Friday, 23 September 2011

Day 21: Scottsbluff, NE - Larrington Towers

I dunno, you spend a certain amount of money on an upgrade to Club Class and forty minutes later get a grease stain on your least unsavoury pair of trousis.

Bah!

It seems to have concealed itself overnight, fortunately.  Yesterday's credit card bobbins has been sorted by The Mgt, who looks like Jorja Fox' malnourished sister.  Apparently Jessica is an Idiot and put me down as a no-show on Wednesday night.  Jorja's comment: "I'm gonna fire her even if I'm not allowed to!"  The no-show and the refund for same appear to have been applied to my American Express card, which could save me some money as I haven't got one.

I couldn't think of anywhere I wanted to go except Kansas (because I haven't been there before), but that was a wee bit too far in the time available.  So I just headed south down Highway 71 until I reached I-70, turned right and headed for the airport.  On the way I passed through Last Chance, CO.  I had a good look, but there didn't appear to be a saloon there.  Money back please.
Bye-bye Nebraska...

...and hello Colorado (again)
No raised eyebrows at having clocked 6342 miles and the interior was a lot less of a bomb-site than last year's, when I drove sweep before every session, with consequent leaping in and out with half of Nevada on the soles of my Intrepid Sandals.  Check-in smooth and being in Raddled Posho Class allows one to bypass the queue of Oiks at security,though you still have to take your shoes off.  At least this allowed me to evict a small piece of Nevada which had been annoying me all day.  Currently I am loafing in the Raddled Posho Club, which includes useful things such as free drinkohol, but I am being good and only drinking BEER.  I may just leave this year's trip at that, as Heathrow and the Victoria Line can only be an anti-climax after this.

6342 miles, ten states, from 14,160 feet at the top of Mount Evans to ~1,250 somewhere between the Arizona Strip and Las Vegas.  And my arms are quite brown...

Day 20: Scottsbluff, NE

Today I went to look at some Heads.  They were two hundred miles away, but then so is Denver, so I'm quite nicely placed for return the motor-car on the morrow.  The two hundred miles were generally Not Interesting, though the usual rolling grassland gave way to partly wooded hills, viz. the Black Hills of South Dakota.  They are green when covered with trees and brown when not.

Presidential Bonces
The first Heads were at Mount Rushmore.  You can get to see George Washington from the side for free, but to get a proper look costs Money.  Anyway, there are four Heads; those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Gardner Martin Abraham Lincoln.  Each one is 60 feet (18m) high and they were carved between 1927 and 1941.  And the Native Americans don't like it much, because the Black Hills were ceded to them in perpetuity by the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868.  This lasted until gold was discovered in the Black Hills and ultimately the US Government decided it wanted the area for itself.  No change there, then.  Ironically, in the main viewing area today were a bunch of Military Idiots, one of whom was re-enlisting in a very public way.  I bet that went down well with the Native Americans.

While in the area it would be rude not to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial just down the road.When it is finished, it will make the Mount Rushmore Heads look a bit second-rate.  Eventually it will depict the head, torso and outstretched arm of Crazy Horse, and much of his horse too.  So far they have only completed his head, which is about half as big again as the Mount Rushmore sculptures.  Work on this project started in 1948, so the chances of it being completed in my lifetime appear to be this: slim.
Crazy Horse from3/4 of a mile away

On the way back I encountered today's token twat (I'll let this morning's cattle truck driver off with a warning as he probably couldn't see me coming up the hill).  Ahead is a Lexus, which has been tailing a pickup for ages.  Just as I pull out to pass them both, Mr Lexustwat decides he's going to pass the pickup and pulls out without indicating when I'm about two feet from his rear bumper.  Rude gestures were made.

I took a different route back here from Hot Springs.  In the 140 miles of Highway 71 I encountered four other vehicles going my way, and two of them passed me while I was stopped for a fag.  Emily the TwatNav was confused for the first forty miles, but finally got over it.  And so back to Scottsbluff.  Did you know that Eagles bassist Randy Meisner hails from here?  Well, he does.  Also here is a note on my bed saying there is an issue with my credit card.  This is strange, as I used it to fill up the motor-car this morning.  Jessica on the front desk is consulting The Mgt, but it seems unlikely to finish with my incarceration in the local debtors' prison.  In the meantime I will make a valiant attempt to drink all the Fat Tire remaining in the fridge, so as not to have to carry it anywhere.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Day 19: Laramie, WY - Scottsbluff, NE

There are some days on these trips when I feel as though I could keep going forever.  Then there are days like today.  Bah!

It started well enough, with a trouble-free run down US-287 and passing the spot where Trooper Eastwood of the Colorado State Patrol let me off with a warning in 2008.  Right at Ted's Place onto CO-14 and a lovely run through the forests and gorges of the Cache la Poudre river to the top of Cameron Pass (10,276 feet).  And things were still OK along CO-125, over the Willow Creek Pass, down to Granby, and along CO-34 to the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Here it started to unravel.  A huge queue of traffic was stalled just below the summit of Milner Pass.  It became apparent that The Authorities were spraying some kind of herbicide to keep unwanted vegetation at bay - this being done from a truck travelling at the speed of a heavily-drugged sloth.  After taking fifteen minutes to cover fewer than 200 yards, the summit of Milner Pass (10,758 feet) was finally reached.  A photo stop and off again - the slow-moving truck and its tail-gunner pickup having disappeared.

From the top of Milner Pass the road continues to climb.  This may seem curious, but Trail Ridge Road - the road through the National Park - is not technically a pass, but rather followed what the local Arapaho called the Dog Trail along ridges and things. Somewhere along here I caught up with the sprayer thing again, and proceeded at about 6 mph for what felt like forever.  Very frustrating.

What is a pass is Fall River Pass.  This is ascended from east to west by a one-way gravel road which emerges at the Alpine Visitor Centre at 11,762 feet.  The road continues to climb to an altitude of 12,183 feet, making it the highest paved through route in North America, but there's nothing to mark the highest point except some blurry figures on the TwatNav.  A bit further on is a parking area with a couple of "comfort stations".  One of these used to have a board on the wall proclaiming it to be at 12,090 feet, but it en't there any more chiz.

