How To Build A Standing Desk for $36.40

I think we've all known that sitting is bad for us, but in the last few years the news on how bad it really is has crashed home. First there was research from Dr. James Levine (not the conductor) at the Mayo Clinic and Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Hennington said

Electrical activity in the muscles drops — “the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,” Hamilton says — leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects.
Other studies have followed, adding more weight of evidence to how harmful extended sitting is. The most recent – and to a runner like me, the most disheartening  – came from a just-published study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings that provides runners with a benchmark of just how unhealthy extended sitting is for you: 

According to a research team from the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center, each time unit of sitting cancels out 8 percent of your gain from the same amount of running. In other words, if you run for an hour in the morning, and then sit for 10 hours during the day, you lose roughly 80 percent of the health benefit from your morning workout.

People who engage in an hour of moderate-intensity exercise–running is considered vigorous exercise–fare much worse. They lose 16 percent of their workout gain from each hour of sitting.

As a result, everyone's going mad for standing desks. Desks that glide up and down on servomotors, treadmill desks that slowly walk you forward while working at your keyboard (I have runner friends that would probably trip and fall while trying to work with one of those), and all kinds of standing desk additions and accessories.

And they're all expensive. The cheapest I've seen for a commercial standing desk addition to a traditional desk is about $80, and the price climbs rapidly from there. So with a little blue-sky thinking, I built a very basic standing desk out of some home improvement store oak and some screws:



1   1x12x4 red oak board $30.65

2   #8 x 2in flathead brass wood screws (2 per package) $2.48

1   Round felt pads $3.27


  • Handsaw or power saw. Or, if you're really clever, have the store make the two cuts below for you.
  • Drill and bits, Philips screw head bit
  • Bar clamps (allows you to clamp big items)(optional)


  1. Cut 9 1/2" off each end of the board. These are the legs. I came up with 9 1/2" as a compromise of the height I needed to get while still having enough room for a mouse and keyboard. Of course, you could just cut them from one end, but I'm a lousy rough carpenter, and by cutting from each end you're assured each leg will have at least one squared end as it came from the store. Make these cuts as square as possible; in retrospect I'd have had the store do it and save me a lot of adjusting!
  2. Clamp one leg/top side together to hold it in place, or get a helper to do the same.
  3. Drill two pilot holes through the top and into the legs for the wood screws. As you can see from the photos, I put the screws relatively near the edge of the board. I'm afraid I don't remember the bit size; just start conservatively (i.e. small) and work your way up. You can't work your way back down if you've made the pilot holes too large!
  4. Screw two of the wood screws in until they're flush. Remember to press hard, as brass is soft and will strip out the Philips head if the screwdriver bit slips.
  5. Repeat the process on the other side.
  6. Set the standing desk on your existing desk to see if it stands without wobbling. There's a very good chance either a) your didn't make the legs quite square, or b) the desk isn't perfectly flat. This is where the felt pads come in. Add them to one side of either (or both) legs until you've gotten rid of the wobble.
  7. You're done!


  • This desk does NOT accomodate a monitor stand; I have a cantilever monitor stand and don't need it. You could construct a similar, second stand for the monitor, but since a monitor is a very stable load, you could simply put a box or a stack of books to move the monitor to an appropriate height.
  • You'll probably want to sand the front edges of the desk, as they can grow to feel pretty sharp against the heels of your hands.
  • If you stain it, the dirt that accumulates from your hands won't be as noticable.

Even though this is a very cheap solution, it has a nice advantage: Standing up for long periods while working takes some getting used to. With this setup, when you get tired you simply pick up the mouse and keyboard, move the stand to a corner of your office, set everything down on your original desk and relax that back for a few minutes.

I also recommend getting a pad to stand on, as that will greatly increase your comfort standing. Here's what the whole setup looks like:


Grand Canyon Arithmetic

My wife and I recently spent an extended weekend at the Grand Canyon to celebrate our anniversary. It was great to get back there after a while; the place has become sort of a "go to" getaway, and it's very restorative. I typically get a lot of thinking done while 

2014-01 GC-0320

slogging uphill (all the photographs tend to happen on the way down), and I wanted to get down just a couple of things before life catches up and this doesn't happen at all.

