Tuesday, September 18, 2012

One last run...

We are having a really good late summer here in BC, it is still gloriously sunny and warm. I was itching for another drive and didn't want to take any weekend time so decided to take the day off and head out. Part of the reason I was so eager to get out there is that I wanted to try the 'upgrade' of the TT-RS engine.

Cars are complex machines these days, computers control much of the systems including the engine. Valve timing, fuel/air mixture, ignition and a host of other variables all contribute to the efficency and behavior of an engine. Cars from major manufacturers like Audi will come with a solid but conservative engine programming, to ensure long-term functioning. There are companies out there like STaSIS and APR that will modify engine programming to obtain extra power. In case of the TT-RS engine, there is a lot of room for improvement. The STaSIS engine reprogramming increases the torque output across the band up to about 420lb/ft and hp output is smoothed out and increased to about 380. The sweet spot is around 5000rpm where there is a 70hp & 70lb/ft of torque increase. The torque numbers are especially impressive. As a comparison, the new Porsche 911 Carrera S makes 400hp and 320lb/ft of torque.

The end result of all this is a smoother power delivery and a lot more torque across the board. Passing manoevers are now even more fun, when doing say 50km/h in 3rd gear, pressing the accelerator results in a neck-snapping surge of power and a dazzling buildup of speed. Fantastic stuff.

The drive itself was the classic Vancouver-Hope-Merritt-Lillooet-Whistler drive that covers some spectacular pieces of tarmac like hwy12 between Lytton and Lillooet and the Duffy Lake Road. I left early to get the Lower Mainland part of the drive out of the way and arrived in Meritt around 10am. A quick coffee and snack stop later I headed East towards Spences Bridge. This drive is familiar, I have done it before as part of a Boxster summer drive.

River view from Lytton
I have described this drive before so I won't go into much detail. Given that this was a Monday in September, there was little to no traffic. The entire way from Meritt to Lilooet was pretty much deserted. This is exactly what I wanted so I had great fun driving along, keeping speed up and not having to worry about RVs and minivans clogging up the road. Things got a little bit busier after Lilooet but not much. This was a far cry from the last time I did the Duffy Lake which was about a month ago when it was extremely busy. It was definitely worth taking the day off!

The start of the Duffy Lake road, 100kms of windy mountain road to Pemberton!
I think this concludes the summer driving season, the weather is going to turn soon and I have precious few vacation days left. The A4 will get its winter tires on in November and we will be looking at winter drives for snow fun. We're talking about a Revelstoke trip, which should be interesting!

Here is the route I took:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

2012 summer road trip

I just got back from a road trip that I will remember for a long time to come. I headed out on Friday morning at 7am sharp for Merritt along highway 1 through the lower mainland, past Hope and across the Coquihalla. Things don't really get interesting until Merritt so this was the cost of entry for the trip. Around 9:30am in Merritt I had a quick coffee and filled up the car. I then headed directly East on highway 5A.

I tend to speed up in curves...
The 5A winds through very scenic country dotted with lakes and ranches. It leads to Kamloops but I headed right on Campbell Creek road to get to Barnhartvale Road. The first 10 kms or so of Campbell Creek road are actually hardpack dirt and gravel, not the most ideal road but doable and the reward for doing this is Barnhardvale Road which is a truly spectacular ribbon of windy tarmac through gorgeous rustic country. Since it is way off the beaten path, it is devoid from traffic and allows for some seriously fun driving.
Barnhartvale Road ends at the 97 which takes you back to the Trans-Canada just past Kamloops. I continued on towards Chase where I did a detour towards Adams Lake, I was curious and needed a break. This proved interesting, I ended up on another hardpack dirt road which I followed for a bit until I got to a ferry crossing.

The Adams Lake ferry
I ventured past this towards what looking like a picnic/campsite but ended up on a true dirt road, this is where I drew the line, I wasn't going to subject my poor car to these conditions so I turned around and went back to the ferry crossing. I sat by the water for a while, eating cherries and watching the ferry go back and forth.

It was lunch time when I got to Salmon Arm so I stopped and looked around a bit. I found a place called the Shuswap Pie Company where I had a lovely sage banger and apple pie.

