So today we went down to Flow Mini to look at the Countryman and came home with a Clubman :) I am freaking out a little about losing my beloved Rav4, but so happy to have a Mini of my own!
We’ve just come back from an awesome weekend in the mountains. This was the annual “MINIs Slay the Sleeping Dragon” (MSSD) meet. The group we were with didn’t actually go on the “Tail of the Dragon,” but we ran it ourselves later. We had a nice mix of group motoring and independent adventuring.
Friday we drove up to Bryson City, where we met about 50-plus fellow MINI enthusiasts for dinner. I am not sure the little Mexican restaurant was really prepared for an onslaught of customers, but it was good to meet other MINI owners. The long table they had set up was full when we got there, so we ended up in one of the four booths at the end of the table. Those booths filled up shortly thereafter, and we ended up sharing our booth with a couple from Atlanta. It was a bit awkward to have dinner with strangers, especially when the food arrives at different times, but it was good to make connections.
While standing in line to pay our check we missed most of the MINIs’ exit. We ended up at the rear of a small caravan of four on the way to Fontana Village, where most (if not all) of the participants were staying. The drive from Bryson to Fontana is about 40 mostly-boring minutes, but the last 10 miles or so has some great curves. Even that trek was enjoyable, there is something about driving in a group of MINIs that just makes everything more fun!
The Fontana Village Resort turned out to be pretty nice. They have a “Lodge” with hotel-like accommodations (which was completely booked) and several cabins. We ended up in a 2 bedroom/2 bath cabin thanks to a fellow club member that changed their lodging plans. The cabin was much nicer than expected, although I swear the water heater had about a two gallon capacity. I would definitely stay there again, and recommend it to anyone interested in going to the area. However, be prepared for a cold shower if you are in a cabin!
Saturday there were several different excursions planned. There was a 9am trip that would end with lunch in Robbinsonville; then that group would split up so people could make the 3pm “ice cream” run, which of course ended at an ice cream parlor. There was also an offshoot group that went on a short run even earlier for breakfast, with the intention of meeting up with the rest of the 9am group as they went past. Surprisingly, that actually worked and we were joined by several more cars along the way. There was also a 9pm run that went over a lot of the same ground that was covered that morning, but making a figure-eight back in the other direction as well. We decided to start out with the morning run and just see how our day went. We weren’t really interested in the ice cream run anyway.
So, at 8:30 Saturday morning we assembled with our group and set off at 9am. It was a blast! Well, except for the parts were we got stuck behind slow vehicles or had to stop for logs in the road. We had about 30 MINIs zooming around the curves. Sean drove for this part, so I got the pleasure of sitting and enjoying the beautiful scenery. That was almost as rewarding as driving! The driver couldn’t watch the scenery because the road and caravan required too much attention. It was truly beautiful though, with the fall colors, blue skies, tall cliff faces, distant mountains, and the creeks, rivers, and lakes. I was definitely not feeling left out as a passenger. It was also a lot of fun to watch the people we passed realize what they were seeing. You could see some of the people’s expressions switch between the “oh look, a few MINIs are driving together” to the realization of “wow, look, there are a ton of them!” And other people were excited; waving, pointing, taking pictures, or just standing there agape at the spectacle.
The run lasted three hours or so, with a few short stops along the way for pictures and sightseeing. We ended up at a pizza & sub place in Robbinsonville, where MINIs nearly filled the entire parking lot. Here we didn’t really socialize with any others, we just ate our lunch, decided what to do next, then chatted with the last few MINI folks in the parking lot before heading towards Maryville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg, TN via the Dragon. For those who don’t know, this is the nickname given to an 11 mile stretch of HWY 129 with 318 brilliant curves.
This time I got to drive! Sean asked if he could drive the Dragon first, but I told him I wanted to. It was only fair, right? I mean, he has driven during all of the events so I should at least get to drive the Dragon first. Sean agreed, although I think he was a little sad about it. I promised he could drive on the way back through.
The Dragon was pretty fun! Although, the traffic and 30mph speed limit was annoying. I had a good run on the first half, but then got stuck behind a Yukon. Most of the slower traffic would pull over and let the rest pass, but not that stubborn Yukon. It was still fun though! An added bonus I hadn’t expected was seeing all the sports cars that come to drive it. There were tons of new and classic cars; Mustangs, Corvettes, Cobras, BMW roadsters, and even a Ford GT. It was one of those roads that made you want to say “let’s go again!” but we wanted to see what we could find in TN so we kept going forward.
