Monday, 23 September 2013

Days 22-25: Hampton, VA - Larrington Towers

Bridges and tunnels, oh my!  I went for some top bridge action before heading north - there's an awful lot of water around the Hampton Roads area; this requires a substantial number of bridges.  None of which have, alas, lent themselves to photography.  The 4.5 mile James River bridge is probably the most impressive.  I missed a turn and ended up taking the not-marked-on-my-map Midtown tunnel back to Hampton.  Twice.  Eventually I gave up on finding the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel and told Emily to take me to see Mr Obambi.  Her route turned out to take me through the MMM B-T anyway.

This takes one from Suffolk to Newport News, and I found myself wondering what the latter's local paper is called1.  And so to Washington DC where the President lives.  It was still warm but clouding over and generally looking like rain, so the top went up.  Miraculously I found somewhere to park less than a block from Mr Obambi's house, so went for a shufti:

Mr Obambi's back door, Saturday
 It's not very big, but it is big enough to deter a crippled Mr Larrington from hobbling round to the other, more familiar, side.  There was a Secret Service car parked in the pedestrianised street from whence this photo came.  It's a curious sort of "secrecy" to have "United States Secret Service" painted on the side of a Ford Crown Victoria in foot-high letters, with blue flashing lights and about ten radio antennae on the roof...

Now it's starting to drizzle.  It's only early o'clock, but ICBA to hang around in DC any more, especially not if the "Secret" Service types find a lighter in my pocket and conclude that I'm planning to stage a re-run of August 24, 1814, when the brave and noble BRITISH Army burned down many public buildings in the city, including White House 1.0.  Well, they started it.  Just because we were having a war with the French (WOCAB) at the time.

OK, Emily, take me to Dulles airport and don't spare the horses.  The Washington Monument, in common with many great public wossnames, is shrouded in netting, scaffolding an' t'ing, as it got rather badly banged up in an earthquake in 2011.  Dulles airport (which, I am mortified to learn, is named after Eisenhower's Secretary of State and not the bloke who set up the CIA) is located at the end of a fourteen-odd mile dedicated access road, which by now had become largely invisible behind a curtain of heavy rain.  FFS!

Return the motor-car with 7575 more miles on the clock than it had back at JFK.  Mr Dollar's gribley bats an eyelid at neither the distance covered nor the desertification of the driver's footwell.  Bus to terminal; check in The Luggage.  Long queue.  Feet hurt.  Back hurts.  Half an hour.  The bloke in the queue behind me, who is on the 18:30 flight to That London, jokes that he might just get checked in before the gate closes.  I have four hours on him, so once I've divested myself of The Luggage I wander the terminal like one, or more, of the Lost Tribes of Israel looking for a Bar.

I don't find one, so instead position myself close to an exit, that I might nip out for a smoke as the fancy takes me, and try to update the Automatic Diary.  A fully-charged flattery on this thing will start Windows, connect to the Wi-fi and then shut itself off before I can even load Firefox.  Arses.  Back to the Kindle.

I've finally had enough and decided to go airside, passing a cunningly-concealed Bar en route.  Through Security, onto the dinky little AeroTrain and out to the Concourse A/B building, where I am surprised to find this:

A Different sort of Aer-o-Plane
'tis the MIT Daedalus 87, which didn't fly 71.5 miles from Crete to Santorini in 1988, piloted and powered by Greek Olympic cyclist Kanellos Kanellopoulos, as that was done in Daedalus 88.  This one was crashed in testing in California, repaired and used as a backup for the 88.

Ho! for the Duty-Free and attempt to purchase fags and booze.  The card terminal tells me to eff off: Transaction denied; insufficient funds.  I have not spent twelve and a half grand on my credit card on this trip, plus while it has played up at the odd liquor store and "gas" station, I've had no problems with it at hotels all the across the continent.  This (Monday) afternoon I spent fifteen minutes on the blower to the card issuer.  Anti-fraud thing, apparently.  So why did it work as advertised for the whole first week and not crap out at seven different hotels in the third?

"Did you have a holiday flag on the account?" asks the Nice Anti-Fraud Lady.  No, I didn't, because I've never heard of one and in nine previous visits to USAnia have never had any issues save for stupid "gas" pumps wanting a five-digit ZIP code and the odd hotel computer not realising that USAnia is occasionally visited by people from outside its borders.  More than one receptionist ended up putting my address as their hotel out of sheer frustration.

Praise be, there is a smoking area here!  And it's way nicer than the one in Atlanta; the seats are comfortable and you don't have to dress in Himalayan-mountaineer-stylee garments just to tolerate the temperature.  Moreover, Harry's Tap Room is two doors down.  I shog over to the departure gate at least one BEER too soon.  Plane takes off, dinner is served, and the next lapse into full conciousness is when I'm being offered coffee and a croissant somewhere over the Isle of Man.

Do the Immigration thing which is as smooth and commendable as the Chatteris one-way system2 - hurrah, no incarceration in Belmarsh this year - and head for carousel number 9, there to await the reappearance of The Luggage.  "A message for passengers from BA 292" says the Tannoy.  "We apologise for the delay in the appearance of your The Luggage but we don't know where the hell it is either!"  Or words to that effect.  The Luggage finally appears; nary a Customs bod is to be seen.

Fag.  Bus.  M25.  Traffic jam.  Welcome home.  I'm not actually home, in the shape of Larrington Towers, yet but will head there on the morrow from sunny Woking as I've had to ring the credit card idiots and chauffeur Aged Parent to the chemists, Currys and the bridge club.  And that, boys and girls, almost concludes the 2013 edition of the Automatic Diary.

