Pointless Essays of Interminate Duration

About those lug bolts...

My older brother bullied me for years. He'd lie in wait, making no effort to hide, and pummel me gleefully. I think it was his hobby. I might have contributed something to his hearty pursuit of it; mine was a smart-aleck mouth. Fourteen months of growth is a pretty big lead through childhood. It's a persistent disadvantage for the junior warrior, and only the stupidest or stubbornest persist in fight rather than flight.

Or maybe there was something else going on…

Remember Jack London's description of Buck's beating by the man in the red sweater? The brute succeeded in subduing the dog, but not - NOT - in cracking his spirit. The dog fought back until he could not, but he did not stop fighting. It's a subtle distinction, but like many such dichotomies, it divides the universe. On this side of the line is that which is still wild; and on the other side is the domesticated herd.

I can't claim Buck's kinship for my continued struggle. Mine came from lack of alternatives, not from some indomitable internal fire. And, partly, from occasional glimpses of a more evenly matched future.

I'm thinking of the insulated coveralls.

Pater Tony and I were going duck hunting. On the High Plains, that happens in late November, when the chill north winds bring Canadian air down through the Dakotas all the way to north Texas. Trudging over corn and wheat stubble to the handful of little ponds that might harbor waterfowl called for solid clothing, so we stopped by the local clothing store just before closing Friday night. Kermit Sanders fitted me with a dark green quilted suit, and I wore it home, and there encountered the bully.

With just a hint of revisionism, I recall that he mocked my suit, sneering, "you think you're invincible in that". Well, that night I was; and I womped up on him. The sense of added protection gave me just enough confidence to cut loose and take chances, and that change in attitude, more than anything else, made the difference. I don't remember us getting any ducks the next day, but it was a great weekend already.

Good equipment provides more aid than its functional description alone would suggest. Good equipment is a talisman, a token of power. It whispers to you, be bold. The right clothing - or the right snow tire - frees your mind from doubt, and a mind freed of doubts, soars.

When it comes to B.C. snow rallies, I got plenty of doubts. I've been running up north for seven years, and every run has been humbling. If the driving is easy, the competition is tight; and if the driving isn't easy, brrrr: makes me shudder just thinking about it.

With diligent effort, we've been chipping away at the top spot. It still looked like a lot of granite to go through. But we had a breakthrough last November, when we borrowed a supercharged* rally car and used it to finish first at Totem. That car was a talisman of power - all emphasis on the final word - and it was good equipment.

But the days marched on, and February arrived. February brings The Thunderbird, a snow rally with more entries and more frozen roads than Totem. If Totem is a granite boulder, then T-Bird's a massive and harder granite monolith. It demands near perfect preparation and it demands exceptional execution. If you bobble either, the T-Bird pack'll sweep by you without breaking cadence.

My preparation included some new-to-us skinny wheels for Marilyn, our red 325iX. Conventional wisdom holds that narrower snow tires are better in deep snow, and narrow tires work best on narrow wheels. We'd scrounged up some surplus Mini Cooper alloys left over from Gary Webb's last trip to Anchorage. I figured some "Winter Alcan Winner" aura might still be attached to the wheels, and Gary threw that magic in without extra cost.

We headed to Merritt, BC, early, and our mid-afternoon arrival made the tire switchover leisurely. The leisure evaporated when I tightened down the lugs on the left front wheel, and found that "turning" was no longer part of the wheel's job description. Ooops. I'd test-fitted the wheels to the iX at home the day before, but to the /rear/ end of the iX… I'd not tested the front end fitment. The front wheel wouldn't turn because the wheel was riding the brake caliper.

Agony. We were 450 miles from home. Runing the event on all-season tires was out of the question. This was a grand bobble, an enormous bobble. I thought we might have to retire before we'd begun.

I hadn’t panicked, yet, but my vision took on a crispness that I recognized as a sign of fear. My mind emptied, and I sat there dumbfounded until bystanders offered advice. “You need to add some spacers to those wheels. There’s an auto parts store downtown. They probably close at 5 p.m.” Gak! I grabbed one of the wheels and bummed a ride to the store. On the back wall hung 7 millimeters of hope, the last pair of aluminum 4-lug spacers in the place. I swept them into my basket, and we hustled back to the Niccola Inn.

So far I’d avoided sharing this problem with my co-driver, but she broke off her flirting long enough to notice I’d returned. She asked what was wrong. I summarized my bobble. I heard a small, quick, intake of breath, and then a careful silence. It was a reallly loud silence; I could hear nothing else.

