NOVEMBER 11, 2006


This was one of those rallies that was a beautiful experience from start to finish. My first run over Labor Day was on a warm, clear day. On Leg 2, I had a perfect run up Lake Hughes and Pine Canyon, encountering no cars to pass the whole way. When Nathan Harris and I took a run to place Standoffs for the lights there was a mild Santa Ana, keeping it clear and warm. I made one other run, again on a nice day. Checkout turned out to be really nice. The leaves were changing colors. It was crisp in the mountains, and then warm by the time we got to the desert.

The rally itself looked like rain at the Start. I saw rain on Legs 2 and 3, and then again on 7 and 8. California 178 saw it get chilly and windy, and by the time we got to Randsburg the wind was pretty strong, and it followed us to the Finish. Just enough weather to add a little bit of drama.

We started things a little bit differently this time. Routes and Maps were posted on the website on Monday night before the rally, and by the time they got to Start, most teams had worked their way through the course. As usual, some adventurous souls arrived at the last minute with exactly zero prep. I, personally, love teams like this, because that's precisely the way I did my first few rallies. I even showed up solo the first time I did a Monte after my navigator bailed at the last minute. I'm eternally grateful to the original ITN team, especially Marcel Lange, and Eric Paulsen's Mom and Dad, for letting me run that night, because I became hooked for life.

Anyway, by the Barstow Restart, everyone had finally read the Generals as well as the Routes and Maps. In fact, not only did every single car still on the course by that time find Checkpoint 14 in the Barstow railroad yards, but they all had the appropriate Course Control information on their Control Cards as well.

Thanks to everyone who ran and worked. It was an experience I'll never forget.

So, on to the critique. Here's the route we expected you to take, and how we expected you to figure it out. Since Experts got no information other than the Routes and Maps, and whatever they could observe from other cars, we'll take the Critique from the Expert point of view. You can download pdf's of the routes and maps from our home page if you'd like to follow along.

Leg 1 was a quick one to get you started, and it involved searching for the Checkpoint, which was on a road intersecting Whitherspoon Pkwy in Castaic. Since it was entered heading away from Whitherspoon, and there was no Passage Control sign since the Checkpoint was specified as being staffed, the search was a straightforward one. The only question was Commerce Center Pkwy, into which Whitherspoon "T's", and therefore which had to be used to reach Whitherspoon. The only way to reach the road you needed to use to get to the other possible roads was itself a hot road as well.

The Generals say there will be no "coin toss", meaning you won't have to guess. If there is a Checkpoint, you must have a way to determine where it is. But in this case, no information was given to Experts, although everyone else was told Commerce Center was Safe (meaning without a Checkpoint, Generals B.10.). If there was no way to determine which way to go, then it must not matter, since there is no "coin toss". I admit that's quite a leap. And you'd have all that nagging doubt. Did you miss something? Was there another way to get there? What was it? You could spend as much time as you wanted thinking about it; there was no answer.

However, I admit if I was entered in the rally, this would drive me crazy, and I'm sure it did our Experts. The only logical solution was to spend as little time as possible on Commerce Center, so time was allowed for Experts to go up the 5 to Haskell Canyon and come back into Commerce Center from the north, i.e. via the short end.

The real challenge of the leg was to find the Checkpoint. It was on a cul de sac at the very end, and the timing car was pretty well hidden from Whitherspoon. Cars were going in all directions looking for it, so it was hard to benefit from observing the behavior of other entries. Once you got on Whitherspoon, you were expected to visually search each intersecting road. Of the first 3, one you could see to the end. Then one had a curve and the last a small brow, so you had to go a short distance down each road until you could see the end, then quickly u-turn and head back to Whitherspoon. At the last intersection, Ave Penn, you could slow down and look right, where you would see the box. Some folks were so fixed on the longer road to the left that they turned left without looking right. Ave Penn that way went all the way back to Commerce Center, so that left turn generally meant a late at the hose.

Leg 2 was about the drive up Lake Hughes Rd and Pine Canyon Rd. But, of course, there was a bit of a puzzle. Course Control 2 as at the intersection of those roads just mentioned, and it had to be turned in at Checkpoint 2. That gave you a choice. Checkpoint was entered heading east. Was it on the near portion of Pine Canyon or the far portion? You could loop into either one to head the right way.

You had enough time on Leg 2 to turn right at CC 2 and go east to Munz Ranch Rd, then take Lancaster Rd to 138 to Three Points Rd to an expected Checkpoint location just east of the town of Three Points. However, even if the Checkpoint was all the way back on the east end of N2 (Pine Canyon Rd) near Lake Hughes, you did not have enough time on Leg 3 to run that loop a second time to get to Checkpoint 3. It was a minimum of 39.1 miles and you only had 33 minutes on Leg 3. Therefore, Checkpoint 2 had to be between Three Points and the Old Ridge Route, entered via Old Ridge. So, out of CC 2 you should have turned left, gone to Three Points, up to 138 and west over to Old Ridge.

Checkpoint 3 was on a road about 5 miles long, so there wasn't that much to search. The Passage Control picture showed gas stations in the background. Anyone with local knowledge would realize that it was Gorman in the picture, and the front page of the routes said any active Checkpoint would be within a mile of the Passage Control sign.

