Border Crossing Like a Boss

I got a late start on my journey to Canada but I need the sleep! I found a local coffee shop and then set a course for the Costco gas station nearest to the Canadian border!

When I got to the border I chose the wrong line and had to wait over thirty minutes to talk to the Canadian border guy. Then I realized his line took the longest his line because he was so delightful! We had a lovely chat about my pending journey thru Canada to get to the rally. Turns out he was from Kitchener (where I planned to spend the night) but he was really sorry he couldn’t give me any recommendations since his family moved away from there when he was three.

From the border it was a long (dull) ride to Kitchener. I finally arrived at the Crowne Plaza and they upgraded me to a corner suite with a nice view of the downtown area.

Is Kitchener a German town? I should’ve researched more.

It had been a long day so I ordered in some poutine and called it a night.

The next morning was my longest drive. I rolled out fairly early and turned on my Canadian playlist (nothing but Men Without Hats, a national treasure! Then I pulled into Tim Horton to get a maple donut (because Canada!) and I was dismayed to discover they didn’t have ANY maple flavored donuts of any kind. Then the cashier and I tried to out-nice each other, which didn’t end well for me. You should never try to out-nice a Canadian! Instead of the four cheese bagel with cream cheese I wanted, I ended up with a plain bagel with butter! But we both enjoyed the experience so it was fine.

This abandoned building was my favorite part of Kitchener TBH.

Then I drove forever and ever on the freeway. I decided to stop and buy some souvenirs so I pulled into the Real Canadian Superstore. It turns out they don’t carry much in the was of Canadian souvenirs. If I hadn’t arrived the day after Canada Day they probably wouldn’t have had any!

All I wanted was a T-shirt with a maple leaf.

I decided I’d just pick up a few goodies at the duty free store at the border. I resumed my drive and things got much more interesting when I crossed into the Quebec province. Suddenly there were French road signs!

Bonjour! Oui! Merci!

I stopped to pay a fortune for gas and saw another Tim Horton. Since I’d skipped lunch I popped in for a maple donut. Everyone there spoke French but I was able to point to the only maple donut they had left and somehow communicate iced mocha!

So Canadian!

After that I turned off the freeway and the best part of the drive began.

What a cute sign! Thankfully the universal color and shape helped me understand the intent.

It was glorious! The road passed through a lot of little villages and twisted through very fun curves.

I had so much fun here!

Time flew by until suddenly I arrived at the border. The duty free store was closed and the whole place looked deserted.

I was a little worried the border was closed!

When I pulled into the inspection lane and shut off my car the border agent came out. I think he was thrilled to see me. He asked why I’d been in Canada and I pointed to the Rally sticker on my bonnet. Then we had a lovely talk about the rally and the rest of my travels. Honestly, those border guys were all just super nice!

And just like that I was in Vermont!

It took me a while to get to my AirBnB in Hardwick. I had hoped to pass a grocery store and a car wash but no such luck! Instead I unpacked the car and made myself dinner out of road trip snacks.

There’s a chicken coop out there!

Tomorrow I will find a car wash and a grocery store. Tonight I dine on jerky and Perrier!

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Getting Ready to Reunite and Rally

Is there anything more exciting than getting ready for a vacation? All of the excitement of planning and packing and planning some more and then repacking… It’s honestly one of my favorite things! Because we have been experiencing a global pandemic, the biennial MINI Takes The States has been repeatedly postponed, but no longer. In 2022 we are all ready to reunite and rally!

#MTTS2022 Reunite and Rally

Because I have a lot less vacation time than I used to, I planned my route so that I could travel to Vermont during the long holiday weekend and then work from there until the rally starts. I plotted a route that would allow me to drive through Canada (super scenic and universal health care) and then stay near Burlington. I booked hotel rooms near the morning rally sites for each day of the rest of the drive.

Used my hotel points to stay as close to the morning rally sites as possible

After I secured my lodging, I spent some time packing, then unpacking, then packing again…

There isn’t much room in the boot, so most of this will have to ride in the backseat.

Finally I finished up by doing some last minute stickering.

QR code for anyone who wants to follow the trip on the blog and a Spotify code for my ever evolving playlist!

The headlamp ring on my passenger side was damaged so I replaced it with a new one.

First step was removing the damaged ring. Then I popped on the new one. Piece of cake!

I roll out early on Saturday morning. I can’t wait to get started!