Do I need to say that it was important that the spacers fit?

They did, and the front lug bolts had enough thread engagement. Ideally I’d have used longer lug bolts, but for some reason Lordco didn’t have a big selection of non-stock BMW parts. I torqued the fasteners, and we went out to set a starting odometer factor. The wheels stayed attached during our tarmac test run, and when I pulled one of the lugs afterwards, there was no sign of metal stress on the threads, so I torqued it back up and tried to forget about it. The keen fear had faded, but my anxiety swelled in its place. It wasn’t worry over the lug bolts - it was realizing the lunacy of not testing the front fitment before. Making that kind of mistake rattled me. It brought forth doubts.

How do we banish doubts, class? By concentrating on good equipment, sir!

The skinny Mini wheels were wrapped in Hakkapellitta 7 tires, with the new ‘horizontal diamond’ factory studs. The rest of our gear was reassuringly proven: 325iX, Timewise rally computer, readerboard by Larry LeFebvre, calculations via Excel. The human equipment (the driver and navigator) was jet-lagged but otherwise ready. Friday night we stayed up just late enough to double-check the calcs, and to tell the truth we faded before that task was complete. (You should be wondering where we'd been to be so off-time.)

Saturday morning there were forty-seven cars entered, with near-a-dozen previous winners among them. I was hoping for snow, and lots of it. Severe road conditions can negate the measurement advantage of two wheel drive cars, and our skinny tires should give us a leg up on the legion of Subarus. We had lucky number 3 on the car, and we rolled out after the drivers' meeting into a clear to partly cloudy day, not a speck of ice to be seen. I squinted and pretended to see falling flakes.

The dry roads lasted most of Saturday, then Minnie Lakes showed us its best waterholes, and right after that.... the HAM radio crackled. Control crews heading into the next-to-last section were talking about a blizzard. Huh? Where we were, a dozen kilometers behind them, there was no sign of a storm. Car #1 was revving its tiny engine, about to start the section, when the radio cautioned those listening that CAST was not achievable. The routebook called for 72 k.p.h., but the rallymaster was making barely 30 knots through the sea of snowflakes. Conditions can change quickly, though, in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, and we all knew it.

The competitors were reluctant to ease off. If the section turned out to be runnable, no one wanted to approach it half-heartedly. Thus car #1 gamely left on its minute, and the rest of us did likewise, pulled into the deep, deep white like links on an anchor chain. We just hoped that the leading edge of the chain would find purchase, and not plunge forever into the snowy waves. It wuz a strong an' p'wrful blizzard. It should henceforth be called the "Snowout at Twig Creek", as that was the name of the next-to-last section. Cancelled! Final section cancelled, too, and there was a general rush for Kamloops, the overnight stop.

Sunday morning, for us, arrived at 2:30 a.m. Jet lag still held our rhythms captive in regions far to the east. Only fitful sleep followed, and when the alarm went off, our fatigue got up first. We attempted a quickie breakfast at Tim Horton's, but even the simplified menu there baffled us. Exhaustion draped over us like quilt. We found a BLT and good cheer at the ABC restaurant, and managed to organize our thoughts. They ran roughly thus:

Scores had not been posted the night before. Most of Saturday's roads were dry, or at least not slippery. On the tricky parts, the muddy hills or sneaky checkpoints, we didn't feel too good about - that is, we didn't think we'd done particularly well in the difficult spots. We guessed we were probably in fourth or fifth place, maybe. This ... isn't going to work.

Renee and I independently reached the same conclusion. It would be best to retire that morning, and have a leisurely drive back to Merritt and then to Portland. We didn't need to debate it; all that remained was to pay our respects to the rallymaster and be on our way. We idled over to the hotel. The Saab team of Adomeit and Crippen hailed us as we parked, and came over, and as Renee opened her door to go inside and retire, we heard:

"You guys are in first by one point."

And we said, simultaneously, "Crap."

There was to be no rest for the weary*.

It's hard to get into scoring position on The Thunderbird. In addition to near-perfect preparation and exceptional execution, you've got to have good luck on route. That set of cards doesn't come up often. If you find yourself in first place on Sunday morning, it's like being dealt a natural full house. You *have* to play out the hand; you may never get another chance like it.