From Salmon Arm it was another hour and a bit to Revelstoke, I arrived at the Sutton Place Hotel in Revelstoke at 3:15pm. This is a brand new ski lodge at the base of a rather impressive looking mountain. My room was state of the art, the bed being especially nice since I passed out the moment I laid down on it.

the view from my hotel room
After about an hour's sleep I headed back into Revelstoke. I wandered around for a bit and found a pub where I had that ever so refreshing beer.

this made me chuckle

I spent a bit of time looking at the local area on Google maps and noticed what looked like a windy road going up a mountain across the highway from the village. A few minutes later I found myself at the bottom of this road talking to a guy in a booth. Turns out to be a national park. We chatted for a bit, he decided to waive the entrance fee since I was going up for a look and it was late in the day. He then said the 25km drive takes about 30 minutes then added 'but in that car probably about 20. Just be careful'. I grinned broadly and took off. I was on the 'meadows in the sky parkway' which is probably one of the best bits of road I have ever had the pleasure of driving. This is a piece of pristine asphalt that winds up the side of a mountain. It has switchbacks, long sweepers, neat little twists and turns all the while presenting you with breathtaking views.

I had a ridiculous amount of fun driving up this road. When I finally parked the TT at the top, it sure sounded like it just had some serious excercise. The engine fan was going and the brakes where pinging and radiating heat. This car is such a delight to drive!

At the summit there is a small lake with a trail around it. I walked the trail but it was mosquito time so I had to hurry back to the car while being chased by a small cloud of winged arthropods. The place is beautiful though, there are several hiking trails leading to wilderness camp sites and several other trails leading to what sounded like interesting viewpoints and such. One day I hope to return here and actually have some time to explore!

The way down was fun too, I took it a bit easier and took in some of the views. Back in the hotel I cleaned up and headed to the local restaurant for some dinner. I sat on a rather nice patio overlooking yet another stunning mountain vista. By the time dinner was finished I was thoroughly done, I spent a little bit of time back in the room looking over the next day's driving route before turning off the lights at 10pm. That concludes the first day, 698 kilometers covered.

The next morning I was up early and rearing to go at 6:30am. I needed breakfast first so I waited until 7am when the Modern Cafe in Revelstoke was set to open. Some tea and a breakfast sandwich later I was on the road, eager for more driving fun. I headed East on the Trans Canada and arrived in Golden around 9am. I visited the Beanbag Cafe where I had coffee then continued on through the ever so spectacular Glacier National Park and entered Alberta around 10am. A bit later I joined the 93 heading North towards Jasper. Now this road passes through some of the most dramatic mountain scenery you can imagine.

There are a seemingly unlimited number of views, glaciers, meadows, rivers and other bits of scenery that just keep unfolding before you as you drive this road. I was staring in disbelief sometimes when rounding another corner and being presented with yet another stupefyingly beautiful view. At times I was firmly yanked back to reality by the shrill chirps of my radar detector, it seemed the cops were out in force catching hapless tourists forgetting to watch the speedometer while gazing at the scenery. I certainly got my money's worth from this gadget that day!

A bit further north is the Columbia Ice Field, which is the tip of a glacier, accessible by a short stretch of gravel road. The visitor's center looked overrun so I made a quick stop for photos then carried on.

Around 1pm, suffering from sensory overload, I pulled into Jasper, parked the car and went for a stroll. I found a little cafe where I had some lunch.

I gave myself an hour before heading off again. Heading West out of Jasper along hwy 16 before heading South on hwy 5 in the direction of Clearwater which was my destination. I quickly realized I may have been a bit too ambitious with the distances that day since it was going take me another 3 hours to get to Clearwater. By that time I was thoroughly fried! When I finally arrived at the B&B I had booked for the night, it turned out after some time waiting around, that there was a mixup with the reservation and they didn't have a room available. I was refered to another B&B, the Red Top B&B. The frist thing I noticed when I pulled up was the Dutch flag and when the owner came out to greet me it turned out she was Dutch. Quite the coincidence! She then pointed at a tiny cabin set in the garden of the B&B overlooking a lush valley with hills in the background.

