The follow up

22389-P6043576I wrote yesterday about how I finally sold my MG, and how conflicted it made me inside.

Here’s the other side of the story.

I have now owned a Miata for about two months and have driven it just over 1200 miles during that time. I have no regrets.

I loved driving my MG. It was (and is) a brilliant little sports car. It handles itself well, looks good, and has loads and loads of character. Despite the reputation that follows cars made in England, it has been pretty good to me. Sure, you have to be hyper-aware of everything in the car, or you’ll regret not proactively fixing that thing that started making a tiny little noise or smell, but once you learned what the car was saying to you, there is an understanding.

The Miata may talk to me too, but in 1200 miles I haven’t yet felt the need to listen in the same way. The joy of driving is similar in this car, but more simple. I need only enjoy the drive; I don’t need to concern myself with all the smells, sounds, and feelings that the car gives off as I drive. With the Mazda, I listen to the note of the exhaust for the pleasure of it, it’s not conveying any deeper meaning. I feel the vibrations of the road to enhance the experience of driving alone. The smells are of the surrounding fields, there’s no feedback from the slightly rich smell of unburned hydrocarbons, hot oil, or coolant.

15 years of habits are hard to break. I am still listening for new noises, sniffing for new smells, and sussing out where those vibrations originated. Once you learn how an old car talks, I’m not sure you ever really stop listening. But the newer car just isn’t saying anything. There’s nothing to report.

The MG and the Miata do not provide the same experience behind the wheel. But they are remarkably similar. Both cars are best driven using momentum conservation techniques. They don’t have the power to rapidly accelerate, so it’s better to maintain speed in the corners. They both reward you for doing that, and they both induce grins on demand.

I can’t say the Miata handles better (or worse) than the old girl that until yesterday shared a garage. I can say that the Miata is more comfortable on the same road. There’s a suppleness to her ride that makes a long drive a little less tiring. The silly extra features like cruise control and air conditioning aren’t so silly once I started using them (ok, air conditioning is still pretty silly). I appreciate how the car comes to life at the turn of the key, without fiddling with the choke. I love the extra power that that eager little motor provides. 140hp isn’t a lot in the era of the 180hp Toyota Camry, but it’s a lot more than the 75 the MG (optimistically) provided. The power is well packaged too—the little Mazda just loves to rev. Where the MG started to lose her breath around 4000 RPM, the Miata is just getting starting.

And when you finish thrashing her after a nice drive and it’s time to put more dead dinosaurs into the tank, I discover that I’m getting an average of 27.5 mpg. Again, I can’t claim that is some wonderfully great mileage, but considering that I’m hooning the hell out of this car, it’s pretty damned good.

When I first saw a Miata in a stable of British cars at the Bishop’s orchard in Garfield, Washington, I asked what they thought of it. The response was simple. “It’s what a British roadster would be, if the British had continued to build them.” I thought I understood what they meant at the time.

Now, I really do.

The end of an era

22392-P6083579In May of the year 2000, I purchased a red 1975 MG from a man in Moscow Idaho.

16 years and one month later, I sold the same 1975 MG, to a family in Moscow Idaho.

In those 16 years, I drove her just over 50000 miles, rebuilt most of her mechanicals, repainted her, and enjoyed life with the roof down. But while not all good things must end, my time with her was coming to a close. I’ll miss the simplicity of an old British car, and I would by lying if I wasn’t sad to see her drive away. But she’s going to a good home and I still have a proper sports car to drive.

Tonight though, I’ll sit quietly and drink a dram of Octomore while I reflect on 16 years of memories. This was the car that took my brother and I to a family reunion on Whidbey Island. It took me to my brother’s first mountain bike race. It took me down Highway 1 in California. The car might have moved on to make new memories with somebody else, but it my memories with it get to stay with me.

Tomorrow, I can start making more memories, now with a car made in Hiroshima rather than Abington on Thames.

