A Day on the UP

After all the excitement of the record attempt, most of my DCMM friends went back to their hotels for a nap. Katie and I decided to spend our day instagramming the UP. Our first stop was Castle Rock.

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MINIs invade the Castle Rock!

Brandy and Corey sent a message that they were at Deer Park so we went there next.

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We decided to skip the deer feeding and go for some deer kissing instead.

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Katie really likes deer.

When we left there, we found a little souvenir shop.

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All of the shops on the UP sell fudge and smoked fish.

And then Katie hit a deer.

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It was closed, but we decided we needed some souvenirs so we went to the fudge shop.

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You literally cannot visit the UP without taking home some fudge.

Our next stop was the park that overlooks the bridge and as we arrived most of the other cars were leaving so we were able to get some great shots of our cars (of course).

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The Mighty Mackinaw Bridge!

Brandy and Corey had finished feeding deer and the rest of the crew was starting to rouse so we decided to meet up for margaritas dinner. We ran into the Detroit Tuned crew and worked really hard to get our order in before they did. Corrine spent her time there constructing a giant margarita straw to access the pitchers on the other side of the room.

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So much talent, no wonder she has a cape!

We left there and walked down to the harbor to check out the band. I saw my friend Yvonne along the way but she’d been denied entrance because of her new puppy baby. Also, there was a cover charge. We stood around for a while but then decided to skip it. Brandy, Corey and I were rolling out at 4 am and we felt like we needed to call it a night. That plan was totally disrupted by the fireworks show that started at 10pm, but it drew out my hotel neighbor and we had a lovely chat about our cars as we enjoyed the show.

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Already ready for our next attempt in 2019!

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#MINIontheMack2017

Six am came early, friends! We met at the Quality Inn since all of the DCMM people were staying there (except for me). We lined up and rolled into the Little Bear Arena at 6:25 and even though the doors weren’t going to open until 6:30 we were only about 40 cars from the front.

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First row for the early risers!

We spent most of the morning watching the rest of the cars roll in and wandering around admiring them.

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My favorite plate

At 9:15 they announced that cars were still arriving and they were delaying the drivers meeting until 9:45.

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My friend Niki Pumphrey earned a well-deserved Best Dressed award for her MINI, which I love!

The excitement was palpable!

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Chicago club President Steve Rosenblum recreated the bridge, this year even stronger!

When it did start, it was really hard to hear and I missed where the official count would happen. I did know we had to maintain a speed of 22 MPH in the parade zone and that we had to stay in our lane on the bridge. Also, we were going to drive pretty far south and then turn around and cross the bridge again before we returned to the Little Bear Arena.

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My favorite graphics. Also, super British, no?

Corey and Brandy’s delightful offspring, Hannah wanted to ride in my car so I tasked her with a few photography challenges. Then we slowly rolled out though as soon as we turned the corner and left the arena grounds the cars in front of me suddenly took off! I learned Hannah had great balance when we careened around a couple of corners to keep up!

Traffic slowed WAY down as we approached the mighty Mackinaw Bridge. Our toll had been paid so we all proceeded through the tollbooth and slowly crossed the bridge.

 

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Honestly, driving across that metal grate on a windy day is a bit terrifying!

 

Once we arrived on the Mackinaw City side, we stayed in the left lane and drove down to Seashell City.

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Hannah got some great shots!

As we approached the exit where we were going to loop back to the north it got even more fun! The entire time we drove the fourteen miles from our turnaround back to the bridge, there were MINIs heading south. I was so grateful Hannah was taking pictures which freed me up to wave enthusiastically to the MINIs on the other side of the freeway and only involved a couple of close calls with Corinne and Devin who were ahead of me (sorry Devin and Corinne!)

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Waving to MINIs. Enthusiastically. 

We drove back across the bridge, though this time we were in the paved lane and it was a lot less scary. Then we wound our way back through town, waving wildly to the locals who had come out to watch the show.

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Still waving wildly!

We parked and went into the arena to grab some lunch and wait for the official tally.

After a hamburger as big as a human head, chips and a cookie, I went out to watch the rest of the cars arrive. Eventually, I found my friend Katie and we sat with a few other drivers in the bleachers. That’s where my friend Gary from #MTTS2016 found me to tell me they’d added a Marauder’s Map to the top of their Harry Potter MINI! I wanted to go check it out so Katie and I headed outside to admire more cars.

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This car made me so happy!

There were some real beauties!

