I’m sitting alone in the the Ace Hotel’s cantina, sipping a glass of blue agave tequila, a seductive witness to the road-weary traveler at the table in front of it. The last few days have been a whirlwind of activity, and I’m still having trouble remembering whether it was real, or just a jumbled dream. The 2016 two-week, cross-country pilgrimage known as Mini Takes the States (MTTS) is over, leaving me exhausted and sentimental.
Over the course of four days I traveled from Salt Lake City, Utah to Las Vegas, and then on to Palm Springs, California, where I now find myself braving 115-degree heat indexes. The drive took me through expanses of desert, carved through red rock canyons, traversed wildfire-ravaged mountains, and into the cool breezes from countless tiny lakes. But in the end, I had barely seen anything, because Mini Takes the States winds through 4,397 miles of this country. If you love Minis, and want to see America, this is the way to do it.
It all started at Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 9, with a team of parachutists diving 3,000 feet toward a fleet of Mini convertibles. Over the course of the next 15 days, enthusiasts drove through two national parks, onto eight race tracks, and into 14 cities. Along the way over 4,000 participants had jumped on and off to experience stages of the rally, with more than 900 owners sticking around for the entire trip. At some points, the caravan ballooned to more than 1,500 owners and 700 vehicles.
I jumped on for the final leg of the journey, where I discovered that this wasn’t some impersonal cross-country drive, it’s more a party on wheels that’s filled with every kind of Mini enthusiast imaginable. So if you’re an owner of Oxford’s best, here are six reasons why you need to experience Mini Takes the States at least once in your life.
1. Customize and let your freak flag fly
One of the great things about Mini is how easy it is to build one to your unique tastes, and MTTS is a great way to see a whole ton of customized cars in one place. While tweaking a Mini right from the factory is highly encouraged and almost mandatory, the modifications owners make to their cars before the trip are even cooler. There’s no pressure to keep weight down or focus on aerodynamics here, so participants tend to make their rides as fun as possible. Speckled with everything from crazy hippie paint jobs and styrofoam spoilers, to tasteful nods to Mini’s early rally days, the cars are as diverse and colorful as their owners are.
2. You’ve never seen a drive like this
A road trip from one end of America to the other is one hell of a way to experience everything the continental lower 48 has to offer, and with each biennial voyage taking you in a different direction, there’s something for everyone on this adventure. From twisting Appalachian trails and the mighty Rocky Mountains, to the humbling skies above the open plains of the Dakotas and alien-like stretches of Nevada desert, drivers get to see virtually all of the great American landscape.
3. Lifelong friends are made here
This sums up why events like these are so important: When you get this many like-minded automotive fanatics in one place, the connections made are stronger than steel. Speaking with throngs of MTTS participants, I got all sorts of stories, where friends who come back time and again catch up over of coffee, and trade tales that belong in an anthology.
4. Mini experts abound, so you’ll learn a lot
After four or five overnight stops in small towns filled with sensational food, booze, music, and art, you also pick up a lot of information on Minis. Some drivers specialize in being historians, and can tell you every detail from the company’s past and present. Others opt for a more mechanical approach, and focus on components like suspension and brakes, while the guy next to them knows all the turbo and exhaust cheats to turn a John Cooper Works hardtop up to eleven. So if you want to learn more about the brand, this is a great way to dive in.
5. Go ahead and bring the pooch
Members of the canine community show up in spades for this trip, and they tend to be just as likable and excited to be here as their owners. It’s no secret that dogs love cars, and Mini takes full advantage of this when it comes time to plan the trip. So break out the chew toys and opt for the dealer installed kennel tie-downs, because your furry friend is going to love MTTS.
6. It’s for a great cause
Like any well-executed cruise-in or weekend group drive, MTTS tends to bring out the best in people, and donations to good causes from start to finish fuel on the notion that being human should mean acting humane. This year’s targeted charity was Feeding America’s charity partner #DefyHunger, and it raised enough money to provide more than 1 million meals for people facing hunger, crushing its goal of 800,000 meals.
“The turnout for MTTS 2016 was incredible and we could not be more proud of the MINI community for everything they’ve done to help us support Feeding America,” said Tom Noble, Department Head, MINI Brand Communications. “Our owners not only gained the support of their friends and family at home but they also engaged with people in the local communities along the route.”
Sometimes, the little things in life can make the biggest difference, especially when lots of like-minded people believe that life isn’t just about living, but giving as well. They may drive small cars, but after my short time on MTTS, I’m convinced these Mini owners all have very big hearts.