Randall Thomas - Cobra #455- 2,628 mile 8 day trip - 839 mile single 12.5 hr drive
The destination for the Fall Superformance Snake Roundup in mid September to South Dakota, was a nice change of pace and excellent choice of dates and weather window to enjoy weather which seemed like mid-summer up North. Aside from the wonderful event that was the destination itself, I'd like to let you in on my own journey to and from the event in South Dakota from Southeastern Wisconsin, and maybe, if I'm lucky, inspire more of you to start driving your cars on long journeys and destinations unknown, in the future. Before the September 14-18 2021 FSR, I had planned on taking my truck and trailer with the car inside... mostly, because I love driving the truck and trailer! Almost more than the car even. Maybe even more. The big Dually drags that trailer all over like it wasn't even there, and I can travel further and faster in the truck than any Cobra, over 700 miles between fuel stops.
However, I had some last minute projects leading up to the the FSR that required more time than I had anticipated on, one being a job that started out as simply installing seat heaters, headlights and an RT/aed carb in Gary Clark's car before going to South Dakota, but after finding some surprise fuel and engine related problems during the seat heater test drive, it wound up being a lot more. Gladly we got Gary's hot rod going and into his hands the Thursday before the FSR event, but it left me with just one day to finish getting everything ready for myself, and there as NO way I could prep all three vehicles in one day.
So with less than 24 hours from the departure time, it was clear I would have to drive the Cobra the 2,600 mile round trip. However the weather looked unseasonably awesome for the next week, so heck, why not! Diane said "let's do it!". Luckily my car, even when not prepped, is still probably one of the most prepared Superformances on the planet even though the last time I drove it was on the 2,000 mile Supercruz only a month earlier and the side pipe still needed to be TIG welded back on, and tires aired up. The trunk always stays packed with tools and equipment. I got done welding and putting pipes back on and engineering a new bracket at 9pm. Home to pack clothes.
So at the last minute we re-packed our suitcases into duffel bags and departed "late" after 9 am on Saturday morning after we took the Danes to the doggie hotel, but yet still allowed plenty of time to arrive in South Dakota by Tuesday. Diane and I left in the Cobra and Penny drove her cobra as well, more than happy to leave her newly bought Truck and Trailer behind. We left not knowing where we were going or where we'd end up that night. We just drove the back roads through Wisconsin on a warm, sunny September Saturday morning. There was a chance that we'd take a detour to the Colorado Rockies before heading to the black hills. We didn't know for sure, we just headed west. Where we wound up is where we'd wind up. It just didn't matter. The feeling of just being on the road, not knowing where you are going and with no need to be anywhere at any one time, is the freedom that the Cobra is all about. Just you, and the open road. Nothing else. Nothing compares to it, and nothing can describe it. But I'll try! After several relaxing gas stops along the way, we saw some dark clouds ahead and at 6:30pm we ended up in Chamberlain, South Dakota about 600 miles later... which is a very interesting small western town. We motel'd well off the beaten path in a vintage classic motor inn and had dinner at some redneck yacht club on the mighty Missouri river where Louis and Clark camped. The marina was all pontoon boats with on board bars. The BBQ was great, and the locals made the liquor induced discussions interesting.
Sunday morning we got up late after a long quiet rest and drove up along the Missouri river to a level of remoteness I had never experienced before. We left the middle of nowhere 50 miles back and kept going. There was a "road closed" sign with an abandoned overturned truck on the side of the road (I kid you not) which we ignored, but later, the grass growing in the road should have held us back, but it didn't. The road turning into gravel, then to peet dirt with a lot of of abandoned road equipment sitting there silent right where the road disappeared into churned up dirt. Still it looked passable. I was going to stop and fly the drone out to see if the road got better, but since the Drone can only go 6-8 miles and still make it back, we could almost see that far and no pavement in site. If I flew further, I didn't want to walk that far through the dirt to retrieve it if it ran out of power to get back. None of this sounded like somewhere a Cobra should be, but a Superformance is no ordinary Cobra, nor are we ordinary people. In hindsight, I should have.... and next time I will, dammit! I can't believe I let that opportunity slip by. I won't let it happen again.
