Saturday, June 30, 2012

Watkins Glen "Hot Lap"

While I was in the Dempsey Racing paddock at Watkins Glen, one of the Mazda reps asked me if I would like to ride a "hot lap" around the track in one of their pace cars. As you might imagine, I said "You betcha!"

A few minutes later I was in the car with Tom Long, one of Dempsey Racing's pro Mazda drivers. Seconds after that, we were flying down the track on a "hot lap" -- a full speed lap -- with Tom narrating the entire way.

We're driving a lot faster than it looks in the video, and with a lot more g-forces in play than you can probably imagine. I'm pretty good hand holding my video camera, but this ride really challenged my abilities.

So, the video isn't perfect, but the narration -- especially the calm, cool and collected way Tom does it while he's driving at high speed! -- is a real treat… Buckle up, hang on and enjoy the ride!

(Many thanks to Mazda, Tom Long and Dempsey Racing for yet another Macgellan special event!)

Watkins Glen Race Day

My friend Kenny is a life-long motor sports enthusiast who has progressed through semi-pro driving and on into race management. At Watkins Glen this weekend, Ken worked with Dempsey Racing to support Miller Racing's Ford Mustang 302R in the "Continental Tire 150 at The Glen" which is part of the "Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge." If that all sounds confusing, don't worry. I've been around him and the sport many times before, and it still confuses the heck out of me about who's who and what's what.

In simpler terms, Kenny wears a lot of hats at races like this. Before the race, he assists the drivers and mechanics in their preparation, does a lot of fan and media interfacing and manages some of the data collection and analysis.

During the race, he perches himself at the highest observation point possible to act as "spotter" for the team's drivers, informing them of any problems or dangers on the course, alerting them potential threats from overtaking competitors, and pointing out opportunities against vulnerable opponents. According to everyone, he's really, really good at it.

I mostly wandered around and stayed out of the way, but I also got the requisite photos of myself with the car on the starting grid and with the slightly better known (and just slightly better looking!) owner of Dempsey Racing. Coming soon to a theater near you: "Macgellan and McDreamy"… Not!

Although the race started well for the team, a busted left front shock tore up the suspension and damaged a wheel, so the car didn't finish the race. Not only is racing an extremely expensive sport, it can be very, very frustrating! All in all though, Kenny and I had a great race weekend together… Yet another in our lifelong history of good times!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Max's USNA Induction Day

Less than 24 hours after completing our Pony Express expedition, Darth and I were back on the road to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, for the induction of my young friend Max.

I've known Max ever since he was a tiny baby, and I've had the pleasure -- and privilege -- to be part of his life and to watch him become an outstanding young man. I'm no expert, but Max and the Naval Academy strike me as a perfect fit for each other.

Max was fully involved with "Induction Day" activities from early in the morning until the very powerful and symbolic swearing in ceremony late in the afternoon. Immediately after the ceremony, he was allowed 45 minutes to visit with his family.

Between Max being a bit on overload from his obviously exhausting day and the effect on his family from seeing him in his "whites" for the first time, it was a quiet and emotional gathering. As far as rites of passage go, this certainly has to be right at the top of the list.

When our time together was up, Max got final hugs all around then moved on to begin Plebe Summer. I honestly can't imagine what that will be like for him, but I'm sure I couldn't do it. I will look forward to hearing all about it when he is able to have contact with the outside world again two months from now!

I joined Max's family for a quiet dinner, then his father -- my good friend Kenny -- and I loaded up in Darth and drove 5 hours north to Watkins Glen, NY, for a weekend of motor racing. Between the long-haul fatigue of the Pony Express, the emotional power of Max's induction and a nearly all-night drive, I was pretty exhausted when I finally hit the rack!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pony Express: Return Run & Completion!

With Sam and Charlie safely -- and very happily! -- united in Fort Collins, the primary objective of the Pony Express was successfully completed. All that remained of the expedition was for Kelsie and me to drive Darth and the empty trailer back to Pennsylvania.

We hit the road yesterday morning at 8am for the expect 30+ hour return run. Rather than exactly retracing our outbound route by taking I-25 south to Denver and then I-70 east through Kansas, etc., we decided to continue north on I-25 to Cheyenne, WY, and take I-80 east through Nebraska, etc. We're both very glad we did!

There is much debate about which cross country route is better, with most people saying they prefer I-70. We found I-80 to be a better road in general, with much more appealing scenery. Nebraska is far greener and prettier to look at than Kansas, and we really enjoyed our day-long drive through it.

We generally drove in three hours stints, taking each break to stretch our legs, get food and refreshments, etc. At every other stop, we gave Darth a drink of the diesel fuel he just loves to gulp down. Although our plan was to drive "non-stop" we took a bit of time at each break to enjoy a little of the local flavor. At our stop in Gothenburg, NE, we discovered an original Pony Express station and found it to be both irresistible in the context of our expedition and charming in its own right.

