By Jane Miller
We celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary at beautiful Vogel State Park, where many years ago we had taken one of our first camping trips. One afternoon we took a short diversion from waterfall hiking to eat at a pizza shop in downtown Blairsville, Georgia. We chatted about how fun it would be to travel the country using only back roads and visiting small towns like this one. At the time, our modern car had over 150,000 miles on it and was not in the greatest of shape. As a joke my husband Glenn said, “Wouldn’t it be funny to drive across the country in the old MG? It only has 47,000 miles on it.” The car he was talking about was sitting on the side of our house next to the trashcans, wasn’t even running, and hadn’t for years. To his great surprise, I said, “That would be fun!” Adventuring in the MG appealed to me. It was Glenn who wasn’t quite so sure right away.
Glenn would have never considered himself an MG kind of guy. This little car came into our lives from a good friend who knew that I thought it was cute, and one day it appeared at our house and never left. As many of you who have worked on British cars know, there are very few things in common with the Midget and the muscle cars that my husband grew up working on. Nevertheless, he found in the trunk an old service manual that had been half eaten by bugs. It became his Rosetta Stone.
After many attempts to understand and adjust the SU carburetors, the little engine came to life. Glenn called me outside and said, “Let’s go for a ride.” The two of us slid into the two tiny bucket seats and off we went. The car ran rough from the two-year-old gas in the tank and the mis-adjusted carbs, but it ran. Once we cleared our neighborhood and were on the open road, Glenn hit the gas pedal… and the motor promptly quit. We coasted onto the shoulder. Glenn popped the hood, did a quick survey of the engine he still didn’t fully understand, and spotted the obvious problem. The distributor thing had fallen out of the block and was dangling next to the engine, hanging by the plug cables. This became lesson number one: Never leave the driveway without tools.
Later, back in the driveway while Glenn worked on the car, I was dreaming of places we should travel in this adorable convertible. I grew excited by the idea of traveling to small country towns and all the potential adventures that lay ahead of us. Together we made the decision that we would attempt to drive the little MG on a multi-state adventure. Over the next few months Glenn worked on the car’s roadworthiness. With our limited budget I couldn’t do all the cosmetic things I wanted to do. They took a back seat to the mechanical things that needed to be done such as brakes and tires.
The top was original and in sad shape. We attempted to stitch parts back together and hoped that with good weather the top wouldn’t be needed. After all, the great appeal of this little car is driving with the top down. It’s a blast!
Beach towns are my favorite places to visit here in Florida, so I steered our plans for our inaugural trip up US 1 and A1A along the east coast. How far should we go was the next question. We decided to shoot for Connecticut because that is where Glenn is from and, after hearing so many family stories, I had always wanted to see his hometown.
The decision was made. Time to start planning. We quickly learned the cost to stay in hotels was going to be way over our budget so from our discussions we had to change plans from hotels to camping. My first thoughts about camping: “Ugh, no!” In order for this trip to take place, two things had to happen; one, I did not want to sleep on the floor. I wanted a cot, no, a double cot for two. And second, bathrooms would have to be reviewed positively online (clean and modern). Both of my requirements were met after much searching and reading campsite reviews.
On a Florida spring day, we did our first “test pack.” We put all the things that we wanted to take on the trip on the driveway and attempted to put them in this little car. Nope, wasn’t going to work. No matter how we tried, half of what we intended to bring was still on the pavement. Our first trip would take us 14 days to travel to Connecticut and back and we needed to bring as many supplies as possible. This is where we got creative. We found that even though the car is very small, there are lots of “nooks and crannies” that provided more space than just the suitcase and trunk.
An example of the “extra space” were the front fenders. They became the storage space for extra towels and camping gear that was easily pushed up and toward the rear of the car. I was given the task of packing two week’s worth of clothes for two in a single small leather suitcase secured to the luggage rack. When it was all said and done we had crammed everything that we “needed” into the car. A full size 10’ x 12’ tent, a double cot, two sleeping bags, pillows, all of our clothes, camping gear, and a portable bathroom…plus a very small tool bag—all were packed successfully! We used every square inch! We did leave the glove box free as our souvenir space. (Yes, I wanted to be sure to have some space to bring home trinkets!)
The day came for us to start our first adventure! Our little MG needed a name, and rhyming with Midget we named her Bridget. Glenn screwed her nameplate on the front and off we went. This first trip would take us almost 3,000 miles up and back. Glenn brought the title with us just in case something catastrophic happened and we need to sell her to get a plane ticket home. But that never happened. From small town to small town we went and almost everywhere we stopped we met people that asked about our little car and why we were doing this trip. Our answer was always the same: “We love visiting small towns!”
As we made our way north driving in this packed little car together, it was our minds that found the space and time to think and reflect and appreciate life. Or, just for fun, we’d count the few cars going by and play travel games like we did as kids. We found country fairs, markets with locally grown food, and even a small traveling circus. More than once we met small town mayors who took time out of their day to tell us about their communities and steer us toward a bite to eat. Modern interstate life cruises right by many of the best opportunities and attractions.
Somewhere around day three we learned lesson number two: Old convertible tops leak. The beautiful weather we left behind in Florida quickly became rainy, and then cold. Out of the 14 days of the trip, it rained 11. We started our trip in balmy 82 degree weather, and when we camped in Connecticut it was 27 degrees. But Bridget was a trooper. In the cold or the rain she kept on going, her three little windshield wipers slowly clearing the way for the sights of the roads ahead.
Traveling through North Carolina we were suddenly caught by a major thunderstorm. Sliding under an overpass, we rode out the storm. After several minutes a headlight appeared in our rear view mirror. A man on a motorcycle stopped to share our concrete umbrella. We began to talk with this man who, with a very thick Russian accent, told us he was traveling across the US by himself on his motorcycle. We exchanged traveling stories for almost an hour before the rain began to let up. We took pictures together and added his story to the many encounters we had with unique people throughout our trip.
Not a Vacation – an Adventure!
Bridget makes friends everywhere she goes. She’s even helped us get invitations to local swimming holes. We have taken three adventures in her to date: the East coast beach trip, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and an adventure along the gulf coast up to Oklahoma and back. Each a little different from the previous, but they all had three things in common. Each day we set up camp in a new small town, we stay off the interstate, and we hold hands on the little shifter that vibrates and bounces with every bump in the road. We have met so many people and experienced wonderful little towns. We have been to many places that the average traveler will never see, from the Red Neck Grand Canyon in Georgia to remote Skinny Dip Falls in North Carolina–both were well worth the trip! Maybe this little car wasn’t designed to camp out of, but it can, and maybe it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of all the newer more powerful cars of today, but we don’t mind. Surprisingly, we have found this type of traveling relaxing. We hope to continue these trips and eventually see all of the beautiful United States of America from the panoramic view of our little British car.
By the way, we paint Bridget a new color every so often so you never know what color she will be. However, two things stay consistent, her nameplate on the front, and a sign that says “Glenn and Jane Adventures” on the rear. We look forward to seeing you on the back roads!