Saturday, August 27, 2011

Vegas to Reno

Continuing along the vein of Grant's recovery, I had the opportunity last week to go along on quite the adventure, all within the Nevada state lines.

There's an offroad racing series called Best in the Desert, and they produce races in both Nevada and Arizona. The competitors range from trophy trucks and highly prepped dirt bikes to more attainable jeeps and dune buggies. Their showcase race is Vegas to Reno (Beatty to Dayton this year, specifically), a 550-mile tear through the desert, and the race goes off without the racers being able to see the terrain ahead of time.

I went along as an embedded journalist of sorts. Grant had an opportunity to serve as navigator for the series-leading team, Bad Apple Racing. They were exceptionally gracious to have Grant along, and I must extend my personal gratitude for the hospitality, camaraderie, and insight they provided to both me and the filmmaker, Ryan Croke. The team is run by two brothers, Steve and Chris Appleton, and they have put together quite the operation. Thanks, guys.

Just so it's not too long until you can see what we're talking about, here's what we're talking about:

I survey my kingdom

"Navigator" is kind of a loose term, as they've got the course pre-programmed into a GPS unit, but knowing that the desert is about to turn left is only a small victory in a battle that's repeated countless times throughout the 550 miles. The GPS says nothing of the terrain, the "road" condition, or the amount of dust obscuring the driver's vision. What's it really like?

Imagine having 800HP channeled through two rear wheels on a surface that, if you called it "loose," would make a nation of sluts seem virtuous by comparison, or if you called it "rough," would make the Before models in those shaving gel commercials seem like pampered pansies, and being kinda able to see where you're supposed to point this truck, but really just hoping the entire time that you're not about to drive into a boulder or a 10-foot deep wash or a tree or something, and if you catch someone, you bump them from behind to let them know you're there, cause they can't see anything, and if they don't let you by, you point the truck into the desert at 110MPH and get by them as quickly as you can, because lots of weird shit can appear in front of you when you're not on a road and covering a football field every two seconds, and if you're successful in doing this for 10 hours without killing yourself or having any day-ending mechanical problems, you're a winner. It's nuts.

Anyhow, I wrecked myself to finish my week's work before flying to Vegas Tuesday night to be there for practice and qualifying and whatnot before the race on Friday. I also came down with a beast of a head cold, only exacerbated by long hours, no sleep, and probably some stress, so I was a hot mess when I stepped off the plane into the welcoming 10-pm 95-degree cool part of the day. Shawna had been kind enough to grab the metric shit-ton of my camera gear before she and Grant drove down, so I was thankfully able to travel light otherwise.

Wednesday started with an early departure from the hotel to meet the team out in the desert. Bad Apple fielded two trucks in this race. Truck #1 was the title contender, and Truck #2 was their pre-runner, entered into this race to provide any necessary support to Truck #1. Grant's seat was in Truck #2, not quite as badass as Truck #1, but still fairly fire-breathing.

Bad Apple 2 on a practice run

After the team made sure both trucks were running to their satisfaction, we headed back into town for the registration for qualifying, and then promptly headed back into the heat. 106-degree heat. At about noon. All the makings of a fabulous day!

Grant is mildly excited as they head off to qualify

Qualifying was a bit tedious from a waiting around standpoint but also quite fun as we got to see these bombproof horsepower delivery machines wailing through a closed course and laying it all on the line for their starting position in the race. Start early and have good visibility and clean air...start late and spend all day making sketchy passes. Let's qualify well, yeah?

Trophy truck blasts through

Bad Apple 1 on the boil


Unfortunately, both Bad Apple trucks qualified poorly, #1 due to a flat tire, and #2 due to a limp-mode fault in the engine management, so they'd both have a lot of work to do on race day. Qualifying in the books, we cooled off by buying a 7-11's entire stock of cold drinks, drinking them, and then sleeping in their walk-in coolers. Maybe not that last part. Wanted to, though.

Thursday was race registration day and tech day, so Ryan and I kept busy interviewing the team members in a hotel room. It was a much quieter and cooler day, and that was a welcome respite from qualifying day. It's also the team's opportunity to shine up the trucks one last time, top up race fuel, etc. There's no doubt all the hard work had already been done in the formal race prep, but they're not willing to hang their drivers out to dry during the race, so everything gets checked one last time.

Skorg poses it out

Making it shiny inside

Topping up Bad Apple 1 with 113 octane

Where's the A/C?

Race day, Friday, brought an even earlier departure from the hotel, as we trekked north to Beatty well in advance of the 9:30AM truck start (the dirtbikes went off before dawn in the interest of safety).

Making the start line a little more spectator-friendly

Grant was fairly well-trained by now in his navigatorial duties (yes, I just made that up), so really all that was left was traversing 550 miles of inhospitable desert in a purpose-built dirt cannon, and to stay alert, fed, and hydrated along the way. That's all. And off they go!

