Phil and I like to sit back and marvel about what an extraordinary summer we had. In some respects it was unbelievable. We drove approximately 11,500 miles. It has been a blast, honestly we are both ready to do it again taking more time and more money! The Moss Motoring Challenge? Well, all we can say about that is Thank You. Never in either of our lives—both being frequent travelers and both of us in our 80s—have we paid so much attention to what was around us, and what a wonderful conversation piece this Epic Scavenger Hunt made when we met up with locals and travelers everywhere.
It all began with a telephone call from my cousin in Scotland to say they were planning a June visit to see their daughter and her family who recently immigrated to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Would Phil and I consider coming to join them? That was all the invitation we needed.
The first decision is: do we fly and not see much of anything until we get to Nova Scotia, or, if we drive, what else would we want to do and see on our way out there? So out comes my ‘bucket list’ and a nudge brings Phil’s out too. We note some things we can accomplish along the way on our drive so the first decision is easy, we will drive Phil’s SUV. But wait…
Around the beginning of March, I received a Moss Motors catalog. Lo and behold, they are running a contest called the Moss Motoring Challenge 2013. Hmm, how could we resist a driving challenge when we’re already planning a trip from Colorado to Nova Scotia, Canada and back? The SUV will stay in the garage. In its place, a 36-year-old MGB. Phil spent a significant amount of time and money getting his car in tip-top shape. Why keep it locked up in a garage?
Full of confidence and excitement we leave on May 30. Crossing the northeastern flatlands of Colorado and Nebraska there is not too much enthusiasm from the driver about this Challenge until coaxed by me to STOP! We just passed the Keenesburg city sign. It is a favorite of mine. The city boasts “500 happy residents and a few soreheads.” From this point on we have to agree that U-turns and sudden stops are going to become commonplace on this trip. How many of us ever pay attention to all the towns and counties as we drive from A to B? On our first night we find a motel in Valentine, Nebraska.
Leaving Valentine, Phil notices a slight slipping of the clutch. Probably no more than a simple adjustment or tinkering is required. Phil confesses that anything beyond that is way above his capabilities. The clutch is getting worse. We are wondering how far it is to the nearest city that would have anyone knowledgeable about clutches on an old British car. We are hopeful of making it to Duluth, Minnesota. To get there as soon as possible we put Duluth in the GPS and go on our merry way. As mentioned earlier our bucket lists helped to plan the routes we would take. Phil wanted to complete his goal to have been in all 50 states, but the GPS’s take on the fastest way to Duluth doesn’t hit North Dakota—still on Phil’s list. Not to worry, I know we’re going to need lots of practice at U-turns, another opportunity will eventually get us turned around and into North Dakota.
The Space above Vining
It is now Sunday and we are driving through Minnesota and ready for a morning coffee break. We came across a village named Vining, it boasted being the birthplace of Karen Nyberg, the astronaut. We spent a delightful mid-morning break at the village coffee shop where half the town’s population of 72, gather each Sunday after church. They were so interested in our car and our intended journey. They shared with us information about the park next door to the coffee shop and explained that Karen Nyberg’s father created all the sculptures, each one being true to scale. They told us that as we were speaking, Karen was actually in space. Our Valentine, Nebraska was tempting to keep as our “V” city but one never knows what lies ahead, so now it is Vining.
The clutch is still an issue that is not going away. However, judicious driving gets us to Duluth and the search begins for a repair shop. The only one advertised as a British car garage could not take us for several days so Phil settled for a garage that specialized in clutches. Two and a half days later, we left Duluth with a new clutch and a much lighter wallet.
Still with a fairly blank Challenge form, we are always on the lookout for city and county names that we needed while we keep heading toward Sault Ste. Marie where we will do some sight seeing. Phil wanted to see the locks in operation. We were very lucky and arrived just in time to see two large ships going through the lock. We visited Mackinac Island touring it in a horse and buggy. We saw the Grand Hotel though we did not stay there overnight. There are no cars allowed on this island so we could not meet any of our Challenge requirements.