And then down again, to the park exit near Estes Park.  There are numerous signs asking slower traffic to use the turnouts to allow following vehicles to pass.  These are roundly ignored by the numerous twats leading each little convoy.  Either that or they're so busy looking at mountains that they neglect their mirrors.  There are no straights worthy of the name so overtaking is all but impossible unless one is suicidally inclined, and after ten miles of this I wasn't, having instead flown into a big stabby rage and shouting rude things at the oblivious twat eight or ten cars up the line.
Mountains.  As observed by twats who ought to look in their mirrors instead

Finally I emerge from the park with my blood pressure through the roof (it was too cold to have the top down at all today).  "At last," I thought, " the road will open out and I shall be able to Make some Progress."  It did to some extent, but following the gorge of the Big Thompson river meant much the same thing happened for about thirty miles down to Loveland, only  at 35 mph instead of 20.  Finally back onto I-25 heading north.  Surely there will be no more twats today?

After crossing back into Wyoming I take I-80 east and into Nebraska, ticking another state off the bingo card.  Once you're away from the mountains it's all ever so gently downhill as far as the Missouri, about five hundred miles away.  Rolling grassland, mostly, with the occasional intrusion of sets of bluffs.  These are like miniature versions of some of the rock formations found in Utah and Arizona, mad all the more incongruous for sprouting from the flat prairie for no readily apparent reason.

I turn off the freeway onto NE-71 at Kimball.  There is a problem.  NE-71 is closed somewhere north of the town.  There is a diversion, but it takes me three attempts to find it - they have built a new road by-passing the town which even Emily the TwatNav doesn't know about.  Once she's got her bearings everything is right with the world zoom zoom along a deserted dual carriageway at 75 mph.  Until I run into more road works.  Each side is down to one lane as they are resurfacing it.  Still, nothing to worry about.  I am cruising down a hill at 60 mph with my lights on, when out of the west came a twat.  "Surely," I muttered, "with nothing visible behind me for miles, the driver of that forty-ton truck cannot be so much of a twat that he would pull out into my path at a walking pace?"

He was.  To add insult to injury, he was only going about a mile before turning off again.  The twat.  Finally into Scottsbluff.  I had made a reservation here this morning and with hindsight rather wish I hadn't.  Only about half the power outlets work and although there is a nice standard lamp next to the sofa, which would be ideal for reading by, the lead is too short to reach any of the sockets.  I smell twattery.  Had my credit card not already been debited, I'd have told them to shove it and looked elsewhere.  Also the ice machine on this floor doesn't work.

So if you hear of someone running amok at Mount Rushmore tomorrow, it's probably me.  Gagh!  Still, at least Project 10,000 has been completed successfully.  I shall have to think of another theme for 2012...
Moon, America, Wednesday (10:20 this morning)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Day 18: Billings, MT - Laramie, WY

As promised here is a photo of The BEAR invading the hotel.  I further note that every official notice in the place has, under the normal text, the same thing in Braille.  I find this pleasing.

I further further note that everything in America, to a greater or lesser extent, goes "Bong".  The motor-car goes "Bong" if you open the door while the keys are in the ignition, or while the lights are on, or if the engine is running but you have no seat belt on, or when the toast is ready.  The lift in the hotel goes "Bong" when it arrives at a floor, even when it's not stopping there.  I think I've heard motor-spirit dispensing pumps go "Bong" too, but usually only after I've kicked them for asking me for a "5 digit ZIP code", whatever one of those may be.  Note to America: please stop going "Bong".  Thank you.

Much of today's route is via I-90 and I-25, but the scenery is pretty similar to what would be viewed from the normal roads.  Today this is less brush and more grassland, as Billings is fewer than 1,000 metres above sea level.  The further south one goes, the higher one climbs and the brush attempts to take over, though it's never quite entirely successful.

Here's one I took earlier...
The first point of interest, unless you're enough of an anorak to take interest in a couple of stationary coal trains each 1.2 miles long, is the Little Bighorn battlefield.  I stopped here in 2005 and thus did not propose to do so again.  General Custer had both the high ground and the fire-power but managed to lose anyway.  Subsequent analyses of the battle tend to indicate that George Armstrong Custer was at least seven of the British Army's eleven officially-recognised types of fucking idiot.

I finally get to leave I-25 at Casper.  Ahead is a Mountain.  I-25 passes to the east thereof, while Emily the TwatNav wants me to go to the west.  Of it.  In fact, she wants me to go round in a bloody great loop down to Rawlins, having utterly failed to notice the existence of WY-487.  This is a fair bit shorter and as near as makes no odds deserted.  I encountered two other vehicles going my way in more than a hundred miles, and one of them turned off before I caught him.  The only things up here are wind turbines and sno fences, presumably to prevent the road from becoming buried when the prevailing westerlies are doing their worst.  Civilisation of a sort returns with a meeting with I-80 at Walcott Junction, which consists of a Shell motor-spirit retailer.  Then along WY-130 for a while until the junction at which you TOTSO (turn off to stay on) WY-130 and start climbing through the pine forests into the Snowy Range.

Natch there is no official summit marker at the highest point, but prior investigation has shown the high point - 10,487 feet - to be located at Libby Flats and sho' 'nuff there is a board there with the altitude writ large thereupon.  It occurs to me that I am Somewhere West Of Laramie:

Somewhere west of Laramie there's a bronco-busting, steer-roping girl who knows what I’m talking about. She can tell what a sassy pony, that’s a cross between greased lighting and the place where it hits, can do with eleven hundred pounds of steel and action when he's going high, wide and handsome. The truth is - the Jordan Playboy was built for her.

With advertising copy like that, it's little wonder that the Jordan Motor Car Company went titsup in 1931.  Down the eastern side of the Snowy Range, out of the trees and across the prairie to Laramie.  The last time I was here was a Friday night and there was a big college football game the next day.  Rooms were at a premium.  Happily this is not the case today.

It now seems likely that the remaining summits will be knocked off tomorrow, possibly with a chunk of the day still remaining.  Which leaves me at something of a loose end.  Still, I'm sure I'll think of something.

(Consults road atlas)

Oooh!  That's an idea...

