Altered States

Lauren's ad Ken's Adventures in The Great Race

The Long Road Home

Posted on July 5, 2017

And The Adventure Continues

 

After a wonderful breakfast with Alan and Helen, we packed up and hit the road from Traverse City, bound for Niagara Falls, Ontario. If we had planned better, we would have allowed a couple of extra days to go the northern route back up to Mackinac Island to Sault Ste. Marie and catch the Trans-Canada Highway around Lake Huron, Lake George, and the North Channel. But since we didn’t plan for that, we took the shorter southern route passing through Flint, MI and some of the same roads we traveled on the Great Race. 

The views along the way are stunning and we thoroughly enjoyed being able to look about without having to maintain a constant speed or look for signs to make directional changes. It was quite relaxing! (Though we would occasionally call out signs out of habit as we came upon them!)


 

The border crossing into Canada was more time consuming than coming into most immigration control points in airports! We spent about 40 minutes inching our way up to the booth. (Note: The Enhanced NY Driver License works just fine! Now that we both have one, no need to carry a passport when driving to or from Canada and Mexico. Perfect for the 2018 Great Race from Buffalo to Nova Scotia!)

We arrived in Niagara Falls, ON with about 45 minutes of daylight left so we had a magnificent view of the falls from our room at the Embassy Suites (rated the best view by TripAdvisor.) I had never seen the falls from the Canadian side so never had a full view of the Horseshoe Falls, and this was Lauren’s first time to Niagara. Her first reaction? “That’s not as big as I thought it would be!” Spoiled by Victoria Falls and Iguazu Falls which are much taller (and by being more than 40 floors above!) But we were both awed at the breadth and beauty of the falls.


That awe was enhanced mightily once we took the incline down to the falls. The power of the river is hard to ignore and the beauty energy of the rushing water is a sight to behold! We were treated to a wonderful light show, coloring the falls in red, white, blue, and other colors, after the fireworks celebrating the 4th of July.


In the morning, we took a short drive to the American side (the border crossing was 2 minutes!) to ride the famed Maid of the Mist boat from Niagara State Park into the center of the Horseshoe Falls. (Hint: get there really early to avoid an up to 3 hour wait!) The process has been honed by over a century of tours and we were moved rapidly through the ticket line (we pre-purchased online!) then down via elevator to the riverside, issued our Maid of the Mist blue ponchos, and queued up for the next boat. 

We lucked out and were first in line for the boarding! When it was time to board we went straight to the top deck and secured a great position along the forward railing. We got pretty wet! It was like being in a heavy downpour at times, but the ponchos did their jobs admirably. It was quite spectacular to see the falls from the river – even if they’re not as tall as Victoria or Iguazu!

After a walk around the park, we hit the road for the long ride back home. We chose to avoid as much of the heavily traveled interstates as possible in favor of the country roads. That added some time to the journey, but it was much more enjoyable seeing the beautiful countryside and not being stuck in traffic. Though, we did hit some slow spots on Route 6 heading to the Bear Mountain Parkway and got caught behind an accident on the Plaisades Parkway. Mostly smoooth sailing! 

And so we end our Great Race adventure for this year! Thanks for following along and we hope you enjoyed sharing our fun and trials! 

We’ll be back next year!

The Championship Run – The Final Stage

Posted on July 3, 2017

Find The Real Data
Sault Sainte Marie is a pretty town, but the day started with a splash. Heavy rain was coming down when we got up, then let up for a little while in time to get the car ready and packed for our early start. 

Today’s stage to Traverse City is the Championship Run and it is the final opportunity to  improve your scores and standing. The official start time is 7:30 AM and our start position for the day is 42 – and we’re in order of the overall standings from the day before so we’re going to be running with teams that are competing as well as we are. No Mayhem of the Rookies to deal with – we’re on our own.

We left earlier than usual after receiving our instructions to allow extra time in case there was some difficulty getting across the beautiful Mackinac Bridge on this holiday weekend. (Heavy traffic yesterday force the cancellation of the last leg!) The first part of the calibration run was in moderate rain and the Ranchero was running a bit slower than the posted times due to the cooler temperature and the lower pressure in the tires. (I never added any air the whole week!) 

By the time we reached the starting point, the road was dry. But we would run into showers (some heavy) throughout the morning. The rain made it extremely important to “look sharp” and wet roads also demand more care and longer start and stop times. Just more fun to our fun filled week!

