|October 16, 2008
TT-West 2008: The Birth of the TT Road Trip
After many years of organizing TT owner events, it’s hard to state that any single event sticks out in one’s mind as the best, or the most memorable, or the most fun as they all were unique in their own ways, but I think it can be safely said that this year’s TT-West 2008 event was perhaps the most enjoyable thus far. No, let me take that back. This year’s TT-West 2008 event was the best, and the most memorable, and the most fun to date...period!
What started out as an idea presented to attendees at the closing of TT-West 2007 in Ashland, Oregon in June of last year came to fruition this year as the first TT-West “Road Trip” concept where attendees would spend a week together to travel to various locations in classic road tour fashion. We would not take a road trip through any ordinary locations, but we would be touring from Salt Lake City, Utah through Grand Teton National Park, and ending our journey at Yellowstone National Park, America’s first national park and perhaps the most stunning of them all. The 2008 event was shaping up to be a grand and epic journey indeed, and event planning soon commenced.
TT-West 2008 opened in Salt Lake City, Utah on Monday September 22, 2008 at the Peery Hotel where TT owners from all over the United States converged to begin the week-long road trip and anticipated adventures. Monday started out almost cliché like with dark, cold and stormy skies which were reminiscent of some TT events of past. However, this storm had a silver lining and the weather gods smiled upon us as the clouds soon parted, the sun shone bright and the temperatures warmed which would become the precursor of the weather to come for the coming week. Late Monday afternoon, attendees started to shuffle into the lobby of the hotel weary from their long trips, but obviously excited at the prospects for the week to come. The flow of incoming participants was steady and soon nearly all attendees were signed-in and ready to start the event.
Evening arrived and it was time to head across the street from the Peery Hotel for the official opening activity of the event – a welcoming reception and group dinner at Squatters Pub Brewery. Having secured a private room for our dinner, attendees found their way over to the restaurant where old and new friends alike soon made the room loud with laughter, excited conversation and a camaraderie that have become the norm at TT-West events. But what the group did not yet know, and which would soon become apparent, was that there was a surprise waiting for them hidden undercover in the parking lot behind the restaurant...in fact, make that two surprises.
Having worked with Audi of America’s Western Region for TT-West 2007 where AoA provided two new generation Audi TT models for event attendees to test drive during the event, we again worked with AoA to secure vehicles for TT-West 2008 attendees to test drive. We really had anticipated and worked hard to get two new Audi TTS models for our attendees. However, due to scheduling conflicts within the AoA press fleet of vehicles, AoA could only secure two Audi S5 models for our week-long event, which was certainly a nice consolation prize. So it seemed that the logistics for getting the TTS models for the event just would not work out...or again, so it seemed.
Flashback to the Wednesday prior, just days away from the event, where I get an urgent email from Chas Murphy, Product Manager for the TT/R8/RS series at AoA, asking me to call him as soon as possible. With anticipation and admittedly, a little trepidation, I call Chas and soon learn of some great news! We hash out the details and soon the wheels are in motion, per se. Now fast forward back to the welcoming reception at Squatters and the stage has been set.
After drinks and appetizers to help satiate the hungry TT-West 2008 attendees, Chas and Ryan Helvey, Region Distribution Manager for AoA’s Western Region, make a presentation on the history of the Audi TT. Most of the devout already know the history of the car, but it was nice to see a concise presentation which gave more in-depth information on the TT and from the perspective of Audi. As the presentation wound down, the conversation came around to the future of the TT and the forthcoming TTS model, the highest performance TT model to date. Chas asked the group: “Would you like to see the new TTS?” The group acknowledged with a collective “Yes!”. Then Chas asked: “Would you like to drive the new TTS?” And, of course, came a resounding “YES!” from the group. The surprise was unleashed as Chas revealed to the group that two pre-production European spec’d Ibis White TTS coupes were outside ready to be test driven by TT-West 2008 attendees the next day. AoA had come through and we had our toys to play with! Dinner was then served and the grouped buzzed with the excitement of the announcement as they plowed into the delectable gourmet buffet. The evening soon wound down to a close and attendees made their way back to the hotel for a good nights rest as the following morning was to be an early one as there was much driving to do on the first day of our road trip.
Tuesday morning arrived clear and sunny and attendees quickly gathered in the hotel lobby still bubbling from the news of last evening. After a brief drivers meeting and distribution of gourmet box lunches from Apple Spice Junction, everyone was soon in their cars and thus began the start of the trek up into the mountains. Needless to say, it was not difficult to fill the empty driver’s seats of the two TTS coupes and the two S5 coupes with eager pilots. We were then on our way with the caravan soon winding and carving its way up through Emigration Canyon as we left Salt Lake City and the bustle of city life behind as we headed into wilds unknown. After a brief stop at East Canyon State Park to regroup and find new drivers for the coupes, we were again on our way cruising and threading our path northward through the Wasatch Mountains of northeast Utah.
