The Fantasy Test Drive – Part 2
By now, a third of the way into the Marathon Test Drive of my spankin’ new ’03 350Z, I had learned a few vital things about the car.
First, it attracts attention, so there is a large hubris factor in owning a small orange sports car that nobody can identify.
Secondly, on these long, 600-mile days on the road it rides and drives well–and there is almost NO space to pack things.
–Gas mileage? Low 20’s on Interstates. I drove like a retiree until I got my Florida Z to Arizona, when I rationalized my way right out of conservative break-in driving and began powering the thing the way it was MEANT to be driven. So the gas mileage fell into the high teens, but it was only a buck-and-a-half then, so what the hell?
–Handling prowess? Well, we learned about that while tearing down an Arizona mountainside chasing Japanese bikes. It handles beautifully. Check off “handling” from the list.
Now, with 4,000 on the ticker, the Z got to spend awhile testing its ability to be frozen and covered for a few nights in an icy rime of frost blown in by Western winds down the Grand Canyon’s Rim. At Nineteen degrees every night, it did not shatter. Check.
Learning how to use the heater? Very simple. Check.
4,200 miles older than it was last week, now the Z tackled Wilderness Driving, a pastime that removes both car and driver from society for a while. We accomplished that leg of the trip on the Mother Road, one of the last remaining stretches of Old Route 66, where a chance encounter with Indians and beer gave me a memory that would make a good movie, and after that adventure was behind me I found out there is no free parking at the Hoover Dam. I paid and I ogled at a massive man-made mountain and thrilled to the idea of huge amounts of water–and a parking garage–living side by side in the desert.
Vegas was the next stop. I’m no gambler, but I did turn a few nice Blackjack hands at New York, New York and with the profit I treated the Z to its first car wash, at a place that employs only the finest of women who wash cars in high heels and G string thongs. They washed The East off the Z and I tipped them like strippers. It’s good place to find in Vegas even if your car is shiny clean.
Freshly washed, the Z and I cruised the sparkly Las Vegas Strip, a place so car-snobbish that even FERRARIS don’t get a second look, and the Z was getting a lifetime’s worth of attention from the amateur gamblers who lined the Strip. Hubris factor reappeared, earning a double X on the checklist.
Speed–Top End–was the next to be tested.
That came outside of Vegas the next morning. It was cool, maybe 40, the road was clear and totally empty and the impulse became impossible to overcome, so I stopped the car on a slight downhill stretch and then opened her up. I got up to 147 MPH before I whimped out. Then I stopped and did it again, then once more. Speed? Check. Check. Check, etc.
Snow was next. I cut my driving teeth in the Great White North, a place where snow, like malignant melanoma in Florida, is a fact of life. I fled from that natural misery a long time ago and evidently I left my snow driving skills back in Rochester, because the first time me and the Z encountered the stuff in 30 years we discovered how easy is to do 360s in the slush. A checkmark in the ‘poor” column, the only negative one the Z ever got.
That was in Bogus Basin, a big ski area above Boise. It was the first snow for the car, but not the last. I stayed three days in Boise with my lifetime buddy Ron, another Rochesterian, who got as far away from the place as he could when he had the chance. He chose well. Boise has become one of my favorite small cities. I changed the oil for a second time and had the dealer re-adjust the headlights, which never seemed to be right even up to the last day I owned the car.
From Boise, I headed north yet again, pushing through some of the most spectacular mountain scenery yet available. Snow was everywhere now, and I was learning how to control the Z in what is admittedly one of its glaring weaknesses.
By midday I was at the Canadian Border, where, unlike Juarez, me and the Z took a quick trip across. The car had taken me to Mexico AND Canada in the same week. Something else to check off, the car’s ability to get me to foreign countries.
Late afternoon found us on rugged US 12, following the trail of Lewis and Clark, where a sign was posted alongside the highway by the rushing Locsha River that said “WINDING ROAD NEXT 77 MILES”.
I jammed on the brakes (check) and went back and took a photo of it, with the Z facing the sign and the steep mountains blocking the sky as the swollen river white watered by, and it is still my screen wallpaper to this day. After I took the picture, I drove the most demanding 77 miles ever, and it was such a great drive that I was tempted to turn around and do it again, but it was getting dark and Montana was next. My favorite stretch of highway, anywhere.
After a cold night in a dull Missoula, we were on the road again, piling up miles at ridiculous speeds.In Montana, the speed limit signs all say “Reasonable and Prudent by day, 70 at Night”. “Reasonable & Prudent”? To me–an outsider ignorant of the sign’s ACTUAL meaning–it means go FAST, so I did, whipping the Z down unused roads nestled in amazing mountain valleys, going wherever I wanted to go on the speedometer, having a no-holds ball with the car.
I got to Yellowstone that way, then spent a couple days exploring one of the most breathtaking pieces of ground on the Planet. One morning, during heavy weather at a snow-locked restaurant in the Northern reaches of the Park, I pulled in for some food and was interested to note that the only three cars in the lot all bore Florida tags.
The new Z now had 6, 000 on her and was rapidly descending into the “used car” category. I explored for a few days at the park, seeing the geysers and the wolves, the frozen lakes and the huge, SUV-sized Bison, returning to my motel in West Yellowstone, Montana each night. It was off season and the temps never got out of the 20s, so the little town was totally empty at night and there was nothing to do but eat pizza at the only restaurant open. Even the bars were closed.
I was 2/3rds of the way through the adventure. I was frozen, bored, and the only place in West Yellowstone that sold Maalox was closed, probably for the season, so I sat alone in a never-warm motel room in Montana, burping up pepperoni and downing Labatt’s, thinking about Bison that are so huge that if one of them ever fell over on my Z it would crush the car into an orange wok.
Later, the Testdrive Wrapup. Just how good is this Z-car?.
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