The MX-5 Miata of the Month from

April 2005

Dean Rudenauer and SOCALM


Congratulations to Dean and the rest of his traveling companions on their selection as the April Miatas of the Month!

I've had some amazing travels in my life. I rode a Greyhound bus from California to New York and back with my grandmother in the summer of my 15th year. Took a boat ride at Niagara falls. Drove from California to Tennessee and back by myself when I was 19; drove through 100 miles of snow on that trip. Alaska, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, I have seen them all. Participated in Monte Carlo rallies through the California countryside; these are just a few highlights. However, I am here to tell you all, that the trip I made with the Southern California Miata Club (SOCALM) in May-Jun 2003 ranked as high as my most exciting travel experiences and, in some ways, it was even better.

As a then recent addition to SOCALM, I had no idea of what to expect on this trip. I met Tom and Marna Wood, the trip leaders, at a "social" just a few weeks before, and would know no one else at the start of the trip. Even my navigator, Sam Lim, was a stranger to me, a mere acquaintance at work who had drawn the seat next to me for this trip (My wife found out that she couldn't make the trip; she graciously encouraged me to go. I worked for a 3D photography company. The company needed panorama pictures for the library; Sam, a staff photographer, was available, ergo ). However, Sam turned out to be an excellent travel companion, navigator, and a great eye for snapping Miatas while on the fly.

Before we left, I told Marna that I would keep a journal of our travels on the road. What follows is a diary of the experiences and impressions I had during the course of our trip:

Day 1 (Fri., 23 May): We rendezvoused with Tom & Marna Wood and their '03 Splash Green "Emily", as well as Don Armstrong & Anita Allenby in their '94 Classic Red at Union 76 in Glendora. It was a cold, gray morning, and for the sake of the equipment strapped behind the seats, Sam and I hoped it wouldn't start raining. Together, the group made the trip up to Frazier Park.

Upon reaching the official start point of our trip, the clouds dissipated into a bright, windy day. At Frazier Park, we collected a few more Miatas - SOCALM's Tony & Carolyn Pearson, color coordinated with their '00 BRG, and Lee & Pat Ruecker, in their '95 Merlot, and San Diego Miata Club's (SDMC) Randy & Sue Patterson with an '01 Titanium. Interesting note: six cars and not one the same color! Because Sam and my goal was to take panoramic pictures (panos), which would require stops at various locations along the way, we were designated as "sweep car" and our 3,000 mile, 10 day trip began.

A warm day loomed as we passed north of the old oil fields of Bakersfield, then turned east, trekking toward our first stop, Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks. The weather cooled as we climbed, and soon we were among the big trees. Looking up as we drove, I realized that from a convertible is the only way to pass through this forest with its towering bark. After visiting the General Sherman Tree, we all ate lunch at Grant Grove Visitor Center, then began the downward plunge toward Fresno. As we descended, the temperature ascended. When we finally reached the valley, the temperature topped out at 103 degrees. We were sweltering when we met the members of the San Joaquin Valley Miata Club (SJVMC) at the Carls Jr. - Don & Lisa Aspergar (SJVMC President) and Tom Wade both have white Miatas, and Don & Katherine Carrillo and Sharon Mack both have Classic Reds. As the 10 Miatas left, I realized that the "different colors" spell was finally broken.

As we all drove north, the cooler climes prevailed, and the temperature was in the 70's when we reached Oakhurst, a tiny little town just outside of Yosemite. During our dinner at Crab Cakes, Sam and I had a fabulous conversation with Tony and Caroline Pearson, in which we found out that Tony and I both used to run in Starlight rallies. Considering that typically only 200 or so people were ever involved in this sub-culture, it was startling to meet someone casually who had done it. After dinner, nightcaps were in Tom and Marna's room where we talked about the day's events, about each other, and about the future trip before turning in for the night.

