Friday morning dawned. The driving together started Friday, so I was up early and eager. There was a coffee shop on the first floor of the hotel building, outside entry, so that's where we grabbed our morning coffee and I breakfast.
The Portofino only has one cupholder. Have I mentioned this? Of course the cupholder goes to the driver, which was Nugget in this case. I had my coffee and my breakfast (overnight oats) to eat so I was juggling two things with no cupholder. But one manages. The oats portion was huge, bigger than I thought was wise for me, but I can get cranky when hungry and I wasn't sure when or what lunch would be. A large portion of oats will keep me full and energized for a while, so I ate it all. It turned out I could have trusted Mandy, but I still felt very new and unfamiliar with the entire event.
The morning meetup spot was at a ranch about 30 minutes away from the hotel. Nugget and I get fuel on the way there, one of the last stations before spot, and already see other participants. That made me smile.
At the ranch, we met at a parking lot between a shop and a pasture (well, sort of between, close enough). There were three horses and a mule in the pasture, so as people gathered, what did I do? Why, of course, I went and said hi to the equines! All seemed very interested in saying hi, the mule most of all, but there was a brook/stream/ditch of water keeping the horses away from the fence. I understand why a publicly accessible ranch would do this (some horses will initiate contact with people then bite, thinking they're being playful but causing injury, keeping the horses out of hand's reach is a wise thing). So I only had a distant communication with the equines. Still, it brightened my morning to share some looks with them.
I returned to the group, Todd and Paul arrived, and the morning driver's meeting was held (along with a bit of other paperwork). Then it was off to cars to drive!
Wait. I don't have a not-Portofino to drive yet. We'd just spent 3 days in the Portofino, I wanted to be in something else! Others had already swapped cars or didn't want to swap for the first run. Have I put it off for too long? Am I "stuck" driving the Portofino? (the horror!) Oh, no, finally an interested party, as others are driving off! I'm handed an F-Type rented through Turo. The driver's significant other is getting into the F-type, because the Portofino has some weirdness that needs to be explained (and with others already driving away, better for Nugget to be in that car to explain things). So I'm introducing myself to a stranger as I drive her away in not-even-actually-her car! Thankfully as an HPDE instructor I take a lot of "strangers" and acquaintances for rides, so I chat with her as I learn the F-type and try to catch up to the group. She was wonderful to talk with and handled the "Oh, suddenly a stranger is driving you around, and driving aggressively, whaaa?" extremely well. Briefest car review ever: The F-Type was very pleasantly oversteery when I planted weight on the nose, a very nicely balanced car if you're the type of person who wants your car to go sideways when you brake.
At the first rest stop I am told I am driving a GR86. I don't even remember who told me. Oh, also, the owner's son is in the passenger seat. It's a GR86, you don't need an introduction to the car, right? Everyone's leaving. Alright, bum in seat, adjust, say hello to my young passenger, and off we go! Back down the road, through the town, and the other way. On this drive we chatted about cars and engines, technical terms of engine components and performance driving. The GR86 did beautifully, great little car, fixes most of the things I found dissatisfying about the first one. Of course, it's still not a convertible!
Another stop, another car! I'm in a Boxster Spyder. Wonderful! I love Boxsters, and a Spyder is the perfect variant for this Adventure. The owner even disassembled the top for me, knowing how I like convertibles. Jacket zipped up (it's still cold for me at this time of day), hat and sunglasses on, and away! Though I didn't start off behind Chance on this session, I lost the rest of the group at a stop sign. Chance was right behind me and knew the way, so I let him pass me. I really enjoyed listening to his 996 Millennium Edition for this stage of the drive, running with him in the turns, etc. And the Boxster Spyder seems the perfect setup for this mix, just sharp enough for the curvy and very curvy bits to be fun, but relaxed enough to not beat me up when we ended up in traffic (like the GT3s can do).
Lunch? Already? Of course. Mandy knows we'll be hungry. The oats had been very satisfying, though, so I was looking for a light lunch. A salad seemed to fit the bill. We sat with a different group of people than at Thursday dinner. As before, we talked cars and life. Conversation was great and varied. There was quite a range of people on the trip, so we had lots of different experiences to share, but the common theme of cars bonds us and we all seem to get along.
After lunch it was Nugget's turn to drive the 944. This 944 has an LS3 in it (if any not-car-folks read this far, that's a Corvette engine), and both Nugget and I were eager to drive it. Everyday Driver had driven and reviewed the car in the past, if you'd like to know more about it. As Nugget was in the 944, the 944's owner was driving the Portofino. This is my first time to sit right seat with not-Nugget in the Portofino (ever, I think?), but that's mostly because I just hadn't managed to make the time yet. The 944's owner did great driving the Portofino. One would kinda expect someone used to unexpectedly-high horsepower in a reasonably light, great handling chassis would do well with very high horsepower in a not light but definitely extremely maneuverable chassis. He was appropriate on the throttle, approached the steering and handling in a reasonable and gradual way, etc. Well driven. And as we drove we talked about technical bits, both on the Portofino and the 944. The way the Portofino accelerates when already at high speed is... different from most cars, and we theorized about why it had the high speed acceleration behaviors it had.
