The Undeniable Lightness of Driving

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A Fuelfed MotorGearo First-Timer Reflects on the Drive

By Joe Rosenthal

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We’re excited to have member Joe Rosenthal share his perspective on what it’s like to drive in the Fuelfed MotorGearo Vintage Rally for the first time.

 

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Back when I was in high school and felt like getting away from it all, I used to hop in my beloved ’84 Scirocco (metallic bronze, sunroof, tinted glass) and just drive. Sometimes it was plowing through snowdrifts in blizzard conditions to watch the tufts of powder explode around me in whorls of snow. At others it was flying up the dirt roads that traversed Cheyenne Mountain at the time, gravel chattering on the undercarriage in the turns. I would always go alone, and the experience was wonderful.

Flash forward 30 years and everything has changed. I’m married with two kids who have more energy than a Pikes Peak Hill Climber. I have responsibilities. Bills to pay. A mortgage. All the stuff your parents warned you about. But perhaps more astonishingly, the world around me has changed even more. Constantly buzzing and dinging cell phones. Thousands of hours of Peak TV on our smart televisions. Endless drop-down menus at our fingertips. Constant but fleeting contact with every single person we’ve ever known. It’s liberating, but also confining. Which brings me to the MotorGearo 250.

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When I signed up for the rally I was intrigued by a few things. One was the camaraderie of Fuelfed friends new and old. I knew the impeccable planning of Fuelfed would ensure an inspired and seamless weekend. I had heard about the Driftless area and was excited to see it up close. And I was curious if my 1976 TR6, which had not been on a drive longer than an hour and a half since I’d purchased it three years ago, would actually make it 500-plus miles in two days. Finally, I was not-so-secretly hoping that the Motorgearo would provide the same kind of diversion my favorite drives did back in the days when John Hughes dominated the mall theaters and my biggest worries didn’t even come close to rating on the Richter scale of adulthood.

I was planning to drive alone. And that fact itself was interesting. When I mentioned it to my friends many of them did a double take. They raised their eyebrows: “Alone?” As if to say, “Why would you ever want to do that?” But I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Those high school drives were about becoming one with road and banishing the complexity of thought. And that wasn’t going to happen with a passenger. It’s not that I don’t appreciate driving with others – there’s a place for it and it can be a blast. But this was something different.

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In New Glarus we broke into our driving groups. I’d be running in Group Four, a friendly bunch of drivers who’d be piloting a ’72 Mercedes 280sel 4.5, ’58 Lancia Aurelia, ’67 Volvo 1800, ’77 TVR, ’79 Fiat 124 and an Intermeccanica 356. A veritable rolling sculpture garden. The TR6 hesitated a little and then sparked to life with a low rumble and some smoke for punctuation. We’d been warned a few times that our cell phones would not work where we were going. I rifled off a couple last text messages and stowed the phone in a side pocket. It would only be off for a few hours, but the thought of replacing it’s pestering vibrations with the constant rumble of the straight six seemed a great bargain.

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I have to admit, for the first segment (there were four a day, of about an hour to and hour-and-a-half each) I was enjoying myself, but I was still tethered to reality. It was similar to that feeling of the first day of vacation, where your mind is still occupied with lingering thoughts of work and deadlines and next steps and action items. But with each curve of the road, that feeling was more and more distant. The thought crossed my mind that while our thumb scrolls have gotten faster, our power of focus had been slowly eroded like aging British steel. And this kind of driving requires nothing if not focus.

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By the time we’d stopped for our BBQ lunch I was fully in the zone. There is a rhythm to the road and the sequence of turns and inclines that is almost musical. It may just have been my imagination but it seemed like the car ran better the higher I revved and the more pushed it. I started to shift less, allowing the car a higher range of revs. Earlier in the day I’d been toggling between third and fourth, but by the end I was committed to third, letting the engine spin and growl through valleys and sweeping turns. I kept waiting for the protestation of a sputter or miss from the engine, but it never arrived. As the hours went by I trusted the car more, and found myself thinking less. By the time we were charging through the woods on the final stretch to Prairie du Chien any thought of the mundanity of work or potential breakdown had long since passed.

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It would be hyperbolic to say I’d become one with the car, but there’s no doubt the relationship had changed. It seemed like time was flying by as fast as the scenery, but at the same time it was becoming easier to perceive the beautiful view all around me. I suppose that as trust in the vehicle increased and mental analysis began to fade, there was more room for perception in the moment. The landscape was stunning. The prettiest I have seen in the Midwest. It was emerald green and hilly like Ireland, but dotted with quintessentially American-looking barns and tractors. Cows grazed on steep inclines dramatized by jutting rock formations. At times the hillsides looked like oil paintings, so perfect were the lines and gradations of color. People were few and far between. Aside from a few Amish families farming and the random resident mowing an improbably massive lawn on a riding tractor, the land-to-human ratio was squarely on the side of the land. It was the kind of scenery that makes you wonder if all the progress we’ve attained has actually been a matter of regress. Cities are exciting and suburbs are quiet and lovely in contrast, but the countryside has an eternal and calming presence. Some may argue it’s the sort of thing best experienced on a hike or wilderness walk, but it has its own perfect impact when seen from a car window with the top down as it unfurls in Technicolor parallax.

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Rounding the final turn of Day One on the stretch to the hotel, the Aurelia in front of me had a minor breakdown. I think it was a Weber getting finicky. But in true Fuelfed fashion, we quickly surrounded the car and pushed it to a safe spot. Of course, a specialist was on hand within moments, the carb disassembled, and the ride preserved. That’s the sort of thing we’ve come to expect from Fuelfed. It was also the sort of inevitable occurrence that breaks a reverie. The drive can’t go on forever. And the fact that we’re challenging fifty-year-old parts to keep on spinning at thousands of revolutions per minute is part of what makes it special. It’s all highly improbable.

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The farm fields and undulating shallow canyons had finally given way to a little bit of traffic and commercial activity. The engine revs dropped and you could see the Fuelfed flags up ahead. My first thought was “Shoot! Let’s keep going all night.” But in actuality I was tired and running on adrenaline. Plus my headlights are poor and there was a Supper Club with Wisconsin-sized Manhattans just around the corner. My second thought was, “ How was that an entire day?” Although I was hot and my arms were tired and I was smelling of exhaust and suntan lotion, I was deeply refreshed. Tired but renewed. And it was the third thought that really struck me: “My cell phone has been dead for hours!” And I didn’t miss it a bit.

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We pulled into spots in the hotel parking lot and finally let the engines rest. The sunlight was falling in an intense afternoon angle in a way that portended rain. We shared congratulations, swapped stories from the road, and struggled to raise our non-compliant convertible tops to protect against the oncoming showers. It was the perfect way to end, fueled by the excitement that we were only halfway to the finish. And that although we were just halfway there, we’d already had the full measure of experience.

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Next Week: The MotorGearo 250 Day Two

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Joe Rosenthal, Fuelfed member 414, is a Creative Technology Director at the ad agency Ogilvy. To prove he has no badge loyalty whatsoever, he’s been the proud owner (in order) of a Sears minibike, 1973 Kawasaki KE100 Enduro, 1964 Alfa Guilia Spider, 1984 Scirocco, 1959 Chevy Apache, two Saab 9-3’s, a Passat, a Tiguan, a 1976 Triumph TR6, and a Hyundai 3-Row Santa Fe.

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One Response to “The Undeniable Lightness of Driving”

  1. trnkablog Says:

    Great story! And even better pictures.

    Jean

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