Day 2 (Sat, 24 May): A beautiful, clear morning found nine Miatas driving up highway 140 toward Yosemite. Sharon Mack riding with Tom Wade in her Classic Red would be our tour guide for the morning. Joining us also for the day was SJVMC's Kathryn Weber, in an Emerald Green and Bob and Lor-Rae Raus in their Merlot. Even before passing through the Arch Rock gate entrance to the park, I realized what Ansel Adams saw in this place. This was my first visit to Yosemite, and to see the mighty Merced river, flowing at capacity, while driving by thundering waterfalls and towering granite peaks made, in the words of Sam, "the entire week worth doing, even if the rest of it is boring." During our run through fields of purple lupine, and towering canyons, Sharon Mack, who works in Yosemite, was kind enough to give us an audio tour of the sites via CB radio. I couldn't think of a better way to tour the park. Sam commented that a photographer could spend his whole life here and still not capture everything. I think he caught the Ansel bug too.

After gathering souvenirs and eating lunch, we left the park and ventured up highway 120, leaving Sharon behind before meeting up with the Sacramento Area Miata Owners Club's (SAMOA) President, Margaret McConnell in a Montego Blue, David Chin and Gwen Ng, and Garry and Gundi Bechthold in yet two more Classic Reds. For the rest of the afternoon, we passed through one beautifully rustic small town after another, all along the historic Golden Chain Highway. One of the most interesting of these little gems was Jamestown, a railroad town with a railway museum, similar to Griffith Park's Travel Town.

Upon reaching Rancho Cordova in the evening, the various members of SOCALM, SAMOA, and SJVMC got together for a big dinner at a restaurant called the Sheepherder. Sam and I heard that 14 additional members from SAMOA joined the group for dinner and that everything was great. However, Sam and I stole away from the group on this particular night, met with my wife (who had driven up to Sacramento the night before) and niece, and had a quiet dinner overlooking the Sacramento River at a place called The Cliff House.

Day 3 (Sun, 25 May): The next morning, the group shuffled again, with Randy and Sue Patterson departing, and new additions, Vince Weis and Katherine Bell in a '90 Classic Red. Also joining us from SAMOA for the day were Margaret McConnell, David Chin and Gwen Ng, and Skip Noyes in his Vivid Yellow. On this day, we were originally scheduled to stop at Lassen Volcanic National Park. However, Marna Wood had found out the week before that Lassen was still "closed" due to snow. Therefore, she had to find a way around the park without taking us straight up the I-5. Well, she found a beautiful drive around the backside of Lassen, which made for a great day of driving, but also added almost 100 miles on top of the planned drive for the day. As a result, while the drive was fun, it made for a very long day.

By the time we reached Weed, about all anyone had energy for was checking in at the Motel 6, eating dinner at a local pizza shop, and just a little socializing, before turning in for the night.

Day 4 (Mon, 26 May): Sam and I awoke at 5:00 am on this morning and took to the streets of Weed to shoot panoramic pictures (panos). We started downtown and moved toward the Weed sawmill, shooting panos as we went. Dawn peeked over the looming silhouette of Mt. Shasta in front of us as we finished our shots at the sawmill, and realized, with empty stomachs, that it was time for breakfast.

At 9:00 am, we all left the motel and headed north. It was just our small group of six cars for the entire day. A short drive later, we were at the Oregon border, where we paused for pictures before continuing on our way. It's amazing how quickly the scenery changes when one passes over the border between California and Oregon mountains loom up everywhere, glistening streams trickle into flowing rivers which, in turn, slide into crystal blue lakes. Before I knew it, snow started showing up on the side of the road. By the time we wound our way up the mountain to Crater Lake, there were snow drifts several feet high on both sides of the road; outside temperature, about 73 degrees.

After a short stay at the visitor center, we all made the trek up to the rim of the crater and Crater Lake lodge. For those that have never seen it in person, both the view of the lake from the rim as well as the French Chateau architecture of the lodge will take your breath away. Even in May, the snow was several feet thick, and lined the side of the lake in such a way as to provide the highest possible contrast of pure white against the dark blue water of the lake. Unfortunately, we were again unable to take the planned route around the rim of the crater, because the park service had not finished clearing all of the snow from the roads. However, we did take lots of pictures and ate lunch before continuing.

