I’m home and bursting with pride for my MINI…But all good things must come to an end

Well, I traveled a bit over 3600 miles during the past ten days, finally reaching home late this afternoon. What a great trip!  The MINI made it the whole way, without any breakdowns or temper tantrums.  I’m very proud of that.  I’m also kind of sad.   Driving home, following random cars or trucks, no one going to the same place , I saw only one MINI.  It’s lonely in a way, all the excitement and anticipation having run its course.  But I’ve got great memories and a huge sense of accomplishment.  I’ve spent the last 10 days on a mission, up early, out late, lots of driving and so many sights to see.  I drove in big cities, through small towns, over bridges and through mountains.  I conversed with other drivers, ate with strangers and heard so many amazing stories.  I wore lots of sunscreen, but still acquired a healthy glowing color from driving in weather that I worshipped.  Importantly, I wrote this blog and did not get a single speeding ticket.  Are you impressed?  If you aren’t, you should be.  Because before I left, there was a part of me that worried I would struggle and not be able to make it.  It’s a lot of driving for one person in a 2008 MINI.  Having done it, I realized that the worry was for nothing.  My MINI and I became very comfortable.  The more we drove, the more we wanted to keep driving.

So, the MINI is all unloaded, washed and tucked into the garage for a well-deserved rest.  I learned a lot about myself,my MINI and small town America.  If you have a chance, I would encourage you to take a trip like this.  Sit down with your family or friends and plan a tour.  Take some time to appreciate life outside of the interstate and the airport.  You will have stories and memories for life.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.  Thanks for reading along.  And thanks especially to MINIUSA. I am grateful for all the hard work and effort of the entire company and especially the Pit Crew for making this trip a reality.


Miles to go

Our morning in Green Bay started at the Brown County Farigrounds.  Located right on the water, the setting had the potential to be calm and serene, except for the 1000 MINIs parked there. Thinking that Green Bay, being a smaller city, would have fewer MINIs in attendance, I was again proven wrong on this trip.  I arrived at 7:35 (opening scheduled for 7:30) and I was with the last of the owners.  I spoke to one of the Rangers and he said this was more cars than he recalled having for any other event.  I asked him if he had been convinced to buy a MINI and he smiled slyly and said “well it sure looks like a lot of fun.”  Day after day I am stunned by the drivers who head for home and the new drivers picking up the trip.  I saw a friend from the Chicago Club who was on probably her 4th MTTS, again traveling with her Dad from New Jersey.  This year they brought family visiting from Poland.  Imagine seeing a large part of America for the first time on a trip like this.  Somewhat grueling and tiring, but always fun-filled and eventful.  At this stop, one thing was for sure, we were in Packer Country, and being a native of Wisconsin, I felt at home.  One of my favorite sights was a MINI toy on a cheese head hat on a MINI.  Gave me a big chuckle seeing this.

We headed to Wisconsin Rapids, driving through territory of which I was familiar.  We drove by the town where I spent several summers at camp.  There is also something about a Wisconsin sky.  Where I live now, the clouds aren’t quite as fluffy and aren’t contrasted as much against the blue sky.  It’s one of the things I miss most about having moved away.  

Our mid-day break was at Sally’s Drive-In where I had lunch with a couple of women who were members of the Chicago Club.  Turns out we had been at the same event before, but hadn’t met one another.  When I ordered my food, I was in line with a MINI executive from Munich and the MINIUSA employee who was traveling with him, coast to coast. She told me he was amazed and had never seen anything quite like this before.  Sure seemed like he was having the time of his life.  During our conversation, I mentioned that the theme for 2018 MTTS should be Lake to Lake.  That could be pretty cool..

