After making it one year attending Mini events, I figured it was time to step up and take on some rally master duties. Actually, I suppose this was decided quite a while ago, but the timing worked out well. And I did help a small group get from Mt. Mitchell to the Asheville hotel during last year's Blue Ridge Parkway Tour. This event will (I hope) help me as I think I may be leading some during the Not A Bar Harbor Invasion Invasion.
The event was the Tar Heel MINI Motoring Club Covered Bridge Run held on April 18th. The idea started with a posting by Twister asking whether anyone wanted to help organize a covered bridge run and a link to a page full of covered bridge locations in NC. Using that I did a bunch of Google mapping and research to eventually figure out that the bridges on the list were mainly grouped down west of Asheville, a smaller group in the Boone area, and some in the central part of the state. I decided to concentrate on the central part of the state for this first attempt since I could spend some time scouting out the bridges.
Locating the bridges turned out to be a challenge as many were listed as being on private land. As I later found out, the Pisgah Covered Bridge is really the only one you can get to in this part of the state. And interestingly enough, it does not appear there are any that are actually open for traffic.
My first attempt at developing a route involved a run from the Seagrove area down south along the Pottery Road scenic byway and then a loop back up to the bridge. Not bad, but I was hoping for some more twisty roads. The one good thing is I discovered the Flint Hill Ramble (more later). Successive runs led me to the final route that wound around the Uwharrie Mountain area of the state - roughly southwest of Asheboro. And yes, I managed to find an excuse to run up and down Old Liberty Road a few times on my way to and from the house to scout out the run route. I also learned that the Uwharrie Mountains are some of the oldest on the east coast.
So the day arrived and due to some changed travel plans on the part of my family, I got off to a bit of a late start. That and being completely wore out from putting down hardwood floors in our house all week. Anyway, I got to the indicated gathering spot a few minutes later than planned and there was already a great group of Minis from the club present. We eventually had 21 Minis in attendance (claims he of the unofficial guesstimate counts) which was a few more than I thought were going to be there. It was great to see several new members make it to the run. We even had a Mini from the area stop by when he saw us gathered. We got him a club card since he couldn't go with us. I wonder if he ever checked out the club site and registered?
From our starting spot off I-85, we headed down into the country. The roads started off heavily residential and became more and more sparse as far as development as we got further south. The roads were generally rolling country roads - nothing too technical. One of the things I liked about the route was the elevation changes. Kind of amazing really that there was such hilly country in the middle of the state.
The first really nice road of a more technical nature was when we got to Burney Mill Road. I don't know why, but this is a freshly paved road that is basically in the middle of nowhere. and it has some great twists - switchbacks, s-curves, and one-lane bridge about halfway. The only challenge was a bunch of loose gravel that washed onto the road from some heavy rains.
From there we took a straight shot down past the entrance to Uwharrie National Forest and saw the four-wheel mudslingers along the way. We worked back up to the small community of Ophir where we turned onto the Flint Hill Ramble. This is one of NC's scenic byways that hugs the side of one of the Uwharrie Mountains. I found it unique in that it is very narrow - maybe only 7' lanes? - and virtually no shoulders. So it is very tight feeling. Of course, for a Mini it is a great fit. The road is full of tight twisties. Along the way (I'm not sure anyone spotted it) is a stopping point for Jumping Off Rock and about halfway along the road there is a church located right where the road makes a sharp right. In the middle of...
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After that, it was a short run up to the Pisgah Covered Bridge where we stopped to stretch our legs and let folks explore the bridge a little bit. It was here that I was informed that we had lost a couple from the group - Twister and Miniboomer - due to a house being moved down the highway just after Burney Mill Road. Fortunately, they found their way to the bridge a few minutes later. But they then informed me that yet another Mini had been lost along the way. As it turned out, one of our group had a young boy with them who got sick (yeah, use your imagination) in the back of their Mini. They had abandoned our merry caravan. I felt pretty bad about that, but fortunately they posted later on the THMMC forums that all had turned out ok and they managed to spend a delightful afternoon at the NC Zoo. The post had me rolling in laughter and it was good to know they rolled with the punches so well. Exactly what Mini motoring is all about.
And in an interesting twist, when we arrived at the Pisgah Covered Bridge, there was someone there with their Mini. So we were able to introduce him to the club and he joined us for the second half up to our lunch spot.
After the stop at Pisgah Covered Bridge, we started heading back north utilizing the Birkhead Wilderness Route, another of NC's scenic byways. We then took a short spin through the Tot Hill Farm area. Tot Hill Farm Road was really a nice twisty road. Interestingly, the first half was bordered by a golf course community which then gave way to acres of land that had been stripped of trees and growth. Quite a contrast. As we continued north I managed to miss one turn. Lucky for me I had my iPhone and was able to consult with Google Maps (although I'm still thinking I need a "real" GPS Nav unit like a Garmin Nuvi). The new route may have even been better than what I planned. Old or new, we got to go by the Caraway Conference Center which was located on a nice twisty road before getting back into town in Archdale for our lunch at the Pioneer Steakhouse and Buffet.
Overall I felt like the run was a success. Of course, looking at the photo gallery, you'll see I didn't have the opportunity to get any photos of Minis on the road since I was busy leading (and had no one in front of me!). I did learn a few things:
- in the past, I've lead small caravans and not had a major problem. But with 21 cars - even if they were small Minis - I could not see the tail end of the caravan. That was a little disconcerting. It makes me wonder how things will work on the BRPT as we are closing in on 40 Minis for that. I guess some of our more experienced rally leaders can handle it no problem as I gather from reading MOTD reports that some of those groups are quite large.
- I'm not sure why, but radio traffic was pretty non-existent. I think I'll push for a little more use of the radios during our outings.
- Even though I tried to stop at different points to let the group re-assemble, I don't think I stopped nearly long enough.
- Based on the feedback I got, I think the rear of the pack was probably having to travel a good 10-15 mph faster than what I was in their efforts to keep up. So if I lead a leisurely run, I'll probably have to plan on running under the speed limit to keep it leisurely for everyone.
- I'm not sure why this was the case, but the Google Maps times were way off from what I was able to drive it in. Even with that, the final run time ended up being about 25% longer than what I was able to run the route at a non-pushing pace. So that was another good data point to have for future rally plans.
Now I suppose I'll need to start planning another covered bridge run. And I have a couple other ideas for runs as well. Hopefully they can run at least as smoothly as the Covered Bridge Run went.