Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Amazing Race 29, Episode 5

Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) - Alesund (Norway) - Oslo (Norway) - Milan (Italy) - Lake Como (Italy)

There’s more than one way to travel — or to accomplish almost any travel task.

That’s one of the lessons of this season of The Amazing Race, in which each of the travellers met their partner only at the starting line of the race around the world.

To the extent we can judge from the edited version of “reality” on the TV show, this season’s cast of racers hasn’t fared much worse at travel teamwork or argued with their partners’ much more than the pairs of racers in previous seasons, who auditioned for the cast as pairs and had months to prepare for the race. That suggests that while the racers in previous seasons may have “trained” for the race, they didn’t focus as much as they should have on teamwork practice rather than just individual fitness. On the other hand, several of this season’s racers seem to be making goodd use of their experience in the military and/or in emergency services, which often require collaboration and division of labor, under stress, with partners one didn’t choose.

With experience, most travelling couples come to an informal and often unstated understanding about who is better at which travel tasks, or at least about who should lead when.

When you pair up with a stranger you meet on the road — to share transportation or other services, for mutual support, for companionship, for protection, for a holiday romance, or for whatever other reason — it takes time to figure out who should lead which steps in the travel dance. The result can be some hesitation and stumbling, as you both try to take charge or both wait to see if the other will do so.

It’s also natural, if you haven’t travelled with someone who does things differently, not to realize that there are other ways to do them than the ways that seem natural (to you), or to which you have become accustomed. That can lead to launching into Method A while your partner launches into Method B, without understanding why you are going in different directions. If you don’t recognize that there is more than one possible approach, neither will you recognize the need to ask your partner, “How to you think we should deal with this problem? How should we start?”

We saw this when the racers had to follow a map on a scavenger hunt through the streets of Alesund, Norway.

Michael assumed that the way to orient himself with respect to the map was to consult his compass. I always carry a compass for this purpose, and Michael wasn’t the only racer this season who brought a compass and was shown trying to use it.

Liz assumed that the way to orient herself with respect to the map was to observe the relative position and direction of landmarks sighted in the real world and shown on the map.

Both of these are valid orientation strategies, and each has its uses and limitations. A magnetic compass can’t be relied on inside a metal-bodied vehicle or under overhead electrical lines such as those that power electric locomotives, streetcars/trams, or trolleybuses. A GPS compass won’t work in the canyons between highrise building where it doesn’t have a line of sight to the satellites. Orientation by landmarks isn’t always feasible or reliable in a landscape of similar terrain and/or similar-looking buildings in all directions.

On the streets of Alesund, both techniques were workable, but neither Liz nor Michael seemed to recognize that there was more than one way to figure out which way to go to follow their map. Their different approaches were equally valid, but they wasted time arguing about which to rely on.

Michael and Liz rehashed the same argument later in this double-length episode when they were getting off a water taxi on Lake Como and trying to decide which path to follow along or inland from the lakeshore.

Have there been travel challenges that you assumed could only be dealt with in one way, but for which you discovered your travelling companion had a different but equally valid approach?

The water taxis we saw in this episode are themselves one of the characteristic sights and bucket-list fantasies of visitors to Lake Como: beautiful mahogany Italian-made Riva runabouts that reminded me of my automobile engineer uncle’s prized Hacker, Riva’s closest U.S.-built counterpart and principal international rival. Either a Riva or a Hacker Craft is the marine equivalent of Rolls-Royce touring car as a status symbol of speedy but also stately water transportation.

I’ve recent acquired one of my transportation fantasies, a gently-used Avatar 2000 recumbent bicycle that was being sold by someone who didn’t really know what it was and charged much less than it might be worth. (Most people wouldn’t want a recumbent, or vintage components, and it’s not clear what, if anything, its “market” value would be today.) Like a Hacker, it embodies engineering elegance, style, and spare-no-expense detailing, components, and workmanship, including an extraordinary amount of custom leather-work and machining.

The “production” run of 200 or fewer hand-made Avatar 2000’s over a decade wasn’t intended to be profitable in itself, even with a US$2,000 (in 1981) price tag. The prototypes were intended as a proof-of-concept intended to sell some larger company on licensing the patents, which never happened. I test-rode a used Avatar 2000 in the 1980s when I was first looking for a recumbent. I coveted it, but couldn’t justify what it would then have cost. I ended up with an Infinity instead, one of several much cheaper semi-mass-produced knock-offs of the Avatar 200 design. Functional and enjoyable, with all the general advantages of a long-wheelbase under-seat-steering recumbent bicycle, it was my main commuting and recreational bike for 20 years. But it was never going to be the same as an Avatar 2000. Now I’ve been able to acquire an Avatar 2000 for a fraction of what it would have cost when it was new.

What’s your fantasy conveyance, and where on your travels might you find it?

Link | Posted by Edward on Thursday, 27 April 2017, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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