I finished lunch and realized, sadly, that this would be my final leg of the MTTS trip.  I was planning to visit another brother in Eau Claire who I haven’t seen in too long to say.  I decided that I would spend the evening with he and his family; and, in particular, catch up with my niece.  So about mid-way through the afternoon, I waved good bye to MTTS and headed north.  It was a nice respite to spend the evening chatting and catching up. They hadn’t seen the MINI, so we hopped in, put the top down and drove around Eau Claire, jabbering and seeing the how much the City had changed since my last visit.  We ended the evening with a bonfire and beer, with promises that we wouldn’t let it go so long between future visits.

I’m heading home tomorrow.  I’ll check in one last time after I unload the car.

Some places are devoid of time

The last time I drove through the UP was in 1975, so I really was looking forward to the drive today.  I remember the scenery was so green and the smell of pine trees and fresh lake water brought back a flood of memories from my childhood. Summer camp, family vacations in Northern Wisconsin and time spent fishing and hiking in the woods. What I realized was that today’s trip was like I was back in the 60s feeling like things hadn’t really changed all that much, at least in this corner of the world.  Another reason  to travel back road America with your family.  This is the kind of stuff that just makes you wistful and happy.  A perfect match for driving in a MINI.

 I stayed in a non-chain hotel last night (on purpose, can you believe it?) The sink and tub were green and the countertop was Formica.  One wall was paneling and the door to the room opened right into the parking lot, about 18 inches from theboot of my car.  Needless to say, it felt like a time warp.  Here’s how check out was handled for early birds (I left at 7:00) and how old are these keys?

I left a bit early from Big Bear Arena so I could be early to the surprise stop today.  When I was a kid, my Dad owned a snowmobile sales and service shop.  So,  when I read that we were stopping at the snowmobile museum, I was looking forward to seeing some of the old model snowmobiles.  I wasn’t disappointed.  In addition to the snowmobiles, there were snow suits, helmets and boots that I remember wearing as a kid in Wisconsin when we would trail ride on the snowmobiles.  There were several models produced by some manufacturers I had never seen before.  It wasn’t a big place, but it sure did trigger fond memories of snowmobiling with my family.  The new machines today look a lot different.

After the stop, I slowed down and enjoyed the view.  The Hiawatha National Park is visual justification for preserving the country’s landscape.  The sights, sounds and smell make you wonder how a place like this could even exist on the same planet with a large urban city.  We sure experienced the full gamut of environments on MTTS 2016.  Not only were the sights in stark contrast, but so was the weather.  It was 60 degrees this morning, when only a few days earlier I checked driving temperature and it was 103!  The day was a bit overcast, but driving along with this view, that didn’t really matter.

I decided to skip this evening’s event because my brother and his wife live near Green Bay so I am spending the night with them.  I got a home cooked meal (it was terrific!) and will get to sleep in a bed much closer in comfort to my own.  I also got to play with their dog, Norton, who is so cute, he is the star of the day.

So I’ll be at the Brown County Fairgrounds tomorrow, taking off on my last leg of the MTTS journey.  It’s hard to believe things will soon be coming to an end for me on MTTS 2016.  See you tomorrow.

I keep thinking it is Saturday

One thing I noticed today is that during MTTS, I can’t keep track of what day it is.  Everyday seems like a Saturday.  For me, that must be a sign of being relaxed, since I am not thinking about having to work while I am driving around the country.  This morning we met at M1 Concourse, the new racetrack in Pontiac/Detroit for breakfast and a “parade” lap around the track.  It’s not quite finished, but looks like it will be a nice place to run a car.  Again, another huge turn-out.  Hard to describe, so I’ll show you a photograph where you can see what a whole lot of MINIs looks like.

One thing I haven’t mentioned so far is that MINIUSA is supporting “Feeding America” during MTTS, with a goal to raise $75,000.  Several of the Participants have thought of very creative ways to help reach this goal.  Things are being sold out of cars, food donation days have been held and social media is being utilized to get out the word with #defyhunger.  Today I donated to a man who was selling the right to pet his dog.  The dog was pretty cute and the cause was a good one, so I participated.  I also got to snap a picture of the fluffy dog, who was raking in a lot of money for charity.  Earlier in the week I donated to a young guy who sprayed a wrap coating on his MINI; and for a donation, you could sign it with a Sharpee.  There is so much writing on the MINI now that it looks like art from a distance.