The group rolled into Logan, Utah early in the afternoon and it was time to relax for a short respite and to dig into the box lunches. After lunch, a quick refuel and another driver swap, we were soon on our way collectively snaking up into the twisties of Logan Canyon Scenic Byway like a string of multi-colored pearls glistening in the warm afternoon sun. The group then took a short break at the National Oregon/California Trail Center in Montpelier, Idaho for a quick group photo op and to again swap out drivers for the four Audis. We were soon back on the road for the last segment of the day which was a series of long straightaway’s and gentle curves through the valleys of western Wyoming. The convoy soon arrived in Jackson, Wyoming and it was time to check into the Trapper Inn & Suites and then seek out dinner for the evening. After dinner, a few hearty souls gathered at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar for some late night fun and dancing which proved to be the perfect nightcap for a truly spectacular day.
Wednesday dawned with another clear, but rather chilly day. I think for many, especially those that came from warmer climes to the event, it was a shock to see frost on the cars this early in the fall season. But for this region, the summers are brief and the winters come early and it was just a gentle reminder that there are greater forces of nature at work here and we would bear witness to them soon enough. It was also time to say goodbye to the two TTS coupes as they had to head back to Salt Lake City and then eventually back to Audi AG in Germany. Our time with them was brief, but what a time it was! After checking out of the hotel and after the daily drivers meeting, the group continued its northward push and soon arrived at Grand Teton National Park to catch the first glimpse of those incredible jagged peaks of the Grand Tetons. The group leisurely toured through the Park stopping several times for photo ops, as directed by official event photographer, Kurt Triebe, to capture the cars contrasted against the majesty of the mountains in the background. After a few more stops, the group eventually arrived at the Jackson Lake Lodge for a planned lunch. After lunch, we captured our first close range wildlife sighting of the event, a female moose and her calf casually munching on vegetation near the lodge and seemingly oblivious to the throngs of tourists excitedly taking photos of the pair, including yours truly!
It was soon time again to head back onto the road to finish the day’s journey and we continued our northerly venture into Yellowstone National Park arriving at the Old Faithful Inn late that afternoon. After the group checked themselves into the Inn, the evening’s activities were intentionally light to give attendees a chance to relax and unwind as well as to begin their exploration of Yellowstone, which, if you have never been there, is as close as going to another planet that you will ever come and there is plenty to see just steps away from the Inn. After everyone found their own dinner, the hospitality suite opened later that evening, but given the nature of the rustic and small rooms at this 100 year old lodge pole pine Inn, it was decided to move the party into the majestic main lobby and outdoor deck area of the Old Faithful Inn where the group carried on with excited banter and even witnessed a night time eruption of the world famous Old Faithful geyser, from which the Inn gets its namesake. As the night carried on and the crowd thinned, it was time to catch some well needed sleep as this adventure was only half over.
Thursday was another gorgeous day and I began to wonder if the warnings we received prior to the event that we could expect any type of weather this time of year, including snow, were true, or whether they were meant to keep the tourists away while the locals came out to play. Perhaps we were just lucky with the weather and I suspect that we were… besides, who was going to argue with yet another clear and sunny warm autumn day? The group gathered in the main lobby and this day’s agenda started with a relaxed, short drive from the Inn to West Yellowstone, Montana, which is just outside the west entrance to the Park, to catch today’s transportation – a guided bus tour of Yellowstone National Park with the Buffalo Bus Touring Company. We met our guide for the day, Brad, and boarded the bus for our day-long adventure circumnavigating the northern loop of Yellowstone National Park. We made our way back into the Park and I do not think that there was a question that Brad could not provide an answer to as his in-depth knowledge of the park and it’s history is just something that you cannot get from any book, brochure or otherwise. Brad proved an informative and invaluable resource for our group by pointing out and stopping at various geothermal features, directing us to bison, elk and other wildlife as we slowly made a clockwise loop of the park. The group then stopped for an extended break and lunch at Mammoth Springs where, on the open grassy areas, several male elk were guarding their “harems” of females as this was prime elk rutting season. The Park rangers at Mammoth made it perfectly clear to keep a distance from the male elk as they can get a little aggressive protecting their harems and they had been known to attack unsuspecting tourists and even passing cars, of which 19 cars had been attacked within the prior three days! So we heeded the warning and steered well clear of all elk as the group dispersed to find their lunch.
