Last month was a significant month for me. I turned 39.
I’ve moved into the fifth phase of aging grief: accepting that I’m not a spring chicken any more. While people still make all kinds of fantastic progress mentally and physically in their lives at 40+, I’m confronting the idea that it is an uphill battle and to temper my expectations. Nothing is going to be as easy or simple any longer.
I always got top marks in school, unless my family was being fucked up at me or I was about to lose my last dollar and final scrap of mental health, so for a long time I took my learning abilities for granted. Despite some rather awful misfortune (not a contest!) I relied on said abilities and a rather large quantity of piss and vinegar to achieve goals anyway, no matter the toll it took on my mind and body. To my credit I did manage to do okay. I just didn’t seem to do quite as well as anyone who didn’t carry that kind of baggage.
Last month was the last month where I could pretend that success will continue to come inevitably. I’m typically exhausted, and failure happens more often now, with success coming with disproportionately more delay than when I was younger. I’m not in great shape for my age.
On top of that, I had three wisdom teeth pulled as well as a top right molar that I just happen to use predominantly for chewing in the beginning of the month. I had lost my appetite the week prior to the extractions as well, forcing me to go through some kind of unwitting fad starvation program consisting mostly of instant oatmeal. I missed hot dogs, I missed steaks, I missed savouries of all kinds and those tiny Andes Mint squares weren’t cutting it. My damaged mouth struggled with the small mushy noodles in chicken noodle soups. A non trivial portion of that week was me staring at burritos online and then making more gruel. I don’t even hate gruel. It’s fine with a little seasoning.
But listening to the blood pulse around your face like bad drivers on a brand new highway expansion while rinsing and finding little bits of your bones in the sink every night is a sobering experience, and calls into question every life choice you ever made to get here.
So after about 9 days of strange feelings and slow healing I partook in some automotive therapy. About once a year my friend who lives in SoCal organizes likes to organize a little get together to experience some interesting roads. As a chronic social event flaker it’s the one event that I go out of my way not to miss as I always have a great time.
It revolves around the Devil’s Highway. http://azkicker.com/?page_id=176
What used to be Route 666 but is now Route 191, this is a patch of twisty and cliffy road surrounded by foliage and decent non-desert scenery.
2 NSXes, one with a SC and one NA
Porsche 996 S Cabrio
Jetta GLI (I think?)
Lotus Elise with hardtop
and 2 Corvettes, including yours truly
We met up for lunch in a local eatery in town, then drove up to Show Low to crash out for the evening and refuel.
This map line was essentially the route taken. It goes from Show Low (optionally through Pinetop, a charming little area with 0 Sizzlers) through Springerville, Alpine and down to Morenci and back. It is the bit between Alpine and Morenci that is the most automotively significant.
I presume most of you on Oppoworld already know what this kind of thing is like. You get gorgeous scenery, a nice cliff drop to be afraid of, some twisty, windy roads to really get into, as well as a crew of drivers who all back each other up.
It is hard to quantify a drive like this. On this kind of road, while things can get spirited we don’t do a reckless 9 or 10/10ths. There are varying skill levels and experience levels, and we all want to keep together to prevent any kind of confusion or leave anyone behind. Up to 6/10ths is the name of the game, or for Mr. MP4-12C and I more like 4/10ths, really.
However, if you have a capable car, are in the mid or front of the pack, occasionally the leader can throw down for a bit and it’s a hoot to follow. You also get some really nice scenery from time to time.
The positive mental metaphysics that generate from when you’re really getting into the curves are non-trivial. Your window is down, the required walkie talkie occasionally pops with the message of “Cattle grate!” or “Rock, right side” and you’re focused on the asphalt ahead of you.
It’s not at a track, you’re not going full tilt, but it feels like a comfortable jog through the country side, taking in the sights while still making sure you don’t fall into a ditch somewhere. You’re with good people, you’ve got a lot of good energy, everyone is having fun going their own pace, and you’re in your element. You don’t have to sprint and win the gold. The only prize are the memories you make for yourself at the end. And maybe a little PDR footage.
Not even homemade comfort food feels as good as the high points on a drive like this. And I should know, I’m a little fattie fatso.
First gear goes up to 66 mph. I could lope in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or even 5th depending on what my neighbors were doing and keep up.
