The whole drive feels like a blur now. Mere hours after I stepped out of the Miata, the experience has been reduced to a compartmentalized memory folded into the back of my mind. This is either my problematic coping mechanism at work, or it means that four short hours of sleep were insufficient to bring my body back to full working order after a hellish 15-hour top-down stint behind the wheel of the infamous Million-Mile Miata.
Yes. That Miata. Longtime readers will remember this hard-driven, battle-scarred, once-Mariner-blue roadster from the days of blogs past. Through more than 346,000 miles, it’s seen things. Many things. Under the supervision of generations of R&T staffers like myself, it’s lapped Daytona, been driven by one of the people responsible for its own creation, seen America many times over. The list goes on. But my time with the MMM is limited. I’m helping it find its way from coast to coast once again, as it passes between two friends and former editors of our institution.
As someone who, much like this Miata, has traveled the lengths of America’s transcontinental interstates, I can’t turn down the opportunity for a cross-country drive. When I heard that the MMM needed to get back on the road, I didn’t ask questions. I got myself to Los Angeles, where the car had sat mostly dormant for years, and set east.
I probably should’ve asked questions.
Loyal MMM followers will remember that this is no run-of-the-mill beat-to-shit Craigslist Miata. It has a roll bar, a ton of Flyin’ Miata bits, serious track suspension, frame bracing, and so on. It needed all that love before attacking Daytona’s 32-degree banking. Shortly before I picked it up, it also got a fresh set of tires, new motor oil, and a thorough mechanical once-over by a trusted technician, I was informed. Of course, it was only once I was hours away from Los Angeles, sweltering under the California sun, that I started to have . . . concerns.
First was the indicated coolant temperature. I left L.A. by way of the Angeles Crest Highway, because why not. It was my first intimate experience with the Miata. Pushing its pristine all-seasons through the park’s never-ending climbs and drops, dodging fallen rocks in the road, tossing myself side to side on its weather-worn 30-year-old cloth seats as the city disappeared behind us. It was a good time, even with all the dust, dead leaves, and spider webs that remained from the Miata’s dormant state. I was making third gear work for its money, doubling the numbers on the yellow speed limit signs in the corners. Then I glanced at the temp gauge.
We were mid-climb, approaching 7,000 feet in the mountains. The Miata was hot. Very hot. Not overheating, but too close to the east side of the gauge for comfort. I immediately backed off, turned the heat on to max, and let the Miata cool down.
Everything seemed fine. I wrote off the overheating to altitude and let the Miata relax as we began our descent from the Crest.
Then came the desert.
I left L.A. with the top down and planned to keep it that way. Angeles Crest was a breeze. Literally. In the mountains during my morning sprint, outside temperatures were cool. Perfect, even. Thousands of feet below and miles west on I-15 while passing through the Mojave, things were much less pleasant.
I was burning up. My phone indicated around 95 degrees, but under the direct sunlight, I felt like death. On top of that, the air conditioning wasn’t working—though I’d been promised it was—the radio was inoperable, and my phone was rapidly dying. As we fought our way through Friday L.A.-to-Vegas traffic, passing family-packed minivans and cars with stuff like “Finally 21! Buy me a shot!” scribbled on the windows, I once again noticed the Miata’s temperature climbing. Maintaining 80-plus-mph speeds over the rolling hills of I-15 was proving to be difficult in the heat, for both the Miata and for myself.
A quick Walmart stop helped us both cool down and relieve some anxiety. I picked up a battery charger pack for my iPhone and sunscreen for the burning top half of my body. From then on, it was shirt off, headphone in, and me covered in sticky generic-branded sunscreen.
With a large part of my attention dedicated to the temp gauge, we battled our way east through Las Vegas. Passing the city, the Miata’s radio came back to life, albeit with just one speaker. The two large bottles of water I purchased before hitting the Crest nearly boiled in the unblocked sunlight, but somehow remained refreshing. Knowing there was no end in sight to the heat, I stopped again to pick up a foam cooler, ice, a handful of waters, and a Monster, and stuffed my makeshift minifridge in the passenger footwell.
Things were looking up. Or at least I was becoming more comfortable with my situation. That is, until we crossed into Arizona and attempted to traverse the Virgin River Canyon crossing. Traffic came to a stop. I sat shirtless in the Miata in 100-degree weather, glistening with Walmart sunscreen, surrounded by tractor-trailers and other state-crossing motorists, blasting my always-reliable 2000s pop-punk playlist and singing along. It was a vibe. Not a good one, but a vibe nonetheless. Surely my fellow motorists appreciated the sight.
Traffic was stopped due to a mostly resolved wildfire situation that had turned the BLM land near the state crossing to a crisp. Federal firefighters and their apparatus occupied half of the roadway. Meanwhile, the Miata’s temperature gauge remained perfectly under the halfway mark. It was an interstate miracle. Or the work of a faulty thermostat. Either way.
In Utah, I stopped for fuel and decided to give some attention to the cooling system, something I probably should’ve done much sooner on the drive. The coolant overflow reservoir wasn’t extremely low, but it seemed to appreciate the top-up, as did the dead spider carcass floating toward the top. Temperatures began to drop, but we still had over seven hours left in our trip through desolate Utah. “Familiar country,” former R&T editor Chris Cantle reminded me over text. With the sun finally falling, I threw my shirt back on and powered through as much of Utah as I could before losing all natural light.
I-70 between Salina and Green River is a beautiful, sketchy stretch of road. But at night all that beauty is gone, and you’re left with a cold, empty, hilly, 100-mile roadway that has few if any fuel stops or services of any kind. It’s not exactly the most comforting place in the world to be driving a 340,000-mile Miata that hadn’t been seriously exercised in years.
But we made it through. After a stop somewhere in between to add a few more layers of clothing, Green River came trouble-free. The only casualty was an unlucky fox that decided to practice a dance routine as the Miata and I barreled toward Colorado.
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