a bear vault for my food, and a stove I bought a couple of years ago. Of course, I somehow managed to buy the wrong size fuel canister and it doesn’t fit inside the vessel for the stove, so there’s some wasted space there. And I don’t really know what I need to bring as far as food and clothing go. Experience is the best teacher, so I’ll just have to make a few mistakes before I figure it all out.

One thing I did figure out last year was that I needed to bring my day pack with me. When I visited Lost Lake it quickly became obvious that I couldn’t venture far from camp, as I had no way to carry water, my lunch, and a rain jacket. My lumbar pack isn’t terribly heavy, but it is on the bulky side.

I know the lightweight fanatics recommend against taking fresh fruit, but on the trail my preferred breakfast is an apple and a protein bar. And I always enjoy a peach or plum at lunch time. This week the plums looked good, so plums it is. I made up my own trail mix because I’m a picky eater and don’t care much for nuts (peanuts aren’t nuts). This is peanuts, sesame sticks, raisins, dried cranberries, dried pineapple cubes, and a few peanut butter filled pretzels for good measure. I saw these jerky bars at Sprouts and thought I’d give them a try. Not pictured is the ham sandwich for Friday’s lunch. Also included is sunscreen, toothpaste, medicine, toilet paper, a couple paper towels, and an extra ziplock bag. Notably absent is mosquito repellent. This turned out to be a non-factor, as all the other guys had plenty to share.

All of that went in the bear vault. The rest of the gear is pictured below: sleeping bag, tent, sleeping pad, clothes, head lamp, emergency kit, rain jacket, Steri-Pen, lumbar pack, stove and fuel, and two water bottles. I normally carry only one, but I was a bit worried about the ready availability of water. Fully packed, with bottles full of water, the backpack weighed in at 35 lbs.

Not long ago I found a nice website for maps. Historically, I’ve been using screen shots of USGS 7½ minute series maps that I downloaded in PDF format. Now I use caltopo.com, where I can select any area I want and have it generate a nice PDF. The first obvious advantage is that I don’t have to worry about pasting something together from two different maps. Secondly, they include scales in both miles and kilometers. Rather than print one map covering the whole area I made three. Zooming out to the full area would result in a map with 200 foot contour lines rather than 40 foot. I felt this was just too rough to be useful.

HPR in the Dark

Thursday, June 26

I did a Thursday evening session last year. We got sprinkled on but it never got wet, and I had to end early due to my battery coming dislodged. So I’ve been looking forward to another Thursday evening session for about a year. I figured I’d be able to stay long enough for it to get dark, but was sort of hoping we’d have a thunderstorm roll through so I could see what it’s like in the wet.

It didn’t rain until the drive home, but more about that later.

I finally met Martha, who was the high bidder at a fund raiser several months ago for a ride in the car. We’d been trading messages for quite a while. At one point, she was going to give her ride to Lucia. As it turns out they both were there. Martha rode for only a few laps so I gave Lucia a few laps too. They both seemed to enjoy it.

The first session after they left, I noticed that RaceChrono was showing me a message: “Connecting to ODB…” It never could connect, so the first several sessions are without OBD data. That’s disappointing. I’d been bragging how well everything was working, and was looking forward to using the speed data from the ODB rather than the phone, which should be more accurate. I eventually got it working after unplugging the dongle then plugging it back in (that didn’t work), turning the phone off and back on (that didn’t work), then removing the ODB device from RaceChrono and adding it back in.

I ended up running six sessions. Four of those totaled only sixteen laps though, so that works out to be more like two sessions. The other two sessions were ten and eleven laps, so it comes out to about four full sessions. But I only got OBD data for the last two, which were four laps each. That should have been a single session, but when I got out on track I noticed I was low on gas. It hadn’t gotten fully dark yet, and I wanted to keep going, so I pumped a couple gallons of rocket fuel (98 octane unleaded racing gas) into the tank and went back out.

I really had a good time. There weren’t many cars running so we didn’t bother with the usual fast and slow groups. I ran about as many laps as I would during a CECA event for a bit over half the cost. I had a couple of nice laps in there as well. I ran two laps in the 2:12’s, which is as fast as I’ve ever done on the Direzza tires. My quickest ever is in the 2:09’s running on the stock Yoko’s. At the time, by best on the Direzzas was in the 2:14’s. I picked up a gently used set of A7’s and I can’t help but wonder how much faster those tires are. I would expect them to be quicker than the Yoko’s, so until I find out I’m operating under the delusion a 2:07 may be attainable. That must be delusional thinking, right?

