Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

A Change in Operating Philosophies

Children tend to see more solutions than problems.

Children tend to see more solutions than problems.

Changing how you approach different events or circumstances in life is never easy. When your livelihood is based on the Marine-style necessity of “improvise, adapt, overcome”, it’s pretty difficult to change mindsets later, in the Autumn of one’s years, so to speak. The saying that “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” applies to the perception of obstacles or problems. But there are times to kick the walls down, and times to go with the flow, and learning to sense which is which can be a vague, touchy-feely puzzle for those unfamiliar with any alternate approach. There’s no imperative to change mindsets of course, but as the physical and emotional energy resources to back up a “kick-the-walls-down” approach begin to gradually drain away, it can become a good idea to learn to discern and prioritize. Persist And Pursue on some things, and let some things percolate out – or not – on their own. As the old country song goes, “know when to hold ’em, and when to fold ’em”.

Many – probably most – people already know these things by rote, and learned early. I never caught on, myself. Child or adult, the only way anything ever seemed to work for me was to take a brute force approach. Brick wall? Push through, find a way over, under, or find a way around and go on to the next. Nothing ever seemed to come easily. Paths choked with difficult obstacles. Persist. Find a way. The needs of food, housing and family merely motivate one to shove harder or pursue more doggedly. As a technique, it can work. At a price.

This approach was magnified by my choosing to make my living by doing product design. It seemed to be the only thing in the world that I was geared for. You set up camp and fence yourself in with a list of functional, aesthetic, operational, perception, manufacturability and financial requirements that the unknown end product must fall within. You survey the competitive products that are already out there, and judge where they fall, inside or outside the new defining fences. This occasionally might be aided by interviews with end users or customers. But, at its core, it’s like any other design issue: to get more of one quality, you’re forced to either sacrifice another, or magically come up with a new approach that squeaks in an acceptable amount of both. It’s a balancing act of compromises, goals, and prohibitions, so the “Hey, I have an idea!” must occur many, many times, only to be discarded when they run fatally afoul of some aspect of The List. If you’re lucky, your research will turn up an existing approach that can be adapted. If you are not lucky – often the case – you must cough up a workable, feasible, reliable, affordable and manufacturable solution that does not currently exist. There is no room for mistakes or “Oh, I forgot about that one”. If you and your accomplices want to eat, you will produce such a solution, detail it, and present it to the client at deadline, period. When the tools to produce that client presentation fail the afternoon before deadline, the struggle to get past that particular brick wall begins anew. Juggling all of this takes a lot of pure concentration, something that I found is, at deeper levels, not in inexhaustible supply.

Implementing a change in operating philosophies can be an uncertain but necessary affair. The essentials must be culled from the large pile of wants, and preserved at any cost. What remains needs to go with the flow, and discerning which way that flow is going can be a puzzle. But these are nonessentials, and mistakes can be made. You just have to develop a capacity to let some things go.

I’ve been hoping to see some land speed record attempts here at the Bonneville Salt Flats near Wendover, Utah. This is my second visit here, the first having been washed out by persistent rainstorms that flooded the track area. There are once more several events scheduled from August to October this year, and the first was hit by a heavy rain the night before its start. The second, now ongoing, has been on again, off again, plagued by either last-minute rains and flooding, or high winds that make runs unduly dangerous. They set up five days ago, and began runs on the second day. I could easily hear the various motorcycles from my camp some six miles away! Since then, I think they’ve gotten in a half-day’s worth of runs. The group’s Facebook page showed the eternal optimism and enthusiasm that the track either was or would soon be fine for lots of runs. You can’t be a pessimist if you want to run your machinery on the Salt Flats.

Thunderstorms Tuesday night apparently doused the track. I had planned to bike down to the end of the access road Wednesday morning, so I packed and strapped up at about 8AM in order to have the option to maybe hitch a ride across the salt brine, or not, as appropriate. It turned out not to be appropriate, since the track was wet (and soft), the pits were lightly underwater, and the access path to get there was deeper than it had been before. I was told that a decision would be made on whether to run by noon, but one old veteran assured me that “the track will be fine, they’ll run”. That’s the optimism it takes to keep going here.

By two o’clock, the decision was posted to forget about that day in order to “let the track heal”. That made no difference to me, since I wouldn’t have been able to hitch a ride for myself and my e-bike that late in the day anyway, all for just a couple of hours of racing. Racing would now commence at 7AM sharp Thursday morning, and go until 4PM, longer than normal, as it’s the last reserved day of the event.

