|October 6, 2010
TT-East 2010: The Biggest Little Event
By: Evan Sokol
"It's not the destination, it's the journey." This is a saying that Iím sure all of us have heard before. By the end of the event, TT-East 2010 would prove to embody the spirit of those words.
TT-East was under new management this year. At the last minute, Peter Grabowsky (PGTT), organizer of TT-West and past organizer of TT-East, took charge of the event. When I found out that Peter was the organizer I didn't hesitate to contact him regarding ideas that I had. Iíve planned many drives and trips over the years so I knew that I could help. I remember when he first told me he was thinking about Asheville as a location I knew we could put together something special even with the limited time that we had for planning.
We discussed switching TT-East to a similar format as TT-West but we weren't sure if having the entire event as a road trip would be popular. So in an effort to accommodate everyone, Peter's idea was to plan a hybrid between the TT-East and TT-West formats. This year TT-East would begin Tuesday afternoon with a two and a half day road trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway concluding Thursday evening in Asheville, NC. We would then stay in Asheville for the remainder of the event with the highlight being a trip to the Tail of the Dragon on Saturday. This gave people two registration options, to either take the entire trip or to start the event on Thursday in Asheville which for them would be like the familiar format of past years.
I have taken variations of this trip on my own many times and at the end I always think the same thing, that every driving enthusiast should take this trip at least once. When I found out I would get the chance to share it with fellow TT owners in person instead of just through posts on an internet forum, I became excited. As the planning continued and the details got finalized my excitement grew.
Instead of starting the event the traditional way by meeting at the hotel, we decided to start at the North end of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Waynesboro, VA and drive as a group to the official starting point in Lynchburg, VA. As we arrived at the start of the Parkway we were greeted not only by fellow TT owners but by heavy fog as well. To me, seeing the fog was a good omen since I always find that driving through the clouds makes for a more interesting experience. A good omen it was, as the trip got better and better as the hours and miles rolled by.
After a couple of hours of driving in and out of the clouds we began our decent towards Lynchburg where there was a special surprise waiting for us. Chas Murphy, Product Manager for the TT/R8/RS series at AoA, was there along with a TTRS. The TTRS may never be available in this country so being able to get close to one is a rare treat. After listening to Chas give a presentation about the TTRS and the Audi R series we all got a chance to test drive it and give our opinions. I still wonder if the local police got any calls about the strange black car that kept driving back and forth through the area. After we were done drooling over and driving the TTRS, the group headed out for dinner at Waterstone Pizza. This was the first real chance we had all day to relax and get to know each other as we refueled ourselves and prepared for the long 4 days to come.
Wednesday morning we left Lynchburg and the TTRS behind and began our trip. As we left the town and started the climb to the Parkway some local twisties got us warmed up for the full day ahead of us. The morning fog was still around for a while but it quickly dissipated which gave us a chance to stop at some of the many scenic overlooks for picture opportunities. Wednesday included lunch at Chateau Morrisette, one of the largest wineries in VA and located in a spectacular setting just off of the Parkway in Floyd. After a wonderful meal we continued down the Parkway for the rest of the afternoon until we reached our next destination, the picturesque Inn at Crestwood in Blowing Rock, NC.
After checking in and unwinding at the bar, the Inn prepared a BBQ dinner for us. Luckily the weather behaved so we could have dinner on the patio while enjoying the mountain sunset as a backdrop. When we finished up it was around 10:30, everyone was well worn out from the day so we all turned in early. This was good since most had no idea what kind of driving we had in store for them the next day. Thursday would turn out to be full of surprises.
Thursday morning while Peter took the group to gas up, I was on my way to a rocky perch along Grandfather Mountain to get into position to take a group picture of the TTs driving across the famous Linn Cove Viaduct. Its sweeping curves and elegant design made the perfect canvas to showcase the same grace and elegance that draws us to the TT. After the picture I met back up with the group and we left the sweeping curves of the Parkway for a detour onto the first challenging road of the trip, NC-221 (The Little Parkway). This turned out to be the first surprise of the day. The surprise wasn't that we were going to drive on it. What was a surprise to many was how much they learned about their cars and their driving ability.
After 221 we returned to the Parkway and stopped for a short rest break. This gave me a chance to see peoples' reactions to the drive and from their comments I knew we had the right group for this trip. It also told me that they were ready for the second surprise of the day which would be coming about 20 miles down the Parkway in the form of NC-226A (The Diamondback). The Diamondback is a 12 mile hill climb with over 190 turns and an elevation change of 1900 feet.
Since the group was going to be small and easy to manage, I decided a few weeks before the event to add this road to the trip but not include it with the book of drives that I prepared for everyone. It wasn't until we were a few miles away that I stopped to let them know and give the instruction to secure any loose objects in their cars. The surprise was well received as I think that out of all the roads that we drove on, 226A was the most fun.
The road trip portion of the event was almost over as we were closing in on our final destination. This road trip ended on a high note, or in this case a high peak, as we stopped for lunch near the top of Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. Lunch was followed with a trip to the summit and after some more sightseeing and picture taking we descended the mountain and drove the final 30 miles of our Blue Ridge Parkway journey to the Crowne Plaza Tennis & Golf Resort in Asheville, NC.
