The personal blog of photojournalist Noah Darnell.

A girl, a dog, and a Mini Cooper…

A girl, a dog, and a Mini Cooper…

I have a propensity to do rather outlandish things. And by outlandish, I do not mean “wild” or “unruly.” I just mean… outlandish. Unusual. Possibly idiosyncratic. I’ve never really done anything with the expressed purpose to be different – such as wear intentionally different clothing or cut my hair a certain way or subscribe to some counter-culture movement… I’ve always just happened to do borderline eccentric things, though I would never claim to be an eccentric.

As readers of this blog know, I’m less than a year from having crossed the Atlantic in a relatively small sailboat. That was after a year of living in London getting a masters degree: there was no real logic behind it except for “well, if it is going to cost the same either way, why would I spend two years getting it when I can get it in one AND live overseas!” Then, a couple of years ago, my most faithful readers will remember that I might have run a marathon – the Marathon Marathon, as it were, in Athens, Greece. I am not a runner nor do I even enjoy running… but that’s just something that I thought would be neat to do and, if I was to ever run any marathon ever, why not that one? So I did.

And there are many others that if I listed them, I might start to seem braggadocious. But I say that to begin this little blog post about my most recent foray into my seemingly-bizarre world of long-distance endeavors: Mini Takes the States. Lynn and Ahsoka and I just put over eight thousand miles on a nearly brand new car in less than three weeks. And yes, it was a Mini Cooper: specifically the Mini Cooper Clubman.


So what is it like to drive six hours per day every day for three weeks? What is it like to stay in a different city, in a different hotel room… for three weeks? Oh, and you might have forgotten or not known if you’re a newcomer to the blog: Ahsoka is our greyhound. The route took us from Atlanta to Palm Springs, California, in possibly the most illogically roundabout way possible with a midpoint in St.Ignace, across from Mackinac Island on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Three weeks + large dog + 8000 miles = ???


It will be one of the best memories of our young lives.

We got to drive famous circle tracks, like the Atlanta Motor Speedway, Charlotte, and Richmond, as well as a few road tracks like the M1 and Thermal.


And, though it is tough to get up to much more than highway speeds… it isn’t one of those things that can easily be captured or described: must be felt.


But the drives were usually pretty incredible. There is an “official” route that is off-highway. They keep to two-lanes more often than not. And as often as possible, the drives were a lot of fun.

Mini’s ahead…


…and Mini’s behind…


To explain a bit more of the daily format: there would be a morning meet-up, typically at a major local venue… A race track, or a major event center that could handle a thousand cars and a few thousand participants. We’d all get in our cars and parade out and we’d have the whole day to get to our destination before another event in the evening… usually also at a major event center.


Along the way, the “official route” would have a scheduled stop. Perhaps it would be a road-side attraction or something unusual. All thousand or so Mini Coopers would all descend on this random place – often in the middle of nowhere – and have lunch or tea or just pick up some little freebie. Then we’d be on our way…


Anywhere we went en masse, we overwhelmed the area. Along highway rest stops, twenty Mini’s would usually be there at once. At gas stations, it would be unusual to not see at least two at a time.

For those of us who drove the entire way, we answered the question: “What’s with all the Mini’s!?” probably a dozen times a day.


We tried to plan for every contingency. We half-expected to be exhausted by the end of the first week. Or maybe annoyed by driving along in lines of cars. But… none of that happened! We didn’t get tired of it! Nor did we get annoyed by driving along in a row of a hundred cars: when they’re all fairly evenly matched and everyone’s going the same way, there’s not a whole lot of “WHY WON’T THIS NOOB JUST GO ON!?!”

It was literally a leisurely drive across the country. An 8000 mile leisurely drive.

Oh, and did I mention we did it with a greyhound:


Ahsoka was a champ. She’s a great travel pup anyway, but teach her a routine and she’s on it. Locked down. She’d be ready to go at the crack of dawn, and get in the car and lay down. Before we’d be a mile down the road, she’d be out.


Best of all, Ahsoka met everyone. She’s far more interesting than I am, anyway. Like most dogs, she was an excellent icebreaker. There were some places that were ridiculously hot so she had to wait in the car with the air conditioner on, but for the most part, she was everywhere we went.


Each night we would arrive in the new city…


…get settled, have dinner, maybe participate in the nightly event (if they allowed dogs), feed Ahsoka and let her wail on a toy for a while to get her energy out, watch a little “Chopped” on the food network late, then sleep… and start the next day over again.


Ahsoka doesn’t sleep in the floor well, especially in strange places, so if there was no king-sized bed option, we had to Lucy-and-Ricky it. But that’s never so bad to have a large dog that likes to cuddle.

And so this is where it begins. Yes, begins. These photos were just from the first two days. And there are many, many more beyond this…

So, stay tuned…
-Noah D.


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