Finding Adventure...

In memory of Carolina Freight


I have a soft spot for the old trucking companies that used to move this nation's products. My grandfather was a truck driver when I was growing up, and because of that, "trucking" was always just something that was cool to me. Of course my favorite movie of all time is Smokey and the Bandit, but other trucking movies like Convoy and TV shows like BJ and the Bear hold a special place in my heart. A recent news article on WRAL brought me back to some memories of seeing Carolina Freight trucks on the road. My grandfather did work for them for a couple years and my other grandparents lived near the hometown of Carolina Freight, Cherryville, NC. So growing up I got to go to the C. Grier Beam Truck Museum in Cherryville.

I was very happy to find that museum is still alive and well, and from the pictures looks to be the same as I remember it. I definitely hope to get my kids in there one day, and do recommend it for those of you who remember Carolina Freight trucks roaming the interstates or just enjoy looking at some very cool old trucks (from back in the days when the "sleeper" was actually on the front of the trailer rather than the back of the cab of the truck!).

Book Recommendation

So it's strange...I don't really read books. I mean sure, I read the third through the last of the Harry Potter books, but that's because after watching the first two movies I was impatient to know more of the story and willing to read the books to get ahead. I've also read the Josh Thurlow series of books by Homer Hickam. I don't really know what got me started on those, though. And I don't remember what got me to read Hatteras Blues, either. I remember my wife bought it for me, but I think I asked for it. It might be that I saw it on a bookstore sign near Hatteras Village, I don't know.

But I did read it recently, and ironically enough I read most of it while on a cruise ship. I feel like anyone would love this book. I know anyone who loves the Outer Banks of North Carolina would love it. I believe anyone who has ever fished off-shore would love it. People interested in coastal history should definitely enjoy it. Heck, anyone with a pulse, really. Please, by all means, give it a try if you're looking for something to read. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Looking for free audio books?

That's right, completely free! The drawback is that only books available in the public domain are available, but there are a lot of them. Many more than you might think with many of them being very good books, too. You can download in almost any format and easily burn an audio CD or put them on your portable music player. Check out LibriVox if you've been looking for this kind of thing for those long car trips.

I'm told some readers aren't so good and some are very good, so if you find a reader you really like you can go back and search for other books done by that particular reader, too. I believe you can also choose to omit bad readers from your searches. And if you like the service and use it, try to give back by signing up to do some reading. It's pretty easy.

That Disney Magic

First, some background. DisneyWorld has what they call the "PhotoPass." Whenever you see a Disney photographer in any of the parks (and they are EVERYWHERE), you can grab them and have them shoot a few pics of you and your loved ones. They're pros with good equipment and they do their job well. Then they give you a PhotoPass, which is just a little credit card sized card with a big long number on it and a 3D barcode. Get more pics taken and you can just give them the card and they add it to your "account." Forget your card or whatever and just grab another one (they are free) when you next need pictures. You're saddled with an additional "account", but that's okay because you can combine them all to one account at any PhotoPass kiosk (again, free).

Share that number with friends (or pull it up yourself and share the link) and any of your friends and family can see what's going on with your trip as it happens. At the kiosks you can buy prints in an array of sizes. But the best deal of all is to buy the CD. You get the raw images sent to you and you retain all copyright on them. It's expensive at $150, but there are pre-purchase deals that can cut the price to $100 or so. And if you go to Disney with other families, just pool your dough and put all the PhotoPasses on one account and then copy the CD. Disney doesn't seem to mind that kind of thing one bit.

The problem arises when you combine a bunch of Photopasses to one pass and then you LOSE IT. Don't do that! One way to avoid it is to "back up" your PhotoPass by simply using your own digital camera (a cellphone camera will usually suffice) to shoot a picture of the number on the pass. Or write it down. Or when you combine you can actually have them put it on two or three passes that they'll give to you and you can put those in different places or in other people's hands. There are lots of ways to avoid being a dumbass, but sadly, as you might have guessed, I took none of these.

That's right, I had a Photopass with 65 pictures for THREE families from an entire day at Blizzard Beach, the best water park in the world. What makes that doubly bad is that this is the one place we generally don't bother taking our own camera in since it's a water park, even though we have an awesome new Canon D10 that's waterproof (just too annoying to keep up with when you're doing all those big slides and stuff since EVERYONE was participating in lots of BIG rides!). But at Blizzard Beach they have "little" PhotoPasses that are waterproof and have a rubber band that will go on your wrist and are no problem. Except we ended up with about a dozen of them throughout the day.

