Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Long and Winding Road

MINI Takes the States is officially over for me, as Mom and I arrived back at my parents’ house yesterday evening and I’m back home today. We spent two nights with my cousin in Wisconsin before heading out Monday morning. Mom didn’t want to push through to Texas in one go so I arranged for us to spend the night in Kansas City, not far from where my father grew up. We stayed near Country Club Plaza and ate at Winstead’s one of my dad’s mother’s favorite places. Mom was excited to get a real chocolate malted while I had a chocolate milkshake with my burger and tots (and onion rings). The d├ęcor is very 50’s Miami – pink and teal, with neon signs and a jukebox. I can just picture Nellie sitting in one of the booths. It’s been more than 30 years since I’ve been to Kansas City and I was struck by how hilly it was and how humid when we walked back up the hill from the Plaza to our hotel. We left too early and had too much driving ahead of us to stop by to see Dad’s old house but I’d like to make it back there sometime to see that.

Missouri and Kansas were the only places we couldn’t find 93 octane gas. I still had my bottles of octane booster (I didn’t find the folks I had promised it to before we left the MINI hive) so I was in good shape. I found it interesting that a good portion of IH 35 through Kansas is tolled, but like the Ohio Turnpike, it had nice rest stops along the way. That’s something we came to appreciate during our time on the road – clean, well-stocked bathrooms. It’s the little things, really.

We made our way through Kansas and into Oklahoma in good time. I haven’t been to Oklahoma City since high school and I may go back for a long weekend. One of the great things about this trip was the chance it gave me to see parts of the country that I might not have visited otherwise. I’d love to go back to Baltimore, for the aquarium and some of the historical sites nearby, including Gettysburg. It’s so close and a beautiful drive. I may try to do MINI on the Mack to help break the record and to get out to Mackinaw Island. I could probably swing taking a week – a couple of days to drive up, a day or two in the area, a day to visit family in Wisconsin and then back – without too much trouble.

Another conclusion I made during this trip is I am very, very lucky. I have a good job that I enjoy that is also comfortable with me being out of the office for the better part of three weeks. I can afford a trip like this, between hotels, gas & food. And speaking of food, I know where my next meals are coming from. I live close to a grocery store and have a car so I don’t have to walk or ride a bike. I have more than fast food and convenience stores in my area so I can eat well (or not, if I chose to). Some of the areas along the route were remote and food options were very limited. I would go so far as to call them food deserts and it’s not much of a logical leap to think of the residents as food insecure. I don’t know if MINI had this in mind when they planned the routes and partnered with Feeding America, but that’s the conclusion I’ve made from my own personal experiences. The #DefyHunger campaign is so important and we’ve raised a lot of money & food along the way – over 1 million meals so far – but it’s far from over. Every little bit helps and Feeding America keeps their food donations local and the money raised helps provide meals at 11 meals for every for every dollar. You can go without one run to the coffee shop or lunch out this week, give what you would have spent and provide enough food for an entire week for someone. That just blows my mind. So please give. Most of you are in a similar situation as me – you know if and probably what you’ll be eating tomorrow – 1 in 7 people are not as lucky. Here's the link again -

Thank you for following along on my adventure. I still have some projects I'm working on - editing videos, working on a web map of the routes & stops - and I'll post those when they're finished.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Day 8 - Green Bay

Once again, Mom and I were some of the last to arrive at the Little Bear East Arena Rise & Shine event. Technically, we were only 6 minutes late because we stopped for gas, but even so, we were in the overflow lot across the street from the main lineup. It was a little chilly so I was glad I found a Mackinac Island wind breaker when we arrived the evening before. We checked in, made our way into the arena for breakfast – the croissant sandwiches & coffee were excellent – and chatted with our tablemates. Overheard while eating – what does this place smell like? It’s not quite locker room… to which I answered “Ice and sweat” which was right on the money. I didn’t think it smelled that bad and it’s a great way to use the facility in the off season.

