January Jaunt ORRC Rally #1 – 8 January 2011

The new season began with a pretty good snowstorm before we left for Waterdown, ON, which is near Burlington. After shovelling snow a couple of times on Friday, the truck and car were relatively clean Saturday morning when Gary and I left around 8 o’clock. The highway forecast didn’t look very good, with “poor” conditions predicted from Belleville all the way through to Burlington.

We had flurries, blowing snow and centre-bare road condition for the first hour; then it cleared up a bit and wasn’t too bad. But in the Brighton area we caught up to a snowplow convoy of four trucks that were clearing the left side shoulder all the way to the right side, at 30 km/h. So we lost about a half hour and had to skip our gas and lunch stop at Port Hope to stay on schedule. The roads and skies cleared a bit and we made it through Toronto easily, arriving at Waterdown a little after 2 PM. After unloading and registering, we had time for a quick sandwich and some socializing before the drivers’ meeting and the start at 3:30, which had been delayed by a half hour while they checked some portions of the route. The weather had been pretty bad for this part of the country and they had to verify that certain portions of the route would be open to traffic after being battered by unusual snowfall and winds causing drifting.

We were car number 20 (out of an encouraging 21 car field) and we left the restaurant at 3:50 with a set of combined Intermediate and Expert instructions. The Intermediate class is always a little smaller than Novice and Expert, so they didn’t bother with a unique route book for us Inter’s – this time there were four teams entered in our class, plus a lot of rank beginners in Novice class. One of the teams was Perry – without Tim and his TR4 due to business travel – who was going to try to do the rally alone in his Ford Focus. That didn’t work out too well because of the complexity of the instructions, so he recruited a driver at the break. They soldiered on and finished, but Perry wound up with 140 points – good enough for second place! – having missed numerous checkpoints.

Section one was a simple distance-to-turns style of instructions, leading to an odo check after about 24 kms. This was unusually long, but it gave Gary time to read ahead and try to figure out the instructions for section two. This was really valuable, because the section two instructions involved a really small scale map where we were expected to find the shortest path between two defined points, while ensuring that we passed through certain map coordinates. Poor Gary couldn’t find the map coordinates at all until we stopped at the end of section one with five minutes in hand and I was able to look over his shoulder. I caught sight of some lettering in faint blue script, buried in the multi-coloured map and said, “What’s this?” The lettering provided a reference to the map coordinates, which allowed Gary to find the targets and plot a course through them. We passed a number of fellow competitors parked by the roadside, trying to figure out the map. Perry couldn’t see it very well in the fading light and couldn’t figure it out, so he skipped the section completely!

Section three wasn’t much better, with a hand-drawn line map being provided, to go along with the map used in section two. Using the relative scale of the two maps and the twists and turns of the hand-drawn version, Gary’s task was to figure out which turns to take, while keeping me informed of the speed required. This section took us first down the Niagara escarpment, then back up again, on a very twisty set of roads. In the middle, there was a pit stop break with a timed pause, where we used the time to work ahead on other instructions. I left the break a little early because of the worsening road conditions and tackled the climb up the escarpment aggressively. When we reached the summit we suddenly found a checkpoint, with little time to adjust our speed. So we ended up a touch early, but not much harm done. From here on the road conditions deteriorated rapidly, so that all gravel roads were covered with several centimetres of snow and all paved roads were centre-bare and tricky. So my ability to maintain the required average speed began to degenerate. Also in this section, we somehow attracted a group of the rank beginners in our wake, following us faithfully no matter where we went. I’m sure this didn’t help their scores, since we missed a couple of turns and at least one checkpoint! At one right hand turn I saw a flash of lights in my mirrors and looked up to see the first follower looping his car through 90 degrees as he tried to take the corner too fast under braking alone! He kept it out of the ditch and continued the chase undaunted.

One of the next sections used cartoons of snowmen to indicate the directions of turns, which was easy enough if you could read the direction of their eyes clearly. I can’t remember the instructions for the next section, but the last one before the mid-rally break was kind of interesting. There were four lines in a diagram, shaped like a tic-tac-toe puzzle, each of which looked like a standard line diagram where the jargon goes like “leave one on the left”, for a tee-shaped intersection. Something inspired Gary to wonder whether all four lines were the same – and sure enough, they were. So it was a simple matter to follow one of the lines to the refuelling/food break in Smithville.