On why: This whole Lower 48 nonsense can be laid entirely at the feet of one man, the late Phil Llewellin.  I'd hesitate to call Llewellin a motoring writer; he was a fantastic writer on any number of subjects and his pieces mostly happened to get published in motoring magazines.  His monthly column for CAR was almost invariably the best thing in the mag, while his longer features for that journal combined a splendid sense of humour with the impression that he hadn't had to look up any of the facts, be they concerned with military history, civil engineering, the Welsh etc. etc..  A collection of some of his pieces was published by Haynes in 2004; entitled The Road To Muckle Flugga, it lives 24/7 at my bedside.  In the foreword, one Jeremy Clarkson wrote:
Phil realised that cars were dull. It was what you did with them that mattered.
One piece is titled "Ticking Them Off In A Packard" and describes a trip with friends around New England, in a 1930s Packard, during which he finally managed to visit his 48th state of the contiguous USA.  It had taken him since 1962, though of course he's also done Alaska and Hawaii as well as most of Canada.  "I could do that!" I thought on concluding the 2009 trip, but it went on hold for 2010 (Corvette only available at San Francisco) and 2011 (Project 10,000).  Back then I'd visited 17 states.

So, Phil, this one's for you.

Would I do something like this again?  Probably not as most of it was blatting down Interstate Highways with few corners, fewer opportunities to photograph Bridges and little in the way of Scenery.  Suggestions are invited for the 2014 trip; thoughts include The Continental Divide, Whither Canada? and A Bridge-Spotter's Guide To The Colorado River And Its Canyons.
  1. Joke shamelessly stolen from Terry "Narrow Dog" Darlington. And apparently it's "The Daily Press"...
  2. Or so says nb57...

Friday, 20 September 2013

Day 21: Kent Narrows, MD - Hampton, VA

Oh look!  It is not raining, no, it is nice and sunny and warm!  Zip-a-dee-doo-dah!  Let us break our fast.

The breakfast room is presided over by a whippet-thin lady named Nikki, who never ever stops talking.  She decides I look like Sean Connery.  She needs new glasses, but it does allow me to leave the room with "Sho long, folksh.  The namesh Bond Jamesh Bond" without looking like a complete prat.  Possibly.

Following which I set out into the wastelands of the Delmarva peninsula, which is actually not a wasteland at all, but rather very agricultural in the middle and mostly surrounded by beach resorts on the edges.  It is also as flat as a recently-ironed pancake, to the extent that no cyclist would actually need the ability to change gear.  Talking of gears, Ford have finally answered my plea for manual shifting of the Mustang's auto-box.  Sort of.  The stick now has a position marked "S"; when it's in "S" you can shift using a switch on the side of the shifter knob.  Not as good as flappy paddles.  5/10, must try harder.

The Delmarva peninsula is so named because it consists of bits of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and it was into Delaware that I went.  Delaware is the home state of the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world, and anyone thinking "But I thought the Stones are British" can go to the top of the class.  And jump off.  I refer, of course to:

George Thorogood and the Destroyers.  This sign is actually in Delaware, but just in case you don't believe me, here's another proof of passage:

And that's the lot!  Yay!
This means that I've now visited all the lower 48 states at least a little bit, and can therefore go to the seaside.  This is what the seaside looks like in this 'hood:

Bethany Beach, DE.  Big Yellow Thing replacing hurricane-removed sand or something.
Driving through the town and its near neighbours makes me doubly certain that I never want to visit the Florida Keys.

On place names: USAnia does go in for some place names that are, to a BRITON, squarely in the Land of Odd.  In the past two days I've seen signs to Greenbackville, Accident, Duck and Onancock.  Fnarr, fnarr.

At the bottom end of the Delmarva peninsula is a piece of Virginia formerly lacking any fixed link with the rest of the state over there (points to the west).  This was corrected in 1964 with the opening of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which is twenty-three miles of engineering Goodness.  Four bridges, a bunch of artificial islands (and one natural one), two tunnels and a million lamp-posts, each equipped with at least one loaded seagull.  Fortunately it hit the windscreen, not me.

A very small fraction of said bridge-tunnel
It's really groovy, although the tunnels confuse Emily no end.  I'm afraid that I cannot help but think of the body of water it traverses as "Cheesypeas Bay".  Damn you, Paul Whitehouse!  Damn you to Hell!

There's another one of these in the vicinity, albeit on a smaller scale.  Actually, there's two, but we won't let the Monitor–Merrimac Memorial Bridge–Tunnel bother us at present.  T'other is the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, which carries I-64 across, er, Hampton Roads where the latter debouches into Cheesypeas Bay.  And it took forever to get onto, due to a three-car shunt at which everyone had to look.  So now I'm in Hampton and, moreover, six floors above the traffic, so it's nice and quiet.  Though it is the South, hence the proliferation of billboards concerning guns (pro) and abortion (anti).

Tomorrow will see me making a leisurely tour to Dulles airport; Bog knows when the Automatic Diary will next be updated as I know not what the state of the wi-fi is at the airport, nor how long this thing will run on its flatteries.  I'll try to fit the District of Columbia on the way; it would be rude not to.  Anyone got anything they'd like me to pass on to that nice President Obambi?

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Day 20: South Charleston, WV - Kent Narrows, MD

Ankles feel better.  Unsure as to whether the bath had anything to do with it but having the pummelled by jets of frothy water shot into the tub via a pump stolen from a Kiwi's racing jet boat and powered by a small-block Chevy motor sure feels good.

Oh look!  It's raining.  For a change there's blue sky visible by nine o'clock, but it wasn't warm and there were Ominous Clouds on the horizon.  The first bit of the route followed I-79 north.  This refers to itself as the "I-79 Hi Tech Corridor" or somesuch, but the highest tech thing I saw for the first fifty miles was a tree.  Somewhere a bit further up the road - I think in Bridgeport - is a building with a brace of GBFO satellite dishes on its roof, which sort of made up for it.