Not as simple as it should be

Rest StopI’ve occasionally considered a Miata to replace my 1975 for a while now, but I’ve never considered them for long because the NA/NB were reputed to be too small for my 6’2″ frame and the NC is just too portly.

The ND on the other hand, now that’s interesting. Very interesting. But I’m not quite ready to pull the trigger.

Over the weekend, somebody posted to craigslist a 1999 Mazda Miata, Green Mica, with leather interior. I won’t fit, but here’s a chance to confirm that, right? So I ask the guy if I can check out his car and possibly drive it. Initial impressions match the description. Paint is good, I don’t see any visible signs of corrosion, the engine is sound and the exhaust has a lovely tone. The white gauges are easy to read and perfectly visible from the driver’s seat. The top goes down easily. Off we go.

It drives just as I have heard it does. It’s not quick, but it’s not terribly slow. Like my MG, it’s fun to drive at speeds that are close to the speed limit or just slightly above. The smile it puts on the driver’s face is genuine. It’s a good car, I fit, and the price, while a little high, can probably be negotiated down to something reasonable.

More power and better technology. Slam dunk, right?

Not quite.

The MG? What does it offer? Well, to start, despite 24 years of progression between my 41 year old car and this relative youngster, the handling on the MG isn’t really any worse than the MX-5. Sure, it’s got cart springs in back and the design of Armstrong lever shocks dates back to the ’30s, but it all works and it works pretty well. I just spent an entire winter carefully rebuilding all the worn out parts in the front end and I can tell. This car used to love corners and last year I noticed it … didn’t. Today, I confirmed the love is back. The MG also offers history. I’ve owned this car for 16 years. I’ve replaced the engine, carpets, seat upholstery, door panels, cooling system, heater core, and the entire suspension with my own hands. My grandfather gave me an inheritance that is at least partially went into this car. It’s a part of me. And given how much blood I’ve lost to sharp parts, I’m a part of this car.

The Mazda offers none of that history. What it does offer is stuff that is easier to quantify. Twice as much power (the MG is woefully underpowered in the modern world, this cannot be over-emphasized). Significantly better gas mileage. A four-wheel independent suspension that provides good handling and doesn’t send every bump into your spine or go slightly crazy if you hit a bump mid-corner. Fuel Injection (love SU carbs. Hate the warm-up period). Airbags. Limited slip differential. Leather seats. A cupholder (just one, let’s not get crazy). A roof that can be closed with one hand—hell a roof that can be fully closed, period. Twin overhead cams using solid lifters—no valve adjustments. Heat that works. Windshield wipers that work. Washer jets that work (all three of these “work” in the MG, but not well enough to be of any use). It can be modified to carry my bike rack. Japanese cars of the late 90s have reliable wiring, engines that don’t leak oil, transmissions that don’t leak oil, and differentials that don’t have to be rebuilt every 30000 miles. Finally, there are the things I don’t even care about, like Cruise Control, Power Steering, power locks and windows, and (possibly) Air conditioning.

I’m torn. It’s the classic battle of sentimentality vs practical reality.

There’s always the third option. I stick on my original plan and get the ND Miata, which offers all of the advantages of the NB I’m considering, plus another 17 years of development, even more power, even better gas mileage, even better looks, and even more car payments. The thing is, the NA/NB are considered to be phenomenal cars and I only discounted them before because “I didn’t fit.” Now that I know I do fit, it’s hard not to look at them in a new light. And to bolster the argument, unlike the new one, the NB is available in green.

At this point, the plan is to ask Carl and Imported Car Services to inspect it, and maybe he’ll find something wrong and make the decision easy. I’ll know soon enough.

March 29th Update: Carl looked at the car, told me “I need to buy this car” and then told me everything I’d have to fix right away: a timing belt and the brakes. Yeah, that’s not enough to stop a purchase. So now I own two convertibles and a Subaru. It’s a bit excessive.

