TT-East 2012 – The Drive of a Lifetime
The essence of TT-East 2012 was driving. Covering 1,000 miles of the finest tarmac known to man or beast (more about the beast later) in 5 days. This was for many of us the drive of a lifetime. Those of us fortunate enough to join in on the TT-East that almost never was, we still break into big grins when we think back to this tour of the Appalachians. Thank you to Evan, aka Scenic Driver for pulling TT-East out of the ashes and onto the roads of Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.
TT’s came from near and far, driving a combined total of 7,260 miles to be part of TT-East 2012. Drivers and passengers, most of them attendees of TT-East 2011, came from Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia. Twelve TT’s participated, several Mk I’s from 2001 and upward, a 2008 DSG Roadster, and two 2012 TTRS’s, one of them highly modified. The most mileage on an odometer was 222,222, the least 5,000. There were just two cars with matching wheels; the other ten accounted for eleven different kinds because one TT boasted different wheels on each side.
For the first two days we had a special visitor, a brand new white Audi RS5 brought to us by Audi of America representative Denni Chu and his girlfriend Carey Zhou. Denni Chu, Product Planning Specialist at AOA drove with a revolving cast of drivers in the RS5 and talked with us about our experiences driving our TT’s, car dealers, politics and any topic of our choice. A special award should be given to Carey as she was relegated to the back seat while one of us was charging around corners in the RS5. The day after Denni’s departure he sent us all a thank you email where he mentioned that this is his favorite work-related task all year. He really fit in well and the only thing that set him apart was that he wasn’t in a TT.
Monday morning, August 6, we arrived at the Afton Overlook, marking the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, lined up our cars, listened to a quick driver briefing, and mounted up. Our back roads tour through six states began at Rockfish Gap, which is the south entrance onto beautiful Skyline Drive in Virginia. The day was overcast with a threat of showers, so all but one roadster decided to keep their tops up. A few miles in, the sky opened up and Don G. and Marla either had to drive faster than the rain or pull over and put the top back up on their car.
We followed the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains north for 105 miles. This gently curving road splits Shenandoah National Park, which was formed in 1935 from more than a thousand privately owned tracts of land. Our first lunch stop was at the Pollock Dining Room of Skyland Resort, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and located at the highest point of elevation on Skyline Drive at 3,680 feet.
At a stop after lunch, Denni presented us all TT hats courtesy of AOA. Then it was back on the road. A few minor mechanical/electronic (escaping MAF!) maladies were quickly solved by the master mechanics among us with the help of calibrated zip ties, while a dozen or so supervisors looked on. Note the TT hats being sported by mechanics and helpers.
Coming down from the mountain ridges with our ears popping from the elevation change we were introduced to many enjoyable miles of curvy roads winding through the lush Shenandoah Valley. We looked up to impressive views of the mountaintops, sometimes capped by low lying clouds, always curtained with a hazy blue color.
A friendly local gentleman with his one-horsepower Quattro was waiting for us when we stopped at the Shenandoah River Park in Shenandoah, VA, to view the scenery plus the many wandering ducks and geese. The Virginia rider claimed to having not held a driver’s license for more than a decade and used his horse as his year round transportation (fitted with lights for night operation).
Many of us ended that first day at an Ethiopian restaurant in Harrisonburg, VA. We dined on injera, berbere, kitfo, tibs, wat, and niter kibbeh, cuisine items that all but a couple of us had never tasted and certainly did not expect in Appalachia. Someone suggested that nothing could bring us together more quickly than an opportunity to try eating with our hands using no utensils. Luckily, after some initial trepidation while perusing menus at the Blue Nile, many new and different tastes and textures were discovered and enjoyed by all.
Day two began with an amazing display of driving on twisty mountain roads by a local UPS driver who led us up, over and around hills and hairpin curves. We pushed hard to keep pace as the UPS driver negotiated the roads with one hand on the wheel and the other on a handle placed to help him stay in the truck.
The day’s drive took us to a stop at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory near Greenbank, WV. The NRAO is the operator of the world’s largest steerable radio telescope, as well as other notable telescopes, among them the 140-foot radio telescope that uses an equatorial mount, which is uncommon for telescopes.
We continued on past Cass and Snowshoe Mountain, making our way to The Highland Scenic Highway, one of the highest major roadways in the east. It was like a smaller version of Skyline Drive, except it was free, the speed limits were higher, and we never got stuck behind a driver from Florida. As we were getting close to our lunch stop in Lewisburg, WV, the Vermont TT got a taste of rural West Virginia when a road worker yelled over to it about us being hippies (Adrienne was driving so they missed Ed’s crew cut). We brought the Friends and this place served the great Food in Lewisburg, WV.
After lunch we drove along the hills and vistas of WV’s midsection headed to view the New River Gorge Bridge, which soars 876 feet above the New River and was built at a cost of $37 million. It was the highest vehicular bridge in the world when opened. Higher ones have been built since but this one remains the fifth highest in the world.
After viewing the bridge from above, we wound down the narrow (barely wider than a TT), mostly one lane Fayette Station Road and the Tunney Hunsaker bridge that had to be used before the new bridge was built. This was an unusual and little known road that was commented on by many.
