It’s Been a Hard Day’s Drive,
And we’ve been sweating like a hog.
It’s been a hard day’s drive,
And now I’m writing up my blog.
When you drive “America’s Loneliest Road” for 200+ miles across high desert, at one speed FOREVER, following instructions that had exactly ONE TURN instruction ALL DAY, it was really a driver’s day. As Navigator for the Incredible Ethan Corey, I might as well have gone to sleep. But then he would have gone to sleep, too. And he was on the sunny side. So I challenged him to some food tricks during the longest, last parts today. We had a bag of choco-chip cookies and attempted to flip them whole, in our mouths, before chomping: back-to-front, side-to-side, and spun around like a crumby top. Trust me, it takes practice. But that we tried is proof of how hard it is to maintain concentration when NOTHING changes for hours. We did not do very well on those last legs, but a few seconds extra error is better than a ditch ride (remember, we’ve been up late every night so far, fixing something)!
Our day began with a bang – literally, though a very small one, as a fuse popped just as we left the hotel and entered the freeway ramp. We have GoPro’s running, but on their batteries. We thought to try an adapter in the cigar lighter – just then all the electrics quit. We had bought spare fuses in San Rafael, for all but the main one (an odd size). So we fabricated a new fuse ourselves, on the shoulder of the ramp: using strands of wire formed around the ceramic body of the dead one. Just another MacGiver moment for Team 39! We made our start time by skipping calibration and running a wee bit faster down the freeway. Sorry there was no time for pictures.
We climbed out through dry hills and crossed dead flat valleys that are really big salt pans, because the few raindrops that do fall have nowhere to go but re-evaporate. We passed a Naval Air Station. In the middle of the desert (and I thought the Swiss Navy was a funny idea)! Up over the Sand Springs Pass and the Drumm Summit at 4650 feet – no engine issues for most, thought the hot air and steep, long grades gave some challenges. Along one especially flat section between two ridges it was SO flat that they had to dig ditches on either side to lift the road above the occasional flood, as even an inch or two of rain would just stand there covering everything in sight. All along the ditch edges, people have put their initials, words, shapes in the bank using the billions of little black stones that dot the white, salty, clay pan soils. Cute. Maybe something to do next time you’re bored: drive out 100 or so miles in the desert, stop, and move some rocks.
When we did climb through hills between flat pans, the scenery was notably more pleasing to the eye: stony spires and gravelly canyons. One section had clearly had a wildfire as all the trees were blackened trunks, though the ground was re-greening already (or had that taken years?).
We had to take a delay on leg 3, as in a hilly section the red speedster of Team 73, had some engine sputtering that made it impossible for them to hold speed. We dropped back 20 seconds to give them room, until we could pass (Right at a media spot)! Right after that we crested and descended into a steep canyon lined with columnar basalt outcrops. I’ve always been intrigued by those, knowing that from on top, they would look just like a big version of a dry-cracked mud puddle, though in this case, the mud was lava, and the cracks run down hundreds of feet, exposing the resulting columns, when the surrounding soil is eroded away.
The canyon opened out – back onto salt pan again. Then, just when it seemed we would have a boring run; our left rear tire collapsed. We pulled over but it was shredded. I had started the clock as we stopped and we got the spare on in 9 minutes flat. However, it had only about 15 psi in it – very soft. We elected to run the rest of the leg at 40 not 50, to avoid killing the spare, too. I calculated a total lost time of just over 11 minutes. We put in for an 11 minute delay, but John Classen denied it, citing rules that prohibit allowances for mechanical or personal problems. But just for the record, we were 11 minutes and 13 seconds late for that leg. I am very proud of Ethan for handling it coolly and effectively (if a tad scatalogically), and that we were able to track the error, even if not recoverable. So it’s one bad leg (the worst each day gets tossed from the scoring anyway). Again; sorry not time for pictures!
When we arrived at our lunch stop in the little town of Austin, NV, the only shop had truck tires, but nothing for a fifty-year old Volvo. Imagine that. We called ahead to Elko and found a spot that did have a suitable tire, but closed at 6 PM, well before we would arrive. We asked Wally the Camera Guy if he would take our dead tire and wheel there for us (they go ahead to get in place for the evening set-ups). He and his driver – my Troy NY neighbor Dale Kasson did that while we drove the afternoon legs. Thank you, Dale! Than you, Wally. It’s good to have friends in high places.
Just about then, Ethan noticed that the speedo read 2 mph when we were stopped. Oh no! That must have happened when the fuse blew in the AM, and we never re-calibrated. OK. Look. This is an endurance exercise. We are not going to win. We are not going to be in the top scoring group. We have a car we bought sight-unseen a few days ago, with no practice and no performance charts. Except for the digital Timewise speedo, this is STRICTLY seat of the pants rallying! We re-set it and rebuilt our beautiful duct-tape mount (the heat had caused it to sag and slip). With that mindset firmly embedded (HA!), we headed out for the afternoon.
Other than a brief amusing stop in Eureka, NV where we had a nice talk with County Sheriff Logan (Holy infinite highway, are we REALLY still in Nevada?), the afternoon was more drag race than rally, emphasis on ‘drag’: the road seemed to go on forever and our ability to focus REALLY started to drag, especially for Ethan on the sunny side of the car. We had picked up a cooler, ice, and drinks at the gas stop: GOOD move! Still, we agreed we have now done enough Nevada crossings. Being as this was a Driver’s Day, it’s apropos that Ethan’s Swedish Nom de Guerre is STIG, Stig Toöitt (I am AXEL, Axel Brökkin)! Several times, as his foot died on the pedal, I swapped: not driving, just holding the pedal, by throwing my left foot over there so he could move his a bit while I held speed. He still had to steer, though (in theory anyway -VERY straight roads today).
We got a call from the tire store, just before they closed at six, to give a credit card number for the tire we were buying in absentia! We finally pulled into town (Elko) and the evening park. Dale brought our remounted tire back from the Les Schwab Tire Center – where they had fit a different size then the old one! Oh well, it’s close. We swapped it there on the display line, which invited a lot of commentary. Next stop was the local parts store to get a bridge fuse to replace the handmade one that might not really have been a fuse at all. And we grabbed some food at the grocery.
At long last, we got to the hotel where we were told we weren’t registered there. In fact, they had mixed up the names of Coker and Corey (in fairness, we’re both totally cool people, so it IS understandable). It took a little input from Jeff Stumb, but since they got our room, we got Corky’s 3-room suite: solid gold chandeliers, marble Jacuzzi, 90 inch plasma TV, chilled bottles of champagne on the balcony, and all on the 45th floor penthouse.
OK, I’m kidding about that – really – the TV looks a little smaller.
Actually, though Ethan installed the bridge fuse and cleaned the mouse nest out of the blower so we can get outside air into the cabin, all while I worked on whether or not we would be camping in the lobby; this is the first night we have not HAD to work on our car! Time for bed. Ethan, turn off Corky’s chandeliers and 3-D TV. Tomorrow is another Hard Day’s Drive – on to Wyoming.
PS: other than the 11-minute leg with the tire failure, and the 50 second last leg where exhaustion set in, we did OK. No aces yet,though.