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Anticipation Was Killing Me So I Left Early

I was eager to hit the road, especially after I saw a bunch of friends from California were already on their way! So I tried to Tetris all of my bags in the car on my lunch break and headed out right after work.

Everything I need for the next three weeks!

The traffic was pretty light as I headed south on Lake Shore until I got downtown.

I will never get tired of this view!

I forgot my Waze was set to avoid tolls so I ended taking the scenic route to Indiana.

About to pass under Indiana?

I was thinking of spending the night in Kalamazoo because they have a Costco and I only had a half a tank, but the stop and go traffic actually drained my tank faster then I anticipated so I decided to stop in Indiana. Afterwards I pulled into the Michigan rest stop for a quick photo op and to try to book a hotel.

Pure Michigan at sunset 😍

I realized I was making great time so I looked for a hotel closer to Detroit. It only took a couple more hours and I was all tucked into the Holiday Inn in Jackson, ready to sleep a few hours before my visit to Canada!

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Spending a Day in South Dakota

In 2006 I spent a day driving through SD during MINI Takes the States. It was one of my favorite days ever. This trip didn’t disappoint. I drove through Deadwood on my way out of town and then took the Black Hills Parkway to Rapid City. From there it was a quick trip down the highway to Wall, SD.

You can’t drive through South Dakota without being enticed to visit Wall Drug, there are ads for it every hundred feet or so across the state!

This actually is one of the least interesting ads, but it was the only one I could get close to!

Wall Drug is famous for offering free ice water. That’s how they began to draw people in and it’s only grown from there! I hadn’t had breakfast so I got a maple donut and a large coffee and sat in the Art Gallery Dining Room.

This is supposed to be one of the largest collections of original Western Art in the country. I believe it!

After breakfast, I did a little shopping and spent a lot of time just wandering around ogling the sights.

I wasn’t the only one who was enthralled by the decor!

When I left Wall Drug, I drove to the Badlands. There was a little wait to get in and the Park Ranger was very enthusiastic about my car! I drove the Badlands Loop Road and stopped occasionally for photos.

The scenery in the Badlands is incredible!

The other thing I love about South Dakota is the 80 mph on their freeways! I saw one state trooper and he was busy and didn’t seem to notice when I blew past! It’s a good thing South Dakota doesn’t appear to care much about limiting speed because I had to drive across the state to get to my next stop. I stopped for a quick lunch and then set out for the Corn Palace.

The buffalo hot dog was really good!

It took hours to get to Mitchell, home of the Corn Palace. And it was pretty crowded so I had to park a block away and walk in. I read some corn facts and then did a little shopping.

Excited to wear my Corn Star shirt tomorrow!

That was my last stop so I hopped back on the freeway and motored down to Sioux Falls> Tomorrow is my final vacation day as I work my way back to Chicago. Sad that it’s going to end but planning to cram a couple more fun stops in before I get home.

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534 Miles of Fun

Another day where I rose before the sun, only this time I had a massive drive planned. I was taking the long way so I could drive through Yellowstone. I wasn’t going to be able to see the Grand Prismatic Spring or Old Faithful, but I could swing past the West Thumb Geyser Basin. The route I planned was 534 miles so I didn’t plan on making a lot of stops.

Didn’t even make it out of the Grant Tetons park and I got held up by some buffalo crossing the street!

The drive into Yellowstone was incredible, although there were large stretches that had been ravaged by forest fires which left ghostly tree skeletons.

Yellowstone is glorious. I want to come back when I have more time!

I found the West Thumb Geyser Basin, which smelled awful! While I was there one of the geysers was erupting but just barely and there was so much smoke you couldn’t see it in my pictures.

They are really good at the warning signs! I was a nervous wreck that my balance would fail and I’d tumble off the boardwalk and into a smelly, boiling hole!

After I stopped at the geysers, I tried to hustle out of the park. There were more buffalo crossing the street that held me up and I saw a sign for an overlook at a summit which lured me off track for a bit too.

I didn’t stay at the overlook long because I notice they’ve had a bear problem.

After I left the park I realized I needed gas and I wanted to pick up a sandwich for my picnic lunch. I was passing through Cody and got redirected because their holiday parade was about to march through town. I pulled into a gas station and as I was filling up I met Sandy! She was admiring my car and we struck up a conversation. Turns out she’s from NW Indiana so we are practically neighbors! Also, she works in Chicago frequently. She was traveling with her daughter Maghan and her granddaughter Avery. We took some pictures and exchanged contact information so we can meet up for cocktails next time they visit Chicago!

