Friday, September 05, 2008

THMMC Recap: BTOT2 - Wolf Slays Dragon!

Always a bear statue in the mountains

OK, I suppose I am part of the club now.  What club you ask?  Why the Dragonslayer Club!!!  Yes, as part of my Labor Day weekend activities, I had the opportunity to take Mr. Mini Wuf for some motoring on the infamous Dragon.  I'll touch on that some more in a bit.  Even though the Dragon is often the goal of many a pilgrimage, it actually served as a punctuation mark for a much longer drive.  Dubbed "Blimey's Tour of Terror II", our motoring for the day on Saturday, Aug. 30th, included runs from Canton, NC, down to Highlands, NC, a loop through South Carolina and Georgia, up to Robbinsville for some lunch, and finally some Dragon slaying and a little run down Hellbender on the way to Fontana Village.

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As is often the case, getting to the starting point was the first adventure.  In my case, I had to leave late Friday.  I commute everyday up and down I-85/I-40 and while it is a boring drive, the relatively short distance and my Mini at least makes it tolerable.  I was not looking forward to a four hour drive down to Canton.  My suspicions of trouble were almost immediately confirmed upon merging from the Durham Expressway onto I-85 where there was a massive traffic jam, apparently caused for no other reason than all the people trying to merge down from 4 lanes to 2.  I also came up on a wreck in Greensboro right after it happened (LEO was not even on the scene yet), but that didn't delay me too much.  btot2_009.png

Between Statesville and Hickory I came upon another massive traffic jam due to some construction barrels in the road (though I never saw any problems with the road or any construction going on).  So I made it, but I did discover two new chips in the paint on the front of my Mini as a result of that drive.  They join a windshield chip I gathered later in the weekend.

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Saturday morning brought an early start as we were planning to be wheels up by 8:00 a.m.  Our group consisted of members of the Tar Heel MINI Motoring Club (THMMC) - Blimey (our leader), Vango(a last minute addition), Sgt. Pepper, abuzavi, x uhoh x, Salemgym, RudyT, and myself.  After a few minutes of studying our course syllabus, we loaded up and headed out for a quick stop at McDs for some coffee to chug down on the tame part before we really hit the twisties.  As you can see, we were initially socked in by some moderate to heavy fog, bordering on a light mist.  The good news was that within about five minutes of getting out of Canton, that burned off and we were greeted to sunny skies.

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Before getting into the meat of the run down Hwy. 215, we made a quick detour up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Herrin Knob.  This provided a quick opportunity for some pictures with a fabulous backdrop.  It was quite impressive and gave me the opportunity to get a couple good shots of my Mini.  It also gave me some time to work on my camera setup.  I had it strapped in on the passenger seat and was hoping to use the remote control to snap pics.  Unfortunately, the camera seemed to "forget" that I had it set to use the remote and would revert to normal operation after a few minutes.  It turned out to not be a major problem - with the camera strapped in, it was pretty easy to just reach over and hit the button.  I think it would have been hard with the remote anyway.  I need to figure out some way to have the shutter release easy to hit while I'm in the middle of aggressive driving.

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From there, we headed down Hwy. 215 which was a truly awesome road.  Lots of great twisties and some beautiful country to drive through.  One nice thing was the fact that we got started so early in the morning, there wasn't any other traffic to contend with (not sure whether the road would ever really get a bunch of traffic anyway).  Between the lack of traffic and the great road, it was an awesome, uninterrupted run - perhaps the longest roller coaster ride I've ever been on?

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At the end of 215, we headed west on Hwy. 64.  This was where we started to see some traffic.  Our goal was Highlands, NC.  Apparently Highlands is a hidden community for rich folks.  I noted lots of golf courses/country clubs in the area.  I also noticed a marked increase in Mercedes, BMWs, Volvos, Audis, and lots of late model vehicles.  The town itself had a very nice downtown area lined by small shops, restaurants, etc.  Looked like it would be a really neat place to explore some time.  There was also some type of festival or farmers market or something going on.  This only served to increase the amount of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian.  Of course, that provided a nice audience for our convoy of Minis (I overheard one person saying something about The Italian Job as we passed through one intersection).