Because of our late arrival, we knew we wouldn’t be keeping up with the main group, and we’d be making a slight deviation from the route to visit the farm where my grandmother was born before heading into Green Bay. We decided to take our time and FaceTime with my niece and nephew to show them the roll out. They were very impressed and loved how different everyone’s cars were. My niece particularly like the all pink car near us but I don’t think they were still on the line when Blaze rolled out. Once the lineup finished, we headed out too, and stopped briefly for more coffee. Then we headed up along US 2 and all of the “fun” passing lanes that entailed. Getting stuck behind a beer truck would only be fun if you were following it to a party, I think, because they managed to stay below the speed limit but go faster when there was a passing lane. Go figure. But patience paid off and we were in Naubinway with the bulk of the group and the ice scraper will come in very handy about 3 days a year in Texas ;) .

When everyone else followed the 41 south from Marinette, Mom and I hung a right to get out into the country a little bit. Mom’s family is from the area and going to the town her mother was raised in was only slightly out of the way. Lena has a population of less than 800 people and my family had farms just outside town until the 1960’s. We drove out towards the farms and found the St Charles Cemetery where my great-grandparents (on both sides) are buried. The groundskeeper was working when we arrived and let us use his book to find our relatives’ plots. We found both great-grandparents and one of Mom’s aunt & uncle. We chatted with the groundskeeper for a bit, returned his book and thanked him for his time. We really were grateful he was there – without the record book, we could have spent all afternoon going through the rows to find them.

After the cemetery, we headed down Belgian Road, where the families’ farms used to be. My great-grandmother moved out of the old farmhouse before Mom was born (I think?) and had a house in town that has since been torn down. But the old house is still there. It’s been modified significantly – the old porch is gone and they’ve added a garage – but we could still see it as the old house from the pictures we’ve seen. Mom said that grandpa’s family’s property was derelict even when she was kid and we think we spotted that property as well. It’s overgrown and full of junk and a few cows so we didn’t do anything but look at it. We had to get a picture of my car in front of the old house because I drove the car up from Texas the first year I had to visit Grandma. She’d moved into a retirement center by that point and was no longer but she loved my MINI. She said if she were to buy a car again (at 97 or so) it probably be a MINI.

After taking in the sights in Lena, we realized that the time change put us an hour earlier than we thought. We called my cousin (Marilyn is Bruce from Detroit’s sister) and decided to stop there first. We unloaded the car and rested for a bit before returning to Green Bay for the evening event. Mom wanted to visit with Marilyn, so Kate, their daughter subbed in for her and acted as navigator to get me to the Titletown Brewery. Since Kate doesn’t drive a manual (shame, I know!), I couldn’t sample their brews but I did make sure to get my glass before we headed back to Appleton. Kate enjoyed seeing all of the cars, especially the Doctor Who themed one. I wanted to show her the Harry Potter car but we weren’t able to find it in the crowd. I’m not sure how far they were going, either.

Mom and I invited my cousin, her family and their dog Ollie to the morning Rise & Shine, so they could see all of the cars and Ollie could meet some of the other dogs going on the trip. Since Ollie is a Samoyed, we were going to tell people he’s actually been with us the whole time in our car. Ollie was a big hit and no one was bothered that we brought him along. My cousin’s husband left to get tickets for the tour at Lambeau Field while we stayed behind to wave everyone off. I got some great video at the beginning but when I remembered that it would take nearly an hour (I don’t have that much memory in my phone), so I only got one more shot of some of the Austin MINI Cooper Car Club ladies. We said good bye and thanks to all of the Pit Crew members we came across as we made our way back to my car. They were almost as sad to see us go as we were to leave. They do such a great job and are always smiling and willing to help. I’m hoping that MINI continues with the tradition of MTTS and holds another rally in 2018. I’d love to do it again and try to go all the way.

We met back up with my cousin’s husband and headed over to Lambeau. To my surprise, there was a whole row of MINIs in the lot and the owners were part of our tour group.
Sleeping in today felt so refreshing until I realized my MINI friends were probably already on their way out of Minneapolis with me. I will miss them but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for 2018. We leave for Kansas City in the morning and then back to Texas the next day. I’ll be back to work and regular life on Thursday.