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The force is strong with this one…

Eventually, we gathered back at the DJs tent for announcements and the final count. The event raised over $10,000 for the Van Andel Institute to research and cure Parkenson’s Disease. My friend Niki Pumphrey won an award for Best Dressed (well deserved, her Wonder Woman car is AWESOME) and then they broke the news. Our unofficial count was 1,328. We were 123 cars short of the new world record. So we all celebrated the fact that we were going back to Saint Ignace in 2019 to try again…

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One of my all time favorite cars, the Harry Potter MINI!

 

 

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Determined to Smash Records

Even though work tried really hard to ruin my plans, I was able to get creative with my flight schedules and still do my part to set a new world record! August 5, 2017 was the day I (and 1,450 of my closest friends) would attempt to break the record for most MINIs in a parade. Our last attempt was in 2015 and while we were close, we didn’t quite make it. Still, it was such a good time, I was determined to be a part of this year’s attempt. Since I’ve joined so many more MINI clubs, I was super excited to see who else was going to go!

Originally I planned to take a few days off and drive around Lake Superior after the parade. That was the first part of my plan that got axed. I found out I had to leave for San Antonio the day after the parade and then South Carolina and New Orleans. I booked a flight out of Detroit for the day after our parade.

I thought maybe I’d take some time off before the attempt instead and meet the MINI club from Indiana to caravan to Saint Ignace. Then I was tasked with presenting at a conference in Southern California. So, I booked a flight out of Milwaukee with a red eye back so I could get a head start on my drive to the Upper Peninsula.

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My #MOTM2017 route got a little out of hand…

Both of my red eye flights were upgraded to first class, thankfully. The longest leg was from San Diego to Atlanta so I took a couple of Tylenol PM and had a bloody mary and then it was good night Irene! When we landed in Atlanta I had some time to kill so I stumbled over to the Sky Club and had a bagel. When I got on the next flight I sacked out again and once again slept like a baby.

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Gloomy weather, not ideal for a 6 hour road trip after napping through a red eye. 

When I arrived in Milwaukee I noticed the sky was very overcast and the parking attendants gave me some very strange looks when I hopped in and dropped the top. I realized why they were puzzled when I got about 50 miles up the road and the deluge began. When it rains, if you go over 45 MPH the rain blows right past the windshield and you stay mostly pretty dry. That being said, when torrential downpours happen and your wipers are going at full speed, they sometimes spit water back on you. Also, the spray from passing trucks can sometimes make it over the top of the windows as well.

I got a little wet. I also knew that stopping would be worse and had to wait until the rain let up before I could even think of pulling over! At that point it didn’t seem really worth it, but I did it just in case things got worse.

Driving my car with the top up is slightly less fun and after my red-eye flight I was really struggling to stay alert. That’s when the first MINI appeared on my path! It was so exciting to see another one headed across the upper peninsula, I perked right up! Then the sun started peeking out and before too long we stopped long enough at a light I was even able to drop my top again. After a while we picked up a few more MINIs and then time seemed to fly as I zoomed across the Upper Peninsula.

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I didn’t get a chance to meet this guy, but I was super excited to follow him!

I drove to the Little Bear Arena and picked up my t-shirt and registration packet. I also checked into my cute little motel and popped into the grocery store to buy some stale donuts, cheap wine, cups and paper towels.

The DCMM crew and my friend Katie from SD were all en route so we arranged to meet up at our favorite place on the UP, Weinerlicious! I got there early and realized that the Plastidip on my tires was beginning to fail. I wanted to be sure my wheels would pop when we broke the record, so I started trying to strip the Plastidip off. Lucky for me, Corey arrived soon after I did and as my Plastidip master, he realized I had not followed all of his teachings and the Plastidip had to go. He showed me a better way to peel it off and then started working on one of the wheels.

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DCMM takes the Weinerlicious

By the time everyone else arrived, we were only done with one wheel though we’d made a good start on a second one. We went in and had a lovely dinner. I invited everyone back to my place for a Plastidip stripping party!

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Brandy performed a critical function

Katie, Corey and Brandy came over to help. Corey and I finished the wheels while Katie detailed her car. Brandy opened the wine and what turned out to be shot glasses instead of cups. We all had a few shots of the really bad and very cheap wine and then called it a night. One day until our record-setting attempt and we were meeting at 6 am to be near the front of the line!

 

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DCMM Returns to the Dice Burger

Returning to Virginia to help out my parents seemed like a great reason to meet up with my friends at the DC Metro MINI club! Since I accidentally overpaid my dues and am still a member, I posted an invite to Dice Burger on the forum and hoped a few people would show up. It was a “surprise and delight” that so many people could make it!

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Love meeting up at Dice Burger. And they love it when the MINIs show up!

