Thursday, August 24
Flagstaff, Arizona to Albuquerque, New Mexico
352 miles today, 1386 miles since Monterey
Across the Very Flat Top of the World, Capped by an Afternoon at the Track
Our gathering this morning was at the slightly more civilized hour of nine o'clock, in the parking lot of a suburban theatre near our hotels, and everyone was on the road by ten.
if we hadn't noticed last night when we arrived, Flagstaff is at an elevation of over 6000 feet, and it might as well be the top of the world, because on this morning's drive there was nothing higher than we were. I mean, flat, almost featureless landscape in all directions, with the I40 pavement looking on the map and through our windshields as if it had been drawn with a giant ruler; just two parallel ribbons stretching to the horizon. Well, cut every 40 miles or so by construction as if that same giant hand had decided to erase and redraw some of the route.
So we just set our cruise controls at a reasonable margin above the posted 75 mph speed limit and tuned our iPods to whatever music seemed most fitting to a morning of playing dodg'em with the truckers who make this road their workplace.
However, by about one p.m. we were nearing the New Mexico border and the route was flanked by picturesque mesas and roadside trading posts selling Native American jewelry and crafts. Near the border, we crossed the continental divide, so our trip is downhill to the Atlantic from here on. A brief stop at Chief Yellowhorse's trading post right at the border gave us a chance to look at the Native American artifacts and get our pictures taken with the trading post and a red rock outcropping in the background.
Just across the New Mexico border, some Motorists diverted off the interstate to make sure the words of "Get Your Kicks on Route 66" ring true, as they took the Mother Road through Gallup, New Mexico, to find lunch.
By about 2:30 we were on the outskirts of Albuquerque, looking for the exit ramp for Sandia Motorsports Park, a sweet little oval/road course race track that MINIs of Sandia had reserved for our exclusive use for the afternoon. Quickly, the suitcases and loose equipment was out of the cars and piled up in neat little piles in the paddock, releases had been signed, checkered wrist bands given to us, and we were waved out on the track in alternating groups by skill level to play Boy or Girl Racer.
Somehow, it is very MINI that what we choose to do as a break from driving is, more driving! By about five o'clock, someone decided to see if we could get all the cars out on the track, and like a scene from Cars, Wired Bus wasn't going to be left in the parking lot, so he followed us out, until we had sixty cars and the bus circling the track for the amusement of the photographers up in the press box.
Fortunately, Sandia MINIs had the barbecues going in the paddock, because we were hungry from all this fun, and cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and potato salad were exactly the right thing to top off the day. And there was still time to make Happy Hour at the Embassy Suites before finally collapsing for the evening.
Motorists on the Road
Since there isn't a lot more to say about today, and driving through America's spectacular scenery is only one dimension of this great adventure, let me introduce you to some Motorists that I've met on the road, to give you an idea of the diverse group of people who drive MINIs and love them.
Proving that a MINI can carry four people, as long as two of them are under 12 years old, Paul and Michelle Rezucha, whom I met at the first lunch stop, made the first two legs of the trip with their boys Palko and Ilia. Ilia is the younger of the two, but takes great pride in two things: his knowledge of cars, and the fact that his birthday present on his eighth birthday was a 1966 Morris Mini Minor – a real one. He and his father figure that it will be in great restored shape when he's ready to start learning to drive. He did admit that his brother owns a British car, a Triumph GT6, but he says his car will be faster.
Cindy Medina was one of the intrepid drivers who took up the challenge to drive "12 Miles of Terror" and the Bagdad Road between Vegas and Flag on Wednesday. Cindy is manager of Cindy's Concrete in Oregon City, Oregon and has had her MINI for only two weeks. She signed up for the tour when she placed her order and said she was in a real panic that the car might not arrive in time to do the trip. She's driving with her husband, Joe, but so far i haven't seen him behind the wheel.
I shared a table at the In N Out in Barstow, California with L'Aura Bradford and Valerie Larabee from Salt Lake City, who drove out to Monterey and came back with us as far as Flagstaff before heading north and home. L'Aura is a network engineer but is a graphic artist in her spare time. Valerie is director of the Gay and Lesbian Center of Salt Lake City. They're driving in L'Aura's black convertible, carrying the license plate "Rascal" and emblazoned on the bumper "Rascal Queen," the name of an historic pirate ship. L'Aura designed the graphics on the sides of the car, which feature a checkered flag dissolving into a skull and crossbones from the front to the back of the car.
Things I Wouldn't Travel Without.
I think I'm falling in love with Karen, who has been traveling with me since Monterey. Karen is the Australian female accent for the instructions that come out of my Garmin Nav system. (It's true; when you set up your preferences, you choose language and accent, and each voice has a name.) Since i'm traveling solo with Barry Brazier, our publisher, in one of the MINI Works GP cars, Karen has saved me from being lost several times already on this trip with her clear and absolutely spot-on instructions. Without her, when I missed an exit in Flagstaff, i might still be driving down Interstate 40 instead of getting off at the next exit and cutting through a residential neighborhood to get back to where I needed to be. Tonight to get from the highway to our hotel required negotiating the connection ramp system between two major interstate highways, 40 and 25, in the middle of downtown Albuquerque. The instructions got me through six ramp changes and right to the front door of the hotel.
I'm also happy that I wired an auxiliary plug for my iPod into The Vicar, our project car. I thought 900 songs would be a lot to travel with, but I'm already listening to some twice, and the solo driving would be pretty monotonous without the ease of being able to have music of my choice for whatever mood I'm in simply by dialing it in.
The Vicar got its first track test this afternoon, and was magnificent. The combination of the MINI suspension and engine, the Dinan power and sway bar, and the Edge Racing tires and wheels made it very, very quick on the track, with handling that was incredible. However, after about ten laps, I reluctantly parked it, remembering it still has to do 2000 miles more and I wanted to have some tread left for the trip.