Bear right onto I-68 and into Maryland.  The scenery is much the same as it has been since SE Indiana, but the hills are getting progressively higher, topping out at a tad under 900 metres.  The constant up-hill-and-down-dale shenanigans are a little uncomfortable on the ears.  They're also a little uncomfortable on the feet.  This is why:

Most cars sold over here are fitted with cruise control.  Few drivers over here appear to use it, i.e. they overtake, pull in and slow down.  They are idiots.  Anyway, here is a Tablet Cast In Stone, in Maryland:

I do not intend even to attempt to pronounce that...
Shortly after entering Maryland there are two things:
  1. A dead skunk, and
  2. Something bearing a strong resemblance to a lighthouse
Squished skunks have a very distinctive smell, which is not half as bad as might be expected.  But what kind of loonhouse would build a lighthouse 700 metres above sea level and about two hundred miles inland?

On the Lighting of Law-Enforcement Vee-hickles: Back in the old days it was easy enough to spot a uniformed police car.  They had huge lights sticking out above the roof like Mickey Mouse's ears.  Although I did have a series of false positives in southern Utah in 2004, misidentifying a string of oncoming pickups as the polis. What I was actually seeing was the handlebars of one or more motocross bikes being carried in the back.  But now they have developed low-profile lights, so that every neutral-coloured car with a set of roof bars sets off the alarm bells.  Coppers, as they say, is cunning bastards.  But no, I haven't been stopped.  Yet.

Wowsa!  After fighting through a traffic jam on my old chum I-70, I manage to get the roof down for the first time since Sunday and cruise through a warm and sunny landscape while dreading the maze of freeways enmeshing Baltimore.  If I'd had to rely on a map I'd still be there now.  But Emily sees me right and I fork over my six dollars for the privet hedge of being allowed to cross this:

A bridge, yesterday
This is the east end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on Kent Island; the other end is in Annapolis, about five miles away.  There are a couple of other groovy bridges in the Kent Island area, but this is probably of little interest to anyone except CrinklyLion.  And me, because the ramp on the mainland side of the Kent Narrows Bridge is but a couple of hundred yards from my room and is frequented by hairy-arsed truckers using their jake brakes.  This is a gadget which:
  1. Provides engine braking on big diesels by doing Clever Things with the exhaust valves, and
  2. Sounds like a woodpecker being relayed through Motorhead's PA system.
Time for a stiff drink before climbing the stairs to Bedfordshire.

On number plates, part 2: Over here it is relatively easy to have almost anything you like on your car's licence plate, as long as it is not considered offensive.  What constitutes "offensive" in a nation that underwent paroxysms of outrage at Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during half-time at the Super Bowl a few years ago is left as an exercise for the reader.  However, post-modern ironists in Florida are often able to slip one past the DMV by treating the picture of an orange in the centre of every FL plate as a letter "O".  Anyway, here are some of my favourites from this year:
  • ROADMAN.  This is on the camper van belonging to Jun's mate Danny.  Said van was used to power the timing gear at Battle Mountain.  It has a fridge.  The timers had cold BEER chiz.
  • HERTZHZ.  On an ex-rental Corvette.  An Illinois plate, so probably not the one I had in 2008.
  • 4, and
  • SEAL 1
I'm sure the owner of the last one was trying to convince everyone that he had personally killed Osama bin Laden utterly to DETH or something, but he made a big mistake.

It was on a Saab.  Saabs are driven by shaven-headed architects with ultra-expensive rimless glasses, not by rufty-tufty Special Forces killing machines.  FAIL.

New states visited: Maryland

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Day 19: Mount Vernon, IL - South Charleston, WV

Oh look!  It is raining.  And it continues to rain across southern Illinois and south-western Indiana, both of which are flat, agricultural and unexciting.  South-eastern Indiana, on the other hand, starts off the trend for wooded hills, acceptably deep valleys and a far from straight I-64 all the way here.

After Indiana comes Kentucky, reached by crossing the Orsum Ohio1 into Louisville.  The Ohio here looks to be rather more Orsum than the Mississippi in St. Louis is Mighty.  Plus it has some excellent bridges, and nowhere to stop and photograph the wretched things.  First new state since ages ago, although Kentucky is not technically a state, but rather a Commonwealth, which is Quite Interesting.  In fact, that's where I heard it first.

Kentucky, and for once it had stopped raining
Yes, this picture was taken in the dry; it had stopped around 10 am and held of for about three hours, until 2 pm.  The reason why 14 - 10 = 3 in this case is because in crossing the Orsum Ohio I'm back into the Eastern time zone and lose an hour in mid-stream.  I found another handy truck to draft shortly after entering Kentucky, but then he went and spoiled it by showing every sign of wanting to go to Cincinnati.

More rain, and more on than off, across Kentucky.  It looks rather like the bit of Pennsylvania I crossed what seems like half a lifetime ago.  The rain does not put off the sports teams of Kentucky Christian University, no, they are standing in a downpour kicking footballs around2.

Just when you thought northern Kentucky was one of those places no-one could possibly fuck up, you come round a corner and down the hill towards the West  Virginia state line.  And there on the right is a sodding great oil refinery, with nary a tree to screen its loathsomeness from the passing Motor-ist.  I'd had Kentucky pegged as fields full of blue grass and horses, but the grass was either green or brown, and the only horses were the hideous models of Seabiscuit on sale in the Visitor Centre near Louisville.  Seabiscuit?  Arsebiscuit, more like...

West Virginia, and for once it had stopped raining
West Virginia was initially not being rained on but that didn't last long.  Unsurprisingly, this bit looks much the same as the bit of Kentucky over there (points), but has an Impressive River, the Kanawha.  Over which may be found a Several of Bridges:

Dunbar Bridge over the Kanawha River, Dunbar, WV
There are some good ones in Charleston, where I was originally planning to stay.  But I didn't quite know what to make of Charleston - it's an uneasy mix (well, to my untutored eye) of wonderfully preserved Colonial buildings sat cheek by jowl with utilitarian concrete medium-rise nastiness.  And they can't even blame the Luftwaffe.  At least up here where I am the medium-rise slab of concrete nastiness is surrounded by low-rise concrete retail outlets, vendors of toothy comestibles and a "gas" station.  And my hideocomically expensive room has one of those whirlpool bath things, which I will shortly be trying out, to test its effect on swollen feet and wonky ankles.