I had decided I wanted boots. This is something I could do in Raleigh of course, but I decided it made a good motoring quest. We did a quick Google search with the word “boot” to find some destinations. The first stop was Maryville, which proved fruitless, so then it was on to Pigeon Forge.
I had forgotten how terrible traffic can be in Pigeon Forge. It quickly became apparent we would not be getting back to the Dragon before nightfall. I fought my way through traffic comparable to I-40 at 5pm on a rainy Friday, and eventually spotted a place that lauded “Boots! Buy 1 Pair get 2 Free!” and somehow made it across several lanes of traffic to get there in one piece. This was of course a tourist trap and you of course paid for all three pair of boots given that I don’t think a single pair in there was less than $100. It was also packed with people. I found boots though! So I now have two new pairs of boots and Sean has a pair as well.
Boot goal achieved, we realized we had to figure something out about dinner since it was nearly 6pm at this point. We were about a quarter mile from Dixie Stampede, which I had been to a few times as a child. I knew it was probably sold out, but decided to give it a try for nostalgia’s sake. And it was sold out, but at least I got to see some horsies while we walked to and from the car. From there we wandered up the road aimlessly for a bit trying to decide where to eat.
We had nearly decided to eat at one of the billion pancake places that we were passing, when Sean spotted a Bubba Gump Shrimp billboard. Bubba Gump is in Gatlinburg, which is theoretically about 7 minutes from Pigeon Forge. Unfortunately, as soon as you actually enter Gatlinburg the traffic is even worse than Pigeon Forge… so it took much much longer than it should to actually get to the restaurant.
Gatlinburg is yet another tourist trap. There seems to only be one main street, with no way to cut around the traffic. The main drag is crammed with shops, restaurants, and gimmicky attractions aimed at tourists. We crawled through the traffic, women with baby strollers passing us… until we were able to park in a lot around the corner from the restaurant for the bargain price of $10. Parking was a little amusing though. They saw our MINI and directed us to this tiny spot that wasn’t really a parking spot behind the little parking attendant shed.
We ended up waiting forever for a table while I day dreamed about all the fudge shops we had passed on the way in. Eventually we got a table though. The entire restaurant is decorated with Forest Gump memorabilia and the drink menu is made of laminated cards attached to a ping pong paddle with metal rings. The food was pretty good, although things were a little slow thanks to the packed house. After dinner we walked down the strip a ways, picking up some fudge and stopping at the Ripley’s museum. Sean suggested we go since I had told him I had always wanted to go to one as a kid, but never had the chance. The “museum” was neat, but not sure it was really worth $16 a ticket. I had a good time though!
We fought traffic to get out of Gatlinburg, and went back through Pigeon Forge. Thankfully the traffic was better in Pigeon Forge and we made decent time. Coming back, we skipped Maryville and took the Foothills Parkway instead. The Parkway is a 17 mile stretch of absolutely nothing other than a few places you can pull over for scenic overlooks. It was a pleasant drive, but we were thankful for the MINI’s bright headlights. There were a few places where you could look out and see all the lights in the valley below, it was quite beautiful up there even at night. I only wish it hadn’t been overcast so that we could see the stars.
It was about 11pm when we hit the Dragon again. I am not sure Sean really expected his first Dragon run to be in the dead of the night. It was incredibly dark out there. The entire road is lined with trees, so even in daylight it is shaded. And even though the moon was nearly full, the cloud cover was thick so we had very little light other than the headlights. The headlights are great on straight stretches, but when you have such frequent sharp curves it doesn’t help very much… especially when a lot of those curves are in a downward slope towards a dip in the road. The good part was that we had the road to ourselves. We only passed a couple oncoming vehicles. Not that it mattered much, there was no way we were going to do much speeding on that road at night!
The Dragon was such fun that we had to run it again Sunday before leaving. This time Sean drove North towards TN, then I drove south and continued on towards home. It was still loads of fun, but the cops were out in force. We saw at least seven. This made us a little nervous since it is so easy to speed there. Your attention is mostly on the road or having fun with the curves, so it is very easy to not notice when you exceed the speed limit. Especially in a MINI. Thankfully I managed to pull over and get behind a group of motorcycles, so that helped a lot. I really wish we could have gone again, but I didn’t want to deal with the cops or be any later getting home. As it was we didn’t get home until 9pm, so it is good we didn’t waste any more time. At least I got to drive back on the roads around Fontana Village, so I still got to have a bit more fun!
