Meet the SouthWest Sunday Cruise!
by Randy Stern
The art of driving is all a part of the love affair we have with the automobile.
These are words to live by. This is one the tenets of this work I do. The experience of an automobile comes from where you take it, how you get there and how satisfied were you with the drive. I take these thoughts and mix them in with key points about each vehicle I review for Why This Ride. The conclusion is simple: This is how I feel about each vehicle, but I will not tell you to buy it or not.
To get to these impressions, I do what I can to get some serious miles out of each vehicle. It may entail a drive to a nearby city within the Upper Midwest, or join my cruise group (driving, that is) for a run around Lake Minnetonka or nearby. I recently found a series of country roads to tackle – depending on the kind of car I have – and weather conditions.
Before I write, I ponder the experience. “That road was amazing!” “Yeah, I should have turned onto highway so-and-so and headed to that place.” The conversations in my head calculate the path of how I view the vehicle overall.
It comes with the experience of driving. Something a lot of us really take for granted.
Driving could be a solo experience. Or, it could be enjoyed by a group of like-minded people. This is what made the difference in 2014 as my professional life began to shape and shift.
I mentioned I drive with a cruise group. I’ll talk about mine.
To be clear, I did not start this group. Somehow, they found me – on Facebook. Most of them about half my age – and I do not mind that. They are hail from the suburbs and exurbs west and southwest of downtown Minneapolis. However, they run a territory that is ripe with fun roads and deep in-car culture.
Meet the SouthWest Sunday Cruise group.
The group is the brainchild of two young auto enthusiasts from communities southwest of downtown Minneapolis – Tyler Trabant and Tony Gylling. As Trabant recalls, they met years before “at a summer camp when we were probably 10-12, and didn’t see each other again until high school.” When high school ended, Trabant and Gylling hung out with their cars and drove them around the area. Soon, they would be joined other enthusiasts. Trabant explains, “The first cruise I was ever involved in was a meet-n-cruise from Country Club Lanes in Excelsior to Eurowerks. I would estimate that 40-60 cars showed up. We cruised up and around the lake, making our way downtown. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life; all these people joining together for their love of automobiles. Ever since that day, I wanted to cruise all the time.”
In 2012, Gylling and some of his friends would meet in Excelsior, a community on the south shore of Lake Minnetonka, just to do some driving around the lake. Gylling contacted Trabant to see if he can join in. Somehow, Gylling and Trabant stumbled onto something that would engage other local young enthusiasts in the area. Some time after, they both set up a Facebook page to gauge interest. Over a dozen people – including some of Gylling’s and Trabant’s friends – joined on the page and they set up an actual cruise in April of 2014.
The first time I met them was at that first cruise in Excelsior. That little burgh hosts the annual 10,000 Lakes Concours d’Elegance right on the shore at the Commons and is game for car candy of various types. If you see a classic Ford from the 1950s, an AMG Mercedes or a BMW M would be another car away. This is a good start for joining a new group of enthusiasts.
That first meet at Excelsior Commons was about a dozen of us representing various makes, ages and vehicle conditions. The group came out in varying types of rides ranging from a motorcycle to a black Ford Ranger. It was quite a mix in-between, including a couple of Volvos, Subarus, Mazda Miatas, an older Audi A3 and so on. We did a lap around Lake Minnetonka to introduce us to the coming season. Afterwards, we sat down for dinner and had a few conversations. It is usually how each cruise goes.
This carmmunity can be interconnected – and collaborative. We would attend the same events – MN C&C (our Cars & Coffee at AutoMotoPlex in Chanhassen), Back to The 50’s (Minnesota’s largest car event held at the state fairgrounds in St. Paul) and others – and would be connected with the same enthusiasts from other parts of the scene. This is what keeps us connected – sharing what’s happening, what our cars are like and what we want to do.
From spring to fall – normal driving season for Minnesotans – we would go out on most Sundays for our pre-sundown drive. Luckily for us, the sun would not go down until after 9:00PM. It could be as short as a loop around Lake Minnetonka with a freeway blast to something a bit more technical involving deep county roads and some distance.
There were times when we took a risk and made it a good cruise. One such cruise took us through a part of the Minnesota River Valley along Sibley County Highway 6. That stretch of road is one of the best in Minnesota – in my humble opinion. Our cruise was to take that road down to the town of Henderson, cross the Minnesota River over to US Highway 169 and for dinner in Jordan at a place called Clancy’s. It ranked up there as one of the best cruises of the season.
Yet, it almost did not turn that way. One of the risks on cruises would be the varying degree of drivers and abilities. While most of us would rather just take on the road, others had issues with being patient. I almost saw an accident unfold because of a passing maneuver that almost went wrong. Luckily, there was plenty of car control to prevent this from happening, but it did sober all of us up on what not to do on a cruise.
As the summer began to close, there was one more thing we had to do. There had been talk of a run from the Chanhassen or Excelsior to Stillwater. Stillwater sits on the St. Croix River northeast of St. Paul with a view of Wisconsin on the other side. It is a lovely town, overrun by auto and motorcycle enthusiasts throughout the summer. This was quite a distance, but our crew decided to go for it.
For this run set the weekend after Labor Day, I had the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S 63 AMG in my care (the same one reviewed on this site). The entire week leading up to this, the car had a lot of admirers, including the cruise group. They got to see it once during the week, yet it also had to appear at MN C&C and the launch of a cruise by several car clubs in the area.
We met in Chaska at one of our launch points. From there, we took a series of freeways until we reached a great county road that lead us to perhaps one of the most popular drives in the state of Minnesota. There is a section of Minnesota Highway 95 north of Stillwater that is breathtaking. With the St. Croix River on one side, you are driving through the bluffs. It defies the impression of Minnesota being a flat state devoid of great roads and incredible scenery. Our final stop was a place on the river that Tyler had a great experience before. Granted we had indifferent service and a concern over peanut allergies, our season ended splendidly as the sun shone above our patio table overlooking the river.
Yet, our season was not done. The group got an influx of new members through September on the Facebook page. These new folks were itching to do one more big cruise. Yet, we also knew how Minnesota weather would turn with the color of the leaves. In late October, we met at a park in Chanhassen to cruise to Jordan. That would take us on some of the best back roads of the area. What Trabant, Gylling and all of us did not anticipate was the sheer number of people – and vehicles – that showed up. The count stopped at twenty-six, including three motorcycles and four pickup trucks.
What drives the SouthWest Sunday Cruise group is a combination of many qualities befitting its success. It begins with good leadership, followed by a core of group members that bring a variety of automotive knowledge and enthusiasm to the collective, and is marked with enthusiasm for the group to support its purpose and respect all comers participating both online and out on the roads with the group.
For 2015, it has grown enormously. Currently, it is over 400 members based on the Facebook page. Some early cruises this year organized jointly with MN Volvos had some huge numbers as it seemed that everyone was itching to get out and do something – even in February.
As car season has returned to Minnesota, there was some to time to reflect towards the coming summer. “Our first cruise we had about 20 cars show up,” said Trabant, “and we were blown away to say the least. We had no idea that there were that many people out there that wanted to cruise.”
To understand why the group has grown quickly in a year’s time, Trabant explains “the reason we have expanded so rapidly is mostly due the fact that we are different from most other clubs and groups in that we accept people with any brand/model of car/truck/SUV/bike; if it’s road legal, it’s cool with us. We don’t judge, anything from bones stock, to fully built and everything between.”
This is exactly why the SouthWest Sunday Cruise is different than any other automotive group in the U.S.A. This is why Minnesota’s carmmunity works.