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this before

Note: I wrote this on December 19th, shortly after I watched Star Wars on opening weekend. I’ve waited until now to publish because I don’t want give anything away.

Star Wars vs Star Trek. I understand the debate, but not really, since I like both. And as of today, I’ve seen movies directed by JJ Abrams in both worlds. There’s a pattern developing; I hope it isn’t one that will continue.

Continue reading I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this before

Finishing the series

I read the Harry Potter books one by one as they came out. I watched the movies for a while. But I stopped. They just … lost the appeal I guess.

I’ve read and re-read the Hobbit many times. It’s a great book and I still enjoy reading it. I watched Peter Jackson’s first two movies and never bothered with the third. I just couldn’t be interested.

When I discovered Suzanne Collin’s three book series ‘The Hunger Games’, I literally read all three of them over the course of a week. Perhaps it was faster. I wasn’t particularly excited about the movies, but I went to the first one anyway.

It was better than I expected. It was good enough that when Chasing Fire came out, I watched it too. I wasn’t quite as impressed, but like the book, the movie is a bridge. It gets the reader (or viewer) from the end of the first book into the beginning of the third. So I didn’t fault the directing, the casting, or the production. It was after all a reflection of the source.

I was disappointed to read that the third movie was split in two. I immediately think about The Hobbit and worry. I need not have. Mockingbird (part 1) was excellent, with good pacing and a nasty cliffhanger that left me wanting more. I never felt it went over-long.

Which leads my to tonight. Unlike Harry Potter, unlike The Hobbit, I finished watching the full series tonight. Part two of Mockingbird picks up where part 1 left off and beautifully executes the book (at least as I remember it). The sappiness is there (and appropriate). The strength of character is there (and appropriate). The acting is good, the directing is tight. The movie was not too long, nor too short.

I left happy. It’s not a happy movie, but it ends on an uplifting note. Even the most broken of people can survive. Perhaps even thrive. Just like the book.

It’s nice to see an adaptation that stays true to the book and isn’t hopelessly bogged down in the details. Peter Craig, Danny Strong, and Collins herself deserve credit for pulling it off.

West Highland Way Support, redux

I feel a little odd writing this now.

Just over three months ago, I was in Scotland supporting my dear friend Scott in his attempt to complete the West Highland Way Race. Next to me was his wife Annie.

It was easy enough to write about my experience in Scotland before the race. It was also easy enough to write about the tense last few hours before the start.

But now that it’s over? It’s been really hard to write what it meant to me. The experience is not something that can be merely chronicled. There’s real emotion, and how I felt is the important part. What happened is merely fact.

When I read Scott’s writeup, my task here became even harder.

Still. It’s been three months. So with a dram of Laphroaig (10 years, original cask strength) at my side, let’s get to it.

It’s important to remember that all three of us had been here before. In 2012, in the face of torrential rain, Scott ran off into the darkness at Milngavie. 67 miles later, the race was lost. We hoped and expected this time to be different.

My written journal has one entry of note:

June 21, 2015; Fort William, Scotland

Sunday.

Today was going to be a day to forget, or a day of celebration.

Fortunately, celebration is justified. This morning, shortly after the day began, the West Highland Way Race ended, at least for Scott. 44 of 188 people had already finished and another 110 would cross the line behind him.

Celebration takes many forms. This one started with a lumpy twin mattress and dreams—dreams that don’t matter and that I no longer remember. Celebration continued with a simple breakfast—nothing special, but hot and comforting.

The awards ceremony ends with the 1st place runner handing the last place finisher his (or her) goblet—”everybody that finishes this race is a winner.”

Clearly, everyone here believes it. This is no participation prize—you don’t get anything for trying. But to finish is not to try, it is to do.

Scott did. And like 2012, I will treasure the memories of this trip, forever. Tomorrow, the vacation part of this vacation returns. But for a few more hours, the celebration continues—the work is done.

So yeah. Scott finished.