New states (or Commonwealths) visited: Kentucky, West Virginia

  1. Sorry...
  2. Note for Americans, and other alien life forms: the game is called "football", because the players control the ball with their feet.  And they don't wear crash helmets3.
  3. Except Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, obv

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Day 18: Lincoln, NE - Mount Vernon, IL

Here are the states in which I have been today: Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois.  In fact, it's possible I went to Missouri twice as I passed a second "Welcome to Missouri" sign while circling Kansas City.

Here are some places I didn't visit, but passed fairly close to: Syracuse, Hamburg, Oregon, Savannah, Newmarket, Mexico.

I left Lincoln comparatively late and, for the second day running, in the fog.  The fog didn't last long, no, by 8 am it had turned into rain.  This scenario persisted for the next seven hours.  South-east from Lincoln, across the Mighty(ish) Missouri and into Iowa.  Southwest Iowa actually looks like the Iowa of my imagination, provided you only look at the west side of I-29.

Into Missouri and, after a while, skirt the north and east of Kansas City on I-435.  Which crosses the Mighty Missouri.  Then bear east on I-70 and, after a while, cross the Mighty Missouri a third time.  This is getting silly.

Hang a right onto I-64 to skirt some of the 'burbs of St. Louis, and cross the Mighty Missouri a fourth time.  This, mercifully, will be the final time as it flows into the Mightier Mississippi a few miles away.  I passed a sign on this section of the route:  "Town And Country, City Limit".  Well, which is it?  Chopt-logic, as Bill the Quill might have said.  At least I managed to find I-64 this year; last year I sailed right past it and almost into St. Louis before Emily noticed.

I didn't remember I-70 being this busy last year either, but there were masses of trucks tortuously overtaking one another very very slowly.  It's like the A1 in Yorkshire.  Things were not helped by the effect that the town of Columbia has on drivers.  The first bring-the-freeway-to-a-near-standstill incident was a straightforward instance of "drive an Oriental tin box into the back of something substantial; have said tin box fall to pieces on the spot".  The second, which happened just far enough up the road for everyone to get up to speed before grinding to a halt again, involved an eighteen-wheeler hitting the right side crash barrier, getting a short distance up a slip road and turning sharp right to finish with the front end in a deep ditch.

I-64 was little better.  Instead of sidling gingerly around St, Louis, embracing the margins as it were, it plunges gleefully into the middle - the Gateway Arch seems but a stone's throw from the freeway which, incidentally, sneaks across the Mighty Mississippi without even bothering to mention the fact.  However, with the foresight with which I am rarely associated, I managed to take this picture:

Part of the MacArthur Rail Bridge.  The Mighty Mississippi can just be seen between the bridge and the top of the car door.
The picture looks is crap because it was taken through the passenger window of a (slowly) moving car.  The car was moving slowly because, on the Illinois side of the Mighty Mississippi, some witless degenerate had thought to close the junction at which I-64 reasserts its independence from I-55 and I-70.  Huge queues ensue, just as the fuel warning light comes on.  By dint of non-chopt-logic I manage to find my own way back onto the 64, having refilled on the way.  And then conserved my newly-minted "gas" by cunningly slipstreaming a big rig after he overtook me.  35 miles per US gallon between East St. Louis and Mount Vernon.

On Spook: Some of you Constant Readers will know that I am a fan of virtuoso guitarist Leo Kottke, who these days resides in Minnesota.  This afternoon I passed a truck belonging to Kottke Trucking, based in Buffalo Lake, Minnesota.  That's not the Spook thing though, no.  The Spook thing was that DJ Random had just started playing one of Leo's tunes as I changed lanes to pass.  Wah!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Day 17: Green River, WY - Lincoln, NE

When I got up it was crystal clear outside, but after breaking my fast, re-organising The Luggage and generally getting my act together, outside had turned the colour of an old sock.  Whether it was fog, low cloud or the Exhalations of the Earth made no difference to the outcome - it merely made everything cold and difficult to see.  But I did have a quick look at Expedition Island, which is now a rather nice park:
Expedition Island. Tarmac car park probably not there in John Wesley Powell's era.
And photographed a couple of bridges for CrinklyLion.  Here's one.  Of them.

Trona Bridge, connecting Expedition Island and the south side of the Green River
Whatever the cause of the prevailing atmospheric conditions, it proved possible to climb above it as I-80 rose above the 2,000 metre mark, and for a while it was glorious and sunny.  Over the Continental Divide near Table Rock, west of Rawlins.  To the east of here, rivers end up in the Atlantic in one form or another; to the west they're supposed to flow into the Pacific, but most of them wander off into the Great Basin and are never heard of again.

Much of southern Wyoming looks like this:

Wyoming.  Monday.
There are sage grouse in this picture, but they are not very big and are uncommonly well camouflaged.  I could hear them going bok-bok-bok-bok, but that's all.  This particular bit of Wyoming doesn't have snow fences to prevent the prevailing south-westerlies from burying I-80 on a regular basis, but most of it does.  After Laramie it's back over the highest point on I-80.

Ironically it was after this that the trouble started, in the form of further low cloud.  As the road drops from more than 2,600 metres at the top to about 330 here in Lincoln, clearly we weren't going to be in the clouds very long.  Resentfully, they repaid the weary traveller with rain of a Several of different intensities.  Temperatures ranged from 7 degrees while climbing through the Exhalations of the Earth early in the day to a massive 17 degrees on arriving in Lincoln.  In the rain.  Top-down motoring was not even contemplated chiz.

Tomorrow will see the first Unknown Territories of the return leg of the trip, as from here I'll soon be vectored south down I-29, parallel to the Fairly Mighty Missouri and into Parts Beyond.  Looks like the route passes around Kansas City but given the trouble I had finding the place last year, another visit to Stull isn't on the cards.