Listened to: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (not finished yet)

Mileage update: Started at 71, 626 at my parents’ house. Rolled to 75, 000 after the evening event in Green Bay. So that’s 3,374 miles and I haven’t headed home yet.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Day 7 - St Ignace

Waking up in a real house after a week of hotels was nice and welcome change of pace. My cousin Bruce made a pot of some of the best coffee I've had on the road on so far. We left his house and headed to the brand new M1 Concourse in Pontiac, going past the last place Jimmy Hoffa was seen alive on Telegraph Road.

When I say the new M1 Concourse, it's so new that the Google imagery still shows it as graded dirt and pulling in, some of the buildings are under construction. The facilities look amazing and the track was so smooth. The breakfast provided was some of the best yet - red velvet donuts with real cream cheese frosting, anyone! - as well as more excellent coffee. We found our Canadian friend Nicole and said goodbye as she was heading home today. We also spotted Lacey from Houston and made some new friends waiting in line for the bathroom (nice facilities, by the way!).

The parade lap was fun and the route to the Surprise & Delight was easy to navigate. The people of Midland were so friendly and helpful, pointing to the correct lane to turn in to the shopping center for the Gourmet Cupcake Shoppe. We met a nice young father and with his very excited three year old daughter while waiting in line for cupcakes. He is a Michigan native and told us about how on his trips to the UP, he and his family would make small bets on who would see the bridge first on the drive. Mom & I decided to take up that tradition and loser had to buy the eagle-eyed one dinner. We made it into the shop and it was obvious the staff had worked very hard to accommodate us. They had water & iced tea at the door the cases were filled with all kinds of sweet treats.

They had sold out of the MINI shortbread cookies before we arrived (I'm sure they went fast!) but we still bought a couple of different flavored cupcakes and some adorable flower shortbread cookies. We ate at Lil Chef, in the shopping center and were on our way to St Ignace. Along the way, I picked about 3 MINI ducklings that followed me for several miles. They passed when I passed, they avoided new cars merging from on-ramps when I did and they must have been comfortable with me in the lead with the cruise control on. A few of them exited before we could see the bridge but I hope to find them at the Rise & Shine and ask how I did.

We were hoping to make it to St ignace early enough in the day to take some time on Mackinac Island, but as we got further north, the weather got windier and it started to rain. Mom spotted the bridge before I did so I treated her to dinner after we settled in to our hotel. Crossing the bridge was exciting and made me very nervous. They had one lane closed and the speeds were reduced because of the high winds. We were on the metal grate side and the sound it made as we drove over it sounded like a whale with indigestion, according to Mom. The toll taker on the other side wished us a safe journey (they must be used to us MINIacs because of the MINIs on the Mack events) and we rolled through the harbor of St Ignace.

We found our hotel - the Kewadin Hotel & Casino and got settled in. This was the only hotel I booked using a non-brand website and it turned out fairly well. I forgot to consider that casinos usually allow smoking so we couldn't use the casino too long (at all) or eat at the buffet. We made our way back to the harbor to check out the shops and find some dinner. Every hotel & restaurant had MINIs in the parking lots and we even spotted the bus parked for the night. We found a shop with shirts and wind-breakers on sale - I didn't bring any long sleeved shirts or jackets - where we ran into our friends from Kansas that we met at the track in Atlanta. We had to stop for fudge and then we realized how hungry we were, so we stopped at the Driftwood for dinner, my treat per our wager. Mom was thrilled to see perch on the menu, I had some cider with my burger and we were done for the day.

Today's Route:

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Day 6 - Detroit

I think I have discovered a new calling if mapping & analysis don’t work out for me – travel agent (even though that’s a bit of a dying industry). My hotel booking skills have been pretty spot on. The hotels I’ve chosen have been great as far as quality and for the most part, location, especially for the Baltimore & Pittsburgh stops. Both were less than 5 minutes away from the Rise & Shine locations and anyone doing MTTS knows a few extra minutes of sleep are very precious.