This was my fifth time there, and we have a pretty good handle on everything there is to do on the South Rim, including the major trails and a couple of hidden vantage points. We had mostly beautiful weather, though some high cloudiness put a dent in our stargazing and night photography. The Grand Canyon is fabulous place to practice night photography, once you get over the idea that you're standing in a cold, windy place next to a black abyss of proportions that strain the imagination. Do you get the impression I'm uncomfortable with that? I use the somewhat technical tasks of night photography to keep myself distracted. My favorite night photo from this trip was the last one I took while walking back to the room: Lookout Studio. This is what it looks like by day, clinging to the edge of the precipice, and here's what it looks like at night.

Since I've been back, my conversations with people have mostly been around their enthusiasm on how amazing the place looks, based on just a few images we've published to Facebook. It underscores to me how relatively few Americans have been to the Grand Canyon despite it being one of our most popular national parks. So I'm anxious to finish processing my several hundred photos in Lightroom and exporting just the very best.

(Related: My high-resolution 3D walk down the switchbacks of the South Kaibab Trail)

While hiking on various Canyon trails, what strikes me every time is how dangerous this place can be, and how cavalierly many people ignore the danger. There are signs all over the place with these warnings, but the folly of human nature is to be able to lie to yourself and think it doesn't apply to you.

All of our trips to the Canyon have been in the off season, either Thanksgiving or January – February. We like this time because the place is relatively deserted, so we have privacy on the trails and at the facilities compared to what a madhouse it must be in the summer. (Indeed, I had the rim entirely to myself during my night photography session.) It's perfect hiking weather, with temperaturs in the teens to 40s on the rim and 40s to 60s on the trail with the intense sun of 7000' at mid-latitutes to warm you up. And because of this, the Canyon is at its most forgiving.

I'm more analytical than most, but when I'm far out in the Canyon, there's always a timetable in my head. This is because there's an implacable arithmetic associated with hiking in the Canyon you must take into account. If you don't, you may have a tiring day in the winter. In peak season – May through September – it could kill you.

In his book Hiking The Grand Canyon, John Annerino summarize the environment quite nicely:

"…the Grand Canyon isn't merely a desert; it's an inverted desert mountain range whose few reliable water sources can be far more difficult, preciptious, and dangerous to reach for the uninitated than those cool deep wells and fly-infested seeps that pockmark the relatively flat deserts of the Gobi, Outback, Sahara, and more forgiving arid reaches of the Souithwest."

Here are the variables you must keep in mind. If you're very clearsighted about them, you can probably drop a few – but not until you've carefully considered them:

  • Light. How much daylight do you have left? Do you know, accurately, how long it will take you to hike back out from where you are so you aren't doing it in the dark with a headlamp? (Did you even bring a headlamp?) Hiking up a trail clinging to the edge of a sheer drop-off, in the dark, perhaps tired, isn't my idea of a good time. This is a factor where winter hiking is a disadvantage. 
  • Sun. Where will the sun hit the trail you'll be on, at what time of day? Experienced hikers going down to Phantom Ranch, 5000' below the rim,  take the South Kaibab Trail because it's direct. They take the Bright Angel Trail back up because though it's longer, there's water (the Kaibab has none) and it's in shade much of the time (the upper reaches of the Kaibab are in full western sun against a rock wall). In the winter the Kaibab can be a bit sweaty; in the summer it's grueling. The stakes are much higher in the inner canyon as it's much warmer. Bring sun protection in the form of sunscreen, long sleeves and good head protection. I use a broad-brimmed Akubra hat that keeps the sun off my face and neck. A Tilley hat is also very popular for this and is very packable.
  • Heat. In the summer, the temperatures on the rim are pleasant, in the 60s and 70s. What people don't understand is that, with a full vertical mile of elevation change, the inner Canyon is a similar environment to the Sonoran desert of Phoenix – but much worse from rocks radiating heat back at you. Temperatures of 130 degrees in the inner Canyon aren't uncommon. You don't want to hike in that, especially uphill. (See Sun above). The heat kills people every year.
  • Altitude. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is a bit over 7000 feet above sea level; the less-traveled North Rim is more than 8000' ASL. If you're a flatlander and not in good aerobic shape, you'll definitely notice it. You'll especially notice it when hiking back out of the Canyon after you've blithely scampered downhill a mile or two. 
  • Elevation. It's 5000' vertical distance between the South Rim and the Colorado river. There's an almost 4000' elevation change between it and the Tonto Plateau (the wide platform between the canyon rim and the inner canyon that has several day hike destinations). Don't underestimate the challenge of this climb when you take all these other factors into consideration.To paraphrase a mountaineering maxim, "Getting to the bottom is optional. Getting to the top is mandatory."
  • Distance. Are you comfortable hiking the distances involved?
  • Water. Water is perhaps the most critical factor. Despite the presence of the Colorado far below, water is a very scarce resource both in and out of the Canyon. Did you know the drinking water for all the South Rim facilities comes from a fairly small pipline from Roaring Springs on the north rim of the Canyon? That's right, all the way down one side and up the other. The South Kaibab Trail, one of the main corridor trails, has no water. Water is available on the Bright Angel. Don't underestimate the amount of water you need when exerting yourself in a hot, dry environment. I'm astonished at the number of people I see hiking along the trail with nothing more than a bottled water in one hand. Again, the winter is very forgiving time for this.
  • Food. There are no restaurants along the way.
  • Weather. Like a mountain range, the weather can be unpredictable, and when you're below the rim you can't see it coming. Fortunately, with weather radar widely available, if you check the short term forecast and radar before you start out you shouldn't have any surprises. This does mean that if there's any chance of rain you need to have a shell. And when you're below the rim, thunderstorms can be VERY dangerous due to flash floods and debris flows. And even if the forecast is nothing but sunny, if it's a cool day you need to dress in layers. What's hot in the direct sun can immediately become very cool when you round a trail corner into the shade.