When I arrived Craig, Alex, and Melissa were already there. I parked near them and had just finished hugging everyone when Rey and Hillary showed up. Craig’s new girlfriend Sierra joined us and then Haemish and Susan arrived. As we were placing our orders Ali and Mark arrived unexpectedly. We began pulling tables together and it was a good thing since Brandi and her girls arrived soon after we did.

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MINIs begin to take the parking lot at Dice Burger

So many changes in the year and a half since I moved, there was a lot to catch up on! Melissa for married and moved very far away! Haemish and Susan got married, bought a house and are having a baby! Hillary moved and Corey is about to return from Okinawa and start his final deployment somewhere in MD!

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Ali still flutters so that hasn’t changed!

Being with my old gang was very exciting as well as super productive! I’d recently found out my tie rods are frozen, which prevented anyone from doing an alignment. Alex and Rey explained what tie rods are and why they might be frozen while Brandi sent messages to Corey who explained how to fix them. I told everyone the horror story about my radio going silent for the last two hours of my 12 hour drive. Alex theorized it might be a short and they all cautioned me about after market stereos.

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The best part of seeing so many old friends is just seeing so many old friends. Thankful they could help me with all my MINI issues!

 

Melissa reminded me that the one year anniversary of MTTS2016 is fast approaching.

 

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Soon the Facebook memories will begin to reappear and not long after that we will begin to countdown until #MTTS2018

We also talked about who was going to MINI on the Mack and compared hotels to see how far apart we were (very close!)

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This year we will have a smaller crew, but those of us able to attend will totally represent! #MINIontheMack

After dinner we moved out to the parking lot because we love to look at our cars (obviously) and since I’ve been gone so many people have moved farther away and had long drives home (but fun drives because MINI).

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Our MINI meet ups always evolve into parking lot parties.

I showed everyone the damage from the hit and run My Precious sustained. Haemish suggested a paintless dent removal might be able to fix some of it. Ali took some pictures to send to a guy she knows. Hillary and I took a few more pictures before we said goodnight and headed home. Definitely adding MINI clubs in general and DC Metro MINIS in particular to today’s gratitude journal!

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Thankful to have MINI Cooper Clubs, especially DC Metro MINIs!

 

 

 

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South to My Sisters

The fog rolled in overnight so I wasn’t in a big hurry to head out. I wanted to be able to see the ocean on my drive down the PCH. When I finally left I had no idea Waze was taking me on the inland route. I had all day so I hopped off the freeway and turned around and went back to Oxnard to start over!

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Nice day for a drive!

There was still a bit of fog and it was definitely on the cooler side, but I had my coat and the Bug had heated seats so it was fine.

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There wasn’t much traffic and I made good time driving down to LA.

I took the PCH to the 10 to the 405 and finally arrived at San Juan Capistrano.

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The original mission

The mission was established on All Saint’s Day by Saint Serra in 1776.

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Museum rooms with lots of artifacts.

It is surrounded by beautiful grounds.

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No swallows

I stopped at the Starbucks across the street and picked up a box of fruit and cheese and an iced coffee and then headed south again. Just past the nuclear plant at San Onofre I stopped at the vista point for a parking lot picnic.

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Looking north you can just barely make out the nuclear plant. The marines were practicing at Camp Pendleton just south of the Vista Point so there was a constant boom from their tanks.

I got back on the 5 until I reached Oceanside so I could cruise through Carlsbad and take pictures for my sister.

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Carlsbad!

When I arrived at the hotel I learned Lisa was still packing so I dumped out my suitcase and walked across the street to Old Town.

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Old Town San Diego. So much fun!

Most of the shops were closed, but I did catch a muralist at work…

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Art!

And some traditional dance!

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These dancers were fantastic. Also, loved their traditional dresses.

I stopped into a cantina for dinner before I headed back.

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Sangria because its important to stay hydrated.

Tomorrow I find a Laundromat and meet up with my sisters!

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The City of Arts and Flowers or

When I got up and went to the lobby for breakfast, I ran into the bikers from the day before. We commiserated over how much my rental car sucked and then I headed out. My first stop was the town of Lompoc. I discovered they were widely known as “The City of Arts and Flowers” so of course I wanted to check it out!

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Well, there might be one or two things I’ve enjoyed with the Camaro….

It was a lovely drive, spoiled only by the fact that I had to stop for gas and couldn’t get the door open so I had to climb out over the top. I’m not super graceful and there wasn’t a lot of clearance between the steering wheel and the seat so all the other gas pumpers got an entertaining show. I climbed back in and drove to the downtown area to park.

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One of my favorite pieces of Lompoc #streetart

There were murals everywhere!

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Love how all of the murals had a Lompoc theme. Also, this town has a very interesting history!

