Minis in the Alps 2008 After Action Review

Minis in the Alps

Oh, my God.

Let me start with the obvious statements.

Wow. (Repeat that about 83,000 times)

I?ve driven other (fill in the blank) ? they don?t compare.

These mountains go to 11.

Nomnomnomnom.

4 days, 5 countries, 1742 km / 1082 miles. Google Earth file is here.

Grab a beer, and get comfy — this is a long one.

I’ve jumped out of airplanes. I’ve gone swimming with sharks, both in and outside of a cage. I’ve crewed a tank, and both throw and shot grenades. I’ve held a newborn child. I’ve driven the ring. I’ve been in jail.

I’ve done some truly great things in life, and some truly stupid things.

This, though — this was truly great. This was amazing.

Police InterceptorAround the time that I bought my 2006 Mini Cooper S ?Police Interceptor? Edition, I started to realize that I was at the point of fulfilling a dream of mine ? to go see and drive the Alps. This desire probably goes back to a youth spent watching The Wide World of Sports, with Jim McKay, and seeing the skiing events they filmed here, and the short cultural / filler segments they always had about the local area where they events were being held.

The Alps.

A few months after I had my car, and after I had become active on the North American Motoring (NAM) website (which is the home to all things good for the Mini), I proposed that we make a trip. I had no idea what ?we? meant at that time, but I just threw it out there. At its peak, we had about 12 Minis interested, some just with drivers, some with whole families.

Our lonely road

Planning that trip included three things: Google Earth, Wikipedia, and Svein. I?m a visual guy, so Google Earth (GE) was a no-brainer of a choice as the planning tool. It?s geeky, it?s cross-platform, and it makes small files, which is always nice. Wikipedia is a researchers heaven. One can burrow in and never come out. When the planning started, GE did not import in and plot Wikipedia articles (it does now), so I had to flip back and forth; now, you can open GE and you?ll see icons that you can click on and Wikipedia articles will open up and display.

And Svein. He and his woman make a motorcycle trip to the Alps every couple of years, usually finding a way to stop in and see us (and get a warm bed and hot meal and a chance to catch up). How good are the Alps, in his eyes? They drive down from Norway, just to tool around on the roads there. One summer visit, Svein and I laid out the map and he just started ticking off places ? you have to go here, you have to go there, and so on.

The rough plan for 2007 had been for all to meet north of the Matterhorn on the afternoon of the first day (since folks were coming from all over ? western Germany, eastern Germany, even Italy), and then we?d drive down to a scenic overlook of the Matterhorn. Day two would be across the Swiss and Italian Alps, stopping somewhere along the way. Day three would be finishing the eastern movement, and stopping somewhere out along the Austria border, maybe near Lichtenstein. Day 4, everyone heads out their own way to dash home.

The plans, or planning, for 2007 fell apart when myself and a few other active folks had to withdraw ? I ended up spending my summer and fall in Romania, which would have been exponentially better if I?d had my car with me.

And so began the plans for 2008.

Me and Poppa Bear

Factors in our planning. It had to be early in the summer; I knew we?d be moving, and I?d need to ship the car, etc. (it shipped today.) The 1-4 May dates already had a star next to them on the calendar at the house ? no school for the kids. At least the three of us would be free to go, with or without anyone else.

I had decided, one way or another, we were going to do this before I left Europe. The kids and I, and the wife if she wanted, were going to go drive the Alps. Period.
zoom, zoom, ZOOM!

Numbers were an issue. If it was going to be 30 people, it?d be a big deal and hotels, etc. would be a bigger problem. But from the get go, this year, it looked like we?d have just a couple of Minis. Small groups can be very flexible, which is good for planning.

Weather. The dates were pretty much set, but the weather would be an issue. Light winter? Heavy winter? It turned out to be a light winter, so we planned, um, aggressively. We were going to accept risk and head to all of the places that really, really screamed to be seen, to include tiny off the beaten path roads and places.

Oh, and the kids were a factor. Mine were going, for sure. So, right off the bat, drives could only be so many hours without a break. Could not start too early, or drive too late. Could not consume too much beer, no matter how good it was. No strip clubs, or drag strips (though we ended up looking longingly at every Swiss air strip that we saw!). Eating could not be sacrificed for a few more glorious miles.

Covered bridgeAnd so, a plan was formed.

