Category: Event Summaries

Chasing Spuds and Eating Dirt

Idaho Rally

I’ve been working on a writeup of our trip to Boise and the 2013 Idaho Rally International for a while, but I suppose it’s time I finally published it.

I think the short story is: We drove on some gravel, we sweated, we ran out of brakes, we ran out of gas, we ate some dirt, we came home with a trophy. Simple, right?

Well lets start with the lulz on the way to Boise. Not too long before we were going to head out for Idaho, Jason’s phone met a large body of saltwater. Despite thorough rinsing and drying, and appearing to be functional in most regards, the actual cellular radio refused to be a functioning member of the iPhone team. This isn’t normally too much of a deal if you’re not planning on making or receiving calls, but if you’re trying to caravan across two states, or even figure out what gas station you’re meeting at, it’s pretty essential. After twenty minutes of driving around the last truck stop in Portland before you head out on I-84, we finally found each other and I gave Jason one of my phones, so we’d be able to talk if something came up.

Fast forward another hour or so, 70 miles, to around 2:00 PM – I’d just finished three days in a row of working on the car till 6 AM, so Erin had volunteered to drive, and I’d passed out in the passenger seat. Somewhere around The Dalles I woke up and wanted my pockets empty so I could be more comfortable. While rummaging through my pockets, I realized that I didn’t have keys to the Mazda. We’d had a minor panic earlier in the morning regarding where the folder with the logbook, insurance, registration, etc. went and I’d apparently spent all my brainpower on it. Just before we left, I’d grabbed my wallet and chapstick out of the previous day’s pants from the laundry, but left the keys in the other pocket. It was now a race to decide what to do: Go back for the keys, find a dealership to make a new one, or break off the ignition switch and hotwire the car. After calling every dealership within reasonable distance, none of them could guarantee the could cut a key that would work. I dug out the laptop and looked up in the manual how hard it would be to get to the ignition wiring, but decided it was too hard, too many unknowns, and created too many points of failure. With a big sigh, and a lot of rage, Erin and I turned around and Jason kept heading East. Thanks to arriving in Portland just in time for rush hour, we didn’t make it to Hillsboro until 4:30 PM, and back to Troutdale till 7:00 PM. Having now wasted five hours I was, to put it lightly, perturbed. Thankfully, Jason arrived in Boise early enough to take care of recce registration and was waiting up for us.

Recce on Friday was… interesting. I was still completely exhausted, now on day 4 of less than 3 hours of sleep. We managed to get down all the stages, and had very little to add to the Gibeault’s already fantastic notes. Arriving back at the hotel, it was uncomfortably warm, and we still had to mount fire extinguishers, mud flaps, roll cage padding, apply stickers, mount skidplate, etc. before we could take the car to Parc Expose and go through tech. We got most of it done, and I dove in the car to get to Expose before we were late, while Jason loaded the rest of our gear for inspection in the van to meet me over there. Erin was meawhile heading off to the airport to collect Mira. Tech went pretty smoothly until I went to shift into reverse to check the lights. The shifter broke. I’d modified its angle to be easier to reach from my seating position, and apparently my 3 AM welds were not sufficient. Thankfully we still passed tech, and after some crazy parking lot mechanic work, and a trip to Dick Rockrohr’s to use his welding gear, the skidplate was attached, and the shifter again functional. Sunburned, exhausted, and cranky, we returned to the hotel to find our wives had procured dinner for our bellies, and aloe for my neck. I think we even managed to get 7 hours of sleep that night.

The first few stages of Saturday were nothing to write home about. Jason and I were working hard on finding our rhythm with the notes. This was our first event on notes, so there was a substantial amount of learning to be done. The first stage found us with questionable brakes, catching a co-driverless Bruce Tabor, who was himself plowing the dust of Phil Meyers. We managed to get through on what brakes we had until service, where we found a whole lot of bubbles in the front left and rear right calipers. Apparently I didn’t bleed them as well as I thought. The organizers also re-ordered the field, and we found ourselves moved up quite a ways. Back on the road, we discovered that apparently having working brakes is quite the confidence booster. We knocked 10 seconds off the next pass on Alder Creek, and were completely rocking the second pass of Grimes until we lost brakes again. After a long chain of L6 into R6 into L6 etc. I clamped on the binders for a R3 and the pedal went “POP” and dropped rather abruptly. I still had a little bit of braking though, so we limped along trying to conserve whatever fluid we had left until we could make it back to service. We never made it.