I ran into another guy taking pictures with his iPhone and after the third time our paths crossed he told me there was an alley with pictures of flowers and a woman peeking around the side of the building.

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Thanks for the tip, Patrick! This was my second favorite piece!

The next time we met we introduced ourselves. Patrick was in town visiting his in-laws and liked to take pictures of the murals when he was around.

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View my Lompoc #streetart video at https://youtu.be/QWHWYE5_hRo

I wished him well and headed back to my car.

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Took a wrong turn and ended up at the same rest area as these beauties on their way home from a car show in San Luis Obispo. 

My next stop was the village of Solvang. My aunt Victoria had recommended a visit and she was right, it was adorable!

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So Dutch!

I parked the behemoth car from hell, jumped over the side (I was getting pretty good at it by now) and then strolled around the downtown area.

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Someone needs a Family Engagement Assessment!

When I found a bakery I went in to look for Princess Cakes. That’s the thing that is missing most from my life since the Swedish Bakery shut down a few months ago and I thought it would be a great treat for my sisters. Sadly, they didn’t have any cakes. I took a few pictures of the Swedish cookies for my friends back home and then bought a couple of postcards. It was nearly lunchtime so I went across the street to the Big Bopper and had a California burrito.

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On the one hand no Princess Cakes. On the other hand the weather. Plus they are still open. You win Solvang!

I leapt into my car and headed south to Oxnard. When I got arrived at my hotel, I called Sixt to ask about exchanging my car. They were not super polite and told me just to take it to the closest branch and exchange it. The closest branch according to Google Maps was on the beach in Santa Monica. In hindsight, I realize that seems like an odd location but I jumped in my car and headed out. The fastest route was inland and when I say fastest I mean less slow. As I approached LA traffic began to crawl and the temperature began to climb. At one point, I was sitting still, in the sun and it was 101. While that was a dry heat, it was still really fucking hot! I didn’t want to put the top up because that made getting out so much harder and I didn’t want to be trapped in there if anything went wrong.

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Melting…

Eventually I made it to the beach and had to stop and refill the tank. It took another twenty minutes to drive the last mile to the beach and then I realized the Sixt at that location was a desk in a hotel. I Googled it and the next location was about three miles away near Venice Beach. I kept going. Thirty minutes later I arrived at an actual Sixt location. Sadly, they didn’t have any cars. The girl working suggested I head to the airport location. “It’s only five miles,” she said.

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I kept waiting for everyone to leap out of their cars and dance so I could join in, but nothing.

Thirty minutes later I made it to the airport. When the guys working at the return car counter saw me climb out of the car, they were VERY apologetic! They hustled me over to the only bug left on the lot and told me to open the door a few times just to make sure it worked! I took the Pacific Coast Highway back to Oxnard and the ride was delightful!

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Kite surfers! Having nearly as much fun as me!

On my way to San Diego tomorrow to find my sisters!

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I Get Around

Work brought me to LA and since my sisters were gathering in San Diego next week I decided to take a few vacation days and drive up and down the California coast. I haven’t been to Hearst Castle since I was a kid so that was going to be my first destination. I rented a compact convertible from Sixt because Highway 1! My first task was to return the car I’d had for work, catch a shuttle to the airport, and then catch a shuttle to Sixt. That part went very smoothly, but when I got to Sixt there was a long wait. Then the guy that helped me conned me into a $10 a day toll fee and gave me a free “upgrade”.

The “upgrade” was the worst part. Instead of the cute little VW Beetle I actually booked, I got saddled with a brand new convertible Camaro. It was huge. I offered to wait until they had a compact convertible ready, but he insisted that would take hours. Ironically, I saw several bugs parked next to the big ass Camaro but at that point it didn’t seem worth arguing about. I headed out and immediately got stuck in traffic. It was over 80 and I sat in the topless land yacht and fumed about the 18 miles per gallon the fancy computer showed me.

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Sure it LOOKS nice. Until you want to get in or out…

To cheer myself up, I drove through Jack in the Box and picked up a couple of tacos. Then I took a short cut and ended up on the San Marcos Pass. I‘m not gonna lie, driving through the twisty mountain roads was pretty fun. I made my way to Pismo Beach to check into my hotel. That’s when things really went off the rails.

When I parked in the lot, I put the top up and tried to get out of the car. The door was stuck. I tried pushing as hard as I could. It was caught on something so it would unlatch and move about a half an inch and then give me a message that the keys were inside the car. I was screaming at it “I know they are, so am I! Let me out!” but nothing. I really had to pee and didn’t want to have to call AAA for the Jaws of Life so I wiggled over the center console to the passenger side. That door opened without any problem. I went around and tried to open the other door but still nothing. I thought maybe if I let it rest it would work later so I left to check into the hotel.

