Once a year in November, the denizens of supercomputing descend on an unsuspecting city for a week-long celebration of all things HPC. This nerd heaven is known simply as SC.
Normally, I make this yearly pilgrimage via the wonder of flight. However, this year Paul Anderson and I volunteered to drive a cargo van from Provo, Utah to Denver, Colorado.
Our mission: safely deliver the All Spark Cube and our band, The Symlinks’ equipment, who will be performing at the Beowulf Bash Monday, before Friday midnight.
Aside: If you aren’t familiar with our All Spark Cube, it’s our custom-built 16x16x16 (4096) LED programmable cube. It makes appearances at many of our shows, including last year at SC’12. Here’s a quick video of it showing off in our office.
Back to our mission…
As much as we would have liked to start earlier in the day, necessary meetings kept us tied up until around noon.
Here we have our brand new cargo van ready to go. When I picked it up from the rental agency, it had less than 12 miles on the odometer. It’s been filled with the Cube, band equipment and our luggage (which thankfully took care of the constant, annoying squirreliness I experienced driving it empty).
If you look carefully, you’ll notice the sky is a bit overcast. In Oregon, where I grew up, this is what it looks like all the time. However, in Utah high desert valley, this doesn’t bode well. A storm was coming in and we were attempting to race it to Denver… a fool’s errand if I ever heard one.
We’re making good time up US Route 6.
It had snowed sometime earlier in the day, and we were presented with some beautiful vistas. See how pretty it looks.
Hopefully, you got to enjoy the moment, as we did. Then it started snowing… hmmm… our nice, clean white van is now encased in dirty, brown slush flung up by us and everyone around us. At least the windshield wiper fluid reservoir was full. With much use (and not much use of the overdrive), we made it down through our first pass unscathed (though slightly worse for wear).
It was time for lunch, and so we pulled off the highway in Price, Utah, and started looking around. From much travel, a good rule of thumb I’ve discovered is that when in small towns, you always eat at establishments with many cars parked out in front. We searched for one of those, and eventually found the Main Street Grill. You would think finding something with “main street” in its name would be quick and easy. You would think…
Anyway, after an afternoon-breakfast (it’s a small town grill after all), it was back on the road. Now that we’re off Day-Light Savings Time, the darkness creeps across the land much earlier (not really, but don’t get pedantic with me). Nevertheless, the sun was inching its way toward the horizon. With the sun just peeking through the clouds, there was a bit of foreboding as well.
After having traveled down Interstate 70 for quite some time, we finally crossed over into Colorado. With what remained of the daylight, we made a quick pit stop. One might think there would be plenty of room for us in the van, but both Paul and I qualify as “tall”. Because it’s a cargo van (and not a regular passenger van), the manufacturer has gone out of their way to make sure the seats can’t accidentally slide back into the cargo space, thereby causing all sorts of mischief. Additionally, it quickly became apparent the designers are shorter than both of us, nor were they particularly inspired in the ergonomic design.
A stretch of the legs was much appreciated, and then we were back on the road.
From the beginning of the trip, our goal had been to have dinner in Vail, Colorado. So far, we were making decent time, and had managed to stay ahead of the storm that had been threatening. Vail would put us within an easy 100 miles of our destination. The plan was working out perfectly.
We had already made plans to eat dinner at an authentic German restaurant. Even the proprietor’s voice on the answering service had a German accent. This was a good sign. However, the sign we found on its door stating they were closed until the following Friday was not so good.
However, as happy happenstance would have it, we found a sushi restaurant open in the pre-ski season. Additionally, to add to the good luck, all the sushi was 40% off.
This picture is apparently some landmark… or maybe it was just because it was close to the restaurants.
Friday, sometime around 9:00pm
So, the luck I was talking about ran out. Leaving Vail, the heavens opened, the winds came up and the snow came down. The last 100 miles was not going to be an easy jaunt.
Re-entering Interstate 70, we were soon greeted by signs stating that all commercial vehicles were required to pull over and chain up. We had no chains. Also, a high-walled, top-heavy van is not necessarily the best thing for snow. The squirreliness was returning, brought on by the snow that was now not only blanketing the picturesque landscape, but also was no longer blowing off the road.
We passed a snow plow. Then another one.
People were spacing out, allowing each of us more room. Speed dropped from 60, to 50, to 40 miles an hour as I first disabled overdrive and then shifted down into 2nd gear in an attempt to keep the vehicle under control.
After what seemed to be an eternity, we finally reached the summit of Vail Pass at a staggering 10,662 feet (3,250 m) above sea level, with mountains towering up on either side. Finally… we were on our way down.
At this point, 2nd gear became the lifesaver. Attempting to do any serious braking would have likely caused a loss of control on the roads, which multiple signs kept reminding us were icy (I’d noticed, thank you). Engine braking would have to get us safely down.
To deal with the external weather conditions and resulting cognitive dissounce regarding my well-being, I retreated into a state of willing suspension of belief.
~ Paul Anderson
I, however, as much as I wanted to do likewise, was not provided the same relief. It was a long… long… long… last leg.
Eventually, the snow began to clear, and we found ourselves emerging into the valley wherein lies Denver.
We safely arrived at the hotel. Sorry… no pictures, it was just enough to have made it safely (and some of us needed to use the restroom). Besides, we were immediately confronted by another dilemma.
Our van wouldn’t fit into any of the nearby secured parking structures. It was too tall. So, we unloaded most of it, stashing things in both our hotel rooms and in valet check.
Crashed into bed.
So there you have our happy tale of excitement and terror. It was good though. Since it took so long, we pretty much got through nearly 3/4 of the way through the Ender’s Game audiobook, which is suggested reading even if you’ve already seen the movie.
Here’s a picture of the All Spark Cube set up at our booth.
Come see what we risked our lives to bring to you in Booth #3113.