In a few hours I depart with my son on a 1500 mile cross country, un-Interstate LeMons road rally driving the worst car we could possibly find.
It’s called the Retreat from Moscow, one of more than a dozen “hooptie” events happening this year in the United States and around the world.
What is a hooptie? Try this link: https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=hooptie
Or imagine a car so old, rusted-out and banged-up that you either have to be crazy, or in love, to drive it. The car may also be blatantly ludicrous: a stretch limo with slanted, Titannicky smokestacks thrusting from its cabin, a sportscar “reverse engineered” to drive upside down, or a jalopy so unbelievably ugly that it’s…really ugly.
Created by a California-based group of hooptie heads, (24hoursofLeMons.com) in the spirit of the famed LeMans endurance race, but with a sense of humor. The Retreat from Moscow salutes Napoleon’s humiliating trudge from Russia. Previous Retreats left from eastern American cities named Moscow (Moscow, Pennsylvania, a popular burg of departure, made a Best-Places-to-Live list: http://www.bestplaces.net/city/pennsylvania/moscow). This year’s flees from Cumberland, Maryland, though we’ve been promised that the first checkpoint will be in what remains of that state’s version of the Russian capital.
Checkpoints make this different from a road race. We must observe all local, state and federal speed limits. The goal is to complete tasks required at numerous checkpoints, which, my son assures me, are wonderfully stupid, such as having to stop in ten different Tennessee Waffle Houses and by a single waffle in each, in a single day!
From Maryland, we go south, driving 300 to 450 miles a day down back roads and scenic by-ways, among them US 129, a two-lane road in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains notorious for its switchbacks and hairpin turns. We overnight in Roanoke, Asheville, and Chatanooga where I’ve booked us a room (and not a train car, though the train car was available) at the Historic Chatanooga Choo Choo Hotel.
The Rally ends Friday in Leeds, Alabama, where prizes will be awarded for Random Acts of Stupidity and Hooptiest Vehicle.
Our hooptie is an ancient Infiniti sedan, reputed to be one of the ugliest cars ever to come out of Japan. To qualify for LeMons hooptiness, we must spend no more than $500 on the car (my son has a receipt). The seats still heat, the radio works but the volume knob is frozen, the automatic transmission groans slips a little and one of the rear tires makes a bump-bump-bump sound that I’ll just have to get used to. The car is licensed and fully insured, but we’ll have points taken off because Japanese and German cars, no matter how visually hideous, have a reputation for reliability.
We’d get 100 added points if we showed up in a Russian Yugo!
What happens if we, or any of the competing vehicles, break down? You fix the car on the spot, which my son did on a previous Retreat. Failing that, you get a tow to a garage, or call Enterprise for a rental and asked to be picked up.
I haven’t asked my son if he suffered that on a previous Retreat. Our first stop is a Walmart, where I intend to purchase radiator fluid, extra flashlight batteries and duct tape.
A lot of duct tape.