Renee still went inside the hotel, but instead of retiring us, she got official time. I re-arranged cargo and checked systems. We loaded Sunday's routebook onto the reader board, thirty pages taped end-to-end in a long paper curl. Each page's addition to the spool added psychic weight to the monolith looming ahead. Every instruction represented a risk to our slimmest of leads. Many teams run better on the second day, so we had to, too. The gravity of the situation was sinking in, and we worked solemnly, speaking little. Other folks were already rolling out of the parking lot and heading for the first regularity.

The sky was clear leaving Kamloops, but to get to Boston Pizza, the rally had to go west over the roads that the blizzard owned the night before. That made me grin a little bit. We were tired, sure - but if we got into snow and ice, there was an ace in my sleeve. The opening section had none, but then, ahhh, yesssss: "Lac du Bois". What a beaut! Paraphrasing Ron Sorem:

"Lac du Bois" Regularity started on broad dry gravel. Some time later, in the woodlands, snow /along/ the road became snow /on/ the road, and then, deeper snow /narrowed/ the road. When the route went left at a crossroad, the snow's challenge started a completely different game. The checkpoint cars cut first path through the heaps, running very cautiously. There were 8km to our checkpoint corner, then the route followed the mainline Tranquille-Criss Creek Rd to End Of Section; 47.49km total.

Ron, being through first, saw no tracks. We in #3 saw only his, and the narrow path of the Sonnett.

The skinnier Hakkas are also taller, and the combination shifts the tires' contact patch to a more elongated oval. I kept picturing them as sled runners, slicing through the surface layers, riding a thin layer of sublimating crystals, granting directional influence ... the juggling act wasn't in where your steerinq wheels were pointed, it was in how the car's fore-and-aft axis was lining up with its vector. The CAST made us hustle a bit, but I plowed into a corner only once, and stopped short of the snow banks. We got through Lac du Bois with a single point. If you check the detailed results, you'll see that Jim Bowie and novice (!) navigator Ian Seal zeroed it.

But there were plenty who didn't sail through that section. How do I know? Because the third section Sunday looped around, around, around... and lined us up for another pass. "Red Lake" started the road with the deepest snow at a CAST 5 kph higher than the first run, and my my MY, weren't there a lot of holes in snowbanks? I got nervous at seeing the evidence of so much difficulty, and pert' near punched a snowbank myself. But though we were dead stopped at one point (and kind of pointed left-ish), we didn't get caught out of shape, and this time through we matched Bowie and Seal with a zero for the regularity.

In case you missed it, Totem and The Thunderbird altered their scoring rules after the zero-zero tie at T-Bird some years back. Winter scoring as we knew it is /gone/. What we have now is a touch more stringent... each control location has a perfect time calculated to the tenth-of-a-second. Around that perfect time is a window, nine-tenths of a second either way, and only if you're in that window you'll get a zero. You scientists know that in order to maintain the precision of the calculation, you've got to maintain the precision of the measurement; and this implies - nay, demands that the control crews are timing cars to 0.1 second.

To the tenth of a second? On snow and ice? Say... what?

It'd be absurd if it weren't so absolutely necessary. The folks that turn out for The Thunderbird want to win it, and they want to win it convincingly. There are enough top teams there, every year, in every class, that the level of competition has reached (dare I say) absurd levels. No other rally in the PNW needs nor attempts more than 0.01 minute precision in timing. But scoring The Thunderbird would be impossible otherwise.

I'm still ranting, here: what is wrong with you people? How did you get the idea that chasing zeros is fun? And what in tarnation makes you keep pushing, pushing, pushing the envelope? Is there no length to which you will not go? What's next, custom built software? (already produced, years ago, ask Glenn). What's next, purpose built hardware for advising the driver? (already in prototype, ask Curt Thompson or Mike Daily) I ... I ... I ... I don't know what to say. Next thing you know, people will be going north to Canada the weekend before to practice snow driving. Or going somewhere with lots and lots of snow (Colorado?) for a week to warm up.

Or spending ten days in Sweden, Finland, and Norway in early February, putting in 1600 miles on ice covered roads, driving driving driving -- arriving back home in the States just two days before The Thunderbird. Somebody* might do that.

I bet it'd leave you jet-lagged, though.

By the time we reached Boston Pizza, our adrenaline was the only thing keeping us going. I couldn't stop yawning while changing out tires to get ready for the trip south. Renee took the first leg, and I conked out 'til almost Sumas. We were passing through Lynnwood when we got news of the results: we'd held onto first place.

First ... finally, it all came together: good equipment + lots of practice + good luck.

I'd like to thank the members of the academy blah blah, and in closing, my advice to you, as always, is to make plans to attend one of these B.C. snow rallies.