Additional:  I thought my lapdancer's keyboard had gone as wobbly as Primal 2 on a windy day so rebooted it while I went for a smoke.  It was in a state of unbootedness when I returned so I tried again.  It got about halfway through and then died.  I finally found that it wasn't getting any mains power.  Given the run-time with the current state of the flattery (crap), it was hardly surprising.  Plug into a different wall socket; appropriate blinkenlights blink, in a lighted manner.  The Automatic Diary lives on!  Also thanks to Bram and Annette for the e-mail.  It's always nice to discover that there's more than just the handful of followers who read this Bobbins.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Day 16: Battle Mountain, NV - Green River, WY

I allowed myself a half hour lie-in this morning, which somehow expanded to an hour and a quarter.  Add to this the time expended in saying goodbye to anyone who had managed to drag themselves out of bed and it was almost eight by the time I got away.  I-80 eastbound.  However, thanks to the Stroopwafel Fairies1 I had an on-the-go breakfast approaching West Wendover.  West Wendover is in Nevada and is consequently stuffed to the gills with hotels, casinos, bars and other places whose business plan can be summed up thus: "Separate tourists from their money, thereby enhancing shareholder value."  Wendover is in Utah, where such things are frowned upon, or at least made impossible to build.

It was chilly until I reached the Bonneville Salt Flats, at which point the top came down.  This didn't help me to stay awake, though, and I was seriously contemplating stopping for a kip by the time I reached Salt Lake City.  And it rained at the top of Echo Canyon chiz, and threatened to continue to do so for the rest of the day.  I decided to pack at Green River rather than heading on to Rock Springs or even Rawlins.  The rest of the day went like this:
  • Babbage-Engine Stuffs
  • More rain
  • Food
  • More Babbage-Engine Stuffs
Those Readers who were in Battle Mountain, watching me tottering about on a crocked left ankle, will be pleased to know that it's much better today.  No, it's my knees and back that are giving me grief at the moment.  As well as the enlarged feet.  Bah!

Feet.  Green River.  Sunday
Depending on the timing of tomorrow's start I may go and have a shufti at Expedition Island, whence John Wesley Harding Powell (remember him, kids?) departed on his descent of the Colorado.  There may even be Bridges in the vicinity.
  1. Messrs van Dijken and van Schaik were doling out packets of Stroopwafels to those held to be of Good Standing in the Community.  Thanks, gents!

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Day 15: Battle Mountain, NV

Coffee and fag early in the morning.  Todd Reichert is doing curious stretching exercises in the car park.  So strange that we ask him if, now he's Dr Reichert, he's considering a new career.  In ballet.  He calls us rude names.

Into the void yet again.  The first big surprise is seeing this:

in the spectator parking area.  We want to steal it to use as the sweep car for tonight but the two lads crewing it, who claimed to have hit 190 mph on the way over from Reno, have Other Ideas chiz.  Beats me how they could get it insured...

I'm fed up with driving sweep so have volunteered to be a mid-course.  As I've said before, nothing ever happens here, so bring iPod, Kindle and fly-swatter for a nice chillax, innit.  Graeme is to run the Vortex over the qualifying course, and after a slightly wobbly start clocked 43.66 mph.  He said it was great just to be able to run without any pressure.  The rest of the crew then departed for the 5 mile start, leaving me alone save for DJ Random.  He's in a Goldfrapp mood this morning.

Graeme gets comfortable in Vortex
The first heat was supposed to contain Sebastiaan Bowier (Velox 3), Todd Reichert (Bluenose), Sven Jorgensen (Svengali) and Sergei Dashevski (Tetiva 3).  Once again Sergei had problems at the start and pulled out.  Sebastiaan did what would prove to be the best run of the session at 79.20 mph, Todd did a new personal best for a new hat at 77.69 mph and Sven was very happy to get a 50 mph hat with his 50.52 mph.

A pause while the road is temporarily re-opened.  Strange yowling noises are coming from the ranchland to the east.  Coyotes, perhaps?  Whatever is is, I hope it doesn't want to eat me.

Heat two is Jan-Marcel van Dijken (Cygnus), Jan Bos (Velox S), Barbara Buatois (Varna Tempest), Ellen van Vugt (Velox S2) and Florian Kowalik (Norus).  Did I say nothing happens at mid-course?  Jan blew his front tyre at speed a couple of hundred yards upstream and went down and off immediately.  He's OK, but sits disconsolate in the dirt with his head in his hands.  This must be at least the third blow-out he's had this week; David Wielemaker reckons the rubberwear is just not up to the job.  There's drama too at the timing area when Florian's screen mists up and he goes off the road at some 57 mph, ploughing through a marker post on the way.  A good thing we now have fibreglass posts all the way down the course as otherwise both the Norus and Florian would have been cut in half.  He's unhurt but the bike is sufficiently battle-scarred that it won't be able to run tonight.

Teenage hooliganism, or, what happens when your screen fogs up at 57 mph
Heat three sees Wil Baselmans (Velox 3), Ben Goodall (Nitro), Cam Robertson (Bluenose), Marc Jutras (Vortex) and Blake Anton (Primal 2) in the running.  Another run over 70 for Bluenose - the representation of the Canadian flag on the tail fin is obviously doing its job.  Blake pulled Primal up on the course; the bike was recovered without (further) damage.  It was making a rather odd noise when it came past me, as though something was rubbing.