I can’t wait for the next MINI event! I am really enjoying this little car. My only regret is not having a good video camera to record our trip, the stills will have to do for now. I have my eye on Tachyon XC HD before our next adventure though.
(check out the Photos section for some pictures)
I have been obsessing over driving again, and in a way that is bad enough I just try to sit quietly and not bore the people around me with how much I would rather be “motoring.” So of course I’ve been finding every excuse to get us out of the house, in the Mini. This part is easy because there is a active Mini community in NC and they are always getting together at meets, track days, dinners, and recently a scavenger hunt. Yes, a scavenger hunt. I never thought I would attend another scavenger hunt once I stopped going to church. Turns out it’s a great way to spend time with Robyn (she is on the ball organizing the clues by location), a great way not to be working on the weekend, and lots of motoring time.
Some of the clues involved bringing something back, or showing your car in a picture with a certain object or place. Here are some of my favorite pics:
Show your Mini with a Smart car. The only car out there smaller, until the Fiat 500 hits dealers.
Show your Mini at Umstead Park.
Show your Mini next to a horse.
Show your Mini next to a school bus. Robyn insisted that a university bus would not count, so later we took:
Show a oversized dog in your Mini, thanks to some random guy with a big drooling dog.
Show your Mini at the Tucker House.
Show your Mini at a round bank. Probably my favorite of all of them, mainly because for some reason the driveway behind this bank is closed off and I went off road (grass) to get to the bank. Not that impressive now that I think about it, but I had fun then.
Show your Mini at the only 100% exotic animal hospital in Raleigh. With two iPhones at her disposal, no clue could escape Robyn.
In all we had a great time motoring around Raleigh all day. It seems Robyn had some stress and enjoyment out of organizing the clues by distance and point value. I enjoyed driving during the event. I’m not sure how long this “motoring” phase will last but Robyn likes it enough that she has agreed that we can go to the next event – a trip to the area surrounding Highway 129.
Sorry I haven’t posted in a couple weeks. I have been trying to be better about posting, and the Mini has definitely helped with giving me things to actually talk about. I haven’t posted in the past couple weeks because we have been so busy.
It seems like we have been on the go constantly since getting the Mini on Labor Day. Probably because we have! The weekend after MiniPalooza involved me working Saturday and then going up to Hickory on Sunday to get a spare set of wheels for the Mini (Sean has autocross dreams). After Hickory we went down to Charlotte to pick up some things from Ikea that wouldn’t fit in the car the week before.
Then, this past weekend, we had yet another busy one. Saturday we got up early so that we could finally make it to the North Hills farmer market. We wanted to go out there ever since we learned Edible Earthscapes sold their produce there, but we just haven’t had time.
I was pleasantly surprised with the farmer’s market. I knew it would be small, so I hadn’t expected much out of it. Although, it looks like we might have found a new Saturday breakfast spot! There is a German baker that sells goods there, all sorts of tasty little treats that are excellent when paired with the Starbucks that is in the middle of the market. There were some nice finds, and I am looking forward to going back next Saturday when we have more time. There were plenty of people selling meat, fresh bread, eggs, goat cheese, and some other things. We ended up leaving with some curry chevre, daikon, shishito peppers, shiitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes, grits, and salsa. It feels like I must be forgetting something else because we had a full bag.
After a quick stop to drop our loot at home we headed to Brier Creek for a Mini Scavenger Hunt. There were only six Mini participants, but it was pretty fun. We were given two sheets of clues, both printed front and back. The clues spanned Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, but we only had about 2.5 hours to compete. We ended up sticking with just Raleigh, not having time to go to the other locations.
The hunt itself was pretty fun, although there were so many items listed it was hard to keep it straight. If we do this again I swear I am going to ask for two copies of the clues, and I will bring a clip board and an array of highlighters. Yes, I am a nerd. Anyhow, the way it worked was that you had to take a photo of a location or bring some items back, the majority of the items being photos. Sorting out which things required a photo with the Mini, a team member, both team members, or the Mini and the team members was another challenge.
The part that wasn’t as fun was the tallying up of the scores. As I mentioned, there were a lot of clues. And while there were only six teams, it took forever to go through it all. At least it went a little faster once the host pulled out her laptop and just searched for the points rather than skimming the list. But, as it was, we spent over an hour just standing in the parking lot waiting. In the end we came in third place and won some organizational items for the car. Not bad for first timers, I think.