The thing is, for Annie and I, the time we spend with Scott was pretty short. Aside from an extended recovery at the base of the Devil’s Staircase, we never saw him for more than a few minutes before he was off again. In comparison, we spent 24 hours in each other’s company. 24 hours with very little sleep.

Would I say our job was hard? No. But it was difficult. We didn’t have the physical demands that Scott did, but we also didn’t have any escape from the emotional demands. We had no place to hide; we had a job to do.

In retrospect, it was fine. Annie and I both got pretty stressed at times, and we both came back from it.

In the end, we made a pretty damned good team. I got us where we needed to be and Annie got Scott where he needed to go. And I think we both enjoyed our time on the road.

In a way, I’m happy that Scott didn’t finish in 2012. For if he had, I wouldn’t have gotten to experience the 2015 race. I have fond memories of both, but already they are merging together… the highs of 2015 are mellowing the lows of 2012.

In Scott’s writeup, he wrote

And Aaron, who joined us on the 2012 attempt too, was surprisingly easy to convince to join again — but turns out he was most interested in coming back for the whisky.

That’s not really true. I admit, I was excited for the parts of the trip that weren’t the race. But the thing is, as I sip this whisky that I purchased as part of this great adventure… Every time I sip a whisky from Scotland, I can’t help but remember these trips. These memories, they are a part of my association with Scotland now. They are part of the joy of whisky now. Every dram is now a manifestation of my memories; they are a reminder of where I’ve been and who I spent that time with.

Who would have thought that a small dose of golden liquid could hold so much?

1-0-1

I purchased my MG in the spring of 2000, with about 37000 miles on the odometer. Since then, I’ve driven it about 54000 miles in 15 years. Those years have included many fond memories—a trip to California along the coast, a trip home to a class reunion that involved the jewels of Washington’s highway system, a memorable sun-burned April trip into northeastern Oregon, and others.

During those 15 years, there have been close encounters with deer, but only one where it was really close. That event was a draw—the car lost a mirror, and the deer was probably pretty bruised, but neither party got seriously hurt.

The streak of no harm to either side ended today. As I was driving along Green Hollow Road, a fawn jumped out in front of me. I was unable to stop in time and hit it at about 45 mph, sending it flying. I was able to slow down so that it landed in the road in front of me instead of on the car, but the damage to the fawn was too great. I am not a person that cares for guns, but I would have been happy to have had one on me today. Fortunately, it didn’t suffer for long.

The car and I came away without a scratch to show for it—just the lingering smell of burnt rubber and the wild rush of adrenaline.

The last hours

Race PackingJune 19th. Approximately 2:30 PM.
Premier Inn, Milngavie/Bearsden.

10.5 hours to the start. About an hour until Annie and I go to Glasgow to fetch the car.

I think we’re all getting nervous and we’re doing what we can to face that. Extra sleep helped. As the clock relentlessly continues to tick away the minutes, the butterflies grow more insistent.

We’ve repacked everything we have. At this point, it’s a waiting game. Wait for the time to get the car. Wait for the car to get the food.

Wait for 1 AM to arrive.

Hopefully, this quiet time doesn’t allow us to overthink—truthfully, I expect it won’t. We’ve got a plan. It’s a good plan, and we all just have to execute the plan.

And enjoy it, of course. I have confidence; we’ve done (most) of this before.

Soon, the quest for the car begins. The first domino falls. Let the cascade begin.

Preparations

Note: This post is transcribed from a written journal entry, dated June 6, 2015.

Saturday.

One week and two days to go. I have already packed, unpacked, packed, and unpacked again.

Last time, the lead up was exciting, but not eventful. We planned, we executed, we travelled. Three people, together.

This time is both easier (because we’ve done it before) and harder (because we are traveling separately).

So it goes. The giddiness and worry of a big trip still hits hard.