So we turned around and backtracked, once again passing the overturned Apocalypse truck by the road (if it were smoldering, it would have been perfect) and headed out on another unamed road. The road was straight as far as the eye can see, which you could see 10 miles down in the valley. It was more like a series of small ski jumps, requiring you to slow from the 65 mph speed limit to about 20 or suffer the consequences. Had there not been a car in front of us who knew they were there, we'd have hit them at 65+... as it was, passing over these launch ramps at 20 was quite jolt. 70 would have broken ski jump records, and more. Once hitting the first cross road, we took it. It was old Hwy 16 west, which the Interstate replaced a long time ago. It was more or less a frontage road about a mile from the Interstate, but decently maintained. Once and a while we veered near the Interstate and since we were flying about 20 mph faster than they were at their 80 mph restriction, we got a lot of looks. And of course, no patrols on this desolate road. We drove this for 165 miles which seemed to fly right by.
While on this road, you could really sit back and relax and cover some serious ground. There were NO other cars on this road for 165 miles. Except for one. Coming over a hill I saw something in the road. As I got closer I could see it was a piece of wide farm machinery right in the middle, wavering back and forth. WTF? To avoid getting caught in his weaving, I dropped 2 wheels into the grass and made a pass. As I did the unaware driver in the pickup truck had his head tilted back with a White Claw in his hand guzzling down the sparkling goodness with a dash full lined up of empties. I'm sure when he made his last swallow and lowered his head he probably wondered where that car a couple hundred feet in front of him came from. Or, maybe not. We passed through Rapid city and took the backroads of Nemo road and Vanocker Canyon into the Black Hills and then drove safely and responsibly through the well posted 45 mph school zone to the Full Throttle Saloon, and then to Deadwood for the night. Had a great night in downtown Deadwood on a Sunday evening and got into the Deadwood Social Club above the No. 10 Saloon for dinner, which is a rarity with no reservations.
Monday morning brought some much cooler temps and was drizzling a bit as we headed south to a small cafe for breakfast and spent as much time there as we could to escape the weather until there was a break in the drizzle, looked at the weather radar and decided to flee west to Wyoming where the weather was nice and hot (words never before spoken on a South Dakota cruise). A couple hours later and we were basking in the sunshine in Wyoming. As we entered Newcastle, Penny said she "heard a side pipe noise." Well, yeah. no kidding! The studs that attached the heat shield to the pipe clamp rusted away and the shield swung out. Having a lot of recent experience with on the road side pipe repairs from this past SuperCruz, we decided to take advantage of this and headed to the city park in Newcastle with a NAPA right next to it. Since we literally had nothing else to do that day (that was so awesome to say!), we relaxed while taking as long as possible to do the curbside automotive surgery. After getting some stainless hose clamps, we had it fixed better than ever... even looks good too. Now we're back on the road toward the Black Hills again, but not before absorbing as much Vitamin D as possible. This is NOT something you hear anyone say in this area in July or August!
Once we crossed back across the South Dakota line from our little rejuvenating detour, we stopped at a little hotel in Custer, SD called the "Dakota Cowboy Hotel". Now, unlike the other "tourist towns" in the Black Hills at this time, Custer was NOT busy at all. None of the hotels were in Custer. But they were not all that cheap either, even though the prices were still better than the other towns. In fact, we had the entire hotel parking lot to ourselves. No kidding! As we just sat and relaxed in our private parking lot for the afternoon, when night fell we watched Ashton and Cynthia head up the road to Keystone on the tracking APP on our cellphones. We saw him coming and he passed RIGHT next to our hotel, almost running us over standing in the street because Cynthia had a 9-1-1 pee stop. It was serious! They came back from the gas station and stopped in for an hour before they departed to the Keystone hotel before midnight that night.
Tuesday morning we explored some of the cruise roads in advance to prepare for and avoid the closed roads and freshly graveled surfaces we discovered on our route. We arrived in Keystone just after noon time and hung out until the broken carnage of Gary Clark's alternator explosion was trailered in from the road 250 miles away, and we begun work on it as soon as it arrived. The FSR was less than 600 miles total for the next three days, from Wednesday to Friday, which is short in comparison for a typical SuperCruz which was completed a month before at nearly 2,000 miles, yet about double of most FSR's. After those wonderful 3 days with the rest of the group, Saturday morning we all headed back to our respected origins, and the three driven Cobras got together had a jump on all the trailers except for Dan who we promptly caught up to and put in out rear view mirror in short order before we reached the Minnesota border.
