Green Grand Prix '07

Watkins Glen and environs

Various influences worked on me to head out to the Green Grand Prix in Watkins Glen NY, so after a little research I managed to reserve a spot at a nearby campground and made a leisurely road-trip to get there the day before the event.

[Small pictures link to larger ones, and there are many embedded reference links scattered throughout the text.]

Good thing I wasn't in any hurry, because there was a huge backup on the Mass Pike...

...evidently caused by a broken-down truck that had to be towed out, likely due to some sort of accident but it was hard to tell by then.

Tow trucks that tow trucks are pretty awesome.

Any period of stop-n-crawl slow traffic can be a big boost for MPG in a Prius, so I just don't worry about them anymore and spend them playing the "speed averaging" game which tends to smooth the flow around me anyway. Soon enough we were back up to normal speed, and a while later I got off the NY thruway onto the secondary roads and soon caught sight of the first big Catskills ridge I'd have to climb over.

The climb put a bit of a dent in the running MPG average ...
... but I got most of it back on the downside. It's entertaining how one can sort of track the terrain through the 5-minute MPG graph bars.

After about seven hours total, I finally arrived in Watkins Glen. Overall I didn't too too badly on the trip out, but thought it should have been a bit better given that I hadn't been on the interstates the whole time.

The main drag through town, looking south, which didn't take very long to traverse.

I went and checked in at the campground, just to make sure I could find it and really had a spot and to get the finances settled up before the staff went home for the night. That was fairly easy. But now came the larger problem. Other than the campground I had no idea where to go or what other GGP participants might be in town or who I was supposed to go find. So I didn't have much choice other than to tool around looking for features of the area and/or evidence of more people in for the event.

What I really needed as my weekend getaway guide was this:

which helps locate the various points of interest. There's a small creek just west of Clute that isn't shown, running about where the "Limbeck" label is; the small road from Clute there is really a boat launch area. Across 414 from the Wally World is the big Seneca juice plant.

The "uphill" labels are serious -- the lake is in a narrow valley, and the land all around it is several hundred feet above lake level in altitude. So as soon as you begin going away from the lake, you climb. Knowing a little about this also helps when trying to anticipate some of the terrain found on the rally route.

The ravine after which the town is named. Unfortunately I didn't feel like I had time to go walking around in it, given that dusk was approaching. Pity; I had actually been here with my parents when I was fairly young and remember it being very cool with winding trails and bridges over the water. Maybe next year.

I headed northwest out of town a little way to find the motor inn. About all I knew for sure was that the rally was supposed to start from here at 8am the next day. But there was nobody around at this point.

As I headed back down into town, I spotted this little fella parked on the street. Aha, I thought, this has to be one of the GGP people. But I had no idea where the owner might actually be.

I headed back to the elementary school lot, and encountered another arrival unloading his wood-fired Trooper.

Yes, he really runs it on wood chips, cooking them down to produce "wood gas" on the fly. He messed around a bit and got it running, whereupon he and his son went to head off to their campground in it and set up for the night. Here's where I learned about the *other* campground, up in the state park.

Note how steeply the terrain in the background [big picture] rises away from here. Not quite like being in the mountains, but you definitely notice the land contours.

Since no other evidence of event participants was forthcoming, I continued my exploration by heading up [and I do mean *UP*] to said state park a little later just to see it. This is one of the main entrances to the Glen, it turns out, with the actual campground off to the side. The building is about where the circled "419" is above the little loops of road on the map, and behind it are steep trails leading down into the Glen. The lady at the park gate was very nice when I said I was already camping at Clute and just wanted to see this place and come out again and told me to go ahead in without dinging me for any fees. Well, there's no question about where to stay for future events -- the state park is *so* much nicer than the rather crowded, redneck-y feeling of the RV park down in the valley. Nothing really against Clute per se, whose facilities are perfectly adequate, it just didn't have the kind of space and woodsy-ness of this.

Nonetheless, I headed back to Clute, got a much-needed shower, and got ready to bed down for the night. They'd put me off in one of the "tent sites" since I didn't have a monster RV. Some of the long-term RVers pretty clearly inhabit Clute for the entire summer, as they've built semipermanent patios out of plywood and other fairly durable structures around their rigs. An odd kind of society forms in these settings; the "lifers" appear to spend most of their evenings hanging around a campfire and drinking beer and telling war stories.

In the morning, there were cute little rabbits everywhere.

That morning, the rally happened. I was too busy trying to figure out what was going on, and then driving, and didn't get any pictures. But there are some pictures at the Green Grand Prix site, some of which are buried inside PDFs.

I was assigned a navigator from a pool of people around to help out, who turned out to be a native of the area while growing up and thus knew many of the roads. But even with her memory, my GPS, and both of us trying to figure out the instructions, we got lost and in one case a particularly time-destroying way by thinking we needed to stop for 15 minutes in some random graveyard. We and several other cars probably took the wrong county road [out of a choice of dozens] due to unclear direction, and we passed a few other entrants who were milling around trying to sort themselves out too.