After I cleaned up, had an apple and a bottle of water I discovered that Hearst Castle had night tours with a bunch of costumed docents. I bought a ticket for the 7:30 tour thinking I’d have enough time to picnic first and headed back out. That’s when I realized I still couldn’t open the door to the car. I was tugging and tugging on it and still nothing. There was a couple of motorcycles parked next to me and a woman sitting on the back of one of them. I looked over and noticed she was watching me. “It’s a rental,” I said. “I think it’s broken.” She was very sweet and totally commiserated with me while I tugged and tugged helplessly. She told me the guy she was with had a shop that repairs big trucks and maybe he could help. We stood and talked while we waited for him to come out. When he arrived, she told him I needed help. He climbed in on the passenger side, beat on the door a couple of times and then came around to the drivers side and popped the door right open. He said there was a couple of pins holding the panel to the door and one of them was missing so the panel was getting caught and preventing it from opening. I wished them all happy rides and took off for Hearst Castle.

Halfway to San Simeon, I found a beautiful turn off with a stunning view of the coast. I pulled in and took a few pictures. Of course, when I finished the door to the car from hell was stuck again. The top was down so I just climbed in and pounded on the door from the inside  for a while. It didn’t work so I gave up and drove to the Castle. I parked away from the gate so people wouldn’t notice that I was climbing in and out without opening the damn door.

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Even these small beach creatures were like “Why is she climbing in and out?!?”

I was early for my tour so I bought a sandwich and some chips and went to the patio for a picnic.

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These birds were a little intimidating. I ate quick.

The tour began with a five-minute bus ride up the hill. The sun was setting and there was some fog rolling in so the views were very dramatic! When we arrived, our tour guide informed us we were guests of William Randolph Hearst for the evening. We were not allowed to touch anything or stray off the industrial carpet runners, but we shouldn’t be surprised to see other guests in fancy clothes lounging on the chairs or smoking in the house.

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Casa Grande at Hearst Castle. So beautiful.

We toured the Casa del Mar guesthouse first. The views of the sea were stunning and there were three elderly people in 20s costumes standing around smoking fake cigars. From the guesthouse we made our way to the big house. It was just as incredible as I’d remembered! All of the furnishings and art were original to the house (suck it Biltmore!) and there were more elderly people lounging around on the fancy furniture.

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You can just barely see the top of the little old lady playing piano. Which puzzled me since you could also just barely hear her. Still if things don’t work out at my current job, this seems like a pretty sweet gig.

The best part, other than the views, was the top floor. Hearst’s office and private quarters were magnificent!

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I’ve always said work would be better if I had some chandeliers to illuminate my work space. 

We watched a short newsreel in the theater and then went out by way of the Roman Pool. The ride down the hill was dark and instead of music from the Roaring 20s we hear Beach Boys. I guess they were trying to ease us back to the twentieth century. It was pitch black in the corner of the parking lot where I’d stashed the rental car from hell but this the door popped right open. Tomorrow may involve a side trip to LA to get a car that has doors that work consistently!

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Sunset at Hearst Castle

 

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Exploring Arctic Transportation

Lisa and I had planned to spend our final day at Chena Hot Springs, dog sledding and taking in ice art. Sadly, we overslept and since we didn’t want to risk having to drive back after dark we had to scrap that plan. Instead Lisa found Golden Heart Dog Tours and managed to secure a reservation to go dog sledding just down the road from our hotel. We had a few hours to kill so we decided to drive out to Silver Gulch for breakfast and visit the antique car museum afterwards.

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We didn’t actually ride snow mobiles to get there. but we could have…

It was a lovely drive to Silver Gulch, especially now that I’m such an experienced snow driver. We made good time and found it with no problem. The food was delicious. I had the French Quarter (poached eggs on a crusty baguette, topped with chorizo sausage, smoked gouda cheese, and a spicy creole hollandaise sauce). Lisa had a skillet. Her breakfast was good, but mine was better! Silver Gulch is also a brewery and Lisa tried their IPA. I’ve given up drinking this month (and don’t care for hoppy beers) so I can’t tell you how good that was. She seemed to enjoy it!

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Lisa’s opinion was in no way influenced by the fact that she got carded. It really was good!

When we left, we drove back into town to the Fountainhead Antique Car Museum. This was another highlight of the trip for me!

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1909 Oldsmobile and a lovely matching turn of the century traveling outfit.

The museum’s owners are divided. One of them is passionate about old cars. The other one is passionate about old dresses. The museum had some amazing examples of both!