Now, while it took 1,219 miles for us to get to our South Dakota destination in Keystone, it only took 839 miles to get back, because we drove straight through with three cars, Penny, Gary Clark and myself. Gary had his new headlights on in the back and even with other cars and their headlights on during the brightness of mid-day, I still could tell where Gary was when we were mixing it up in traffic. We were driving with the fastest traffic much of the way, and maybe slightly faster during other parts of the day. Still it was certainly not as fast as we could have gone if we were on "a mission". Instead of running hard on the road, we just made sure we were not wasting that accumulated time when we were off the road. It was a nice drive. Very nice. And the weather could not have been better, JUST enough where you didn't need a jacket and certainly never too warm.
The Thomas and Clark expedition going eastward with Sacaga-Penny in the middle of the canoe went like a well oiled machine. We all knew what the other was thinking. Not a word spoken on the radio until 30 miles from a needed fuel stop. Fuel was taken on, snacks were gathered and restrooms were visited and we were in the cars and starting engines all at the same time with no calls for attention being needing. Most of the gas stations we stopped at on a Saturday afternoon were very quiet, and almost barren as weekend travelers were either already at their destinations or not yet heading home the next day. We had the road to ourselves under a sunny blue warm sky. Let's Hit it! Gas stations are the Oasis's of the open road. A place of rest, replenishment and wonderment. "How many pumps are there? Who will be there filling up? What kind of snacks and vittles will they have inside?" All those things differ from station to station and add another layer of interest to the journey. Gas station stops are the separating "chapters" in your travel log, and many times the most memorable parts of where you were during those times of the day. After all is taken care of and you're settled back in your little starship, leaving a gas station is almost like leaving an island and heading back out into the open sea.
Before this expedition began, Gary never thought that he'd never make it home all in a day and was planning on stopping in LaCrosse, but with 650 miles behind us and still only 5pm, since this was the 200 miles to go mark, Gary said he was ready and raring to go some more and go all the way! We made the trip leaving 7am and arriving home before 9pm that same Saturday evening (not including losing an hour on the clock from the time zone change). And, all of us were raring to go some more. not a lot more, but definitely another 100 miles or so. 950 to 1,000 miles would have felt good and still be a good day. Just a car off the lot wouldn't provide those same results. It takes a little bit to get your car comfortable for you, making the drive easier and the length of the drive more easily extended if needed. It's not a lot, but each person is different. While we weren't rushing at all, and we even relaxed a bit at the 5 fuel stops every 210 miles, we also did not waste time either. That made it a pretty fun, fast, efficient and enjoyable journey. There is nothing more guilt packed than making good time on the road and then wasting it for 45 minutes at a gas station or at a sit down order restaurant. Light meals on the go and road snacks just add to the fun, as well as contribute to the efficiency of the journey. Consider that every 5 minutes stopped is 6 or 7 miles lost on the road, and every 5 mph slower on the road equates to a 1 hour longer arrival time at the end of most 600 mile or longer journeys. It wasn't long before night fell.
If you have not experienced it yet, the truth is, there is nothing quite like driving the Cobra into a warm, glowing sunset and into the cloaked darkness of night. Without bright lighting it can be a nightmare. As the sun disappeared the road lit up like daylight and well into the ditches making it comfortable to drive. When there were no oncoming cars, a flip to the high beams ignited two spotlights beam modes to punch through the darkness and good thing too, as I could see pairs of glowing deer eyes almost a mile away... waiting to commit suicide by Cobra. Disaster avoided. One of the most rewarding things to do in a Cobra on a clear night is to look up. The bright stars and the sense that you are out in the open driving in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere with no one else on the road. The absolute epitome of "freedom", and an open road adventure. Just remember to look back down, those deer are waiting! As I neared the glowing eyes that I could see well in advance, I'd step it in neutral and rev up the I-C-E and the critters would go scattering. It was a good evening. A very good evening. But it got cool fast... but "the hot seat switch" was there waiting. ahhhh. Driving under 55-60 mph is a joy, since once you get into the 70's the wind noise increases exponentially, and 80 is deafening and 90 is unbearable... unless you are protected with the Bose ear buds. 55 was like standing still considering the ground we just covered. And it was nice.