Just shortly after the spectator area, the stage changes from fast open mainline roads into a hilly and very technical forest road. We made it about a mile in, then ran out of gas. As we were climbing a particularly steep hill, the car started to stumble, then caught and kept going. I knew we were low, but thought maybe it was just the sweeping corner starving the pump. Just as we passed what appeared to be the last wide spot for the rest of the one-lane road up the hill, it was obvious we weren’t going to make it over the top. Thankfully the pump caught a little splash and gave me just enough to fuel to find another safe spot to pull over with enough room to not block the stage. OK sign and triangles went out, and we had our own private spectator area of shame as the rest of the field went by.

Jason and Dylan At Idaho

Sometime after we pulled off, but before all the sweeps were through, the message was passed to Erin and Mira that we had crashed, not that we were “Off on the shoulder but OK” or something similar, just that we had crashed. After a long wait while a sweep guy went down stage to service then back to us with a can of fuel, we were mobile again, and heading to service, much to the relief of our service crew (aka spousal units). Our time card had been pulled, and we weren’t able to finish the last stage – something we considered fortuitous as we had no brakes, no idea of why, and the last stage of the day was a massive downhill. Upon arriving back at service, it was discovered that we had a cracked crush washer on the left rear caliper, and after a couple minutes, it was fixed, the car was fueled up, and we were back in business to continue under Super Rally Rules for Sunday. The second and final day of the rally we hoped would be less, uh, eventful. It almost was.

Sunday morning we put as much gas into the car as we could, and headed to Parc Expose in Idaho City. After expose, we stopped off at the only gas station in town and topped off the tank having started the day with a 30+ mile transit, which turned out to have burned over 3 gallons. The first few stages were dusty but we ran decent times. If we could have knocked off 10-15 seconds, they would have been a lot better, but our primary goal was to finish. Halfway down the second stage of the day, we encountered Kristen and Jan Tabor, OK sign out, and standing on the shoulder gesturing for us to keep going. They had been doing a fine job of kicking our butt (and many others) all weekend, and I was bummed to see them having issues. Unfortunately it turned out she had also suffered a brake failure, and since there wasn’t enough time for her to exit the stage counter-course before the next running, and the transit down from the stage was a massive downhill, it was the end of their rally.

Knowing that 1st in PGT was now ours for the taking I was content backing off the pace and just getting to the end, but Jason disagreed, and prodded me to make another hard pass at Grimes to get revenge for SS5 on Saturday. After a leisurely service followed by the discovery that we were going to be late to ATC, we rushed to get there in time, and apparently forgot something. As we lined up at start, I was all set to give this pass my best. Jason counted down and off we went. Immediately after launch, the hatchback popped open. The car filled with dust. Nothing we could do would make it better. We just kept the hammer down though and pressed on regardless, dynamic spoiler/inverse dirt cannon and all. There was a good 1CM of silty dirt across the floor, and a thick blanket everywhere else. It was really my fault – I didn’t slam it hard enough as I had though I’d open it again, but I forgot, and as a result, we ate a bit of Idaho. It made our last pass on Grimes pretty miserable rather than the sweet revenge we’d desired. We still managed to shave off 40 seconds though, so I guess we did OK – maybe it was just me wanting to get to the end so I could close the hatch? Jason and I spent the transit to SS9 trying to cough up our lungs. The last stage was finally uneventful, and we made it through MTC. We’d finished!

The remainder of the day was spent eating spaghetti, drinking iced tea, telling rally stories, and feeling conflicted about taking 1st by DNF. I made sure this time to send the keys along with the car, so as to not make the same mistake twice in the same weekend.

An hour outside of Boise, I realized that I’d forgotten my foam pillow back at the hotel… And back the wrong way we went. Again.

The Happy Team