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Day 17: Evanston, WY - Billings, MT

I had thought that today I should be directed due north from Evanston, parallelling and occasionally crossing the Utah and Idaho state lines, but no.  Emily the TwatNav instead directs me a hundred miles east on I-80 before heading north and sometimes west.  She has decided that this route will be quicker and she is probably right, not least because the shorter route takes one through Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.  However, this does mean that the entire route from Battle Mountain to here - give or take the odd diversion to find food and lodging - has already been covered in either 2009 or 2010, or both, albeit in the opposite direction.  With tomorrow's route reversing 2005's for the sixty-odd miles as far as the Little Bighorn, it will be a relief to go somewhere new.

The first section of the day takes me out of the Great Basin and into that of the Colorado.  The Great Basin being a big hole in the ground containing much of Nevada and Utah, plus smaller bits of assorted neighbouring states, in which the rivers have no outlet to the sea.  My mission here is to educate, innit.  You can tell when you're in the Colorado basin when you cross the Green River near the imaginatively-named town of Green River.  This was where the expedition led by John Wesley Powell - remember him? - started its journey down river to the site of present-day Lake Mead.  If this sounds a bit odd, the current Green River was then known as the Colorado.  The bit of the Colorado in the state of, er, Colorado - Glenwood Canyon etc. - was then known as the Grand River.  The name was changed in 1921 on the grounds that having a state of Colorado which didn't have the eponymous river in it was a Bit Silly.  Next they can sort out the Kansas City conundrum ["That's enough rivers" - Ed.].

Typical Wyoming scenery
Anyway, Wyoming.  Most of it looks the same, i.e. the same brush and scrub visible anywhere between Canada and Mexico.  There are sometimes mountains in the background.  And wind.  Wyoming is windmungous.  There is a brief break from the dullness when ascending the Wind River gorge between Shoshoni and Thermopolis (where I refuel myself and the motor-car), but things don't change radically until some distance after Cody, which is the thick end of four hundred miles into the day's run.

Turning left onto WY-296, things improve in that there are proper corners and you can play with the gears a bit.  Note to Ford: this is the 21st century.  Please fit some sort of steering wheel-mounted gear shifters.  This road is also known as the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, named for the lad who attempted to lead the Nez Perce tribe out of Yellowstone and into Canada.  He failed, on account of being stitched up by apparent allies the Crow.  With this in mind you'd think that Dead Indian Summit might by now have been renamed something more politically-correct like, for example, u haz been pwned u redskin d0rks all ur land are belong to us lol summit.  Or something.
Some Weather approaching Dead Indian Summit

Up here it is fantastically windy.  It is rock-your-motor-car-on-its-primitive-suspension windy.  It is tear-your-baseball-cap-off-even-though-the-Velcro-fastening-is-caught-in-your-hair windy.  And there is Weather looming from the direction of Yellowstone-me, and I don't want it to sno at the top of the Beartooth again.  I descend to US-212 driving the thing like I stole it, but the rain closes in anyway chiz and I have to put the top up again.  The Beartooth is different from this direction, he said, stating the bleedin' obvious.  Someone git has nicked the summit marker post (10,947 feet) and the descent into Montana is marred by Mr Git with his big pickup and trailer doing 25 mph where the speed limit is 70.  His mate pulls over to let me past, but not Mr Git.  He is surprised when I overtake him anyway, crossing the double line in order to do so, but then he's a git.
At the top of the Beartooth Highway.  Marker sign nicked by git(s)

Happily he does not catch up when I am obliged to stop in the middle of Red Lodge to allow a couple of deer to cross the street, as he was probably armed.  The last bit down to Billings has much wind; trees have been blown over in the town and there are bits of airborne rubbish flying across I-90 which is alarming when doing 80 mph.  I grab the second-to-last room in the Best Western Kelly Inn & Suites.  It has a jacuzzi.  O noes!  And with my trusty Swiss Army Knife I am able to restore functionality to the knob with operates the plug.  The place has Wild Frontier-themed decor, with floor tiles depicting animal tracks, arrows, and moose, wolves and bears.  The exterior features small bears scrambling up the balconies, which I will photograph on the morrow provided the place has not blown over in the meantime.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Day 16: Battle Mountain, NV - Evanston, WY

Delft's subtly redecorated minibus
An extra couple of hours kip seems to make no difference whatsoever in that I still resemble a zombie as I stagger forth from my room in search of coffee.  Following which, pack up, check out and say goodbyes to those still present.  Except the Cygnus boys, who are still in bed.  And then home.  Well almost.  Firstly to the cash machine, then to the Shell station and finally to the Booze Emporium.  The last people from the event I see are Tiff & Mike Underwood; they are parked outside the Booze Emporium as I pass.  I wave, but they are clearly too engrossed in thoughts of Liquor to notice.

So, east on I-80 all the way to the edge of Salt Lake City.  The scenery in the Nevada section differs not at all from that we've been seeing for the past week, until one drops down into Wendover and Lo! spread before one is the Bonneville Salt Flats.  There was some kind of event going on, but I didn't stop to investigate as I'd soon be passing back into the Mountain time zone and losing the hour I gained after leaving Cedar City.  Salt Lake City seemed easier to navigate in this direction though perhaps it being Sunday afternoon rather that Saturday morning had something to do with it.  The locals still drive like utter cocks, though.

From the relatively low-lying SLC, altitude is quickly gained up Parley's Canyon, followed by some lesser roads to Kamas, where a further infusion of motor-spirit is required.  Then right onto UT-150, which follows the Upper Provo River to the summit of Bald Mountain Pass, 10,715 feet up.  Curiously, the lower you go on the northern side, the fewer trees there are; instead the road runs through ranch land.  Mostly cattle, but for the second year running progress is halted by a flock of sheep being herded along and ultimately across the road.  And so into Evanston for the night, or at least once the myriad updates to assorted Intarwebs have completed.  At least I did better than the confused Kiwi lady who popped up in reception to complain that one of the rooms allocated to her party did not contain the usual amenities such as a bed, a shower, a WC, etc. but rather Coke and ice machines...

