2019 PNW Contour Group Annual Meet


I’m at it again…tossing my suitcase in the trunk and hitting the open road across the country in an old hooptie — with a AAA card handy.

This time though, things are a little different. I’m going to a car meet. I’ve been a member of many car clubs over the years (Bimmer Forums, ZHP Mafia, Club RSX, Drive Accord, Acurazine, Mazda6 Forums, NPORA-Nissan Pathfinder off-road Association…to name a few), but I’ve never attended any of their annual meets. Proximity, time and frankly, interest have gotten in the way of me making the jump.

Ever since the PNW Contour Group reached out to me earlier this year, I’ve been hooked and never met a nicer group of folks. This is one meet I’ll try out. It was going to be hosted in Portland, Oregon, and that was just the ticket I needed to get away from the summer heat.


So, I hopped in the creaky old Ford and set out on a 3,500 mile drive to the Pacific Northwest. Aside from taking delivery in Colorado earlier this year, I haven’t had the Contour on the road for such a long journey. This would be a good test of the 21 year old cooling system in addition to all the other parts I’m unaware of their originality. Some call it crazy, some adventurous. I’d leave it as living on the edge. My route was as follows:

2019-07-31 11_26_06-Portland, OR to Las Cruces, NM - Google Maps

Maintenance and repairs for the Contour have luckily been minimal thanks to the care it’s received in the past. I’ve only had to change out the transmission fluid, recharge the A/C system, alignment, tires, and resurface the brake rotors. All my other costs have been largely cosmetic. In anticipation of this annual meet, I made sure every inch of this car was as clean as it could get and what’s left of the original paint polished and sealed.


The rear bumper needed a little buffing as the clearcoat on my DIY job hadn’t retained the luster it had. I might have to have this professionally resprayed at some point. This should hold me over for now.


The interior, though a little warped and brittle from 21 years of sun exposure, cleaned up pretty nice.


And I managed to stow everything in the trunk leaving the backseat clean and clear. This stash even included two buckets full of detailing supplies and some random car parts I planned to give away at the meet.


I hit the road on a Wednesday afternoon and planned to return the following week around the same time. This meant a fairly tight schedule of only two days driving to Portland and two days back. That was an average of 800 miles/12hrs a day. You never realize how big our country is until attempting stuff like this. My stops along the way were minimal as I’ve been on this route many times in the past.

Colorado state line


Utah state line


Things started greening up near Price Canyon, UT.


Welcome to Idaho!


I’ve seen this road many times in the past, but never tire of the lovely grassy hills of southern Idaho.


First night’s stop in Twin Falls, ID. All my work on detailing the exterior went out the door due to rain showers outside of Price, UT. No biggie, that’s where those detailing supplies will eventually be handy.


Next day, a short stop to view the Snake River Canyon.


This is the I.B. Perrine Bridge which hangs over the Snake River. At 486 feet above the canyon floor, it’s a popular location or adrenaline junkies to jump off with parachutes.


View of the Snake River from under the bridge.


Several hours later, I finally arrived in Oregon!


I was impressed by the determination of this little Contour. Not one issue so far. I was getting a solid 27 MPG on premium fuel even with steady 80 MPH speeds and the A/C constantly blowing.


Driving along the Columbia River with Mt. Hood in the distance.


Arrived in Portland. The meet was going to take place here at the Hilton Garden Inn near the airport.


As I arrived a day early, first order of business was cleaning off the grime I accumulated over the last two days. The plan was to complete some photo ops prior to attending the actual meet on Sunday. A quick Google search for a credit card friendly, self-serve car wash led me to one about seven miles over the river to Vancouver, WA. Check out that insect homicide scene!


This is where bringing my own detail supplies came into play. I only utilized the high pressure water.


Dinner at Shari’s where I gorged in breakfast for dinner…a chicken fried steak with eggs.


The following day was going to be mine to explore. The boys had an autocross event 90 miles away, but since I have neither the reaction time or any desire to put that kind of stress on the Contour, I chose to head west and enjoy the PNW in all its glory. Here’s a photo one of the members sent me. I have to admit, I did feel like I was missing out!


However, I did have the beach and rain forests calling my name, so I proceeded with the plan.


I caught highway 26 leading out of Portland to Seaside.


Entering rain forest territory. This is what makes this desert boy happy.


Short hike on the Four County Point Trail.



Then, I drove until I ran out of land. This is Sunset beach outside of Seaside, OR where I’ve taken my Accord and Mazda6 for similar photo shoots. Now, it was the Contour’s turn.

IMG_312298 CSVT - PawelaIMG_3065IMG_3069IMG_3110

Of course, who could resist a few little innocent donuts in the sand?


Lunch was in Seaside at Ruby’s Roadside Grill. I tried their albacore tuna fillet melt which was out of this world!


