My Father, Rum Running, and a Vintage Porsche

Life is tough.  Between work, binge watching Breaking Bad, and microwaving ramen noodles, don’t you have enough stress?  Imagine adding in the fact that you drive a manual transmission car with no cup holders.  How are you supposed to hold the wheel, text, drink your coffee, and shift gears with only two hands?

Ze Germans, even to this day, don’t care that your supersized coke has nowhere to call home in your vehicle.  They do not build cars to coddle your beverage until you decide that the second half of those 42 oz’s is ready to be thrown in the garbage.  What they do build, however, are cars that…you know what?  They don’t build cars.  Let me start over.  They take a few cows, turn them into supple leather seats, and then once they have determined that the seats are microscopically perfect in every way, they add four wheels to the bottom and call it a car.  Being that German is a by-word for precision, they of course include top of the line components and a powerful engine.  Hiding all of this underneath is a body design that usually says something along the lines of: “Hey, I’m a restrained and highly refined piece of impeccable engineering.  I’m driven by a lawyer that you can’t afford and every other Saturday I am pampered with a fresh coat of wax by a man in a white lab coat.”

The story of my German car is a little different.  You see, until only recently, Porsche never quite figured out how to SELL cars.  For the most part the company just built whatever they liked and the only reason customers made a purchase is because they were quite good looking and drove like no other automobile could.  My Porsche is no exception.  In 1970, Porsche believed that they needed to offer an entry level sports car at an affordable price.  Seems like a good idea right?  I can own a Porsche but I don’t have to sell any body parts to be able to afford it.  Perfect!  Well, in their infinite wisdom, Porsche decided to collaborate with Volkswagen on this project. (Dieselgate anyone?…Yeah.  Smart move.)

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Porsche 914 Blueprint

Anyway the end result was essentially a mid-engined Porsche supercar.  They deemed it model number 914.  The 914 was perfectly engineered; low to the ground with a wide stance and perfect 50/50 weight distribution.  The body was an edgy design that was way ahead of its time.  It had two trunks, one in the front and one in the back, thanks to the engine being in the middle.  What was Volkswagen’s contribution?  A tiny four cylinder engine that made more noise than power.  It was all show and no go.  Despite being incredibly slow and underpowered, the car went on sale anyway.  In 1976, Porsche cancelled the 914 program after a production run of just under 119,000 vehicles.

Fast forward to 2005.  I was 14 years old, and a freshman in high school who knew everything.  All freshman know everything right?  That’s part of being a freshman…until a Senior puts you in your place.  A few years earlier, my Father had purchased and restored a Porsche 912.  It was, and to this day is, gorgeous. The color of the paint alone could make you pass out.  It’s like having wine and chocolate with Scarlett Johansson, except you’ve just spilled your wine on her dress “accidentally.”  Now your panic stricken, chocolate covered hands are smearing chocolaty perfection into the crimson rivers in an attempt to clean her ruined dress.  The result is a deep burgundy bliss.  Come back to reality with me for a second, my goal was to elicit the emotion felt from seeing such a perfect paint color…not bring you into whatever odd fantasies I may or may not have. What I fantasize about on my own time is between me and Scarlett Johansson.

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My Father’s 1969 Porsche 912

After my Father had finished the restoration of his 912, it was time for him to find my first car.  Keep in mind, I grew up in a decade where Paul Walker was driving cheap Honda Civic’s with neon lights painting the asphalt underneath…and when his movie franchise was still within an acceptable number of sequels.  Being the testosterone filled yuppie that I was at the time, I naturally assumed that I was fast and furious and as such I required a car reminiscent of those in the film.  My Father was smarter than this, realizing that not even a few months later our garage would be strewn with blown up turbos and every other failed experiment I would attempt to install on my Japanese street racer.  In an attempt to change my teenage view on what cars are cool, he dragged me along to a Porsche car show in his perfect 912.  We walked around, looking at the various vintage Porsches and discussing my upcoming future with life behind a steering wheel.  We discussed what cars would be a good first car for me, with him hinting at the possibility of something vintage or at least something we can wrench on in the garage…something that didn’t require a laptop and a degree in advanced mechanical engineering to fix. Then, out of nowhere, there it was.  My first ever sighting of a 914.  I pointed at it, my mouth gaping open, trying to form words instead of the befuddled umm and err noises it was leaking.  It was the kind of point that your parent would slap your hand out of the air and explain: “Don’t point.  It’s rude to point.”