We were pretty wiped out after about 8 hours on the go, but there is no rest for the weary! Sean had found a chili recipe in one of our new cast iron cookbooks, and we wanted to try it out. This required grocery shopping. So, after tooling around the house for a bit, we moved our usual Sunday shopping trip up a day and headed to Meat House in Cary. It was 6pm before we got there, and we were starving after having only eaten a bit of German pastry breakfast and a hasty McDonald’s lunch on the go. Oh, that is another thing to bring for the next scavenger hunt: food!
When we arrived at Meat House, we found that a pizza place had just opened next to it. They were handing out menus at the door, trying to drum up some business. They seemed like friendly people, but we had shopping to do. While we were waiting for our 4lb chuck roast to be cut into cubes (I love you, Meat House!) we contemplated the pizza place next door. Our stomachs won out.
We went next door and told them we wanted to eat there, but we had a bag full of meat. They were happy to put it in the cooler for us, so it all worked out. If you are in Cary, give Marilyn’s Pizza a try. They have lots of dough, sauce, and topping options. Even gluten free! They seem like a nice little shop, and we will be glad to give them some more business when we are in the area.
So, all this lead to us not starting the chili until about 8pm. The chili takes 2 hours, not counting prep time. This means we didn’t get to sample it until about 10:30. By this point we were both exhausted from a long day, but we still had to wait for the chili to cool enough to stash it in the fridge. By the time we got to bed, I was bone tired and I think I fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow!
The chili was worth it though! We ate it the rest of the weekend and Sean even took it to work a few days. If anyone wants a recipe for some great chili that doesn’t include tomatoes, let me know. It is spicy though!
We had quite the full weekend! It started out with us rushing around Friday night to pack, clean the Mini, get Jack to Cary, and get Eddie to Fuquay. We didn’t get to bed until after midnight, which sucked because we had to get up at 6am.
Saturday we still had a couple things to do before we left town, like getting breakfast and some cash for the lunch. We also made a quick unplanned Wal-Mart stop for some glass cleaner after discovering how much the glass wipes we used the night before sucked. So, all of these little last minute things resulted in us not getting to Old Salem Tavern (in Winston Salem) until about 9:32.
The website for the Minipalooza had said to meet at the tavern and the group would be leaving promptly at 10:00. However, the night before we saw an update that said 9:30. Therefore we arrived thinking we would probably get there just as they were pulling out. But there was only one Mini to be found!
This Mini driver was glad to see us, as she didn’t know the route and was beginning to think she had the date wrong. We were equally glad to see her because we were wondering where the hell all the Minis were. Later in the day we met up with some other Mini drivers in Old Salem who said they had the same confusion, but eventually found all the other cars at the Visitor’s Center.
Apparently there were so many cars that they had to move to the Visitor’s Center because there simply wasn’t enough room in the street. And today we heard that they actually left even earlier, around 9:15. Needless to say we are left a little disappointed in the level of organization/communication. It was a good thing we had all way points programmed in the GPS!
The lone Mini driver followed us along the route, we had our own Mini Minipalooza. It actually was probably a bit more fun that way. There were lots of reports of confusion from other drivers, and apparently plenty of people went off-course. There were also people that were unhappy with how fast their leader was going. Since we were the lead car of our little pair we were able to set the speed and only had to worry about one other car.
For us, things worked out great. Sean drove while I navigated and kept our Mini-friend updated via walky-talky. I wish I had a paper map, it probably would have been easier. As it was, Sean had programmed way points into our Nuvi and printed a list of which order they came in. I had no clue where we were going, I just had to get close to the end point and program in the next one. It was an adventure!
And the mini has so much road, engine, and a/c noise that it is hard for the driver to hear the GPS… so we kept joking that I was like the Sci Fi show character that only repeated what the computer said. My acting as navigator let Sean concentrate on having fun driving the twisty roads while I concentrated on where we were going. I was also able to warn him of the sharper curves. It went well and we only made one wrong turn, but it was easy to correct even though the GPS tried to invent some roads. That is pretty good for travelling unfamiliar back roads! The course was great, and I am looking forward to going back and driving it myself later on. Navigating was fun, but there were some awesome curves along Hwy 8 that I am itching to try.
It was about 1:00 when we arrived at the vineyards. We exchanged $20 for commemorative wine glasses and tickets for food/wine. They had pulled pork, baked beans, and slaw served with a bun to make a sandwich if desired. The wine ticket was good for a glass of wine or a tasting. We opted for the tasting and decided we aren’t really fans of Westbend Vineyards’ wine. The BBQ was good though, and seeing all the Minis was great. There are so many great ways to customize a Mini, it once again made me want a Mini of my own… but I love my Rav4 too much.
