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V-12 Aston Martin takes on slippery mountain roads

When my friend Robert Hayman, a Naples, Fla.,-based fashion photographer (soon to be moving to Los Angeles), called me up to discuss an interview and editorial spread for national Gladys Magazine, we put our heads together to come up with some ideas.

He is a creative mastermind, but he graciously welcomes my input.

While we have collaborated for 15 years on similar projects, this likely would be one of the most exciting to date. When Robert was asked to shoot the feature, it was his idea to also conduct the interview. It was shaping up to be by most candid printed conversation ever, as he is one of my closest friends and, well, we pretty much talk about anything. But first came the photo shoot.

In the middle of winter, we chose the Big Bear mountains about 100 miles east of Los Angeles, Calif., for illustrating the interesting dichotomy of summer fashions in the snow-filled mountains, but bikinis in the cold were not the only part of the adventure.

Robert flew to L.A. from Naples, and we were psyched about the road trip. While we had other more practical vehicles on hand and considered renting a car, we ultimately decided to drive my rear-wheel-drive Aston Martin DB9. We thought it would make a great addition to the photo spread. For obvious reasons, the red flags were flying, but we paid close attention to the weather reports and were ready to pull over at any point on the journey when we were not feeling safe or equipped for conditions.

A second issue with the car was the limited cargo space. It was a laughable experience trying to get all of the camera equipment, suitcases and ski clothes into the tiny “backseat” and shoebox-sized trunk, but we managed to cram it all in, while carefully protecting the seats, of course. And we were off.

It was a smooth ride for the first three-quarters of the trip out of L.A. until the roads got a little more twisty, including back-to-back-to-back hairpin turns. Car sickness began to set in, darkness fell upon us and we feared black ice. And as we climbed Big Bear Mountain – so high that you can actually ski — there was more snow and ice along our way. Thankfully, I grew up in Minnesota and have plenty of experience with winter driving.

Despite the tricky conditions, we navigated the path carefully and had no problems until hitting the town of Big Bear Lake. In those last 15 miles, the car had become more than a little squirmy on the snow-coated roads. I don’t normally travel at speeds below the limit, but here there was no choice. And still, when rounding a couple of bends, the Aston was all over the place. In fact, we spun out.

As the car was sliding sideways down the icy hill at about 11 p.m. on an unlit street, I was merely along for the ride as my beloved DB9 convertible narrowly escaped being swallowed by a snowbank. Thankfully, three burly men in a truck drove by at the perfect time to help us get the vehicle back onto the street.

Pulling into a driveway safe and sound and securing the parking brake never felt so good.

After a solid sleep, we set out on our adventure. It began by donning 6-inch stilettos on logs piled high in a snow-covered lumber yard where I slipped and injured myself, also tearing the dress loaned to us by cutting-edge L.A.-based fashion designer Amber Sakai. Great.

From there, Robert had me traipsing through the forest, digging another pair of stilettos into 4 feet of snow. Yes, I was freezing, and my feet quickly became numb. However, it was amazing how quickly we acclimated to the conditions. We were at this location for nearly an hour.

After that, I sported a sheer white dress with more appropriate duck boots and basically ran around in the snow. There was nothing contrived about those cheerful expressions. The last looks involved sitting and lying in snow, enduring Robert breaking massive snowballs over my head, posing on enormous wood sculptures of Indians and bears, walking along the quaint town’s main drag to attract horns and screams from passers by, and finally, posing on Aston Martin.

The trip went so successfully that we extended it by two days. Before leaving we considered having a flat-deck tow truck take the Aston down 7,000 feet before touching tire to pavement, but we decided to trust it — and the woman behind the wheel – and set out just the way we came. While driving home, the mountain landscapes were so breathtaking, covered in billowy clouds and colored by various shades projected by the setting sun, that we stopped twice to take it in and capture the memory with photos. One of my favorite images is that of the heavenly view, and in the foreground, a gorgeous and unassuming sports car that visited Big Bear Mountain and got home, perhaps miraculously, without a scratch or dent.

Among her numerous accomplishments, Courtney Hansen is the author of her own book, the host of Spike TV’s “Power Block,” the former host of TLC’s “Overhaulin'” and a writer with Wheelbase Media. You can email her by logging on to www.shiftweekly.com and using the contact form.

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