I will admit here that I went four wheels off the track twice. First, I was on a flyer and through the first three turns was improving on my fastest lap of the evening. Then I caught up to Chad at the end of the highway straight. I figured I’d be past him before the braking zone but misjudged it a bit. He broke later than I anticipated. So I found myself braking too late and well inside my usual line. I had no hope of making it so I straight-lined it.

The second time was my very last lap. I had just done my best lap of the day. That lap was in near dark and every minute was getting darker. I could easily run pretty decent laps in the dark, but it’s more of a challenge to push it. I pushed it into turn three and badly missed the apex. That was confirmation that I wouldn’t be improving my time, and gave me a bit of insight into what the endurance racers face. They have better lights, but still, it’s a challenge.

The drive home was the most exciting part of the evening. It was only sprinkling on the drive from the track to Byers, but lightning was strobing the clouds clear across the horizon. It started raining when I got to the gas station, but it wasn’t terribly heavy yet. A few miles up I-70 it really started coming down. I had a hard time with visibility and had to slow to about 55. Then it stopped raining and a the road was dry in the right lane.

A few minutes later, the rain came down in Biblical proportions. I wasn’t having any problems with hydroplaning but I was really having a hard time seeing the lane markings. I had both windows cracked but the windshield started fogging up badly. Trying to get the windshield de-fogged I opened both windows a bit farther. Pretty much everything got soaked. I slowed down to about 20. A bunch of cars and trucks had pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. I considered it, but was afraid I wouldn’t get fully off the road and would get rear-ended. So I kept crawling along. Thankfully, a flatbed semi passed me and I had an easier time following him. I managed to get the defroster going and cleared a bit of windshield. It continued like this for quite a while. Luckily, there was no hail.

So here’s the best lap of the evening. I ran the new GoPro’s battery down on the previous session. I have a spare for the old camera (which usually gets mounted on the back, for rear view and sound). With just the one camera, the sound isn’t as good. And I didn’t aim it very well so I have too much cockpit for my taste. Finally, being that it’s an automatic exposure, it comes out lighter than it really was and introduces all that noise.

Chaos Canyon

Sunday, July 15

Lake Haiyaha sits at the entrance to Chaos Canyon. The canyon stretches roughly a mile and a half above the lake, ending at a couple of glaciers hanging below the saddle between Hallett Peak and Otis Peak. I’ve been to the lake many times but have never ventured very far up the canyon. The lake sits in a boulder field and this setting is emblematic of the terrain in the entire canyon. The few times I’ve attempted to get anywhere in the canyon ended with a nice view of the lake, but only a few hundred yards up.

On a recent hike with Ed he talked about visiting the small unnamed pond about two-thirds of the way up the canyon. He has named it “Quaint Pond” because there aren’t any bodies of water in the park having names starting with the letter Q and because he finds the pond… quaint.

I wonder about why some features in the park get named while others don’t. Quaint Pond may technically be better called Chaos Tarn but in any event it is officially unnamed. It isn’t because of its size: in the next canyon to the north, above Emerald Lake, there’s a similarly sized pond called Pool of Jade. An even smaller one in the canyon to the south, above The Loch, is called Embryo Lake. Ed suggests that many remain unnamed so people will be less inclined to visit them.

I knew from experience that I wouldn’t be able to make it to Chaos Tarn on my own, so I asked Ed if he’d take me up there. He promptly assented. We first planned on going Saturday but due to other obligations Ed wanted to switch to Sunday. I’d picked Saturday because it had a more favorable weather forecast, but the threat of rain and cooler temperatures on Sunday didn’t particularly bother me. In any event, if I wanted Ed to take me up there, Sunday was it.

We agreed I’d meet him at his place no later than six. I had a couple minor problems doing this. First, I got a few blocks from the house before realizing I forgot my phone. Then I ran into an unexpected construction detour in Boulder. So I kept Ed waiting for a few minutes. He wanted to make sure we got a parking spot at Bear Lake. We arrived by his target time of seven and found plenty of open parking spaces.

As expected, it was fairly cool. Also as expected, the skies were overcast with some of the clouds looking a bit threatening. We had a brief chat with one of the park volunteers who told us the forecast called for a band of rain starting maybe around one. That would clear but be followed by a heavier round. We were not deterred.

I didn’t check the times when we left Bear Lake and arrived at Haiyaha, but we made pretty good time. We took the shortcut from Bear to Nymph, avoiding some traffic. We were early enough that there were very few hikers between Dream and Haiyaha.

