Friday, September 30, 2011

Road Trip Observations

Last week I took a road trip with wife and youngest son to see middle son participate in the Black River Stages Rally, west of the Adirondack Mountains in New York. It was a great time, and I came away with a few observations, some of them automotive.

Glorious roads. Part of our journey took us from Ticonderoga through Lake Placid and out NY 3 to the flat lands beyond the mountains. What a drive! It didn’t hurt that their foliage was ablaze. The gorges, the mountains, the forests and the waterfalls all made for a spectacular backdrop. For the purpose of this observation, though, the real treat was the driving experience itself. The road conditions were excellent, and the routes were a joy. Lots of curves, many properly cambered, helped to keep us focused and involved. Better yet, especially when compared to the ridiculously low speed limits of New Hampshire, was that the speed limits were such that I almost never needed or wanted to exceed them. As a rule, given the realistic nature of those limits, I saw no cars driving excessively fast. True, a 9-5 Linear SC is not a barn-burner, but it still enjoys a bit of up-tempo push. We were never hampered in our progress, and never felt like we were holding anyone else up (not that there that many on these two-lane highways), because at every mountain ascent there was an additional lane to allow everyone to find their appropriate place in the velocity hierarchy. I would like to return to those roads someday, perhaps in a convertible, top down in spring or early autumn.

Roadblocks. I had never seen roadblocks like we saw in New York. We saw three—two on I-87, and one on a two-lane highway. We were stopped in two of them. The first was manned by State Police. We didn’t think to ask what they were looking for, but they looked at us and waved us along. On our return, we were stopped by Homeland Security Border Patrol on I-87, and after waiting in a substantial queue, we had to inquire as to what they were looking for. Border and immigration violations, we were told. A noble cause…but wouldn’t you do that at the border, and not a few hours south of there? Besides, I never realized that we were suffering from an influx of undocumented Canadians.

Maps. Remember those? All messed up, impossible to refold and clogging your glove box and seat pockets? Then we got Map Quest, Google Maps and GPS. No more maps. Because I’ve learned not to trust GPS to get the big picture right on a long trip, I try to map a route on Google Maps first, and rely on GPS for the local navigation. On this trip we were doing fine with our paper turn-by-turn directions. Then Google made a mistake and caused us to miss an exit on I-87. Since the next exit was ten miles up, rather than double back, I pulled out the GPS unit (we call her Jill) and asked for assistance. As I expected, she put us on a course that was essentially westerly, which should eventually intersect our original route. My assumption was correct. However, because we did not have a map, we didn’t realize that Jill was making our route much more diverse and interesting than it needed to be. She would have us turn off the highway, onto barely paved by-ways with no markings, no center lines, and no civilization. Why? Was she retaliating for being neglected? Perhaps it was that the speed-limit reader in her was getting bad information. New York has a state speed limit of 55 mph unless otherwise posted. Jill indicated a speed limit on some of these back roads of 55, and I can assure that nobody except Sebastian Loeb would dare begin to approach those speeds, and in fact some of the roads were marked with 30 mph signs, contradicting Jill. While we found our destination, we did secure a map for the return trip and put Jill back in the glove box.

Panamera. On the return, we stopped in at Fort Ticonderoga at the heel of Lake Champlain to take the tour and eat a picnic. I noted the presence of, and took a moment to admire, a Porsche Panamera Turbo in the parking area. This is a car which elicits strong opinions. Mine is all affirmative. If Porsche was to build a sedan, it had to be the Panamera. It is the only current Porsche I have not driven. I would like to. More than anything, I like looking at it. Much like the Maserati Quattroporte, it eschews the styling norms that define other large sedans, and makes the A8L, the S-class and 7-series look dreary and dull. Upon my return to work, our GM stopped in and he was driving the same car—a black Panamera Turbo—for he was on his way to a Porsche event (Dan also manages a Porsche/Audi store and two Volvo stores). I had a chance to sit in the car, and it did not disappoint me at all. Though I would prefer a Saab seat (Porsche owners will feel right at home, though), I very much liked the rest of the interior. It felt rich and masculine. If not driving the car, it seemed like a nice place to enjoy a fine cigar and small batch bourbon. That sounds like an impossible dichotomy, but that was truly my first reaction.

Devastation. Much of Vermont is still out of order from the August floods. The state highway website did an excellent job in detailing which routes were opened, closed or opened with delays. Traveling east-west meant dealing with delays or not going at all. We chose US 4, which parallels the Ottauquechee River. The delays from ongoing road work were handled well, and frankly, we didn’t mind the stops because it gave us a chance to take in the destruction and the massive effort of the army of heavy equipment all along the river. In some stretches, aside from the total-loss damage to buildings along the banks, the river looked somewhat normal. However, to see houses, bridges and cars still in the river bed in other areas was unsettling. Vermonters are fierce bunch, and certainly they will put their beautiful state back in order. I would suggest the best way we can help them out is to “buy Vermont.” Perhaps cheese, Ben and Jerry’s, and at $40 a gallon, maple syrup is a relative bargain.

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