Mini Cooper Road Trip With My Son: Part One

A chrome Mini Cooper logo boot badge on October 20, 2016 in Southend, United Kingdom. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)
A chrome Mini Cooper logo boot badge on October 20, 2016 in Southend, United Kingdom. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images) /

The time and distance added up to 28-hours and 1,778-miles, according to Google maps. The time and distance would be traversed in 11-days and would be an opportunity for my son and I to road trip, spend quality time together, and see the places that helped shaped me.

My son, DPC2, just turned 12 and has been cooped up since 2019 for homeschooling because of Covid. I’m a cautious parent but as the world gets back to some semblance of normalcy it was the proper time to take a road trip and it would be his maiden voyage for extended car time.

We live in Phoenix and the first stop would be my hometown of Santa Rosa, CA. I’m an incredibly fortunate dude because I was raised in an ideal town; not too big or too small, great scenery, close proximity to the Bay Area, and awesome weather.

SANTA ROSA, CA – JUNE 2: The logo for Charles M. Schulz Airport (STS) features the Peanuts cartoon character Snoopy as viewed on June 2, 2013, in Santa Rosa, California. Charles M. Schulz Airport is serviced by Alaska Airlines and is located in Sonoma County. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA – JUNE 2: The logo for Charles M. Schulz Airport (STS) features the Peanuts cartoon character Snoopy as viewed on June 2, 2013, in Santa Rosa, California. Charles M. Schulz Airport is serviced by Alaska Airlines and is located in Sonoma County. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images) /

Plus it’s the home of Snoopy, “Peanuts” creator who Charles Schulz lived in Santa Rosa after moving from Minnesota. Snoopy is prominent in my hometown.

I was excited to see Santa Rosa and I don’t get back there enough. It’s a 13-hour drive from Phoenix and to me that makes it just long enough to be a pain in the arse of a drive and the scenery is dreadfully boring. You leave the desert of Arizona for the desert of Indio and Palm Springs and don’t really get any greenery until you start making your way north on the 5 around Bakersfield. I guess I could fly back and forth but I’m not big on airplanes and spending money.

We hit the road at 5:11 a.m. on June 26th and were looking at 800-miles in between us and Santa Rosa. I do my best to leave early when I go on an extended drive and my logic is fairly simple: after a good night of sleep I can function at a pretty good level for about 20-hours. If I leave early in the morning right after I get up then my energy is put towards driving. If I get up at 5:30 a.m., my usual wake up time, but hit the road at 2:00 p.m. I have effectively lost 7.5-hours of coherent availability.

This happened on my last drive back from Santa Rosa when we left at 2:00 p.m. and it was an issue to stay alert in the latter parts of the drive. Coffee, podcasts and most importantly my wife kept spirits high during that drive. Without her keeping me awake and engaged we would have had to stop at a hotel for the night. I have an awesome wife and I am lucky she loves me.

Our vessel for this road trip: my 2015 Mini Cooper. On the surface it doesn’t seem like it would be a great car for a road trip, due to its lack of size, short wheelbase and minimal luggage space. But if it’s only two people on the trip it’s legit.

  • Good gas mileage, it averaged 39.1 mpg, means minimal gas stops. You get 400-miles on a tank and it saves coin. I occasionally used Green mode to save on gas.
  • It’s smaller size means it’s easier to weave in and out of traffic to make time. A Mini Cooper is perfectly suited for the narrow and curvy roads of Northern California.
  • With the seats folded down you have plenty of space for luggage and a cooler with snacks.
  • It’s peppy enough, 134 hp versus a 2,605 lbs curb weight, that when you drive in Sport mode and manually shift the automatic transmission you can get around at a reasonable clip.
  • Solid Bluetooth stereo for Spotify.

We hit the road at 5:11 a.m. and headed west on the 10 and would stay on it for the next 300-miles. It was early and we were both still waking up but a McDonalds breakfast with coffee got me alert. The 10 west is a boring drive with only desert landscape, some truck stops and the only sight that can end this drudgery are some windmills about 20-miles or so outside of Palm Springs.

Eventually though you make your way north on the 5 and leave the desert behind for Californian agricultural country. Yes the landscape is flat but it is green and after an extended stretch of desert driving any change in color is welcome. I kept the Mini at around an 80 mph clip and kept going north.

We eventually stopped in Castaic, California for some much needed gas after driving 400-miles or so. Castaic is about 15-miles north of Six Flags Magic Mountain but feels like the middle of nowhere, regardless of location we got our petrol, stretched our legs and continued on.

