Time is Relative

Einsteinian physics says that key characteristics of events involving motion (such as the distance travelled, or the time-in-flight) will vary for different observers. Science says these different observations are both real; it’s not that one observer’s right and the other’s wrong.

This dis-agreement would cause no end of problems for us Earthers if it weren’t tempered by another factor: the magnitude of the difference is related to the speed that the observers are travelling vis-a-vis one another. At low speeds, the differences are too small to perceive. You have to really be moving to notice a difference; like near-to the speed of light.

So there we were, on Day One of the Oregon 1000 rally. This every-other-year production starts just outside Portland, and runs down to the southern Oregon coast for an overnight stop. Day Two returns competitors to I-5 around Corvallis. It’s one thousand kilometers of backroads driving, packed with scenery and wildlife and friendly competition. As with all TSDs, speeds are tightly controlled, and enforced at multiple timing locations along the route. We’re driving to the coast, not racing to it.

Just before lunch, we were on a paved section. We were perfectly on our average speed until we reached a tight uphill hairpin turn, followed by a steep climb. At the crest thereof, I’d fallen behind a bit, so when the road straightened, I accelerated to regain the time I’d lost. The car we’re in has a lot of power, so it should take only a few moments. I floored the accelerator pedal. Car said “oooooOMMMMMMAHHHH”.

A few moments later, we were approaching the average (and besides, the road curved ahead) so I lifted my foot. Hmm.  Car was still saying “oooooOMMMMMMAHHHH”, and we were still accelerating.  Uh-oh: the throttle was stuck, wide full open.  🙁

I got hard on the brakes, and our acceleration lessened. But the motor joined the battle with the brakes like a dog playing tug-of-war on its leash.  I had, though, a trump: the ignition key. I turned the key to the ‘off’ position, and the motor’s roar was quelled.

But I turned the key one notch too far, and engaged the steering wheel lock. We were still at a goodly pace — and pointed, sadly, off the pavement.

time    slows     down

ahead on the wide overgrown shoulder a thicket of saplings hides whatever boulders and dropoffs there are

the steering wheel won’t turn

the brakes are slowing us but not enough

my hand moves with the speed of an advancing glacier toward the key

we’re mowing through the saplings

the key’s turned and the steering wheel is free

foliage across the windshield 

slowing but not stopped and somehow no boulders

I popped the clutch, and the motor fired, no longer stuck wide open. I steered up toward the road and gassed it, and we smoothly returned to the pavement. Relatively smoothly.

The co-driver had a few questions at that point, because I’d not clearly communicated the predicament that led to the detour. No time for chit-chat: we were somehow still on our average speed, so we kept going… and when the control came up 0.9 miles later we zeroed it. After the excitement wore off, we made a series of mistakes that took us off course and had us backing up thrice and …   a mess of leftover neuronal activity.

So anyway, though the physicists say that differing observations of time can’t be noted without near-light speeds being involved …  I beg to differ.

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