Throughout all of this my Mother was under the impression that my first car would be something safe and used, a certified pre-owned Toyota Camry perhaps. How wrong she was.  Almost immediately after my first 914 sighting, my Father purchased one.  This was back before the vintage Porsche market skyrocketed, when old ones could be had for next to nothing.  It quietly sat in his office warehouse, collecting dust, waiting for the right moment to pounce on its 15 year old, acne fighting prey: Me.  Looking back on this, I sometimes wonder if he was just working up the courage to tell my Mother what he had done.  It was September of 2006.  My sophomore year of high school had just begun.  One night at the dinner table my Father explained he had purchased a white 1971 914 for me, and that we would restore it together and finish it by the time I had my license.

The Day My 914 Came Home. (This image was taken on an ancient flip phone...)
The Day My 914 Came Home. (This image was taken on an ancient flip phone)

It had cost him $1,500, all of which I would have to pay back as a lesson that I needed to work to afford my own car.  You’re thinking: “Wow!  A Porsche for $1,500?  What a steal!” No.  You know when you buy a Coke from the vending machine and two roll out because the second one was so dented and crushed that the machine couldn’t hold it in place?  This car was that second Coke.  There was a rust hole the size of Chuck Norris’ fist right behind the driver door handle.  The engine bay was a concoction of oil spray, dirt, grime, and of course more rust. The car would start, but honestly you were doing yourself, your neighbors, and the environment a favor by not starting it.  I don’t know what was inside the transmission, probably just a pile of metal chunks and broken pieces, but every shift resulted in schreeching or grinding noises, further killing the already-on-its-last-leg transmission.  This car was, and theres no other words for it, complete and utter crap.  But it was my complete and utter crap.

Over the next few years (yes you guessed it, the car was nowhere near complete by the time I had my license) I learned a lot about all of the components required to propel a car in any given direction…because my car had none of them.  They were strewn across the garage in various states of repair, awaiting that glorious day when they would be called back into action.  The one thing the car did have going for it was a massive motor upgrade.  My Father had dismantled the original motor and installed all new high performance internals.  It now had a big bore kit, and the original fuel injection was tossed in favor of a dual-carburetor setup. Once the motor was installed, we invited a few friends to share and participate in that drumroll please moment when the motor would be started for the first time. My Pop turned the key and the Porsche fired right up, like it was brand new.  It ran and sounded great…for all of about 30 seconds.  It then decided to empty every drop of oil it had onto the driveway below it.  For the sake of keeping this story from getting too long, and since I know my Father will read this, let’s just chalk it up to the fact that we are all human and sometimes we make mistakes…Love you Dad.

The almighty big bore motor made a second appearance after once again being dismantled and rebuilt.  Only this time around it was discovered that the engine block was cracked and would need to be replaced.  On to motor attempt number three we go.  Third time is a charm right?  Well, as it turns out, it was!  I was finally able to drive the car.  I drove the car in this state on and off for a few months as every night more work was being done to it.  It had minimal interior pieces, no heater (California…didn’t really need one), old suspension, old tires, something that didn’t really deserve the term “brakes” but would eventually bring the car to a stop after some praying and holding the door handle in case you needed to bail.  But you know what?  It had that big motor!  I learned a lot about how cars handled during these few months.  Mine didn’t handle, that’s essentially how I learned.  I would go screaming up Angeles Crest Highway in this thing, quick as can be on the straights.  However, once you threw a bend into the equation, the car would buck and shake like a bed in a honeymoon suite.  The 40 year old suspension just wasn’t up to the task, and would simply collapse at the thought of going around a corner.  Nevertheless, I had proven to myself that, yes, I was fast and furious.

Of course, as we all know by now, my Father is much too smart to be letting his son take Utter Crap up and down one of the most dangerous roads in the country. The 914 was decommissioned once again.  This time, all new performance suspension was to be installed, as well as an anti-roll bar in the front.  A new exhaust system, new brakes, and tires also made their way into the equation. This car was loud and proud now.  The suspension was so stiff that driving over a pothole was similar to jumping off the roof of your house in your superman costume, hoping you could fly.  Here’s the problem though:  You can fix the car, but you can’t fix your less than intelligent son.  Yet again, my Father defeated even this problem.  How?  He took me out of school for a day and took me to the racetrack with the new and improved Porsche.  Let me repeat myself.  I’ll break it down in steps for you.  1.  He took me out of school.  2.  He took me to a RACETRACK.  Dad:1  All my loser friends sitting in class that day:0.