The Championship Run was a total of 5 legs. Team Altered States was firing on all cylinders and we were feeling like we were executing well despite the new variables introduced by the rain. We did have one point where we got caught a few seconds off the pace when the first checkpoint came in a space where we were trying to make up time after a turn, so we definitely lost a few points there!

The rest of the morning went well – until the last leg where we missed a speed change and ended up estimating our time loss and tried to compensate. That uncertainty caused a great deal of anxiety until we got our scores. Anxiety turned to disappointment when we learned we were 28 seconds late on

the at leg. The lesson learned is “Never guess.” What we should have done is found the car ahead of us and hacked off them to get a minute between us. That has it’s risks too, but at least you have something to work with other than a guess!

The day wasn’t a total washout though! Our score for the day was a respectable 39.0 seconds (5, 1, 4, 2, 28) but it dropped us to 38th place overall and 18th place in our division. Not bad, but we’ll have to be better next time. We’re just competitive enough now to be able to compete for the money. Time to get to work and practice, practice, practice!

The day wasn’t a total washout from a weather perspective either. As the morning progressed and we drew closer to the finish, the skies brightened and the dark clouds were replaced with white cumulus clouds as we arrived into stunning Traverse City, MI. The downtown was packed with people in for the July 4the weekend and the annual Cherry Festival – and of course, the finish of the 2017 Great Race.

We enjoyed a leisurely lunch (for a change!) and had the time to stroll through the town as the airshow roared above us and we sampled the cherries. (Shhh! Don’t tell anyone – the weather has been so cold the local cherries are still on the trees!) We checked into our hotel, The Great Wolf Lodge, which is an incredibly kitschy and incongruous collection of kiddie theme park, hunting lodge, and Pirates of the Caribbean motif. It works in a weird way.

The day was capped by the awards banquet and a party after where lots of stories were shared, friendships cemented, plans for the future made, and long goodbyes were conducted. We’ll be back!

In the morning, after a nice casual breakfast we’ll head back on the road, heading home via a side trip through Ontario, Canada and an overnight stay on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. 

 

 

 

 

 



It’s About Time

Posted on July 1, 2017

You Lose It on The way Up, And You Lose It On The Way Down!

The morning in Frankenmuth started out with a bit of rain. That clearly would have an impact on how the speedometer calibration would go – but not as much impact as the traffic! Typically the speedo will run a bit faster on wet roads, but we never really got to find out how much variance there was because we ran into heavy traffic on I-75 before we even got to the first 15 minutes. By the time we got restarted, the rain had stopped and we were on mostly dry road (for the limited time we had before the next traffic delay.) We were finally able to get a good 20 minutes in and got our calculations to adjust the speedometer (not much needed, and the earlier wet road times did indicate the faster number than the dry road surface!)

Today’s stages were pretty technical, but less of the intricate cloverleafs we were expecting (though there were 2 legs that looped back upon each other.) The various legs were mostly at higher speeds with lots of transitions to slow speeds and then going back to higher speeds. There was also a lot of slow speed driving in the towns that we went through on our way to Sault Sainte Marie, MI (just 1/4 mile across the river to Canada!)

We drew position 94 for our start today, and as luck would have it, we started one position in

front of our favorite expert team of Jeff and Eric Fredette. The Fredettes drive a fabulous yellow 1933 Ford Pickup Model B that they have built just for the Great Race. It is an incredible machine and Jeff and Eric are in the hunt for the top spot, currently in 2nd place overall. They have always been willing to give us direction when we have a question and never hesitate to give us suggestions to improve our techniques.

However, it’s still pretty intimidating to run in front of them. You just don’t want to screw up! After the first couple of legs we saw they were much closer behind us than we knew was good for us. We thought we were doing pretty well, having recovered from a couple of mistakes that might have cost us a few seconds, but we didn’t think they were so costly to back us up so far.

At the first restart the 2 cars in front of us seemed to start relatively close to the time we calculated the offsets to be for our start time, so we were mystified at why the Fredettes closed the gap on us so much. At the first transit break, Lauren asked them what they thought and they said we had lost about 20 seconds somewhere. We ticked through the possibilities, eliminating the speedometer, missed instructions, improper recoveries, and so on. Nothing seemed to jump out. Perhaps some of our techniques need to be examined…

The rest of the stage found us keeping pace with the car in front and keeping the the car in back at what appeared to be a constant interval. But the differential in scores was telling! We had a decent set of scores coming in with a total score of 35.1 seconds. The Fredettes came in with a 4.98 seconds score! Wow, what a difference!