All this prompted some procedural soul-searching on my part, later that evening. In my usual way of thinking, in order to see some high-speed runs on Thursday, the Brute Force approach would be required. After all, I’m here to see some racing, right? All of the people who own the hardware and are making the runs stream out of camps and motels in Wendover before sunrise and make their way in the dark toward the Speedway, wading out into the brine to get to their pits. They must be ready to begin runs at 7AM.

Thursday morning for me would mean getting up around 5AM in order to eat, pack up, and bike the slow miles in the dark out to the “boat ramp” where I would hope to find someone with an empty pickup bed willing to cart myself and the bike out to the track area. If I waited until later, the traffic and odds of finding a ride would be largely gone.

Certain things started occurring to me at that point that made me question the brute force approach here. First, desperate optimism aside, would the wet salt track really be dry enough to support runs in 18 hours, most of that overnight? How probable was this? From the little I’ve seen, it’s a slow process, but then, I don’t know how wet “wet” is. Everyone connected with the event sounds very positive. Then again, they invariably have since the start. I have not yet deciphered the Facebook posts and updates that declare “We’re racing!” and “Great day of racing!” when that day’s runs had to be cancelled. The only way to get an 80% accurate picture is to bike the six miles to the gate and ask the volunteers what is or isn’t going on at that moment.

Then I considered getting up at 5 to bike in the blackness along the half-mile it takes to get to pavement. For some reason, moonlight has been in short supply here since the start. The Aurora e-bike’s LED headlamp is pretty good for “familiar area” pavement, but a couple of parts of this trail require finesse even in full sun, or you’ll wind up in commune with the earth. Slow trip, walking at times. I like to assume that the few rattlesnakes here are still in their hidey-holes at that hour, so that’s okay. Then bike out on the long paved ribbon, hoping everyone passing by notices my taillight.

Pay my twenty dollar spectator fee, get my wristband, and legally sign away copyright ownership of any photos or videos I might take to the event’s organizer. Hope someone is willing to give me and the bike a ride across. Once over onto the salt island, bake in the sun and heat, buy and drink a lot of water, and enjoy whatever runs take place. Then at the end of the day or earlier if the heat gets to me, hope someone will give me a ride back on their way to Wendover. Finally, bike home, fix dinner, eat, and die.

Ultimately, I decided that The Force was just not flowing with me on this particular thing, and expending energy in making false starts to get out there was more cosmic pushing and shoving than it was worth. If I were shooting in order to cover an event for publication, like I used to with the McHenry County Vintage Car Gazette, I’d be out there regardless of what it took. But now, I’m just attending for enjoyment, and the process needs to be enjoyable as it unfolds. That’s not right or wrong, but just my choice. I don’t need more ordeals or brick walls to overcome. I didn’t like not being able to change plans, and come and depart as needed. I’d be stranded out there, in a sense. The weather was just not cooperating, and these guys sounded like they were going to get in their last chance at a full and beautiful day of racing, Brute Force style. But it would still be dependent on how dry the soaked salt was, and how close to the edge of damage and safety they chose to take it.

So, I’m sitting in the trailer writing this, and deciding what today should be. A look at Facebook says that the bikes are running, but I can’t hear a peep where I’m camped, as I did before. So I’ll probably include a trek out to the gate after a late breakfast and see whether the joke is on me or them. I hope it’s on me, actually, because these guys (and gals) deserve a break before their time runs out. It would be nice if they got one more shot at it. I’ll discover in the meantime whether the predicted full sun over the next week will be enough to reduce the ordeal aspect for the next scheduled event coming up.

UPDATE: The bikes did run today, so everyone involved was happy to get some runs in before the event had to pack up. Good!

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2 thoughts on “A Change in Operating Philosophies

  1. A buddy of mine who had probably repaired one too many diesel engines used to say
    ” Sounds like the ole turbo is winding down”
    There is always next year.

    • Yup, it is, Ron! I’m finding that my tolerance for ordeal, extraordinary effort, long waiting lines and uncertain payback is dwindling. Before, it didn’t matter, now it does. The “are we having fun yet?” motto has gained significance for me. On the plus side, I’m learning to prioritize and weigh cost vs reward, which is particularly of value since repeat opportunities don’t always repeat, for one reason or another. Speaking as a packrat, it’s like sorting through stuff in storage – you eventually keep a few vitals and figure out that the rest really isn’t quite as critical as it seemed to be before. One’s perception of value evolves once the cost to obtain something increases.

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