After my day of clowning around the beach and trails, I headed back to Portland where the gang was starting to trickle in for the night. We had a roped off parking area behind the hotel. This was my first time meeting everyone in person, and I couldn’t have asked for a more warm welcoming.


A look from my hotel window as I was winding down for the evening.


The morning of the official meet. Many of us were out at the crack of dawn vacuuming, polishing, dusting, and staging our cars. I live for this kind of stuff.


Some minty seats I bought off a fellow member to eventually replace a few of mine that are pretty well weathered.


This silver beauty next to me belongs to JD out of Phoenix, AZ. What are the chances we share the same vanity plates?!


Alex (in blue) had his car featured in The Smoking Tire SVT Contour review


All polished up and ready. See that gent in the cowboy hat? That’s Greg from California. He’s a proud owner of 11 Contours! Much respect.



Some of the interiors were pretty wild. This SVT had the dash and console swapped from a Mercury Mystique to add a touch of luxury.


Fully decked out here with red pipping, carbon fiber, and Momo steering wheel just to name a few…


Next item on the itinerary, we headed indoors to our reserved conference room.


A lot of action in here. This is where t-shirts were distributed, member story presentations given, raffles, awards, behind-the-scenes of the club and a game of Jeopardy!





Chicken fajita buffet for lunch.


Back outside for voting.


Hoods up if you want consideration for best engine bay award. I left mine down.


Rearranging the cars for a group photo.


Photo credit here: Alexander Davis


Totally unexpected, but I managed to bring home two awards, Best Exterior and Farthest Traveled.


Going Home:

The meet was over around 3:30 pm which provided ample time to gain some ground for that night’s scheduled stop in Baker City, OR. I then continued on the same route where I’d spend the last night in Green River, UT.


Quick stop for lunch with my buddy Josh in Bosie, ID.


Views near Moab, UT


I tried something different for my last night on the road in Green River. I swapped the comfy hotel accommodations for a more primitive, yet charming KOA cabin.


Good thing I brought my own blankets and pillow! Luckily, KOAs and most other camp grounds have wifi these days. My sanity was preserved.


Back in New Mexico!


Continental Divide at 7,275 feet above sea level.


Last leg of the journey.


Home safe and sound! Aside from having to add a little oil, the Contour was very well behaved on the trip. It didn’t skip a beat even with some 100+ degree heat, heavy cross winds, rain, bumper-to-bumper traffic in Salt Lake City, or steep inclines I encountered. Thank you for coming along for the ride. Notice a little garage preview here of what’s to come in the next post. Stay tuned!



Hawaii Part I


Aloha! It’s been a while since I’ve taken a legitimate multi-day trip to get a break from reality. Fortunately, I got quite a sweet deal offered to me: My buddy James Zamora had to travel to a Honolulu conference for work that would last for about a week. He could bring a guest where a good chunk of the expenses would be taken care of. The main cost out of pocket would be the airfare and any miscellaneous entertainment. When this offer was put on the table, I took it in a heartbeat!

To be honest, Hawaii was never at the top of my list of must-see places. Mainly for the cost and the lengthy flight required to get there. There was also the sad realization that I would not be able to drive my own car unless I was prepared to spend the hefty $1,000+ cost (one-way!) of shipping it over. However, I did need to get out there sooner than later since Hawaii is one of three states I had yet to see (other two being Florida and Maine). Let’s get to it!

Flight arrangements worked out quite well. Our first leg was from Albuquerque, NM to Phoenix, AZ, then Phoenix to Honolulu. Total flight time was around 11hrs including a few short delays. It was the longest I’ve been on a plane, but I managed.


Boarding the American Airline flight to the island of Oahu, HI.


Mercifully, all seats had their own entertainment units with free movies, live TV and some games.


Being the odd guy I am, I chose to leave it on the GPS so I could monitor the flight stats. I resorted to Netflix on my phone for shows, music and movies.


After what seemed like eternity, we finally arrived at Honolulu, Oahu. Oahu is the third largest island of Hawaii and houses about two-thirds of the state’s population. Most of this population in concentrated in Honolulu, the state capitol, which has a metro area population of well over 950,000. It’s the most remote city of its size in the world. We were to stay at Waikiki Beach, an iconic beachfront neighborhood of Honolulu, at the Marriott Hotel at Waikiki Beach.


Views from the hotel room.


Some evening exploring on the beach. Weather was perfect at a steady 60-70°F the entire time we were there.



Dinner for the first night was at Rainbow Drive-In. I opted for the Loco Moco which was a delicious mixture of gravy, over beef pattys and rice. Top that with eggs and a side of Hawaiian macaroni salad and you have one satisfying meal.