We think we know where we need to focus next – figuring out how to mange speed changes involving high speed and low speed combinations. We’ll be practicing that at home for sure. Our score for the day put us at 39th for the day, but bumped us up to 34th overall and 15th in our class.

Tomorrow is the final stage for the 2017 Great Race as we head to the finish in Traverse City. We’ll be sharing the July 4th crowds with thousands in town for the Cherry Festival.

Should be a blast!

 

 

 

 

Go Fast! Go Fast!

Posted on June 30, 2017

If We Go Now We’ll Beat the Traffic!

 

The most challenging day so far. Stage 7 was a series of exercises in higher speed driving, timing – and coping with extraordinary traffic. 

We started the day leaving Ann Arbor with a short run up to I-94 to begin the calibration run on US 23. Just 5 minutes into the run traffic came to a standstill and then crept along for a good 20 minutes as the lanes narrowed to one as traffic had to squeeze by an overturned tractor tailer. That was just a harbinger of what was in store for the day!

Once we were finally able to complete the calibration, we made it to the start point on time

with minutes to spare. We reset the speedometer and got in the line in our proper spot. The instructions had us leaving at 35 mph. The only problem the queue was on the side of a road where the speed limit is 45 mph (and no one goes just 45!) And it was just past a very busy intersection so when the light changed there was a steady stream of traffic. That makes it very difficult to position a rally car to start at a precise time. 

My technique was to wait till about 20 seconds before our start time to put the Ranchero on the road at the line, and hope the light would be with us. I was counting on that good midwestern graciousness to allow a car in the middle of the lane time to get started. (And then, of course, go slow enough for miles to make you tear your hair out.) I can only imagine the poor souls who were lucky enough to pass one rally car only to encounter another one just a minute down the road!

We were able to get through the first few instructions OK and completed some timing exercises when we hit our first traffic delay on the rally route. We were holding 25 mph, but that tractor in front of us was not! When we caught up, we slowed to 20 mph for about 20 seconds, but ended up holding up traffic behind us. (We would make up the time lost later.) 

When we caught up to the tractor again we stopped to take a 10 second time allowance hoping it would turn off the road before we caught it again. That didn’t work. So we stopped a 2nd time and took another 10 second allowance. When we got up to speed again, he finally pulled over to let traffic get by. We did everything right except we forgot to account for the time lost decelerating and accelerating the 2 times we paused! Ouch! It turned out that first leg was our worst score for the day.

The following 8 legs were a mix of driving in heavy high speed traffic at slow speeds, long periods of 50 mph stretches on the country roads outside Detroit, more scary starts in heavy traffic, and some fun loops where we would encounter cars on different segments of the day’s rally. 

The lunch stop was at the Stahls Automotive Foundation in Chesterfield, MI. The food was great and the museum was a real treat. We even had enough time to actually look around! While comparing strategies, Helen save our butts by reminding us we couldn’t take a time allowance in a checkpoint-free zone (which was our plan for one instruction if we got stuck at a traffic light for too long.) No worries though, it was fun making up the lost time!

We finished the day in Frankenmuth, MI and were pleased with our scores for the day (12, 2, 1, 3, 2, 4, 2, 3, 1) for a total of 29.25 second for the day. We finished 23rd for the day which moved us up to 36th overall, and 16th in our division. 


We enjoyed a delightful dinner at the Frankenmuth Brewery and some wonderful craft brews. Tomorrow is the Championship Run, a real test of skill. It starts bright and early at 7:30 AM so I’d better get some rest! 

We’re almost to the end!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding The Groove

Posted on June 30, 2017

 

No Excuses!

Our start position for Stage 6 is 56! Great to be on the 1st page of the Start Order for a change. It’s a beautiful morning in Auburn and the Ranchero is ready to hit the pavement (or the “Chip & Sealer,” or whatever they call it out here!)

 
Our speedometer was right on for the calibration run, so it was all on the driver and navigator to execute. The first few legs of the morning had us make our way from Auburn to a Pit Sop at the Shipshewana Auto Museum. What a lovely place, and the welcome by the local folks and the museum was superb! It’s too bad we couldn’t spend more time – we’ll have to go back someday.
 
Those first couple of legs went by smoothly, though on one, a checkpoint came along too quickly for us to make up about 4 seconds. Rats! We also had some special objects sharing the road which could easily cause significant delays. Those horse drawn carriages are lovely and picturesque and all, but man, can they wreak havoc with cars trying to maintain a constant speed! We were very lucky in being able to get around all of them without slowing down (though one was a real squeaker!) 
 