(Related: Sunset Panorama, Shoshone Point)

As I said, you can minimize some of these factors in the winter. Heat and water consumption aren't the critical factors they are in the summer. But you must still pay attention to the others. If you've taken all of those into account, get an early start, get down into the Canyon and enjoy a day you'll remember for the rest of your life.

2014-01 GC-0293

Happy Birthday, Community Beer!

Yesterday, my friends Chanc and Pepsi and I spent a gorgeous afternoon down at Community Beer, right at the edge of Dallas' Design District. I'd not had the chance to visit down there, but the timing worked out to make their 1 year anniversary so I was in!





Community seems like a perfect example of the craft beer boom in the DFW area (and in Texas in general). It's a large space, and not long after the celebration opened, the place was full of people sampling the 15 different beers available. My last, and favorite, was the Inspiration Ale. I'm a sucker for Belgian Strongs :-).

Here's a Photosynth panorama of the brewery during the big party.

Locked In A Box Of Runners


Early morning run

(Photo courtesy of Amelia Owens)

Facebook has a place, buried deep in your profile settings, for a favorite quotation. Since I started distance running with groups such as Luke's Locker or Project 214, mine has been an Irish proverb: Giorraíonn beirt bóthar (Two people shorten a road). During the course of my week, I'm surprised at how often I've prefaced "regular life" conversations with "On a run last (Saturday/week/month), I (learned about/someone said) something interesting about…".

Though for most of us during the week, running is a solitary sport, the weekends are different. Here's a secret non-runners really don't suspect: There's a lot of talking on the road.

This situation doesn't happen in cycling, at least not to the same extent. Unless you're tight in a peleton, cyclists are spread out more due to expensive machines, sometimes dramatic speed differences and overall higher average speeds, and traffic considerations. Plus, in my experience they simply aren't as chatty.

Runners, on the other hand, are the most social bunch of folks I've ever hung out with. Non-runners think that, just because they themselves are gasping when they start trotting, we're all breathless. In reality, it's like any other aerobic activity: If you aren't running at 85% of your max heart rate or above, you can talk. And most long runs by definition are performed below that pace.

This means that for the amount of time we're out on a long run – anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours – it's as though we're all locked in a box, forced to either hang out in silence or make conversation to pass the time until the box opens. Unless someone drops out due to injury or exhaustion, we're all there for the duration because we must run back to where we started. 

As a result, you get to spend some quality time with your fellow pace group members. You learn about their lives, jobs, family, car repairs…all kinds of stuff. (Politics and religion are not quite off-limits, but the subjects are generally handled very delicately because you aren't getting out of that box for a while.) 

This can create some odd situations when you get together with your running friends and family or non-running friends: You realize you've already covered volumes of material with your running friends, and so they probably know much more about your other friends and family than these folk recognize. You also find yourself explaining your running friends to everyone else, which can be a little surprising. 