Our long, long drive was very happily uneventful, with hour after hour of Darth just cranking out the horsepower. I've always been impressed with him, but he really showed his stuff on this expedition. We simply set his cruise control and 65 mph and let him power down the road, taking each hill climb easily in stride. I think he really enjoyed this fast, long-haul drive, because he sounds as good as I've ever heard him. I guess it's true what they say, diesel motors just love long grinds!

Two little highlights of our return leg include being passed by a few racing team trucks (which Kelsie could name on sight!) and finding a McDonalds that offers "saddle seating" (which Kelsie found to be quite entertaining!) It's the little things that really make a road trip so special.

We mostly just enjoyed our time on the road together: Having lively conversations on broad-ranging topics, listening to music and audiobooks, watching the countryside roll by, etc. Kelsie is an outstanding road trip partner, and she will be first on our list the next time Darth and I need a hand!

We drove through the night and well into today, arriving back here in Pennsylvania late this afternoon. We dropped off the trailer, segregated our belongings from the mess we'd made out of them in Darth, had a hearty high five and a solid fist bump, then declared the Pony Express a full, final and complete success. It was a truly excellent expedition and I'm so glad we did it.

I'm going to take the evening to sort myself out, then head down to Annapolis for the induction of my young friend Max into the US Naval Academy. From there, his father Kenny and I will drive up to Watkins Glen for a weekend with his racing teams. After that… Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Pony Express: Charlie's New Home

As soon as we pulled into Charlie's new home in Fort Collins, Sam and Kelsie immediately got him off the trailer and walked him to the barn. Within moments he was in a large, indoor-outdoor combination stall and run. I've come to realize that Charlie is a very smart horse. He seemed to know perfectly well that his journey was complete and that this was his new home.

He ate and drank immediately, then took a little time to shake himself off and even roll around on the ground a bit. After that, he strolled to the end of the run and surveyed the neighborhood. I swear I could hear his equine brain saying, "Not bad, not bad at all!" After that, it was time to pose with Sam whose smile really tells the whole story. The Pony Express has been the complete success I imagined when I first hatched this crazy idea last summer!

Kelsie is spending the night with Sam at her apartment. I've checked myself into my usual "home away from home" Holiday Inn Express, waiting for word about what we'll do for a celebratory dinner together. It will be an early night for me, but I suspect the sisters will do some damage to the legendary nightlife of Fort Collins.

Kelsie and I have not finalized our plans for when we'll leave or what route we'll take back to Pennsylvania, but we'll be on our way in the next 24 hours or so. I may post something from that drive, but I expect it will be anti-climactic to document much about driving an empty trailer!

So, the main mission of the Pony Express is fully complete with perfect results. My thanks to Sam for going along with my crazy idea to do this, and to Kelsie for being such a fine partner in crime!

As always, stay tuned!... There's a lot more on tap for Macgellan this summer!

Pony Express: St. Louis to Fort Collins

We left our overnight horse barn right on time at 5pm yesterday and continued west on I-70 amid moderately heavy traffic running over typically rolling hills. We settled right into our groove, driving for about 5 hours then stopping to give Charlie -- and ourselves! -- a little break. This time at a service plaza on the Kansas Turnpike where, as usual, we received a few odd looks from fellow motorists, and even a visit from a couple of young kids who were quite keen to "look at the horsey!"

The road at dawn in Colorado was obviously very different, but our breakfast stop was pretty much the same routine of getting Charlie out of the trailer and walking him around while the three of us took care of our own food, fluid and relief issues. Charlie was a champ at every stop!

Throughout the journey we have split up the driving, and here you can see Kelsie at the helm. I've planned and executed many complicated expeditions, but I've never even imagined having two such competent, capable and "can-do" co-explorers. Sam and Kelsie have been absolutely fantastic!

We left I-70 in Denver and headed north for a short stint on I-25 to Fort Collins. Right on time a little before noon, we saw the sign we'd been looking forward to from the start! As soon as I catch up with myself a bit, I'll post some photos of Charlie's successful -- even triumphant -- arrival at his new home... Stay tuned!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pony Express: Horseplay!

As expected after a big dinner last night, we all crashed hard and slept in a bit this morning. First things first, Charlie got complete room service treatment of oats, fresh water, juicy new hay and a thorough stall cleaning. By all accounts, he is in excellent shape and is showing no signs of stress from the trip so far... Way to go Charlie!

