Rallying to the Artic – Part 2
- 21st April 2008, 4:16pm
Last week Jeff Zurschmeide brought us the beginning of the story of his epic adventure to the Arctic Circle in the Alcan 5000 Rally. Here he concludes this amazing tale....
Klondike Gold Rush
“If you survive the first three days of the rally,” said past winner Greg Hightower from Seattle, “then you get to the fun part.”
Before the group leaves Whitehorse on the fourth day of the rally, drivers get their first chance to really cut loose with their cars. Out on the frozen surface of Schwatka Lake, the Whiteout Snowmobile Club has carved a race course just shy of a mile long. Fastest time wins, so snow-blasting wipeouts are the order of the day. Overcooking a corner is a spectacular but generally harmless exercise, so drivers give it all they've got. Most try and fail to achieve the fully sideways, opposite lock driving style they've seen in the movies, and a couple of cars require the service trucks to drag them off of the 4-foot snow banks.
North of Whitehorse on the Klondike Highway, things change dramatically. Settlements, side roads, and even road signs come smaller and fewer as the road leads north. Luckily, the rally came through during a period of warm sunny weather, with temperatures above zero and clear blue sky.
On Top of the World
The Dempster Highway strikes out northeastward just outside of Dawson City. About 250 miles out along the highway, the Arctic Circle monument stands alone on the tundra, perched on an absolutely desolate rise with nothing but distant mountains in view. It’s an informative and picturesque structure, suitable for a grand photo opportunity.
After the circle, the Dempster Highway crosses into the Northwest Territories, and sometime after dark the rally cars roll into Inuvik. After dinner, wise rallyists hit their pillows early. The next day starts with another pre-dawn launch, and this is the most important day of the trip.
Tuktoyaktuk can be reached by car only in winter, using the ice road plowed over 109 miles of the Mackenzie River and the Beaufort Sea. The government has thoughtfully erected a little monument to mark the end of the line on the north end of the town, and that was our goal.
On the day the rally went to the end of the road, sunrise was at 8:45 a.m. and we wanted to be there for the dawn. Three cars suffered blown tyres (one car lost two) and one unlucky team bent a steering rod on the road’s many hazards.
The road crews plow the ice road to the width of a big city freeway, and give it the same kind of gentle curves. The road begs for speed, but we all knew the ice was a treacherous mistress. Still, the rally covered the 109 miles from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk in just under 90 minutes to greet the dawn.
Our parade of rallyists rolled into town and came to the end of the road monument for celebration and a few pictures. Then the sun cracked the horizon and we were treated to a visual drama unavailable anywhere else on Earth. The sun rises over the frozen Arctic ocean in shades of red, peach, and bright yellow, and the blue-tinted winter landscape shifts into the plain light of day.
Sunrises last only a moment, and when they’re done it’s just daylight. So with miles to go before you can sleep it’s time to return to the ice road, but now the road points south.
Heading for the Barn
After the visit to Tuk, the rally winds back through Inuvik and down the Dempster Highway to Eagle Plains, Whitehorse, and back into British Columbia for more TSD competition. The mood among the competitors changes at this point. People start to focus on their scores instead of the adventure that used to lie ahead. The Alcan was a grand adventure, but now it turns back into a serious rally.
After more rallying and ice racing around Whitehorse, the rally heads to Liard River and then Dawson Creek for more competition legs. The last day of the rally features a 40-mile intensive time-speed-distance rally leg, and then a short transit through Jasper National Park to the end of the route in the ski town of Jasper.
After everything you’ve seen and with thousands of miles under your wheels, the question of who won the rally might seem almost beside the point. But the people on the Alcan rally are among the top rallyists in North America, and they care deeply. This year’s rally was won by past champions Greg Hightower, Gary Webb, and Russ Kraushaar in a Subaru Impreza. The team finished ten days of competition with just 39.1 seconds of error. “The Alcan beats people down but if you look around you find a lot of goals being accomplished. I think everybody had reason to be proud,” Kraushaar said.
The second placed team of R. Dale Kraushaar and Glen Wallace was just 3.5 seconds behind the winners. This writer’s team finished third in the stock odometer class and 13th overall in a 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander.
In the end, it’s not that the people who enter the Alcan 5000 Winter Rally are terribly unusual. They’re computer programmers and diesel mechanics and accountants. What makes the people on the Alcan exceptional is simply that they made the decision to go - to point the car where other people don’t and drive it until the road ends. The Alcan is a trip that all those people who stick to the freeway will never know. When you make the journey in the company of friends, a simple road trip becomes the adventure of a lifetime.
For more information and photos of the Alcan 5000 Winter Rally, check out www.team-mitsubishi-alcan.com
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