As we made our way toward Bend in the afternoon, we passed one volcanic peak after another in all shapes and sizes, as well as large fields of dark black basalt lava flows, which made me think of the flows over on California's highway 395, just south of Lone Pine. The conversation on the CB's soon turned to ominous subjects like the top speed of Miatas when trying to outrun sudden eruptions from long extinct volcanoes, a la Mt. St. Helens. Suddenly, the serene countryside and beautiful vistas took on a more sinister tone. We would be lucky to make it through the week unscathed, I thought. Silly thoughts? Maybe

In the early evening, as we drove into Bend, Sam and I realized that we had a problem. We had bought so many souvenirs during the first few days of our trip that the car was literally overflowing with stuff. After contemplating the situation, we decided that the first task on the next morning's agenda would be to ship home as many extra items as possible (a tip for any future long-distance tourists driving a Miata; pack lightly and bring postage money).

Dinner that evening was at Appleby's. The rooms at the Red Lion North in Bend were definitely some of the most spacious I've seen in a hotel as small as this. After a late evening of socializing with everyone at Tom and Marna's room, it was time to call it a day.

Day 5 (Tue, 27 May): After a short stop at the Mailboxes, Etc. uptown from the hotel, a McDonald's breakfast, and a car wash, it was time to head for the Oregon coast. It was another beautiful day as the Miatas struck out along highway 20, headed away from the sunrise.

As we headed into the town of Sisters, it was decided that a restroom break was in order. While looking for a place to stop, I spied a small store on a corner, with a rather impressive looking clock above the main entrance. Our curiosity peaked; we decided to make an unscheduled stop to look.

Upon entering, our suspicions were confirmed that this was no ordinary clock store. Abounding were antique clocks of every description and size. In the back of the store, Sam and I found a grandfather clock from the 1750's, which still worked. As Sam placed his hand on the side of the case, he marveled at the fact that he was actually able to touch a man-made object that was over 250 years old. Later, I came upon a beautiful Victorian era music box; too ornate to put into words here. All too quickly, it was time to leave, but the impression of that store will be in my memory for a very long time, all thanks to making this journey with SOCALM.

Continuing out highway 20 a short time later, we passed a Miata going in the other direction, then another, and yet another. Sure enough, it was the Willamette Valley Miata Club (WVMC) meeting up with us to take us on some of the more remote Miata roads in Oregon. Even though they are a relatively new club on the Miata scene, we could instantly tell that the members of this new club were hard-core Miata-philes. From superchargers to custom paint, WVMC members know how to make their cars shine. Joining us were Rod Lechter, in a custom blue, Barry Taylor with a beautiful supercharged yellow, Mike and Pam Hanneson in a blue, with a Hard-Dog roll bar, and Jan Tomfohr in a very handsome '01 Red.

Together, we drove on some wonderfully remote roads through incredible Oregon countryside, which included a stop at a nice old pub in the town of Brownsville for lunch. In the afternoon, there were more roads, which included a drive up to Mary's Peak for some panoramic shots of all the cars in a circle, just like a wagon train. After the pictures at Mary's Peak, we said good-bye to Vince Weis and Katherine Bell, and our newfound friends from WVMC before continuing toward the coast.

In the late afternoon, we wandered into the town of Newport, on the Oregon coast. After spending five days among trees, mountains, mining towns, et al, it was actually a little bit of a surprise to come bursting out of the trees and on to the beaches of Newport. We all chuckled a little as we pulled into the Hallmark Resort and parked under the big sign out front that said "Welcome Miata Car Club". Once inside, I understood the eccentric nature of the resort; the entire interior based loosely on that of a cruise ship; pretty neat actually.

Upon reaching our room, Sam and I walked in to see a fantastic fireplace, a terrific outside deck that looked out over the beach below and one bed. Hmm, I could immediately tell from the expression on Sam's face, that this was going to be a problem. Luckily, the day was saved by a quick call to the front desk and a transfer to an even larger room, without a fireplace, and a nice patio that led directly to the stairs down to the beach. Upon hearing the news, Tom and Marna Wood decided that the social hour would be in our room after dinner that evening. So, after Tony Pearson and I grossed everybody out by eating raw oysters with dinner, that's exactly what we did.

Day 6 (Wed, 28 May): Sam and I awoke before sunrise, grabbed the cameras and shot out into the pre-dawn darkness toward a beautiful old covered bridge about 25 miles east of town that we had driven past the previous afternoon. As the evening twilight faded, we realized that it would be a traditional Oregon day, cool and gray. After doing several panos at the bridge, we explored and clicked our way along many desolate side roads and remote locations as we headed back toward town.