Bluenose tail fin, now with added Shiny
Heat four contains Thomas van Schaik (Cygnus), Trefor Evans (Bluenose) and Damjan Zabovnik (Eivie 4).  Thomas punctures early on but the team is able to rescue the bike before it falls over.  They drive down to the first ranch road and change the tyre and tube in situ before heading back to the start for another go.  Another 75+ run for Bluenose, 76.84 mph.  Eivie is again much slower than expected - Damjan has yet to reach 50 mph this year in a bike thought to be capable of record-threatening speeds.
Damjan and Eivie 4 at mid-course
I didn't think there'd be time to run the scheduled fifth heat as we'd been twenty minutes later than scheduled at the start of the day, but the Organisators thought differently.  Aurélien Bonneteau (Altaïr 4), Calvin Moes (Bluenose), Alex Selwa (Vortex), Thomas trying again after his rapid pit-stop and Sergei having another attempt.  Yet another new hat for a Bluenose pilot as Calvin stops the clock at 76.50 mph - the bike's fourth run over 70 in a single morning.  Sergei manages to get away this time; the mustachioed Russian coming in with a 62.40 mph pass.  Full results of the morning runs here.
Thomas van Schaik in Cygnus
Sergei Dashevski in Tetiva 3
A pox on the radios, which became progressively worse as the session went on, and on the flies which infested the motor-car as soon as I put the roof down.  And then back to the Civic Centre for the meeting.  Incidentally, if anyone is wondering why there are so few pictures of tool-wielding apes in the Super 8 parking lot this year, it's because the Civic Centre has been opened to the event 24/7 for the entire week.  Most of the Delft / Amsterdam PSOs seem to have taken up residence there full time and I know that Certain People have been kipping there on a regular basis.

I always seem to end up sitting with the Cygnus lads at these meetings, which is usually a rich vein of comedy gold.

Frans (proudly): We can do a tyre change in mid-course!
Jan-Marcel (points at writer): I bet he could do a Fat Tire change...

(Fat Tire is the name of a rather nice amber ale brewed in Fort Collins, CO.)

Back to the Super 8 to upload photos, update the odd cycling forum, delete the usual spam from the inbox and update the Automatic Diary.  The formatting has gone funny again.  Arses.  Return to the Civic Centre for group photos and the by now traditional visit from Officer Aten of the Highway Patrol, issuing speeding citations and genuine fake Junior Highway Patrol badges to the miscreants who have exceeded the speed limit on 305.  Noticing a lurking Greg Thomas in the crowd, he tries to nick him for fleeing across the state line without collecting his ticket last year.  Much ribaldry ensues, with a Several of people all coming up with the "three strikes and you're out" gag at the same time.  In the group photos, Bluenose really does have a blue nose as they're in the middle of painting it.  I told Todd that a gang of Scousers had nicked his bike and were repainting it prior to selling it.

Ben Goodall, now with joke comedy go-faster haircut, receives his speeding ticket from Officer Aten

Most of the machines.  Beastie and Big Nose Pete had already departed; Glowworm was too embarrassed to come out from under a tarp in the Super 8 parking lot
While gathered at the Civic Centre it had been hot, sunny and still.  A couple of hours later the temperature had plummeted like a morose lemming and the wind had cranked itself up to "oh bugger" levels.  To add insult to injury it rained on the way out to the course.  At least the wind kept the flies out of the car.  Mostly 

With the wind at more than two and a half times the legal limit, Wil (Velox 3), Thomas (Cygnus) and PSO X (Bluenose) all declined to run, so it was left to Damjan to give the timekeepers something to do.  He clocked 40.21 mph.  Much was expected of the new bike but this year it's way off the pace.  I didn't like to ask why...
The howling has started again.  I'm scared (gets back in car, locks doors).

The second heat was delayed by the appearance of a fire truck on an emergency call-out.  We re-opened the road to let the waiting traffic go through, then shut down again immediately.  This time there are two takers: Trefor in Bluenose and Sergei in Tetiva 3.  Both clock respectable times given the nature of the conditions - the occasional gust is rocking the car on its primitive suspension.
Bluenose at speed - now with appropriate paint job
 But come the time for heat 3, conditions are said to be much better at the important part of the course, and a full complement of machines is launched. First off is Sebastiaan (Velox 3) followed by Todd (Bluenose), Auré (Altaïr 4) Jan-Marcel (Cygnus) and Jan (Velox S).  Bluenose disgraces itself by eating its chain after barely half a mile, but the other four make it to the finish.  Everyone is particularly happy for Jan, as he's suffered such appalling luck this year.

The Delft & Amsterdam PSOs are convinced that something of considerable import has just taken place and are demanding to know the speed immediately.  The Doctor says "No" (do you see what I did there, eh?) as they are too busy dismantling the timing system and they'll have to wait until the results are formally announced.  People are beginning to smell Rattus Norvegicus.  I was unconvinced that the wind could have been legal, as was David Wielemaker eschewing the dubious delights of the Owl Club's nosh in favour of something frangible from The Scottish Restaurant next door, followed by sleep.

I cop a lift with Eric Ware, John Jackson and a bloke from Sacramento known only as Hoppy.  We are joined by Sven and later 3/5 of Ben's gang; also Larry and Tom.  For once we don't waste an hour or more on the door prizes but instead pile in straight away.  Finally we are at the stage where everyone is sufficiently fed and watered to announce the results.  Jun milks it for all it's worth.  Incredibly, the wind at timing was legal for all four runs, of which the slowest was Jan with 74.13 mph,  Next up was Auré at 75.64, followed by Jan-Marcel with 78.23.  And then Sebastiaan's result.  83.13.  Legal wind.  New record.  The team erupts.

Sebastiaan is somewhere in the middle of that lot
Georgi is gracious in defeat and delivers a short speech extolling everyone to try even harder next year.

Medals are handed out to volunteers and riders and newly-achieved hats handed out.  Jonathan is unconvincing in his impersonation of Graeme - too much hair and wrong accent for starters.  Then George Leone's Special Awards, firstly the silly ones:
  • Best Vintage HPV: Svengali
  • Best Launcher: Hans van Vugt
  • Best Catcher: Barclay Henry
  • Best Catch Crew: HP Team Delft & Amsterdam
  • Best Crash: Phil Plath and Randy Gillett in Glowworm
Then the serious ones:
  • Technical Innovation: Oleksiy Ryndin of the University of Toronto team, for his data display on the Bluenose camera system.
  • HPV Spirit: Mike Mowett, most notably for his heroic drive halfway across the country carrying the Norus and all manner of bits and pieces, many of which found themselves being used on other team's bikes.
So the final classifications can be announced at last, thus:

Builder+Owner+Rider: Ben Goodall (Nitro)
Junior: Florian Kowalik (Norus)
Multitrack: Dave Sianez (Big Nose Pete)
  1. Barbara Buatois (Varna Tempest)
  2. Ellen van Vugt (Velox S2)
  1. Sebastiaan Bowier (Velox 3)
  2. Wil Baselmans (Velox 3)
  3. Jan-Marcel van Dijken (Cygnus)
 It's almost as predictable as the Spanish in Moto GP...