We spent the day with the Porsche Club of America out at Willow Springs Raceway.  As it turns out, I was quite skilled at the whole track driving thing.  I repeatedly had the car stepping its tail out on corner entry and not once did I lose control or go off track.  In fact, the only time I really made a mistake was about half way through the day.  I had made quite a few laps around the track by

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First Trackday With The 914

this point and was picking up speed with each and every one.  Just before the straightaway is a very long second gear corner.  It is imperative to be quick in this corner so you can maximize your speed on the straight. Now, I said second gear corner.  Well, turns out it’s really more of a third gear corner.  By the time I was exiting the corner, I had that car revving so far over the redline it was a miracle the motor didn’t explode and shoot bits of piston all over the track.  For reference, the car has a redline of about 5,500 RPM or so, I had it somewhere around the 6,500 RPM mark.  If this motor has 9 lives like cats do, that was easily one of them being pissed away into oblivion by your (slightly more intelligent now that he has done a trackday) son.

Let’s skip ahead a few years.  It’s 2009 and I am off to college in Montana.  The Porsche stayed behind in the luxurious warm weather of Southern California.  By this point it was no longer my Utter Crap.  It was Utter Perfection.  The interior was clean and perfect, the paint shiny and new, and no the motor hadn’t blown up yet although it probably had lost a few more lives throughout my final years of high school.  The 914 would sit for months at a time, occasionally being driven by my Father just to make sure it was still in tip top shape.  I would call home and the first thing out of my mouth would be “How is my car?”  My Pop did another trackday or two in it, but in the end it was placed in storage, doomed to become another “barn find” or God forbid on that depressing piece of television known as Storage Wars.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  It was eating at me.  I had to be with my beloved car.

I decided it was time to bring the Porsche to Montana.  I had another vehicle by now, a Toyota Tacoma to be exact, and the Porsche had garage space ready and waiting.  It was the perfect setup.  No college kids would ding my car as I would never take it to campus.  A few of my friends decided to go to Vegas that year for Memorial Day weekend.  I thought this was a perfect chance to grab the 914

The Porsche En Route to Montana, Photo Taken Somewhere Just North Of Vegas
The Porsche En Route to Montana, Photo Taken Somewhere Just North of Las Vegas

from California and drive it up to Montana.  I’d meet up with them in Vegas, spend the weekend there, and complete the rest of the drive after.  I phoned my Father and he agreed it was a good plan. A few weeks later I received a call from him.  He wanted in.  First off, I had been out of the house for a few years now, leaving just my Father and two ladies: My sister and my Mother.  Let’s just say some dude time in Vegas with a bunch of college kids seemed like a nice vacation.  The 1,200 mile road trip in a vintage Porsche was just the icing on the cake.

Utter Perfection made it from start to finish without a single hiccup.  It even doubled as a rum running vehicle on the stretch from Los Angeles to Vegas. Unlike Vegas, alcohol is cheap in California and can be bought in massive portions.  Plus, the 914 has two trunks right?  Don’t judge me, I was clearly putting my college education to use.  To this day the 914 is with me in Montana. It has since done a few autocross races, seen some early winter fun in the snow, and even made an appearance at a few car shows.

This story isn’t really about the car though.  It is about my Father.  When i began writing it, that wasn’t my intention.  After reading it however, I refuse to edit a single part of it.  On that drive from Los Angeles to Montana, my Dad told me that these 914’s are slowly but surely creeping up in value.  He suggested I enjoy it a little longer and then look at selling it and maybe getting something else that I can once again restore and watch go up in value.  I’ll never forget this talk as long as I live.  Here’s why:  I told him that I don’t really care if the car is worth a dollar or a fortune, I won’t sell.  Someday he will pass away, but you know what?  That Porsche never will.  As long as it is by my side I will always have my Father with me.

