Archive for August, 2012

The trip back.

The landscape of Yellowstone was stunning. You can see more pictures on my facebook.


After ASC ended and awards were doled out, we spent the next couple of days around the St. Paul area (where the finish line was). 3M offered to give CalSol, Iowa, and Minnesota tours of their facility shortly after the race, so they graciously paid for some hotel rooms for us to stay in in the meantime. It was great to further our relationship with them, because they make a lot of useful products for our team, and because they represent pretty significant employment opportunities for our members. This is just another thing on the laundry list of reasons CalSol has been great for me – more job opportunities!


Our team lead Mike also lives in Minnesota, so we got to go to stay at his house, meet his family, and show Impulse off to his neighbors and family friends. We also all went out to see the Dark Knight Rises together (it came out right in the middle of ASC). It was pretty fun casually driving around town in caravan formation, communicating with radios and having signs and antennae all over our cars. I kind of wish we always drove around like that. It made it really easy and fun to communicate with each other on the fly.


After staying at Mike’s and touring 3M, we eventually had to get back onto the road to head home. We had wanted to have a bit more buffer time with the trip back so we could waste a lot of time sightseeing – unfortunately, even our very small return crew had time constraints, and we still had to get back home rather hastily. Luckily we had a few extra hours to spare, and we used that to great effect.  After a couple boring days of passing through North Dakota and Montana, we spent a day going south through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, which was extremely awesome. Most of us had never been to Yellowstone before, or at least I hadn’t, and I was blown away. There was just so much to take in.


Imagine that you want to go on a hike with your friends, and you randomly discover this really awesome place with scenery, wildlife, and cool rock structures, and you play around for a few hours and get bored and go home. This has happened to me a few times and has probably happened to you too. Now imagine that you had about five million areas that are just like that, all in one place, that take entire days to DRIVE through. That’s what Yellowstone is like. It was amazing. I could probably spend years hiking and camping around there and still not see everything there is to see. We spent the entire afternoon there, and it was nowhere near enough for me. I will definitely be going again in the future. Highlights included running through a field taking pictures (see my cover picture on facebook), getting stopped on the road by buffalo crossing the street, seeing multiple gigantic waterfalls, skipping rocks on and drinking water from a beautiful lake, and blasting the theme from Jurassic Park while driving through redwood trees. We were able to find a campsite in Grand Teton National Park (just south of Yellowstone), and Pol and I went swimming for a bit in the freezing cold lake as the sun set. The morning there was beautiful, and the crisp mountain air was refreshing – if a bit shockingly chilly – compared to the hot and humid conditions that we had become accustomed to over the course of the trip. We got some nice shots of the Grand Teats (or so I called them) and went on our way, not having any more time to waste before getting home.


We passed through Idaho and back into good old Nevada, where we stayed the night. We had delicious pizza for dinner, and made sure to get in one last round of Bang! before the trip was over – bittersweet times were had by all as we realized that we wouldn’t be Banging each other under tents and in hotel rooms for days on end anymore. On the last day, driving through Nevada I had a bit too much fun singing in the car. Who am I kidding singing in the car is awesome, even if you have a passenger and are singing poorly to a 4-car caravan over a HAM radio. I like to think that I kept everyone awake for the long and boring drive. Unfortunately I distracted myself just enough to get caught in a speed trap in a construction zone, but let’s not talk about that.


Coming down from the Sierra Nevadas was a very surreal feeling. This was the first time I was in California for a month. I have never been gone from California for this long before – the most has been for a couple of weeks. I had gotten accustomed to being away from home, to going to new places. It felt like that was just a part of my life, and I started realizing that it wasn’t going to be the case anymore. I was going to return to California and everything was going to be just like before we left. It was very strange. I experienced weird emotions. I wasn’t sure if they were good or bad. I actually really wanted to see my friends from home, so I was excited to be back to see them, but of course I was disappointed that my adventure was over. Even if I’m just sitting in a car, there’s something special about going to new places. It’s like taking a drug. I had been taking it so much for the whole month long journey that I had forgotten the feeling of NOT going somewhere new. Now going back home was new in and of itself. Anyways enough of that. I think my favorite part of the home stretch was watching the thermometer as I drove, since I could see it dropping from the 90-100 degree range down into the 60-70’s as I entered the bay area. Good ol’ Berkeley.


I am proud to say that by the end of the trip, I was the only person who drove the entire way there and back. Never did I let someone else take over for me. I don’t think this really proves anything about myself as a person nor my abilities. But for some reason I’m proud of it anyways. Maybe I just like feeling special. That accomplishment doesn’t count ASC – I didn’t drive my car during the race itself, although even when I wasn’t driving Impulse I still drove Lead car occasionally. But from California to the starting line, and from the finish line back to California, I drove the whole way. I actually really love driving. A pity that it’s so dangerous and carbon-intensive. I could drive all day as long as I have good music and a friend to talk to. The various landscapes of America were also quite the sight to behold.


Once we got back, we unpacked some shit and then all went home. It felt good to be back in Berkeley. Being gone made me realize just how much I loved and needed my friends. Well, my non-CalSol friends. I love my CalSol friends as well, and honestly I wasn’t even tired of them after a month of exposure, but I still missed my other friends a lot (not to mention my girlfriend…), and I couldn’t wait to see them again. Yes, my summer adventure has come to a close, but the adventure of life continues. In fact it has just begun.