Smart running groups enforce a "no earbuds" policy, or at least only one ear. It's partly for safety, but it's also to build camaderie in the group. Listening to music while running is very popular, but it is very isolating and can also easily become a crutch that people depend on. I'm not much different; when running alone I really like to have music to distract my brain from the zillion things I'm always thinking about. But thanks to long runs with my friends, I can do without. And that's happened to me in two races, so it's good to know you can get by just listening to the footfalls around you if you must. And when you're running a destination race, such as the Colorado Half, aren't you there to experience the environment rather than isolate from it?

Finally, if you look to elite distance runners as exemplars of the sport…how many of them have you seen with earbuds? That should tell you something.

Camaraderie is rarely touted as a running benefit; those fit runners flying over gorgeous territory in article headers are usually solo. But it's a big benefit of group running.

It’s My Anniversary!

Three years ago today, I took my first short run around the block in over 40 years. A lot has changed since then.

When I started running, I wasn't sedentary by any means. I've been physically active ever since I started seriously riding a bike when I was 14, and I've been practicing and teaching Okinawan karate for 34 years. Though cycling has ebbed and flowed over the years, teaching and practicing martial arts has been a constant.

But running is a very different, continuously pounding activity – unlike cycling, there's no sitting or coasting when you run – and I didn't want to mess something up that would compromise my other activities. So I turned to my informal coach at the time, my chiropractor Ron Tribendis. Ron is an amazing athlete (a 3-time Hawaii Ironman participant), and combines the skills of chiropractic, various bodywork techniques, and a wealth of personal experience as a competitive athlete. He's become very popular in the local athlete's community, and deservedly so. I'd been going to him since shortly after he started his practice, and gathered many bicycling training tips when I came in for adjustments, so it was only natural I should ask him the best way to start running. His advice was simply to pick a very short, easily accomplished distance, and then go do it every day for several weeks without fail and without increasing the distance even when your starting distance feels good. The idea is to both accustom your body to the stress, and to make running a positive experience to look forward to rather than a death march "because it's good for you". I give the same advice now to people that ask me how to start running.

My first race was the 2011 Dallas Turkey Trot –  me and 40,000+ of my best friends. 5 kilometers later, I was exhausted. 

In December, I set a big goal and signed up to run the Colorado Half Marathon the following June with a number of my coworkers Colorado completers who are based in Fort Collins. I went to Luke's Locker in Plano for a new pair of shoes. Eddie Gonzales fit me with a pair of big Asics and told me about this little thing he had going called the Thursday Night Social Run. It's been a regular event on my calendar since. In January, I joined Luke's Half Beat half marathon training, and improved quite a bit. I was even elected to be a (very slow) Plano member of the Team Luke's "running ambassadors". This fall I started running with Project 214, and have really benefited from the personalized training plan Elaine Bullard provides. 

I've learned as I've laid down the miles. I don't dress as heavily or eat as much afterward. I've adapted to handle the heat and the cold better. If you'd told me back at that Turkey Trot I'd be able to run an easy 5K in 107 degree weather with no ill effects, I'd have called you crazy. Since that trip around the block I've completed six half marathons, and I'm tapering for the Allstate 13.1 on October 26th

Finally, the biggest surprise in this whole endeavor has been the community of runners I've been privileged to be around. I've never Early morning runmet such an accepting, encouraging, social (and partying!) and yet very fit crowd such as this. If you're dedicated enough to get outside and run in the heat, cold, blazing sun and in the morning or evening darkness, no matter how young or old you are, or how fast or slow…you're one of us. Like putting on a karate gi, getting out for a run – especially on a cold, dark morning when everyone can barely even see each other – is a great leveler; It doesn't matter if you're Bill Gates, a soccer mom, or the checkout guy at the local grocery store; the same road lies in front of you. It's reconnected me to my community and greatly widened my circle of friends after many years.

My Facebook motto is Giorraíonn beirt bóthar, an Irish proverb that translates as "Two people shorten a road". I think it perfectly describes the running community.

I'll see you out there. Don't forget to wave.






Fun At The 2013 Horsetooth Half Marathon

Approaching the second, 9.2% grade

Approaching the second, 9.2% grade

I’ve long been registered to run the half marathon course for the Colorado Marathon in Fort Collins, Colorado on May 5th. Through a coincidence in work scheduling, yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in the 40th annual Horsetooth Half Marathon only two weeks before the Colorado. What an epic run it was for a flatlander like me!