* a mild misquote of the biblical 'No rest for the wicked'
* the fjords are beautiful in winter

Understands nothing about Tuco

The AlCan Winter Rally, 2012 edition, has just concluded in Anchorage.

It's telling that even with e-mail and mobiles and the Facebook, information from the ralliers tapers off as the rally moves north. This is partly due to spotty telecommunications infrastructure, but mostly due to fatigue. When you've spent the last eight nights in eight different hotels, and driven from dark to dark every day between, the urge to post a cheery blurb or two withers.

So we're left with rumors 'til the travelers recover, and the rumors keep trickling down. I'd heard one, a story with a particular touch of pathos, and I repeated it a couple times with a tsk-tsk mien and a sad shake of my head. But now I've had an epiphany about this tale, and I think it's not tragic at all.

The story goes thus: A local hotshoe driver and his erstwhile navvie had finally managed to pull ahead of the rest of the field. AlCan's tightly contested, and rankings at the end of the first day don't really shift much by the end. But these two put it together and passed the overall leader on day 7 of 9. They did this the old fashioned way, with hard work and better precision. A fine effort!

On the next to last day, there was finally an ice race. Every venue to that point had been so heavily snowed under that the slaloms were cancelled. But down in the bowl of the mountains, under the glaciered peaks, on the water in Valdez, there was a track t'was open. You need to know that our leaders were in the 4WD class for the ice race, and their closest competitor was in the 2WD class; those classes are scored independently. I guess you better know that in the 2WD class, a fearless young pilot in a BC car smoked the entire 2WD class. He put a full 10 points (the maximum) on the second place car (our team's nearest competitor).

Woot! More breathing room! Now... now our hotshoe can take it easy, right? No need to go for broke. No need to try for the fastest time in 4WD. Even if he takes the max, his competitors won't pull any closer.

All you cynical folk already suspect how that story ends. I hear your voices, 'cause 'til today mine was raised in the same refrain: "Better to pussyfoot around and take a few points, and protect the lead. Play it safe and sound. If you don't, and stuff it, or break, well... you should have known better."

But I gotta tell you something...


Before Clint Eastwood was a respected film director - hell, before he played Inspector Harry Callahan - he starred in Westerns. One of these is "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly", hereinafter abbreviated TGTBATU.

TGTBATU was set in the American Southwest, in the early 1860s. The plot morphs from a slightly disapproving recital about two con men to a poignant commentary on the waste of life in wartime; once it's plucked those heartstrings in the audience, it finishes with a nice, tense, three-way standoff between good, bad, and ugly. Good wins, and ugly ... well, go watch it. Be prepared for some 'Sixties-style production values.

In TGTBATU, just after the opening scene, there's a little exchange between the con men. Clint's kind-of threatening his partner with how easy it would be to abandon him, and his partner (nearly always serious, but at this point absolutely so) says,


"Whoever double-crosses me and leaves me alive, he understands nothing about Tuco. Nothing!"


Tuco (the ugly) was a man with an exceptional sense of vengeance. Some folks didn't understand that.


So back to Alaska -- Valdez -- the ice track -- the second run in the Forester.

Picture yourself behind the wheel. The starter's counting you down. There've been a lot of slaloms cancelled. This is the last. There're two TSDs tomorrow, and the 2nd place team is goooood. Your lead could evaporate 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!

Tires spinning, feel the tug of a slip starting, don't back off, steer into it now out and SHIFT! and (nice) second with just a hint of drifting wide (redline already?) and corner, ahh, set up just right to pivot/ back on the gas.

Some folks in this situation will hear the tiny, tinny voice of the safe player in their ear. They'll pull back from WOT, and temper their embrace of the lap with a hedge, a bet on some uncertain future. Mumbling to themselves, "... the future gain will make this half-measure of effort honorable....", they shrink back from the fire of competition.

But (and you know this) that is not our driver. His concern is not the possible future, it is the extant now; our driver's right foot is denting the floorboard. This is how winning times are set, and set them he does. In a way, what happens after that is just a detail. When I first heard that the Subaru's motor'd failed, I thought that was the punchline, the moral of the story. But it isn't.


Paul (the driver) is a man with an exceptional sense of competition. Some folks don't understand that.


I'm raising a glass to you tonight, sir; I think I understand. Safe travels home.

p.s. the only person more competitive in the Forester is R. Dale, and despite the DNF, I suspect he secretly approves of the effort.

