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Excel in the Wild

Every year, during the month of October, a really great thing happens at Microsoft. Teams of all sizes - from just a few folks, to organizations thousands strong - rally around a common cause. Every year, that rallying cry gets stronger - millions of dollars stronger than just the year before. And every one of those millions is matched by the company - dollar for dollar, as high as it can go. Last year, over $163 million dollars and 760,000 volunteer hours were donated to various charities and causes that employees cared about.

That is the power of the Microsoft Giving Campaign.

And, while some may say, "They get paid so much, it's no big deal." Just remember - like votes, every dollar counts - and this many millions can do a lot of good.

Of course, that's all fine and dandy - but what the heck does it have to do with my adventures? Well, last year - for the first time - one of the members of the Excel team auctioned off a day-long offroad adventure for three lucky bidders. Another team member jumped in as well, auctioning off another three seats, and when it was all said and done, several thousand dollars had been earmarked for charity.

The two awesome folks were Joe and Dave. You may recall them from an earlier story - where I took them, and their "Stormtrooper" 4Runners, on their first offroad adventure. This time, I was the one who was thrilled when I was asked to tag along!

As happens with any large team like Excel, finding a date took some coordination. Like, 7 months worth. Eventually, schedules aligned and we figured that the middle of July would provide perfect weather for such an outing. And, on the morning of July 15, at 7:45am, we all showed up in the Microsoft parking lot, ready to show a bunch of the team what it was like to crawl up a trail, to a lake, for lunch!

Of course, being that this was Seattle, the day was overcast - Julyuary, as it were - and as we set out east to Fortune Creek, it started to rain. Perfect.

No matter, it was another hour to the trail head outside of Roslyn, WA, where we'd be airing down - plenty of time to drive out of the rain and into the sun. Which is exactly what didn't happen by the time we arrived. Instead, we all go wet in our shorts and flip-flops as we lowered our tire pressures to between 15 and 22 lbs.

Now would also probably be a good time to 'splain the trucks. So, there's of course me with my green 1st gen Tacoma. Next, there's Joe with his white 5th gen 4Runner - he's the guy who got this whole thing rolling, so kudos to Joe. Then, Dave - he's got the blue TRD Pro 4Runner. As you may expect, there's a story to the transition from his Stormtrooper TRD Offroad 4Runner to this one, but that's not for me to tell. And last (exactly because it's not a Toyota) is the Jeep Rubicon - driven by Stacy and her husband Scott; also thrilled to to be invited in the same way I was.

All aired down, we were off. With varying skill levels - and a bunch of passengers who'd never been offroad - the first few miles were a nice introduction - well graded, forest service road. And then, we turned off onto the Fortune Creek trail.

The going was slow, but fun - for the most part, the trail well-traveled enough that we pointed our trucks up, and there we went. Only one place did a little pruning need to occur - and there, only because the shrub was weighed down by the recent rain. Oh, and because Dave doesn't have any pinstripes on his shiny blue 4Runner yet!

This trail, it turns out, is a good one for reasonably new offroaders. There are a few places where choosing the right line can make things a lot easier, but choosing the wrong line won't lead to any real harm. Of course, for Scott and Stacy in their Rubicon with 35" tires, lines weren't an issue at all.

Joe - group leader for the day - has also been getting a bit of experience under his belt, and it showed. Where this trail was pushing his limits the first time he ran it, it was clear that he was having a much better - and slightly more relaxed - time the second time around.

Dave, the "rookie" of the bunch (in as much as "rookie" can ever be used to describe Dave) was perhaps a bit out of his element, but was nonetheless a quick learner. A bit of guidance on lines, and he too was churning his way up the mountain - the stock 4Runner doing everything he asked and more.

Of course, the Tacoma was great fun too - but I'm not really here to talk about that (today!)

And then, excitement! As we wound our way up the hill - perhaps a bit more slowly than Joe had planned, but right in-line with what should be expected of this rag-tag group of low-achievers - our only trail damage of the day. It was Joe. And, on the same obstacle he'd gotten a bit of a scratch the first time he'd run Fortune Creek.

That time, he'd just scraped his tail pipe. This time, he flattened the tail pipe and shed a bit of weight from his rear end. Luckily, just the plastic cover for his bumper. But hey, time for that new steel bumper now Joe!

A bit of spotting for Dave, "Oh, so that's the right line." from Joe, and pointing the front wheels forward for the Rubicon and Tacoma, and we were soon at our destination - a nice little saddle at the top of Fortune Creek.

And it was lunch time! Lunch of course was on Joe since he'd auctioned this whole thing off - and he went all the way. Chips and guac, burgers with all the fixings, and of course - sodas of our picking. Well, OK, the sodas just came from the fridges at work.

Everyone fed, it was time for our group photo - because how could you do a trip like this without one, right?

Lunch done, it was time to head back down the hill - we all had places to be and important things to do. Well, most of us anyway - I was just going to go home and get ready for another trip.

Of course, this is when the clouds really started to part and the sun started to come out. Washington summer.

Going was once again slow, but it was clear that even in just this one shorting trek, everyone had gotten more comfortable with the capabilities of their vehicles. It was a fun transition to watch, that's for sure!

And then, much too soon for me - we were at the bottom. The usual formalities ensued - airing up and chit-chat - and before long we were all done. Ready to pound pavement, westward bound - towards home.

It was a seriously great day. Everyone had a ball as far as I could tell, and here's to hoping that it's just the first in what becomes a tradition for the Excel team. I for one know that I'll be there every year it happens, if they'll have me.

Oh, and lest I forget - the real group photo. Don't mind the "now already old" Excel icon.

Recalc or Die!

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