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1911 Oakland and a sparkly gown. Another one of my favorites.

And all of the dresses were displayed near cars from that period!

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1906 Cadillac and a turn of the century coat. And that hat! #want

My favorite was the American Austin.

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1934 American Austin, my favorite car in the museum!

But I also loved the Packards and the Hupmobile.

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The Packard

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The Hupmobile.

Lisa found an area in the back for photos, including a bunch of costumes! If you know anything about me, you know I love dressing up even more than I love cars!

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I need more driving hats.

We spent a little time in the gift shop and then realized it was already time to head to the kennels for our dog sledding run.

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I am such a confident snow driver now. This was no problem. Even in a Ford!

Tucked away down a narrow, snowy road we had no problem finding Trail Breaker Kennels where we were going to meet our guide. When they came out to greet us they told us they’d had a slight problem with a big moose on the trail and were running behind. They invited us into the barn to wait. Turns out, they were way behind! The tour before us hadn’t even left yet. But they were lovely folks so we chatted with them while we waited for their ride to come back.

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When it did, they loaded up and took off. We stepped outside to watch them take off and then went back in to wait. After another thirty minutes it was our turn!

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Lisa sat in the back and I sat in the front. Our musher was Laura. She’s from Milwaukee originally but has lived in Alaska for nine years. She was in the Iditarod a couple of years ago but it is very expensive so she’s saving up to try to do it again. She hooked up the team and then called out to them and they took off! As we rode she explained a bit about each dog. We got to the halfway point and Laura stopped to take a few pictures of us.

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And the dogs.

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Then she hopped on and we headed back to the barn.

That was totally the highlight of the trip!

Lisa and I both had a red eye home that night. The trip was fantastic and since I didn’t get to see the Northern Lights this time, I’m just going to have to visit again…

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My new favorite car museum!

 

 

 

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That Time the Asian Tourists Held Us Hostage

Our evening event was an excursion way up north to view the Aurora Borealis. Lisa was growing more and more concerned about the weather. It had started coming down steadily right before sunset and hadn’t let up. I still thought there was a chance the storm wasn’t as far north as we were going or that it would blow over. Hahaha, I had no idea what I was talking about!

The driver was supposed to pick us up at 8:15 pm. I rushed Lisa down to the lobby because I hate to be late and make people wait for me. She took her sweet time but I was down there promptly at 8 pm, ready to tell the driver my sister was a slow poke and would be down whenever! That didn’t happen since Lisa got there right on time but there was no sign of our bus. We were all suited up for a sub-zero excursion and it was pretty warm in the lobby so we went out to the vestibule to wait. As time went by Lisa wandered in to the lobby to chat with the girls at the desk and ask about our destination. We were headed to Joy, Alaska (which if you ask me was named ironically and those girls had never heard of). And our route was along the Elliot Highway, which the girls had heard of but wouldn’t even drive in the springtime because it was “too dangerous”. It didn’t seem like that was going to be a problem since by 9 pm there was still no sign of our driver. We decided to go back to our room and try to watch a movie instead. So of course, as soon as we got in and took off all our winter gear, the girls from downstairs called and said our ride was there.

We put everything back on and trudged back down. The driver told us he had taken his eye off the road because he saw to Asian ladies get stuck and he was trying to see if they needed help and then he got stuck too. While I appreciated his chivalry, I was growing increasing alarmed about our odds of surviving the treacherous journey on the Elliot Highway. But Lisa had already called shotgun so I thought “whatevs” and climbed into the back of the van.

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She called shotgun, fair and square.

Lisa chatted up the driver and found out why he was late and that we were picking up another lady at a different hotel. We would drive up north and then meet up with a group of people at the Arctic Circle Trading Post. We’d hang out there for a couple of hours and then make the trip back. She tried to get more details about who we were meeting and what we would do if the snow didn’t stop but he wasn’t real clear on the details.

We stopped and picked up Sharon, a lovely meteorologist from Tallahassee. She and I struck up a convo and I learned she had a cabin in northern WI she visits every summer with her son but this was her first time to see the Nothern Lights. She also said she’d checked the weather and didn’t think we were going to see anything other than more snow. The driver said he was a former pilot and he checked the radar for pilots and there was still a chance. It was too dark to see Sharon rolling her eyes, but I felt her.

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First time ever I’m glad I’m not driving!

We drove up some pretty winding, narrow roads. I can see why those girls at the hotel were hesitant to make the trip! Nobody else was headed in the same direction, but occasionally large trucks would fly past from the other direction. When they did the driver would slow way down because as soon as they blew past there would be a huge cloud of snow that completely obscured the road. I’m still really grateful that didn’t happen on any twisties.