After leaving Pontiac, we headed out toward Midland Michigan to a cupcake and cookie shop.  The owner of the shop made 1500 mini cupcakes free to each participant. Pretty nice I think.  Midland was somewhat shocked when over 700 MINIs poured into town, but the parking lot that was made available to us was large enough to accommodate most of the group.  I purchased a MINI cookie that was hand made for this occasion…….a pretty clever idea.  It had a slight accident before the picture, but I’m sure it will still taste good.  

Then I walked back to my car and had a long conversation with a guy from Texas who was driving a classic MINI shipped over from England.  He bought it from a prior owner who did most of the restoration work;  and it is the 6th MINI that he has owned. This one had tires just slightly larger than a golf cart, which performs best at a steady speed of 60 on the highway.  I was trying to imagine driving this MINI from Texas to the UP and it was sort of hard to believe, plus the steering column is on the right.  Regardless, it is absolutely adorable.

I also got up close and personal with the mighty bee today, which is a MINI that has a tear drop camper that it is pulling.  The owner knows a lot about MTTS and MINIs.  He has a very interesting blog that I have been reading, so in case you are interested, check it out at http://www.mightybee-takesthestates.com.  The car and camper match and no, I did not get up the nerve to ask him to open the camper, even though I was dying to see the inside.

I rolled into St. Ignace after crossing the Mackinaw Bridge which is always a thrill when driving a MINI.  It was windy and raining so our pop-up pizza party was cancelled.  I ran into Matt as I was thinking about alternate dinner plans.  We went to a restaurant nearby , saw two new people there for MTTS and asked if they wanted to eat with us.  Then a guy came up to Matt and said we have four open seats, want to sit with us.  So, we ended up eating dinner with a group of about 12 MTTS participants that we met for the first time at the restaurant.  It was a very enjoyable dinner, with a lot of MINI and MTTS talk that, I have to admit was a bit over my head at times.  It was fun, which I know I just keep saying. After dinner, a short walk to the lighthouse for some evening pictures; and then back to the hotel to get ready for tomorrow.  We are headed to Wisconsin which will be all too familiar, since I grew up there.  I’m excited.  I’ll close with today’s view.

Horse Racing, Miles, Friends and Family

Our morning Rise and Shine Event took place at the Meadows Racetrack south of Pittsburgh.  The night before I heard a guy say that the track tomorrow was a dirt track and wouldn’t our cars get awfully dirty.  I smiled and didn’t have the heart to tell him that I didn’t think that was a track they would let us on.  However, I’m sure he figured it out once he arrived.  The horses owned the track today and they were absolutely beautiful.  So we stood around and chatted as we watched the horses prance by, some even looking over at the crowd to show off.

 For the kids, there were miniature horses that they could pet.  And even some of the four legged participants got into the theme by dressing the part.

That little dog walked through the crowd posing for Pictures.  His jockey didn’t look up or wave…….

I started out with the MINI group for the first 50 miles or so, until we got into Ohio.  The route was curvy and up and down several hills.  Many of the drivers loved it.  But I skipped that part.  I went up to Akron to visit my daughter who was in town visiting friends.  She and I don’t live nearby one another, so this was a special treat.  We went for lunch and got a quick chance to catch up with each other, before I headed back out to rejoin the group.  I took HWY 18 over to join up, and it was very scenic with several small towns along the way. A lot to see, but since I was driving and had no buddy MINI, I couldn’t get any pictures.  