Me(n)tal filings

I bought a used trailer for general hauling. The previous owner'd modified the frame to suit his primary use - toting his bike to PIR for the Thursday night MX races - but the bracing wasn't quite right for hauling rally tires (my primary use). So I'm hackin' on it. Basically I'm just adding a central runner with a couple captive nuts for screw-on stacking poles. The design is largely driven by the materials I had on hand, like the grey 6' piece of U-channel in the photo.

Since there'll be a plywood platform as a base, I wanted the U-channel to be as flush as possible to the rest of the frame; but the P.O.'s modifications had already put an 1/8" step on each edge. That relieved me of having to carefully craft three braces and weld 'em in. Instead, I could just lay the flat of the channel atop the crossmembers and keep its length intact. But I still needed to trim back the sides of the channel to get it flat.

So I had eight sections of the side metal to remove. I spent a bit of time thinking about clever ways to extract 'em, but couldn't think of anything that didn't require more tools than are available. And then I saw this on XKCD:

I realized I'd almost spent the amount of time thinking about the problem as it would have taken to solve it by the most direct means. So I mounted the coarse wheel in my bench grinder, put on earbuds for music and earmuffs for hearing protection, and just ground those mothers down.

Now my jacket's covered with grey specks of steel, so it'll probably rust up real good.

Headed to an auto-x driving school tomorrow, so

I guess it's time to choose which car to run in.

The wagon, despite being a station wagon, is probably the fastest and most capable. And Renee's out of town, so I could theoretically violate the rule that "one doesn't take a car to a track unless it's paid for" without being caught. As I think you know, in today's world, not being caught is completely equivalent to not violating the rule a'all.

But (and it's a big but) the wagon's seats don't go down far enough to run with a helmet on. The helmet shell mashes into the headliner and my vision winds up tilted. If the wagon was the only car, I'd stay up all night building some kind of custom seat mount to gain .75" more room. I can get that obsessive about little stuff, and now that I'm > 50, I'd be happy to avoid such fiddling at the last minute. But this ergonomic objection is enough to drop the modern wundercar's ranking a bit, and I look further.

Is the red car ready to run? Oh, yeah: it gets maintained like a parachute.

And Niner's got good tires, plus some headroom for a brain bucket. But it's not fast, even with the 4.10 diffs left over from its automatic-transmission days. A fabulous poor-road or poor-weather car, its best features are somewhat underutilized on a cone-filled paddock. It's certainly the practical choice; like a karate student working the kihon katas, it's always beneficial to refine my control of the iX. Would it be fun? Fer schure... just not overly fun.

"Overtly fun" is the secondary definition of 'ur-quattro'. Look it up.

The reason is simple: it's a brute. No dynamic stability control; hell, not even antiblockiersystem. The brake pedal pressurizes simple hydraulic cylinders. The throttle pedal opens a butterfly valve on the intake manifold. There's no speed sensor, no MAP, no yaw restrictor... You won't find a single thing that just "supplies a position signal to the sensor integrator component of the vehicle attitude controller." And on this car, some previous owner neutered the US-version's boost limiter, so the turbo can reach 2 bar absolute.

Just one problem: the car's running in limp-home mode when I test it out tonight. Get the revs just over 4000, and the rudimentary fuel injection controller sees something it doesn't like, and cuts the juice to the fuel pump relay. This is a Bosch Kontinuous injection system -- the fuel pressure's got to be over 60 psi just to open the injectors. So turning off the pump drops the pressure below 60, and that right quick. It's a cycle: revs drop below 4000, the controller re-energizes the relay, the motor surges to life again, bests 4000 rpm, triggers the cut-out, buck buck buck buck. The only amusing part is that it scares the hell out of other drivers.

It simply won't work for auto-x - but I didn't discover this condition 'til tonight, after 7 p.m. The quattro gave no hint of it in its last outing a couple weeks back. Question is, can I fix it by tomorrow?

I pulled the ancient manual out and found the troubleshooting method for the cut-out condition. The method requires only a multimeter. The method has only four steps. And then I immediately jumped over step 1, because I recognized my old nemesis in step 2: the electro-mechanical interface. That is to say, a switch.

In this case, the "idle switch", mounted on the intake manifold, opened and closed by the butterfly. When closed, with the coolant temp below 140 degrees, and the bi-metal strip in the warm-up regulator is unbent -- well, then, there's cold enrichment. That is, the system calls for cold enrichement - and the Byzantine arrangement that accomplishes cold enrichment is nothing compared to the Goldbergian O2 feedback loop. But if the idle switch shows closed when the revs go over 4000, the fuel injection controller calls B.S. and chops the relay circuit. Testing showed the switch action was intermittent, and it has a reputation (on the web) for flakey badness. Still testing, I pulled the contacts off the switch.