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5 Things You Thought You Knew About Studying Abroad in Europe

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I’m going to go ahead and make a biased, totally un-researched assumption right off the bat: every person who has studied abroad would describe the experience as “life-changing.” I can make that assumption with unwarranted confidence because that’s the only way most people, including myself, can capture everything in an accurate phrase without boring the person who asked. “Life-changing” is the only way we can describe riding a time machine to Rome or standing where a queen once stood or being overwhelmed with the immense diversity that’s crammed into such a small area of the world. “Life-changing” is also the only way we can talk about living where no one knows you and finding your truest self by hanging out with strangers (who eventually become your best friends).

Unfortunately, describing a study abroad experience as “life-changing” is also one of the most cliché ways to go about it—and it’s not the only cliché about studying abroad that needs to be examined a little closer. If you’re thinking about studying abroad, or maybe just avoiding homework, here are some common misconceptions to be aware of:

  1. Studying abroad is just for rich kids.

Studying abroad is definitely more expensive than staying put, but I trust that most people can make it work. Let me break it down by using the University of Montana as an example: UM is partnered with over 50 international schools in about 25 different countries, which means that you can pay your tuition to UM while studying at a school abroad. So, if you choose a partner program, you’ll probably only have to budget extra for travel and living expenses, which can also be supplemented by a wide variety of scholarship opportunities if you play your cards right.

Plus, once you get there, traveling around the area is surprisingly affordable – plane tickets can be around 50€/round trip if you’re savvy and hostel reservations are even cheaper than that.

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  1. Studying in Europe = 6 months of non-stop partying

It’s true that almost every European country you visit is going to say they’re the best at making and drinking some sort of alcohol (I was in Germany, so, naturally, they loved their beer). That being said, however, there’s actually a lot to do over there besides partying – while I was abroad, I spent most of my time exploring different countries, going to all sorts of events in the community, hanging out with friends, and even volunteering at a local refugee shelter. And partying, of course.

Plus, there’s a cool old church around just about every corner if you ever get really bored.

  1. You’ll make tons of local friends.

Locals tend to hang out with themselves, so meeting and befriending them can be a little challenging. The good news is that you immediately get tossed in with a huge group of international students who are also looking to make friends for the next six months or so. It’s like a freshman year in the dorms all over again!

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  1. You’ll be fluent in that one language by the end of it.

Clearly this depends on a lot of factors, including your prior knowledge of the language and the region that you study in. Top three phrases I
recommend prioritizing, no matter the language or level: “Excuse me,” “Please,” and “Can I pet your dog?”

  1. You don’t actually study when you’re studying abroad.

I studied considerably less, but I still had to keep up with it. To generalize, the European education system differs from the American one majorly through class structure and expectations. Most people I’ve talked to agree that classes have less consistent evaluations (i.e., homework), meaning your final grade basically depends on your final exam. However, that also means you’ll have more free-time during the semester to do some experiential learning, like actually living your life in Europe, instead.

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As an obvious disclaimer, not everyone will have the same experience that I did. Some people will party with their local friends for all six months, speaking the language fluently, blowing life savings on crêpes and seafood, and not showing up to class until the last week – and they’ll probably have a freaking awesome time doing it.

As cliché as it sounds, studying abroad changes lives – but you’ll never know how it can change yours until just get on the plane and go.

10 things to know about the Hiawatha trail

 #1. It’s a real thing

Opened in 1998, the Hiawatha trail is a 15-mile-long bike trail that operates out of Lookout Pass Ski Area right off of I-90 at exit 0. All amenities such as trail passes can be found at the ski area that opens at 8 a.m.  The actual main trail for the Hiawatha is actually located 7-miles east of the ski area at exit 5 in Montana. The trail is open roughly from the end of May and closes at the end of September every year.

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#2. You don’t need to own a bike to ride the Hiawatha Trail

Okay, that’s a lie, well only slightly. You do need a bike to ride the Hiawatha. However, you do not need to own one personally because you can rent one from the Lookout Pass ski area. Not only can you rent from two choices of mountain bikes for both children and adults, but you can also rent helmets, bike lights and bike trailers.

#3. You will never know what actual time it is

Because the Hiawatha trail main trailhead starts in Montana, but Lookout Pass ski area where you buy your ticket is in Idaho, and Idaho and Montana are in two different time zones it can get very confusing. Now you may be reading this and thinking that it’s logical to just reference Montana time because that’s where the trail starts. But actually half of the trail is in Idaho time because the first tunnel you bike through sends you straightunnamed-1 into Idaho from Montana. But then again be warned, I still don’t know this to be 100% because after riding the Hiawatha many times I still am very confused by the time concept.