Bad Apple 2 off to a roaring start

A buggy streaks through the desert

We're part of the traveling circus that moves from pit to pit along Hwy 95, easily keeping pace with the race since we drive 20 miles on the highway while they're driving 40 miles through the desert. Each pit stop is just for food and water when everything's going well. The trucks don't have the range to go the entire race without refueling, so there are a couple of those along the way. There are bound to be a couple tire changes, as those marvels of vulcanization transmit ridiculous power levels to the dirt, claw the truck through turns and over rock piles, and do the hard work when the anchors get thrown out. Hopefully, nothing else is required.

Race cars crest a horizon against the stark landscape

Chris keeps the focus up during a pit stop

As we work our way through the desert, the boys become evidently fatigued as mile upon mile of jostling, pounding, and smashing take their toll. The integrity of Grant's spine has been in the back of everyone's mind, but an essential part of recovery is testing the limits and taking hits that provide reassurance in repair and health. Fortunately, he's in good shape mechanically, and is doing an awesome job of providing Chris with all the information he needs and nothing more in order to safely and quickly pilot Bad Apple 2 through the mountain ranges and valleys. In short, they're tearing it up.

A buggy regains composure after nearly wadding it up on the berm

At some point, they've gone a while without radio contact, and Chris light-heartedly informs the team that they've taken a detour to inspect a tree. Grip is a mighty subjective thing on dirt, and they lost it from the front in a corner and more or less climbed a tree until they were high centered in it. This is about when I wish I had a helicopter (a proper chase vehicle) instead of being tethered to an SUV. 'Cause a truck in a tree would make for one hell of a photo. Aside from this excursion, they run strong all day and into the night; the team has done an excellent job of preparing these race cars.

Ron lets the rear off the jack after a tire change

Art fuels Bad Apple 2

Ron and Art scramble to replace a broken radio antenna

Shawna scorches up the desert

Desert sunset

As day turns to night, we take care of one last pit for them before we have to leapfrog ahead to the finish. The pits we skip are extraordinarily remote, and we would've fallen behind if we'd had any intention of going to them. Fortunately, the team is able to keep radio contact with them and they run well all the way to the finish.

A racer enters a pit just after dark

Bad Apple 2 heads into the night

Steve, Grant, and Chris trade war stories at the finish

Bad Apple 1 finished second in class and fourth overall. Bad Apple 2 fulfilled their mission 100%, and while they ran slower, they expected to due to the performance of the pre-runner compared to BA1. Grant, as expected, was exhausted but exhilarated from 14 hours of continuous and necessary focus on navigating. Everyone was in good spirits, and the team rather swiftly loaded the race car and we all made tracks for Reno. Utterly wrecked, we put the wraps on the weekend and went to sleep.

Huge thanks again to the Bad Apple guys, mostly for trusting Grant to be their navigator, but also for having Ryan and me along.

Ryan's quick cut on his view of the weekend can be found here: linky.

For more info on Best in the Desert: linky.

For more info on Bad Apple Racing: linky.

And for more on Korg 3.0: linky.

Finally, if you've arrived at this post because you're looking for photos of a particular race car...please leave a comment with some contact info and I'll see what I can do. The 2300 photos I left with just may have what you're looking for.

Onwards and upwards!


Tuesday, August 16, 2011


We're so dang far out of chronological order now that I'm just gonna fill in the gaps where and when I can...moving on...

Ethel and I took a quick getaway to Seattle last weekend. She'd never set foot in Washington state, we swung a great deal on flight + hotel, and we had a few friends to catch up with. So, why not? Instead of a boring play-by-play of the whole trip, let's just rock out with a few photos and some selected stories. It'll probably be heavily architecture-themed, so stop here if you're not interested.

One of our stops was the Olympic Sculpture Park, a rotating exhibit of big art along the waterfront.

Rusty steel curvy things

One section of the Park holds the Vivarium, a greenhouse that is home to a Nurse Log, which is a big dead tree that sprouts all sorts of new life. Most simplistic description ever, but it really is quite cool.

Fern spores

Welded tree

We wandered to the Space Needle, where we promptly chose to avoid the cost and the lines. The complex around the Needle is also the site of the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum, yet another tourist trap. The architecture is cool, though, and it's free to look at.

Panels I

Panels II

Panels III

Murphy poses it out

Back to downtown...

Most awesome gargoyles ever

We saddled up for an Underground Tour, an entertaining and meandering blast through the tunnels that used to be ground level before Seattle figured out that building a city on tidal flats was a bad idea. I wish we'd heard ahead of time that there was a nighttime Underworld tour also, a less family-friendly version of the Underground Tour where they don't have to call hookers "seamstresses."

