Day 1. May 8: Today we left the hotel in Newark to head west. And west it will be — sometimes southwest, sometimes northwest — but this first leg will be all west. The first day is always a shake-down, particularly when most of these cars have been shipped from England. We saw many of our competitors on the side of the road, some more than once, but I can say this: we all made it in using our own power. Getting out of NJ wasn’t so grand, but we drove some beautiful country roads in Pennsylvania.
Of course, we had our problems as well. As we started to get in line for the day’s start, we discovered our rally computer didn’t work. We had ten minutes, but nothing we tried would fix it. It was obvious that we would have to go the day without it. You see, we have diagrams to follow, and the distances are provided on them. Those distances are critical because they tell you when to carry out the maneuver — like a left or right turn — and here’s the thing. . . The distance between maneuvers might be .38 miles or .17 or 3.49, but our odometer doesn’t have decimal places. So, we have to wing it! That being said, we only missed one turn that was .35 from the previous turn. Lucky for us, as we turned around, two of our rally cars came up behind us and confirmed we were headed in the right direction.
Next came the rain — lots of it! Somewhere before Gettysburg, Stewball’s left wiper quit (sort of). It cleared enough water for Ed to see with his left eye. I will say this: there was no chance of him getting bored or sleepy. My job was to guess the turns, and his was to guess the roads. It made for an interesting day, but what a team we were. We got to our final check point a half an hour early, which is permitted in this rally format.
Driving in the rain, Ed proceeded to try a variety of fixes. None worked, so we called on our very competent and inventive crew of mechanics that is part of Endurorally. They are grand (to draw from my newly learned British vocabulary). They found the problem with the computer, fixed that, and then created a new face for Stewball. Stewball’s wipers will work together now!
So, we are up and running tomorrow — an early day, starting at 7:00 am.
p.s. — We had a surprise visit from a former Great Race competitor, Lew Toulmin, who is the travel columnist writing an article about the rally with Stewball, our novel and our adventure.
From the road to Alaska,
Jan and Ed
May 9: Day 2. Where to start? So much has happened, but the first thing that stands out is how many car breakdowns there have already been. We’ve had our own issues with the rally computer malfunction, the windshield wipers and now a problem headlight. Ed realized that it wasn’t an issue with the bulb when a new one wouldn’t work. He determined it was corrosion in the fuse box, and we now have lights again. Age and moisture are the most likely culprits.
Our problems, however, are nothing compared to stories we’ve heard and seen. Is it the number of British cars? The rally conditions? Preparations? Maybe I’ll get some answers as we go on. We know of front-end problems, clutch failure, and ignition problems.
Now if anyone is following the ranking based on performance, I must say that Stewball will look quite bad. Since we are taking two days out of the rally to go to Leslie’s graduation, we will be penalized for not competing on those days.
Stewball did have his day as a race car, making Richard Petty proud. NOT! We drove VIR (for non-car followers, the Virginia International Raceway). At the end of day two, I drove in a consistency run. Our daughter, Lilla, and her friend, Chad, met us at the raceway. Lilla navigated. I had no idea what I was doing, and neither did Lilla, but we actually did quite well. The purpose is not to drive fast, but to do three laps at exactly the same speed. In all, we were 24 seconds off. I know many others did better, but considering that we were novices, I am pleased. This moring, Ed drove the timed trial, which was two rounds with an expected speed of 50 mph. He made 42.5; for our little car, we thought that was great. Again, it was his first time on a race track. We weren’t ready for the big time races, but we had fun all the same.
May 12: We have been rallying since 2004, but we’ve never had a tragedy such as this. Even in the World Rally 2011, covering 14,000 miles, no one had an accident — not even a fender-bender. Well, that record is a thing of the past.
Yesterday, on the run from Knoxville to Memphis (we were making our way back from Leslie’s graduation), the driver of the oldest car — a 1924 Bentley — missed a turn. When she attempted a U-turn, she was hit broadside with enough force to flip the Bentley and pin one of the two young women under it. I don’t know what kind of modern car (an SUV, perhaps?) hit them, but both girls — sisters Sonja and Claudia, from Germany — sustained broken bones, cuts and bruises. They are currently in a hospital in Nashville. From the reports from other competitors and our rally organizers, we have learned that one has at least one broken leg, and the other has a crushed pelvis. I don’t know the extent of all the injuries, and I’m not sure if the driver of the car that hit them was hurt. The sisters should both recover from their injuries, but will most likely have to be evacuated to Germany when possible.
