Other vacations are like the one I took this past weekend with the Tar Heel MINI Motoring Club (THMMC) where I returned to real life worn out and needing a post-vacation vacation. And what was this event that left me so tired? It was the inaugural Blue Ridge Parkway Tour for the THMMC (I use the term "inaugural" loosely as this could be a one time event, though there are rumors a "second annual" event may be in the works). The plan was to get a bunch of Minis together and traverse the entire Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP henceforth) from the northern end in Waynesboro, VA, to the southern end in Cherokee, NC. And this would all be done over the course of three days.
Getting to the Starting Line
Before we could get going (the ?we? being my wife and me), we had to get to Waynesboro, VA. With folks coming from all directions for this event, it was kind of difficult to get together a caravan to head up there on Thursday afternoon. Nevertheless, after posting an interesting looking route (based on Google's map view), one other Mini owner joined us. So it was that Minified from THMMC followed us up there. Our route started off at I-85/I-40 in Graham on Hwy. 49. That is a familiar road to me from many trips up to Roxboro to meet with clients. However, at Pleasant Grove we bore to the left to follow Hwy. 62 up to Milton (which until just a couple weeks ago, I did not realize was also the location of VIR(not FF friendly)). I was pleasantly surprised by 62 as it had some nice, lazy twisties, especially as we got closer to Milton. From there, we followed some country roads so we could avoid going into Danville and minimize time on highways, only picking up 29 for a short while.
We then cut cross country up to Smith Mountain Lake. That was an interesting run with a very twisty section of unmarked pavement in the middle of nowhere. At times, I had to wonder whether the road would be wide enough if we came across any oncoming traffic. Coming out of that section, we made a stop and continued on to Bedford, VA. More great roads through the country and north of Bedford we hopped onto Hwy. 501. This was a very curvy, twisty run and I gather a popular run for the motorcycles. Lots of switchbacks, elevation changes, etc.
We followed 501 into Buena Vista, then picked up some more ?deep? country roads (including a short 1-lane tunnel as we existed Buena Vista) until we picked up the highway just south of Waynesboro for the final run in. I always find it interesting to drive the back country roads in Virgina. They tend to be unmarked and generally just follow the lay of the land with no ditches or other improvements. Like someone just took an asphalt laying machine and starting driving across fields. It makes for some great motoring and reminds me of scenes from movies set in England. I'm particularly reminded of the scene where the main characters were walking across the moors near the beginning of An American Werewolf in London (did someone just say ?Wolf??).
Once in Waynesboro, we checked in and headed out to dinner at the South River Restaurant (which isn't really a Mexican restaurant despite the signage on the front) with the rest of the group. Food was pretty good and it was a very nice restaurant (I can attest the raspberry ice tea was good, albeit strong) and we got our swag bags, including bears for our antennas.
The First Leg ? Waynesboro to Sparta
Friday morning we were able to get all the Minis lined up together for group pictures. If I counted correctly, we had 16 to get things going initially. At the start of the BRP we stopped for a group pic by the sign marking the entrance and then it was off for about an hour of motoring until we reached our first stop at Otter Creek. The next stop was at Apple Orchard, the highest point of the BRP in Virginia. This provided a good opportunity for pics of the group of Minis. On the next leg down to Roanoke we picked up three Minis heading north and our ?gang? became 19. With a little bit of u-turning, we all managed to get to the Panera Bread in Roanoke for lunch. Sadly, we lost one or two at that point.
Onward we went with our next stop at Mabry Mill, which I am told is the most photographed spot on the BRP. We almost got left there as the woman working the cash register in the gift shop seemed oblivious to our (blatant? explicit?) mannerisms indicating we were in a hurry. Fortunately, we managed to keep up with the group as we blasted out of there. The next stop was a short one at the Blue Ridge Music Center. While in there, we briefly toyed with the idea of getting our kids stuffed possums as gifts. Only briefly. Very briefly.
That was the last stop of the day as we then headed out to Sparta, NC, and the Alleghany Inn for our overnight stay. Hwy. 18 into Sparta was a nice mountain road. With the Mini, living in the mountains seems a little more attractive to me ? better odds of getting to drive the twisties versus what is available in the Piedmont area. The Alleghany Inn was ok and we had dinner at Brown's Restaurant. On the way back from dinner, the gas station attendant was asking about all the Minis. He also explained that the next section of the BRP was very curvy and home to a spot known as Ice Rock. At that point, he said there is watering coming down the mountain and it gets on the road. Many times it is a lot colder at that altitude and will actually freeze, creating ice on the road, which many people are unprepared for, thinking they are just going to go through water. The local paper had a story about a gentleman who had just crashed and died in the last week at the spot. Needless to say, this didn't sit to well with my wife.
After dinner, it was time for the detailers to get to work on cleaning up and an impromptu car show for the locals who showed up having seen all the quirky little British cars motoring around their town. And since I haven't figured out where else to fit this, I'll mention that my hand calculation of mileage for the first leg from Waynesboro to Sparta yielded a whopping 39.9 mpg for my MCS. I knew it was good from watching by OBC creep up throughout the day. Who knew an MCS could pop out a 40 mpg run?