Finally we reached the trading post. Turns out the warm, welcoming shopping plaza I’d imagined was way off base. It was a dark cabin in the woods. And I mean really, really dark. The driver told us to stay put and jumped out to unlock the padlock on the door and go inside. Now I don’t watch any movies that don’t have happy endings, but this seemed to have thriller written all over it! While we were waiting for him to come out, the passengers from the bus parked in the lot slowly shuffled off and started surrounding our van. They were just shadows from the bus headlights and they shuffled through the snow like the walking dead.

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Cue the spooky music…

The driver emerged from the trading post with a can of gas and then opened a cupboard on the side of the building and began gassing up a generator. He pulled out a few battery operated lanterns out in the snow and then went over to some sheds on the side of the building, opened the doors and turned on some lights. Finally he came back to the van, opened the door and invited us inside…

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Lots of furs, which is the only part of the “trading post” I actually expected to see.

The inside of the trading post was two large rooms and a loft. In the second room there was a wood burning stove and a lot of couches and chairs. I stumbled over to the chair closest to the fire. The driver came in and told us we would be there until 2 am. If the snow let up we would be able to go outside and see the Northern Lights. In the meantime, they had a lot of boiling water he’d brought up in the van and some instant coffee, hot chocolate mix, and apple cider mix. He also offered us all the Cup O Noodles we wanted. He said there was no running water in the Trading Post so if we needed to use the restrooms, we could use one of the outhouses next to the building. He spent a lot of time explaining the outhouse systems required that the top stay down when not in use. At that point I’d tuned out and went back to my book.

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Look at the beautiful curtains! Turns out all of the windows were boarded up. There wasn’t a single window in the place. If the snow ever did stop we’d never know it!

There were about twenty Asian tourists from the bus who were very excited to be there. Lisa told me they’d been gone all day and had visited the Arctic Circle. They were happily chatting and slurping down ramen noodles.

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Mmmmm Cup O Noodles on a bearskin rug. Now that’s Alaska!

I got some cocoa and pulled out the book I’d brought along in case we were stuck inside. In hindsight, I’d have been better off with a much larger tome.

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I brought this book from the hotel to save our lives.

I shared the best parts with Lisa and Sharon.

“Contrary to popular belief: If you encounter a bear or other wild animal when hiking through the woods it is okay to follow your instinct to run. Just remember, it’s not the animal you have to outrun, it’s your hiking partner.”

We all eyed each other carefully…

After a while Sharon announced she was going to visit the outhouse. I didn’t want her to go alone in case there were bear or moose. I was pretty sure I could outrun her and it seemed like a better idea to go along with some bait rather than on my own.

The outhouse was the most terrifying part of the excursion so far. Sharon hopped into the first one. I went to the second one but it was still padlocked shut. I went to the next one but the door wouldn’t shut. I ended up in the last one and finally latched the door. When I lifted the lid I discovered ice chunks on seat. There were helpful illustrations to show you how to use the facilities…

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I couldn’t even if I wanted to…

And interesting art…

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Irony! The frozen picture of the polar bear!

It was incredibly difficult to manage with my floor length parka and mittens. Somehow I managed. They helpfully stocked the facilities with some frozen hand sanitizer.

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Not super useful.

I stumbled back in to entertain Lisa and Sharon with more helpful tips from my book.

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Learning all we can about wildlife…

About 12:30 we began thinking it would be nice if we could go back to our lovely hotel suite and go to bed. I went to find the driver who was busy doing busy work in the other room. I asked him if we could leave yet. He said only if the whole group agreed. He was supposed to be there until 2 am but if the whole group wanted to go we could.

He followed me back to the fire and announced to the group that we could leave early if the whole group wanted to go, otherwise we would have to stay until 2 am. He looked at the Asian tourists expectantly. Sharon, Lisa and I held our breath. All of the Asian tourists looked to the older gentleman in their group who looked over the top of his newspaper, frowned at them and then put his paper back up and continued reading. The Asian tourists then turned back to each other and started laughing and chatting again.

The driver trudged out of the room. He didn’t seem any happier than we were. It was painfully obvious the snow wasn’t going to stop (Sharon the meteorologist totally called that one!).

My book was only about 10 pages and there’s only so many times you can read corny jokes and trivia and still be entertained. So we spent the last hour glaring at the Asian tourists who were holding us hostage.