This is where it happened. While waiting for Sam (who was out of sight) on a gravel road, four miles off the main highway, surrounded by hillsides of deep green trees dotted with Dogwood flowers, and staring at an antique train trestle half overgrown with blackberry bushes, I was washed over by a feeling of tranquility. I realized that here, while on this trip, I was in my element finding new places, new things, traveling off the beaten path, surrounded by the unfamiliar; I was, in a word happy. Suddenly, I felt almost euphoric, and, well, all my cares just drifted away right there. In that moment, I surmised that this trip was exactly what I needed, 10 days on the road in my Miata with nothing to worry about and four more days to go. I hadn't felt like this in a long time.

Later, back in town, breakfast down, and car washed, we were ready to strike out on yet another adventurous day with the group. By now, we had dwindled to the "core group" of five Miatas and ten souls (Armstrong, Pearson, Ruecker, Rudenauer, and Wood) that had signed on for the whole tour. On the first leg of the day, Tom and Marna led us northward toward Tillamook, and showed us some great one-lane fire roads through some of the most remote areas of Oregon I had seen yet. The interesting thing about these roads is that although they are rarely used, they are well maintained, the vegetation was trimmed so neatly along one section that a few commented that they thought they were on a Disneyland ride. That aside, we still managed to find one three-mile section of gravel road that rendered the morning car wash moot; oh well, we were on vacation.

We reached the Tillamook Cheese factory at lunchtime. My first impression of this place upon pulling into the parking lot was that the building looked more like a state of the art communications center than a cheese factory. Everything was new, and there were antennas everywhere. Once inside, I realized that Tillamook is truly a first class operation. There were factory tours available, and a nice museum dedicated to educating the public on the cheese making process. What a great place. We ate lunch, and then browsed the company store. At the sampling table, Sam and I asked on a whim if there were any cheddars aged longer than the two-year samples on the table. The bubbly lady answered, "Why yes!" and reached in the back for a small package containing white cheddar, aged three years! All I can say is WOW! After Sam and I bought two bricks, we met up with the others outside and drove down to the coast and our next stop, Cape Meares.

It was a breezy and balmy 70 degrees as we made the quarter mile walk down to the lighthouse. Built in 1889, the Cape Meares lighthouse sits on a cliff 200 feet above the Pacific. It was amazing to learn that in the early days, the only access to the lighthouse was by sea. After checking out the little gift shop, Sam and I ventured up to the nearby "Octopus" tree, a huge Sitka Spruce that dwarfs all the others in the area. The term "Octopus" comes from the six huge 12-foot diameter branches that grow away and up from the main trunk, think monstrous Socorro cactus, with leaves. As I stared at the immensity of this 16-foot diameter tree, Sam called me up to the lookout that revealed the bay to the south. There, Sam showed me what he had come here to see, for in front of us, in all its glory, was the shoreline and ocean rocks featured in the film "The Goonies". Several panos later, horns from the parking lot signaled that it was time for us to leave.

It was late afternoon by the time we reached the Yaquina Head lighthouse, just above Newport. Unfortunately, we learned that we only had about half an hour to look at the lighthouse before the park closed. We looked at the cliffs on either side of the point before going to see the lighthouse. A cool wind roared over these cliffs from the ocean below, forcing me to put on my jacket for the first time on this trip. We all trekked up to the lighthouse to take pictures as the parking lot emptied of cars and the park prepared to close for the evening. Next thing we knew, the ranger was opening the lighthouse; seemed that Tony Pearson had talked the ranger into giving us a private, after-hours tour of the place!

Once inside, the ranger told us of several legends surrounding the old tower's 131 years of history. One of his amusing anecdotes included the fact that every time the lighthouse appears in a movie or on television (many times), it is always depicted as being haunted, when in truth, it is not. He showed us the stately marble floors, the old oil room, and we climbed the circular black iron steps to the top of the tower. Once at the top, the ranger did something unprecedented for our small group. He removed the barrier for the light and invited us up the final few steps to view the light itself and the 12' high, first-order Fresnel lens (one of only 12 examples left in the world) that encased it! From here, several hundred feet above the point, we could see stunning views of the entire coast and ocean for 21 miles. All too soon, a crackling voice on the radio informed the ranger that NO ONE was allowed in the light room. Woops! Time to go.