Pretty early on, Poppa Bear committed to going. That’s his red Mini you see in all of these photos (her name is Maggie). He?d be starting in the Netherlands, so he?d have a longer drive the first day. Day one would be to drive into Switzerland but not to really tangle with the Alps themselves too much. Day two would be across the southern side of the Alps, through Italy and into Austria. Day three would be the drive back to the base of the Black Forrest via Lichtenstein, and Day four would be a drive, south to north, all the way through the Black Forrest before parting ways and heading home.

It sounded good.

In the end, it was going to be me and my full posse, and Poppa Bear and his full crew ? 8 people, two Minis, 4 days, 5 countries. Netherlands, through Germany, across Switzerland, through Italy, into Austria, up to and through Lichtenstein, back over to Germany, and then a drive across the length of the Black Forrest.

We didn?t even bother trying to figure out the miles.

We generally just described the plan as being glorious.

Last minute plans included Maggie getting some new times, and Tess (my car) having the tint removed from the driver?s and front passenger?s windows, and replacing the cracked windshield. Kicked the tires, checked the oil and tire pressure, and called it set.

Wednesday 30 April was Day 0. Not an official day for the Minis in the Alps 2008 trip. Prep day. Poppa Bear took the opportunity to get some fuel coupons and check the car (it?s Queen?s Day in the Netherlands), before he and his peeps hopped in their car and drove to our house. They got in around dinner time, and stayed at a local hotel that turned out to be a real treat ? a full apartment at a fair price. We all walked up to the local ex-brewery for dinner, and made friends.

Lots of bendy roadsPoppa Bear and his family are our not-so-evil-doppelganger. I realized this early in dinner when Kristin said, almost under her breath, ?Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!? and she was greeted by looks of amazement by the Bear cubs. It was downhill from there. Zavi and red talked Portal, and K and Blue talked…. well, I have no idea, but they got along famously all trip. We share the same culture, the same jokes. It?s frightening. Momma Bear brought her knitting on the trip, as did Kristin.

After dinner, we all headed back to our house for a beer / coffee, and more small talk. We actually had other houseguests, too ? they?d just finished a big swing through Munich, Salzburg, the castles of Ludwig, and the Black Forrest, and they were prepping to leave Thursday morning, too. Kids were in bed a little late, as were we, but it was a good evening.

Family Photo

Day 1 started great. We got up, had a nice breakfast, saw our house guests off, and packed up the last goodies. K and Madison went off to the vet for one last check (he?d been having a lot of appointments, for the move to Hawaii) and at 0900 the Bear Clan came to our house. Loaded up, we fueled up at the local Esso, and then headed on post to go to the Commissary for some lickies and chewies ? snacks.

The drive south through Germany was great. From where we live, it?s only about 20 miles to the north end of the Black Forrest, so it was always on our left as we headed south. The plains there are nice and flat, the roads in good conditions, and with it being a holiday (May Day), the traffic was very light. We made good speed, as the roads were dry and the sun was out.

In our car, we settled into the audio (unabridged) book, Eragon, while the Bear Clan was getting started on the last installment of Harry Potter (which, at something like 20+ CD?s, was probably unabridged as well). Audiobooks ? the Opium of the Youth.

Geeky Side Note: I had loaded the next two Potter books (4 & 5) into iTunes and onto my iPod a few days beforehand. The books weren?t in MP# format, but in actual audiobook format. Oddly, that format won?t play in the car. Not sure why, either. First time I?d loaded audiobook format stuff onto my little 2GB iPod ? might just be too old of an iPod, or it might just be ?a feature? of either the iPod or the DICE system I have installed in my car, that drives the iPod.

Other Geeky Side Note: Poppa bear has a TomTom GPS in his car, and I have the OEM BMW / Mini one. Mine lets me input the destination, and select a few variable ? do / do not take the autobahn, etc. It?ll get you to one place. The TomTom, or Tom as we called him (even if Tom does speak with a, um, effeminate voice), could handle the full route, with all of the way points and side trips and everything. So, Tom led the way ? which was good and which was bad. More on Tom later. Also, Poppa Bear and I both had Garmin Forerunner 305?s recording the trip ? yes, there?s new Google earth files for MITA 2008, to show the details of what we actually did and how. Geeky telemetry and statistics, yahoo!