So at the end of the day I combined them at a kiosk to one. I shunned the smart man's attempt to give me two or three and said one was fine. Then, somehow, today, I lost it. I think I left it in the hotel room in a stack of old receipts I didn't need. We left the hotel around 9am and stored our bags for one more morning in Animal Kingdom before coming back to depart for the airport. It was right as we returned I realized I didn't have it and the staff was VERY helpful in tracking down the person who had already cleaned our room to find out if they had it or had seen it. In fact, that entire process took less than SIXTY SECONDS from the FIRST person I asked about it when I walked in the lobby of the MASSIVE hotel. But alas, not surprisingly, the cleaning lady did not have it.

I was a bit dejected, but then the security guy said "let's go over to the PhotoPass kiosk...sometimes they can find your pictures." I was a bit stunned at this possibility, because Disney doesn't really link your Photopass to YOU in any way. You go do that yourself at the end of your trip. You can enter ALL your PhotoPass numbers you might have accumulated and link it to your CD and have it pressed. Why they don't do this earlier (or make your room key a PhotoPass) I don't know, but that's the way it is.

Anyway, it turns out that not only do the pictures get put in a database that's linked to the number on the card they scan when they shoot the pic(s), but they are entered into the database by park and even location as well as the time they were taken. Since I remembered about an hour window at one of the Blizzard Beach rides that SEVERAL of us had gotten PhotoPass pictures at, I was able to have the kiosk guy just show me big thumbnail views of pictures from that time period on that ride until I found one of myself. He was then able to pull up that entire PhotoPass from that one picture of me. SWEET! He then scanned another card, handed it to me, and I was on my way, all in under ten minutes. I immediately snapped a pic of it with my iPhone and ran to catch my bus. Yeah, you got it, that's the Disney Magic. I'm not only amazed they could do all that, I'm amazed at the speed at which it happened. Truly special. Thank you, Disney, for saving me the embarrassment of being the one to lose 65 pictures and really the entire record of our day there.
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Daily Double

So you only get one thing, but the "double" is that this is both a sign and a restaurant recommendation. If you're ever in Reidsville, NC, I suggest Short Sugar's. They've been in business at this location since 1949 selling NC BBQ, and it's pretty good. The atmosphere is nothing to write home about, but you can pull up to the side of the building and eat in your car if that bothers you. They come to you for service and that area is shaded as well. Can't beat that.
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Read this book.


You just have to. It's called The Art of Racing in the Rain. I read it in one sitting on the plane from RDU to Vegas. IT'S NOT ABOUT RACING! Granted, those who do race or enjoy road racing will like it a smidge more than everyone else, but this is a book anyone will enjoy. If you're a dog lover you will also enjoy it, but I know self-admitted dog non-lovers that loved it, too. It's just an incredibly well written story. I dig it.

Mountain Bike Suspension Experts

I had an old, yet never used, shock for a mountain bike that I needed some work done to. Specifically, it's a 1999 Rock Shox SID air shock. In 1999 and 2000 that shock had proprietary air fill inlets for rebound and compression. After that, they switched to a traditional schraeder valve and continued making the same shock. The one I have, however, is specific to a Yeti frame in the way that it mounts, so there is really no option to "upgrade" to a newer one since this one was only made back in 1999 and later Yeti frame designs changed to accommodate a standard mounting setup.

That proprietary air inlet was giving me some fits in getting the shock air set properly, even after I sourced the right adapter for it (wasn't easy to find, but I got one thanks to the interwebs). So I did some searching and found MTB Suspension Experts in Asheville, NC. I sent them an email and after a couple of quick exchanges Kevin said to send it in. We sent it UPS ground on Monday and Tuesday around lunch I got a call that it was ready. For under $50 they had already gone through it internally to make sure the seals were good and changed those inlet valves and were ready to send it back. I gave them a credit card number on the phone and the shock was back in my hands on Wednesday. That's TWO DAYS (and yes, it flies in the face of my rant against UPS in a previous blog post, but it is only a couple hundred miles down the road!). I am a big fan of those folks and will send them all my air shock work from now on. Thanks, Kevin!

Life is Good.

It's no secret to those who see me on a regular basis that I like Life is Good clothing. But that's not what this is about, even though I stole the title and logo for this post. This post is about technical stuff, but technical stuff for everyone. Ever visit a web page (particularly maybe an eBay product page) and want to email a link to the page you're on to someone? You can drag and drop or cut and paste the URL directly into an email, but you end up with a really ugly long mess sometimes.

There are several sites that reduce URLs for you, but my favorite is (and it's easy to remember once you know the creators think of it as "is good"). You copy the URL you want to send to your clipboard, visit, and paste it in the box. You'll have a new tiny URL returned to your clipboard. Paste that URL in your email and when someone clicks it, they'll get your intended page. Seem like a pain? Well, it is a little. So if you use Firefox, streamline it the process using this plugin. Now when you're in Firefox viewing a page you want to make a shorter link to, you just click the "is" button to the left of the URL in the top of your window. You'll have a new shorter URL put in your clipboard automatically that you can just "paste" into your email (or whatever).