This evening’s event was in Detroit at the Eastern Market.  Having heard that parking may be a problem, we again folded K into the back seat of my MINI and left Pippa to rest at the hotel.  As I have mentioned before, the back seat in a MINI convertible compared to the back seat of an SUV is like comparing your living room sofa to a dollhouse sofa.  Not much space, so it is a challenge when a grown woman crawls back there, especially with the top closed.  It’s also a challenge getting out, which can be good for a few laughs.  Tonight when we got to the E Market, D got out of the front seat and shut the door, ready to go in and enjoy the food truck selections.  I looked back and saw K still stuck back there, with no way to reach the door handle or get out.  Now, I could have gone around and helped her, but we really wanted to see how long it would take D to realize that he forgot someone……..like his wife.  Pretty darn funny and we spent the rest of the night teasing him.  Probably not fair.  D has been a great sport through out this entire trip.  He has done most of the lead driving and a whole lot of luggage schlepping. (Side note: I have to say I was amazed at how much they fit into their MINI and we have the same size vehicle.).  After tomorrow morning D and K head for home; and I will do the next three stops without them.  I’ll be sad to see them go and I’ll miss the chatter on the Wilkie talkies while we drove.  I use “Pippa” as their handle.

Getting back to tonight’s event, it was another good one and THANKS to Motor City MINI and MINI of Ann Arbor for sponsoring.  There were about a dozen food trucks  from which we could choose our dinner and dessert.  One nice thing about the dinners is that we just sit at tables with strangers and get to talking.  Tonight we were joined by a very young woman who recently obtained her driver’s license.  She explained that she and her dad were doing this trip together, leaving home in Colorado Springs and heading to the start in Atlanta and all the way to the last leg in Palm Springs.  For you Dad’s out there, you should be impressed and a bit jealous.  Imagine having your daughter all to yourself for a trip like this.  She is very artistic and I asked if I could see some of her work.  She explained that she  has been illustrating their trip.  I asked/begged if I could take a picture of one of her illustrations to share with all of you and found this one of she and her Dad.

I think one thing I have noticed about this trip is the Family and Friends that have been able to participate.  There are a lot of kids out there who are really enjoying MTTS.  Everyone that I spoke with told me that this was a whole lot of fun and they couldn’t wait for the next day and what they got to do and see during the drive.  A lot of lasting MINI memories.  Just a note on how long some of these kids have been riding in the cars, which gets posted for us everyday.  Here was this mornings’s total, which doesn’t include anyone’s mileage from home to Atlanta.

Last but certainly not least, tonight we were joined by the fearless leader of the Northwest Indiana MINI club, Matt.  For those of you who met Matt when he was a little kid, doing MTTS with his mom, he’s 18 now, heading to college in the fall and joining MTTS 2016 for a few days of the event.  Matt has been President of the NWI Club that K, D and I are in since before we joined.  He plans rally events, field trips, keeps the Club’s Facebook page current and is an all around very nice guy.  When I first started emailing with Matt about MINIs, I guessed he was about 30.  Sometime later I found out he was 16.  If you are reading this and plan to be at the MTTS events for the next few days, I encourage you to find Matt and say “Hi”.  He loves MINIs and Family and he makes being in the NWI MINI Club a whole lot of fun.  Thanks Matt.

After tomorrow’s track, we are headed to the UP of Michigan and over the Mackinaw Bridge.  Should be a great drive.  I’ll fill you in tomorrow.  

Heroes, Elephants and Faces

We skipped the Rise and Shine today!  And what we did instead was totally worth it.  First, we got some sleep.  I don’t know about D & K, but I was limping along with a serious lack of enthusiasm and energy and needed a good solid 6 hours, which I got.  I also offered to lead and to pick a place for breakfast. You will be happy to know that I only did a couple of slide bys (i.e., almost missed a turn or did a U turn to go back), but didn’t get us lost at all today.  My most significant accomplishment was to pick a place for breakfast in Westminster Maryland which was amazing.  The Lemon blueberry scones  were sinful and my breakfast egg pesto panini was so good my mouth is watering with the thought of it.  If you are ever there, go to J Cafe.  I swear you will love everything about it, from the first glimpse of the Victorian house to the rustic chic interior, where we sat in the front window table and  chatted about everything MINI.  We decided it was a wonderful morning to be motoring.  I took a pic on our way out.

