MiataWorld II: Day Nine

by Alan J. Claffie

We're near Bristol, Tennessee tonight and that's important because this should be the last night we spend in a hotel, and after a week-plus of such a thing that's good news. I just took an allergy pill so this might be brief or it might ramble on forever: you've been warned.

We stopped in a Hampton Inn in Dickson, Tennessee on Monday night and woke up today to find most of the Miatas that were there along with us were still there as we were getting ready to leave. We finally got to meet Gary Fischman, who owns Miata.net, and got some decals from the forum for the cars. They took off, and we did shortly afterwards, but they must have been making better time than we were because we never saw them again.

We took a side trip to the fun roads of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. The tour started with a run across the Cherohala Skyway, which is curvy but far more wide open than the Dragon. Our tour guide insisted that it was almost never patrolled and we could run whatever pace we chose, but we were conservative, especially since we were seeing it for the first time. This got the tour guide a little unhappy that we weren't 'enjoying' what is essentially a no-speed-limit fun road. But we had two strikes against us going in: we'd never seen the road before and had no idea how tight the turns got, what was around the next corner, stuff like that. And this road was more like a road course compared to the autocross that is the Dragon. You can go fast on the Dragon but rarely get up to 50 MPH. On the Skyway, when you're going fast, you're going fast and that's fast enough to get into trouble. Maybe with more runs we'd have better kept up with the leader's pace, but it's not a little eleven-mile romp and it's a little out of the way.

We made it to the Dragon by late afternoon and it was hit-or-miss traffic-wise. We wanted to make three runs but on the first we had a quadruple-whammy of Bad Things. We started out following a white Ford Explorer Sport Trac that wanted to drive enthusiastically, especially with three Miatas behind it, but its driver went too far, crossing the yellow lines down the middle of the road in left-hand corners, sometimes putting all four wheels into the oncoming lane to straighten out the line. He wound up coming up on slower traffic and passed it on the double-yellow line and we never saw it again, thank goodness.

When someone comes from the other direction flashing headlights and waving out the windows, that usually means you better slow down. We did, and a little ways down we just about came face-to-face with a tractor-trailer. I don't know who in their right mind would take one of these things up and down this particular stretch of road because it's completely unsuitable for them. The hills are steep and the corners tight, and the stupid trucks need both lanes and then some to make a lot of these corners. That they don't wipe out more cars and motorcycles negotiating this road is a Christmas miracle. Seriously, can't they find a better way to get where they're going?

We thought we were out of the woods after crossing (and practically sharing) paths with the semi when we saw a few Nissan Z cars stopped on the other side of the road and another one crashed off to the right side, hanging precariously on a dirt bank. Our first guess was that he was somehow forced off the road by the semi, which would have been totally bogus since the truck seemingly just kept on going, but conversation with others revealed that, more likely, the Z was hustling pretty quickly and got spooked by a motorcycle going the other way but leaning precariously close to the Z's lane, and the end result was a Z that was going to take some delicate maneuvering to get all four wheels back on the ground without doing further damage.

After we cleared the accident scene it was back to fun but we ran into the same slow traffic the Explorer found and passed illegally. It was a newish BMW 3-series with New Jersey plates and despite it stacking traffic up behind it, it wouldn't get over in any of the pull-off areas to let us go have our fun. They finally let us by at the top of the hill where everyone stops to turn around, but after staring at its taillights for too long I just drove on by and finished the run down the hill till things leveled out and the turns opened up some more.

Kate joined me there and eventually James did too. He then took off for Knoxville while me and Kate decided to head back on the Dragon. The crashed Nissan was still there, and no cops or anything had shown up yet, which tells you how unpatrolled the road is on a Tuesday late afternoon. We thought we were going to continue on after that second run but the GPS said the best way home was to whoop around and head north on 129 all over again, and I didn't argue that much. Kate led that last run and it was pretty good traffic-wise, with the only holdup being a cruiser but it wasn't that far off our pace. A police car was now at the Nissan's accident but we only saw a flatbed truck just starting on the Dragon as we were bidding it a fond farewell.

After that it was back to the highway to get as far as we could to insure that tomorrow won't be that long a driving day before we pull into our own driveway and see how tall the grass has grown since we left a week and change back. Our top-down percentage took a bit of a hit as we drove through a number of sprinkles and squalls before stopping at a rest area and putting up the tops figuring there'd be more, and of course there wasn't another drop to be seen since. We have the first vehicular malfunction to report as the headlights on my '99 are acting kinda funny vis-a-vis high beams, low beams, and no beams, but we should be home before dark tomorrow and I can start figuring out how to chase dreaded electrical gremlins without the pressure of needing everything to work Right Now.

More later.

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