Ooooo, she revs up now, you betcha. Doesn't have the closed-throttle coastdown that it should, but that may not matter in cone-land tomorrow. I'll order up a new switch, and put one more check mark against the EMI (electro-mechanical interface, please pay attention) for future diagnosis-es.

With the full fury of the turbo five restored, I stopped at my local petroleum emporium to fill up before tomorrow. $68.25, wow. I remember filling up motorhomes and not spending that much.

Totem 2008

Totem, the annual gravel TSD rally that starts in Cache Creek, British Columbia, is in the books for 2008.

Detailed results are already available from the RallyBC website, so I need not relate every score now, but a few hints follow. To accurately set the stage, I should mention that there’s a Historic class for Totem. Historic cars can run full Unlimited equipment, and I’ll venture to say that Historic teams are those that find too little challenge in running late model machinery (!). This year’s Totem allowed anything older than 1983 into the class. Think for a moment about what that limit makes available to competitors…

I’ve only run Totem twice, but I think I see a pattern: the last section of each day runs over a slippery hill. Last year’s final Saturday section put us in 125mm of slushy snow on a foggy ridge, and last year’s Sunday finale had us descend a winding one-lane covered with packed-down white stuff. The challenge of Saturday’s hill was to stay out of the ditches (not all of us did) and off the concrete bridge abutments (all of us did). Sunday’s descent had no ditches, and the trick of it was to keep the odometer more or less accurate vis-à-vis the sliding tires.

This year, Saturday’s last section was called Over The Pass, and if that name didn’t give it away, the Drivers’ Meeting included an announcement that we might not run that section at all…. “We’ll decide once we send some control crews up it,” was the Rallymaster’s comment. Saturday had five sections — the first four were “routine” (meaning Canadian brisk TSD routine), and we saw roads mostly of dry gravel, a bit less in heavy frost, and even less in mud. Perennial favorites Russ Kraushaar & Satch Carlson, running a ’69 SAAB Sonett in the Historic class, were carrying a whopping 1 point at the end of the first four sections.

We left the start of the fifth regularity in full darkness. By the time we reached the first checkpoint, we were in medium snow — shortly after that, we were in hella deep snow, and I was getting a bit nervous, ’cause we were still going uphill. The rally computer showed us steadily losing time, and before long it was impossible to keep the CAST. Impossible for us, in our Hakkapelliita-shod AWD car — what must it be like for the RWD Toyota captained by Gary Webb (running Historic)? We were bouncing off the sides of the ruts, sometimes slewing sickeningly toward the unbroken flanks of the road, and dared neither back off nor go faster. SPIIIIIN the steering wheel to the right! When the iX lurches back from the edge, SPIIIIIN the wheel back! And keep your foot in it! But don’t go too fast! It had ceased to be fun.

The only relief and release came near km 25, when we saw brake lights ahead, and clawed our way up to the first four cars… which were stopped while Cars 1&2′s occupants were helping to unstick the advance car. Ahhh, justice: the Rallymaster’s stuck.

As you can imagine, chaos took control at that point. The folks who’d pushed the Rallymaster free heard “Just follow me out” (meaning treat the remainder as a transit or free zone), but those of us with HAM radios heard a different direction from rally officials, and believed that the remainder would be scored. A cascade of Time Allowances followed, as Car #3 took 2.5 minutes to start with (and so must everyone else in line as there would be no passing), but later had to take more… We were a herky-jerky train of motorcars struggling over the summit and finally down to safety… Off The Pass, thank our lucky stars.

Heh. And we were indeed the lucky ones. The Sonett, being singularly svelte of track, could not take advantage of the trail broken by the broader beams of the cars before, and had to make its own path the whole way. The points situation was as torn up as the snowbanks. There was a two-way tie for Second, and a three-way tie for Third, and the driver in First place on Saturday night called it a virtual six-way tie. By the start on Sunday, though, it was clear that Saturday’s Final Section had dispatched the leading Historic team; with the SAAB refusing to hold second gear, Russ and Satch headed south.