White columbine

The hike really begins here at Haiyaha. We stuck to the south side of the canyon, the north slope of the long eastern ridge of Otis Peak. Where there is soil there’s a sort of trail. Actually, there is a choice of trails. That’s because from here all the way up to the tarn we’re mostly rock hopping. It’s about a mile from the lake to the tarn and perhaps a couple hundred yards of that isn’t on the rocks. And this stuff isn’t the usual talus where you can easily step from one rock to the next. In many cases the rocks are quite large, and there are significant holes below you.

At four or five places we came across large snow fields. It didn’t occur to me to bring the microspikes, but they’d have been handy. Crossing the snow rather than the rocks would make things easier, but the edges of the snow weren’t so much snow as solid ice. It was quite treacherous around the edges. When we did cross the snow, we pretty much stuck to the edges as a slip and fall would end in a negative outcome.

Ed has been up this way a number of times. Although the destination is well-known (“We want to go just to the right of that snow field there“), there’s still quite a challenge with route finding. Along the way he’d point out sub-optimal routes: “Went up that gully once, it’s not a good way to go!”

By the time we caught sight of the pond, the clouds had closed in and obscured the peaks around us. Mist hung off the south flank of Hallett, and the divide – half a mile to the west and a thousand feet above – was totally obscured. Before we found a place to sit it had begun to rain. I was skeptical that I’d get any interesting footage for the time lapse video, but I set up the camera anyway.

Chaos Tarn -or- “Quaint Pond”

We didn’t dilly-dally. We tucked into our lunches and before long were ready to begin our trek out of the canyon. We were there only about twenty minutes. One of our concerns now was the rain making the rocks slippery. Bare rock wasn’t too bad, but when wet the lichen can make rock hopping treacherous. Lucky for us, the lichen isn’t as abundant at 11,000′ as it is at 9.000′.

The clouds followed us down the canyon. Occasionally we’d see brighter spots scooting down the opposite wall giving a bit of variety to the gray. About when we got back to Haiyaha, the ceiling had dropped below us: we were in fog. At one of the overlooks where we’d typically have a nice view of Long’s, we couldn’t see more than a hundred yards. But there it more or less stopped. When we descended toward Dream Lake, we emerged from the clouds.

Fog near Haiyaha

It had more or less stopped raining before we got back to Haiyaha, and from then on out to the parking lot we had only occasional sprinkles. It would be easy to complain about getting rained on, but, frankly, the weather was an interesting variation. In spite of the rain, there’s no denying it was still a beautiful day in the park.

Long’s Peak-less overlook

I include the time lapse in spite of its brevity, and the occasional raindrop on the lens. And an insect makes an appearance; the camera moved slightly, but I don’t think I can blame the bug! Although it wasn’t so obvious in real time, you can clearly see the ceiling coming down.

We stopped in Estes for a refreshing beer. By the time we left the brewery it was raining in earnest. Although the bit of rain we had didn’t bother me too much, I was happy that we missed the heavier rain that followed us all the way back to Lyons and home.

Road America Blitz – North Woods Shelby Club

Thursday, July 5 – Evening

I arrived at Road America at about 5:00pm and checked in. My packet included a schedule, my driver’s wristband, a ticket for the dinner Friday night. I’d forgotten which group I signed up for; the label on the packet indicated I’m in Group 2. I asked about tent camping and was directed to a window at the other end of the building. There I paid my $50 flat rate (good for the entire weekend). I was to set up anywhere in the paddock where there’s grass.

I picked a spot at the bottom of the hill in the North Paddock and unpacked. I probably should have looked around first; there are some spots that get afternoon shade that might have been better. But by then I’d unloaded the car and met all my neighbors. None of them was camping, so I had the area to myself. I met Jeff, Jeff, Jeff, Dan, Dan, Otto, and Tracy. My little one-man tent was a source of amusement. One of the Jeff’s said he felt bad that his tires had a bigger tent than I did. I joked that it was the biggest tent I could fit in the Lotus.