The next stop was at a gas station. As everyone topped off their tanks, we sorted out into different parked patterns, and it was my turn to drive the LS3 944. As soon as my head was in the coupe I smelled a super familiar smell. I don't know if it's Porsche leather from the era or if the 944's owner and my 996's prior owner used the same leather cleaner, but the cars smell remarkably similar. Todd was leading this next stint and as he went to pull away... no one else moved. Ok, I'll go! The 944 moved out of the parking lot with ease and was easy to drive in a way that was polite to the small town we were in. It felt like the car had always been this way, was meant to be this way. As we made it to the back roads Todd opened up. I found the 944 really came alive at speed, great handling balance & tuning, shifter is spot on perfect (the owner had talked about the work put into it), power delivery smooth and predictable. Being the first car behind the leader was ridiculously fun, too.
Todd stopped on a narrow pull-out that, despite being skinny, was long enough to fit us all. I asked if I could drive the 944 again or if others wanted to drive it. I was welcome to drive it again, but as the Portofino was getting a different driver the 944's owner would be in the car's passenger seat. That's cool. I was feeling more comfortable with talking to the other participants, but not so much with the hosts and organizers yet. Still, I tried to politely ask Todd if I could continue to be right behind him. He told me Paul was leading the next stint. I had barely talked to Paul. I don't like asking for things, even little things, and I didn't want to selfishly hog both a special car and first car out status! But, nervous, I put on a smile and ask Paul. He said sure and helped arange cars so I can get the 944 out behind him.
Paul seemed to read my mind. He made sure all cars will exit the stop safely, made sure the road is in good condition, and then headed off at a playful pace. I stayed with him, a safe following distance back, but holding a constant gap. The LS3 944 is powerful. The LS3 944 handles great. This stage was ridiculously, amazingly fun. Paul brought the group to a stop near another gas station and got out of his car with a massive grin on his face. I hopped out of the 944 grinning ear-to-ear and very eager to get back on track. It was a great stage... but also I felt much more comfortable and familiar with Paul after having followed him driving. Maybe it's due to too much time on track, but in some ways it seems you get to know someone following how they drive.
The next person who wanted to drive the Portofino owned a 996 C4S (a Porsche 911, AWD, roughly-kinda-around 2 decades old, for the non-car-folks). I had lollygagged a bit talking to folks, so the leaders were already driving away as I got into the 996. No matter, it's a Porsche, I know this. Even more, it's a 996, I have one of these. It felt like the car adjusted itself to me as I drove away.
Previously I had not been a fan of the AWD 911s. I don't like the way power delivery to the front pulls on my hands, and I felt AWD tamed a bit of the essential 911-ness, the "oh, you've started to slide, now you're just sliding forever". But as I drove the C4S on thees imperfect roads, hopping over mid-corner bumps, I gained a new respect for the setup. The car was more planted, easier to manage in those bumps, than my RWD 911s. On a track I welcome the challenge, but on the street, this C4S really fit the "have fun but stay safe" bill. It tore down the road, completely unaware that a 20 year old car is "getting old". The car seemed to love it as much as I did.
I heard a radio call about oil smoke in a 911. This car can do that, if you corner hard enough it'll throw oil onto the air-oil separator and burn it up when at high rpm and high throttle, throwing oil smoke out the exhaust. The oil smoke out the back of the car perfertly matched that behavior, but I kept hearing radio calls about it. I didn't know how the car's owner felt about this, so I moved to a slower part of the group, kept the cornering a bit slower, and avoided high throttle & high rpm. No more smoke out of this car. We came to a stop and I started the oil level check. Oil level perfectly middle of the range.
Then I learn it was Chance's car (also a 996) that they were talking about. The <whatever> out of his exhaust was far more extreme and turned out to be water vapor, not oil. He's down for the weekend, something coolant related. Shame the 996s aren't air cooled. There was only one more stage to the hotel and, in a more somber mood, I drive the Portofino with Nugget as passenger. I was tired and hungry. I just wanted to get there. We're familiar with the Portofino, and also it's such a fast car it can be on pace with a quick group and be a relaxing drive for me.
When we got to the motel we learned that while all the rooms were fine, the motel had failed to communicate to the restaurant (in the motel) that our organizer had tried to make a reservation for our very large group. This was no fault of or organizer and they worked hard to get us fed regardless. The restaurant staff also had a great attitude about it. But... I had managed to put Nugget and me at the last table to be served. The restaurant ran out of a lot of the food before they got to us, so we had only a very limited menu to choose from. Between the limited menu and the extreme time to get to us (other tables on the Adventure got their dessert before we got our entrees), the food was disappointing. Regardless, this new group of people we sat with were still great. We were hungry and tired, all. At first we talked, like before. Then snarky (but funny, and not too mean-spirited) comments were thrown into the discussion. We debated some of the realities of life, and despite our hunger and general disgruntedness, we debated and disagreed (and agreed) with good attitudes and friendliness. Not all groups can debate while hungry, tired, and grumpy and still be good to each other! The long wait was far more bearable with my compatriots.
While some folks stayed up and talked, the nearly-ded me went to bed!