Sunday’s sections were a bit snowy, a bit muddy, mostly dry… until (you know it’s coming!) the last, “Pavillion“. Now I can’t give great details about the challenge here, ’cause my delightful!intelligent!skilled! navigator and I zeroed the sucker. But I also know that at least two two-wheel-drive cars were unable to make the climb, and had to abandon the section and go back down and ’round to Cache Creek. Novices? Don’t bet on it: AlCan veterans, both, and both AlCan winners. Here again there was a Historic entry, and the other car’s just two years away from that venerable status.

So the moral of the story? Expect a slippery hillclimb for the days’ last sections at Totem. Bring your studs. Bring your traction control, or your skilled throttle foot. Bring your gumption, but also bring your snow shovel and tow strap.

And about those Historic (and near-Historic) teams…

Gentlemen, you have my deep respect. I hope one day to find the “regular” Totem too easy, so that I’m drawn to join you in less-modern machinery and so feel afresh the quiver of uncertainty and the thrill of unknown adventure. At this point, I get that from the regular Totem — and this year, I got more than I needed.

Totem 2009

Veterans and Novices

Normally the previous year’s winners are assigned Car #1; running that spot is equal parts honor and duty.

The honor should be obvious, pride of place wot wot. And there are benefits to running up front: you never have to wait in line for the pump at the gas stops; the locals that you see still have no idea that their road is hosting a mass migration of four-wheelers; the low, wet spots on the section aren’t chewed into mudholes; where there’s snowpack, it isn’t all shiny and slick; and there are no deep tracks in the snow leading off the road … yet.

But there’s a price, too, for running out front. You’ll be the first to find the one really slippery corner, or the blown-down tree, or the nodding control crew. It’s like being point man on patrol. On balance, giving #1 to last year’s winners is probably a handicapping method, sort of like the NBA’s allocating the worst draft positions to the best performing teams. More evidence: The rallymaster calls it “The Curse Of Car #1″.

Well, then, who won Totem 2008? Glenn Wallace & R. Dale Kraushaar did. In winning last year, those two zeroed the entire second day. If ever a handicap was called for…

But we got to the Bear’s Claw, and #1 was not on their car; instead, they were carrying #2. Whaaa? Those guys are veterans, they know the drill — how’d they miss the duty?

Pffft. Veterans? I’ll give you veterans. The team in the lead car included a man who first ran Totem in 1959. APPARENTLY, if you show up with a pedigree like that, they just bow and hand you the #1. This time, the award of first position is all about honor.

Near the other end of the train, running #20, a novice team’s in a 4×4 pickup with 31″ tires. They’ve strapped down some big chunks of wood in the back… is that for weight? Or is there a bonfire later? I feel a mild sense of dread on their behalf, but I can’t think of a way to warn them without sounding like a jerk or a fuddy-duddy. As Glenn Wallace put it, ‘Nobody likes the “you’re doomed” speech.’ Same goes for the very pretty Golf, with its supercharger and roll cage; the car doesn’t seem quite right for where we’re headed.

And finally, there’s a leviathan of steel, a sled so wide and so long and so heavy that calculations of its polar momentum outstrip our calculator’s registers: it’s the Rally de Ville.


We went through Tech in the midst of snow flurries, a delightful hint of what was to come. Snow’s what we hope for; snow’s what makes Winter rallies such a draw. And Totem did not disappoint: we had light coatings that looked like drizzled icing on a Bundt cake; we had 6 or 8 centimeters of slightly moist snow in granules, like beach sand; we had, early Sunday morning, some churned up brown slush. There was snow, snow, snow, gravel, and snow. Reliable wit Eric Horst opined, “The snowiest Thunderbird I ever saw was a Totem in 2009.”

What we didn’t have a lot of was ice — and no one was complaining. You might remember that the final section on Sunday last year was mostly ice and mostly hilly. Some 2-wheel-drive cars didn’t make it over, and some AWD cars struggled to. This year, there were lots of new-looking studded snow tires scratching their way around Cache Creek before the start.

Winter Scoring

To balance out the snow and ice, the B.C. winter rallies grant three flavors of time relief.

The first is a one-second-each-way grace period around perfect time. If your team crosses the timing mark up to a second before, or up to a second after, the time the rallymaster’s calculated, you get a zero.

The second type of relief expands the grace period after you’ve taken points. If churned up brown slush forces you to slow below CAST, and you’re, say, 20 seconds late into Control #1, you’ll take 19 points there — but if thereafter you’re able to hold the CAST, you’ll still be 20 seconds late into Control #2. It would be uncivil to give you another 19 points for the same shortcoming, so the grace period expands, for you alone, to encompass the amount you were late at the previous control. So your second 20 seconds late is accorded zero points. You can nibble away at your lateness up ’til the end of the section, and so long as you get closer to zero seconds off, you’ll not take any more points.