L-R: Barbara, Ellen & Ben.  Dave left midweek and it was probably way past Florian's bed-time ;-)
L-R: Sebastiaan, Wil, Jan-Marcel
They started dishing out the door prizes after this.  I suspect that half of them went unclaimed as people stopped listening and/or left the building.  Steve Nash claimed the Chris Froome mask provided by Jonathan.  It looked doubly silly with six inches of shaggy black beard protruding from under Mr Froome's chin.

Our party was among the earlier departures.  Hoppy and Eric vanished while John and I did Stuffs on the Internet for a bit, while lowering the level of John's Large Economy size bottle of Jack Daniels.  And then bed.

Results of Friday night's runs here, overall results there.  Photos from the entirety of Saturday: somewhere else.

Bad things about Battle Mountain 2013: The radios, the evening weather.
Good things about Battle Mountain 2013: Just about everything else.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Day 14: Battle Mountain, NV

First, The Bridge:

The Bridge, Thursday morning
The Bridge, Friday morning.  Hooligans!
 Friday morning photo courtesy of Alice Krause.

The weather was greatly improved for the morning runs; only Cam Robertson had Naughty Wind during his run.  We ran four and a half heats over the full course, which meant lots of driving up and down the road at flat harry chatters and left me with no time to take any pictures.  Wil Baselmans clocked the highest speed of the week so far, with a 79.18 mph pass.  Graeme did 56.62 for a new prone record, the previous one having stood since 1984.  There were sarky comments along the lines of "having the world's fastest prone is like having the world's fastest biplane", but buggrem.  The Beastie Boys are a great bunch and we all hope they'll come back.  Full Friday morning results here.

Following the long runs, Graeme had a go in Vortex over the short course but was obliged to pull up after less than half a mile when the chain came off.  He's intending to have another go first thing tomorrow and may even do a run on the full course if all goes according to schedule.  He's not riding this evening as "Ah'm worshin' mah hair!"

I did nothing all afternoon except go to the cash machine, being too decrepit and infirm to attend the drag races over the road.  Out to 305 again.  I find myself switching on the wipers as I approach catch.  By the time Graeme has done a slow-speed pass in Beastie for the benefit of a cameraman it is raining with various degrees of intensity along the entire length of the course.  After about half an hour the match is abandoned chiz, and we all traipse back to town, though not before I have finally photographed this:

The Delft / Amsterdam Rat-Van
For the previous two years the Delft / Amsterdam PSOs have turned up in immaculate rental vehicles.  This year they have a rusty old heap with a Several of previous owners.  I have asked quite a few of the PSOs whether it's stolen.  They have always declined to reply.

On returning to the Super 8 a bunch of us congregate in Al 'n' Alice's room to sample Al's moonshine.  Really quite palatable, if rather strong.  I also borrow some cutters to permit myself clean underwear; some muppet in the Northumberland Park branch of Tesco failed to remove the security tag from a triple pack of boxers and as a result they were literally joined at the hip.  At the meeting I ask to be relieved of my sweep car duties and will instead be at the 2.5 mile mark where nothing every happens.  Note to self: take Kindle...

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Day 13: Battle Mountain, NV

Although we didn't have any runs on 305 last night, we did have a meeting.  Honestly, it's like working for a BigCo sometimes.  Robert "Mr" Barnett announced the details of Friday's drag races; they are to be over a properly measured tenth of a mile.  This means they will eligible for records.

Someone: We don't have a category for 1/10 mile drags!
Robert: Well, we do now.
Thomas: Can I go first?

Bloody trophy hunters, eh...

Then Ben Goodall announced the sale of his fleet of streamliners in order to help finance the construction of new ones.  So Nitro, Overzealous, A Little Overzealous and Completely Overzealous are up for grabs.

Thomas:  Will I fit in it? (for those not in the know, Thomas is about 6'7")
Ben: That depends on your willingness to suffer, and I've seen little evidence of it so far!

And so to bed for an early night.

In the morning my left ankle has seized and it seemed entirely possible that the Organisators would be looking for a new sweep driver for today.  Alice bungs me some Advil, which takes the edge off, but e'en as I type, some eight hours later it doth hurt mightily.

Over breakfast Dave Kennedy relates as how he dreamt last night that he was wading though ankle-deep mud.  After last night's weather this could well be a foretelling of conditions at the short-course start, but it proves to be OK.  Conditions are actually very good, although both the cloud and the temperature are not high.

Atmospheric, innit?  Mount Lewis attempts to emerge from the clouds at its base.
We've jiggled the order of play a bit this morning.  First off a three bike qualifying heat, starting earlier than usual so we can get it all done and dusted before the school bus comes.  Natch the school bus is even later today than it has been all week.  Runners are Cam Robertson (newly-repaired Bluenose), Jun Nogami (Vortex) and Damjan Zabovnik (Eivie 4).  Cam and Damjan get down the course successfully.  Jun, alas, does not.  Three starts, three crashes.  He has formally announced his retirement from the sport, something which the Toronto PSOs are not taking lying down.

Out to the long course next.  The first heat consists of Wil Baselmans (Velox 3), David Verbroekken (Cygnus), Trefor Evans (Bluenose), Graeme Obree (Beastie) and Alex Selwa (Vortex).  Wil clocks the fast run of the event thus far with a pass at 78.38 mph.  For the benefit of Mr Middleton, and Mr Knight, and the Home Secretary's private secretary's secretary's assistant secretary's assistant, Mr Obree did 52.9 mph.  David seems to be having starting issues and decided not to run.