Not so lucky for Jerry and Joe, the 1955 Olds 98 in front of us. They had to wait to be able to pass one and ended up about 30 seconds or so in front of us. That was to our great fortune because they are a great team and having them in view certainly made us more confident of where to turn!  
 
A big difference in today’s stage and the previous days’ stages is we were surrounded by veteran teams in front and behind (except the rookie team in the 1971 AMC Javelin right behind us. More on them later!) Having seasoned veterans around insulated us to a large degree from the Mayhem of the Rookies of previous stages.
 
For the rest of the stages before lunch we flawlessly executed the technical instructions. All

that we didn’t know was how well we were doing on the timing. Only one slight hiccup when an instruction indicated “1st paved road” and we almost turned into it because the apron at the beginning looked “paved.” But it was really only gravel, and a quick look up the road showed it was plainly just dirt. It was a costly bobble at that spot for John and Dale when their 1955 Studebaker spun on the gravel as they tried to correct to get back on the right road. They ended up in a deep ditch and needed a tow to get out. But there was minor damage (they thought!) and they were able to continue to the lunch stop.

 
Lunch was at the spectacular Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, MI. It is a fabulous location and the cars and automotive memorabilia are fantastic. We did have some time to be able to look around, but again, just not enough time to really enjoy such wonderful cars. (We’re thinking of doing a tour of all the excellent auto museums in this country.)
 
The afternoon stages began with a series of “cloverleaf” course instructions. These are usually done at slow speeds in neighborhoods with grid style streets. It’s easy to get confused because race cars are going in all different directions at every intersection and in no apparent order. You really have to ignore all the sensory input and focus on executing the instruction you’re on. 
 
The difference in today’s cloverleaf instructions is they are done on the rural roads of Michigan, which are many, many miles of country roads. But it’s no less disconcerting to see race vehicles going different ways at all the intersections! Suddenly, we saw the 1971 Javelin coming in the opposite direction (at a very high rate of speed!) Since they were supposed to be one car behind us, they were clearly out of position. They obviously missed a turn somewhere and were trying to get back in position. (Boy, did that big block sound great as they sped by!) The problem was they literally had miles to catch up to us. To do that before a checkpoint would be quite a feat.
 
At the next restart point the Javelin pulled up behind us in the proper spot! They had to pass 15 cars before they spotted us up ahead. They estimated the time between us to be 42 seconds so slowed down to increase the distance. A few seconds later they hit the checkpoint! I can’t wait to find out how they scored on that leg!
 
We finished the final stages of the afternoon with no errors and headed on the transit to the finish at the Ypsilanti Auto Museum. But we encountered some standstill traffic on I-94 along the way and decided to find a detour so we wouldn’t be late. (If you’re more than an hour late to the finish, you run the risk of not finishing for the day.) Our detour worked and we arrived in plenty of time! 

We received our scores and Lauren was ecstatic! We were pretty consistent for the day with 3, 4, 2, 5, 0 (Ace!) 4, 3, 2 for a total of 22.43 seconds. That put us at 21st overall for the day and moved us up to 44th in the overall cumulative standings, 22nd in our class.
 
We’re starting to find our groove!

And Mayhem Ensued

Posted on June 28, 2017

We Skipped the Drama

 

What a gorgeous day to be on the road! The weather in Indianapolis couldn’t be more perfect. We drew start position 72 for the day (our lowest so far) and we were only 5 positions from Alan and Helen so we were able to see them throughout the day! We had a good night’s sleep and felt ready to handle any curve balls that might come our way. But, boy, do we wish a lot of other people got the message about being prepared!


Some days, you just can’t catch a break. For some reason, a number of teams had brain checks and were not at their assigned start positions. This is not only a bad thing for the team missing the start, but it causes additional pressure on those teams who must suffer the consequences when that car tries to insert itself back in the sequence after the start. It causes a lot of stress on a team when suddenly there is a car positioned less than 30 seconds in front of it. It was a mazing how many teams miscalculated their start time today! Fortunately, we were not affected by the the antics of some of the teams as they “raced” to recover their lost positions.

Today’s stage was also a very technical set. Lot’s of start/stop instructions and quite a few speed change exercises. And a significant set of “Emergency Instructions” that were handed out with the day’s instructions required the teams to be extra alert. Sometimes the route must be changed due to things like construction, flooding, zombies, etc, and the Rallymaster issues the emergency updates at the distribution in the morning. In some cases an entire leg is eliminated and a new set of instructions are inserted to replace the old instructions.  Today was one of those days.

