Just outside of Louisville we drove past the Kentucky Fried Chicken museum, but at the freeway exit we chickened out and opted to drive on rather than drive-in for some original-recipe drumsticks. Much to the dismay of Stick-Boy, crossing the Kentucky/Tennessee border prompted Kiwi to mandate an all-country all-the-time selection on our XM Satellite radio. Mind you, this wasn't your Tim McGraw/Dixie Chicks new-school country, but rather the super redneck stuff from way back in the day, including an XM channel completely dedicated to Hank Williams Sr. (see photo). It wasn't long before Stick-Boy was howling like an old hound and had turned his focus on the whistle of the H2 A-pillars over the twangy drawl of ol' Hank's pipes.
Ever since crossing the Rockies, we'd passed scads of fireworks stores (a rare find in the crispy-dry, not-so-wild West where we reside) but we never had the time to stock up on the explosive delights. Fearing that our final destination state of Florida would not sell the festive finger removers (we wanted to use them for some artsy Kiwi-edition nighttime photos with the H2), we made use of I-40's Exit 407 to wheel up to the expansive Fireworks Supermarket. We quickly made friends with the jovial store employees, showed them the H2, then like giddy schoolgirls we combed the aisles for all types of the pyrotechnic phalange flingers. Things got especially fun after we spotted a "Visa accepted here sign" in the front window. Unfortunately the Hummer's 86.6 cubic feet of rear cargo capacity was more expansive than our credit line, forcing us to settle on only one over-stuffed shopping cartful of appendage-altering apparatus. Shamelessly, we swiped our plastic and then jumped back on the highway.
A quick survey of our road atlas informed us that we would be passing near Michelin's tire proving grounds near Laurens, South Carolina. The wheels in our noggins began turning, and consequently, we hastily dialed up former Motor Trend Senior Road Test Editor Mac DeMere (FYI: "Hey y'all" Mac is now one of Michelin's ace car-driving tire-testers) to pitch a "testing" scheme. To our amazement Mac gave us the green-light to stop by to conduct a bit of late-night testing.
We arrived at 11:18 p.m., and after a few handshakes and some southern-style chit-chat, Mac enlightened us on the basic mission of the testing facility. Besides having a great time thrashing cars/tires in the name of research, a regiment of eight basic tests are regularly conducted to evaluate experimental new Michelin (including BFGoodrich and Uniroyal) tires including: acceleration, braking, steering response, traction break-away level, recovery effectiveness, water depth sensitivity, steady state balance, and lift-throttle response. According to Mac, in addition to outright tire torturing tests, one of the most important testing aspects is the wet and dry lateral-adherence test on both rough asphalt and smooth concrete half-mile circles. This test basically measures the impact of the tread pattern and/or the rubber compound effectiveness relating to adverse weather under severe driving conditions. So what does all this mumbo-jumbo wordiness mean? It means serious sideways-sliding "testing" in our big H2.
Mad Mac started off on the almost-flooded wet concrete oval by giving us a 62-mph, wildly-sideways ride in a stock Mustang GT to illustrate the yikes-factor experienced with rear-wheel drive at speed. Later, we moved to the H2 with its radically increased weight and all-wheel-drive system. Interestingly, the big H2 delivered a nearly identical speed and was much easier to drive at the extreme limits; basically, the H2 would oversteer only if you did an overly aggressive yank of the steering wheel. "Ya' know, the BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO tires on this H2 were specifically built for it by us and were tested right here a few years ago," Mac proudly said.
As the early morning hours of the next day began ticking by, Mac suggested we head out of the backwoods of South Carolina before the locals picked up our scent and initiated a hunt. We said farewell to Michelin's supremely impressive test facility, and began another one of our now famous early morning sprints to the next big town with hotel accommodations. We pulled into the Ramada Inn in Columbia, South Carolina, at 2:32 am and with barely enough energy to climb to our second level room, opened the door, plugged in our stash of battery chargers, and passed out.