Very handy.
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Laguna racing wrap-up

About a week ago I put an end to my professional racing for 2008 with the Mazda MX-5 Cup season finale at Laguna Seca, which is near Monterey, CA. I raced there for the first time back in 2007 in the same series, and really enjoyed the track. I enjoyed it enough that I'd really like to race there every year, so hopefully I can find another arrive-and-drive scenario for 2009.

For this trip I was able to talk Ashley into going with me. That wasn't hard since she had never been to California at all, and northern California has so much interesting stuff to offer. We got a really nice room on the ocean at the Spindrift Inn right on Cannery Row in Monterey for the first couple nights. That was perfect as it let us walk around that entire area in the evening and in between my practice sessions. The Inn has awesome valet parking service, and was generally beautiful and awesome all the way around. The only negative was a lack of air conditioning, and it was hard to keep the room even 72F, and I generally like it cooler than that to sleep. I finally asked for a fan, though, and that got it really good at night. We were about 15 feet from the ocean at high tide and it was awesome sleeping with the waves breaking right outside.

We ate at several random places in Monterey that were all pretty good, but the best food in that area was definitely our Friday night dinner at the Chart House. Very good place and highly recommended if you're in the area. We checked out of there on Saturday after qualifying and headed to Santa Cruz. That afternoon we did a really fun train ride up into one of the virgin redwood forests still left. The cars were all open top gondolas and it was a real steam engine. Another highly recommended stop!

After that we met Jane and Colleen at their friend Judi's house on the beach in Santa Cruz. Judi was gracious enough to let us stay in their house there that night, so we went out and had another great meal at Aqua Bleu in downtown Santa Cruz. I got up Sunday and headed back to the track for the race. Ashley and Colleen and Jane came in time to see the entire race, and Hilary and Scott met us all there to see it, too. It was way cool having real fans in the stands for a big race! I even got to wave to them from the race car as we gridded up on the front straight before the pace lap. Afterwards they got to come to the pits and get some pictures with me and the car.

After that Ashley and I drove on up to San Francisco to check into The Argonaut, our hotel right on Fisherman's Wharf (thanks to Scott for that recommendation!). We got in late enough and were tired, so we had room service. This is one very cool hotel that even had good room service! Another highly recommended spot! Their valet parking is a little slower (probably just have further to go to get the cars!), so plan accordingly. On Monday we got up and headed to Muir Woods, which was way cool. It's another big virgin redwood forest with a very nice set of trails through it. We met Jane, Colleen, and Colleen's daugher Hannah there and headed up to Mt. Tamalpais. This is the tallest peak with a view of San Francisco and the bay, and it's awesome! Highly recommended.

After that we all headed down into Tiburon (a small town on the bay) and ate lunch at Sam's Cafe. Good food and good times sitting out by the marina. Tiburon is a very cool little town to visit, and I was awed by the houses on the cliffs over the bay. Wow. Then Ashley and I headed to Headlands Park, which is probably the best place to view the Golden Gate bridge. It's got the added charm of the WWII facilities that were built and then never actually used as they weren't completed until it was apparent that no enemy ships would ever make it to the west coast. From there we headed back into San Francisco and met Hilary at her and Scott's new apartment and then on to dinner. This time it was Betelnut restaurant, and this was definitely the best food we had on the entire trip. Amazing asian fare and highly recommended when in SF.

We flew home the next day after I was able to finally get my In-N-Out burger on the way to the airport (the most important food stop in any west coast trip!). Okay, my first hot In-N-Out burger. Some people might be here for a race report, but the trip was so much more than just racing I decided to just skip that. Okay, I won't skip it. I'll summarize. I was mid pack for most of practice and qualifying. Had a good race from 19th in qualifying (out of 29) to finish 12th on track. But a flurry of post race protests bubbled me up to tenth before I was caught in one myself (which most sadly cost me my FIRST hot In-N-Out as my wife and friends headed there and I got stuck being interviewed and all that for the protests) and penalized back to 13th. The short version is I'd do it all the same again, and if I had been the guy that protested me I would have chalked it up to "one of them racing deals" and not thought about it again. Same thing has happened to me several times, in fact. But such is life, and I had a great time on my trip. Ashley and I found some really great stuff to do when we take the kids to visit Hilary and Scott next year, too!
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Online Shopping Tip

Many online retailers offer promotions and the way to get them when you place an order is to fill in a "promotion code" or similar box during your checkout. I've recently found that any time I encounter one of these, I go to Google and search for the retailer name along with "promotion code" or "online coupon" or whatever that particular retailer calls it. Often you find forums or sites where people have posted promotion codes that are still valid. Even if they're not, it never hurts to try as usually these are nationally advertised promotions (like 10% off one item, etc) and you're just as entitled to use them even though you never actually saw the advertisement. Give it a try, it's worked several times for me! One time in particular saved me nearly $300!
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