After lunch, it was time to regroup and get back onto the bus to continue our tour of the Park. About an hour later, we came upon our first “bear jam” where cars blocked the road in both directions. After finding a safe place to park the bus, Brad let us out to get a closer look at the bear, which turned out to be a decidedly large, but thankfully gentle grizzly bear snacking on vegetation near the road. Lucky for us, he was in a non-protein sort of mood at the moment and many were able to get close enough to take photos of this elusive creature. Re-boarding the bus, we finished our excursion through the Park and it was back to West Yellowstone to get into our cars to drive a short five miles west to a planned group dinner at the Bar N Ranch. With a menu offering such dishes as Buffalo Ravioli, Pan Fried Rainbow Trout and other local delicacies, it was difficult to decide what to order! Settling on the ravioli and accompanied by a choice of wine, including a simply delicious “Monkey Business” merlot, it certainly did not disappoint, and based on the conversation at our table and from other tables, it appeared that everyone was thoroughly enjoying their meals as well. As the sun set and dusk arrived, we departed the restaurant and made an early evening trek back into the park to return to the Old Faithful Inn, all the while keeping a sharp eye for potential bison resting on the road, which Brad had warned us could be possible! Back to the Inn safe and sound and with no bison encounters, it was time for the Great Beer Exchange which carried on well into the evening.
Friday morning arrived and it was difficult to believe that this was to be the last day of our adventure together, but this was going to be a long day of driving and the group met early in the lobby for the drivers meeting and some pre-drive instructions. Heading out into the clear, crisp autumn morning, the group soon stopped for a not-to-be-missed photo opportunity at the Biscuit Basin geysers to capture the impressive steam contrasted with the autumnal colors of the TTs that had gathered for the days drive. Back onto the road and picking up a few other attendees along the way, we traversed the Park to the northeast entrance passing much of the terrain we traveled on the previous day’s bus tour. Along the way in the Lamar Valley, we captured sight of many herds of bison undoubtedly gathering to take shelter from the impending winter, and the ever imminent threat of wolves, in this protected valley.
After exiting the Park and encountering a brief road construction delay, we finally arrived at our playground – the Bear Tooth Pass – an exhilarating jumble of twisties winding around an other worldly alpine landscape with altitudes extending well above the tree line to nearly 11,000 feet. With a spirited push, the group threaded its way through the maze of roller coaster-like asphalt and lucked out with having very little traffic to contend with. At a rest stop overlook on the north side of the pass, the group stopped to catch their breath in the thin mountain air and to recount their adventure through the twisties. It was then back on the road down towards Red Lodge, Montana to take in a few more turns before a scheduled group lunch at the Red Lodge Pizza Company.
With bellies full of gourmet pizza and a quick refuel for the cars, it was back to the Bear Tooth Pass to begin a return trip to the Old Faithful Inn and to take another run on the twisties. Armed with confidence and familiarity afforded during the first pass through the turns, the group made quick work heading back over the pass. You could hear the grins over the excited chatter on the FRS radios as those in the lead barked out the upcoming turns and reported on oncoming traffic to those left behind in their dust. On the other side of the pass and back into a rhythm with a more subdued tempo, the group meandered its way back to the Park through the northeast entrance past familiar territory where a slowing setting sun cast its warm golden hues onto the surrounding landscape. The group seemed to be taking in as much as they could of the bucolic scene as everyone knew it was to be the last time we drove together as a group for this event and it was time to savor these fleeting moments. We soon found ourselves back at the Old Faithful Inn for the closing event dinner and raffle.
Dinner for this evening was in the Obsidian Dining Room at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, the only accommodations within Yellowstone National Park that are open year round. After a quick freshening up and a grabbing of items for the raffle, we dashed across the parking lot from the Old Faithful Inn over to the Snow Lodge to start the festivities. Dinner consisted of a buffet feast of rib eye steaks and western fare which satiated the hungry crowd. It was then time to start the raffle. Event sponsors such as Audi Club North America, Revo Technik, Griot's Garage, MCPi, Stoner, Inc., Langka Corporation and others donated generously to the raffle prizes and nearly all came away with something.
After the raffle, the group migrated to the lobby of the Snow Lodge to carry on late into the night as well as to enjoy their last moments together, to recount tales from the previous week, to affirm new and long-time friendships alike and to say final goodbyes for those that had to depart early the next day. What had seemed like a long week ahead the previous Monday had ended so quickly and it was difficult to believe that the event was over… and similar to years past, the talk soon turned to potential plans and venues for the 2009 event?
What’s in store for TT-West 2009? As this point, nothing has been set, but I can tell you that we certainly have our work cut out for us and we intend to plan it as another week-long road trip adventure. So make sure to stay tuned to the TT-West web site (www.tt-west.org) to keep up with the latest news and make plans to join us in 2009 for another exciting event.