Minis On Top! 2017
I don't know much about Mini Coopers. I sat in one for the first time when my fiancé brought her new ride home and, well, I felt like I was in a movie theatre. They're cool fancy rides, I thought. Little did I know these things are wicked little sports cars. A few months later, we were one Mini of many for the annual MINIS ON TOP event in the White Mountains. Hundreds of Minis show up and drive different “runs” around the north country, eventually congregating at the base of Mount Washington for one epic sunset drive to the top.
Hurricane Mountain Road
We got up earlier than “bright and early” and drove to Attitash for a 6 am run with some of the hardcore enthusiasts. One guy had a neon green Mini with the vanity plate HULK. Another decked out Mini arrived and the driver told us she got a wave from some bikers who were blowing by during Bike Week. That's cred, right there. We heard a sporty revvvvv in the parking lot and one of the event's organizers showed up and doled out a radio for every car in the group, all six of us. We were going to get some action on Hurricane Mountain Road, a bumpy, winding seasonal road going up and over its namesake. The road would be a bike path anywhere on the seacoast. This run is the most popular of the event and at noontime, the traffic jam of Minis might not be as fun as this early morning romp.
We were told if we go fast enough, we could “get some air.” The cars lined up at the gate and took off in twenty-second intervals. We did need to use the radio a few times, even at six am. I'm not sure how the locals felt about the occasional zippin' Mini, but we didn't mind. We got some air, alright, and it scared us out of our seats. The clouds were low that morning and leaving the ground certainly felt like a good dream gone bad, the kind where you float beyond the gray borders of your nightmare and into the darkness beyond. But we landed again and eased our way back down to the end of the road. We had barely broken 40 mph. We took it easy on our return drive. Our poor pup, Wilder, was scared out of his wits though, and jumped into the front, trying to take the wheel from our fearless driver. Later, Hulk told us he saw a truck with a boat in tow and was nervous he'd have to radio “Boat on the left!” to the drivers behind him.
Loon Mountain & The Kanc Run
The official event began an hour west at Loon Mountain and we were there with time to walk around and check out all the Minis on display. There were rubber ducks everywhere. I didn't get it, but the Mini people like rubber ducks. It's a Brit thing, I guess. One Mini looked like a taxi. There was even a Minions Mini. And a Star Wars Mini. It was a festive atmosphere, with tents for vendors and event information. Lots of kids got to pet Wilder and he even played with some other dogs.
My fiancé volunteered to lead a run at the last minute, since she knows the route well, so we ended up corralling the people who signed up to ride the Kanc with us and went over the plan. The Kanc is short for Kangamangus which is how most people pronounce Kancamagus. It's a wild highway connecting Lincoln and Conway alongside the Swift river. We had a small group, but of course, one guy tried to convince us we should veer off to go over a covered bridge and race down a country backroad. No one spoke up, so we stuck with the plan. He ended up wandering off and we never saw him again. But there is that covered bridge in Conway, someone suggested. Why don't we go over that! And so we agreed to do it.
We left the Loon parking lot with our eight or nine Minis in tow and rolled down the Kanc. It was still Bike Week and the road was crawling with motorcycles and other tourists, so our pace was pretty slow. But once we cleared the hairpin turn and the Sugar Hill lookout, the ride was much smoother. Except for one Mini that was not part of the event bumping along in front of us, stealing our thunder! They finally turned and we were able to fly into Conway and got to the covered bridge. There is just something so exciting about driving over a covered bridge, even while going 10 mph. Don't forget to honk!
As we pulled back onto the Kanc, someone behind us began asking retro TV show trivia questions into the radio, such as “What was the neighbor's name in I Dream Of Jeanie?” Stumped us! But we just giggled and listened to everyone behind us play along. I did know the name of the ship in Gilligan's Island, however. The S. S. Minnow! That would be a pretty good name for a Mini, yeah?
We stopped at Rocky Gorge for lunch and Wilder stole one of my sandwiches. And a local cop handed out New Hampshire keychains to all the kids, asking them if they were being good. I said, “I'm being good, do I get one?” but the cop never heard me. Lucky us, however: none of us paid the parking fees and he never bothered us. Rocky Gorge is a wonderful picnic area with a bridge overlooking the waterfall. There are signs warning people not to swim, but people still jump in.
Soon we pulled out onto Bear Notch Road, an excellent driving road for sporty cars, with lots of turns to take sharply, like you're in one of those commercials they play during the Super Bowl. There's less traffic and it's easier to pick up speed. Pretty soon we were back in town, so we decided to stop at an ice cream shop. The few of us who decided to get some frozen goodies spent a good hour in the sun slurping down milkshakes and letting Wilder tire out a little boy who insisted I let him “walk” the pup. Yeah, Wilder had his own agenda. And it was getting his muzzle into as many ice cream cups as possible.
Mount Washington & The Auto Road
When we got to the Auto Road, we joined the mass of Minis that had arrived at the mountain. We got to park in a special area because we were going up before everyone else for a special tour of the Observatory, where they record the weather on the hour, every hour on the mountain where some of the craziest weather in the world occurs. But first we had to drive up!
It was a harrowing drive, going up a narrow road that reaches inclines as steep as 18% around ledges and slides. We could see people on their journeys down, pulled over to let their breaks cool, and we dreaded the return trip. There were even water fountains for people to top off their radiators, sheesh.
But once we got over treeline, the ride was amazing. The clouds were below us, so it created this surreal feeling of driving to the moon. We were right alongside the Great Gulf and Mounts Jefferson and Adams, which are almost as tall as Washington. It's weird looking down at a mountain from the comfort of a leather seat, while the A/C blows gently in my face. Our brave driver didn't get to enjoy many views, however, as she was so focused on keeping the car from tipping over into the Great Gulf.
Speaking of the moon, the towers and buildings on the summit look like space stations. And the setting sun did not make things feel any more earthlike. And all of our space ships – the fleet of Minis parked in the lot – convinced me we had left the planet. And now we got to meet some of the astronauts.
The observatory tour was interesting, but I had a hard time hearing in the large group while interns explained various types of weather-tracking equipment and other nifty things they get to play with on a daily basis. Pretty cool, though. They live up there for eight days, work twelve hours shifts, then get eight days off. Repeat. We saw their sleeping quarters (tiny) and their dining table (long). Our hostess in the living quarters told us they have a flying squirrel population on the summit and many get into the building and build nests. Some volunteers were cooking dinner and someone quipped, “What's for dinner, flying squirrel?” Lastly, we went out back to where they do the hourly weather readings. The intern pointed to some towers behind us and explained how ice can break off and fly all the way over here and hit people. Ouch! Yes, it hurts, he grimaced.
It was a beautiful late-spring evening. We were able to watch the sun set over my favorite mountains. Later we freed the pup from the car and took him around the summit so he could see what all the fuss was about. He marked just about everything and looked for other dogs, of which there were few. As the sun lowered, we decided to beat the rush. Our brave driver took some advice and put her Mini in “sport” mode, letting it settle into second gear for the entire drive down and the ride down was a breeze. Before we knew it we were at the base and flying down Route 16, back into town and totally sick of being in a car. But we'll be back next year, for sure.