The final variety of relief is a garden-variety time declaration. Time decs were only recently adopted, and there’s still a certain distaste for them. Long time competitors disparage their use, preferring to just run late and take the points they take.

A time dec “should” only be claimed for delays out of one’s control… but that meaning is obviously fluid. We found a 400 pound Angus heifer standing sideways in the center of the road; it took us ten or more seconds to slow, avoid, and creep around her. Is that delay time-dec worthy? Normally we’d just hump it up above CAST and catch up — but this was on the slush, and I’d been near to my limit just to reach CAST. Faster wasn’t an option. Perhaps if the scores were, on average, larger, the hyper-competitive folks would be more willing to take the points — but ten points is about five places in Unlimited.

Saturday night scoring came together quickly (more about that in a bit), and Paul circulated the provisional scores. With his charming oscillating timbre, Paul the rallymaster always sounds slightly surprised. He had this comment:

“I’m going to be pressed to abandon Winter scoring.”


“We have multiple teams with one point.”

So we knew it was going to be tight. In Unlimited, it was 1-1-3-4-5 on Saturday night.

And, of course, Offs

Sad to say, the 4×4 truck didn’t make it to noon on Saturday. They slid off with enough forward vector to deploy the airbags, and the shaken co-driver wisely called a halt. The race-ready Golf wasn’t winter-rally-ready, and rolled early on. So far no serious injuries, and I trust it won’t spoil it for you if I say there were no serious injuries over the weekend. There were, though, plenty more excursions into the B.C. scenery. I think Sweep did six extractions the first day, from a field of 21 cars.

Saturday ran late into the evening. I guess it usually does, but I recall feeling surprise when I glanced at the Timewise clock just after the midpoint break, and it read 5:30:00. It was fully dark, and there were four sections left to run. Just before the start of the last section, barely outside Williams Lake, the snow was falling in earnest.

The route took a loop off the Frasier Road, and two control crews were heading in to their worker locations from the backside, running counter-course. After a long straight stretch, there was a flat-to-off-camber 90 right on the edge of a ravine, and the sticking snow at the outer edge lay atop withered grass. The leading car braked, set up, turned, and drifted just a skance wide — too much! Despite AWD and snow tires and a thorough driver warm-up on like conditions, there was not enough room to save it. They went forward, off the edge.

The folks in the trailing car either saw it or caught on very quickly, and were immediately on the radio.


DIGRESSION: If you do not hold a HAM license, stop reading this and go begin studying for the Technician level exam. You may pick this up again later.


The first radio report gave chills to everyone listening. The car was invisible, out of sight somewhere down in the trees. No one else was nearby. Cars #0 — #6 were already on course, but some 30km from the location. There was no cell coverage. The organizers quickly dispatched one of the workers towards town… and then there was a collective sigh, like a half a hurricane, as the workers in the leading car (who’d gone down the ravine) came on the radio sounding practically conversational.

We continued, on route, on time, following the rallymaster’s lead, along the quickest path to the spot. The hillside was steep, slippery, and unclimbable. Rescuers made up a lifeline of towstraps, and tossed one end down. We arrived just as the workers were pulled over the top. They and their bags were quickly bundled away to the hotel, seemingly no worse for wear. The car was left to slumber in the deepening snow, and (not to foreshadow too much) so too slept an overlooked control log.

The Twist

We went on on Sunday, while Ron stuck around Williams Lake to get the car. After the slushy first section, there was a lengthy regularity along Spring Lake that was simply marvelous, in deep, tacky snow, and lacking the usual underlayment of ice. Two more sections took us to the end. As usual, Sunday’s scores were better than Saturday’s. Back in Cache Creek, it appeared that both the front-runners had taken a single point on Sunday, and it looked like breaking a 2-2 tie would be necessary.

But the control log that’d been lurking in the ravine was retrieved with the car, and delivered to the rallymaster. That score sheet dealt a critical blow to one of the leading teams. With those latent scores included, the second place team had half again as many points as the winners!

That is, they had 3 points total, and the winners had 2.


I sense the day is near when a team will zero both days of a B.C. Winter Rally, and perhaps as close is the day when we’ll need to break a tie at that score. It could happen next February, at The Thunderbird. I strongly recommend that you go to The Thunderbird, and when you do, bring your two-meter radio. You never know when you’ll need it.

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