Monday, September 10, 2007

Bonneville Excursion 9/10/07 - Here’s my salt, where’s the suit??!!

We got off to a decent start this morning, arriving at the Ryder rental place to get our support truck just 30 minutes after they opened. I'd called before we left, and they told us that they lift gate truck we were going to get had been sent out on an emergency run after another truck had broken down, but they had a ramp truck, and would we be okay with that? I said we'd take a look and it might be okay.

We got there, pulled the truck around, and realized that, while the ramp was okay, the side bars for securing the load were not. They weren't wooden braces set off from the wall an inch or so, but rather some sort of metal strip with notches in it for a type of strap we didn't have. More problematic than that was that the strip was right against the wall, and we could not get our straps behind it.

Step two, look at another truck. This truck has just the right sort of tie braces along each side, so we bring it around to the front. It's got a lift gate as well, although this one is 24 feet long, when we'd asked for a 16 footer. No problem, they give us the same rate. Great! I sign all the papers, and we head out to get the bikes loaded.

I pull my bike up on the lift gate and immediately we realize another problem.

The lift gate is narrow and not very deep. You can see above that the front wheel is really close to the edge, and we don't even have the back wheel up on the lift yet. We could pick up the bike and get it on there, but then when we got it lifted it would be another bit of dragging to get it off. Need I add that being on the gate with a loaded bike is a bit of a touchy proposition as far as balance is concerned?

I was game for giving it a shot, but Andrew didn't care for it at all. We were standing there scratching our heads when a woman pulled up in a minivan, got out, and immediately walked over and said, "Hey, if you guys are having trouble with that, they have vans with longer gates on them." Turns out she was originally from Indianapolis! Her name was Hope. Indeed! Andrew went in for step three: see about another van.

Two hours later it all worked out, and we had the bikes strapped down in a newer van that cost 30 bucks more to rent each day, but the lift was a much better fit on the lift gate. The tie down situation isn't the greatest, but we've checked them numerous times on the drive and they remain stable.

On I-80 from Salt Lake City to Wendover, UT you see mostly the above. Lots of salt and a black line of highway.

We picked up some old Van Halen on our radio. It had a CD player, but we had no CDs. It was classic rock truckin' all the way.

After two hours we finally saw the sign for the salt flats and made for the exit. Here's the sign for the protected lands of the flats.

We got down the entry road, which runs about a mile or two into the flats, and there were several vehicles at its termination. The RV above was obviously there to race and concerned about keeping the place in good condition. There is constant concern for the diminishing surface area and quality of the salt.

While we'd hopped out to check things briefly, this rig pulled out onto the salt entrance road. I've never seen a land speed racing semi trailer. I'm guessing none of you have either.

Here I am standing happily beside the sign marking the Bonneville Land Speed Course. It has some history about the flats themselves as well as the racing. Unfortunately, it also has many bullet holes and some graffiti. In the movie "The World's Fastest Indian," there is a scene where Burt Munroe stands near a large sign proclaiming the site to be "The Fastest Place on Earth," which it is. I was very much looking forward to having my picture taken next to the sign. I was wondering how in the heck I'd missed it, and found out about an hour later from some other racers that it had been STOLEN two years ago! I have no appropriate words for the low opinion I hold of the thieves.

The salt is vast, and this sign plus the Pontiac in the background give you a bit of perspective on how large the racing area is, or at least the general pit area.

In the right light, I cast a long shadow. Everything looks so big out here, even the shade!

First time for these feet on the salt, folks It feels like walking on slightly damp beach sand, and the remains remind me of snow that doesn't melt. It gets in and on everything.

Here I am, pretty much completely blown away that it is all really happening! I'm on the salt with race cars pitted right nearby!

Even our truck looks good in the fading light. We had originally planned on a 16-foot lift gate, and look at us now - 24 feet of Ryder excellence! Kind of ridiculous, really, but it works!

A Ford roadster, the quintessential salt flats racer, sitting in the pits. In the beginnings of land speed racing, roadsters were the only cars thought to be "real" hot rods. This type of machine goes back to the very dawn of the dry lakes and salt flats races.