The next day while James was attending his conferences, I took the opportunity to see what trouble I could get into. I’m normally not a big breakfast person, but I needed to try a Hawaii exclusive McDonald’s spam, rice and eggs meal. With the soy sauce packet, it wasn’t too bad!


Looking around the beaches and downtown areas.


Checkout this banyan tree. Some of these are historical and one in particular at the Moana Hotel reaches over 75ft and is 114 years old.


First challenge: I wanted to get some good hiking in while in Hawaii. Though I was on the most urbanized and developed island, there still was a wealth of hiking opportunities. First stop was the Koko Head Crater trail. Koko Head is a dormant volcano which last erupted 35,000 years ago. The trail is made up of stairs…lots and lots of stairs. Old railroad ties mount to the side of the hillside which lead to an old military lookout pillbox bunker used in WWII. The railway (now the ‘stairs’) was used to haul cargo and supplies to the top. All the reviews I could find online said this was one challenging hike. Accepted! I took an Uber (12 miles from Waikiki) over to the trail head and was pleasantly surprised how steep it looked from the bottom.


Photos don’t do this justice. This is about 1,048 steps and an elevation climb of 1,200ft.

39710732084_5e3b389538_k (1)


A good portion of the trail was open like this just waiting to break a few ankles or legs.


This had to be by far the toughest hike I’ve attempted, but I made it to the top. With high humidity and relatively warm temperatures, I stopped to rest on several occasions. However, the views from the top were well worth it!


View of the old bunker.


View of Waikiki in the distance.


Headed back down wasn’t easy either. Trying to maintain balance on tired legs, and the constant pounding on my knees took a lot out of me.


Once I rested after the hike, I went back to Waikiki to take in the waves. My legs were sore and trembling from the strain, but the day was not over. I’m not much of a water guy, so I left the surfing to other other tourists. Oddly enough, I ran into some nice folks who where from Los Lunas, NM…that’s only about 200 miles from my home! Small world.



Second challenge: James was able to sneak away early from his conference and we went to Hanauma Bay there we’d get our first experience of snorkeling! Hanauma is located along the southeast coast Oahu in the Hawaii Kai, not too far from Koko Crater.


Renting the gear was a reasonable $25 and we dove in. I hadn’t been in the water since my teenage years, and I discovered my swimming skills were a bit rusty at best.


So with that limitation discovered, I didn’t venture too far from the beach. The clean water offered some cool fish encounters.


Later in the evening, I got my steps in on my Fitbit (19,000 total for the day) as we wandered around various farmers markets and shops in Waikiki. Of course, we had to sample some of the local food and beverages around.


I was tempted to buy this as a gag gift!


Speaking of coconuts…



Some fresh paella.


Creamy Japanese Ramen.


Fresh fruit cup.


This is mighty condensed, but hope you get a flavor of the fun. That covers Part I of this trip. Stay tuned for Part II in a few days!


Salton Sea and Bombay Beach, California

Happy New Year to all! Many miles behind the wheel and busy activities have kept me away from the blogging scene of late, but I’m back! This past Christmas I was back in the San Joaquin valley of California to spend time with family and friends.


It was tons of fun and great to be surrounded by good company. This trip ended up being one of the most memorable for me and a great one to close out 2013. Here are many of my little cousins anxiously awaiting to see what lies beneath the wrapping paper on Christmas Eve.


Here’s a photo of me, cousin Lola, Grandma “B,” and Nathan. Nathan is a quite a talented guy who has had a hand in the visual effects in many popular movies/shows. Those include, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Smallville, Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift, and Night at the Museum just to name a few. Check out the full list here.


The TL has been performing great and I’m still learning about new tricks it has to offer. I’m growing more and more comfortable with the navigation system. I only yelled at it twice this trip!


Indio, CA, has become one of my routine overnight stops to the ‘valley. It’s not what you’d call a halfway point, but I like the location and the surroundings. Here I was driving around downtown at night and just had to nestle in with some of the fancy boys to take a few pix. Behind the TL is a Porsche Boxster and a BMW M5.


Overall mileage for this past visit to California and back was 2,445. I spent well over 40 hours behind the wheel, but I have to admit, they were all very pleasant. The format of this post will seem a bit scattered, but it’s because I have so much to cover!

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 10.37.59 PM

The only hiccup for the TL was a wheel bearing which decided to start singing a melodious song while I cruised at highway speeds. I took the TL to Fresno Acura in Fresno, CA. There I was given the red-carpet service. They diagnosed the problem right away and got me out fast even though I was a “walk-in.”


Large glass doors leading to the service bay allowed me to view my car being dismantled.


While the wheel bearing surgery was taking place, I took a look around the lot and showroom.


In addition to a new 2014 MDX, a few TLs, they had this very tidy TSX Special Edition in Bellanova White Pearl. If the TSX offered a 6-speed manual with the V6, I would have seriously considered that as opposed to the TL. Sadly, the 6-seed is only  available with the 2.4L 4-cylinder.