The Horsetooth Half is a relatively small event for such a longstanding race; 1500 people registered this year. There The REAL Fat Tire cruisersare no big starting announcements or huge banners at the start, not even a starting gun (though it's timed). It's community sponsored, so you see Boy Scouts and the local running clubs doing all the work. Instead of a big expo hall, they use a community room at their primary sponsor, New Belgium Brewing. The logo gear for sale is on a 3' clothing rack. For participating you get a nice technical shirt, a pint glass, and for this anniversary, a small Lucite plaque with the now-infamous course profile etched into it (and your mind).  It's a nice contrast to the traveling circus of a Rock 'n Roll marathon.

The weather

Everyone was watching the weather closely this year. Fort Collins received about eighteen inches of snow in a spring WP_20130417_001snowstorm a few days before I arrived on Wednesday, and took another hit Wednesday morning as well. It was a bit surreal to sit on the taxiway in an 86-degree Dallas, wait for the Denver weather to clear somewhat, and once there drive up to Fort Collins in heavy blowing snow. This was the first year for a marathon course, and it was dicey as to whether it would even be held due to the snow (it was a mixed on/off road route). But the weather slowly cleared and we had great running weather on Sunday. As I write this, the weather is closing in again, and my flight to Dallas took off just ahead of another 1 to 3 inches of snow already hitting the Front Range cities.

The course

For the first few miles of its route, the Horsetooth Half follows Centennial Drive along the top of the artificial ridge of the Ascending the 9% hilldam that creates the reservoir. Then it descends down to the countryside, and follows the countryside until it joins the Poudre River Trail back into Fort Collins. The course profile shows a tough first few miles, plus the fact that the race beginning is itself almost exactly a mile above sea level. Within several hundred yards of the start, the road immediately climbs and switchbacks at 6.4% up to the top of the reservoir. After a short descent, it runs along the top of the dam (the top photo), then climbs at 9.1% to the highest part of the reservoir (“monster mountain”), all within the first two miles of the race.

At mile 4.5, Dam Hill is a half-mile climb at 5%, and finally Bingham Hill at mile 7.5 at 6%. STEEP descent off the high pointsAs if the ascents weren’t enough fun, the descents presented their own challenges, especially running down the back side of Dam Hill at almost 8%. At that grade, you just can’t put your feet in front of you fast enough, and a fall would be disastrous. So you have to balance speed descending (to help make up for what the inclines did to your overall time), with pounding your quads as you brake yourself as little as possible.

The experience

We ran in perfect 40 to 60 degree sunny weather alongside banks of melting snow. Nevertheless, the Colorado sun is so intense that when we rarely passed into shade I realized just how hot I was becoming. In some places we ran with snow-covered fields on either side of us, and the cool breeze off the snow was invigorating.

The woman running packet pick-up gave me sage advice: As you run up the hills, keep shortening your stride until your speed or your heart tell you to start walking. About half the people around me (including me) followed this advice. Even then, you have to be careful. Long, strong strides at this incline quickly wear out your Achilles, so you have to shorten up and take faster steps.

Shortly after the marathoners joined at mile seven, I had a pleasant surprise. One of the other runners asked if I was one of the marathoners! I can’t imagine why. I either looked like I knew what I was doing…or I looked exhausted from the muddy marathon course run. Another treat was that at the top of the last (Bingham) hill, what looked like the Colorado State University road cycling team all kitted out in their green and white jerseys, stood in a double line to high-five the runners as they went past. Nice!

The Poudre River trail that takes you the final six miles into town is pretty, but hard to appreciate at this point in the race. After all the ups and downs, you’re just trying to concentrate on a sustained fast run to the finish with whatever you have left in the tank. There are several long stretches out in full sun away from the water, and those are mentally tough. I felt okay by that point, but the hills had ground off any speed I might have had; my tempo pace finishing was the same as my easy pace back in Dallas – a full two minutes / mile slower. I knew I was tired when one of the hardest mental challenges of the race was making it up the short sharp inclines as the trail passes under a road! The grind was relieved by very non-Texas sights, like running past a couple of fly fisherman along the river, right at the edge of town.

