The lesson…

I figured Pablo was a hotshoe.

Once, on the Port Orford Rally, we were working a control on some little-traveled pavement west of Sutherlin, and he came around the corner and saw us about the time his navigator said, “six down”. WWRRAAZZAZZAowowow said the Subaru and they took two.  That was a hint.

When we took the Primitive Racing Rally School, at the convenient Hillsboro site, he and his team brought us novices up to ‘Beginner’ level through focused driving exercises. Then we faced the Final Exam, a full-sized rallyx course in the grass. After the students did some familiarization runs, the Perfessor demonstrated the correct technique.  I was stunned at the speed he carried on that field. My supposition grew.

But now I know; and I know because of Hat Creek.

That’s the name of the first section on this year’s Totem rally. Totem runs in the lower part of the Cariboo Country, along the Gold Rush trail, through south-central British Columbia. The start is in a little desert town called Cache Creek, at the junction of the Trans-Canada Highway and the road that’ll become the Alaska Highway.  The road from the border to Cache Creek was dry this year, a rarity, so it was an easy cruise up the Frasier Canyon.  But we knew it was the calm after the storm; the hills near town showed frosty white, the lowest signs of some serious snowfall over the past two weeks.

Reports from test excursioners all sounded the same: very slippery up there. I try not to worry about conditions. Our equipment is good, and our priorities are right. (Remember TSD Rule #1, “Stay on the road.”)  We left Rally HQ Saturday morning and went straight to the start of Hat Creek Road.

It starts climbing immediately, long slanted sidehill runs between switchbacks, and by the time we crested the first ridge the gravel disappeared beneath packed snow. Over the next five K, we noticed that there were layers of snow, powder-to-mashed potatoes-to-packed snow-to-ice. Then the road reached the creek, and ran along its gully, near the top of the slope, high up in the trees.

The surface changed a bit; from bottom up, it was:

a layer of rutted ice;
another layer of ice with different ruts;
a layer of packed snow with still different ruts;
and then 3-5″ of heavy but kind-of-wet stuff.

It was about one lane wide, with nooks and outcroppings and exposures and those damn ruts. And it carried on for quite a while, like a child who’s repeating some silly song over and over, “La-de-doop a-boop ka-nilly doh-da-doh <repeat>”.  25mph CAST is all t’was ask’d, but we were 20 seconds down.  Another few K to the second control, and we went by it 39 down.

Turns out, that number’s not that bad. Yukon Jim Bowie, scourge of the white roads, Lightning-in-the-Dark, was only 3 under us. I felt pretty good when I saw that later, ’cause Jim can really move on snow.   But car #5, Pablo at the wheel, was just nineteen late.

Right now I’m trying to imagine myself running, say, ten seconds faster, on pace to be just 29 late. Now I’m imagining the recovery operation.  Brrrr.   And he was /twenty/ seconds faster. Res-pect!

None of the following sections were quite that bad, though there were many more klicks of roads too icy to walk on.  Paul & Yulia led throughout, and finished well ahead of the rest of us.

Several cars on Saturday forgot Rule #1, including one that ignored Guideline A:  Take snow tires to snow rallies.  A couple cars forgot Rule #1 on Sunday, too.  No serious injuries either day, happily — not even the eagle.

Howzatt?   Well, Sunday morning, transiting back to 100 Mile House from the first section, we saw some crows dining on roadkill. They flew off as we approached.  Three minutes later, an eagle had joined the feast, and when car #6 approached, he took off.  But he misjudged his power, or the car’s speed, and plowed into the driver’s side windshield. The safety glass got a thorough fracturing, but stayed on the job. The eagle took a minute to clear its bird-brain, then flew away.

There’s some metaphor there that I really don’t want to explore, because of what it might suggest about us ralliers. But do you think the eagle went back to the feast?

The Thunderbird rally is the first weekend in February.  If we’re lucky there’ll be snowbanks.



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