The car the girls were driving is owned by their uncle, Herman, who was also on the rally. He is now with them in Nashville, and is out of the rally as well. We don’t know if Herman will rejoin us, as he has a lot of complications to deal with. First, of course, come his nieces and their injuries; then, what to do with the Bentley; and lastly, decisions about the car he is driving and whether to continue with the rally. He brought these cars from his museum in Germany. The cars are both beautiful and expensive, but not nearly as priceless as the health of his nieces.
We have enjoyed getting to know both Sonja and Claudia. They brought a real sparkle to this rally with their youth and enthusiasm. We will miss them, and we wish them a speedy recovery. Their accident has had a sobering effect on all of us. We want everyone to get safely to Anchorage; scores are not that important. After all, this is an event for fun and camaraderie. Please drive defensively and take care on the road.
Jan and Ed
May 13: Mother’s day, we drove from Memphis to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. This was a great drive, and a special one for us since we met with a reporter, CD White, in Eureka Springs. She is writing several different articles on the back roads of Carroll county and will also be reviewing our book.
We also drove some great country roads through Arkansas. I really didn’t know how varied this state was.
Today, we had two time trials. Ed drove well and made our time. The speeds have been reduced, so now we really have a chance to score on these regularities. You have to drive the specified distance and come in to the time control on the second. Every second off is a penalty. The first time we drove one of these, the speed was so high that we had no chance of competing in this part of the rally; now we do. It’s fun when you stand a chance.
OK, so that was the good part. The bad part? Another accident. No one was hurt this time, but there was serious damage done to a beautiful Jaguar E-type, 1970. We think they will run tomorrow, the damage seems to be confined to the body only. We will see. I think we have another car out as well — at least for the rest of today. It was the 1972 Porsche 911 ST. I don’t know what happened, but they had to be pushed off the start line at the time trial this afternoon. Cars sure have had their problems on this rally.
Tonight, we are at the 1905 Basin Park Hotel in the quaint town of Eureka Springs. No chain restaurants are allowed here! I wish we had more time to explore and photograph, but we must be back on the road tomorrow. It will be a very long 500 mile day to Dodge City, Kansas. We were there last year, and even stayed in the same hotel, on the World Race 2011.
On the road to Alaska,
May 15: I must write today because we have covered so much territory that I can hardly keep up. Since we left Memphis, we have crossed Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas, and now we are in Colorado. How can I remember the hotel room number, when I can’t even keep track of the state I’m in!
Last night was Dodge City, Kansas. Yup, the real Dodge City — the wildest of the early frontier towns and still a major shipping point for Longhorn cattle. This town was cleaned up by Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp back in the frontier days. We stayed here on our World Race 2011 in the very funky Dodge House Hotel. The interior has stage sets from old westerns — definitely not your typical Holiday Inn. We had a very long day, driving 500 miles through Arkansas and Kansas. There were mostly straight roads through corn and wheat fields. It makes you want to burst into songs from Oklahoma. I did, at least, get the laundry done.
Today, on the other hand, was different. We covered the rest of Kansas and then entered Colorado. It was not such a long day, but now we are on Mountain time; while dinner is at 8:00 as usual, it is really 9:00 p.m. (according to our stomachs). We ran a “regularity timed trial,” which means you must cover the distance at a given speed (this speed was 40 mph) on the second. We started out well, and were three seconds early on the first segment. But that was just the first of three segments, and we don’t know how we did on the other two. No scores have been posted yet. This was, at least, better than our first regularity trial. I didn’t miss a turn this time, and the road conditions were better. We know one car didn’t finish on time because they had a flat tire, but there were no other reports of accidents. The car problems today were mostly related to vapor lock resulting from high altitude and hot weather. Stewball was among them, so Ed cleaned out the fuel mixture after we got in. Tomorrow, Stewball should be happier.
Tonight, we are in Colorado Springs at the beautiful Cheyenne Mountain Resort. It definitely feels like something out of prairie land. Tomorrow, we’ll be in Colorado the entire day. The night stop will be Durango. I think we go up Pikes Peak but I’ll let you know tomorrow.