These guys were running a Ford straight six. I give them big credit for that. I believe they were going to run for the 130 Club like Andrew and I will.

Another shining example of a land speed roadster, this one with a fuel injected small block Chevy.

This is one of the trucks used to set up the flats for racing for each event. It looks as old as the flats themselves, but still hangin' in there.

This is part of the group that was helping to prep our race course. The 130 Club has its own course. The near guy is Ed Smith. He was very friendly and helpful in the conversation following this photo. That white stuff on his back? Salt thrown up from the ATV he was being pulled by.

The prep truck taking off. Gives you another view of how large an area the flats cover. It's amazing, like being on another planet.

I said I was going to do it, and I did - kissing the holy speed ground. I was told "You know, there are about seventy chemicals in that stuff." I couldn't help it. It had to be done. I was only half joking. Being out here, it feels like a very special place requiring some sort of speed-related reverence. Decades of racers and records have been named here. Its singular in its makeup and purpose. I feel lucky to be experiencing it.

Following our visit to the course, where we found out we had a whole day to ourselves to get through tech and then do what we wanted, we headed to the hotel. It was only about a 15 minute drive to the Days Inn. When we got there we were still high from the salt visit. We were also elated to finally be over with driving and traveling daily and get settled a bit. We came in to the front desk, I gave my info for our room and said, "We should also have a package here. It should have my name on it."
The guy glanced at some boxes to behind the desk to my left. "No, nothing here," he said, and continued filling out paperwork.
"Well, it'll be bigger than those there. Maybe they put it somewhere else?"
"No, that's all we have," he said, sounding totally unconcerned.
"It would have arrived last week," I replied, feeling panic and irritation begin to rise. "Would there be another place they might put it?"
"No, this is where we keep packages. We don't have it. Maybe they sent it back." Still totally unconcerned.
Sent it back? SENT IT BACK??!! I sighed heavily. He wasn't leading me into any sort of discussion that would involve a resolution of any sort. He didn't care in the least that I was missing a one thousand dollar suit that I needed to use inside of 48 hours, a suit my friend and I had ordered in advance, checked the timeliness of prior to its delivery to my home, and then sent, following the instructions of the staff at the hotel in which I was now standing, and now didn't have!!!! I didn't know what to say next.
"Do you have a tracking number?" he asked.
"Oh! Yes. Yes I do," I said, remembering my postal receipt and reaching for my wallet. He was going to help!
"Well you can get on line and look it up then." He looked at me blankly.

Obviously, this exchange was going nowhere. It was late, there was no one at the desk who could actually do anything that resembled assisting us, so we took our keys and went to our room - after he remembered to tell us what room number we were in.

We got into the room and I immediately unpacked the laptop and pulled up USPS. I entered the tracking number, and got this: "Returned. Unable to deliver as addressed."

"Yep," I said to Andrew. They sent it back. Profanity followed.

Feeling incredibly angry and frustrated, we dumped our stuff and headed out for dinner. I have already called my good friend Andre who has offered to get the suit and Fedex it to us. My concern is that, since I'm having my mail held, he will not be able to pick it up because of some postal regs. Basically, the suit will be waiting for me to come and pick it up when I get back home and don't need it anymore, at least not this year.

I'm not sure what we're going to do. Best case scenario, Andre can get the suit and Fedex it, and we get it in time to race. Worst case we have to borrow someone else's suit to race with. We'll still get to race, but it won't be as convenient, and the expense of an unused suit will be annoying. I also need to have a word with the manager of the hotel to find out why they only kept the package here for two hours (per the web site tracking) before sending it back, and why some nitwit didn't bother to check and see if any guest names matched the one on the package. Hell, some other guests picked up a package while I was standing there asking about mine! How come theirs got held? How come, if I needed to address it differently, I wasn't given the appropriate instructions. It was an unfortunate end to what had become a truly fantastic day.

We'll get through this, but I want that suit. NOW!!!



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