My new friends who have excellent taste in cars!

After I left Cody, I ended up on the Bighorn Scenic Byway. It was a beautiful, twisty drive up the mountains and through Granite Pass.

There were a ton of great turnouts with stunning views.

Coming off the mountain was thrilling, very twisty with steep grades!

I paused at the top of the mountain to take it all in. What a drive!

Tomorrow I am spending the entire day in South Dakota. I haven’t cemented all my plans but they will definitely involve free water at Wall Drug and a visit to the Corn Palace!

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The Grand Tetons Totally Live up to the Hype

When I arrived in Jackson I dumped my bags in my room and then got back in the car to drive the Wilson Moose Road. It’s a road that runs from Wilson to Moose and Moose is inside the national park. I didn’t realize that many Californians, several residents of Washington state, and half of Utah would be staying in Jackson too. Traffic was worse than the beltway at 4 o’clock on a Friday before a three day weekend!

As I was inching my way along a guy in a giant pickup with Texas plates pulled up next to me. “Is that supposed to be blessings? Like sprinkles of blessings?” I wasn’t entirely sure what he meant but I said “Sparkles, because my car sparkles” which must not have been what he was looking for because he pulled away without comment.

I found the Wilson Moose road and it was super fun except a large stretch was gravel. I’m hoping that some of my annual park pass fees will help them pave more!

I drove to the store at Moose Junction and bought some water and a sandwich and then drove over to Mormon Row for a parking lot picnic.

The birds in this park are very intimidating.

The sun was setting but it was really cloudy so I decided to call it a night.

The next morning my insomnia paid off when I woke up before sunrise. I dressed quickly and drove back to Mormon Row. I got a couple of shots and then drove to the Oxbow Landing. That was worth the early wake because the lighting was perfect.

Thinking about becoming a professional photographer if things don’t work out in my current potition.

While I was there a woman stopped me to tell me she loved my car. She had seen me on Mormon Row. We talked about how beautiful the park was. She was Hawaiian and had a friend from Chicago cat sitting for her! I offered to fill in if her other Chicago friend can’t make it next time! She had just been to Glacier National Park which has suddenly moved to the top of my list of places to visit. She showed me her pics and WOW. Eventually, I moved on and stopped by the overlook at a lake for another pic.

#SPRKL

AT that point, I realized I was getting VERY low on gas. I motored to the gas station in the park but it wasn’t opened yet. I decided to head back to Jackson and fill up and have some breakfast. I picked up some detergent from the front desk, took advantage of their laundry facilities and had a little nap. Afterwards I went back to Moose Junction for a sandwich and then drove to the top of Signal Mountain.

Wildlife!

On my way up the mountain, I spotted a large deer looking animal. Although it seemed a lot larger than any deer I’ve ever seen before so maybe it was some sort of elk without antlers?

Perfect spot for a picnic!

After lunch, I drove over to Jenny Lake. I took a wrong turn and ended up in a parking lot at the trail head. There was a park ranger there who stopped me because she wanted to ask about my car. She asked me if I could be in the 4th of July Parade in the park on Monday. I was crushed that I had to turn her down!

I headed back to the hotel to reorganize all my stuff before heading out tomorrow. Since I’d spent so much time sitting this week, I walked over to the town square for dinner and a little shopping. I stopped in the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar for a beer while I reconned the dinner options.

They don’t have bar stools at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, they have saddles…

Tomorrow I drive to Deadwood by way of Yellowstone. After seeing the quality of the pics at sunrise, I’m going to try to hit the road right before the sun comes up!

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Peak to Peak

When I awoke, there was chill in the air, but it was over 40 so I put the top down and popped over to Starbucks for a flat white to keep me warm on the inside. My first stop was Pike’s Peak. They opened at 7:30 and I timed my arrival so I’d be there soon after it opened. I stopped for a couple of pics on my way in and then ended up about 10 cars back in the line when they opened.

I was in between two trucks from IL but they didn’t seem very friendly and drove up slow AF.
I think they were from down state.

When I got my ticket they told me the construction at the summit was delayed because of weather and everyone was required to park at the Devil’s Playground and ride a shuttle up. I took the altitude sickness warnings so I stopped frequently to get out and take pics on the way up.

On the drive to the summit

When I parked at the top, I was directed over to a parking area and then walked to the bus line. The busses were large school busses. The last time I rode in a school bus was when I was ziplining in Costa Rica and the bus ride was fun but riding an old, battered bus up the side of the mountain was as terrifying as the zip lines. Maybe I have an aversion to school busses?