When you finally exit the trail at Linden Street, you turn left for the final quarter mile to New Belgium; in two weeks I’ll turning right for the Colorado Marathon, which ends the same distance into Old Town Fort Collins. Your name is announced, no formal photos are taken, and the local Boy Scout troop presents everyone with their plaque. There’s a band playing. New Belgium had set up a truck with unlimited refills of Fat Tire, Rampant Imperial IPA, or Shift lager. I stood in line for a free massage, but by the time I was finished the last bus to take particpants back to the start had left. I caught a ride back from a generous race organizer, who I learned was just a few years younger than me and an awesome marathoner in his own right.

Recovery was all about the right things: A hot tub at my AirBnB home, some Odell 5 Barrel Pale Ale and Cheez-its, then a most excellent beer sampler at Equinox brewery just up the street from where I was staying, and finally a couple of delicious pizza slices from Coopersmith.

I doubt this will be an annual excursion for me, but I really appreciated the beauty of the course, the hospitality of the organizers…and the fact it didn’t hurt as badly as I thought it was going to! I’ll be back to Fort Collins in just a week to work in the office and run the Colorado Half with several of my coworkers…and I’m looking forward to it already.

Inside and Outside: The Post-Race Ritual


"You suck 😉 !"

Anyone that's done any racing recognizes that competition comes in two flavors: external and internal. In external competition you're obviously competing against another individual or team, but with internal competition it's just you. On race day, we often deal with both.

The footrace is the about the oldest form of competition there is. But unless you're an elite runner that's in the running to win the event, or a speedster with a chance to win your age group, for most of us these races aren't external competition. They're actually time trials, the "race of truth" as they say in bike racing. It's you against the clock. So these races are really about internal competition. How did you run? Did your average pace improve? Did you set a personal record? Failing those, did it just feel like a good run?

At the same time, the groups of people we run and socialize with are, by and large, very competitive people. You don't train 4 or 5 days a week by yourself, then get up at 6 AM on a Saturday to run 10 miles in the cold and dark, and perhaps rain, if you aren't disciplined, driven, and at least a little competitive.As a result, when you learn of your friend's race results you feel a combination of happiness for their success – and, if they're faster than you, a pang of envy. (Unless they're an elite runner like our local Logan Sherman, whose sustained speed and energy output are so far beyond most folks you have to simply stand back and be astounded.) And no matter how well you do, you're never quite satisfied.

The (tongue in cheek) post-race ritual process goes like this:

The Post-Race Ritual

(Click to enlarge)

(Actually, I prefer to ask "How was your race?" rather than anything quantitative, to give them the option of not bringing up times at all if they weren't happy with it.) You'd think that after so many years of teaching martial arts and watching many of my students equal or surpass me, this envy wouldn't be an issue any more. But though it gets easier with age, asses-and-elbows competition is a fire that's hard to tamp down.


What really makes a difference is the great groups of folks I run with. Like a Venn diagram, the Luke's training program and the Thursday Night Social Run are two different running circles that overlap where some members have had some association with the Plano Luke's Locker running store. Regardless of which group I'm with, they are some of the most positive people I've ever met. After a race, Facebook is awash in runners posting times and experiences, and their peers sending congratulations in all directions.

I've often said that it's a good thing that running is such a social activity, because a race is damned hard work. The Dallas Rock 'n Roll half marathon was windy (20-25 MPH) and cold (wind chill in the 20's). You must get up early, Runners huddling away from the wind in a City Hall Plaza stairwell at 6:30 AM


huddle together out of the wind in your racing clothes trying not to freeze, strip down to the essentials before the race – I saw many lean women shivering uncontrollably before the start – do your best race, then try not to get hypothermia afterward when your clothes are soaked in sweat.

Commiserating with fellow sufferers over a few pints afterwards is every bit as important for recovery as that long drink of chocolate milk.And your congratulations to your fellow runners really are genuine…because you know they're feeling the same emotions you are.

Drivin’ The Dream: Ferraris and Lambos and Astons, Oh My!

Driver change. F430, 360 Spyder, AM Vantage convertible, Lambo Gallardo

It seems that in any extended conversation I've had in the last year, the idea comes up that if time doesn't necessarily bring wisdom, hopefully it does increase your sense of perspective. Thanks to my wife, on Sunday I had the opportunity to happily extend my perspective of what "fast" means.