This is where I was going to spend the night, it was just big enough to hold a bed and a microscopic bathroom. Quite interesting. The shower worked and the bed was soft so I was happy.

The B&B's back yard...
I had a shower, spent some time wandering around the property, then got back in the car and headed for Dutch lake where The Painted Turtle restaurant is situated. It has a lovely patio overlooking the lake and soon after I was sipping on a beer.

It wasn't until I got back to the B&B when I realized quite how tired I was. I covered 802 kilometers that day in a total of 8.5 hours of driving (hmm that makes for quite the average speed!). The odometer was now at 1500 kilometers. This is impressive but looking back also a bit unfortunate. I passed by many great looking spots for quick stops, a dip in a lake or a walk. These I had to ignore since I wanted to get to Clearwater at a decent hour. When I booked the B&B I said I would be there around 5pm, interestingly enough, I pulled up to the first B&B at exactly 5:03pm!
I did manage to meet the other guests at the B&B who also happened to be Dutch. Their 7 year old boy quickly caught on and produced a soccer ball. I spent my last shreds of energy kicking it around before thoroughly passing out in the cabin.

At some point during the night I woke up and was startled by what I thought was a person peering through the window but what was actually a tree. Also, shuffling noises outside that most likely belonged to small animals got my imagination going. Such folly, I really should get out more!

The next morning I was up early again, was presented with a lovely Dutch style breakfast by my host and hit the road by 8am. I headed South on the Yellowhead towards Litte Fort where I turned West on the Interlakes Highway that cuts straight across the Cariboo towards hwy 97 just south of 100 Mile House. This is lake country, the jagged mountain peaks of the Rockies are replaced by soft rolling hills, little streams, swaths of pine forest and lakes, lots of lakes. Very pretty and rustic country, with hwy 24 a very nice and smooth road that makes for great driving. When I reached Lone Butte I noticed a secondary road heading South with a sign saying '70 Mile House'. I knew I was going to pass 70 Mile on the way down from 100 Mile so I decided to head down this one. I am glad I did, this road called Watch Lake Road was even better than the 24, it must have been freshly paved earlier this year because it was completely smooth. When heading down these types of roads I am always nervous about the pavement ending at some point but this one didn't disappoint. At Watch Lake, the road T-junctions at a ranch overlooking the water.

There I headed further West along another inviting road:

Around 9:30am I arrived at Green Lake. This one is quite large and dotted with camp and picnic sites. It is really amazing how many places to explore there are around BC, this is an area that I had never been before and it turned out to be full of wonder. Since I was making great time and had much less of a driving schedule this day I stopped along Green Lake and sat by the water for a bit, taking it all in.

An hour later I joined hwy 97 just South of 70 Mile House and headed towards Lillooet. I was now entering familiar territory, I have driven the Duffy Lake Road many times now and was looking forward to doing it once again. Highway 99 just before Lillooet skirts a rather dramatic canyon just past Pavillion and the road gets very narrow at some points, including a blind corner that goes through a single-lane tunnel. Crazy stuff but the views are always spectacular.

The last part of the drive was a bit disappointing, it was extremely busy on the Duffy Lake Road, I guess on a sunny Sunday in August this is to be expected. It was particularly bad though, I have never experienced this road so busy. Since it is extremely narrow and windy, this means spending long periods of time stuck behind minivans doing 40km/h and slowing down to a crawl before every turn. At some point I gave up all hope of a spirited drive, turned on some music and just went with the flow. I did manage to blast past a large number of cars and even a couple of sport bikes on a rare straight bit of road but that was about it. I also had a close call with a small SUV that was coming from the other direction, obviously going too fast and going wide in a very narrow turn, crossing over into my lane. Luckily I was on the alert and managed to avoid a collision. I am surprised my left wing mirror is still intact, it was that close.

At 1:30pm I stopped in Whistler's Upper Village to visit the Sunday farmer's market for some lunch.It was 31 degrees and very busy so I had a quick sandwich before getting back into the car and heading home. I was quite amazed at the crowds along the Sea to Sky, every parking lot, trail head and lake was utterly crammed full of cars, with sometimes cars parked right along the highway with people walking back and forth. Madness given the thick stream of traffic in both directions. At 3:30 I entered Vancouver and soon after pulled into the garage at home.