For those of you who grew up around the time I did, you probably remember taking a dime or a quarter and riding into town to the “Mom and Pop” store, where you purchased a bag of penny candy and chewed on it for the next several days (or hours if you could get away with it).  In our town, the store was called Mertz’s, and I am sure the fillings in my teeth today have something to do with everything I consumed from that little store.  Well we stopped at Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum & Candy Emporium (a stop arranged by MINI USA) and courtesy of Mr. Ed, I presume, we all received a free MINI Chinese take-out container full of penny candy.  So, it’s not like driving a go-kart across the country isn’t fun enough, now we add penny candy to the drive.  Pretty cool.  And it’s hard to drive by an Elephant on the side of the road that just sort of pops up out of no where.  So, by mid-day I was feeling like this was a pretty terrific leg of the journey….although I had to hide the candy from myself or it would end up being my lunch.  Oh wait, I think that was my lunch.

Today, with as much fun as I was having, took a turn for the serious.  We went through Gettysburg, and saw battlefields.  I’ve never been there before and we drove by cemeteries, canons and several statues .  Then we slowed way down for a MINI on the side of the road (you never leave a driver stranded alone), but he waived us on and pointed off to the field.  Yes, it was a field of roaming buffalo and he was just taking pictures.  It was one of those sights that you just don’t drive by on your way to the office in the morning.

Lastly, we stopped at the 9/11 Memorial commemorating the passengers and crew of Flight 93.  Even after 15 years it is difficult to put feelings into words when you think about this group of people giving up their lives in what surely saved many others from dying.  The heroism of the people on that flight is astounding and while the memorial can never bring any of them back, it sure gave me a chance to reflect again about the heroes who have impacted all of our lives. I didn’t take any pictures of the memorial.  It’s one of those things you need to view in person, not through the lens of a camera.

One funny thing happened today.  K decided to drive.  We both had the convertible tops down, and as we left the gas station, I yelled over to D that perhaps he should put a student driver sign on the car.  K looks at me and says, sure, but at least I don’t drive with the gas tank open. I looked back and sure enough, the cap was dangling down.  That’ll teach me….

On part of our tour we drove through Littlestown.  Many people from the small town came out to catch a glimpse of us.  A day care brought the kids out onto the front porch to watch the MINI parade.  They jumped and squealed and their faces brightened with joy as the  hundreds of MINI drivers and navigators waived and honked.  It was a thrill for them and a bigger thrill for us.  So, I thought I’d share some faces who watched and the faces of what they saw.

Here’s just a small taste of what they saw.

I chatted tonight with Captain Jack and his navigator who are driving the devil MINI. They are from Tennessee and are very friendly.  As I am sure you can tell, their sense of humor is expressed by their MINI.   You can see by the faces of the people that see us coming, MINIs bring fun and joy wherever they motor.  Today there is no doubt in my mind that a lot of people will go to bed with a smile because they looked up and saw us coming.  So, one last picture before I sign off…check out the cat in the widow, he/she slept through the parade. Not everyone thinks we are cool. Haha.

I better get to bed.  We have another early morning.  I really hope you are enjoying this trip as much as I am.

We made it to Baltimore and I only got us lost for 2 seconds

Another morning and another track, Richmond International Raceway.  A huge turn out again, but this morning we got scolded.  Remember how I mentioned some owners drove crazy fast the day before at the top of the bank.  Well apparently that is not allowed; and we have been officially warned.  Who knew?  There is something satisfying about being a MINI owner and getting a speeding warning.  It’s way better than a ticket.  So, today we drove on our best behavior and I think we regained our cred.  Still a great turn out.