He seemed to be looking around an awful lot. I almost screamed “eyes on the road, buddy!”

When we got to the top there was construction everywhere. And mud. Tons of mud. I walked along the viewing platform and got a great selfie with a tiny snowman. There was a huge line for the donuts so I decided to ride back down.

You can see the reflection of the crane in my glasses! Also look at that tiny snowman!

The bus ride down was even more terrifying than the ride up. I had to close my eyes because the chatty driver was just zipping past the sheer drop offs like no big deal! When I got back to my car, I pulled out ahead of everybody else which was good and bad. I didn’t have to worry about them holding me up, but they also weren’t going to set a super slow pace or potentially break my fall!

Stills grabbed from my fuzzy dashboard video. The sudden cloud cover prevented any of you from seeing the sheer drop offs at the edge of the road. Also hard to appreciate that it was a VERY steep grade.

When I finally made it down the mountain, I popped over to the Garden of the Gods. It wasn’t on my original itinerary, but Marc and Brian suggested that I stop by. They were right, it was glorious! Super crowded but glorious.

Everywhere you look in this park there are majestic rocks rising out of nowhere!

I decided to pick up some tacos at Jack in the Box before I started the drive to Steamboat Springs and then have a parking lot picnic somewhere on the way. I routed myself avoiding freeways which took me across the Ute Pass to the start of the Gold Belt Tour Scenic Byway.

Parking lot picnic with a side of history lessons

After lunch I motored to Breckenridge.

I drove across the Continental Divide

Breckinridge was super crowded. There were mobs of people everywhere just shuffling down the sidewalks. I didn’t linger.My route took me through Silverthorne and it started raining. I had to put up my top because the aerodynamics don’t work on switchbacks but as soon as I crested that mountain it stopped and I put it back down.

This is one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen.

I passed Keystone and then it was pretty much a straight shot (up and down mountains!) to Steamboat Springs. I dumped my bags went out for a sandwich and hustled back to my room to join the Tuesday night Twitch streams. Tomorrow is a long day of driving to Wyoming. Can’t wait to see the Tetons!

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The Sunflower State

I woke up very early but Marc and Brain had suggested a couple of things to add to my itinerary so I rolled out by 7 am. My first destination was Council Grove, KS where I picked up the Flint Hills Scenic Byway. Sadly, I passed the perfect spot for a picture of the byway sign because I was sure there would be another and then the rain came so I couldn’t stop! I enjoyed the drive in spite of the rain. When I got to Cassoday, KS I routed myself towards Colorado Spring. I made great time and finally stopped for gas at the Wildlife Travel Center. I got there at the same time as an entire busload of Amish folk and the pumps were all taken by pickups. When I went inside to tour the wildlife, I discovered everyone in there was either wearing Amish outfits or very large cowboy hats. TBH it was more fun to watch than the wildlife!

This was a super interesting place with lots of taxidermied animals and cowboys!

Before I got back on the road, I opened up the Roadtrippers app to find any interesting spots along my route and hit the jackpot! A little town named Goodland had a giant Van Gogh exhibit of Sunflowers!

This is the most Kansas thing ever.

As I was making my way back to the interstate, I noticed a sign for the Sky and Land Scenic Byway. I pulled into a parking lot and discovered that along the route was Mt Sunflower, the highest point in Kansas. I decided that was well worth the trip because it would give me a sort of practice mountain before I got to Pike’s Peak. I took the byway from Goodland to Sharon Springs. I found the road to Mt Sunflower and was really surprised it wasn’t paved but I thought maybe it would be paved when I got closer to the actual mountain. That was wrong. It was never paved and it isn’t an actual mountain! It’s a 12 mile driveway that is apparently part of a working cattle ranch with a few pieces of metal art!

Worth the trip for the photo opp!

In spite of the dust, I had a great time posing for pictures until some cowboy pulled in. I left him to it and drove the 12 miles back to the main road.

From there it wasn’t far to the state line.

Colorado really is colorful, I love it!

From the state line to Colorado was a couple of county roads and some of them seemed very rinky dink. The best roads were in El Paso county. Didn’t stop me from hauling ass though. When I finally made it to Colorado Springs I stopped at Costco for affordable gas, a car wash (obviously), and In and Out for dinner. Tomorrow I drive up Pike’s Peak which now that I can see it looks a little intimidating! Better get some rest now…

I really admire this guys commitment. He is clearly a fan!