Lauren is very meticulous and carefully notes the changes and excises the obsolete instructions so there is no chance of them being improperly executed. On the other hand, it appears a lot of teams don’t do a good job of revising the instructions! One section of deleted directions created a transit period for a number of the replaced instructions.

Some teams had apparently mistakenly kept the old instructions and ended up couple of hours off course. Others panicked when they misread one of the new instructions and thought they had missed a key clue and turned around to go back to recover. Once one car goes off course, inevitably others follow, doubting their own knowledge and intuition.

We saw about a dozen cars headed in the opposite direction in a line with more making U-

turns ahead. There were six cars pulled off to the shoulder on our side and we thought it was an emergency checkpoint that was rerouting everyone, so we pulled over. But it turned out to be even more teams discussing what instruction they could have missed. We hightailed it out of there as fast as we could! The lesson is “Run Your Own Race.”

Speaking of which, our one lapse of judgement happened before all that drama when we found ourselves closing in on a team we knew to be very good. But we also knew they were one of the cars that missed their starting time as they had passed us on the way to trying to get back in position. They never made it. A checkpoint occurred when they were about 30 – 40 seconds in front of us. That meant they would be there for every leg until the official restart after the lunch break. No worries though. They’re good and we had enough distance to work with.

Or so we thought. As we were rapidly closing the gap between them and us, we began to question whether we had missed a sign and were now going too fast. As we pulled up on them we dropped our speed and started timing while we figured out what was going on. We did not miss our sign! So we noted our time at the slower speed passed them at a stop sign, and made up the time we lost. Talking to Bob at lunch he said they had missed a sign that would have had them at the higher speed and that his navigator was having a really bad day. Again, run your own race!

With all the drama going on around us, we kept our heads and executed the full day’s set of instructions well. We ended up with great scores on all but one leg (2, 5, 3, 4, 1, 11, 1) which was good enough for us to finish in 20th place overall for the day and moved us up to 51st in the cumulative standings.

We finished the day in Auburn, IN with a visit to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum which has an incredible collection of stunning historic cars and trucks and other vehicles. The food was great and Lauren tried her best to sample all of the 15 different pies provided for dessert!

A great day for Team Altered States!

Stage 4 Rocked And The Hills Rolled

Posted on June 27, 2017

Are We Starting To Feel It Now, Or What?

 

Stage 4 started bright and early in Bowling Green, with our start position at 78 – the earliest we’ve gone out yet. It turned out to be a mixed emotions day. On the way to pick up our instructions we learned that our brother-in-law’s Dad passed away this morning. After getting through the initial shock, Lauren decided we were going to dedicate today’s performance to Ray. We were determined it was going to be a good one with Ray looking over us!

We got out on the road and ran the calibration run with no problem, but determined we would need to adjust the speedometer since we were losing about 11 seconds / hour. With that adjustment made, we were ready to go.

Today’s stage was a beautiful ride through the rolling hills of Kentucky, with stunning vistas, impressive farms, and gorgeous horse ranches. Rolling hills (and these are some serious rolling hills!) present a different challenge when trying to hold a constant speed. Obviously, when going uphill you have to apply power to maintain speed, and going downhill you need to use the brakes to hold the car steady.

The challenge is, to do that when you must maintain and – usually increase – that power through the crest of the hill and not shoot past your target speed (by too much) and end up several mph over the target as you head downhill, is really tricky. Likewise, holding the car at speed downhill with the brakes introduces the risk of too much braking and therefore slowing you down too much. Feathering the throttle properly is a skill to be mastered! (One I haven’t yet mastered.)

But the Ranchero performs admirably. The car responds almost instantly to the request for more power, so I have to be very careful to not apply too much gas. On the downhill, the brakes have functioned perfectly, with no evidence of fading, even on long stretches.

We also seem to have gotten our mojo back and were able to score our first ace of the rally along with a couple of low score legs. We finished with a score of 14.63s second for the day – our best day so far! But it could have been better – we had our time of day on the stopwatch off by 6 seconds so our starts were 6 seconds too early! If we had had started at the right time we would have gotten 2 aces and our score would have been around 5 seconds. Another lesson learned! Always verify your clock with another trusted source!

We’re hoping we are done with all our “user error” problems now and will see if we can get back in the hunt to score well in our class. Tomorrow we depart from our overnight location in Indianapolis and head to Wapakoneta, OH for our lunch stop and to Auburn, IN for our overnight stop. We’re looking forward to seeing some terrific automobiles there!