On the third day, Wednesday, we set off through the heart of coal country as we toured through the mountains and valleys of Southern West Virginia on what promised to be some of the best roads of the drive including WV-16/VA-16. A couple of events took place that changed our drive over this stretch of our journey. Marla and Don G’s TT had to pull over because of a boost hose losing its religion (coming unclamped). Marla got on the radio to tell us she could manage the repairs and we could go on ahead. Unfortunately our group was held up over what could have been some really fast and fun tarmac by a very inconsiderate driver who refused to use one of any number of pull offs to let us pass. Our loss was Marla and Don’s gain as they hit that stretch of road without impediment and arrived at lunch at the Old Mill in Damascus, VA with ear-to-ear grins.
On the way to Blowing Rock, NC, we stopped for gas at Boone, NC, and were surprised by a visit from an early silver TT, driven by Olivia Kay Stanley accompanied by her sister, Rachel. She described her car as “naked,” since it did not have the rear spoiler, and was delighted to see so many TTs in one place. She and her sister joined us for the remainder of our day’s drive to Blowing Rock and then accompanied us for dinner. We were happy to have another silver TT in our convoy even if it was only for a few hours.
The next morning while the rest of us were probably still sleeping, Evan looking for a few minutes to himself, hiked up to one of his favorite spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway and got pictures of this beautiful sunrise.
On Thursday we drove on more great roads, one of the best being 18 miles on US 221 in NC, especially liked by Ted Dannemiller, who joined us for the final two days with his brand new TTRS, highly tuned by APR, looking beautifully blue, and performing with thrilling pace.
We stopped for a rest and a visit at the Museum of North Carolina Minerals at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 331, after which we were treated to NC’s offering of switchbacks of almost 360 degrees, the Diamondback (NC-226a), with strings of linked S-curves and a steady climb through lush green forest.
Lunchtime brought us to Lake Lure, which was created in 1927 by the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Rocky Broad River and is considered one of the most beautiful man-made lakes in America by National Geographic.
While we ate lunch, our TTs were joined in the parking lot by 22 Plymouth Prowlers (automatic transmissions!) out on a cruise. Chrysler stopped making these after 2002, so none were new, but most sported exotic paint jobs.
After lunch Ted aka InTTruder gave us a very helpful lecture on SOG: Separation, Options, and Grip. Our group had begun to be a little complacent in our driving and we were given a great lesson on how to be more skilled and safer group drivers. Thank you Ted.
The last leg of our journey took us to Caesar’s Head State Park and after enjoying hundreds of miles on the back roads in WV, VA, NC, TN, and SC, we drove into Georgia on twisty Warwoman Road, heading for our final destination of Helen, an alpine village boasting hints of Bavaria.
On a clear day the tall buildings in Atlanta are visible from the summit, which is the highest point in Georgia at 4,784 feet of elevation above sea level, but the weather would not let us verify that. Even the two-mile steep drive up to the parking lot was foggy, so we gently edged our way around the tight curves.
The drives around Helen wove up, down, and around rolling mountains of the Chattahoochee National Forest, presenting us with some of the twistiest roads of the entire TT-East adventure. One road in particular, the Wolf Pen Gap Road became the stuff of legend. We started up the road having a blast around turns that caused our cars equipped with ESP to shout “nein” as we weighted and unweighted opposing sides of our cars through the carousel corners. Our fun was short lived as we came upon a propane truck that was crawling up the road. Evan radioed for us to pull over; we waited 10 minutes for the truck to pass and then saddled up to complete the sports car roller coaster ride. Unfortunately Chris had to leave in the late afternoon and as we got back to the hotel it began to dawn on us that our week-long thrill ride was rapidly coming to a close.
We officially ended with a closing dinner on the roofed outside deck of the Chophouse at LaPrade’s Marina overlooking Lake Burton in Georgia, with several members of the Georgia Chapter of the Audi Club joining our celebration of a great TT-East. We also celebrated Bryan Irolla’s birth anniversary with a group sing of Happy Birthday as he blew out the candle on his dessert.
Evan Sokol Photo
On Saturday 4 TTs left Helen, Georgia in a perfect blend of two coupes to two roadsters on a journey to The Tail of the Dragon, some of us had never been there or to the Cherohala Skyway so we decided to add another day to our time together. It was great to visit this legend of a road containing 318 curves in 11 miles, but truth be told we were on much less crowded and just as fun roads for the preceding days of TT-East.
To most people a road trip is a destination or collection of destinations, usually travelled to in the fastest way possible, with maybe a little scenic or twisty driving along the way. To take a 1000+ mile journey comprised almost entirely of local roads, accented by restaurants & stops that really let you experience where you are travelling through is something everyone should try. To do it with a great group of TT owners and driving enthusiasts really makes it something special. All in all we headed home with memories of truly exciting roads driven in our cars the way they were meant to be driven.
I was trying to figure out how to end this article while I was looking online at the pictures that were taken by killboy and us129.com at the Tail of the Dragon when we were there. As I was looking through the pictures I found the ones of Marla & Don and I don’t think their smiles could have been any bigger. It perfectly summed up this year’s TT-East so I’ll leave you with a description of that image, a happy group of people driving a great road in the car that they love.
TT-East 2013 will be Monday, September 23, through Friday, September 27, 2013. This will be a Fall tour through Maine and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Bring your TTs, and remember that all Audi enthusiasts are welcome to participate but in order to insure a smooth trip, the number of cars for extended road trips like this must be limited so early registration is recommended. For more information, visit the TT-East facebook page at http://facebook.com/GoToTTEast.