After that, we had some breakfast and succumbed to the need for a little extra napping. We're now all up, feeling pretty well and have a few hours on our hands before departure. So, it seemed like a good time for a little horseplay. Using the horse head mask we brought with us -- and one that's on hand here at the ranch -- we had a little fun with Charlie and a few of the residents.

Sam and Kelsie are going to give Charlie some time in the pasture, then give themselves some time in the pool. I'm going to give Darth some time at the fuel pump, then give myself some quiet time with a book. Before you know it, we'll be loading up to leave for Fort Collins.

Stay tuned for updates from the road!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Pony Express: At The Halfway Horse Barn!

All is well on the Pony Express as we have successfully, safely and quite happily made it to our halfway stopover barn and B&B!

We stopped about every three hours throughout the night, each time selecting large "truck stop" facilities with easy access to open fields around them and taking Charlie out of the trailer to give him a lengthy walk. While tending to his every need, the three of us would take turns seeing to our own food, beverage and relief requirements.

Charlie's late-nite snack at a TA Travel Center ought to qualify him as "official spokes-horse" of that establishment, don't you think? He generally ate well throughout the night, and our horsewomen were remarkably thrilled every time he rewarded them with "solid" returns. It was news to me that horses are actually quite sensitive to travel distress, but I was happy to cheer along with them at their delight about Charlie's overall steady, stable health and fitness.

We stopped for an early breakfast in Brazil, Indiana -- home of the Popcorn Festival, by the way -- where Charlie was closely supervised by Sam, and they received numerous double-takes from drivers at the truck stop. I wouldn't say they appeared shocked by the sight of Charlie dining in the field next to their rigs, but we were certainly not a normal sight for them.

This routine continued apace throughout the morning, and by noon we were passing through St. Louis and approaching our destination a few miles west near the town of Wright City, MO. As we pulled into the facility and backed the trailer up to the barn, many of the ranch's permanent residents came from all over the pasture to check out "the new guy." Horses really are curious characters!

The "Rockin' E Ranch" is an excellent facility, and just perfect for all of us. Charlie has a large stall in a tidy barn where he can get some peaceful, well-deserved rest over the 24+ hours before we hit the road again tomorrow evening. The B&B facilities are very comfortable, quiet and cool, with proprietors who couldn't be more welcoming, friendly and non-intrusive. If you ever need a place to stopover with your horse in the area, this one gets the official Macgellan seal of approval!

Sam, Kelsie and I have each taken power naps, the kind after an all-nighter where you wake up completely disoriented and not sure you did yourself a favor by sleeping at all. Slowly but surely we are recovering and reviving, very glad that we will have the same rest break as Charlie.

We're talking about going out for a nice, big, early dinner, quite confident that we will all crash hard almost immediately after.

We will have most of the day here tomorrow, and I will try to post something more before we load up and head on down the road to Fort Collins... Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pony Express: On The Road!

The Pony Express is on the road in earnest!

Kelsie, Sam and I gathered at the horse barn and posed next to Darth for the requisite team photo:

Followed by a very special moment between sisterly horsewomen (augmented immensely by a horse head mask from of my good friends at Archie McPhee!)

After a very orderly gear loading process, Sam's horse Charlie -- the star of our show! -- was brought out of the barn and led into the trailer. He loaded up like the professional he is, including giving me a look as if to inquire what I might think the big deal was!

The first hundred miles or so on the Pennsylvania Turnpike took us over a pretty constant series of rolling hills. It was crazy hot all day, and you can see the humidity in the air.

After a couple hours on the road, we stopped at a huge truck plaza where Charlie got to stretch his legs in a concrete pasture. If he could talk, I'm sure he'd be saying the horse equivalent of "WTF?"

We've now crossed through West Virginia and are well into Ohio. I'm posting this from Darth's back seat while Sam drives and Kelsie acts as co-pilot and disc-jockey. So far, everything is going very smoothly on the Pony Express… Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Gearing Up For The Pony Express

We're gearing up for the Pony Express!

Darth has had a complete service and gotten a perfect bill of health. The horse trailer has been overhauled and is good to go. Sam arrives here tomorrow, and we plan to hit the road late-afternoon on Thursday. So far so good!

Our plan is to drive I-70 pretty much the whole way. We begin with a short stint on I-76 in PA and have another short hop on I-25 north out of Denver, but otherwise it will be I-70 for about 1,500 miles across the middle of the country.

(Click map to embiggen)

Although the "northern" route via I-80 is very slightly shorter -- only by about 35 miles -- the consensus seems to be that I-70 is a much better road. Plus, we found a horse barn just west of St. Louis where we can board the horse to give him an overnight break. So, that clinched the decision to take the "southern" route.

We will mostly be driving at night, but we hope to see some nice scenery along the way. We'll do our best to share pictures -- and stories! -- from the road… Stay tuned!