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Senior Correspondent

May 18: Day off. Time to catch up. So, to start where we left off: Wednesday, on our run from Colorado Springs to Durango, we crossed three mountain passes, each at 11,000 feet. OK, the last one was only 10,018. But the first one, Monarch Pass, was 11,312 feet, so it evens out. 

This was a very difficult day for Stewball. I should let him tell it in his own words, but it might not be fit to print. He didn’t like the altitude or the temperature. He bucked and kicked slooooowly up these mountains in second gear. Ed had already leaned out the fuel mixture, but even then, it was a tough go. Bottom line, we made it, but we missed all our check in times because we just couldn’t make the speeds. 

This brought us to a decision. One of the things that appealed to us about the way this rally was organized were the possibilities to either: make the run competitively on some fast dirt and rocky gravel sections and be timed to the second, or to run in a relaxed manner, skipping the timed sections. Each team can make their decision on a daily basis. One day competing, another day relaxing, depending on your mood and your car’s condition each morning.

Now we have decided to skip the time trials, giving Stewball the break he deserves and us the chance to enjoy our drive to Alaska. We’re not willing to subject our car and ourselves to this level of challenge, and since we left the rally earlier for two days for a graduation, we never would have been able to make up for all our penalties.

We will be following the rally route along with everyone else, checking in and out each day, but we are leaving the serious competitions to those who are willing to punish their cars and themselves. Every day there are accidents. Just yesterday, one car hit a concrete rail and another had to be pulled out of a ditch. Every evening, drivers and their mechanics are out in the parking lot putting cars back together, replacing almost everything. We know of broken rear axles, brake lines, and broken wheel rims, but none of this compares to the earlier accident in which two young women had been injured and hospitalized. We have now learned that one recently had to be transferred to intensive care with a collapsed lung.

Endurorally warns that ”the onus is on the competitors to drive carefully and safely at all times," but the definition of “carefully and safely” seems to vary among competitors. We have found the way to make this work for us and will leave the serious competition to those who have greater skills or experience.

We continue to enjoy spectacular scenery, which for us just keeps getting better and better. We are eager to reach British Colombia and Alaska. New territory.

Jan (with Stewball’s input)

May 22: Now we’re in Montana. Since I last wrote, we have covered Utah, a bit of Idaho, and Wyoming. Leaving Provo, we had no choice but to run the gravel roads. We decided, since we had to run this anyway, we would run it as a time trial. Ed and Stewball did well on the first one, and we only missed our time by 8 seconds. Now understand, many of these guys hit it on the second, but we were pleased. We were so busy congratulating ourselves that I missed the turn just after the time trial and put us on a scenic navigator’s tour (i.e., got us lost) for 12 miles! By the time we made that up, we missed the second time trial all together! The second one was 15 miles of dirt and gravel, so Ed just drove it slowly (which proved to be a good thing).

Somewhere on that rough stretch, this beautiful 1952 Jaguar XK-120 lost the left rear wheel cover, and the 1969 Camaro SS-350 hit a deer, denting their front end and putting out a headlight. One of the Mercedes was leaking oil so badly that it had to go to a garage to be lifted up for repairs. Fortunately, the locals came through as they always do for rallies; even at 6:00 p.m. on a Sunday, the guy opened his service station for the rally group. Once again, we have decided we MUST avoid these gravel sections if we are to get Stewball back to NC. The roads are too rough and the speeds are too high to avoid serious damage. More and more people are opting out. The serious competitors will go on.

As you see, we were not the only ones with problems when we arrived in Jackson, Wyoming, (also known as Jackson Hole) with problems. But Stewball needed attention too. Ed discovered that gasoline was leaking from the carburetor, and the engine hesitated when we accelerated. That meant the accelerator pump wasn’t working. Ed decided to change the carburetor; we had a spare, and when the mechanics took off the old one, they discovered the fuel filter near the carburetor had a leak. So they replaced the carburetor and fuel filter and adjusted the points. We thought all was well.

Today, our drive took us on to the Grand Teton National Park — where the roadsides were still deep in snow — and then to Yellowstone, where no one can leave without a photo of Old Faithful. It is an incredible sight if you haven’t ever seen it, and we hadn’t. Our European and Australian rally friends got their fill of wildlife today. We had sightings and photos of bears, elk, buffalo and even a white wolf! We had buffalo with babies block our road, but I was driving and couldn’t get that photo. Tonight we are in Bozeman, Wyoming.