Toward the end of a day we crossed into Canada. Now we are far enough from home that people notice the license plate on a strange looking car, “You drove that thing all the way from Colorado? You must be crazy?” Our answer is always the same, “Yes, we probably are a little crazy, but we left Colorado in a 36-year old car expecting to have mechanical troubles. That’s part of the experience.” And so it was. Looking back, the clutch was our only major obstacle.
The distance and scenery from one Province to the next is like crossing some of our western states, trees and rocks, rocks and trees. However, the drive was very pleasant and each stop usually resulted in a social time with very hospitable Canadians. When two flat tires happened close together, with no Discount Tire on the next block, we truly experienced Canadian helpfulness. It was on this stretch that we found out not all flat tires are for naught! A sign for Renfrew County was conveniently placed where Phil stopped to fix a flat.
Moving along at a leisurely pace, we never drove more than about 350 miles a day. We reached our first stop to play the tourist in Ottawa, a lovely city. We spent our planned two days walking the city, visiting their parliament building, sampling local foods, talking with the locals, having one tire repaired, and buying one new tire.
Leaving Ottawa we take a leisurely 133-mile drive to Montreal. Stopping at the visitor center we book a hotel room in downtown Montreal and spend Friday walking around the city. The next day a major summer storm hits Montreal. Sightseeing will not be so pleasant with the hood up. It doesn’t matter, we find we have an electrical breakdown; wipers, temperature and gas gauge are not working. In the bucketing rain, Phil attempts to scrape off corrosion on the fuses, to no avail. Back in our hotel room we make several calls to our home MGCC members and to Haggerty Insurance asking for help in finding the name of a garage; we get one but by now it is closed. We resign ourselves to spending the weekend in Montreal. We brave the wind and rain to walk to a Greek restaurant nearby for dinner. Here we enjoy a conversation with the owner, a few laughs, some imbibing followed by a delicious dinner that certainly lifted our spirits.
Monday morning the rain abates and Phil is able to drive the car to the garage. The owner is a very pleasant man, who, after looking over the situation tells Phil, “I believe you may have a serious problem here.” Phil falls into a seat in the waiting room asking himself…What were we thinking driving this car? About ten minutes later the owner enters the waiting room, as Phil stands to hear the bad news he’s handed a small piece of emery paper and told, “Keep this in your wallet at all times.” The owner charged Phil $0.00 for his time and knowledge. The problem was corroded clips on the fuse box.
On to Quebec. Old Quebec was overflowing with tourists and buzzing with activity and traffic. All but Phil and I seemed to be adept at handling the French language, but we got by.
As Far East as We Can Go
Our Challenge form slowly filled up. After Quebec, we follow the St. Lawrence Seaway into New Brunswick. At Cape Tormentine we crossed the bridge into Prince Edward Island and immediately fell in love. It is a dream island for touring in an MG: scenic, quaint, with a lovely country road that hugs the coastline. I was in seventh heaven with the delicious fish and chips, served with a cup of good tea that we found along the way. At our previous night’s motel, we had met a couple from Edmonton, Canada who were touring their country by motorbike. They told us of a car show in Summerside, PEI, so the next morning we drove there to be greeted warmly by all the people busy setting up the show. We did not want to stay too long as the island had some beautiful Provincial parks we planned to visit. They took our picture and we had car show #1. During the daylong drive around the island, we found many county names we could use that were oh so British, like Kent, Northumberland, King, and Queen. Ending up in the capital, Charlottetown we boarded the ferry to Pictou, Nova Scotia.
We were ready for a break from driving. A week at Susan and Ian’s with their parents, my cousin from Ayrshire, Scotland was a real treat. Phil wanted to see the tide rise at the Bay of Fundy. With help from Ian we got to a perfect location. The day we were there, the tide rose 44 feet…an amazing sight.
Once back on the road returning to the USA by way of Maine we gathered more cities, counties, and states—each one a treasured point.