My next task was to get my tech inspection. About all they did was verify that I had brake lights. They gave a cursory glance at the motor, presumably to spot any obvious leaks. They also checked my helmet, attaching a sticker good for NWSC events through 2026. On the car I got a tech sticker on the left side of the windshield and group sticker for top center of windshield. Mine is “F2”, which translates to Friday Group 2. Other examples I saw were “F2S2” (Friday and Saturday, Group 2) and “Z3” (all weekend, Group 3)

The folks around me, the 3 Jeffs, 2 Dans, and so on, were a nice friendly crowd. We had a 3 series BMW and an M3, a fairly new Boss 302 Mustang, a 1968 Cougar (with an engine so clean you could eat off it), and a late 80’s Thunderbird (that began life as a turbo 4 but is now a V8). Not far away was the only other Lotus entered in the event: a white Exige. Like everybody else in the area, he dropped the car off and went elsewhere for the evening. I didn’t meet Mark until the next day.

I headed to Plymouth for dinner and found a place called Antoinette’s Casual Dining. Sign said Please Wait to Be Seated. I waited quite a while. I made eye contact with every server in the place but was thoroughly ignored. After they took care of some takeout meals and customers paying they finally offered to seat me. Not a great start to the meal, but the service got better. I had a nice bowl of Wisconsin Cheesey Bacon soup and the cranberry chicken salad. The soup came with a warm soft pretzel, which was good for dipping in the thick soup.

By the time I got back to the track the sun was nearly set and my campsite was in shade. I sat in my camp chair and fired up the computer to make notes of the two days drive. In preparation, I sprayed on some mosquito repellent. The computer took more than its usual time to boot up and by the time it was running I was getting buzzed by quite a few mosquitoes. I applied another coat of repellent. This had no effect, and neither did the third coat. So I retreated to the tent. Only one or two of the monsters got in with me so I didn’t get eaten up too badly.

Friday, July 6

With the early bedtime, I was awake by 3:30. I tried to go back to sleep but gave up by 4:30. Got dressed, had some breakfast, then started to wander the paddock. Not much was happening at that early hour. I had a nice chat with a fellow who was running his Factory Five Cobra replica with his son. I talked to them because I the car next to their trailer up on jack stands had Utah plates. These guys weren’t the owners but had loaned their stands out. The problem with the car was that a caliper bolt was missing. I don’t know if they ever got the car on the track while I was there. I’m not sure how that defect was caught in tech; they certainly didn’t look that closely at my car.

Farther up the paddock I saw a truck with Montana plates. The owner saw me and immediately said “No way!” I had a momentary thought that I’d met him on my Pacific northwest trip. I was wrong, but I wasn’t terribly wrong. I quickly realized we were both wearing Oregon Raceway Park t-shirts. ORP is his “local” track. Local being the closest one, at only five hundred miles away. He was running a Panoz Esperante.

I seemed to have driven my car the farthest to attend, but there were quite a few folks who trailered their cars from farther. The guys with the Factory Five Cobra had friends from both coasts who met here: one from California, the other from Massachusetts. I have already mentioned the Montana and Utah plates; I also saw Georgia. But most were Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa.

As to the cars, I was told there were 178 entrants for Friday. There were the usual proliferation of Mustangs, Corvettes, Porsches, and BMWs. Myself and the aforementioned Exige were the Lotus contingent. There were a handful of Cobra replicas, a couple of 2005 Ford GTs, a GT-40 replica, a Superlite, two old Fiat X1/9’s, a very fast Pantera, a few Focus RS’s, only one or to Miatas, and at least one modern Mini. There must have been a Subaru, but I don’t specifically recall one. Certainly fewer Miatas and Subarus than I usually see. In any event, the focus was on horsepower.

The drivers meeting was at 8:00 at the winners circle area. For the most part, it was the usual drivers meeting: these are the flags, grid up here, exit the track there. Two things were a bit unusual in my experience. First, the organizers asked if anybody was running with airbags in their car. A number of us raised our hands. I’ve never been asked that before. “Some of our rumble strips are extreme. If you hit the wrong one, your airbags will deploy!” My general habit is to avoid the curbs. Having put the Chump Car on the rumble strip in T5 a few years ago I have an idea how harsh they are. The other unusual item was that some of the cars would be doing their point-bys using turn signals. Some of the cars have fixed windows and one gentleman would be driving with hand controls.

One other topic of discussion with my neighbors was fuel. Everybody said I wouldn’t be doing more than two sessions without needing a refill. I told them I can generally run four sessions on a tank. Nobody laughed at me, but in retrospect I’m surprised they didn’t. Fuel consumption here is very high. So I asked where the nearest gas stations were. The track has regular pump fuel on site, but it’s about eight bucks a gallon. So when the time came, I headed to Elkhart Lake to refill.

