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Chasing Jim Morrison, Riding on the Storm

by | September 2015

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I went to see a friend the other day and he showed me around his collection. Hidden in a small town near the Washington/Canada border, he has gathered together 15 or so great cars. He tends to buy cars that drive well and have even better paper trails. The collection consists of Porsches and muscle cars. I was in hog heaven. A funny thing happened while I was there – I bought one!

I got home to San Juan Island from the visit and started planning on picking up the car. I could trailer it – the weather wasn’t very promising – or I could do the unthinkable: drive it.

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I thought about it for a day, threw caution to the wind, and made my plans. I was going to fly off island Saturday morning, then drive the car to the ferry dock and relax for an hour or so before getting home and driving around the island. What could go wrong, I thought.

Then I woke up to reality.

I woke up to rain: oh shit, that’s not good. A cup of coffee and my wife reminding me it had “rained on the car in 1967 too” guilted me into following through. I drove to the shop, and the winds had picked up big time, gusting more than 26 knots (that’s 30+ mph for those of you who don’t live on an island and learn these things.) But the winds blew in 1967 also.

I walked to the airport to catch my plane and to my surprise, this winged-thing had probably flown in 1967!

Let me get this straight… I’m flying in something that’s equivalent to a glorified Volkswagen, that’s as old as the stuff I drive. We’ll be in winds of 30 mph over water so cold if you do survive the crash, the odds are strong that hypothermia will kill you within 15 minutes. What the hell am I thinking?

The pilot walked out…in her mid-20s…smiling, saying “It’s a little rough…” I swear if she hadn’t been smiling, I would have never got on the plane. But my ego would not let me back out!

As we taxied out, she informed me we had a stop at Orcas Island. If we could.

Orcas Island?

I hate landing on Orcas: it’s rough and bumpy on a calm day. Why did we have to stop at Orcas? Because we picked up a commercial pilot trying to get to SeaTac international airport, and this was the only plane flying!

So that was another clue to the folly of this adventure! We took off from Orcas and that’s when it got exciting. I asked the pilot seated behind me why I was sitting in the copilot seat and he’s not. He laughed. It’s been a long time since I was that happy to hit the ground with my own two feet. From there, everything seemed easy.

As I pulled up to the collector’s garage, he asked, “You’re going to drive it?”

“It hasn’t moved in over a year,” he said. Really? At this point, after what I’d been through to get here, there was no question: Yes!

Finally, I was behind the wheel. I was in control and if I screwed up, I was to blame. As I pulled out, I started to calm down and I got comfortable with my surroundings. Gas was on a quarter tank; that’s fine. Then I asked myself if the gauge worked. Oil pressure and temp were in line, so I was off. Heading down from just south of the Canadian boarder, all I did was grin.

This Night Mist Blue 1967 Shelby GT350 was assembled during the last year of the true Shelby-built performance Mustangs and it will bring a grin to any car guy’s face. With the plane ride from hell behind me, this ride was going to be fun!

Driving south, I saw the sign for something I’d heard about since moving to the northwest, Chuckanut Drive! Washington State Route 11. This fabled road is a 21-mile long scenic byway full of hairpin turns and steep ledges looking over the sound. I’d waited more than a year to find this road!

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With storm cloud looming I took the exit with nothing but anticipation ahead. How appropriate that The Doors, singing Riders on the Storm, came on my headphones just as the road was getting good. The winds whipped up, blowing debris all over the road. Visions of Jim Morrison tearing up his Night Mist Blue ’67 GT500 Shelby were going through my head.

Stop!

What the hell am I doing!

I looked down… And there the beauty of a 48-year old car brought me back to reality. I was barely going over the speed limit. But…wait! I was sawing at the wheel, looking for my braking points, and I wasn’t even hauling ass? Really?

Maybe it was the three inches of slop in the steering, the six-inch dive in the nose when I braked, or just that our memories might just be one hell of a lot faster than reality.

I mean really a lot faster!

As reality set in, I looked down at the instruments again and noticed the gas gauge did work, because it was now on E. I’m 10 miles in and 15 miles from a gas station. Damn it! The second problem reared its ugly head the instant I saw what time it was: I had 30 minutes to cover 25 miles to get to the ferry dock.

I felt like I needed to be cautious to conserve fuel. But no time now; with my deadline, it was all or nothing. Here in the San Juan’s, the ferries always are full, so you have to make a reservation or wait three hours in hopes of space on the next one. On a weekend, the wait may be longer.

I hammered down trying to get to the ferry, and luckily another brave soul was doing the same thing so I didn’t have to lead.

Five miles from the ferry dock I had to throw in the towel and stop for gas or I figured I’d be walking. Filling up a 60’s-era Shelby means you’re going to smell like gas; it’s unavoidable as they always spit some out. While I was behind the car, a guy spoke up about fluid coming out of the front. At this point I was really missing a good old air-cooled Porsche. A quick peek showed me it was just the coolant over-flow, so I was off again. With less than 10 minutes to get to the dock I was content that I would see the family at dinner.

As I was going through the last town I noticed the power was out everywhere from the storm rolling through. I headed up side streets with no stoplights in hopes of having a fighting chance to get home. It worked. As I pulled up to the ferry line I explained I was late, but the ferry was still there. The attendant said if I hurried I might be able to get on. Hurry is my middle name.

As I rolled onto the ferry, it was obvious the guys liked the car and they moved me over to the side clear of bicycles and other such loose stuff. They took a few pics and we were off.

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The story should have ended here, but oh…hell no.

As we moved away from the dock I headed to the cafe in the middle of the boat to get some coffee. With a cup in my hand I fell back into the counter behind me. What’s going on? Then I realized, holy shit, this boat is really rolling. As I struggled forward I looked out of the window and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Huge waves crashed over the bow driven by crazy winds. This is the Puget Sound, not the English Channel! The announcement came over the public address to find a seat and stay in it. The same warning followed another half a dozen times.

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Car alarms started going off; a motorcycle fell over. Hang on folks, this is getting real. I already had cheated death once today with my flight, just so I could go through this? Fifteen minutes later the skipper found shelter from the winds by staying tucked into the shoreline. Isn’t this how the S.S. Costa Concordia ended its illustrious career? But things were calmer with the islands sheltering us, and 45 minutes later we docked.

Going down to the car deck was exciting. Seawater had splashed over the cars on the first two-thirds of the deck. But the Shelby sat safe, sound, and dry in its special cubby at the stern, and I couldn’t get off that boat fast enough. I’ve gone to pick up a lot of cool, special cars. I’ve never, however, had to go through anything like this to get one home.

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I woke up Sunday morning and got the family in the GT350. We went for a “lap” around the island on the way to breakfast. As we ordered our meals, I picked up the paper and read about the storm that had produced hurricane force winds, killed two people, knocked trees down, knocked power out, delayed plane and ferry service…and all I could think was “No Shit?”

2015-09-06-06-2 killed as storm downs power lines, trees in Washington - CNN.com

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