Come Sail Away
My bucket list included going on a windjammer cruise. Phil found a two-mast ketch sailing out of Camden, Maine on June 23. We got the last cabin, if you can call it that—more like a berth. Perfect. Or, it was almost perfect as long as one had packed warm clothes. It was so much fun with a young crew that were totally tuned in to us old folks—‘old’ covered about everyone on the ship…a group of 28 seniors, six crew, and thank goodness, a captain who knew what he was doing. A park ranger from Acadia National Park was aboard, and each day gave us a talk about Penobscot Bay. We sailed for six days around the islands, and stopped to visit one of the islands each day. As passengers it was our task to row the ship’s twelve-man boat to these islands and back to the ship. We anchored at night. On one of the islands a lobster bake and a wedding, officiated by the captain, was enjoyed by all. At every meal the food was outstanding. To wake up each morning to the smell of fresh bread baking is surely the closest thing to heaven. Unfortunately, they would not let us take the MG aboard, but throughout the week our story of the Challenge was told. We made several friends that we know will be keeping in touch, if for no other reason than to find out the results of our Challenge.
June 29, and it was back on land searching for more points. A couple more bucket list items were completed. Phil has now been in Maine so all 50 states are covered. In Boston I was able to visit my 8th Presidential library. The drive from Maine to Ohio filled in many empty lines on our Challenge form. Gradually we are mounting up the points. Some states have their welcome signs in very difficult places to stop and get a picture. “Safety Fast” took on a different meaning on this trip. The weather could have been more cooperative through Massachusetts and the Catskills. It was in Ohio that we found the city of Xenia—that made for an “a-ha!” moment. I switched our pick for “L” from my hometown of Littleton, to London, Ohio in deference to my home in England after moving there from Edinburgh, Scotland.
A stay with Phil’s family in Cleveland was another pleasant break from driving. Interestingly, the Tall Ships were visiting the Cleveland harbor while we were there. In conversation with other visitors we were able to guarantee them it was much more fun to actually sail on one. Back on the road again and a few more stops, u-turns, Kodak moments and an admitted 40 miles out of the way to pick up Zionsville, Indiana, our 26th city. We arrived home on July 8.
Now we are getting down to the wire. Phil is mildly obsessed with the challenge. We visit every car show we can find then embark on a two-day trip to Eastern Colorado to get Yuma County, continuing through South Dakota to find Zeibach County. We are now in need of only one county, a few forests, parks, and whatever states we can pick upon our way to visit my son in Arizona.
On September 17, we leave Littleton, Colorado heading to Utah to get Iron County, our 25th. As far as we have been able to research there is no county beginning with the letter X in the USA, and we did not see one in Canada. Anyone find one?
We travelled through Capitol Reef National Park where we met a man recently retired, who flew from Norway to New York bringing his bicycle; he heads west. He had been on the road 45 days and was on his way to San Francisco where he would return to Norway. We enjoyed a visit to the most remote Mormon settlement outside of Salt Lake City; that is in Escalante. We continue our travels through Utah, Nevada, California, and Arizona arriving at the Snowflake home of my son. A welcome five-day break. From there we drove toward Moab, Utah first stopping at the Petrified Forest where we take a picture of Phil wearing the old fashioned pilot’s helmet and goggles that were a gift from his son to celebrate Phil’s petrified 85th birthday. Now on to Canyon De Chelly for a night at the beautiful lodge and amazing scenic drives around the Canyon. Next to Four Corners, a tad out of our way but a point is a point and perhaps we get extra points for that? No? Oh well, we got New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado anyway.
We joined our car club members in Moab for five days celebrating the 20th MOAB (Motoring on all Back-roads) tour. From there we took day trips to the different National Parks. Some members went four-wheeling in Canyonlands.
Arriving back to our separate homes, content with our efforts, and possibly in contention for at least one of the top three prizes, we settle down to life as we knew it before the Moss Motoring Challenge. A morning conversation with Phil recounts his first night at home. It was a nightmare. He dreamt that an MG owner, towing his car behind his motorhome drove through all 48 lower states and 13 Canadian Provinces, garnering an unbeatable total points. Perhaps this indicates that it is time for the MG to be bedded down for the winter and for us to dream of our next challenge.
By Olive Aithie-Wilkison