Sheep, America, Sunday

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Day 15: Battle Mountain, NV

Tiff & James warming up
After last night's downpour it was a relief to poke my nose outside the door and be able to see moon and stars.  With this being the last day of competition, we had a pretty packed schedule as almost everyone wanted at least one more run.  Except the Henry boys who, concluding that they were actually getting slower, decided to call it a day. The first session went off smoothly enough, though Idiot Boy here, who is supposed to follow the final chase vehicle down the road, wasn't paying attention.  I was just mooching around, turned round and saw that Kara was already half a mile down the road.

The second session did generate some adrenaline, notably for the catchers.  Thomas in Cygnus has been gradually catching Eric in the Wedge for the entire run, and passes him as the machines approach the catch area.  Eric slows abruptly, his screen mists up and he goes off into the brush, while Thomas comes in at speed and is j-u-u-u-s-t caught.  The chaos is compounded by the fact that Cygnus' chase truck has no radio, because they have conscientiously put it back in the box after Jan-Marcel's run in session one, while Idiot Boy here assumed they'd hung on to it.  Wedge's chase car did have a radio, but it was inaccessible as driver John Jackson was sitting on it...
Astro Boy?  I daren't ask...

Session three restored some semblance of normality to the proceedings in that, yet again, Tiff unshipped Firefly's chain.  We've all been rooting for her finally to get a 55+ mph run, but it seems unlikely to happen.  By now the wind is getting up, and none of the fourth session gets a legal run.  A pity, as Gert-Jan does a 71 and James at 60 dead, while Victor does 60+ with a six-pack of Moose Drool BEER stowed in Vortex' tail.  This is guzzled by thirsty catchers before I arrive chiz.  Full Saturday morning results, though be advised that the run credited to Tiff was actually Kara.

Am I seeing things?  No, there definitely was a hitching hippy sitting by the freeway entrance, playing the flute...  At the post-race debrief I have untied my hair.  "Dave, your hair looks really nice when it's down" says Kara.  Whom should I trust - one half of the former Trinny & Susannah of SW2 or a hip 17 year old?  After the meeting all the machines are lined up for a group photo.  I bag a prime spot in the load bed of Team Cygnus' huge Toyota pickup, focus on the assembled bikes and get a message up on the camera screen.  BATTERY EMPTY.  Never mind, I have some spares.  Except I don't as they're flat rechargeables which have been lurking at the bottom of the case for a year.  Never mind, I have some in my room.  Well, if I do, they're hiding somewhere.  Pshaw and, moreover, fiddlesticks.  Final runs of the week soon, followed by the awards dinner, so don't be surprised if this entry doesn't get updated until Sunday night local time.

Machines & riders - photo by Jun Nogami
Kara.  In a DRESS!
After an afternoon spent either snoozing or doing Stuff upon teh Intarwebs, it was out to 305 for the final time.  Here we learned that documentary makers Neal Hartman and Claudia Marcelloni have engaged a private air force for a couple of hours to film some of the action from the air.  We later learned that Kara wanted to go up as a passenger but, perhaps mindful of the tendency of singled-engined aircraft to fall out of the sky when things go wrong, her mother declined permission for Kara to fly her first sortie.  Instead she elected to climb a substantial hill not as close to the catch area as it looks, accompanied by Aidan Muller of the Vortex team.  Neither is admitting to anything more than looking at the view, which hasn't stopped rumour and innuendo from running rife.

Greg starts the week's final run
And so to the big showdown.  Which turned out to be a big let-down.  It was, quite simply, a Slow Day, although these things are relative.  That 70 mph hat continued to elude Thomas for another year.  Greg was on a fast run but somehow contrived to miss the timing tape exiting the traps.  Sam turned the tables on Sebastiaan, but the latter retained the winning spot with Thursday's 80.54 mph pass.  And so it's over for another year.

Well, almost.  Anyone with a pickup is being pressed into service to collect signs and the plywood cladding from the bridge.  It's all done remarkably quickly, which leaves me, 3/4 of the Vortex team and assorted Schroeders in the car park.  I am awaiting the arrival of Delft's minibus and with it the last radio not yet in captivity, while the others are awaiting the arrival of Aidan and Kara from their hike.  As soon as Dutch Paul hands over the wireless, I'm off.  Full Friday evening results.

Then over to the Owl Club for the awards dinner.  Unlike last year, when the food, as Sir Henry Rawlinson might have said, was inedible muck and there wasn't enough of it, this year there was enough for assorted known hungry-guts (Thomas, Larry, etc. etc.) to go round for seconds and even thirds.  And there are Awards.  The Design & Innovation Award goes to Team Cygnus for their cunning combination of air intake and periscope, while the Sportsmanship Award, in spite of Thomas' & Jan-Marcel's shameless playing to the camera, goes to Toronto's Victor Ragusila.  The prize awards:

Junior: Kara Snyder (Firefly).
Arm-powered: Greg Westlake (Avos Arrow)
Collegiate: 2nd: University of Toronto (Vortex); 1st: Human Power Team Delft (VeloX)
Ladies: 3rd: Kara Snyder; 2nd: Tiffany Underwood (Firefly); 1st: Barbara Buatois (Varna BM)
Overall: 3rd: Todd Reichert (Vortex); 2nd: Sam Whittingham (Varna Tempest); 1st: Sebastiaan Bowier (VeloX)
The podium in its entirety
I tactfully depart before my feet explode and walk back to the motel, melt a little ice and wake up in the reclining chair a couple of hours later.  If there was any partying going on, I slept through it.  My feet hurt, my right arm feels rather odd and someone is drilling a hole just beneath my right shoulder blade.  I am short of both sleep and sanity.  I love this event...

Friday, 16 September 2011

Day 14: Battle Mountain, NV

Rain.  It rained quite heavily overnight and the course was still quite damp when we rolled out this morning.  This led to the timing team having difficulty in getting the tapes to stay put - normally they are stuck down to the road with gaffer tape.  Ingenious solutions offered included someone going back to town to borrow a leaf blower or a weed burner, siphoning some motor-spirit out of someone's vehicle and setting fire to the road, or calling in the USAF to drop some napalm, but fortunately such drastic measures were not required.