It’s a magical world… let’s go exploring!

ASC 2012 Summary


Impulse at the finish line in St. Paul, Minnesota.


While I rigorously documented the preparation, travel, and qualification needed to compete in ASC 2012, I was unable to do the same for ASC itself, because I had little to no free time on my hands during that week. The irony of the situation is palpable, as this entire series of blog posts has been about ASC and yet I have woefully little to say here.


This is a quick summary of how ASC went down.

We started out in Rochester, New York at the RIT campus. The rayce lasted 8 days and was separated into 5 stages; stage 1 spanned 1 day, stages 2, 3, and 4 each spanned 2 days, and the final stage spanned 1 day, adding up to a total of 8. These were our stage results, out of 10 teams competing:

Qualifying (starting position, from FSGP results): 9th

Stage 1: 7th

Stage 2: 5th

Stage 3: 3rd

Stage 4: 3rd

Stage 5: 3rd

Overall: 4th!


We were very happy with our results, to say the least. Even though 4th is an unfortunate place to be in (the other teams got cool trophies), we were able to complete the entire race on solar power alone, which was our #1 goal for the event. All of the other 6 teams (the ones who placed behind us) needed to trailer their car to a checkpoint at one time or another, whereas we were able to drive Impulse the entire way without ever having to trailer it. This is better than CalSol has done for a long time, and it has allowed us to put UC Berkeley on the map in the realm of competitive solar car raycing.


While our result means a lot to the team, what’s more relevant to this blog is what it means to me. I have been involved with CalSol for the past couple of years, and invested hundreds of hours in the project of building and raycing Impulse. To be able to see this effort manifest itself through competing (and even driving the car) in ASC 2012 was exhilarating and allowed me to reach a sense of closure with the team. It validated all of the time and effort I’ve put into the car. And by the end of it, I’ve learned a ton, experienced things that most people will never experience, and forged valuable friendships that will last a lifetime. Being on CalSol has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and I don’t regret for a second the work I had to put into it.


Now you know the results and what it meant to me, but I also want to give you a sense of what the race environment itself felt like. The days were relatively formulaic.

5.30 am: Wake up, get ready, eat breakfast, pack up the cars, head out to the starting area

7 – 9 am: Charging time (we get to charge our cells for two hours every morning and every night without driving)

9 am – 6 pm: Rayce time! This is actually more complicated than it seems. There is a system of checkpoints and stage stops, which basically say that we need to be at location X by time T, plus a bunch of other rules that we needed to understand for our strategy but which you don’t care about. Anyways a full day of driving would require each of our 3 drivers to drive about 3 hours. Our driver order would be dependent on the topography of the day’s route – we wanted our heaviest driver going downhill and our lightest one going uphill, with myself (the middle) driving on the plateaus. I drove in the rain because I was the most experienced at driving in rainy conditions. Occasionally we had to pull over for tire changes, and we ate lunch in the cars.

6 pm – 8 pm: Evening charging time. We either cooked food for ourselves during this time, or went back to our hotel and ate out. There were also a couple times when we received free food at stage stops, where events were sometimes held (notably at the UM stage stop, since they have loyal sponsors who like to feed us).

Nighttime: We would check into our hotel, get settled into our rooms, dick around for a while (sometimes we were lucky enough to have a pool that we could cool off in!) meet up and discuss strategy for the next day, and sleep around 11 pm. Going to sleep later than that would mean being tired throughout a long day of driving – major no-no.

Even though it was stressful at times, this was so much fun. Waking up early, while tough for me, felt really good, because I was taking full advantage of the day. Even when not driving Impulse, I usually hung out in lead car, which allowed me to do fun things like navigate the complex route, communicate with chase car and other teams’ caravans over several radio systems, debate rayce strategy, scout out weather along the route on my smart phone, and take pictures. The morning and evening charging time allowed us time to socialize with other teams, and it was especially fun when campuses hosted events and gave us delicious food. All in all it was a great experience and it was so worth sacrificing my summer for. And that’s not even counting the trip there and back, separate from the race, which was actually even more fun. I’ll talk about that in my next post.


This race was a way to prove to myself that I could rise to a challenge. I pushed myself to exist for the sake of a competition and devote my body and my mind to solving problems, planning logistics, working with a team, being a leader, and racing a solar car. Most of the time, I just waste time on reddit or facebook or dominion online. I try to do homework but I get distracted. I hang out with people when I have work I need to do. I rarely felt this way during the race. There was always something to do and always some way I could apply myself, and there was constant external motivation pushing me and forcing me to get things done. I wish that this motivation could follow me into my school work and my other pursuits. Perhaps one day it will, but for that week I felt like I was truly maximizing my time, and that’s a feeling that i don’t get often.


This is perhaps an unsatisfying ending considering how much detail was put into the entries leading up to this one, but I didn’t think it was interesting to keep going into depth. Either way, this was an experience that words could not do justice. If you want to know more, ask me about it some time.


We got 4th in the US! WOOOOOOOO