I’m thinking I could put together a Where’s Waldo MINI book and sell them like hot cakes at the next MTTS.  After taking our calm, respectful parade lap around the track we headed for the Belmont Farms Distillery.  Imagine sending 800 MINIs to a distillery with a shortage of bathrooms ( a total of 2).  Yikes.  We got there ahead of most, got what we needed and headed out on the road again.  The road was gravel and Pippa and the MINI needed a bath badly.  Next on the agenda, lunch in historic Culpepper, car wash, gas and on the road.  With our clean sleek cars we resumed the route and I can tell you that this drive was gorgeous.  I was leading for the best part and the roads were not conducive for stopping and taking pictures.  But they were tree lined, curvy, in the mountains and in horse farm territory.  Miles of old hand laid stone fences framed the drive.  Small towns popped up with centuries old buildings.  There was no question today that I would have never seen this side of the country had it not been for this trip.  I am a huge proponent now of the family driving vacation.  Take a friend, spouse, kids…..anyone who will go and drive.  Y0u won’t be disappointed.

Oh, I forgot to show you the picture of the hand painted flame car I mentioned yesterday.  I snapped pictures of it this morning. It’s pretty amazing.

After a long drive in the mountains,we pulled into Baltimore and all we wanted to do was shower.  When you drive a convertible, as much fun as it is, you can’t help but drag nature right along with you.  So, we cleaned up and headed back out.  The evening event was at the B & O Railroad Museum.  Free food and beer made us all very happy.  The Musuem is a cool place, with a pretty incredible ceiling.  Check it out….

I did not lie down to take this picture.  This was in the round house.  Outside was  the party and it really was a great event, but then I’d say that most places where there is free beer.  But seriously, this place was cool on its own.

Afterward we went to the inner harbor and walked around.  It was the first time K & D had been there, so it was a must see. This area has become even more impressive since the last time I was there 5 years ago.  We ran into a family from Minnesota that is going the whole way.  They drove to Atlanta,  finishing in Palm Springs and will visit grandparents in Arizona before heading back home.  What a great way to show your kids the entire country.  The youngest told me she was going to  see the Hoover Dam and her favorite MINI had flowers painted on it. Nice family and three well-behaved adorable kids.  They got to eat ice cream at the harbor, looking out over this scene.

Tomorrow morning’s event is at Camden Yards.  Sadly, we were told tonight that it is in the parking lot not the ball parks.  After hearing that, we decided to skip the morning event, get some extra shut-eye and head out to the route by ourselves.  We’ve been getting up around 5:30 everyday so far; and I think we deserve a bit of a sleep in break.  Tomorrow we head to Pittsburgh, so until then.

Ventured out on my own today…because you don’t ever have to follow a schedule

I think I am going to become a track junky.  Is there such a thing?  Today we started out at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.  A much different track with high banks and little, if any, flat surface.  Lots of MINIs again, see……

D, K and I were parked in the very last row which gave us a fair amount of time to get to know our neighbors.  K & D found another car somewhat similar to Pippa.  Not exactly the same, remember no two MINIs in America are the same, but close enough that you could mistake them for one another if you didn’t look closely.  We also met a guy who is making the entire trip and is having friends or kids fly into different locations to participate with him.  For the first three days, he has his childhood best friend along.  These two guys were funny.  The best friend kept asking us when we joined the cult (joking, of course, we don’t wear the same clothes), but then he pointed to our lanyards.  Anyway, he said he was amazed and didn’t think anyone would believe this if they didn’t see it.  He wanted us to point out some examples of the “seedy underbelly” of the MINI owners.  I was like just walk around, not hard to spot (lol).  All in all, it was a pretty funny morning.  We started talking about  the different cars and some of the things unique to different drivers.  In fact, a few people are very elaborate, causing some of the drivers to ask if they can take a selfie with them.  This is was what lined up behind me this morning…

The sign restricts parking to turtle lovers only.  I don’t recall seeing any real turtles, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any there.   You will notice that there are several stuffed animals in the window and paw prints on the stripes.   You see there is a little bit of everything……..Hair died to match cars, a ventriloquist doll as a co-pilot, lots of dogs, ages of Particpants ranging from infants to 80s, all types of people.  This is one of the more unusual “decorated” MINIs.  It’s pretty fun to see that flying down the road; and it really makes kids smile.