After a few hours, she was all ready to go. Warranty fully covered the repair, so I just signed and drove away.IMG_1166

On the way back to the hotel, I hit 30,000 miles! That’s a good 5,554 miles I’ve put on since the purchase date in mid-November.


The return leg of the trip is the main focus of this post. I made a bold move this trip and did something I’ve been wanting to do for years…like the past 10 years. I made the decision to see my Mom in LA. I had lost contact with her when I was seven years old and haven’t made any attempt since then. That’s a good 20 years! In the end, the visit went very well and I’m glad I did it. Here I am about to exit to Pasadena where I was scheduled to meet her and my three half-brothers.


Here’s a group photo of all of us. Jerry, me, Mom, Jeffrey and Jonathan. I’m looking forward to keeping ties with them and future visits!


The next day, I made a slight detour southeast from LA to the Salton Sea and Bombay Beach before heading home. I was already getting a little worn out, but since these sights were just a few hundred miles out of the way, I just couldn’t pass up.


The Salton Sea is a fascinating geological site. It is regarded as a shallow endorheic rift lake and it’s located in the Imperial and Coachella valleys. It was created in 1905 by a massive flood caused by the Colorado River, and many attempts have been made to make this an exotic desert oasis. Sadly, those attempts have failed, and it shows. Even so, it’s still regarded as a Class I recreational area for fishing, swimming and boating. Believe me, after seeing what I did, I wouldn’t even get my feet wet in the water. It takes up roughly 525 sq miles of the land and like Death Valley, this “sea” is 225ft BELOW sea level!


With the squawking of the seagulls, pelicans, and the smell of the salty water, I felt like I was right at the Pacific coastline.




When I looked up the details on the lake, I was really surprised at what I had found: Large quantities of fish die in this oxygen-depleting combination of sun and salt environment. In 1999, nearly 8 million fish died in one day! There also was an article back in 2012 saying a lingering stench in LA air was tied to the rotting fish of the area here. To top that off, many species of birds have been dying of type-C botulism from the consumption of ill fish. What looks like sand on the shore here is actually layers and layers of bones and barnacles of the expired fish. Luckily, the time I was here I didn’t experience any of the odor.


Here is a photo I snatched from google showing the extent of the problem.


Despite the aforementioned, there were many birds active on the water. I took out my zoom lens to capture a few in action…





Most of the stops along the shore looked post-apocolyptic!


It looked like at one time, someone had big dreams of developing and turning this land into some prime real estate near the water’s edge. Check out those prices…$59K!


Many predefined lots are surrounded with expired palm trees and weeds.


Several miles down the road, I came to Bombay Beach. This is regarded as the lowest community in America at 223ft below sea level. (Does this mean I’ve just driven on the lowest paved road in America?) There are many small little communities along the Salton Sea’s coastline, but this one stood out the most. It has to be the most depressing and unwelcoming community I’ve been to. Evidently, Bombay Beach was somebody’s dream of paradise back when the town was established in 1929. However, the rotting smell of decaying fish and birds, constant flooding, and the unpredictable future of the lake made investors leave the scene without turning back. The population as of 2010 is 295 (2010 census).


Driving through this community gave me a real uneasy feeling. Graffiti, collapsed buildings and many unhappy glaring looks from the few residents who still live here. I felt very unwelcome.


An example of how many buildings stand today.


Prime “fixer-upper!”


The residents built a dike seen here in attempt to keep the overflowing lake from entering the community.


I found a spot where I could drive up over the dike and I got the shock of the day. This was a dried wasteland of salt-encrusted ruins. It is quite obvious why this part of town was abandoned years ago.


Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 8.16.48 PM



IMG_0834 - Version 2



I used the backup cam to carefully position the TL for this shot.


As I left the area, I started to drive through the remainder of the community.


Many instances where you’ll see a perfectly sound structure next to a pile of rubble.


If any of you have ever seen the movie, The Hills Have Eyes, you’ll know why I just wanted to book it when I saw that title written on a side of a house!


As much of an adventure as it would be to explore some of these abandoned homes inside and out, there was just too much of an unwelcoming feeling for me to be comfortable doing so. Many homes here had boarded up windows. With temperatures reaching 115˚F consistently during the summer, I wouldn’t be surprised if residents do that to keep the A/C in and heat out.


After Bombay Beach, I decided it was time to make a straight shot to home. So I hopped on I-8 east towards Arizona where I’d pick up I-10 near Tucson.


Of course, I had to grab an In-N-Out burger before I crossed the New Mexico border.


Hope you all enjoyed the trip and my first year of blogging! I’m looking forward to 2014 and all the miles that will come with it. See you then…