The infamous Crapper

Watch your head

Ooooh, gears and stuff

Another cool stop was the Public Library, an architectural masterpiece. I easily could have spent a full day exploring the nooks and crannies of the place, but an hour would have to do.

Headed up

Top o' library I

Top o' library II

We got to catch up with Andy, Jesse, Kari, Daryl, and Melissa. We had awesome food and drink. We saw some cool stuff. So we called it good and headed home.

I've dispensed with my usual flowery writing style as I'm fighting a head cold, have a huge to-do list at work, and am leaving today for three days in the desert chasing Trophy Trucks around. More on that later!



Friday, August 12, 2011

...Playa by Night

Let's pick up where we left off: dusk.

The veil falls

Extra clothes on, we sat back and enjoyed the show that nighttime brought to the desert. Many miles away from any light sources, and without a moon until the wee hours, the darkness was oppressive. In fact, it was only mitigated by the trillions of stars turning the sky into an enveloping blanket of pinpoint-driven imagination.

Some Milky Way telephoto action

As the hours wore on, we were treated to dozens of shooting stars, including the biggest one I've ever seen. It lit up the sky, changed colors, broke apart, kept going, and eventually covered about 120 degrees of arc; nearly horizon-to-horizon.

I took the time to set up a long exposure that would include the horizon and the North Star. What you see below is about 120 stacked 20" exposures. Some quick math tells me that's about 40 minutes. Easier when there's no light pollution to drown the stars out! The higher concentration of stars in the right part of the frame is due to the Milky Way. And yes, there are a couple satellites cruising through.

Big Wheel

Then, when the clock said something-AM but still hours before the sun's arrival, a faint glow appeared near the eastern horizon and I went into photo hyperdrive. Must. Get. Right. We served witness to perhaps the most spectacular moonrise I've ever seen. The faint glow slowly warmed and grew to a disk that wasn't bright enough to overpower the stars; truly a special sight.

The moon approaches

After probably half an hour, the moon finally peeked over the horizon for an even more stunning view.

Hi! I'm far away!

Fully rejuvenated by this ridiculous stargazing, we packed up our gear and wiggled into our bags. This is stuff that not everyone gets to see.

Thanks for visiting :)


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Playa by Day...

This is going to be a 2-part post. Now that we've got that out of the way...

We made a trek out to Black Rock Hot Springs a couple weeks ago with Riley, Mike, and Dave. Our extraordinarily extended winter left a lot of extra water on the playa, and this complicated our routefinding on the way out there. Since the playa is pancake flat, it's hard to gain any vertical perspective to aid in navigation, and we ended up having to go waaaaaay north and then backtracking to the hot spring to avoid getting stuck. Permanently. Or at least for a couple months.

As soon as we got to higher ground (the hot spring is ~50' above the playa), the source of our detour became painfully obvious: a rather hard to miss 6-mile wide lake blocked our desired path. Duly noted for the way out! We arrived to an eerily calm afternoon; almost unheard of out there. The spring was in good shape although a touch hot for the air temperature; it'd have to wait 'til morning.

The hot spring attracts life

Stiff grass; the spring is surrounded by this stuff 6' tall

The desert is a very inhospitable place, but I'm always stunned by the tenacity of the organisms that have adapted to the environment. Grass, bugs, birds, bats, and more thrive while subjected to this paucity of water. The sun's heat combined with the localized heat and humidity from the spring sent us wandering up a rocky slope for a better view. We watched the sunset and the onset of dusk from up there, and mighty cathartic it was.

Murphy surveys the vastness of it all

Mike and Dave await sunset

When the sun dipped below the mountains, the temperature noticeably plummeted. By the minute. Accordingly, we wandered back down the hill and added another layer of clothes. At this point, we're going to skip ahead to the next day's exploration, and conspicuously leave out everything between dusk and dawn. Oooooooh, foreshadowing. Wonder what part two'll be about!

As soon as the sun hit the tent, I woke up and headed straight for the spring. It was stiflingly hot but restorative all at the same time; still quite a shock to the body. After a breakfast featuring both coffee and a bloody mary for everyone, we started breaking down camp. And then Mike found a new friend under his tent!

So cute and sting-y

With camp taken apart, we headed for some smaller semi-hidden playas we had heard about for a look around. They are quite special; their smaller size lends an air of privacy to them. I imagine that won't be my last visit there. Of note, we had a -great- game of frisbee out there.

Mike heads for the horizon

Now heating up rapidly, we returned to camp, loaded the cars, and retreated back across the playa, this time with the knowledge of how to avoid the massive freakin' lake. We picked a nice spot in the middle for lunch and shaded ourselves with the side of the truck.

The playa bakes as the Black Rock looms

Sandwiches fueling us, we headed home after yet another quick but successful journey to a wild and special place. And that foreshadowing from earlier? As day turns to night, the veil of darkness slips down to the horizon...

Ooooooh, colors

Stay tuned :)


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