I don’t recall how I decided I should be in group 2 way back in March when I registered. My general desire is to be in an intermediate group that has point-by passing. But NWSC organizes groups here at RA by lap times, not by experience. Group 1 is fastest and 4 is slowest. So I find myself in the second fastest group in not quite the lowest horsepower car in the event.

When the first session started, I got gridded up near the end of the line. The first lap was under yellow, with no passing. For the rest of the session, I lived in my mirrors. The organizers set up cones to show the passing zones. One cone at the start, two cones at the end. You can’t pass before the first cone and you have to be done by the two cones. At most of the tracks I visit there are only two or three passing zones. For this event, almost everything that wasn’t a turn was a passing zone. Technically, that’s not even true as Road America has some numbered turns that would qualify as straights anywhere else. We had eight passing zones: between 1 and 3, 3 and 5, 5 and 6, 6 and 7, 7 and 8, 10 and 11, 11 and 12, and 12 and 13. I think I pointed people by in six of those places. I was clearly in the wrong group.

After the session I tracked down the organizers and told them I wanted to switch groups. “I’m in Group 2. I ran a 2:55. I want to switch to Group 3.” “We’ll put you in Group 4. 2:55 is a Group 4 time.” After a little back and forth, I made my case for Group 3. They booted up their computer, updated their records, and verified that nobody else in Group 3 was running number 23. Then we peeled the F2 sticker off my windshield and replaced it with an F3.

My next session was much happier than the first. Instead of pointing car after car by me I had my best session of the day, as far as traffic goes. After the out lap, I had four consecutive laps without any traffic. Well, the third lap I did pass a car but he waved me by between T3 and T5 after I lifted off the throttle for only a split second. Only one lap of the session was slower than my fastest lap of the first session, and in that lap I passed three cars and was passed by one.

Between sessions I went over to where Mark parked his Exige. He and his friends rented a carport so they’d have some shade. This is at the corner of the North Paddock, near the exit of T14 where the cars start the steep climb up to the start/finish line. He and I were chatting as I was attempting to get some action shots of the cars. While we were talking, one of the cars caught fire as it started up the hill. I wasn’t quick enough with the camera and missed the shot. But the car was in flames the entire width of the car, dropping oil and trailing a big cloud of white smoke. She missed the entrance to the pits and so left the oil slick on driver’s right all the way up the front straight. The driver was okay, but it took another twenty minutes to clean up the oil. This ended Group 2’s session after one lap.

My third session was a bit frustrating. I quickly got behind a Mustang that was stuck behind a replica Cobra. Neither one seemed to be watching their mirrors. The Mustang had a large rectangular green sticker on the back bumper, which I think is how NWSC indicates a novice driver. When other cars caught us, I’d point them by: the Mustang and Cobra would let them by, but they never let me through. I was doing my best to make myself seen, getting in one mirror then the other but to no avail. I had decided that next time around the start/finish I’d pull off to get a gap. But when the next faster car arrived and I pointed him by, I tailgated him past the obstructing Mustang. A turn or two later the Cobra let me by. I never really got a clean lap the whole session, but on my final lap did manage to match my best time from session 2 to the hundredth of a second. When I saw the checkered flag, I started slowing down. Had I maintained throttle until under the starter’s stand, I’d have bettered my time.

When I walked through the main paddock on top of the hill earlier in the morning I didn’t take the camera. I wanted to make another circuit of the paddock to get some pictures so now was the time. I snapped a few pictures and chatted briefly with a few folks then remembered that we were allowed to go over to race control to take a look. So that’s what I did. After a few minutes in race control the guys there sent me out to the starter’s station: “Go out and talk to Ken. He won’t bite.” From in the car on the way up the hill it looks like the starter stands over the highest point. But from his location you can clearly see that the track continues to climb.

I chatted with Ken briefly. He had work to do and I really didn’t want to bother him. Then I tried taking pictures of the cars from there. It’s a tough angle, and the cars are really hauling here. None of my pictures came out. But while I was shooting, he grabbed the black flag and waved it. Then he put that away and got out the red flag. Two cars came to a stop right below us. I was curious what was going on, but I didn’t want to bother Ken.

Obviously, something serious had happened. I went back to my car and visited with my paddock neighbors while we waited for things to get sorted out. It turns out that one of the Camaros in Group 1 had a big accident just after the Kink. The car was totaled but the driver walked away. They did put him in an ambulance – no doubt even after walking away from a heavy shunt like that you’re going to the hospital to get checked out.