Driving a Cobra, whether it be on the backroads or the Interstate is rewarding no matter what. We were prepared for the long haul and that makes all the difference. Of all the odd things to claim the comfort of a long trip on, I'd have to say the "Hot-Seat" Cobra Valley Seat Heaters made it all possible. Aside from unprecedented warmth, the soothing effect to the back is even enjoyable when it's NOT cold out! In fact, I had mine on when it was 80 degrees outside if felt so good! Gary Clark DEMANDED his be installed before we left, even above and beyond any of the other mechanical stuff, and one of the reasons I had to leave my trailer behind to get them done. I don't think Gary regrets that decision at all. The Cobra Valley Lightning White-III LED bright lights at night to see miles ahead and into the ditches on Deer infested fall roads. The Super smooth Coba Valley 'Super-Tuned' suspension made those rough roads bearable (and I mean rough! omg). The Bose noise cancelling ear buds quieted the exhaust drone, reduces the wind and calmed the nerves, and then wearing a knit shoreman's hat over your ears really reduces the wind buffeting, almost down to zero. This was a huge deal!
The vacuum insulated drink bottles allow you to get a quick drink by not having to open a cooler each time which tends to give you more small drinks when needed rather than big gulps only after you're parched. After 12 hours in the car and in the sun it still was full of ice at the end of the day, even though the drink was gone. And being able to crunch on ice during a hot day is a pure luxury. And, having a small cooler filled with backup drinks and sandwiches and still have ice in it by the end of the day, the Polar Bear coolers are inexpensive and amazing, better than even the YETI stuff at a fraction of the cost. Without those random little items, it would not have happened, and if it did, I would have been dragging tail those last miles over the finish line. But it wasn't like that, it was a blast! I have to thank Gary for giving me (no choice to have) the opportunity to enjoy the best drive of the year one last time this year, and possibly one of the top Cobra drives I have ever made.
In the end, the point is, you do what you want to do, and what feels right. And that is the secret to a wonderful road trip. And don't just limit yourself to only a couple hundred miles away from home... pull the trigger and head to those out of the way, long distance great destinations you've always dreamed of taking your car on! Bur rather than packing it into just a weekend, just take off a whole week to do it so you leave yourself plenty of extra time so there are no worries, no concerns, no goals and no limitations of when you have to be back. Just be "free"!
And while you might think that driving down an Interstate is not worthy of a Cobra... it's is! Because you are still in your Cobra! Of course if you can plan the back roads to your destination, even if just a secondary highway, slowing down every now and then and seeing all those out of the way towns you'd otherwise never see, is worth it. I highly suggest to anyone with a Cobra, Coupe, GT40 or Grand Sport to pack up and head out on a grand road trip across the country... just you, your car and the open road. Nowhere particular to go, just look at the clouds and head to the clear skies in the horizon. It will be the best time you've ever had with your car, and your spouse or child or best friend, and you will start a new and exciting trend for future adventures to come. Once you are hooked, it's like no other drug in the world. And it's healthier and more satisfying than any of them!
While we always TRY to capture this same free spirit in our "Road Trip" SuperCruz events, we have yet to just "Head out to destinations unknown". We've always had a goal. A plan. A map. A list of things to do and see. We have no choice with that many people. But someday, we'll throw all caution to the wind and just "Drive", somewhere. Anywhere. No GPS's... throw everyone's phone in a trunk... not even a compass. Just us, our cars, and free 'Murica, and we'll see where we end up each night. Only in a Cobra can you experience all that, and if you haven't yet, your Cobra is waiting, begging for you to take it for a long run! And only in a Superformance can you do that more successfully and more reliably than any other custom built car, allowing you to focus more on the fun, and not on the run.
Don't spend your time to let other people look at your car. DRIVE your car and YOU enjoy your car. And with trunks of memories still to come, long may you run.