Basically, we all get along and mostly talk about what new things can be bought for our cars.  I’m thinking my MINI needs striping of some kind.  My car is by far the most naked of any in the group.  Which is OK, but maybe a little bit would be nice.  There is one guy who has a hand painted car with flames.  It’s clearly a piece of art.  I’ll try and get a picture of it next time I see it.

I forgot to tell you about something from the kick-off yesterday.  We had parachuters who landed in MINIs.  It was really pretty amazing and they landed right in front of us.

Today we had motorcycle police who rode in unison, very precise.  Makes me wonder what we will get tomorrow.

Getting back to the race track, again we got to drive a lap.  The difference is that Charlotte has banks; and they let people drive on them.  Some drivers went crazy fast way up near the top.  You will be proud because I actually tried the bank.  It was this weird sensation like I was going to tip over sideways. But I think the trick is to go as fast as possible.  That way the car can’t think about tipping.  I loved it.  Another great morning at the races!

After the morning event, I took off on my own and left the other MINIs behind.  I wanted to go back and check out the Cornelius, Davidson, Mooresville area north of Charlotte.  It is beautiful and a place I could get used to visiting…often.  These three towns all run together and are located on the east shores of Lake Norman.  There are quaint downtowns, clean streets, bike lanes, walking tracks and Davidson University.  Reminded me of home without all the lake effect snow.  Walked around for a while and had lunch, nice and peaceful.

I then drove on my own, taking back roads over to Raleigh.  Every step of the drive made me fall in love with North Carolina.  I wouldn’t have seen any of it had I flown in and not driven across the state.  So far I have been right.  This trip is shaping up to be exactly what I hoped it would be, fun and interesting……..never boring.  The people who see us stop and always ask what is this?  And why are there so many MINIs?  People at gas stations and parking lots want the scoop and seem to love seeing all the different cars.

Tonight’s stop is in Richmond, VA.  We didn’t have a planned event tonight, which in my opinion is good.  I need to catch up on a few things (this blog) and get organized for tomorrow.  I told D I would take the lead so he can have a bit of a break.  Driving back roads is fun; but when you lead,  you have to pay attention to mileage and look for the next turn or you could end up pretty far away from your destination.  Keep your fingers crossed that I don’t get us lost.  Or if I do, hope that we find something more interesting than what we missed. We are headed to Baltimore.  Let’s see if we make it there.

Miniacs start your engines and it’s better than yoga

MTTS 2016 started at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, and I am surprised to say, it was a thrill.  I have never been much of a race fan.  Sure I like to watch the INDY 500 when there is party.  But there are a lot of things I would do first.  So when MTTS was themed “Track to Track”, I just wasn’t sure what that would be like and thought it might not hold much interest for me.  Boy, was I wrong.  First, we we lined up when we drove in and got our initial glimpse of what was sure to be a trek like no other.  Take a look.

There were somewhere between 700-800 hundred MINIs that decided to take a spin on the track before our journey began to Charlotte, and I was one of them (D & K too).  From this formation we each headed out, one after another.  Average speed was about 65.  A Sunday stroll in the minds of a professional driver, but crazy fun for a bunch of MINI enthusiasts.  I felt like I was a kid and driving all out in a go kart, in fact it’s much the same.  Just a very thrilling way to start the day.  And…how many of you have ever driven on a real race track?  Well we have.

From there we began our journey through small town America to Charlotte North Carolina.  We descended upon a small town so overwhelmed by their visitors that I think we will rank higher than a natural disaster.  We filled every parking spot in the entire town.  Locals just stared in disbelief.  And we just waved and smiled.

The fun part of the drive was just that, the drive.  It was more relaxing and stress relieving than yoga.  The last two days of interstate driving was a distant memory.  We had hills, curves and two lane roads; and at times, I actually removed my hand from the wheel.  No flying debris and cruising with the top down. It was exactly as I had envisioned.  Where else will you drive by “Bubba Libkee’s Junk Shop”?