They threw the red flag at about 2:30. An hour later they announced that we’d resume running at 4:10. That turned into 4:40. The track goes cold at 6:00, so a 4:40 start would mean each group’s session would be a bit less than twenty minutes. It was finally announced that we’d resume at 5:00 and we’d run combined groups. Groups 1 and 2 would run together and 3 and 4 would be together. At least that way we’d get a full session. As is typical for the final session of the day a number of people had dropped out for one reason or another, and with this being such a long track I wasn’t too concerned about traffic.

Two of the cars of my neighbors were victims of attrition. Tracy’s BMW had a front brake disk that was developing a crack. She’s not a big fan of exploding brake disks so she parked it while her husband scoured the region for a replacement. They found one two and a half hours away. At least she’d be able to get back on the track for Saturday.

The Thunderbird was also out with a broken heim joint. He had replacement parts just after 5:00 but not in time to get back on the track that day. He talked a bit about how the car was handling. He evidently has some odd combination of suspension parts. He says it’s okay for the most part. But when he’s side-by-side with another car in the Kettle Bottoms (the fast bit after the Kink) the car acts a bit squirrely. That seems to me to be not the best place to have a squirrely handling car.

So my last session had more traffic than the other two that I ran in Group 3. For this session I decided to forego the rear-facing view and put the camera on the nose of the car. I left the other camera on top of the car, so I’d have both facing forward. As it turns out, the battery in the top camera died during the session so the only footage I have is from the nose mount.

I didn’t get to improve my best time due to all the traffic but I had fun nonetheless. I’m not saying I was the fastest car on the track in the group (because I wasn’t), but I didn’t see any faster cars the whole time. I passed every other car I saw. And I saw a bunch of cars I hadn’t seen on track all day, including the replica GT-40 and a Ford GT. I have no idea how fast that replica is, but the driver was pretty slow. I know the Ford GT is a really fast car, but he was slow too.

NWSC puts on a big dinner on the Friday night of this event. I had a meal ticket in my registration packet. But when I went to look for it, I couldn’t find it. I knew it was around somewhere but I had no luck tracking it down. Most of my neighbors were going off-track for dinner, so one of them donated their spare ticket to me. It was a nice meal: fried chicken, BBQ chicken, fish, and prime rib along with scalloped potatoes, mixed vegetables, salad, rolls, and a variety of desserts.

I sat with one of the Jeffs and some other random track rats. The gentleman who sat on my left drives a Corvette ZR-1 with a Calloway supercharger. He says it’s the seventeenth Corvette he’s owned. I wanted to ask him why he couldn’t find one he liked, but I was a good boy. He was wearing a great t-shirt: it said “Point Me By”, printed in reverse.

By the time I was back to my tent, the sun had gone down. I didn’t bother with the mosquito repellent. On the way to my site I chatted with some other campers. They had a fire going. I asked if that was how they avoided the mosquitoes. “Yeah, the mosquitoes around here just laugh at Off.” So it was another early night for me. I was asleep before ten.

I slept well, not waking up until about five. My tarp and tent were wet with dew, so I took my time packing up. Of course, I found my meal ticket. I was on the road not long after six.

Reflections

Road America is by far the fastest track I’ve ever driven on. I doubt I’ll ever drive on a faster track. On its three long straights, I’m in fifth gear on cam at wide-open throttle for nearly thirty seconds each lap. On two of those straights I was able to top 120mph regularly, with a recorded top speed of 124. There isn’t a second gear turn anywhere. By the end of the day I was taking turn 1 in fourth and was able to navigate the Kink without braking. I’m in fourth gear through the Carousel even though I’m not on the second cam.

When I was here with Chump Car we ran the chicane after the Carousel, so we didn’t have to deal with the Kink. The Kink has been called the most dangerous turn on any track in America. I certainly had a healthy fear of it. There is no run off and a concrete wall is just a few feet away. If you make a mistake you’ll pay heavily for it. If that wall weren’t there I think I might be able to take it nearly flat, which would make it a faster turn than turns 1/2 at La Junta. But with that wall so close I don’t know how much faster I’d be willing to go than I went today.

I was probably most surprised at how my car performed in the Carousel. I don’t know for sure, but I was probably on the hardest tires of any car in the event. The vast majority were running on R-compounds and quite a few were on slicks. On my 460 treadwear tires I was able to gain on almost everybody in the Carousel. Sometimes my little car amazes me.

I think NWSC put on a good event. I’d gladly run with them again, although it’s unlikely I’ll make the long trek again any time soon. It was a long drive for one day of lapping, and I’m obviously a mental defective for doing it. But I sure did have fun!

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…