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Seeking Higher Elevations on My Summer Vacation

Since I bought my new MINI and the 2021 MINI Takes the State event was cancelled I decided to plan my own event. It was cloudy day as I pulled out of Chicago but it wasn’t raining so I put the top down and the radio up.

It was an early start but I wasn’t going to let my Pride hangover hold me back.

As I motored south, the clouds came and went and I drove through occasional showers. At one point I realized I’d have to stop for gas about half way and if it was raining when I pulled over I’d get soaked. Also, the gas stations were few and far between. Suddenly it was like a strange kind of game of chicken where I couldn’t stop unless it wasn’t raining but I was already running very low on gas.

I ended up making it to a Dodge’s that had definitely seen better days and was at least 5 miles off the freeway. At least it wasn’t raining and according to my MINI I had 24 miles left in that tank.

After I got back on the freeway, I hauled ass to Missouri.

The Show Me State

I made GREAT time zipping through Missouri and soon I was in Kansas.

The Sunflower State?

,I drove to my hotel to drop off my bags and text my KC MINI buddies to meet up for dinner and then SURPRISE they told me they were going to a little MINI event and I could join them if I wanted. Of course I was all “Heck yeah!”.

When I found the guys, they were parking MINIs in front of an amazing mural to create a MINI rainbow to celebrate Pride!

My people!

When the KC MINI Enthusiast club members found out I drove down from Chicago they insisted I join the rainbow, so of course I did!

Super grateful the KC MINI Enthusiasts let me crash their Pride party!

After the MINI meetup Brian, Marc, and I hopped back in our cars and drove to their favorite BBQ joint, Jack Stacks. We ordered a cocktail and some burnt ends.

Kansas City BBQ is delicious.

We had an amazing time catching up on everything that’s happened since the pandemic, it was just like the before times! While we were there, Marc and Brian toyed with the idea of visiting Chicago and staying in my guest room. They also gave me some tips about what to visit on my way to Colorado Springs. I’ve got some homework to do!

Afterwards, I returned to the hotel to listen to DJ Iamelectro’s Yacht Rock Sunday show while I plot my course for tomorrow’s adventures…

Some super smooth yacht rock jams while I google the Garden of the Gods…

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All’s Well That Ends Well

When I work up on Tuesday the sun had just crested the valley and the view from my balcony was amazing. I’d have stayed out there all day but I needed to find a tire and put in a full day of work! I started looking up tire shops so I could start calling as soon as they opened but before I even got started I got a call from Royal Tire. They were responding to my frantic online inquiry and called me as soon as they got there!

They told me the MINI tire size is unusual and they don’t carry it in stock. It would be a couple of days for them to order one in, but they just happened to have a used MINI tire in their back room and would sell it to me for $35 He started to tell me about the tire but I was shouting, “I’ll take it!” so he didn’t get very far!

Next I had to find a tow truck. Unfortunately, the phone number for the guy who towed me to the hotel didn’t work and the mailbox was full. Luckily I found another one and he told me he could make it in an hour.

I did a little work while I waited Because I had Zoom meetings all day and needed stable wifi, I went ahead and booked the hotel room for another night. I was using points and it was totally worth it to avoid having to try to do meetings from the lobby.

The tire shop called at noon when my car was ready and then I had to find a ride to pick it up. Diane had told me there were only 2 Lyft drivers in the area and apparently neither one was working. I called the front desk and they told me to call Griffin Transport.

Griffin Transport is a guy who lives in Boyne City. I think he operates out of his house and he just drives into town when someone calls him. It was a lot like Lyft except I paid him in cash and it cost a lot more.

Sure it was used, but I’ve never loved a tire more!

My car was ready and they all appreciated how cute it was. I drove it back to the hotel and the front desk crew were just as excited as I was! I had a few more meetings to wrap up and then finally it was time to drive home.

Goodbye home away from home!

I said goodbye to all my friends in the hotel and loaded up the MINI. Because it was after 5 and I had early morning meetings the next day I opted for the fastest route instead of the most inteesting.

Over 6 hours unless you are hauling ass, in which case you can make it in less than 5 and a half.

The first half of the trip was backroads and those eventually turned into a freeway but I fell in behind some other cars from Illinois and we hauled ass. The temperature was perfect in the upper 60s and I had some fantastic playlists loaded up. I’m not usually a fan of freeway driving but it was really good to get home!

A summary of my Memorial Day weekend, which doesn’t include any of miles on the bed of the tow truck!
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