Steam.  In the aftermath of the rain, it was much more humid than is usually the case round here, and a few people had issues with their windscreens misting up.  Barclay Henry parked the Backslider and went back for another try once the air had warmed up a bit; Tom Amick managed to get the Flying Cucumber down the course by keeping the road's centre line in view through his side window, until a combination of seeing someone in a hi-vis vest and hearing someone else shout "STOP!!" encouraged him to hit the brakes.

Speed.  Winds were negligible, so speeds were fairly good except for the once-again-luckless Tiffany Underwood.  The Firefly ate its chain again, which meant some high-speed pit work to collect the machine, haul it back to the start and fix things in time for Kara Snyder to have a run in the next session.  And to think that they ditched last year's Rohloff hub gear in favour of the supposedly more reliable disraeli gears...  Fastest run of the morning was by Ron Layman in Primal 2, with a 64+, slightly ahead of David Verbroekken in Cygnus.  Full Friday morning results.

Sad to report that while Jun Nogami made a reasonable start in Vortex this morning, he stacked it about a mile into the run when accelerating through 40 mph.  He's undamaged but the bike's fairing has a split in it.  It's still ridable but looks as though it'll need some patching if Todd Reichert is to crack 75.  The Toronto team almost didn't make it back to town at all, as their van was telling them it wanted feeding.  John Jackson and one of the Firefly team vehicles shepherded them all the way back.

I had offered to look after the radios and drive the sweep car today, that Jonathan might have a chance to see the bikes running at speed.  This is why there is only one picture so far today, and it is this:


This, it would seem, is Mikey's breakfast...

I did not got to the drag races this afternoon, preferring to catch up on missed sleep, but it seems that Kara Snyder managed to trouser more of Robert Barnett's prize money than anyone else.  Once I'd dragged myself out into the open again, it was time for the evening runs.  The much-anticipated standoff between Sam and Sebastiaan was not going to happen tonight, as the latter elected to take a night off.  Rain fell on the way out to the course, but things seemed OK once we'd arrived.  Except for the wind, of course.

We held off the road closure as long as possible, until Tom Amick called in from the first ranch road, four miles from the timing station.  "It's raining" he said.  Two minutes later he was back on the radio.  "I got hail!"  Then it was the road flooding.  Investigation by George Leone and the Krauses determined that conditions were too dangerous, and the night's running was cancelled, even though catch was still bone-dry.  This changed pretty quickly, with thunder and lightning thrown into the mix for good measure.

 
Looking south from catch, 18:15 Friday

As someone said, that's racing, and the consequences to us were rather less severe than those suffered by the spectators at the Reno Air Races at about the time we were setting off for the course.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Day 13: Battle Mountain, NV

I, like, so did not want to get up this morning.  Life was a lot easier here when the event did not include any of this new-fangled morning sessions.  One could get up at one's leisure, have a civilised breakfast and then spend the afternoon loafing in the sun before bestirring oneself out to the course at 4:30 pm.  The l33t riders and their crews still have this luxury.  It is Not Fair and I want a pay rise.

(Stamps foot)

So when we did go out this morning, the first thing we noticed was the lack of rain over the mountains to the west.  Clearly a Good Thing.  However, this did not go hand in hand with a drop in wind speed, and few people had legal wind chiz.

Jun looks apprehensive...
...as well he might
First to try their luck was chief timer Jun Nogami; the University of Toronto team having sportingly allowed him a go in Vortex.  Jun has ridden the bike previously, but not with the entire fairing in place.  He gave a graphic demonstration of how the Experts make it look a lot easier than it actually is.  His first attempt ended with the bike on its side; subsequent tries might have done likewise had not the machine been surrounded on all side by solicitous team members anxious to spare their Shiny Thing any further damage.  With road re-opening looming, Jun's attempt had to be called off.  Jay Henry didn't need to do a qualifying run but wanted to test some mods he'd made, and got down the course with a respectable time.  David Verbroekken also ran successfully.
Sugar & Jan-Marcel about to send David on his way
When the rest of the party stooged off to the five mile start, which Chris Broome insists on calling the five mile an hour start, I again remain at the mid-course with Inspector Rebus, who has just tricked Mad Malky Toal into confessing to murder.  The seven riders are spread over three sessions for logistical nightmares reasons; the Firefly, for example, ran in all three sessions and for once behaved itself perfectly.  Greg exceeded his previous best, but not with legal wind; only Jay and Tiffany made runs with the wind at the permitted level.  Full Thursday morning results.

I am now back at the Super 8, drinking BEER and eating cheese and bologna sandwiches.  They put crack cocaine in bologna.  Trufax.

Other news.  Velociraptor's frame broke during testing yesterday and the team left for home while we were out at the course this morning.  When we returned, I was asked by Nice Lady in reception if I knew Steve Nash.  I allowed as how I did and was told there was a package for him.  Shortly thereafter I encountered Steve and advised him of the presence of his parcel.  A few hours later I encountered someone the same size and shape as Steve, complete with Steve's beard, glasses and T-shaped shirt.  But nearly all his hair had disappeared.  This was held to be some kind of Omen.

Still later Chris Broome and I are chatting merrily away outside the front door when strange singing and shouting begins to emanate from the swimming pool.  We already suspect the Delft team's numerous PSO's of being members of some strange cult; this merely serves to confirm it.

Jan-Marcel at mid-course
Once more unto 305.  It's hot but cloudy and there is a nasty wind blowing across the course.  Jan-Marcel breaks 69 mph, Trefor does a 65 and nearly gives one of the PSO's in catch a ride back to town spreadeagled across the front of the machine.  Greg exceeds 47, but in all cases in this session the wind speed is too high.  Indeed, Gert-Jan and Eric decided not to run at all.

We hold off starting the second session for as long as possible and sure enough the wind starts to drop, though even after the road has been closed for a while reported speeds coming through from the timing station are mostly on the illegal side.  In fact, we hold off for so long that Thomas decides not to run either, as the periscope system employed on Cygnus doesn't exactly give panoramic vision even in bright sunshine.  And by now the sun has dropped behind some fairly thick cloud, so the poor lad can barely see at all.  Thomas later reaches an agreement with Sam Whittingham that should this scenario be repeated, Thomas will be allowed to go first.