We had dinner that evening at the old fisherman's wharf in Newport. As we dined, several huge sea lions serenaded us from the pier below the restaurant. What a way to end a terrific day of new discoveries!

Day 7 (Thu, 29 May): Fog crowded out the dawn as Sam and I ventured out to capture panos of Newport's historic old wharf and huge bay bridge before meeting up with the others to start this day's 300+ mile journey. A short time after leaving Newport, the five Miatas stopped quickly at the Oregon Caves, just long enough to see the sea lions frolicking in the ocean far below and to buy some very bad coffee (dubbed "crappuchino" by Sam).

The morning fog burned away to reveal a clean blue sky as we covered the next 20 miles to the Oregon Dunes. When we pulled into a parking lot lined on all sides with dune buggies for rent; Sam and I knew right then that we were in for a great time. While the others rented a huge buggy with the wheels of a 747 for their tour, Sam and I decided to hire a nimble four-man buggy and Wayne, a driver, to show us all the best spots for panos. Goggles in place, and the camera equipment in the fourth seat, we scampered out onto this Sahara by the sea.

Wayne explained that the dunes stretched for 50 miles along the coast of Oregon, providing a haven for adventurers and campers during the spring and summer months as we bumped and bounced toward our first camera stop. Cresting a huge dune, Wayne showed us a large, shallow pond in a small valley that combined with the blue sky and yellow dunes to produce an amazing emerald hue on its surface; perfect! Sam jumped out and prepared the camera for a few panos while Wayne gave me a wild ride out of the valley, over the crest, and down the other side.

Several minutes later, we crested the dune again to see how Sam was doing. At first, there was no sign of him. Suddenly, next to the pond we saw movement and there was Sam pulling his leg out of the sand! Upon reaching him, Wayne blurted out, "Oh, I guess I should have mentioned the quicksand." After Sam regained his composure, Wayne explained that this was a typical phenomenon around the various lakes that dot the area, especially during the time when spring rainfall is evaporating from the sand.

Sobered by this experience, we took extra care as we shot several more panos at other locations throughout the dunes. We took in some awe-inspiring places on our tour too, like the several large, far-flung oases of pine trees that looked like fairy-tale islands in an endless sea of sand; a gorgeous place, tempered by hidden dangers.

Upon returning to solid ground at the parking lot, Sam and I found that only one Miata was there mine. To catch the group, we drove "spiritedly" down the 101 until we heard the voices of Marna and Tom Wood on the CB; the group had waited for us at a Jack in the Box several miles down the road. For the rest of the afternoon, we skimmed the rugged coast on highway 101, breezing past the California border, and on down to Arcata.

After checking in at the Comfort Inn, and eating dinner with everyone else, Sam and I spent a late evening downloading pictures while the rest went to sleep. It was a short time thereafter, as I sat on the deck smoking a cigar, that the lightning and thunder started, followed by a torrential downpour.

Day 8 (Fri, 30 May): I awoke on this morning to the sound of nothing. I looked out the window to find that the rain had stopped, leaving in its place a misty, overcast sky, and wet ground. Luckily, since we would return to the Inn at the end of the day and all we needed were cameras, the top would be up when we left. After breakfast, we said good-bye to Don Armstrong and Anita Allenby, who were going to see relatives for the day, and then there were four.

Down the highway and over a bridge we went, arriving shortly at the quaint Victorian town of Ferndale. A photographer's dream, this tiny town sits against a row of hills and looks more like a movie set than an actual town. While the others stopped on Main Street to wander through the stores, Sam and I scouted the area for photo ops, since we knew we would be back tomorrow. Just west of town, we happened upon the Ferndale fairgrounds. Pulling up to the main gate, we looked up in astonishment. For there, above the gate, inside a mock lighthouse, sat a beautiful, huge first-order Fresnal lens, even more ornate then the one at Yaquina Head; I was stricken; what were the odds of accidentally stumbling onto a second

After browsing the stores, Tom and Marna Wood led us out of town and onto a small fire road. This, they said, was the way to the " Lost Coast". I actually felt lost, as we drove through the fog and mist along this small, twisting one lane road. Further and further we went, through drizzle and mist before finally descending out of the clouds and passing through a small valley before reaching the coast. In hindsight, the road here has become mythic to me; I have never seen anything so pristine mountains, fields, ocean. I actually find myself reluctant to talk about it here; it's that indescribable. All I will say is go and see it the first chance you get.