Jan (with technical support from Ed)

May 23: We are now in Kalispell, MT, and the car is at the last antique VW repair place we know of before the 2,000 miles to Alaska. We took the car in for a routine service, and they found an oil leak in the seals where the oil cooler connects. The engine must come out to fix it. I am having the repair done because we could suddenly lose our engine oil (which would ruin the engine). This will take an extra day, so we will now be a day behind the rally until we catch up.

Another problem (this one from the repair shop): the shop owner doesn’t want to put synthetic oil back in because it could "ruin the engine.” I insisted on it, because synthetic runs longer between oil changes; we don’t have spare time for oil changes on the way home because of our flight to Paris.

The shop’s owner is now unhappy with me, and he’s quite opinionated on the subject. He also knows that “antique VW engines never get vapor lock.” Perhaps I am opinionated, too, but there are a bunch of Europeans I know who all drive old VWs, and they use synthetics without a problem. I hope I am not shooting myself in the foot, but conflicts like this leave me feeling sick.


May 26: A day off in Osoyoos, BC. From our Canadian vantage point, we can look across Osoyoos lake and see the U.S.

The good news? We had an email waiting. Our novel, “The Long Road to Paris,” has just received another award — a four-star rating in the IRDA contest. From the hundreds of books submitted, we made the short list, with only fifteen books in our catagory. The final winners will be announced on June 3 in NYC at Book Expo America. The chance of being one of the grand winners is slim, but we are pleased to have made this cut. They will post their review of our book on their website. You can access that website here.

The bad news? If you have been reading this blog, you know we were left behind in Kalispell, Montana, with an oil leak. The rally left on Thursday with a stop in Cour d’Alene, ID. We left on Friday with the car running fine, but it seems we needed a guide dog to lead us through Canada. We had to take the shortest way in order to cover the distance that the rally did in two days.

We crossed into Canada successfully with just a few questions about what we were going to do with the books we were carrying and how many cigars Ed had. After three hours or so of driving on Highway 3 (following our GPS that we had programed for “shortest way,” not fastest way) we came to a border . . . into the U.S.! We turned around, and our panic gradually subsided when we realized we were only about two miles off course. Canadian Highway 3 runs right along the U.S. border and our Garmin thought crossing back to the U.S., then back again into Canada, was the shortest way. Imagine what questions might we have gotten from the Canadian border guards when we tried to explain why we were entering Canada twice in the same afternoon. They’re patient guys, but I doubt they’d believe, “The GPS did it.”

We are now caught up with the rally and are very pleased to say that Terry and Shelia in their MGB are also back. We were just returning from lunch when they rolled in. We are so glad to see them.

Jan and Ed

May 28: We arrived in Vancouver yesterday, the end of Leg One.

Tomorrow we start the second leg from here to Anchorage. This is the part we really came to drive. Last evening, we had a farewell/welcome dinner. We will miss friends we made on this first leg.

Leg Two promises to have spectacular scenery, but it has long distances between stops. Our longest day is still to come — 530 miles between Smithers, BC, and Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory. I just hope our weather improves so I can get some good pictures. Today, we have what I gather is typical Vancouver weather — grey skies and heavy rain.


May 29: Vancouver to Quesnel. We left Vancouver in light rain and fog. I’ve heard this is rather typical, although everyone (the locals) says it is unusually cold. I didn’t bring clothes for all this cold, but I found two long-sleeved t-shirts at a Gap yesterday. Even in this climate, most of the stores no longer have long sleeves. After all, it’s almost summer!

We drove the “Sea-to-Sky highway” out of Vancouver to Whistler and Lillooet. A point of interest: the signs are both in English and Indian. I think it is Squamish, but the sign for Whistler is also Skwikw. We certainly didn’t see this in the U.S. I’ve been waiting for a bear sighting. We did see one black bear back in Virginia, but I didn’t get a photo. Well, just before Clinton while on our lunch stop, a mama bear and her two cubs crossed the road in front of us. I was driving, and by the time I got the camera from Ed, they were across the road heading down a gravel one.

We avoided the gravel section today; it was 105 miles long and reported by the organizers to be rutted with washboard. This was an easy decision since we had over 400 miles to cover. Lots of the drivers were under their cars for most of the evening. The real endurance test will be the 530 miles we cover on Day 25. Yuck!

More from the road to Alaska,


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