For my birthday, my wife bought me a 50% off Living Social deal for a "speed tour" with DFW Drive Your Dream. This deal gives you a 2 1/2 hour drive in 4 supercars, mostly on open country roads. The Living Social deal puts this experience within reach for a special occasion, about the same price as an expensive dinner for two.

(Best appreciated full screen, of course)

I'm lucky enough to be able to drive the Midlife Crisismobile, a 2013 Mustang GT. It has "FAFNR" vanity plates named for Fafner, the dragon from Wagner's Ring Cycle, a part I played as an extra in two Dallas Opera productions. To be honest, I stalled a little bit on this deal because I was a little nervous. At 420 HP, Fafner's no slouch, but I'm not a lead foot driver any more. I have no desire to get a ticket in this very visible car! And a couple of the cars I'd be driving in this experience have far more power and even greater power-to-weight ratios. I finally registered for the deal, and drove it on Sunday. My perspectives are blissfully ignorant of the hundreds of thousands of words already written about these cars.

It was easy to find the place, in a warehouse area just east of Fort Worth, when I got close. It was the only Pahking the cahs. Note the 458 Italia on the left. No, no one drove it!business with a Ferrari F430, Ferrari 360 Sypder (convertible), Aston Martin Vantage convertible, and a gold Lamborghini Gallardo out front! I learned more about this unusual business once I met the tour director and signed a fairly normal rental car agreement. The cars are all privately owned by one fellow, part of his larger collection. It's a little hard to wrap your head around, but these cars are his second tier autos. When he puts some miles on his exotics, he waterfalls them to this driving experience, then eventually sells them. He's a real example of the old saying about getting rid of a car when the ashtrays are full!

I needn't have worried about the driving experience. Though you are indeed in sole control of a supercar, you simply follow a lead car (a BMW X5) that the tour director drove. He knew the route, the places to slow way down for low-clearance vehicles, and the wide-open areas. (He also presumably had a radar detector.) We followed him and stayed in line, in order. It was a three-quarter-million dollar rubber band experience; the tour director would accelerate where the road was clear and safe, F430 following him would wait a few seconds, then punch it to catch up. No one seemed to have any problem with this; we all had our hands full just absorbing the cars.

As we moved into the driver's seat of each car, we got a brief rundown of the basic controls – seat and mirror adjustment, how to start the car, and choice of manual or automatic shifting -and off we went. This was a hilarious, and frustrating, reversal of the usual situation: Staring into an exotic's interior from behind a velvet rope line, hands in pockets or on camera, studying the controls and wondering what it would be like to drive. In the Gallardo, I had about 30 seconds to get set in a completely unfamiliar environment before we took off!

I asked the tour director how the local cops felt about this regularly scheduled Top Gear-style parade through their territories. He said that in the two years he's been running these tours, no one has ever gotten a ticket. In fact, out in the country where we drove, there are at least two sheriffs that are exotic car buffs that have stopped by at our driver/car exchange stops to look at the cars. One of them even offered to lead! (which he politely declined.)

We went out to the cars, and he handed me the keys to the 360 Spyder. (Think about those words for a second!)

Ferrari 360 Spyder

400 HP
0-60: 4.2 sec
Quarter mile: 12.8 sec

The 360 was a great car to start the tour with, and I mostly drove it on the freeway as we (quickly) drove the quartet out to the country. The car's power was within reach of what I was familiar with in the Mustang, though the experience is of course Ferrari 360 Spydercompletely different. When you get in, you immediately notice how low to the ground all these cars are. The seats are very firm, with a feeling of being a bit more rocked back than I'm used to. The side bolsters are designed for narrow Italian torsos; even though I'm a fit 40-42R, it was noticeably tight.

All the cars have F1-style clutchless paddle shifters rather than conventional manual shifters, which takes away the need for skilled clutch driving. I was a little disappointed at first, but for this drive it was perfect as these "flappy paddles" (as Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson likes to call them) protect both the driving…and the car. We
were so occupied with the driving experience already, it good to not worry about grinding a very expensive gearbox.

And of course the engine is behind you rather than in front. A mid-engine car is such a different experience! There's very close-to-the-road feel, with very good visibility, and the wonderful 50-50 balance that allows you to feel confident in the turns.

The 360 was very easy to drive, with the high-idling, high-revving 4.3L V8 easily doing whatever I wanted. I also learned the value of the aluminum plate in the passenger seat's footwell – to keep from wearing out the carpet as you clamp your feet down to hang on!