Mom and I decided to not follow the official route for this leg as we were staying with my cousin Bruce outside of Detroit and we wanted to maximize the time to visit with him. We met up with the group at the track – how cool were the horses, by the way – grabbed some breakfast and didn’t win any prizes. I don’t think I’m in the Pocket of Doom (for the uninitiated, if your name is chosen for a prize, you have until the 3rd time it’s called to claim it and then they move on to another name) but I can say for sure. They had some neat perspective chalk art at the track and watching the horses was really fun.

Because we weren’t following the route, we could take our time to leave – let the main crowds go first and then make our way to Michigan. We followed the route as best as possible although I think there might have been a misprint on the route sheet I printed before leaving home. The app has been great but reception wasn’t great in the hills so I couldn’t double check in the field. Mom drove the first leg since she didn’t want to deal with driving into Detroit so it was nice to act as navigator for a change. I didn’t realize that we’d be passing through a tiny sliver of West Virginia so that was a nice surprise as I was watching the road for Mom.

Before we hit the Turnpike in Ohio, I spotted a sign for Tim Horton’s and I made Mom stop. She thought I was nuts at first but I explained how I’d planned on stopping at one (at least) in Michigan to sample their coffee and donuts to see if they are as good as everyone says. I have to say they it lived up to the hype and we were a bit of an attraction for the staff and the other patrons. We explained how MTTS works and where we’d be stopping and everyone wished us safe travels.

Once we hit the Turnpike, it was pretty smooth sailing, so to speak. It was nice to run into other MTTS folks and Pit Crews at the Service Stops along the way, and to see the Shop MINI USA vans on the road too. Since was “navigating”, I was able to snap a couple of fun pics of the vans. I was hoping to spot the bus but it must have been behind us.

We made excellent time and $11 to pass through a state is a bargain compared to toll roads in Texas. I think it costs at least that much to bypass Austin on Texas 130! We also managed to bypass Detroit entirely – Mom was nervous about going into the city but I think it would have been nice to at least see the skyline – on the way to my cousin’s house. He directed us to a great car wash that did a spectacular job on cleaning Snoopy, which guaranteed it to rain tonight. Sorry everybody, but my car got soaked too. But at least most of the bugs are out of the grill now. We met up with Bruce at his house, got the grand tour and headed out to dinner to an Italian place that makes their own pasta in house. I had some of the best gnocchi I’ve ever had (no, I’ve never been to Italy) and we were able to catch up a lot. I worked on him to bring his daughter to Texas for a visit sometime and I hope it works out.

Milestone: Rolled 74,000

Wildlife avoided in the road: tiny, quick & very lucky chipmunk

Goal achieved: Tim Horton’s coffee and donuts

Playlists: Nerdist, Stuff You Should Know & Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me podcasts, ABBA Gold and Taylor Swift’s 1989

Today's Route:

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Day 5 - Pittsburgh

Even though we had planned on getting to Lot H by the Baltimore Sports Complex (Raven's Stadium & Camden Yards) because our hotel was so close, we still were in the second half of MINIs to arrive. But we made it before the announcements & prizes or before the mileage was updated on the bus!

We were to determined to make it Mr Ed's Candy Emporium Surprise and Delight since we've missed out on the goodies at the other stops and we thought we could manage a stop at the Gettysburg Memorial and the candy shop but once we got closer and saw the mayhem our convoy was making through town, we opted to skip Gettysburg. We still drove through part of it and were awed by the size of the area. We made it through to Mr Ed's and only stayed briefly because we knew we had quite a drive ahead of us.

We stopped for a quick bite on just the other side at a little diner. The husband and wife team worked their butts off as more MINIs pulled in to eat. it's just the 2 of them and they were amazing and sweet. They wised us safe travels and we were on our way.