#4. It’s fun for the whole family

Or in my case my best friend and I because we’re out of state college students.img_2858 But nonetheless, the Hiawatha trail is a perfect weekend outing for all ages. The 15-mile trail is mostly all downhill so it’s not as strenuous as 15 miles’ sounds. Along with this there are many pullout spots along the trail to take a break, take in the view and have a picnic.

#5. The views are incredible

I personally struggled with staying on the trail because of how pretty the scenery is. If you go later in the season, you’ll be able to see the trees begin to change color. So if you’re somebody who likes to look at everything but where you are going, go slow to avoid a spontaneous trip off the side of the trail.

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#6. There is a light at the end of the tunnel

One of the very cool things about the Hiawatha trail is that it use to a continental railroad system, and contains 7 sky high trestles along with 10 train tunnels. Right out of the gate, bikers will bike through the St. Paul Pass Tunnel which is 1.66 miles long. You will be totally consumed by darkness in this tunnel and it gets very cold. Unless you are Bane from the Dark Knight rises, it’s essential that you have a reliable and bright bike img_2848light, and no your IPhone flashlight will not suffice. It may sound scary to some, but the tunnels are one of the main attraction on the trail and an experience you don’t want to miss. Also, the acoustics in the St. Paul Pass tunnel will convince you that you should’ve auditioned for American Idol.

#7.  Make sure you pack the essentials

As a veteran of the Hiawatha trail I will tell you that it is much more fun if you pack the right things. Some of these necessities for ultimate fun on the trail include a helmet (everyone loves to be safe, also it’s required), gloves (the tunnels get very cold, so gloves come in clutch), a backpack (to hold all your snacks of course), snacks and a sack lunch (to fill your backpack of course. I also recommend img_2901packing a pb&j because it’s the one sandwich that taste best smashed), a bright light (if you have one, if not you can rent one), first aid kit (because better safe than sorry) and water (you’ve got to stay hydrated!). Also I recommend dressing in layers because some parts of the trail are more shaded then others which causes some to be colder than others.

#8. Always buy a shuttle pass

A shuttle pass is not required to buy because it’s possible to ride the 15 miles down to the bottom of the trail and then back up, and some people do this. However, from experience the 15 miles back up to the trailhead is a lot harder than the way down because, well, gravity. But when planning ahead purchasing a $9 shuttle pass so that you have the option to ride on the bus back up to the trailhead is never a bad idea. Better safe than sorry right? You never know what may happen to you on your 15-mile ride to the bottom. You may have plans to be an animal that day and go down and back up, but then realize you’re much more tired after the first half of the ride, or realize it took longer than you thought and you’re short on time. Like I said, it’s better safe than sorry, and also who doesn’t love fun facts and stories about the area provided to you by your very knowledge Hiawatha shuttle driver?  untitled-4

#9. Angels do exist on the Hiawatha trail

I recently learned on my past trip on the Hiawatha trail that angels exist. I was about 5 miles into the trail when tragedy struck and I popped a tire. I realized I was probably SOL because I never planned on popping a tire, because who plans on that? With ten more miles to go I began pedaling my sad self down the now extremely bumpy trail. After a mile or so on my embarrassing flat tire, a red haired angel pedaled up next to me on a blue bike and asked if I needed a replacement. Her name was Emma, or as I call her Angel Emma and she was one of the patrols on the trail that assisted the distressed like myself.  She quickly worked her magic and replaced my tire and sent me on my way. Thankfully Lookout Pass who operates the Hiawatha trail plans for people to have misfortunes down the trail.untitled-3

#10. Take your time on the trail and enjoy the ride

The Hiawatha trail has been dubbed the “crown jewel of rail to trail adventures” and a crown jewel of an adventure it is. Not only do you get to be outside exploring beautiful Montana Idaho but you get to be amongst other friendly cyclists! So enjoy the ride and take the whole day to experience it.

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Sad you missed your chance to ride the Hiawatha trail this season?

Because I know I would be if I missed it, but thankfully I didn’t! And because I didn’t you can experience parts of my ride in this short video.

Enjoy and visit www.ridethehiawatha.com for more information and to plan your trip next season!

 Have a hidden adventure you want to share?

Tell me about it!