Cow, America, Thursday
Another downside of running so late is that an incompetent like me is unable to take photos of the bikes in the second session.  The pictures come out either black or so blurred as to be useless.  So instead I offer this picture of a cow which happened to wander past while waiting for the second road closure.  As usual, Sam went first, followed down the road by Sebastiaan in the VeloX, Todd in Vortex and Barbara in the second Varna.  Both she and Todd went over 72 mph, while Sam reached a much more satisfactory 80.23.  But the big news was Sebastiaan's 80.54, which marks the first time that Sam has been beaten in a non-weather-affected run here for ten years.  By the time I returned to the catch area there were a lot of very happy Dutch types capering about the place and making entry into the parking area positively hazardous.  "How does it feel?" Jonathan asked Varna designer Georgi Georgiev back at the motel.  Georgi's reply was along the lines of it feeling like he'd just had a 900 Watt punch in the face.  Two hours later, when Jonathan and I and the Cygnus boys came back from dinner, the swimming pool was once again full of shouting, singing Dutch types.  Full Thursday evening results.

When Matt Weaver went faster than Sam in 2001, it didn't half liven things up.  Hopefully the weather will hold and...

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Day 12: Battle Mountain, NV

I have wangled myself into the mid-course marshalling post for today.  Nothing ever happens here, or at least not after the qualifying runs are over, so it is an excellent opportunity to catch up on one's light fiction.  Had I been clearer of thought, I'd have taken this Babbage-Engine with me and done a bit of catching up.  Bah!

Launching Cygnus
Five riders on the qualifying course today, but only two made it without mishap.  Eric Ware was testing a modification to the Wedge's tail; results were inconclusive.  Jan-Marcel got Cygnus down the course without crashing.  Jay Henry's new linear drive machine, fitted with a large quantity of String Technology, shed its chain about 1 km from timing, while an electrical glitch prevented brother Barclay from receiving a time.  David Verbroekken firstly ran off the road, though escaped an undignified fall as he was still being supported by rollerblading mechanic Frans (aka "Sugar").  He restarted but only made it about half a mile before a tyre blew and down he went.

Gert-Jan and VeloX at mid-course
In the long course runs, Victor Ragusila had a fine and legal 56.71 mph personal best and Sebastiaan Bowier a sadly non-legal 74.08.  Jay Henry went down for reasons unknown to me before he reached my position, but neither he nor the bike seems to have suffered any damage.

Full Wednesday morning results.

After the post-race meeting everyone wanders over to the Civic Center to show the machines to the Tinies and blag a free lunch.  Unfortunately, seventy lunches for normal people is not the same as seventy lunches for HPV enthusiasts, especially when they:
  1. Skipped breakfast, or
  2. Are Penniless Student Oaves, or
  3. Both
Anyone who showed up at the appointed hour of 12:00 went hungry.  It's a good opportunity to get pictures of the bikes when they're not surrounded by tool-wielding apes, and frequently a good opportunity to snap people being silly, in the hope that these may later be used for blackmail purposes.  Here, for example, is Jan-Marcel trying to destroy Chris Broome's full-suspension monkey bike:

After about an hour and a half of this, my feet got very tired and my camera's memory card announced that it was full.  Investigation shewed that this was because it contained not only photos from this year's trip, but also those from June's excursion to the Yorkshire Dales and those from last year's US trip as well.  Some housekeeping has perforce been carries out and it says it now feels much better.  I don't know what it is about this place and my feet; in addition to swelling like swollen things, they itch abominably.  Last night and this morning I wore normal shoes instead of Intrepid Sandals, which seems to have helped somewhat, but should I continue to do this, I'll have to buy some more socks chiz.

that round thing which hav no use at all
Today I am wearing my Dirk Hofman Motorhomes T-shaped shirt, but not even the Dutch appear to get the joke, or else are too polite to say so.  I shall shortly be heading back out to the course, so here's hoping that chains remain on sprockets, tyres remain unvisited and the gremlins have been exorcised from the timing system...

A disappointingly windy evening session, hampered by a communication failure which led to timing waiting for the bikes, while the start officials were waiting for confirmation from timing that it was OK to start sending them down the course.  And no new new record for Greg Westlake; the Avos Arrow shed its chain almost immediately and the team were unable to restart prior to our having to re-open the road.  Firefly stopped with someone maladay unknown at this juncture - their luck is going from bad to worse.  Full Wednesday evening results.
Firefly at mid-course

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Day 11: Battle Mountain, NV

I was sure I was coming down with the Dreaded Lurgi when I got up this morning, but shower, juice, coffee and Alice's anecdote about remembering not to stick pins in the water bed while changing nappies soon restored normal functionality, which is to say moaning and yawning prodigiously.  Today I are mostly helping with timing, specifically laying down the tape switches and gaffer-taping them to the road before the bikes come down, then pulling them up again when the road re-opens.

Avos Arrow & Greg Westlake
Two groups on the short course for qualifying this morning.  Thomas van Schaik, Kara Snyder and the recently-arrived Greg Westlake in the arm-powered Avos Arrow all went through OK in the first session.  Sole rider in Part Two the Second was Jan-Marcel van Dijken in the Cygnus.  Thomas had proved yesterday's modifications had worked, but the beast blew its front tyre with around 500 metres to go.  Jan-Marcel is unharmed and the bike has apparently suffered only cosmetic damage.

Flying Cucumber & Larry Lem
It was then intended to run two full sessions over the full course, but major confusion over signage and sweep cars led to a delay of some twenty minutes.  The wind was playing up again; a pity as Sebastiaan Bowier clocked 76.02 mph in the VeloX.  Team-mate Gert-Jan Wijers did 68.67, a tenth up on Ron Layman in Primal, who had had to overtake a stricken Firefly on the course.  The luckless Tiffany Underwood had been visited by the P+nct+r+ F++ry yet again.  Because of the delay above, we had to cut the second session short, which the riders who missed out bore with customary stoicism.

Tuesday morning's full results.