The prep is different though. The cat leaves me tomorrow. The last day of work is Friday. There’s no extra pre-holiday time. But then again, there is. Stef is coming to Pullman. I miss her glowing smile and fiery persona.

Our relationship is complicated and I anticipate the reunion just as I anticipate the return to Scotland. We’ll eat, we’ll ride. We’ll surely talk and watch some football. Just like old times.

And just like old times, it ends with a trip out of town. Nobody ever claimed this shit was easy.

In the mean time, my “prep” has consisted of sitting on a rock next to a river, listening to crickets chirp and waves lap against the shore. Corey and Cheryl are just visible half a mile away upstream. It’s a shame my camera is at home.

It’s not ben a bad day so far. Lazy Saturday mornings kissed by the June sun are tough to beat. Top it off with an evening ride and a run tomorrow and I have a full weekend. Not bad for this loner in life.

Not bad at all.

Near Disaster

The plan:

  1. Leave Pullman at 1 PM PDT, arriving at Spokane International Airport at 2:30.
  2. Get on a plane, fly to Seattle International Airport at 4:30, arriving at 5:30
  3. Get on a plane, fly to London Heathrow Airport at 7:15 (PDT), arriving at 12:30 PM (BST)
  4. Get on a plane, fly to Glasgow International Airport at 4:15 PM, arriving at 5:35 PM.
  5. Get in a Taxi, go to Dumbarton Central train station.
  6. Get on a train at Dumbarton Central at 6:48 PM, arriving in Oban around 8:30 PM.

All told, it’s about 14 hours of travel, 8 hours of sitting around, and 8 hours of time shifts. I knew the taxi would be a tight one, which is why I took the train starting from Dumbarton rather than Glasgow. The two stations are about equidistant from the Airport, but Dumbarton is about 25 minutes “down the line”, so it gave me a larger window.

What I didn’t count on was the Airbus going tech 3 minutes before we boarded. Instead of a 4:15 departure, we were looking at 5 PM. At best.

Still, I didn’t have a choice. It’s not like I could stay in Heathrow. I’d either make it, or I’d make do.

The plane took off at 5. It landed at 6:15. By 6:30, I was in the taxi and moving north. At 6:51, I arrived.

Too late. The train had gone.

No big deal. I’ll buy a new ticket for the morning, request a refund from ScotRail that I may or may not get back, and find a place to stay. There’s a cheap-but-good hotel a mile from the station. Easy walk. It’s filled with runners and dog walkers, so I’m not uncomfortable dragging a bag behind me as I go.

Finally, at 7:30 PM, I arrive at the Premier inn just north of Dumbarton, tired, sweaty, and slightly cranky. “What’s your reservation?” asked the desk clerk. “I don’t have one, I just need a room.” I replied.

It was here that my slight crankiness turned to dread. “Oh. We don’t have any rooms, and nobody else does either.” Fuck.

I’m directed to the restaurant next door to borrow the wifi so I can start to search for my room. I have no phone, and the wifi isn’t working. Fuck.

A man sees me visually worried. I explain the situation. He starts to use his phone to see what he can find. No luck. The wifi drops out for him too. We migrate back to the lobby of the Premier Inn. I ask the clerk if he could search other properties again. No luck.

But the wifi works. Yes! I bring up hostelworld.com. No available beds. I bring up hotels.com, which redirects to hotels.co.uk. There’s rooms. 2 of them. In Glasgow. For £250-£500 per night. Fuck!

And it is here that the fear really starts to work on me. I’m visualizing a night in the street. I think to myself “I didn’t pack for living in the fucking street!” And it is at this point that I am rescued. The man that had been trying to help me asks the clerk a simple question. “Hey, I’ve got an unused bed in my room. Can he use that?” “… Yes, of course.” replied the clerk.

Sorted.

The man is David, a rail engineer working for a small Cardiff based firm and is up in Scotland on a Ministry of Defense contract. He was helpful, friendly, and rescued me in my hour of need. For that I will be forever grateful.