Unfortunately, that was the end of our Mini event. Sunday we were supposed to go to Flow Mini for breakfast and then head to VIR, but it was canceled. There was no explanation given, but I assume it was due to weather. In all Saturday was fun, and I am looking forward to the next Mini rally event. There is one coming up next month, but I am not sure if we will be able to go.
But our weekend adventures were not over yet! Saturday evening we were left with some time to kill so we checked into the Augustus Zevely Inn (aka Augustus Zevely B&B) early and then wandered around Old Salem a bit. By 5:00 I was exhausted. A stop at our room to drop off purchases and have a little of the wine and cheese offered by the B&B turned into a short nap before dinner. We had 6:00 reservations at the Old Salem Tavern, which was conveniently located across the street.
The Old Salem Tavern was great! If you ever go to Old Salem I highly recommend both the Zevely Inn and Old Salem Tavern. The Inn was our first B&B experience, and I doubt we could have asked for better. Even though noises from the hall were easily heard in our room, it was still very quiet and peaceful. The Innkeeper was pleasant, and the breakfast was great.
After breakfast, we packed the car and hit the road headed for Ikea. Along the way Sean spotted a Beef Jerky Outlet sign and got so excited I just had to stop for him. The outlet is near Concord Mills, and was pretty neat if you like jerky and hot sauce. I am not a huge fan of either though, so it was mostly just for Sean. Many samples of jerky later we were back on the road to Ikea.
Ikea is always fun! For some reason every time I go there I find myself wanting to decorate a house, build a kitchen from scratch, and/or completely reorganize something. We picked up a few items and a few ideas from Ikea, then headed towards Burlington. We might be back at Ikea soon with the Rav4. :)
The reason I wanted to stop in Burlington was the Le Creuset Outlet. I have never been to one of their stores; I’ve always purchased from Williams Sonoma or Southern Season, and a seconds braiser from Home Goods. Going to a Le Creuset store was both fun and torture. I wanted so many pots, but I had to choose just one. Sean was willing to let me get a second, which made getting just one even harder. Their pots are simply too expensive to purchase more than one on a whim! After some deliberation, I ended up with a cobalt blue wok, a ceramic gratin dish, a metal knob, a silicone pot handle cover, some cleaner, and two cookbooks. Happy!!
I look forward to trying all the new recipes we are going to make. We used the wok to stir fry some asparagus and garlic for a side with dinner tonight. I was very happy with it. Definitely the best wok I have ever owned!
On Labor Day I finally gave in and let Sean trade in his G8 for a 2010 Mini Cooper S. If he hadn’t wanted a Mini I could have probably held out, kept saying ‘no’ to his begging for a different car. But I love Minis. He found my weakness. I have always wanted one. At least I get to drive it, but I am still jealous and find myself half-contemplating trading the Rav4 in for my own Mini. Which is a dumb idea. Must keep telling myself that. Dumb idea. Right?
Now that we own a Mini we are realizing that there is a whole Mini community out there. There is even an iPhone app for socializing your Mini and clubs for Mini owners. Other Mini drivers even wave to you in recognition. How cool is that?
Next weekend we will take part in Minipalooza 2010. Mini owners will gather in front of a tavern in Old Salem, then motor on a scenic route to Westbend Vineyards in Lewisville. They are calling this the Mini Miglia, which I assume is a play on Mille Miglia. The vineyards are really only 20-some minutes from the tavern, but with the route they have chosen it will be more like three hours. I am still not sure about the entertainment factor of driving for the sake of driving, but then again, driving the Mini is pretty fun.
After we finally make it to the vineyards we are going to be served a BBQ lunch and treated to live music. I think a wine tasting is also involved in there somewhere. After that I am really not sure what the plan is, or if that is it for the day. We have booked a night at The Augustus T. Zevely Inn in Old Salem, which should also be an interesting experience.
Sorry if I am a little fuzzy on the details. This is mostly Sean’s thing and I am going along for the ride with the hopes that I will actually enjoy it and find a new interest. There is definitely potential there.
I believe Sunday morning we are supposed to go over to the Winston Salem Mini dealership (Flow Mini) for breakfast, and then drive up to Virginia International Raceway. There was mention of a parade lap, which I bet will be a neat spectacle. Maybe I can sit in the stands to take a picture, seems like something I would rather watch than participate in.