Grone!
The Cygnus team have team T-shaped shirts.  The back of these read "In Cygnus and in health".  You have to admire someone who can come up with groan-inducing puns like that in a foreign language.  Mid-afternoon and the Henry brothers, Jay and Barclay, arrive with the same old trike for Barclay, a new bike for Jay and Barclay's wife of some ten days, Beth.  I can think of several places more suitable for a honeymoon than hanging out in the desert with a bunch of bike-obsessed crazies, but there you go.

And there we went.  There were still squalls over the mountains and even a few drops of rain on the course, but not enough to have us sacrificing our shirts in an attempt to keep the decidedly non-waterproof timing equipment dry.  We are ready on time and as soon as the road closes we lay out the timing tapes on the road.  Test.  Nothing from the finish tape, although it had worked fine when tested at the roadside fifteen minutes earlier.  Frantic work to replace the duff tape and the wires connecting it to the electronic box of tricks ensues and we finally get it going again.  We're now about twenty minutes behind schedule, but the upside to this is that the wind speeds have plummeted and it would turn out that all runs tonight had legal wind.

Meanwhile, or so I am told, down at catch there is Japery.  The boys have discovered a sack full of manky old hi-vis vests, one of which consists of naught but a piece of orange mesh with two arm-holes.  Larry Lem immediately removes his T-shaped shirt and dons the orange mesh, before capering around the catch area singing Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy".  I'm too sexy for my shirt, so sexy it hurts.  I am glad I was a mile away at timing.

Thomas & Cygnus at sunset
In spite of the lack of wind, speeds were on the whole unexceptional.  Barbara was obliged to coast to the finish after her chain came off two miles from the traps.  Todd duplicated his previous night's run, this time with legal wind.  And Greg Westlake set a new World Record for an arms-only machine when he reached 45.68 mph in the Avos Arrow.  He claimed to have hit 50 while still three miles out; it would seem that Mikey Sova and Ivan Samila will be busy on Wednesday raising the gearing yet again.

Tuesday evening's full results.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Day 10: Battle Mountain, NV

The alarm goes off at 05:30.  Note to self: "sleep" is not the same as "snooze".  Fill myself with coffee and the motor-car with motor-spirit.  The Conoco station did not require a ZIP code to be entered into its pumps last year; now it does chiz.  And I've subsequently discovered that the Shell station at the other end of town is way cheaper.  Then out to the course for qualifying runs on the short 2.5 mile course.  Missing are the Avos Arrow (rider Greg Westlake not due to arrive in Reno until about the time of typing) and the Velociraptor (rider Steve Copeland still knackered from drive from West Virginia).  Things all go pretty smoothly, particularly since the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) have a much more laissez-faire approach this year.  Partly because Al'n'Alice are back in charge, but mostly because former boss man Randy Hesterlee and his moustache have been promoted.

Jan-Marcel goes up in the world...
 Tiffany Underwood, in the new Firefly, unshipped her chain on her first attempt, but qualified successfully on the second.  Not so fortunate was the Cygnus.  The bike uses a sprocket from a multi-speed cassette as its final drive cog at the wheel.  Such sprockets are carefully machined to aid gear changing and don't work well in this role.  Thus the chain kept coming off.  They are attacking the offending cog with a file and an angle grinder so they can refit it it the other way round, and also intend to confect a guard to help prevent the chain from going walkies again.

Todd Reichert ties himself in knots
Sam Whittingham in the Varna Tempest is the quickest, at 66.7 mph, from Sebastiaan Bowier ["Oh Christ, not another high-speed Seb" - Ed.] in Human Power Team Delft's machine, VeloX.  Wind speeds were too high for most runs to mean anything, but Gert-Jan Wijers, also in the VeloX, did 61+ mph with legal wind.  Full results from this morning my be found here: clicky.

Lunch munched, tabs obtained and some car park loafing and photography before heading back inside to Do Things on that Internet, that they have now.

Thomas & Jan-Marcel bidding for the Sportsmanship Award

I emerged a couple of hours later to find a beautiful early afternoon had turned teh suxx0r, with a strong wind blowing bikes over and heavy rain clearly visible not far away.  A nice rainbow as we set out for the course was good to look at, but did not bode well.  The rain did hold off, but the wind didn't although it grew less strong the later it got.  The only rider of three to post a time in the first session of Eric Ware in the Wedge, who clocked a wind-assisted 73+ mph.  Trefor Evans in the Vortex deliberately missed the time tapes after hitting the gouge in the road two miles out and believing "something was rubbing".  Tiffany Underwood had a flat halfway down the course.

Trefor Evans in Vortex, approaching Ranch Road 2
And only two riders ran in the second session.  Sam Whittingham in the Varna Tempest ran only ~78 and said conditions weren't bad at all; Todd Reichert in Vortex clocked an impressive 71+.  But the wind speed was way too high for any of tonight's runs to count.  Pack up and back to the motel where, natch, it is dead calm.  Meeting and then off to the new-for-this-year Chinese restaurant.  Nosh gets the seal of approval from the event's three Orientals - Preston Seu, Larry Lem and Jun Nogami.  Sadly Amanda Chu could not be here to make it four.

Time to melt some ice now, as my back aches and my feet are killing me.  I think I'll volunteer to drive the sweep car for the rest of the week...  Jonathan did it tonight and reports that the Challenger is restricted to 115 mph, irrespective of whether one has released the parking brake or not.  Now he really will have to crash it into a bulldozer in the final reel.

Day 9: Battle Mountain, NV

Jan-Marcel van Dijken testing his periscope  
Those semis sounded like thunder as they went past my window with their right-side wheels on the rumble strip.  For most of the night.  My room is at the Interstate side of the building and, being right at the eastern end, is closest to the main road.  Most of the expected teams have now arrived, though the whereabouts and/or intentions of the ALTAƏR 3 team, from I.U.T Annecy, is still something of a mystery.  As it is now quite late, and we have to get up at stupid o'clock in the morning, I will update this page further after the qualifying runs.  In the meantime, perhaps someone could tell me why the door into my bathroom appears to have a boot-shaped hole halfway through it?