Last Geeky Side Note, I Swear: Poppa bear also brought a set of 4 GSM hand held radios for use during the trip. They worked well . We had one in our car, and I think all of the others were in use in his car. There was much joking during the drive, but the radios also allowed us to coordinate for when to stop for fuel, when to vote Tom off of the island, etc.

So, where was I? Oh, yes. Drugs. So, we headed south, and Tom took us right to the last Esso before crossing over into Switzerland. Us military folk, we get fuel rations, meaning we only pay $4 or $5 a gallon, instead of the $8 or $10 a gallon the locals are paying. But off post, that means Esso. So, finding one last Esso before crossing into Switzerland means one last tank of cheap gas before it starts to get very, very expensive.

And then we were off.

Coming down off of the hillSwitzerland looks no different than Germany, if one were to actually drive 120 km/h in Germany. The Swiss have a national speed limit ? ugh. But, being disciplined soldiers, we obeyed. Somewhere along the way, Gummi bears were consumed, of course, because such things must be done on road trips in the Mini. It?s a rule or something.

One of the highlights of Wednesday was going to be a visit to the Swiss village of one of our friends. She had been so excited to hear the details of our route, and lavished me with ideas and travel information for her area. She did not fail us, not in the least.

We came out of a tunnel (a love the Swiss tunnels) and to her little village (map here, Flickr tagged photos here). Very nice, very pretty, with a church with a giant steeple. She had told me that we needed to drive up this one road, high up the side of the mountain ? the view is spectacular, she said.

So, we did.

Now, keep in mind ? we are a convoy of two Minis. Maggie is red with white, and Tess is all black. Maggie has Dutch tags, and mine are German. We stick out somewhat. She sent us up this tiny little road, probably used only by folks who live on the road or by locals who want to get up higher for a hike. Tom the GPS was giving directions, Poppa Bear was driving his red and white Mini with Dutch license plates, and I was driving my blackened out Mini with German tags (and American flag magnet on the grille), and we were heading up this single lane road, high into the mountains above this village, knowing full where that there?s no tourist attraction at the top, not statue or soda fountain or kabuki club to visit. It was a road up a Swiss mountain.

The view was, of course, amazing. Wow. How could it not be? Hikers and folks out for a walk seemed entertained by our mere presence, as we slowly made our way higher and higher up this hill. For the most part, the road was in good shape, with only a few unpaved spots. And then we had to stop. We?d gone up about 3000 feet, to about 4500 feet in elevation. We?d gone above the snow line and we?d come upon a stretch of road covered in snow. Sure, if we were driving big SUV?s, it wouldn?t have posed a problem, but out little Minis, well, they?d met their match. We had a good laugh about it ? Tom still wanted us to go another 1.5 km up the hill, to get to the top. And yes, snowballs were thrown as the cars were turned around. Driving all the way back down, we seemed as out of place as before, and our presence on this side road remained as comical as ever.

This is called a shit-eating-grin

We stopped for lunch at a hotel restaurant in the village. With all of the snacks we had bought that morning and started in on, we weren?t that hungry. Good food, though. Red and Blue, the Bear kids, ordered some French fries, which was served by the kilogram, I think. They each ended up with heaping bowls of fries, and had that look of mixed feelings that you see on the faces of the kids in Willie Wonka?s chocolate factory ? I see before an endless supply of what I love, just as I have always dreamed, but ugh, there?s no way I could eat all of this.

After lunch, we headed off across what we called our neighbor?s valley. She had told us to stay to the west side of the lakes, if we could. If we could. Interesting idea, that one. There were two places where she had told us might might have to drive the acrs through the river, as when the river levels are up, the water rushes over the roads (no bridges). Having just faced unpassable snow banks high up on a Swiss mountain top, our Minis might have to ford a river?

Oh, this was just too good.

Yeah, um, no.

Fording: You're doing it wrong

The river levels weren?t so high. The side trip got cool points for the unknown possibility of river crossing. We actually figured out that if the water was too high, we?d just pick up the cars and throw then across. Sherlock Holmes StatueFrom there on in, the drive was pretty uneventful. No mountain passes, no real big Alps to deal with. Not on day 1.

We had originally planned to go to the town of Meiringen, and spend the night there, because it?s where the Reichenbach Falls are. Where Sherlock Holmes was killed off by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when he grew tired of writing Sherlock Holmes books. But we didn?t stay in the town. I found an awesome little place up on the side of the mountain overlooking Meiringen and looking right across at the falls.

Photo shoot

Which leads us to a Tom story.

So, were arrived in Meiringen, and Tom was programmed to then take us to the hotel. When we got into town, he had us make a left hand turn and head to the cliff wall. And then to turn onto a hiking trail.

I kid you not.

There were hikers coming off of the trail as we were going onto it, and they were looking at us as if we were clown cars ? surely they?re not going to try and go up that, are they? Damn Skippy we are! And we did. Not sure why, either. The road was tiny, but they again, the Mini is tiny, too. There were no other cars on the road, obviously ? just hikers ? so it?s not like we had to figure out passing or anything. We did joke about running into more snow, and about having to back down the cliff, since there was no place to turn around. And we did curse Tom. To be honest, it just reminded me of some of the roads I?ve driven in the Black Forrest. Someone, sometime, put them into some database as being a road, and the GPS folks snatched that up and taught it to their systems. We billy-goated up the road just fine, but it was odd. And the view off of the side of the cliff right next to the car? Wow. Just don?t look down.

The hotel was awesome. It?s the kind of place you could go to for a week. And, being on the side of the cliff, it had a great view. In selecting hotels, I had looked for places where it seemed a real possibility that a cow with a giant cowbell could walk right up to our bedroom window in the morning. No actual cows there, but the place was spot on. Our two-bedroom place slept four, and had a full kitchen ? and by full, I mean fridge and oven, too. The Poppa Bear Clan had a similar place right above us, just with one bedroom on the entry level, and a loft above that could sleep six.

Out in front of the hotel

We dropped our stuff and headed back down ? telling Tom to find another way. Seriously, he wanted us to go back down the side of the cliff. We got to the base of the falls just at 1800 ? when the cogwheel train to the falls was calling it a day. The folks working there, though, told us we could make the 90 minute hike up or, and told us how to drive around and up to the top of the falls, which we did.

It was a short walk to the falls ? they were pretty cool. The wives and 3 of the 4 kids thought it?d be a great idea to hike down to the base, where we?d been. Me and Red and Poppa Bear drove down to the base to wait.

Two hours later?.

The path they had been on went to the top of the train. There was no clear path down from there, at least not a marked one. So, the moms and the kids hiked back up to the top, and then started the walk around and down, the way we had driven. When we found them, they had made it a long ways down ? and the kids (especially mine) were smoked, just tired.

We stopped at a pizza place in town, had some great food, ignored Tom for the drive home and took the long way around, and crashed back at the hotel.

It was a long day.

For Day 2, we slept in until 0730 or so. I was up early, starting to write this, and I snuck outside to take some photos. We all took lots of photos on this trip. Gobs and gobs. Breakfast was ham and cheese and juice and coffee and hot chocolate and fresh bread with jams and Nutella, of course. A great way to start the day.

The view from breakfast

And then we were off.

First stop ? Meiringen. Well, through Meiringen. That?s when the plan started to change.

Day 2 was ?Big Driving Day? ? across Switzerland, through northern Italy, and into Austria, all of it involving some pretty serious mountain passes. Almost all of which we learned that morning seemed to be closed, due to snow. Ugh. Tom, though, did understand when we told him which ones were open, so we backtracked some and came up with a new plan. ?Pass Closed? though was something we heard many times that day. So instead of being mountain pass day, it became tunnel day. Not as cool, but it was OK. More tunnels that we wanted, but what can you do?

Closed Passes

And mid morning we fueled up. Wow. Yeah, it was about $100 to fill my tank, when I had about a quarter of a talk left. And yes, that was for mid grade fuel, not racing fuel.

As we made our way into the Alps, the driving / views was stunning. The mountains are sharp and crisp and amazingly high and steep. Our weather was great, with blue skies and puffy clouds and lots of sunshine. And we went up and down through the mountains, the temperatures ranged from 75 to 37.

Up and over

Lunch's playgroundOur first lunch stop of the day was at the ruins of an old castle. We?d decided that it was about time to stop and stretch the legs some, so Poppa Bear asked Tom for a tourist attraction in the area, and this was what he came up with. He did OK. The ruins of Castello di Mesocco were mid way up a valley that was narrow and steep. I think it was probably the first real hard climb to get up and over ? lots of switchbacks on the way up. The rest of the driving was highlighted by amazing scenery, some tunnels, some more closed passes and detours via Tom, and some amazing, snow-covered passes. PerfectKristin and I had a good laugh when, in the middle of a series of tight switchbacks, we literally saw a mountain goat standing on the side of the road. It seemed so appropriate. I?ll let the photos speaks for themselves ? it was just amazing driving.

Oh, and before I forget. Egads, the driving. What an upper body workout. This same weekend, Minis are gathering in the US for a weekend on a small stretch of road called The Dragon. It?s something like 11 miles long and boasts a whopping 300 turns or something. On 02 May, we drove over 350 miles. We passed over 5 peaks at or over 7000 feet in elevation, and we crossed valley floors that were under 1000 feet in elevation. And by my quick count, there were 148,922,513 turns along the way. OK, I made that last one up. But it sure felt like it. I should have Incredible Hulk arms, just not green.

Lunch with Tess Turbo

The smile won't go away

Maggie on the run

So many choices....

Minis on the Bernina Pass

It's that grin again....

As the sun was getting ready to set, we learned that the Stevlo pass was closed, and we plotted a course back into Switzerland to get us to the hotel. Tom the GPS has one good laugh when he convinced Poppa Bear that taking farm trails would be funner / faster than staying on the fast, two lane hard ball road. Gee, thanks Tom. That?s funny at 11 in the morning, not at 2000. The kids were smoked, Katja sleeping for the last hour of the drive or so.

Wonder Twins' Power, Activate!

Me and my best girl
Crazy tunnelOur hotel was great. We called when we got to the village, and they literally came and met us and guided us to the hotel (small town, not GPS friendly). Nice rooms, comfy beds, and we were all ready to go right to sleep, dinner be damned. We were all exhausted ? Zavi had announced that it would be OK if we did less Alps the next day. Which we did.

Saturday, we got up and packed and headed to the main hotel. The food was fantastic. Classic German breakfast ? from cereals, to meats and cheeses, to bread with nutella. We had a small side room to ourselves, where we were all chatty and happy and soon with full bellies, too.

Just a typical passAs we paid the bill, we asked for the statuses of the mountain passes. We were still just an hour or so away from Stelvio, which had been closed on Friday, and figured we could sneak in a run up the pass if it were open. It wasn?t. In fact, none had re-opened. And as we learned later, two that we considered using for our escape out of Austria were both closed. It turns out that early May is just too early to really see and drive the mountain passes here.

We had passed an Esso station a little bit back, just before coming into town on Friday night, so we backtracked to it and fueled up. Ugh. A full tank of gas was again expensive as hell ? I haven?t done the math yet, but it was probably $100 or more to fill the tank with 40 liters or so.

But once tanked up, we were off. It took only the first exit before we were off on side roads. From Austria, we dipped on over back into Italy and Switzerland, down this crazy side road that was littered with fantastic switchbacks. We started off behind a slow Swiss driver, but Poppa Bear blasted past them, his cry of Supercharged! echoing through the canyon as he sped off. I slipped past after the next switchback, but there was no catching PB. After two solid days of driving some hard roads, he was in top form and a man possessed by the Alps. I considered letting loose some drifting, but the look on Kristin?s face had me reconsider my consideration.

House and hills, the staple of our trip

Side road, LichtensteinWe stayed on the side roads and headed for the panoramicstrasse, planning to take it up and over the pass and to Lichtenstein. The Panoramic Street ? it sounded like it had a lot of potential, which it sure did for the small bit we drove on it. Until we realized that Tom has us on the wrong road. We headed back, found the right one, and made it no less than a half mile before we came across the sign that the pass was closed. Double drat. So, we tracked back and got on the main road and took the quick route for the day. Less curves, but Saturday will do down on the books as The Beautiful Day. The weather was fantastic ? warm and sunny, and we were on nice cruising roads through some beautiful countryside.

Before leaving in the morning, we had hit the grocery store right around the corner from the hotel, and planned to stop for lunch in Lichtenstein because, well, it was there.

Lichtenstein. About the size of the Dragon. In other words, pretty damn small. It?s really just a valley surrounded by mountains. Katja in a meadowAnd green ? wow, the whole country was green and alive with color. Awesome. We stopped at the bus stop and had a great picnic lunch, joking about the May bugs in the trees (where were they last week?) and soaking up the sun. After eating, we walked into Vaduz, the capital, and had some ice cream and saw the sights. We did not go up to the royal castle, though it did look impressive on the hillside ? this was Minis in the Alps (see the orientation video), not Minis at the Castles, after all.

Two of the better sights we saw of the day were the pink Cadillac with Jersey tags (I wanted to ask the guy what exit he was from), and a Mini. We saw lots of Minis on the trip, waving to all of them because Poppa Bear and I are both steeped in the Mini culture, which includes waving to all other Mini drivers. But out on the road, we were behind the one Mini that was debadged (I did not say on the back what kind of Mini it was), but it had a scoop like a Cooper S and it was running monster exhaust. It was probably an R56, a 2007 or 2008, and it was very nice looking.

Looking back, Thursday was sort of the Sampler Day, with some good autobahns, some classic Swiss countryside, and the run up the one mountain on that Billy Goat trail. Friday was all about the Alps, about snow capped peaks. Saturday, though, was probably some of the prettiest driving of the entire trip and it was all about the valleys. Though there were probably some prettier places through which we passed (Bernina Pass comes to mind), Saturday just seemed to have the nicest views.

So, we made a stop in Lichtenstein for lunch, and later we made a detour to drive through downtown Luzern, just to see it. Very nice. Flying in tight formation, our cars drew some smiles. But being in the city just felt wrong, and I felt much better once we got out of the city and back to the open roads and pretty country side.

The geek note of the day was about my iPod rig in the car. I had a stock radio in my Mini, but I added a DICE system so that I could attach the iPod. The iPod becomes just another selection to toggle through ? AM, FM, CD, auxiliary port, and iPod. Only, when the car is off, or you?re on another one of the selections, the iPod keeps playing. That might be OK when you?re listening to music, but I left the iPod in the car over night and in the morning, we were onto a whole other audiobook. That threw me for a loop. I have no idea why did doesn?t stop when you deselect the iPod, or when you even turn the car off. But the DICE just lost some serious cool points with me.

The bridge

Katja at the RitterfestAnyway, back to the driving. When we were almost to our hotel, we had to cross the border back into Germany. By this point, we?d probably crossed the various borders not les than 12 times, all the while just smiling, waving, and shouting ?We?re American!? and driving right on by. No. Not the Germans. I had to actually get out, go to the back on the car, and show them to the German border guards at this border crossing point over a small river between Germany and Austria. How ironic ? delayed in getting back into the country in which we actually live.

Our hotel was OK. Two top floor apartments, each with a double bed and then make shift beds for the kids. Best news, though, was that there was a ritterfest ? knights? festival ? in town that night, down next to the castle. The Ritter KingIn an instant, we had dinner plans. The cars were fueled, the bags were moved into the rooms, and we were off. After so much driving, it was good to have a nice walking experience, unlike the attempted walk down the mountainside on Thursday evening. It was a nice stroll through a very pretty city.

I loved the covered bridge downtown, that stretched across the river to Austria. Just beautiful.

Now, about the fest, or Gaulfest 2008 as I call it (since we?re almost done with season 2 of ROME). K and the kids have been going to a local ritterfest near our house for the past few years, but I have not. I saw lots of folks who probably played Dungeons and Dragons a lot in their youth. Folks who are probably Wil Weaton fans. Lots of speed metal and death metal rock shirts, too. Some outrageous outfits, and some people who were really into it. And a lot of booze.
Me and Z and the Bear Clan headed over to get meat ? bratwurst and other wursts, and what looked to be pork on a stick. Does it get any better than that? Beer came in stonewear stein, of course. We were there until around 2130, and had the kids back to the hotel and tucked into bed by about 2200. We all slept well that night.

Ritterfest High Fashion!

Glass blower

So, how do you try and top four three days in Switzerland, Italy, Austria, and Lichtenstein? That’s easy — drive the length, south to north, of the Black Forrest.

That was our 4th day, the “going home now” day. It was anything but an easy day.

We woke at a decent hour, had a fantastic breakfast (the proprietor really went all out with breakfast), and even scored some rolls to go from them, at a very fair price (especially cool, since it was Sunday and most everything is closed on Sunday). We stopped and got some meat and cheeses, having topped off our tanks at Esso the night before, and we were off for the drive north.

And right away, it was a worrisome drive.

Tom decided that, to same 14 feet of distance, to have us not drive on the road — oh, no, that would be too easy! — but to cut through the parking lot of an apartment.

Tom — king of the most direct path. Like taking tractor paths when the actual road is a little bit longer. Fun, interesting, even risky and daring, but, um, yeah. Thanks Tom.

Poppa Bear had told him, No more unpaved roads! Yeah, that lasted about 6 minutes before we were knee deep into dirt roads. News flash, Poppa Bear — I do not think that setting on the GPS means what you think it means.

But, for the most part, it was fine — early on. After an hour or so, though, Tom wanted us to scoot up this valley and up over a ridge. His route was an obviously bad choice — we could see it was dirt, almost from the get go. My GPS at least suggested that the other route, right next to it, would go the same way and might be paved longer if not all of the way.

Not so paved, after all

Uh, yeah — no. Unpaved after a bit, and then…..

Wait for it….

We ran into snow. It was something right out of a bad Movie. We snaked our way up this steep mountain, on a dirt road (and passing a hiker out in the middle of nowhere), only to have to stop a half KM from the top and the main road.

Don’t believe me? There’s a video.

Right then and there, TomTom the GPS was fired.

I fired up mine, told it to take me to Titisee, and the first thing it asked was, What the hell are we doing way up here? Turn around and go back down whatever you came up. Quickly, we were back on regular roads with a normal amount of motorcycles (a good sign).

We stopped at Titisee for lunch. It’s an awesome little community around a beautiful but small lake. The weather was just perfect, and we stopped for a picnic lunch. Good food, good friends, good weather.

Katja the Red

Katja the Red was still armed from her Ritterfest the night before. Such a cutie.

Driving the Black Forest is very different than the Alps. No giant mountains. I’d say no snow, but, well, we found some. Good roads. Smooth turns. Easy driving. Also lots of traffic, because it was an awesome Sunday and all of the Sunday drivers were out. But it was different driving.

After lunch, we made only one other stop — at the Rodelbahn. We stopped only long enough to take one ride, but it was great fun — fun to do, and fun to share with the Poppa Bear clan.

I suppose that I could or should write more about the drive North, but for me, writing about driving in the Black Forest is like writing about dinner at your favorite restaurant, the one you eat at each week without fail.

As we headed north, and eventually to our home and the end of the trip, I still had the perpetual grin. It would not go away. Every day was super, and every day was different.

I can’t imagine leaving Europe and not having done this. This trip was that awesome.

Would I do things differently? Yes.

  • I’d take a week to do it.
  • I’d make the trip over the 4th of July weekend, when more passes would be open.
  • I’d drag out more Minis.

No complaints, though. The trip rocked. First the Nurburgring, now this, and next is Egypt. It’s a good year for us.

Song: Slow Ride, by Foghat. Should have been something by DJ ?tzi, though.

Rally Cry: ?Turbocharged!?

Key phrase: ?Tom?..?

Word said most often: “Wow.” Proper response to said word: “Uh, yeah.”

12 thoughts on “Minis in the Alps 2008 After Action Review

  1. Do you remember visiting Yellowstone the summer you were nine? You went across the Beartooth Highway in Montana and Wyoming, US 212 if I remember correctly. It’s not the Alps, I’m sure, but it has similar heights and similar issues with opening the passes when spring arrives.

  2. Just fantastic! Thanks for the lengthy explanation. It was kind of like being there, except I didn’t have to buy the gas. Opa

  3. Oh, yes – I remember the Yellowstone trip. In fact, a few weeks ago, when it looked like I was going to Seattle insteaf of Hawaii, I planned the drive there from Atlanta — right back through those same areas!

  4. I have been over parts of the route you so wonderfully described, I can’t wait to go back. You’ll enjoy Egypt, it is a land of contrasts. I spent 33 days there training with the Egyptian army in 1989. I saw mostly sand, but did play tourist for half a day in Cairo. Be sure to do a camel ride at the Pyramid?s, but watch out for spitting camels (and the quick hands of the kid pickpockets).

  5. We’re all looking forward to Egypt. For me, it makes the 2008 Trifecta — driving the ring, driving the Alps, visiting Egypt. Not a bad year…..

  6. Fabulous trip. Did you eat your vegetables? I don’t think gummi-bears count. It should be marshmallow peanuts, candy corn and jelly beans.

  7. Oh, yes. We had four bags with us from the start — one for every day. The kids were very good about them, too, reminding me that we needed to do our part!

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