Our evening event was in Charlotte at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  Downtown Charlotte is clean, hip and not overwhelming. I loved it!  On a summer evening, we saw many natives walking around and the minor league ball park is right there.  I mean right there.  The HoF gave everyone a chance to socialize after a long day, with tales of getting lost…and found and little gems discovered along the way.  K has been taking pictures for me.  One of the small county courthouses and the NASCAR event.

After the event, the temp dropped to about 80, we put the top down, folded K into the back seat of my MINI and drove around Charlotte and the area.  We got in late, very tired and dropped off to sleep, recharging for a fun-filled day 2.

Pippa’s OK, Registration, Traffic (way off the beaten track) and the Bench

Day 2 of the Interstate Drive to Atlanta was as fun-filled (harrowing) as the day before.  After a nice leisurely breakfast we headed out, stopping for a short break at a combo fireworks/gas station (does anyone see the irony in that) on our way into the mountains of Tennessee.  While driving along with 18 wheelers passing us at break neck speeds, I saw my first truck tipped over on the runaway truck ramp.  Yep, totally on its side.  But worse than that, a truck decided to pass us on the right and then cut back in front of Pippa. At that moment, I heard a loud bang and noticed the entire tred of the truck’s tire flew off and hit Pippa in the “face”.  Then the truck just kept going with shards of rubber and metal flying back and pelting all the cars.  Pip took the brunt, and saved the MINI from most of the debris.  All I could think was that our back road drive cannot come soon enough.  Please don’t worry, Pippa is fine.  We stopped for gas, hit the car wash and checked for damage.  A tiny scratch on the lower bumper, but she can just tell the other MINIs that she was in a fight and you should see the other guy.  

On a much livelier note, shortly after we survived the “tire” incident, we were passed by the first caravan of MTTS participants.  Honking and waving, along with excitement and goosebumps, filled the air.  From the sporty little convertible roadster to the Countryman,  we were all heading to the same destination, sharing the thrill and anticipation of wanting to get started.  Reminding us once again why we were heading out on this trip.  

Around 4:00, the Intercontinental host hotel came into view and we pulled into the garage, with a few hundred other MINIs to check in and pick up our “goodie bags”.  One little shout out to MINI USA for using recycled MINI advertising billboard materials to make all of our bags.  Not only are they environmentally responsible, but they are pretty nice looking.  It’s now  OFFICIAL.  We have our lanyard badge for admittance and the plastic logo for our cars.  We’ve been branded; and we truly belong.  All we keep hearing is that this trip will be more fun than we can imagine.  

With our business at hand being completed, we set out for our first “biggest” sighting.  K, D and I know each other from law school, so how could we not head directly to Fayetteville to sit on and take pictures of the World’s longest courthouse bench.  The trip there was also quite an adventure.  I-75 was a parking lot, so D and Pippa decided we would take the scenic route.  Yes, we kept moving and yes we saw a very large portion of Atlanta, including the infamous Georgia Bowl.  However, we also drove through a couple of areas where we wouldn’t recommend stopping or walking.  I must say though, we definitely saw the full flavor of Atlanta.  It’s very big and there are a lot of people.  As of today, there are also a lot of MINIs.

Enchanting is what you might say when driving into Fayetteville.  For those that know my taste, I love old furniture that has been hand crafted.  The bench was hand hewn heart pine (the same as my fireplace mantel at home) and it was removed from the inside of the courthouse and placed outside in 1965 as part of a remodeling project.  Spectacular is the only word that comes to mind.  It is 58 feet long and I can only assume that during all the years it was inside, many of those using our judicial system to get married, adopt children, settle disputes or to be judged for their behavior found that the bench offered a bit of comfort.  I applaud Fayetteville for preserving this bench and its history.  I’ll leave you with a picture of the bench and courthouse and head off to bed.  Tomorrow’s start is at 6:30 so I better get some shut eye.