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Looks like another hour of fun when we could have been back in our rooms sleeping soundly…

Finally, the driver came back in and announced it was time to go. We all bundled back up and lined up by the door. That’s when he told us we were riding back on the bus with the Asian tourists. Apparently the other driver didn’t want to stay and hang out so he’d taken our van and left early. We weren’t sure why he didn’t ask it we wanted to leave then. The driver said “Oh you would have had to make that decision much earlier” To be honest, we were ready to make that decision as he was describing the outhouses so that wouldn’t have been a problem.

We climbed back on the bus and didn’t even feel bad about taking up a while row each and making the Asians double up! I stretched out on my bench and took the short way back. I woke occasionally to peek out the window and see the heavy snowfall and marvel that the driver was still awake. Nobody else was!

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Making good time screaming down the mountain trails in the blinding snow on the big bus. Thankfully I slept through most of it.

Of course he dropped off the Asian tourists first. After they climbed off we commiserated with Sharon for a bit before he dropped her off as well. By the time we got back to the hotel it was 4 am and we were done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Day I Drove to North Pole, Alaska

When I woke up, my sister was sacked out in the next bed, sleeping soundly. I tiptoed out to the couch to work on the blog but after a while my eyes started shutting so I stretched out and napped. By the time Lisa rolled out of bed I was ready to find some breakfast and seek out some adventure!

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Watching the sun rise at 9 am from the couch!

When we went downstairs to the hotel lobby looking for breakfast and discovered the restaurant was closed for breakfast and lunch on the weekends. We thought about taking a taxi but realized that we’d need one everywhere we wanted to go. Our tour to the Northern Lights didn’t even start until 8pm and there was a lot to see before that so I decided to rent a car to make it easier to get around. We took a taxi out to the airport and picked one up.

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Becoming a snow driver. Well, a snow driver who is always aware of the selfie opportunities.

From the airport, we went to The Oasis. Our hotel staff had recommended that we check it out and order the Cordon Blue omelets. The food was amazing but the best part was the Touch Tunes Jukebox! While Lisa told me all about her amazing experience viewing the Northern Lights the night before, I entertained the crowd with a clever mix of Scissor Sisters and Rolling Stones.

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The coffee was delicious and the omelet was amazing.

After breakfast, we headed south to North Pole, Alaska. It was a short drive and the lame tires on our rental car made it very exciting! We slipped on the ice a couple of times, mostly in the roundabouts but eventually pulled into the Santa Claus House parking lot.

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Santa!

Before we went in to do some shopping, we walked over to the Antler Academy to check on Santa’s team.

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Also at the Santa Claus House was the Antler Academy! With actual reindeer! And suddenly I felt much better about not eating the reindeer sausage at breakfast.

After that we wandered through the ice sculptures.

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Every day is a happy holiday in North Pole, Alaska

We were having a great time snapping photos there until someone walking by in an official looking uniform came by and said that they weren’t officially open so we needed to keep an eye out for heavy equipment. She said they wouldn’t see us so if we saw them we needed to get out of the way. She also told us not to touch anything since the ice sculptures were fragile.

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No ice sculptures were harmed in the making of this blog post.

We felt bad that we’d been climbing all over those things, so we turned around and headed back into the shop.

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Pausing for a picnic before we head into the shop.

Inside the shop, we picked up a few souvenirs. I got a sparkly reindeer ornament to add to my girl power tree and some peanut brittle made from beer for Bob and Angel.

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Good shopping at Santa’s House!

Our next stop was pioneer park. Someone on Lisa’s tour had told her that the park was closed but still worth seeing and you could walk through it and take some great pictures.

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Pioneer Park so charming, even in the dead of winter!

Boy howdy were they right! We saw President Warren Harding’s train car from his tour of Denali and a street comprised of original cabins from the turn of the century.

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So many photo ops…

The houses were adorable.

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Kitty had a nice house.

We found bloody snow…

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Something bad went down here, you guys…

And bird art.

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I like bird art.

We walked around the giant frozen steamboat that felt strangely out of place.

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I guess whenever I thought of steamboats I thought of bayous. It never occurred to me they would be used on the tundra.

And then headed out of the park.

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Pioneer Park was definitely a highlight!

It was starting to get dark and we had a tour booked to see the Aurora Borealis. Lisa was concerned that there was some cloud cover, so she called to confirm we were still going. It was still on, but not until 8 so we drove through the downtown area to check it out.

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Streetart in Alaska that just screams Alaska.

We popped into Fred Meyer to pick up some food to cook dinner in our fancy hotel suite. Fred Meyer is like the love child of a Wegmans and a Target. They’ve got everything you need and lots of things you want! We returned to the hotel to cook dinner and take a nap before our northern lights excursion!

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Plugging in the car because it gets chilly at night in Fairbanks in January!

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