This was a trip to remember, I realized just how much there is to this province (and country!) that we haven't seen yet and how much there is to expore and discover. BC is truly a driver's paradise and you can get highly rewarded if you are willing to go off the beaten path and explore the side roads.

The last act of this trip was performed last night. The TT was covered in a layer of dead bugs which needed to be removed since they are very bad for the paint job. I had to get some industrial cleaner to get them all off but the car looks nice and shiny once again.

Finally, an overview of the entire route, all 2074 kilometers of it (a bit blurry, click for a larger view):

Friday, August 10, 2012

Off I go!

It is 6am on Friday, I am up and ready to go on what should be a bit of an epic 3 day drive which will take me as far North-East as Jasper in Alberta. Photos will be taken and postings will be made, possibly while on the road depending on Internet access and time.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

A boys' road trip

This weekend Kai and I went for a camping / road trip to the Sunshine Coast. This is a pristine bit of coastline north-west of Vancouver that is dotted with little towns all connected by a windy highway. Perfect TT country so I loaded it up with camping gear (it fits a surprising amount of gear) and we headed off on Saturday morning.

Who said sports cars are impractical?
At the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal
I must admit I am not much of a camper, I prefer a nice hotel over a tent but for Kai, camping is still full of magic. The campfire and marshmallows being the highlight. I actually had trouble lighting the fire this time, even when deploying a large can of coal lighter fluid. No matter what I did, the flames would die down again quickly. When I was ready to give up, Kai took over and lo and behold, shortly after we had a cosy fire going.

During the day we were out and about, the weather was a bit iffy so we went driving, looking for interesting roads to explore. We found some great back roads leading to little coves and deserted mountain tops. Kai got a little taste of TT RS driving which he certainly enjoyed.

Porpoise Bay, beautiful place
The Sunshine Coast is a great place for a couple of days' exploring, spending some time on the beach and finding some windy little driving roads. We both had a great time, spending time with Kai like this is fantastic.

Zonked out on the way home

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How strange can things get?

Modern physics dealing with the fabric of our universe is deeply fascinating. This is one of my personal interests and I spend many hours reading books, watching lectures and thinking about this stuff. There are certain concepts out there that are so mind-bending that I cannot help but marvel and them and share them out to anyone who is interested.

Take black hole physics for example. There is this field of study called 'black hole thermodynamics' which has to do with the entropy (yes, good old entropy again!) of black holes. At first, it was thought that black holes were 'hairless', given their unescapable gravity well, they didn't radiate, their temperature was absolute zero and as a result they would exist for an infinite amount of time. Then this fellow named Stephen Hawking came around, did a bit of thinking about life near the event horizon of a black hole at the quantum level and concluded that black holes do indeed radiate and will eventually evaporate altogether. So called 'Hawking Radiation'. Add some string theory to the mix and we arrive at probably the most mind-boggling concept I know of, the so-called 'Holographic Principle'. First postulated by Gerard 't Hooft (Dutch!), it states that the three-dimensional reality as we experience it is really a projection of information stored in quantum bits on a two-dimensional boundary surrounding us. Yeah, read that a few times and see if it makes sense. If you go deeper into this and see how they came to this bewildering conclusion, it starts making just a teeny tiny bit more sense but it still gives me headaches every time I think about it.

OK, that is enough crazy talk. I came across a lecture by another Dutchman, Robbert Dijkgraaf, who explains these and many other fascinating things. Again, sit back, open your mind and take it all in.

Want to go deeper? Read 'The Black Hole War'. Sounds like a sci-fi novel, but really an account of two theories of black hole physics and their bewildering but immensely interesting ramifications.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A summary

Right then. I have been neglecting this blog. Can I offer excuses like being busy? Lots of travel for work lately? Other stuff getting in the way? Too many video games on the go? Connie still manages to post great stuff on an almost daily basis so I am being feeble here. But enough of that. I just pulled a bunch of photos from my phone so here goes:

This was almost a month ago now but still worth mentioning. The annual Spot Prawn Boil, usually at Refuel but now by it's successor, The Fat Dragon. Fresh spot prawns cooked with chinese sausage, bamboo shoots, baby corn, cabbage and other delectables. Dumped onto the table for hands-on devouring. Brilliant.