Driving away from the coast, the clouds cleared and the ground dried as we came upon our rest stop at Petrolia. Odd little town, this one; infamous for the fact that they suffer from roughly one earthquake a week, on average. Today's topic at the little store was the massive electrical storm that they had had last night. "I can only imagine." I said to the clerk, smiling.

Winding our way inland, we soon came upon a large forest of familiar trees, the redwoods. We had arrived at the Avenue of the Giants. The road narrowed even further as we dove into the realm of one of nature's most magnificent spectacles. The trees towered to dizzying heights above us as we wound our way toward the visitors' center. After a brief tour, a souvenir buying spree, and a stop for lunch, we toured the Founder's Grove, took pictures and visited the Dyerville Giant. This massive redwood was almost 1,500 years old when it fell in 1991, taking four neighboring trees with it. At 359' when upright, it was one of the tallest and oldest in the forest. As I stood before this fallen behemoth, I noticed several new ferns in the roots, along with mushrooms, squirrels here and there, and all kinds of other plants. Before now, I never realized how much life teems under the canopy of these huge trees.

In the late afternoon, we traveled up the 101 to Eureka and dinner at a place called the Somoa Cookhouse. Michael Wright and Jack and Judy Pollack of the Redwood Coast Miata club met us in the parking lot. Dining at the Somoa Cookhouse is unique in that they serve all the food family style.

Day 9 (Sat, 31 May): Sam and I beat the sun to Ferndale by arriving at 5:30 am. After shooting several panos in and around town (including the fairgrounds) while the sun peaked over the eastern hills, we traveled back toward Eureka and shot several more at some abandoned farms along desolate roads we had seen far off the highway on the previous evening. Our mission complete, we ate breakfast in Eureka and then docked with our SOCALM group as they passed through town.

Our first break of the day was back among the redwoods. While there, Marna Wood mentioned that the "drive through" tree was just up the road, and suggested that Sam and I check it out as long as we were here. Figuring that it wouldn't put us more than a few minutes behind them, we drove over to capture my little Miata in a great big tree. Unfortunately, it took us over 30 minutes to get any decent pictures of the car with all the other visitors around and by the time we left, our travel group was long gone, headed south.

Figuring that it was time for another spirited game of catch-up, Sam and I settled in to a high-speed run that blasted us through many tight twists and turns for several miles down Pacific Coast Highway. After catching up to the group just before Fort Bragg and stopping for lunch there, Sam had nothing but praise for the Miata's abilities as a sports car.

By mid-afternoon we had covered over 300 miles and were still several miles above San Francisco. At this point, while the rest of group continued on to Livermore and dinner with several members of the Bay Area Miata Association (BAMA), Sam and I split off and dove into the city to rendezvous with my cousin, Joe Pecora for dinner downtown.

Although we missed the reportedly wonderful dinner with BAMA that evening, Sam and I had a great time with my cousin walking through downtown, having dinner at a great Thai restaurant, and then enjoying a dessert of vintage Bordeaux along with a brick of three-year old aged Tillamook cheddar. Sam spent some time marveling at my cousin's home, a fully restored, 105 year old, Queen Anne Victorian, near Alamo Square. Based on Sam's enthusiasm regarding all the history we had seen on this trip, I figured that he would enjoy the opportunity to see it; as I thought, he enjoyed the evening immensely.

It was another sixty miles to the hotel at Livermore when we left Joe's house, and due to some confusion regarding the instructions, we didn't get to the hotel until after midnight. We should have known that it was just a precursor to the following morning.

Day 10 (Sun, 1 Jun): On Sunday morning, only three Miatas left the hotel, since Tony and Carolyn Pearson had decided to stay on and visit family in the area for a few days before returning home. It was a flawless spring day as we left Livermore behind and began our final leg toward home, our planned route, to cross the state to the 101 and then turn left, toward Los Angeles.

