Homecoming: A trip to the Blue Ridge mountains with my smart car

Last weekend I went on a trip to visit my mother and homeplace in Meadows of Dan, located on the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia… in my smart car! While I was there, I ferried my mother everywhere. She nearly forgot how to drive her SUV. (Yes, my mom drives an SUV–she’s a realtor on the mountains, and they are sort of a necessity for reaching back wood development lots. But, I like to think my smart car makes up for any environmental impact hers might have!) I finally cracked 40 mpg! Perhaps going 75 miles per hour on my way to work every morning isn’t very fuel efficient. Between the Parkway and scenic highway’s 45 and 55 mph speed limits and 25 to 35 mph blind curves, I must have found an efficiency sweet spot.

Roxi, my smart car, took the curves very well. I did not have to switch to manual mode to take the curves up the mountain (but that didn’t stop me from doing it anyway!). Her nimbleness really stood out on the back roads. People kept asking me about her. One old timer even began thinking about getting one for himself now that the children have left the nest! A lot of people thought she was electric (she runs on gas).

The Blue Ridge Parkway slices right past Meadows of Dan. It is a common route to take to get from one town to the other. Around this time of year traffic isn’t as heavy as in the fall, but the mountain summer weather attracts a whole lot of motorcyclists. It’s about 20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler on the mountain than in surrounding areas (like Raleigh, where I live), and it is, in my opinion, the only place where you can really enjoy summer in the south if you aren’t a big fan of heat and sun. It makes for perfect motorcycling weather, and with the Parkway being very shady and having no traffic lights, who wouldn’t want to buzz along it’s sinuous curves? I saw tri-cycles as well as motorcycles and one or two mini-coopers, but I was the only smart car for miles. I took my mom for breakfast at Mabry Mill, where I snapped this picture illustrating the size difference (or similarity) between a smart car and a motorcycle.

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Best Friends: A motorcycle parked next to my smart car outside Mabry Mill.

The motorcycle’s owner commented that it must be nice to be dry when driving in the rain. I used to ride a motorcycle, back when I refused to own a car (also, before I had a commute!). One thing I never could let go of when I had to start driving a car was how out of touch the bulk automobile made me feel when it came to the road. On a motorcycle, you can really feel the road, hug the curves, you’re there, really there, really moving. I think it’s the closest humans will ever come to understanding how a bird must feel in flight. My mother told me once that driving a car is passive, like you’re sitting back, watching life pass by through the windshield, but that riding a motorcycle is active, as riding one requires your full attention. You aren’t protected from anything, but you can feel so much more.

When I got my smart car, I knew it was a match made in heaven because she felt more like a motorcycle than a car. Sure, I have to sit instead of straddled, and I have the luxury of a roof that keeps the elements off, and heated seats, and a sound system, and a roll cage that keeps me from going splat should I collide with something. But the car’s size and responsiveness, it’s moon roof and gaping windows, the feel of the road under the wheels, for me it makes the ride much more intense. Even the way the smart handlescurves makes it feel more like a motorcycle than a car because of it’s trapezoidal shape, which slices up the inside of a curve like nobody’s business. Truly it was a good transitional car choice for me.

On Sunday, Mom introduced me to some horse-riding friends of hers when the trotted into town on two Tennessee walkers. I asked for a photograph. This was as close as the horses would go. They were nervous to see such a strange vehicle, and their riders were worried that much further and Roxi might get a swift kick to the side!

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Two nervous horses inspect my smart car.

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Say goodbye to the horses.

All in all, it was a wonderful adventure. Roxi took me the three hours ride on interstates just fine, and handled like a gem on the mountain when we got there. On the long trip back home to Raleigh, it began to rain. I was worried that it might get so bad I’d have to pull over, but it did not, and thus I passed the next wet three hours reminiscing about my trip and my dog and my mother. I had not been home in one and a half years. It was good to be back.

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