After lunch, we were in for some ear-popping hill climbs and lots of turns and switchbacks. Apparently, the speed limits in the area are more like suggestions and I worked hard to maintain a reasonable speed (and the right gear!) to keep up with the group and not feel like I was out of control. The views were stunning. I'd forgotten what real hill country looks like. The hills in Texas are mole hills by comparison.

We made one more stop after we were out of the majority of the hills to switch drivers and Mom took us into Pittsburgh. It's a good thing too because I didn't realize there's a tunnel leading into town. I'm OK if I can see the end of the tunnel but I get anxious if I can't see the end of it. I did OK but I would have had a hard time if I was driving. We realized that we'd have to double back if we went to our hotel before the evening event so went straight to the Highmark Stadium. We drove by Heinz Field on the other side of the river but I wasn't able to get a good picture. I think I got some good video, though.

We ate, we chatted, we didn't win any prizes and then we headed out to our hotel. It's close to the morning event so we should be able to roll out pretty quickly.

Today's Route:

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Day 3 - Richmond

I know I wrote about Richmond but somehow my draft disappeared into the inner cobwebs of the internet. I'm just too darn tired to try to rewrite it except that we had a great time taking the ghost tour and I wanted to thank the RVA club for hooking us up with reservations.

I think caught some supernatural images in some pictures - I'll try to crop them so they're more visible when the trip is wrapped up.

Today's Route:

Day 4 - Baltimore

Good morning, Baltimore! Sorry for the delay in this post - the rush of the trip has caught up with me and I fell asleep before I was able to write my synopsis.

We departed earlier for the Richmond International Raceway Rise & Shine to try to be one of the first groups there. A lot of other people had the same idea and by the time we got to the infield, it appeared we were in the middle of the pack. At the daily check in table, I found out my car is semi-famous. There's a video contest with a GoPro and car mount as the grand prize and my car is in one of the pictures on the flyer. It was taken during the last MTTS, it's in the background of someone holding the small green LEGO Mini above it. I remembered that because that was something I did because the LEGO car matched mine. Some of the MINI team saw me and took a picture too, and that's what's on the promo. You can see part of my car's license plate so I know it's mine.

They made an announcement to let the car behind you know if you weren't following the daily route - Mom & I had to make a stop before carrying on to the Belmont Farms Distillery - so I went to talk to the car behind us. I met Nicole from London, Canada, and it turns out that she and her group wanted to do the same thing, so we coordinated our stop. They followed us on to the distillery (not on the official route) and I managed to lead everyone there without losing anyone!

The drive was beautiful - lots of rolling horse farms and the distillery grounds were lovely. Because of our stop, we were some of the last folks to arrive and they ran out of the free souvenir a little mason jar shot glass. We'd already waited in line for quite some time when this was announced so, we waited a bit more to get into to the tasting room. I tried a drop of their Apple Pie and decided to buy a bottle to take with me. It's pretty potent stuff. We parted ways with Nicole to head into Baltimore, after stopping in Culpeper for a quick bite at a classic small town diner. Mom had a BLT so she was happy.

After fighting metro DC traffic, we arrived in Baltimore with a little time to kill before the evening event at the B & O Railroad Museum, so Mom and I went to the casino next to our hotel for dinner. Yesterday was my parents' wedding anniversary, so Dad told me to act as his proxy and take Mom out for a nice dinner. The casino had a very nice steak place so that daughterly duty was fulfilled.

We met up with everyone at the B & O Railroad Museum, and immediately stopped in the gift shop. We learned our lesson after the NASCAR gift shop closed before we stopped in later that night. We bought gifts for my niece and nephew, who, as a toddler is in full on train-obsession mode. They have a spectacular model train set up outside so I made sure to get some video of that to show my nephew. We met up with some of our folks, met some new friends in real life and left the party well before things wrapped up for the night. The early morning wake ups have started to get to us so we thought it wise to turn in, even though today's Rise & Shine starts a little later and is very close to our hotel.

We're off to Pittsburgh today - more to come!

Today's Route: