Archive for the “Poppa” Category

How do you give yourself whiplash in one easy step?  Why, you simply step on the “clutch” of the loaner 2013 MINI Cooper S Step-tronic AUTOMATIC whilst driving at 35mph!!  Seriously that simple.

The rest of the story is that Kelly and Nyssa had Maggie out on a shopping run on a Friday afternoon when a red warning indicator came on the dash.  According to the MINI manual, it was an ABS/DTC failure and we were to contact our MINI Dealership as “your journey is over.”!!!  Wonderful quote.  MINI road-side assistance worked very well and the tow truck was right on time.  Only problem was I’d taken the tow hook out of Maggie (for whatever reason) and had to drive her up onto the truck myself.  Once we got to the dealership, it was too late for them to look into it, so they gave me a loaner for the weekend.  An automatic!!

The following Sunday, whilst drive about and pulling away from a stop light, I “shifted” the paddles and hit the “clutch” for second gear!!  Scared me at the time and didn’t start hurting until Monday night.  Neck was completely locked up all day Tuesday and part of Wednesday.  By Thursday night, started feeling better.  Up to the point where I pinched a nerve in my shoulder!!  Wasn’t ’til Saturday that everything was back to “normal”.

So, what did I learn from this?  The Footwell Body Control Modual of a 2010 JCW just doesn’t just fail and BMW was happy to split the costs.  Jolly decent of them.  Also, there is no clutch on a Step-tronic!!  And I won’t make that mistake ever again.


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Whilst driving me to Womack for yet another kidney stone, Kelly “allegedly” ran two red lights.  Though we stopped at both intersections (one being on Bragg) and made sure there were no cars coming, we proceeded through.  Thus, my diligently law-abiding, upstanding citizen put these on her trust in the fact that if a police officer had pulled us over, he would have then led the parade to the hospital after just one look at me.

Just two years ago, I drove myself to Womack but this bout, unlike its three predecessors, gave me no warning and just staggered me with its “Hello!”  So, instead of a quick ride to Parkton and then church, Kelly and I spent about 7 1/2 hours waiting this thing out.  During that time, Kelly just about read her latest book and I pretty much slept from all the durgs I needed for the pain.  I took four liters of Lactated Ringer’s solution (and only threw up twice), but surprisingly, I have yet to return these contributions.  Of course, the doctor told me to drink more often whilst riding my bike; I always take my Camelbak and then just about plough through a gallon of decaf Sweet Tea post-ride.  Hmmm…

Regardless, 68 days after my last trip to Womack was too soon, by far, for a return.  FWIW, this is now my new level 10 in pain on the 1 to 10 scale the docs ask you to compare to.  This hurt so bad I was fighting back the tears, not gonna lie.  But to hear the woman a couple of beds over screaming and crying about getting a simple shot in the arm made me feel that I wasn’t quite the wuss I thought I was when I left the house this morning.  And who takes their healthy toddler to the ER to visit?!?  A germ factory visiting the replenishment farm?!?  ‘Merica is in trouble if this is our future.

In any case, I’m have and well.  I felt so sick having not eaten anything since dinner last night, I settled for a McD’s strawberry shake and some bread, just to be sure I don’t violently reject this offering.  The yards NEED to be cut but that’ll just wait until tomorrow because I am now D-U-N.  Like a turkey dinner at Christmas, stick a fork in me.


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As some of you may know, I had an appendectomy last week and I’ve recovered enough to share the rest of the story.  In hindsight, there were indicators this was coming, however, as with all good stories, you don’t know what you’re getting into until after it’s started! Read the rest of this entry »

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Yup, as soon as it was announced, I bought the Bentley PublishersMINI Cooper Service Manual and it was delivered yesterday!!  I was so excited to read this that I didn’t take time to post as I was reading all the letters off the page!!  This massive tome is the only non-BMW published source of MINI knowledge, as neither Chilton’s nor Haynes has anything for the MINI.  Though it doesn’t cost as much as the BMW Service Manual, it wasn’t cheap but is excellent value for the price as this is a Service Manual vice Repair Manual.  The difference is that a repair manual takes you through typical, common automotive repairs, whereas a Service Manual pretty much shows you how to completely disassemble a car.  This lists all of the torque values as well as the special tools required for those finicky jobs, like compressing the pistons into the calipers for changing the brakes.  So, now I need to decide whether it is more cost effective for me to get the MINI Extended Maintenance Plan or do all of it myself.  Decisions, decisions.


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Going and dancing with Matt is exactly like loving my MINI simply because each is truly unique in it’s class and character.  There was quite the eclectic crowd that turned out tonight for the meeting, which is not unlike any MINI motoring meet I’ve been to.  The commonality between Dancing with Matt and MINI owners are the desire to express your own personality and character.  Having seen some of Matt’s interviews over on the ‘tube and impressed with his 08 video, Matt was just as approachable and down to Earth as I had expected.  So, not only did I dance with Matt, I got the t-shirt >AND< a photo of Matt with me in it!!

Cheers!!See, here's the t-shirt with Matt Himself!!

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Did you have an exciting summer?  Mine wasn’t too bad.  Just moving back to the States.  And retiring from the Army.  Oh, and all of this: visited family in Tennessee, visited family in Texas, got Matt into college, picked up Maggie, and did a bunch of Home Improvement Projects.  This’ll be a long post as the fun just keeps going. Read the rest of this entry »

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MINIs In The Alps 2008

How to slay a Dragon

According to it’s website, the Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap, with 318 curves in 11 miles, is America’s number one motorcycle and sports car road. In a few short years, the Dragon has quickly become a sacrosanct driving experience and opportunity for all MINI drivers.

Ha!! That’s only because ya’ll haven’t been to the Alps!!

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel with a fellow MINI-ac almost 1500 miles over a four day weekend to drive the mountain roads of the Swiss and Italian Alps and this is our story.


Like most Charter Members of MC2 Magazine, I am a MINI-ac who absolutely loves the whole MINI experience. I was a member of the Northamericanmotoring.com (NAM) forums almost a year before I actually picked up Maggie, my 2006 CR/W MCS. Twenty-three months later and she has over 48,800 miles on her!! Also, as I’m living in the Netherlands at the behest of the US Military, I have the opportunity of driving on some of the best country roads there are. Using the Europe section of the NAM forums, other MINI-acs are constantly coordinating meets and runs throughout the region. It was on Europe NAM where my friend Art (abuzavi on NAM) came up with the idea to explore the Alps. This was to be his Final Grand Tour of Europe. With that, MINIs In The Alps 2008, MITA08, was born!


The planning for this trip covered two and a half months of research, extensively referring to Wikipedia articles and Google Earth maps, and was focused not on the destinations but truly the journey itself. We would exchange ideas over the NAM forum, modify a base Google Earth file and worked to massage our plans into a route. For example, I had traveled into Switzerland before and knew that there were trains which you drive your car onto and ride through the mountains. Not quite the driving experience I was looking for. Also, I learned a lot about the differences between route planning with Google Earth, TomTom and Garmin routing. I was able to take the route from Google Earth and get that into TomTom but not as well as I’d thought. I would not find this out until later in the journey. During this planning phase, the only good thing going for us was that only two MINIs and two families (Art with his wife, Kristin, and kids: Zavi and Katja; my wife, Kelly, and our kids: Matthew and Nyssa) were making the trip. Therefore, finding accommodations would be easier. The flip side is that, as we were traveling out of the typical tourist seasons, the availability of accommodations was limited. Fortunately, Kristin speaks fluent German and was able to finalize the coordinations for lodging. Another planning consideration was the timing of the trip. Art was moving back to the US after twelve years in Germany and was shipping Tess, his 2006 AB/B MCS, in May 2006. Also, there was a long holiday weekend during 1 – 4 May that would give us time to cover six countries: Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein.


The final plan had us departing from Heidelberg, Germany on Thursday morning to travel down to Switzerland. Friday had us traveling across the southern faces of the Swiss and Italian Alps, ending in Austria. Saturday would take us through western Austria, across Liechtenstein, through Luzern and back into Germany. Finally, on Sunday we would drive north through the Swartzwald (Black Forest) back to Heidelberg. Art would leave us there for home and we would press on to the Netherlands. Truly an epic journey was planned. As my family and I would be traveling from the Netherlands, we left on Wednesday afternoon and met up with Art’s family in Heidelberg for dinner and final coordination. And, with that, we were off and running!!

Day One, Thursday.

This day’s adventure had us traveling from Heidelberg down to Meiringen, Switzerland. Once there, we would visit the Reichenbach Falls, where Professor Moriarity, the arch nemesis of the fictional character Sherlock Holmes, was killed off. But remember, this adventure is about the journey, not the destinations. With that in mind, we planned for a couple of detours, just for the driving experience. The first was to be an overlook of a Swiss valley that had been recommended to Art by his Swiss neighbor. This route was to take us about nine kilometers up the side of this mountain. About two kilometers short of our destination, we found the road was blocked with SNOW!! As fine an automobile the MINI Cooper is, Maggie and Tess were no match for the depth of snow on that road and we were forced to abandon the effort. We were certainly surprised as the weather up north in Germany and the Netherlands was quite warm but this was only a faint warning of what was to come. The other planned detour was to a peculiar stretch of road west of Meiringen. I’d found this road in a previous trip to Switzerland and had to take Art on it as the road circles over itself as it winds down the mountain and just begged to be driven. Finally, after spending a couple of hours visiting the Reichenbach Falls, we were introduced to the infallible logic of TomTom navigation. Now, I was leading this whole parade because my TomTom 910 will allow you to follow a series of waypoints as opposed to simple Point A to Point B navigation. This seems to be a good thing, however, TomTom showed that he had a better route than what I’d programmed. On the way to our hotel, TomTom decided to take us up this road that, according to TomTom, was a typical, paved road. It actually turned out to be barely more than a hiking path!! As we were climbing this dirt road, the hikers that we were passing were trying to tell us “Hiking: you’re doing it wrong!!” This was another warning of things to come.

Day Two, Friday.

This day was to be the meat of the trip, where we were to travel along the southern faces of the Swiss and Italian Alps and end in Austria. After twenty-two years in the Army, I’ve learned that discovery learning is painful, a lesson that was to be relearned this day. It was planned to be only about six and a half to seven hours of driving but turned into ten and a half hours because of closed mountain passes. That snow we’d seen the day before was still covering several mountain passes which forced a change in routing. Starting from Meiringen, we were to head generally south to the Grimsel Pass and Totensee. It was in Innertkirchen, Switzerland that we were introduced to the Mountain Pass Status Board. This is a road sign which shows whether a mountain pass is open for traffic or not. Not only was Grimsel Pass closed, preventing us from traveling south but also the Susten Pass, which would have allowed us to travel southeast from Innertkirchen and then along our planned route. As we were looking forward to the high mountain passes and Alpine lakes, this was disappointing. We then detoured back up to the north towards Luzern and then along the A2 towards Gorduno, Switzerland where we picked up the A13 towards Benabbia, Switzerland. Again, this trip is about the journey not the destination and was true with our discovery of Castello di Mesocco. This was a gorgeous castle ruins in the process of being renovated that made a wonderful backdrop for our lunch. As we continued along the journey, we never tired of saying “Wow!” repeatedly and our cheeks were sore from all of the insane grinning the drive was giving us. Truly epic. And the weather simply could not have been any better. There were few clouds and the snow was bright. But, in the valleys especially, it was pleasant enough to run with the windows down. Gorgeous. And the mountain roads were their own adventure in driving them. For example, it is very exciting to enter a hairpin left turn and to look down out the side window to the road! Or when entering a right hand hairpin turn and you cannot see the road below you! However, just before Le Mason, Switzerland, we found that the snow had, again, confounded our plans by closing the Passo Forcola, our border crossing into Italy. Though this was, again, frustrating, the journey was still exciting as it seemed that every time we came around a bend in the road, another gorgeous valley or mountainside would display it’s glory. These were scenes that could have been in seen only in paintings but were right there in front of us! Absolutely wonderful. We had to continue detouring further south and then back up north. However, when we got to Molina, Italy, we were again disappointed in finding that the Stelvio Pass was also closed. For me, this was the stop of the trip as I was looking forward to what the BBC television show Top Gear described as the “World’s Best Driving Road”. I could not stay disappointed for long as the detour took us over another windy, hair-pin turn mountain road and through a crazy, one-lane, 2 mile tunnel back into Switzerland. But the kids (and wives) were very ready to get out of these cars and were happy to see our hotel in Nauders, Austria. Again, what was to have been a six to seven hour drive took just over ten hours with all three detours. Everyone slept quite well this night.

Day Three, Saturday.

We started from Nauders a bit later this day but we did learn to ask about the status of the mountain passes from the locals. Only, they, too, had no idea if the mountain passes were open or not. Regardless, we had an enjoyable drive through western Austria. From the start, we launched into the winding country roads with a series of switchbacks. Taking the opportunity to yell the war cry “Supercharger!!” we passed a few of the locals and enjoyed the beautiful weather and drive. Right up until we found that the Silvretta Pass was closed. This time, we learned our lesson from Friday and took a smarter detour to get to Vaduz, Leichtenstein. Not a lot of Americans, even those living in Europe, know about this country but we were going there because no one else does! As Art said, Liechtenstein is about as big as the Dragon. Yup, that small! Liechtenstein has no standing military, has more registered companies than citizens and only one hospital in the entire country! We were able to enjoy the beautiful country sides and scenic vistas but saw them from the highway as western Austria has limited east-west roads. Once we got to the capital city, Vaduz, we enjoyed a nice lunch, took a short walk about the centrum and Art made his Alps orientation video for another NAM-ster, Blimey Cabrio! After a short tour through Luzern, Switzerland, we ended the day just across the border in Germany. As most European countries are part of the European Union, they have open borders, meaning no passport controls or inspections, for the most part. As we were crossing back into Germany, the guards saw our Netherlands license plate and were happy to inspect our American passports, then let us go. However, Art was keeping his passports in the boot and, this time, had to pull over to get them out for inspection. And he’s from Germany!! After all the driving of the previous two days, we were happy to walk around exploring the local community of Bad Säckingen as it was having a type of Renaissance festival, complete with swords and armor, meat on a stick and beer in a pottery stein! Art’s daughter, Katja was happy to get a nice (wooden) sword. With her bright red hair, she became Rod Katja von Leimen. Quite a relaxing evening to just enjoy the company and activities.

Day Four, Sunday.

The idea for Sunday was to drive the length of the Swartzwald from south to north. Using the Google Earth file as a guide, I plotted the towns into an itinerary in TomTom. Only problem with that was that TomTom, again, had a better idea as to how to calculate the routing between these points. Something about Shortest Route versus Fastest Route comes into play here. Again, the weather was excellent: windows down, top back, sunglasses. Even the hikers were wearing shorts. In any case, TomTom had us going up this valley to a dirt road to cross over the mountains. OK, I wasn’t real keen about the dirt road thing but it didn’t look too bad. Wrong. After passing more hikers, we stopped on top of this mountain where Art and I discussed TomTom’s demonstrated inability to navigate. After firing TomTom, Art was to lead us off the mountain, right up to the point where we found the SNOW! Yup, there was still snow on the road in the shadows of the trees. Art and Tess tried to get through it but the snow was too deep, even after we had the kids try to stomp it down, and he still managed to get stuck!! Fortunately, we were able to get Tess out of the snow with me and both wives pushing her along. All the way up to when Art started to get a little sideways and managed to splash Kristin with some mud. Kelly, managed to loose her footing and slipped in the slush but came out luckier than Kristin. So, in reverent respect, we named this stretch of road the “None Shall Pass” Pass and turned around. From here on, Art led the parade with his OEM Nav along his favorite MINI driving route through the Swartzwald. We stopped in the German town of Titisee for lunch: wonderful weather, wonderful friends. What else do you need? Again, as this whole trip was about the journey, not the destinations. With that in mind, we left Titisee to drive another couple of hours up the road to ride a rodelbahn, which is like a roller coaster ride using the side of a hill where the car only holds one person. Really cool break in the drive. From there, it was more beautiful countryside back up to Heidelberg where we topped off with fuel and split off for Art to go home and us to drive three more hours back to the Netherlands.


Art said it best: “Wow. (Repeat that about 83,000 times)”

I was so glad to make this trip with friends and family, not only because it was Art’s farewell trip but also because “epic” just doesn’t do it enough justice. This was also one of those “once in a lifetime” opportunities that couldn’t be missed. I’ve learned from living in Europe that Europeans and Americans alike cannot appreciate just how vast the United States is. From the 1st of May to the 4th, I drove 1458 miles over 26 hours and traveled across 6 different countries. To put this into perspective, that is the same as driving from Wilmington Beach, North Carolina to San Antonio, Texas (1411 miles, 24 hours). However, in both countries, it only takes between six to nine hours to drive from the ocean’s beach to the mountain’s snow.

MITA 08 has taught me a few lessons for MITA 09. First, and foremost, I would not start the trip before the beginning of July in order to catch the mountain passes when they’re open. With that, I would also identify the alternate routes for closed passes and have those plotted in the GPS. Next, I would make this a five or six day trip. Though the trip was always about the journey, there were many places we saw but didn’t have time to stop and smell the roses. Of course, the trade off to this is making the hotel reservations on time, too. Finally, I would bring more folks along. This truly was a lifetime trip that only gets better by sharing it with others. So, if you’ve got nothing better to do in July, keep an eye on the NAM Europe section and stay tuned!!

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