Heat two was in marked contrast to it predecessor.  Jan Bos (Velox 2) took off like a scalded wossname and had reached more than 70 mph when a tyre blew and off into the scrub he went.  From what I've seen the windscreen broke and I've heard that the entire top of the bike came off.  Whatever, Jan is very fortunate to have climbed out totally unscathed.

Behind him, chaos.  Blake Anton (Primal 2), Mike Mowett (Norus) and Sergei Dashevsky (Tativa) all fail to start successfully, leaving it to Damjan to be the only person from the heat to complete the course.

And another heat.  Sebastiaan Bowier (Velox 3) is only marginally slower than his team-mate, Ellen van Vugt (Velox S2), Todd Reichert (Bluenose), Marc Jutras (Vortex) and, finally, Mike Mowett, all get down successfully.  It does take Eric Ware and Cam Robertson a few attempts to get Mike launched but he clocks in at over 59 mph.

What's this?  A fourth heat?  It'd have been nice to have been told, y'know.  Graeme had a second run which, for the benefit of Mr Middleton, and Mr Knight, and the Home Secretary's private secretary's secretary's assistant secretary's assistant, was at 53.34 mph into an illegally-strong headwind.  Sergei got a good one in at more than 58 mph, though again the wind was Bad.  I'm not sure what happened to Blake; Primal 2 was launched successfully but further down the course I encountered him well off the road, being attended to by the team.  It was prior to these runs that I spotted a substantial deer - not a pronghorn antelope scarcely bigger than a cocker spaniel - but a big lad with proper multi-point antlers.  He elected not to interfere with matters and had gone by the next time I passed, though by then there were plenty of pronghorn nibbling the croquet hoops alfalfa on the neighbouring ranch.

Finally we traipsed back down to the short course for further runs: Calvin Moes (Bluenose), recent arrival Sven Jorgensen (Svengali - a Rotator Super 7) and Oleksiy Ryndin (Vortex).  All ran successfully.  'twas a hectic morning, especially for a crip like me.

Svengali leans against his trailer
And finally back to town for the meeting which, for once, went off pretty quickly once people had been taken to task for parking violations.  Now I haz rolls, cheese and salami, otherwise known as lunch.  Further updates after the evening runs, assuming there are any...

On dogs:  The most popular volunteer here is undoubtedly Brad Teubner's dog, whom I think is called Rocky.  He's never had it so good, with dozens of people stopping what they're doing to tickle his ears.  While on the subject, Cygnus spannerman Frans has two Malinois.  We are not familiar with the breed and ask him for details.  "It's an overclocked German Shepherd".  Collapse of stout parties.

I overslept this afternoon.  Frantic rush out to the course where the wind was high enough to make most competitors call it a day.  It came as no surprise to most that the only rider in the first heat was Trefor Evans in Bluenose - that bike is generally very stable at most speeds and wind conditions.  Todd Reichert told me Trefor "had pedalled up to 95 k and sailed the rest of the way".   He did 55.56 mph.

In the second heat there were two takers.  Damjan in Eivie made a steady if not particularly fast run with 40.23 mph.  Sergei again had starting problems and packed it in after falling two or three times.

Damjan's launch was delayed.
Me: What's going on?
Frans: The Highway Patrol is here.
John Jackson: Tell 'em to bring their own BEER!

Three machines lined up for the third heat.  First off was Altaïr 4 and Aurélien Bonneteau.  They have a new launch system involving an assistant wielding a fishing rod, the line of which is attached to the release of their launch dolly.  It was difficult to see whether it did what it was supposed to do but the dolly came off eventually - after a noise sounding suspiciously like snapping  monofilament nylon was heard.  At the meeting I wrote 68.99 mph but Jeff Wills reckons 58.99.  Even the lower figure is highly impressive given the wind speed and direction.

Next up was Todd Reichert in Bluenose, who made a steady run to 42.08 mph.  So steady, in fact, that Phil and Randy in Glowworm passed Todd's chase car and were closing on Bluenose.

Then they lost it.  The bike ploughed at speed into the bridge rails and lost the top part of its fairing.  For the past few years we've been fixing sheets of plywood to the rails to stop a bike from trying to go under them.  They worked.  The plywood is not a pretty sight, and neither is Glowworm, but Phil and Randy escaped with only minor cuts and scrapes.  Very lucky escape and a great job by both the Glowworm and Bluenose chase crews to clear the road so quickly.  I'd post a picture of the "before" state of the bridge, which I happened to snap for CrinklyLion this morning, but Flickr is down for maintenance at the moment.  I may be able to get an "after" one in the morning if I'm out there early enough - we've got a few spare sheets lying around.  Edit: take a look at the pic below and tell me that's not one of the scariest things ever:

The Glowworm crash, as seen from Bluenose's chase car. Screen capture from video shot by Alex Selwa.  The green thing high in the air is the top of the fairing.

A bettered Glowworm alone in the desert

Part of the wooden auxiliary guardrail embedded in the tail
 Glowworm photos courtesy of Alice Krause.  Thursday evening results, such as they are, are here.

At the wrap-up meeting:

Al Krause: Can you fix it?
Larry Lem: I don't think the riders want us to!

Alice enters the meeting sporting a genuine fake plastic Highway Patrol badge, courtesy of Officer Arthur Aten.  She starts going on about how we now have to respect her authoritah.  The Incorrigibles start singing Bob Marley's I Shot The Sheriff.

On lost property: A pair of trousers and a pair of socks have been retrieved from the start area.  These are reclaimed by a sheepish-looking Damjan.  Jonathan's missing phone has also been found, none the worse for its immersion in yesterday's rain.  Alice claims to have used up all the remaining minutes and taken some really weird pictures, while Ben says he used it to call his Mum in Australia.

The Organisators have developed a new system for allocating riders to road closure windows.  There is much argument.  For all I know it's still going on - I made my excuses and left, very very slowly, back to where there is BEER.