We squeezed in a quick weekend visit to LA to see our old friends Tim and Jo. Connie elaborated on this one here. This is a picture from one of our many delectable cafe visits:

Next up, a visit to the new 49th Parallel & Lucky's doughnuts location on 13th & main. Coffee and doughnuts done to a high level of quality. I had a salted caramel covered doughnut as well as a pistachio-orange doughnut. So good...

One of Vancouver's premium car dealers, Weissach, hold these 'coffee and cars' events every month in the summer. People get together at Spanish Banks, park their cars and well, geek out over them. Kai and I like to go to check out the fancy cars. The last visit didn't disappoint with a Lamborghini Aventador present:

Amazing car.

During a business trip to Redmond I treated myself to dinner at John Howie Steak in Bellevue. They had deep-friend bacon...I couldn't resist...it was interesting but so overwhelmingly rich that I probably won't order it again.

I took Kai to Lucky's Doughnuts, needless to say it was a success!

Lastly, a painfully bad picture of Kai's big science project at school. I bet Connie has better ones on her blog. The project was about a week's worth of work, a scale model of Jupiter and a board full of facts and information, collected and written by Kai. He certainly worked hard on this one:

That's about it! Three weeks worth of stuff in a single post. I'll try to be a bit more diligent in the future. The parents arrive this week and things will be busy so who knows. I do have a road trip planned, another 3 day sojourn into the BC interior. That will be later in July but I am already very much looking forward to that one!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

At last...

Another blog post!

Well, the title really refers to the first mountain drive in the TT RS. Given the glorious weather we have had here as of late, I decided it was time to take the car out for a bit of a joy ride. The only constraint was that I had to be at the PNE for the Blue Sky Circus performance at 12:15pm. I wanted to do at least part of the Duffey Lake road so needed about six hours. This meant getting up at 5:15am and being out the door at 6am.
This was a brutally early start but it also meant the roads were completely deserted. It is still shoulder season, Whistler is pretty dead right now so traffic on the Sea to Sky at 6:30am was practically non-existent. This meant I could push ahead and arrived in Whistler Village for a quick break one hour and 10 minutes after getting into the car. This is a new personal record :-)

The amount of sheer power and speed this car delivers is breathtaking and it does it effortlessly. This was on the wide open highway 99 with long sweepers and a few curvy bits leading up to Whistler. After Whistler is starts getting interesting, going through Pemberton and arriving at the turnoff to Lillooet which is the start of the real fun.

One past the village the road starts climbing sharply up the mountain through a series of switchbacks and other joyfully twisty bits of road. The little traffic that was on the Sea to Sky had now completely disappeared so I opened it up and truly got a taste of what this car is capable of. Utterly solid handling coupled with massive power delivery surely makes for one incredible rush. You get lost in the moment, focused solely on working the car and ripping through the turns.

I stopped every once in a while at suitably picturesque places and snapped a few...

I made it just past Duffey lake when I decided to turn around and head back. I wanted to have breakfast in Whistler so I gleefully repeated the experience, in the other direction this time. I did have to be careful with temperatures dropping to below freezing at times given the early hour and elevation. The Z rated tires are happier in warmer weather for sure.

I think I finally managed to properly break in the brakes...
Whistler was pretty deserted, there are a couple of runs open so there was a smattering of people carrying skis and snowboards but with the bike park still closed that was about it. I had a coffee and wrap at Moguls Coffee on the Village Square. Things had warmed up and it was a balmy 18 degrees, I had a nice stroll through the Village and managed to find some purple Converse for Connie mostly by accident.

I headed back, traffic was still very light so it was another fun rip along the 99. I made it to the PNE at exactly 12:15 beating Connie and Kai by 10 minutes!

Btw, the TT has a Sport button as well :-).