Put a young gal in a small car and send her over a bus on a monster truck track, and you’ll get a lot of attention. Trust me.
On the second day of our road trip, Jason and I gave in to nearly every whim along the way: catching a ferry, strutting our stuff with a Harley-Davidson pack, time-testing the SMART car’s acceleration from zero to 60 (it takes 16 seconds, by the way), pushing the envelope at Digger’s Dungeon, posing with the Wright Flyer, and, finally, flooring it to Pedro’s South of the Border. And it only took 12 hours.
I had my heart set on driving the SMART car over a race track, but that plan wasn’t working. While I was trying to come up with ideas to create a test course on the fly, Jason and I stumbled onto the home of the famous monster truck Grave Digger. After dozens of photos of the Smart car beside the trucks and enormous wheels (the car is about the size of two wheels), I spotted a dirt track that offered rides in monster trucks. Featuring a couple of hills and a dirt ramp over an old school bus, the track looked like the perfect test facility for the Smart car. Jason hopped out while I headed to the start line.
What was I testing? Speed, agility? No, just my nerves. After crossing the first two hills (actually they were tiny mounds), I turned the corner to tackle the schools bus. Giving it the gas, I climbed up the dirt ramp and popped over the other side, causing the spectators watching RC cars racing on a different track to flock to the monster truck area. They all cheered for me to “get some air,” but I was content to leave that to the Remos. With two more passes under my belt, my ego inflated. I’m sure I’m the only one who can claim driving a Smart car over the track. That feeling lasted a few hours until we drove by the track a second time and saw dirt bikes speeding across the course. So, maybe it was a “mini monster truck course.” Regardless, it was a monster to tackle in the Smart car.
That stop alone would have made the 12-hour day worth it. But stopping at Kill Devil Hills, N.C., just put it over the top. For me, seeing the first flight memorial was a rite of passage, even though I had arrived by land instead of air. I couldn’t resist hopping up beside Orville in the Wright Flyer on display. With the breeze blowing against me, I laid flat on my stomach, clutching the controls with Orville, just imagining what that first flight might have felt like. Would he have felt the same sense of exhilaration and accomplishment that I and so many other pilots have felt on the first solo flight? His just happened to be solo and the first flight. Someday, I’ll return to Kill Devil Hills, but that time, it will be by air.
With the driving tests and first flight checkpoints accomplished, Jason and I started our first focused attempt to make it to South of the Border. We were doing well until I started watching the sunset and stopped looking at road signs, completely missing the exit for I-95. And by “completely missing,” I mean that I never noticed I missed it. I probably still would have been on whatever road I was on if I hadn’t heard a gasp from my passenger, who noted on his iPhone that we passed the exit an hour earlier. By that point, we were exhausted, pushing 10 hours of driving, and it was well after dark. So we both became hyper-vigilant of road signs. (I don’t think he trusted me to get us to South of the Border after that!) After driving on I-95 for what seemed like an eternity, I worried that something else might be amiss because I hadn’t seen a sign for Pedro’s South of the Border. Finally, we started passing the signs about 25 miles from our destination. Maybe it was relief that the end was in sight. Maybe we were just delirious. But we stopped to photograph almost every single Pedro sign along the way.
When I started the race, I wondered what it would be like to be stuck in the tiny car for two days with someone I barely knew. Turns out, I couldn’t have asked for a better road-trip partner. I can’t wait to trade keys with Team Wilbur so that Jason and I can start our new adventures from the air. This time, though, we’ll keep the detours to a minimum (I hope).
Guest blogger Alyssa J. Miller and Wired.com’s Jason Paur are Team Orville, traveling to Sun ‘n Fun in the AOPA Fun to Fly Road and Runway Rally.—Jill W. Tallman