Talking on our CBs as we drove down the 680 toward San Jose, we discussed the trip and our plans upon returning home from such a long journey. Just as I was enthusiastically talking about taking the car to the shop on Monday to have a supercharger installed, the XM radio in my car cut out, and then shut off. Then, the car lost power, regained it momentarily, and then lost it again. Uh oh! We called Marna and Tom in the lead car, and told them that my Miata appeared to be in the throws of death. As we left the freeway off-ramp, the engine began sputtering and jerking rather violently as it died and restarted at the plodding of my feet on the accelerator and clutch. Finally, as we turned the corner into a small neighborhood, my poor Miata sputtered one last time and rolled out its tongue, X's on its headlights. The car would not restart. Actually, it wouldn't do anything except lay there, acting like a paperweight.

After a short while of plodding and coaxing the Miata to work, we gave up on it as a lost cause. We called AAA and waited for help to arrive. Loyal to the spirit of the club, everyone waited with us until the tow truck came. While waiting, I came upon a realization Whoa!! What are the odds that the Miata would pick here to die, in this place, after all the places we had been over the past several days, miles from anywhere, from help of any sort? Coincidence? Maybe.

When the flat bed finally arrived, almost two hours later, we determined that it would be best to just tow the car home, all 400 miles. Therefore, we said good-bye to the group and the rest of our adventure, climbed aboard, and rode off toward home. To save cost, we had the driver unload us at Lost Hills, four hours later, and waited another two hours for another tow.

When Tim showed up to carry us home, he was wearing a scowl and a slow walk. Sam mentioned that he looked really angry about doing a 200 mile drive on Sunday evening, and wasn't afraid to show it. In short, Tim is not the kind of guy you'd want to have mad at you; quite large and bear-like, you wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley. He loaded the car on the flatbed, clamped down the chains, and signaled us to get in.

The trip was quiet at first, Tim with a furrowed brow at the wheel, and Sam and I squished on the right side of the cabin. After awhile though, I asked if he made these long trips often. To my surprise, his expression changed immediately, and he explained that he certainly did, but that tonight was special for him. You see, Tim wasn't angry; he was scared. A veteran, he had recently been diagnosed with cancer, and was scheduled to have the tumors removed the next day at the VA hospital down in Los Angeles. However, he thought that he would have to cancel the appointment yet again, because there weren't any calls going that way, until us. Upon getting our call, he realized that he was finally going to get the procedure done, something that worried him almost as much as not getting it done, and he was fretting.

The conversation continued as we wound our way over the Grapevine and down toward our final destination. All the while though, a question ran through the back of my mind. Just coincidence? On this Sunday evening as we unloaded the car in front of my house and Tim helped us push it in, and I saw the smile slowly cross his face I began to have my doubts.

Epilogue: I had the time of my life on this trip. It allowed me to explore several places both outside in a great big world, as well as within myself. It's not often that any of us get the opportunity to stir the old nomad in our souls. The camaraderie and friendship shared with all those that joined us during the course of this run was great, and I look forward to the next time when I can do it again. If your asking yourselves when that might be, well, it's this year! Marna Wood has taken the time to produce this journey again, and the Miatas hit the road from the LA area on May 27 th, 2005. If you have the time, I would highly recommend that you leap on the opportunity. Whether it's for the whole trip, or just a day or two of it, you may visit the website at www.miatafun.net to get more information.

What happened to my car? Oh yes, well, an expired alternator, resulting in a fried battery. This was the cause of my problem. Incredibly, it was the first failure I had encountered with my Miata in five years of ownership, and 105,000 miles of driving it. Until then, all I did was add gas and change the oil. Since then, though, the modification bug has bitten me hard and my base model '99 has gone through a complete transformation. It is now supercharged and intercooled, with an aluminum radiator and Spal racing fans, a la Jackson Racing and Flying Miata. Racing Beat supplied all the suspension components, exhaust, wing, and rear deck. The brakes are by Brembo, and the 17" wheels are from Enkei. The carbon fiber hood, fenders, and side sills are all from DG Motorsports. My shop in Azusa, the Route 66 SOUND Factory, did all the stereo and electrical work; including the HID driving lamps up front, the Pioneer AVIC-N1 in the dash, the Dynaudio speakers throughout, and 1,500 watts worth of Crossfire amplifiers in the fiberglassed trunk. Last, but not least, my friend Robert Briggs in Garden Grove spent almost 500 hours airbrushing flames and H.R. Giger inspired artwork on the entire car. I hope you enjoy the pictures!

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