After the break, the first section used an analogue clock face to dictate the direction of turns, i.e. enter by the hour hand, leave by the minute hand. It was pretty straightforward and relaxing after the difficulties of the first leg. Then we had one section where the instructions told us to avoid certain landmarks, such as churches, recreation centres, a body shop, etc., but we couldn’t figure out how to do that in the pitch dark conditions. However, Gary was able to plot a route and see enough roadside signs to keep us more on less on route and we ended up in the right place at end of section. One of the next sections quoted the basic rules of “route following”, which we were encouraged to apply. Essentially, they amount to (a) stay on the road you’re on until you must make a choice, (b) at any crossroads, go straight, absent any other instruction, and (c) if you arrive at a place where you must turn without any other instruction, turn right. The only instructions in this section were (1) turn left at Lover’s Lane, (2) turn right at 10.54, and (3) turn left at Crook’s Hollow. That was the entire section! The balance of turns had to be taken based on the convention for route following, as above. While it took a long time and about 8 kms to reach Lover’s Lane – during which we hoping we hadn’t missed a street sign – we did fine until we mistakenly turned right at an intersection where we should have gone straight. This caused us to miss Crook’s Hollow and to waste 10-15 minutes driving around Ancaster looking for the end of section. Finally Gary got us back on the right track and we found EOS, with only one section remaining.

The last section required road counting at each intersection, but this time the distances and road counts were provided in binary form! It took Gary a few minutes to remember enough ancient mathematics to figure out how to read the binary numbers and then we were off. But he was never sure he had the right numbers for distance, so we had to be careful not to make a wrong turn. Eventually, it got quite confusing and weren’t sure we were still on the route. But I recognized that we were on Highway 5 (Dundas St.), approaching Highway 6 just west of Waterdown. Our destination was the starting point in Waterdown, so we decided simply to go to the end of the rally and take our lumps. We were tired and frustrated and we’d had enough after 267 kms and over six hours. So we checked in at 10:04 and I left Gary there while I went down the street to load the car on the trailer while the scoring was being compiled. The car and trailer were filthy with slush from both the rally and the drive down and we only had my single pair of work gloves to handle the messy ramps, straps, etc. So I left Gary to relax and socialize while I froze my hands trying to use frozen, stiff gloves to load up. By the time I finished loading and dealing with an irate resident whose dog I was upsetting, I was very cold and beginning to get pretty tired. When I returned to restaurant I found Gary sitting with Perry and his recruited driver, rehashing the route. The first thing Gary said to me was, “How do you feel, winner?!” The draft scores had been circulated and we had the lowest in Intermediate class, even though we had a large total of 81! We had missed three check points and our speeds had been too slow because of road conditions, but we had done better than the others. It also helped that they were not going to include the scores from the last section – which we had truncated – because there was a mistake in the instructions.

We didn’t stay long enough to hear the final results, but our position remained assured. We stopped on the way out of town to fill up the truck’s gas tank and saw the most amazing collection of emergency vehicles lining the route down to Highway 403. It was a convoy of six massive beer vats manufactured in Germany, shipped to Hamilton and being ferried to the Molson’s Coors brewery in Toronto. The trip, which is expected to take four nights, began Friday night as the vats — loaded on six flatbed trailers — were slowly pulled out of the docks by transport trucks. The beer vats are huge — 45 metres long, eight metres high and more than seven metres wide. The transport company had to plan a route that would avoid overpasses and then coordinate with police forces to close intersections, raise or cut hydro and cable wires to get the vats through, steer trucks by remote control through tight areas and remove metal poles then weld them back in place. It was quite an amazing sight!

We reached Les’s house in Pickering around 12:30 AM and they were waiting up for us, although Les hadn’t received my text message telling him we were en route. He had left his new cell phone in his coat pocket – not wonder he didn’t hear its tone. Anyway, we had a short visit and hit the sack, looking forward to blessed sleep. We were up by around 8 the next morning and the house was filled with the aroma of bacon and fresh coffee. After a great breakfast of French toast, bacon and fruit we set sail for Ottawa under sunny skies around 10:30. Four hours later we arrived at my driveway, which had accumulated three centimetres of snow since we’d left. Gary left for home; I shovelled the snow and then unloaded the car. It was a great start to the new rally season, with a result that we’ll be able to use towards the 2011 championship – and for me, a ten point lead on my rival Tim. The next event is in two weeks in Perth and I’m looking forward to it!

Video is available at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWY-Mv3E4Qg

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