But another major kicker was the typical rally "average speed" directive, which often runs largely at odds with fuel-efficient driving. Sorry, you put me at the bottom of a steep hill and say "commence average speed 50 MPH", that's NOT going to happen instantaneously when I'm at the helm. And some of these secondary and tertiary roads really do have posted speed limits of 55, which are flat-out ridiculous especially for anyone unfamiliar with the area, and the rally course designers simply followed many of these blindly without understanding a> why it was a hazard, and b> why trying to drive the route as they expected was likely to return about the poorest possible MPG for a given vehicle.

So we came in with nearly the lowest rally score [greatest number of "points", but the highest MPG in the Prius class by a healthy margin. We likely could have done much better on the timing without getting lost, so this is NOT any sort of indictment of ecodriving style. I'm not a frequent rally driver in the classic sense, and wasn't really expecting anything besides a reasonably pleasant 80-ish mile tour around the lake. Which we did have. The directions back down the east side were a bit more clear, and closer to the end several of the participants wound up traveling near each other in sort of a pack.

The SCCA is apparently all about the traditional speed, distance, and timing, and apparently refuse to understand or acknowledge anything to do with high-MPG driving style which to a large degree lets the terrain be one's master rather than time. It is even more telling that the entry with the highest MPG, the little Moonbeam I'd spotted in town the day before, landed at the bottom of the score chart despite turning in an honest 100 MPG on his run. Well, sorry, to me that does not make a "green" event even if alternative fuels are involved. I have similarly mixed feelings about autocrosses held at alternative-vehicle and energy events.

Anyway, with the rally out of the way, we all retired to the elementary school parking lot to display our stuff. I set up my usual tech-doc in the windows and table full of flyers. This was also the first time out for the new pop-up canopy since the modifications.

Here's one of the things that just obscenely twists the whole purpose of a hybrid powertrain and panders to a market segment that needs to be eliminated from the face of the earth before we all starve.

This is one guy's interesting assembly of vehicles, almost like an automotive matryoshka doll set. The tiny, sleek "e-racer" pops out of a trailer that's towed behind an Insight, and everything is a color-matched ensemble. Apparently the issued challenge behind the creation of the racer and the events it participates in was something like "here's a battery, see how fast and far you can go on the charge in it".

Obviously frontal area plays a large part in meeting that challenge; here's how the driver fits into the vehicle. Steering is by two hand levers. To paraphrase the guy from Top Gear, your legs are the crumple zone.

Over at one side of the parking lot, a trailer-based band stage was being set up. At this point a few dark, threatening clouds began rolling in over the hills.

It did indeed spit a little rain and the wind kicked up, causing the band sound guys to scramble to secure the tent and keep things dry.

But it soon cleared up again, and we had musical entertainment for some of the afternoon. The GGP folks then used the stage for a small awards ceremony, and the day was pretty much over as far as the event was concerned.

After packing up my booth I realized that there was still a bit of daylight left, and recalled passing some really awesome scenery on the roads along the lake. I figured if I didn't waste any time I could drive back up that way and catch the sunset over the water and, as it turned out from where I stopped, Wagner Vineyards which is one of the larger ones. Their parking lot was packed; it's evidently a popular restaurant as well as one of the many semi-famous wineries around the area.

That final excursion of the day brought me closer to empty on fuel, so I went to fill up for tomorrow's trip home before heading to the campground. As I got back into town and pulled into a Sunoco, a little tiny voice in the back of my head was trying to tell me that this wasn't a good idea.

I should have listened. Their goddamn pump nozzle wasn't functioning quite right, and it seemed that while the car was fairly thirsty by now, it seemed to be taking MUCH more gas than usual given where the gauge had been. I stopped it and went to pull the nozzle out, and almost got my first ever "Prius burp". Evidently I had stretched the bladder a little, because the fuel tried to rise and gurgle its way back out the fill hole. I quickly stuffed the nozzle back in to help seal the hole [which has a rubber gasket to minimize vapor leakage around the fuel nozzle], and carefully shook the car down to try and settle the level and eject any trapped air. Pulled the nozzle again and iterated this a couple more times and finally got things to the point where the level was still visible, but stable. With some degree of relief mixed with trepidation I replaced the cap without any real spillage.

Okay, so now the tank was *very* full, and I was concerned what might happen as the gas warmed up and expanded, particularly the next morning. I took a half-hour tool around more of the surrounding countryside to run off some of the excess, and finally headed back toward Clute to sleep. But it was dark by now, and I couldn't see much around me ... and ran into the additional hangup of a DUI checkpoint coming back into town on 14. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it just took a little while to work through the line of cars.

As a general warning, there's something about Sunoco or at least my experiences with it that's just deeply wrong on several levels -- fuel quality, personnel, equipment, whatever. This wasn't just an isolated experience; there have been others.

In the morning I headed out, taking another leisurely run along some very canonical rural roads over hill and dale. Yet more gorgeous countryside.

Usually the first pip drops off the gas gauge somewhere around 100 miles. Because of the very full fillup, this time it didn't drop until well north of 200. Now I see how people pull those 800 mile tanks, by risking a nice deluge of fuel into their EVAP system at the beginning. No thanks, I'll just stick with my 8 or 9 gallon fills.

_H* 080414 [yes, almost a year after the event itself...]