For  large part of this trip my son napped. I can’t blame him, it’s a boring stretch of tarmac and scenery. I figured I’d wake him up as we got closer to the Bay Area but that is a bit further down the road. I rambled on, listened to Bill Simmons podcast and drank more coffee.

For a while the only town that I recognized was Los Banos but when we got to Tracy I knew we were getting closer. DPC2 was watching a movie on his phone and I got his attention that were getting close to the East Bay.

After Tracy we took 580 east towards Livermore and then Oakland. Spirits were high, we were back in civilization and getting closer to Santa Rosa. Google maps took me away from my usual route across the Richmond bridge and had us take the 80 around the Bay and eventually dropped us on the 37. We went past Sonoma Raceway and the scenery looked familiar. I grew up in Sonoma County, I lived there for 20-years and will always consider it home despite living away from it for a majority of my life. It’s home, familiar.

After the 37 we cruised on the 121 through wine country. DPC2 was impressed with the vineyards and the limitless expanse of green. The winery tour continued until I found the 12 and made a beeline for Santa Rosa. The more I drove on the 12 west, the more the scenery looked familiar. I was content and excited to share some facets of my home with my son.

At 7:20 p.m. we arrived in Santa Rosa and had dinner with my family at Round Table Pizza. This was a request of DPC2 because he had heard me hype it up Round Table and how I always ate there when I went home for visits.

The catching up with my family was ideal, we were exhausted but excited to be in Santa Rosa. The Phoenix Suns were on TV in the restaurant and I got to catch the last minute of their win over the Clippers. Life was good and then we found our hotel to grab some much needed sleep.

It was a long day. We spent 14-hours in the car, drove 800-miles and then we slept well.

Tip Hedren star of Hitchcock’s The Birds, 19.06.1963. (Photoshot/Getty Images)
Tip Hedren star of Hitchcock’s The Birds, 19.06.1963. (Photoshot/Getty Images) /

A few days later I headed to Bodega Bay to see the water and get my wife a souvenir. For the uninitiated Bodega Bay is where Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” was filmed and it’s a pretty dope little town with great scenery.

“The Birds” is in my Top-25 favorite movies of all time and Hitchcock got the vibe right for Bodega Bay as a quiet seaside cove with great vistas.

To get from Santa Rosa to Bodega Bay you have one option and it’s ideal: Highway 12 through Sebastopol and then the Bodega Highway. It’s a great drive for a small car and I had the Mini in perfect weather without fog.

Side note: I am a terrible driver in rain and snow, hence leaving Reno when I graduated, but I drive well in fog. Sonoma County is conducive to teaching proper fog driving and that is a useless skill in Phoenix.

It’s two-lanes all the way from Sebastopol to Bodega Bay. The roads are narrow and twisty with a rare straightaway of more than ake -feet. You can find yourself distracted by the scenery of meadows, apple orchards, grazing land and the rolling hills.

The Mini was ideal for these roads; keep it in second at 3,000 rpm going into the turn and gear up to third at the exit of it. Build up revs before the next switchback and take off.

With a small engine you need to keep the three cylinders at higher RPMs to generate horsepower and if you do it will jump forward with an aggressive pull. These roads need attentiveness, due to their narrow nature and some open pasture land where cattle can roam free in Bodega, but quick reactions and focus reward you with true driving pleasure.

Sunroof open to take in some fresh air and Oasis in heavy rotation and I found form of bliss only afforded to those willing to drive in isolation away from larger cities. This was a rare pleasure after spending too many hours stuck in Phoenix traffic and I relished each gear shift.

After a great stretch on the Bodega Highway I made a right onto the 1 and cruised a bit slower to take in the scenery and fresh air rolling from the nearby ocean. Serene driving would by method for a long stretch through Bodega Bay and towards some souvenir shopping at “The TIdes”.

A quick stop at “The TIdes” and a gift was purchased. I motored a bit north on the 1 and pulled over. Away from town I wanted to see the ocean in this bay with an unobstructed view.

After my brief stop I continued north and took a right onto 116 and cruised with the Russian River to my right. The narrow road is lined with trees on both sides and it provided a canopy throughout my drive. At this point I was not motoring, I was enjoying a mellow drive in the woods.

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Eventually I got back to my hotel room. I was at ease and acknowledged that my previous car, a 2012 Chevy Camaro RS, would be ill suited for these roads. Yes 323 hp is great for climbing the numerous peaks and valleys in Sonoma County but the Camaro’s weight would be a significant handicap through the turns and the extra long hood always threw off my spatial awareness.

A few days later we bid my family a sad adieu and headed to Reno.

To Be Continued…