The Second Leg ? Sparta to Asheville
The next morning we had to wipe down the cars from a brief overnight shower, head to breakfast at Brown's, and then hit the road again. We also picked up some new Minis and our group had grown to 19 (I think). Most of our morning run was uninterrupted by any major stops ? just a couple to stretch legs and hit bathrooms ? until we got to the first detour taking us through Boone. It was there that the group split up for lunch ?on our own?. We ended up with a group of five others who eventually found the Daniel Boone Inn for some family-style lunch. Wow that was a lot of food! Unfortunately, it also put our small group way behind schedule as we ended up about 15 minutes away from the rallying point after lunch was over. The rest of the group took that opportunity to spend some time at Moses Cone park while we made the run down to Blowing Rock to pick back up with everyone. Somehow I ended up leading that small group and we managed to all make it there together.
The next stop was on a bridge looking out at the Linn Cove Viaduct for some pictures, and then on to Linville Falls. We hiked down to the Plunge Basin Overlook, although a few brave souls made it to Erwin's Overlook. We headed on back and managed to get back to the group of Minis soon enough to get to spend a good 25 minutes resting. This was also one of the spots where we got quite a bit of interest from fellow travelers.
After that, we had a decently long and probably one of the faster runs up to Mt. Mitchell State Park. That was an interesting stop -all the people that were up there were just amazed by the group of Minis that showed up. I also didn't realize it until later when looking at photos, but I suppose I ended up stopped in the sweet spot ? right in front of the sign marking the elevation. It was time to get out the maps though as the BRP was blocked at that point and we had to figure out how to detour. After some discussion, it was decided to back track a bit, catch Hwy. 80 heading south, then pick up Hwy. 70 and eventually I-40 into Asheville and our hotel. Hwy. 80 was a very twisty road (and I think some of the speedier folks in the group took advantage of the fact that we were off the BRP) and somehow I ended up shepherding the tail of the group. We managed to just keep the main contingent in sight though and landed at the hotel as a group.
The Final Leg ? Asheville to Cherokee
On Sunday we gathered up and headed out once again for the final stretch. By now, I think our group had grown to 21 or 22 with some joining us in Asheville. Our lone stop of the day was at the Devil's Courthouse. I foolishly hiked up to the top, which was only a half mile. Who knew that would be at a good 45 degree angle the whole way? I made it though. After that exercise, we grabbed some quick photos of the Minis coming through the tunnel there and then headed on down to Cherokee and the end of the BRP with lunch at the Big Boy restaurant (the last one left in North Carolina).
My wife and I stuck around Cherokee for a little while to do some shopping, so we were alone for the trip back to Graham. This proved to be a bit of an adventure. The first half was fine, but about Statesville we ran into the back edge of some strong storms rolling across North Carolina. This included a pretty sizable hail storm that caught all of us on the Interstate. Poor Mr. Mini Wuf managed to survive that with no damage. We did pull off and wait for things to clear a bit. Unfortunately, the storms were so slow moving, we caught up with them again in Greensboro, so we stopped for dinner. Even with that, we still caught up with them again in Burlington. So even the final stretch home was a bit of an adventure.
I have to say it was probably one of the better vacations I have ever been on. Of course it was great to be with a bunch of fellow Mini owners and I enjoyed getting to know the people behind the screen names on the THMMC site. It was also very nice to get away with just my wife ? seems like all of our vacations always involve the kids nowadays, so the change in pace was nice. This was my first run with the club with 2-way radios and those proved very useful. Definitely a good investment. My wife also figured out that even though I seem OCD about keeping the Mini clean, I am a mere wannabe compared to some folks!
Be sure to check out the photo archive for more pics!
If you don't read anything else, read this part /-------/
The post script to the journey. Sunday morning we gathered in the parking lot of the hotel for the last time on this trip. It was here that we had our final goodbyes with one of the most interesting and moving individuals we had met on the trip. It actually started back in Waynesboro with a nice BMW motorcycle that was staying at the same Days Inn. In Sparta, we ran into the same gentleman and his wife at the Alleghany Inn. And here they were again at the Ramada. As we learned, this couple was from Ontario and really only spoke French. The gentleman had picked up some English from watching CNN. We also learned that he was on a ?hospice ride?. As I learned from my fellow THMMC members, this is like a bucket list type of thing. This gentleman had recently learned that he had some inoperable lung cancer and had only a few months to live. Upon learning this, he took an early retirement and he and his wife set out on this journey that they had been planning ? albeit later rather than sooner. The BRP was only a part and I think they were headed to Texas next. Despite the unfortunate news, they had a great attitude and were obviously enjoying what they had. This does make me a bit sad though as I think about my father's battle with cancer. His struck so fast, he never really had a chance to go on a final trip or anything despite having worked and saved for such in his retirement. I suppose this gentleman is a good reminder of the line from the song, ?live like you were dying.? I know he brought many smiles to the Mini-acs in our group and I hope we did the same for him.