The most noise generated wasn't from the Spyder, however; it came from the F430 just in front of us.

Ferrari F430

483 HP
0-60: 3.7 sec
Quarter mile: 12 sec

The F430 was the successor to the 360. It has almost 100 more horsepower than its predecessor. And it has, hands-down, the DreamDrive-2247coolest sounding engine / exhaust combination. You wanted to play with this car just to hear the sounds! Unfortunately, the full video at the bottom just doesn't convey quite the sound, but I did make a recording with a 24-bit digital recorder. It still doesn't do it justice; you can better hear what the car really sounds like from my recordings from the cars behind it.

This car was a ton of fun, and I wish I'd been able to drive it longer and in less traffic. The exhaust note, the responsive engine, the shove-you-back-in-your-seat power, the bright red tach…it was just a wonderful experience.

You can listen to a minute or so of my F430 recording here.

Lamborghini Gallardo

512 HP
0-60: 3.5 sec
Quarter mile: 11.5 sec

This car (named after a famous Spanish breed of fighting bull) was very different than the Ferraris. It's to be expected, as tractor DreamDrive-2240maker Ferrucio Lamborghini started making cars when he became disgusted with Ferraris and what he felt was their lack of power (!). It was a bit tougher to get into, and the control layout and style was brand new. And as I said, I had about 30 seconds to get it figured out before the cars started moving!

The windscreen was at such a steep angle it was a bit tough to see out of when headed into the sun. And, unlike the Ferraris, the tach and speedo were rather small and matter of fact. I hardly ever looked at them because they were hard enough to read and I was generally preoccupied with other things, and chose to drive by sound. I do know Lamborghinis are far more comfortable to drive than they used to be; the joke was that your left leg would wear out from pressing down the huge clutch long before your desire to drive did.

But I did find the gas pedal. Did you know a Gallardo makes a "chuffing" sound during shifts after strong acceleration? It quite surprised me; the tour director later explained it was the big air intakes just back of both doors "inhaling" fresh air. The downshifts were distinctive as well, because the engine management electronics pre-match engine speed to the gearbox so if you aren't too close, you get a big rev out of it. The brakes took longer to engage firmly than either of the Ferraris, which was a bit disconcerting entering the first bend.

But oh, the power! With all wheel drive, I could just tell that we were really not tapping fully into this car's power. And the sound is also distinctly different than the Ferrari's (especially the F430's) howl.

You motorheads can listen to the Gallardo here.

Aston Martin Vantage Roadster

379 HP
0-60: 4.6 sec
Quarter Mile: 13.4

The Vantage was a different animal than the rest, a luxury sports car. It was also black, so in this bright collection of reds and Aston Martin Vantageorange it was very easy to go unnoticed. The leather seats felt almost sinful after the firm and spartan racing seats of the other three. We had the top down on this one, and it was very quiet, both the engine and the wind.

Until the tach cleared 4K RPM, then a little solenoid down somewhere in the exhaust flipped and we could suddenly hear the muscular V8, so much more like my Mustang than any of the others. It was definitely a fun drive, and we certainly kept our place in the long rubber band of exotics, but it wasn't the "oh my god" experience of the F430 or the Gallardo.


All these cars were very tight, responsive and fast. With the exception of the Astin Martin, they all made you want to stomp on it  and drive high on the tach. That's what they were made for! And the newer of them had safeguards in place to protect the car from the driver. The almost universal favorite among the drivers was the F430, with the Gallardo coming in second. The 360 was a lot of fun, too; I'm sure it would have really shown off its skills had we been able to drive on twistier roads.

This drive reset my perspectives on what fast and powerful really is, and how the Mustang compares to them. Though it's close to the same weight as them, the much greater horsepower, very high revving characteristics, and mid-engine configuration really made this a memorable experience.

PS: Dang it – I forgot to honk the horns! Guess I'll have to go back.

Drive Your Dream photos

Drive Your Dream video

On The Road Again

I'm spending the week driving through Texas, doing Windows Server 2012 road shows in Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. I've enjoyed doing these half-day shows, partly because I think WS2012 is a great product – but also because it gives me the excuse to take my new 2013 Mustang GT for some long drives!

If you've not been able to make any of these shows (I'm doing one more on Microsoft campus next week), I've made the links to these presentations for both waves of this show available on my Presentations page.