We had moments. The lead car almost hit a deer. I took a wrong turn almost immediately into the trip and had to play catch up for the first afternoon. We almost lost another member on the last leg from passing a polite group of really slow-but-nice bikers, and everyone made it on the first pass except the last guy who wound up out of radio range. My radio wouldn’t transmit to anyone else until I hard-reset the device, but then it wouldn’t stop reading the screen menus out loud in Chinese.
Something new was that there was much more road debris. We all got smacked with pebbles at one point or another. I was fine but unlucky - a piece of rock took a chunk of protection film out of the driver’s side mirror, and I also got a rock straight into my left front camera. It didn’t affect the PDR recording, but there’s a huge crack in the display now when I use it for parking. Apparently the dealer only sells the replacement part as an entire assembly including the grille, so I’m going to see if I can put some transparent resin on it.
I’d still prefer this to any kind of meditation any day. The temps had come down to a nice 65 degrees up in the mountains, we had 5000 ft of elevation changes during the trip, and the supercharger on the LT4 kept things brisk without any issues. Feeling the cold crisp air in my lungs while I surveyed the peaceful countryside was about as close to as relaxed as I typically get. The thrumming of the LT4 kept me busy and I would intermittently turn up and down the music (I have specific driving music) to hear the engine notes instead.
It makes you wonder if maybe you want to retire up here somewhere. Keep the sports car in a barn, and bring it out when the weather’s good so you can commune with nature through a wheeled metal cage hiding a nest of encased explosions full of gofast sauce. It makes you wonder if maybe fart jokes aren’t as infantile as your wife says they are, like you can still be an overgrown kid with your whole rest of your life to look forward to for one more day. Like maybe you haven’t realized it but that ice cream still tastes good and won’t make you fat if you pretend it won’t.
The other Vette on the trip was a C5Z06. He’d modded the LS6 to produce at least 600 whp, and he could blow by me at any time, as long as his tires could hook up. His 3rd gear pull is faster than my third gear pull. Man, did it sound nice. Please forgive the quality of the clip as the PDR has no options for video resolution.
One thing I didn’t expect was that I’d inadvertently brought a rocket launcher to a rifles-only range. In the Lexus I used to own every turn required a bit of focus, since the limits of 255/35-19 Bridgestone S-04s were so much lower. Back then I focused on keeping up with the 911 and the lead NSX without overcooking anything too much for the road, and it was a fun and interesting challenge.
The Z06 is almost a supercar and I was slightly overequipped for a casual lope through the mountains. Most of the time in the twisties my shifting and steering activity was minimal. I never fell behind, but I had to constantly feed a little brake to ensure my over-excitement didn’t encroach too far into someone else’s exhaust, where rock showers were all too common.
I had the A/C on, fed the engine mostly 20-30% of throttle, popped on the music and threw the car into Touring mode, which is more of a comfort mode. The car was excellent and handled everything with intense aplomb bordering on ennui. I could tell the car wanted more.. more than what I or this drive would provide for it. Don’t get me wrong - I’m a decent driver, but I’m nothing without the car and I am fully aware of it. So in a weekend of fantastic highs, that was a completely different and surprising aspect of the experience.
Looking back over this post I can see how I’ve left out almost everything. Nothing about the ridiculous looking casino, the thumbs up we all got from riders and drivers, the 18 times we saw cows, how I managed to painstakingly gum 3 mozzarella sticks over several hours while watching Law and Order, and how the bathroom in the convenience store isn’t for public use, and my powerwalking ability with a full bladder. Or the moment when I followed another car in on a 2-lane pass only to find that there was a truck I couldn’t have seen coming quickly the other way.
Still, it was a gorgeous weekend, the weather was great and the company greater. While it’s weird being in the middle of AZ (and sometimes Mexico) and being exposed to relatively fewer Opponauts in person it’s absolutely clear to me that everyone else should also find their own group and arrange their own drives. Don’t worry, you should do it without reservation. Because you’re worth it, Oppo.
Next, I’d like to start taking this thing to the track more often, because I love paying for new tires and fluids. And maybe next year I’ll come see you, Opponauts, once I get more PTO time approved.
We could all do with a bit more Devilish Clarity.
Edit 1: It’s worth saying again that I could really stand to take better pics