Front sub-frame from Vortex (University of Toronto)
I managed to spend much of the day successfully dodging work but got nobbled in the late afternoon to help attach plywood boards to the guard rails at the bridge, and applying straw bales to Hard Things.  Fortunately the Human Power Team Delft has thirteen people supporting two riders, so they were co-opted to help with the fetching and carrying.  This made life a lot easier than last year.  While we were out on the course, Jonathan Woolrich showed up in his take on the retro-muscle-car, a Dodge Challenger.  This apes the styling of the '71 version made famous by Barry Newman in Vanishing Point, but like my Mustang it's only got a V6.  We await with interest to see whether it too is speed-limited - the Mustang will accelerate pretty smartly up to 113 mph before abruptly changing up about three gears and going into cruise mode.  The day concluded with more hanging around in the motel car park and an all-hands-on-deck meeting.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Day 8: Bishop, CA - Battle Mountain, NV

What a dull journey.  Three hundred miles and apart from junctions and towns, the number of applications of the brakes could be counted on the fingers of one hand.  Still, I have arrived in one piece and unimpeded by the Law.  And I have finally solved the problem of my giant mains adapter device continually falling out of wall sockets or being out of range of same by shelling out a mere three dollars for a 12' extension lead.  All I need now is that iPod -> car lead and I'll be reet, but if Napa Auto Parts over the road don't have one, I may have to go to Elko.  Only 75 miles each way.  Organisators Al'n'Alice Krause were already here when I arrived, as was Chris Broome and a couple of Californian lads whose names I have forgotten.  On is small and bald and the other is tall and not bald, if that's any help.  No pictures as yet, as there was nothing worth snapping for the entire journey, but if anyone wants a WW2-era Jeep, I know where there's one for sale.  There may be photos when the competitors start to arrive.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Day 7: Cedar City, UT - Bishop, CA

Were one to draw a line straight west from Cedar City, it would as near as makes no odds hit Bishop smack on the nose.  The problem with this approach is that it would lead one into that huge chunk of central Nevada pwned by the US military, who take a dim view of This Sort Of Thing.  So you have to go round it; either to the south via Las Vegas or to the north via Tonopah.  I chose the former, in spite of all the rude things I've said about Vegas, as I've done the other several times before.  Both promise to be, for the most part, very dull indeed.

South from Cedar City on I-15 is indeed dull, until you cross into the Arizona Strip, this being the part of Arizona north of the Colorado River.  It is home to a bunch of rather unsavoury Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints who still practice polygamy when they think they can get away with it.  Read Jon Krakauer's Under The Banner Of Heaven (but keep quiet about it if in the company of respectable LDS scholars, assuming such people exist).  It also contains the Virgin River Canyon, down which the Interstate passes for eleven exhilarating miles.  I know I came up it in 2003, but have absolutely no recollection of it.

Exiting the canyon, life becomes boring again; the most exciting thing to be seen is the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  Fortunately this is about as close to Las Vegas itself as it is necessary to get as there is a new ring road which, while not appearing in my road atlas, is known to the TwatNav.  She directs me around the place with no effort and the added excitement of having to dodge a cool-box abandoned in the middle of a busy junction.

Las Vegas, from a safe distance.  Yes, the sky really is that colour
US-95 north is this: boring.  The "excitement" came from two sources: watching a Predator drone aircraft coming in to land at Creech AFB and deducing from the lack of oncoming traffic followed by a convoy of a Several of tens of vehicles that there were road works ahead.  There were, with a big sign saying "Delays up to 30 minutes possible".  This, together with World+Dog's constant moaning about the price of Motor Spirit, would surely lead the sensible Motor-ist to switch off his motor while waiting.  The bloke in front of me not only left his engine running for the twenty-odd minutes we were stationary, but failed even to put it in Park or neutral, instead preferring to keep his foot on the brake pedal the whole time.  He is clearly a crumpletrumpet of the first water.

More boring desert, though I note the mixed fortunes of Nevada's rural brothels.  The Cottontail Ranch, a former haunt of Howard Hughes, has been closed since 2004, but the Shady Lady Ranch is apparently going strong.  It was the first brothel in Nevada to have a "prostidude" on its staff, trivia fans.  The reason I note this is because the Cottontail is where you turn off onto NV-266, which becomes CA-166 once the state line is crossed.  The latter is now my second favourite road as UT-12 gave it such a kicking yesterday I do not think it will recover.

This road was described in detail last year, so I shall not repeat myself.  The reasons for taking this, rather than, say, going through DETH Valley are firstly that it's more fun, secondly it's cheaper and thirdly, if you turn north off the summit of Westgard Pass, you find yourself on White Mountain Road.  This leads to the Shulman Grove of Bristlecone Pine trees and, crucially, reaches a height of 10,075 feet while doing so.  There was a sign at the Visitor Center to this effect, but the Visitor Center burned down in September 2008 and they haven't finished the new one yet.  There's a little carved sign by the roadside saying "Elevation: 10,000 feet" on the way up, but it's on a blind corner and a narrow road, plus I'm sitting on the wrong side of the car to poke a camera out of the window anyway.


Bristlecone Pines are Quite Interesting, as they tend to live for a very long time indeed.  One, imaginatively named "Methuselah", is over 4,800 years old.  And by dint of comparing tree ring patterns from live and dead trees, SCIENCE can tell us many interesting facts, including that the Earth was not created in 4004 BC.  We all knew that anyway, but I've never heard of it being used to belabour a Creationist.  Someone prove me wrong...  I didn't get to see Methuselah his own good self as it's a four and a half mile walk to go there and back.  Even the one mile one had me gasping for breath.  And then shivering, as firstly it started to rain.  Rain which then turned to hail.  I retreated to my nice warm motor-car and scarpered.

A Bristlecone Pine, yesterday
Ten miles on and rejoining CA-168 the temperature was back in the eighties.  Roof down for the mad descent into Big Pine.  Right on US-395 towards Bishop.  Rain.  I stop to put the top back up, and have just got moving again when a short-lived but fierce downpour engulfed the land.  It had stopped by the time I reached Bishop, but I think Mr Thrifty would have taken a dim view of my returning his motor-car with a colony of sticklebacks in the passenger footwell.

Today's group of Shouty FOREIGN bikers are Danish.  And the official USAnian English pronunciation of Korean motor-car manufacturer Hyundai rhymes with "Sunday".  Srsly.