The final surprise of the day came at dinner. It was attendee Don Trantow's (SmooTTh Don) birthday and everyone really wanted to do something to celebrate it. All day there were little quiet conversations as people worked out what we were going to do which was to turn Thursday eveningís dinner into a surprise party. In the short time before dinner some members of the group managed to get a cake and after we decided where to go for dinner they got it to the restaurant ahead of Don who had no idea that we had planned anything. We found a great gift along the way too. Outside of the restaurant at Mount Mitchell there was a photographer selling his book of beautiful pictures of the Parkway. We purchased a copy and all signed the inside cover making it the perfect memento of the trip. If you didn't know us and heard the planning conversations you would think we were planning for a dear old friend and not someone we just met 2 days earlier. The group was starting to bond.
On Friday the schedule was relaxed to give everyone a chance to take it easy and spend the day as they wanted or they could choose from a list of suggested activities and prepared drives in and around Asheville. Most took advantage of the opportunity to sleep a little later. There were exceptions such as myself and Andy Thomas (as350), one of his brakes was low so we decided to change it instead of taking the chance it would last the remainder of the event and the 800 mile drive home. We started first thing in the morning to avoid having to work in the hot sun and in 25 minutes Andy's car was ready to go. I was happy to return the favor, 2 weeks earlier Andy helped me change a broken spring in terrible heat so I would be able to bring my TT to the event.
Around mid morning we started getting ready for the day. Some chose to see the sights in Asheville while others went to drive the remainder of the Parkway. The rest of us stayed together for a drive along the back roads north of Asheville with a stop for lunch in Hot Springs. After sorting out a few minor issues with some of the other cars we set off around noon and had a fun afternoon. There was more radio chatter than usual during this drive; the French Broad River which runs through the area was the subject of some interesting conversation.
Instead of driving somewhere for dinner that night, someone suggested picking up some food and having a BBQ by the pool. Everyone liked the idea of not having to drive to a restaurant so we spent the rest of the evening poolside. Being able to make spur of the moment changes like this was one of the big advantages of having a small group.
Saturday was time for our planned trip to drive the Tail of the Dragon to test our skills on its 318 curves in 11 miles. Peter however opted for a different kind of riding and went to do some mountain biking at Tsali Recreation Area before the rain arrived that was predicted for early afternoon. The weather reports were accurate, about 20 minutes before we left the Dragon it started pouring so everyone got a chance to drive it in both dry and wet conditions.
After we stopped for lunch in nearby Robbinsville, the rain had stopped so I gave the group options for the drive back to Asheville. There was the direct way back which was mostly highways and I also prepared a much longer route consisting mostly of back roads. Part of me was hoping they were all as tired as I was and would want to go right back but other than one person who had to return early they were all still hungry for more.
As the end of our drive came near, our route took us briefly back onto the Blue Ridge Parkway where we took a much needed restroom break. As we were getting ready to leave we were approached by a gentleman who asked if he could take a picture of the cars after which he proclaimed "I love TTs!". Of course we didn't mind, we got waves, stares, and our picture taken everywhere we went. It was nice to see it happen again now, at our final stop together and on the very same road where we started our journey almost 5 days and 1000 miles earlier. That man will never know the significance of the moment he just captured.
Earlier in the drive we had to follow a funeral procession for about 20 miles so at this point we were very close to being late for the closing dinner. We made it back with about 8 minutes to spare and with the timing of a well planned prank almost all of us had our room keys stop working. Everyone finally got into their rooms and with pit-crew efficiency got cleaned up and made it to dinner. The hotel didn't give us a hard time about being late so it was no big deal.
When I arrived at dinner, I immediately saw a familiar face and heard the laughter that usually accompanies it. I had been looking forward to seeing George Baker (oldsetter) again all week. He is a unique character and a wonderful man; TT-East wouldnít be the same if he wasnít there regardless of the group size. After dinner it was time for the raffle. Event sponsors such as Detailers Domain, Modshack, MCPi, Stoner, Inc., Langka Corporation and others donated generously to the raffle prizes and nearly all came away with something. Dinner was concluded with some final words from Peter and some touching sentiment from Don who told us that this was the best birthday he ever had. It was a fitting end to a perfect week.
Compared to previous years, the registration numbers were a bit of a disappointment but having a large group mattered less and less as the event went on and in many ways it made it better. There is something special about sharing a journey like this with a group even more so when the group is small. There is an intimacy that comes with spending 12+ hours a day with the same group of people for 5 days and doing it as a road trip brings it to another level. Out of all the events that Iíve been to Iíve had the best time and have the most memories from this one. I've also driven almost 3000 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway and this was the best time Iíve had up there as well.
In many ways this yearís TT-East was a reflection of the car it celebrates, it was small and classy with a style and character all its own. As attendee Dave Haislop (Gomez) so perfectly put it, it really was the "biggest little event".
TT-East 2011 is planned to be a driving tour starting from the Catskill Mountain region of New York State, with an overnight stop near Cooperstown, New York and concluding in Lake Placid, New York. The event is being timed to coincide with the magnificent fall foliage and it is being scheduled from Tuesday October 11 to Friday October 14, 2011. More information will be posted on the TT-East web site www.tt-east.org in early January 2011. We will see you there.