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Once in Highlands, we found a small convenience store to stop in at for a drink refill.  From there, Mr. Magoo (of the THMMC) had provided us with directions for a little detour down into South Carolina and Georgia for some twisties.  It took us a while to get going where we wanted to be going, but once on the way we found some more great motoring roads.

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After a run out, we had to take a hard left for the return part of the loop.  It was here that RudyT and I were separated from the group by traffic.  As it moved along slowly, we steadily fell back until we were well out of touch with the rest of the group.  Considering these were twisty mountain roads, finding a straight spot to pass on was a challenge.  But we managed to do that, so we each got a chance to wind our Minis out a little bit.  Eventually we did catch up and finished with the group was we looped back into Highlands.

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From there, we continued west on 64 to our next stop at Bridal Veil Falls.  I had heard of these falls being a NC native, but had never been there.  It was a unique place to visit as we were able to pull our Minis up behind the waterfall.  Needless to say, this attracted quite a few onlookers and provided some nice photo ops (and I've submitted one to the Roadside America web site).

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From there we continued west for our next stop in Robbinsville.   This meant getting off of 64 and onto the Wayah Road.  This was another great twisty with light to no traffic where we were able to let the Minis really play.  It was on this stretch where I was able to really start exploring the limits of my Mini.  On a few occasions I was able to push it right to the limit judging by the tire squealing I was hearing.  And one time I think I even induced a touch of oversteer, an exception for the front-heavy Mini that wants to understeer.

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After this great section of motoring fun, it was time for a late lunch at the Sweetwater BBQ in Robbinsville.  Upon arriving we noted a parking lot full of motorcycles.  Fortunately, we were a resourceful group and managed to fit the 10 people in our party around a couple tables that would normally hold 6.  That seems to be a common occurrence for me - we did the same thing at the Daniel Boone Inn during the Blue Ridge Parkway Tour this past June.  Most of our folks got a ribeye steak sandwich which was highly recommended and rightly so based on the reviews.  I decided to stick with BBQ (it is a BBQ joint) which was very good.

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After leaving the Sweetwater it was clear we were in motorcycle land.  That was ok though.  We drove on up to Deal's Gap.  On the way there, we crossed underneath the Tapoco Dam which Blimey explained to us served as the location for Dr. Kimble's jump in the movie The Fugitive.  Alas, my strapped in camera setup foiled me in getting a picture.  In retrospect, I probably would have had time to stop and get a pic.  Next time!

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Deal's Gap was an interesting destination for this Dragon noob.  The parking lot was packed to the gills with motorcycles of all sizes, styles, makes, and colors.  The little souvenir shop was a challenge for me in finding something for my wife seeing as it was probably 80% t-shirts.  I also got to see the "Tree of Shame".  It was also interesting how you could tell whenever someone was setting off to slay the dragon as they stomped on it heading up the road.

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The Dragon itself was a bit of a disappointment.  This was due to all of the traffic and law enforcement.  I suppose that was too be expected on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend.  And coming back we got stuck behind an incredibly slow motorcycle.  As abuzavi of our group named the video of our run back in - "World's Slowest Dragon Run".  I can certainly see how the road would be a blast and a challenge (as the rest of the group found out Sunday morning when they returned).  Hopefully I'll make it back again real soon when conditions are more favorable.

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After our runs on the Dragon, it was time for a left turn to follow Hellbender down to Fontana Village for the end of the journey.  Once there, I was able to get into a dry shirt (it had gotten quite hot during the afternoon) and a cold drink.  Our group spent some time together relaxing and then had a nice dinner in the lodge's restaurant.  Got to hear some great stories from the rest of the gang.

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It was another great outing with the Tar Heel MINI Motoring Club.  The roads were amazing and the company was great.  Hopefully I'll be able to make the next BTOT!!!

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