One Possible Future

I have now been in Belgium for six months. I very nearly have a normal life here now! Hopefully it never gets fully normal, because it seems like that would be a dreadful waste of being-in-Europe. At any rate, I’ve gotten into at least some kind of rhythm of life, trying to incorporate miscellaneous European adventures along the way.

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Can you believe it’s nearly September? They say time is relative, and never is this more apparent than when reflecting on the past. Sometimes it seems like just yesterday I was totally psyched about buying tickets in March for this weekend’s Grand Prix, but there’ve been plenty of days and sleepless nights along the way that seemed to take fffoooorrreeeevvvvveeeerrr. The first month here was probably one of the longest months of my life (despite Februrary only having 29 days), yet now it seems so distant. In the last few weeks I have finally again gone mountain biking, cooked some stir-fry for friends, done some table-top gaming, and drove at a track day…Just about all I want out of life, really.
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Regarding Dreams

Achieving your dreams takes a lot of work. There’s paperwork to do, bureaucracies to overcome, packing, moving, travelling, shopping, planning, and of course the constant daily grind of maintaining a life and having a job. That’s not even going into all the foundational work of performing at work, interviewing, getting a degree, and everything before that, including deciding what your dreams are in the first palce. Amidst all of that it is easy to lose track of the fact that you have actually achieved your dreams.

Back in 2004 (high school days), at a car show in Corning, New York, I saw a Lotus Elise for the first time outside of Gran Turismo. (Wait, don’t go, I’m not writing out my life story, I promise!) It was somewhere around there (maybe a little before or after) that I got it in my head that I wanted to buy an Elise someday, and drive it on racetracks. Racetracks like the Nürburgring (which I also learned about through Gran Turismo).

Somewhere around 2008, I decided I’d like to try working and living in Europe sometime, because that’s where most of the cool racing happened, and there was just a lot I wanted to do over there here.

In 2016, I took this photo:

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Le Mans 2016

For years I have wanted to attend the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I finally made it this year, and I don’t think I was ready for it. It was my first time camping at a racetrack, first time at a race longer than three hours, and first time spectating at a track longer than 4 miles. Not to mention my first road trip in Europe. All of this a mere two weeks after getting my car back. Altogether it added up to a pretty overwhelming experience, but I kind of think that’s the point of Le Mans.

For those that don’t know, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the world’s greatest motor race. It is the only motorsport even on National Geographic’s list of the World’s Greatest Sporting Events, and it tops the list at #1. Teams enter the race by invitation, and push themselves as hard and fast as they can for 24 hours straight on a track that’s twice as long as most. It is a race of attrition as much as speed, as cars inevitably break down or crash, and limp back to the pits if they can, where team mechanics replace turbos, transmissions, or suspensions in as little as five or ten minutes.

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Recent Outings

As I mentioned previously, not having a car for the last four months was really cramping my style, and generally interfering with things I wanted to do. I didn’t let it stop me entirely though; I did manage to get myself out of town for a few day- or weekend trips in that time, and each one of them helped drive home why I moved here.

Ardennes

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“Have Racecar”

Last week I finally drove my Lotus in Belgium! Four months to the day since it was picked up by the shippers to be brought here. That process was certainly one of the most confusing, beureaucratic, stressful things I’ve ever done. Probably #2, right after completing a Master’s Thesis, and before actually taking up residence in Belgium. Having a car again has made life feel almost normal again, removed a lot of stress, and greatly opened up my travel opportunities.

The name of this blog is “Have Racecar, Will Travel,” but for the last four months, only half of that has been true. Up until now, I’ve only been doing the travelling bit, and then only so far as not having a car would allow me, which, to be honest, is not very much. If I wanted to get to Brussels, it took over an hour via trains. If I wanted to get somewhere without easy transit access, I had to fork over a hundred bucks for a weekend rental car, or try to convince someone to take me in their car. I had to walk to and from stores, which severely limited where I could go and how much I could buy.
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Culture Shock: It’s The Little Things

I’m not especially prone to culture shock. I’m willing to try new things and go on adventures (it’s why I’m here). Mostly it’s just an adjustment period until I establish new habits and preferences. In a way the bigger differences are easier to deal with because there’s fewer of them and you can retreat from them at home. But all the little things that are different add up to make even your own apartment seem foreign sometimes.

When you take a language class, there are always little culture lessons they give to you along the way. Tips to help you understand the language or get around when you visit another country. “The second floor is the first floor.” “Train travel is very common.” “Steak tartare is a thing.” But there are a lot more little things you start to notice when you spend a lot of time in a place, and especially when you establish a home there. Some are kind of neat, others take some getting used to. For example:

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The First of Many Race Weekends

This weekend I made my first of hopefully very many trips to a local racetrack. Well, not technically the first; I had been to Zolder on my interview trip and had a fun time. In a way this was my triumphant return! But this was the first time I went to Zolder as a “local” track, complete with a Zolder Racing Club (season pass) membership and infield parking. I gotta say, it felt pretty good, even though this particular trip came with its share of challenges.

The main reason I cite as motivation to move to Belgium is “because of the racetracks.” I am, you may have noticed, quite a big fan of motorsports (which, as usual, should be appended with “but not particularly NASCAR so much”), and my location (and work schedule) in Hampton made it somewhat difficult to engage in this hobby as much as I wanted to. The closest “decent” road course (i.e. one that hosted any professional events at all) was VIR, and that was almost four hours away. That distance made it pretty impractical to visit the track regularly for any race events.

For comparison, here are the “decent” road courses that are a shorter drive from where I live now than VIR was:

  • Circuit Mettet
  • Zolder
  • Spa
  • Zandvoort
  • Nurburgring
  • Assen
  • Hockenhiem
  • Lydden Hill

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