After 3 you had a short break for fuel along I-5. Leg 4 had no Standoff, but you were given a defined area south of Arvin and told the westbound checkpoint would be visible from a road on the west. So 4 would have to be on an east-west road, so you'd want to search each possible intersection where there was an east-west road to the east of the intersection.

The best search pattern would have been to exit I-5 at Sandrini, and head east to Adobe to look at Sandrini east of Adobe. Finding no Checkpoint there, the next logical move would be to head north on Adobe for a mile to the intersection with Teale and check out Teale east of Adobe. Again no Checkpoint there. Now a choice, either of which would work. You could go back down to Sandrini and take it over to Wheeler Ridge, or you could head east on Teale to Wheeler Ridge, then go south a mile to Sandrini. Both routes were the same distance.

If you had not found a Checkpoint on Sandrini east of Wheeler, you would have gone north on Wheeler to Herring and continued searching from there. However, the Checkpoint was visible on Sandrini from Wheeler. Of course, you had to make the connection that you would be looking at the back of the Checkpoint, not the front, so the Checkpoint sign on the box would not be visible. Having identified the Checkpoint location, you had to head down to David to take the 8 mile loop to get back into 4 in the correct direction.

After Checkpoint 4, the Expert course split off from the rest of the rally to get Course Control 3 on Bena Rd. Everybody else went to Standoff 5,6,7,8. All those Checkpoints were on Caliente-Bodfish Rd., entered in alternating directions: 5 away from Bodfish, 6 towards, etc. Since the time allowed dicatated that there was only one possible arrangement for these Checkpoints, Experts were not given any Standoffs, and CC 3 was used to equalize the times for the courses. Since CC 3 was for Experts only, a trap was added. There were 2 identical signs on course, at substantially different mileages. Experts had to reject the first sign, because it was at the wrong mileage, and continue until they found the second sign at the correct mileage.

Standoff gave everyone else the order: 5 south (west) of Caliente, 6 between Caliente and Walker Basin, 7 entered southbound and requiring use of the Walker Basin loop to get around and enter correctly, and finally the same loop again to get back to Caliente-Bodfish northbound and find 8 just as you came into the town of Bodfish.

Next was another break, slightly longer this time so you could grab some drive-thru. It was around 4pm and starting to move towards sunset.

Leg 9 we owe to Marcel Lange, who first used this very same trap nearly 20 years ago. We call it the Kelso loop. Checkpoint was on CA 178, entered heading away from Onyx. At first glance, you'd think it would be past Onyx, i.e. to the east. But it could also be to the west, and 178 was only Safe (as in having no Checkpoints) west of Paul's Place. If the Checkpoint was west of Onyx, it would require you to use the loop south of 178 taking Kelso Valley Rd to Kelso Creek Rd., and then head west into 9. Aggressive rallyists would be inclined to use this loop and search the relevant westbound part of 178 just as normal procedure. Further, a speed was given for most of 178 (60 mph), and Checkpoint 10 was on a short piece of road. This allowed you to work backwards from 10 with mileage and determine conclusively that you would have time on 10 to take that Kelso loop a second time to get out of 9. So on 9, at the very least, you'd want to stop at the intersection of 178 and Kelso Valley and look ahead very carefully.

This is where the mysterious Course Control X would come into play. A car was parked ahead on the right, but facing you, i.e. parked the wrong way. In front of it were 2 signs: "ITN ALL" and "CONTROL X". Although Controls have a magnetic effect, you could stop at the intersection and check the Route Instructions, which stated that if you entered X and it was on your right, you were required to stop. However, if it was on your left, you did not have to stop, and there was no penalty. If you thought very quickly, you would realize that CC X was being used to catch people going backwards through 9, which, due to the speed and volume of traffic on 178, would have to be a Passage Control. This was corroborating evidence that 9 was between the ends of the Kelso loop and you'd want to head off to your right down Kelso Valley Rd.

After finding the Passage Control for Leg 9, you'd take the loop a second time, perhaps a little more briskly now that you had been through it once and seen what was around each turn, to get back to 178 and head east.

It was getting dark now, so you might not have gotten to see much of the beautiful scenery on this part of 178. For 33 miles it winds in between 3 wilderness areas before crossing Walker Pass and snaking down into the vast desert to the east. We had tried to time the rally so you would get to the desert just as it was completely dark. I was at Checkpoint 10, and I watched as the entire rally came over the pass and down the serpentine highway heading inexorably toward me. As the first cars started creeping into 10, the last cars were just coming over that clear cut line of the ridge of the south end of the Sierras. There was no moon, and the sunset seemed to linger forever as the sky filled with more stars then any one of us can possibly imagine.

Standoff 11,12,13 greeted all but Experts with 2 flashing lights, one being shared by both 11 and 13. Although Experts were not officially given any information here, we realized it would possible for them to suss out which light was for which Checkpoint. With or without any information, Experts were expected to solve the puzzle as follows. 11 and 13 were on opposing roads that meet in a 3 way intersection with another road. (Please look at the routes and maps if you want the full story.) Again, time on each leg told the tale. With the long west loop through Garlock required out of Standoff, there was only one way to reach Checkpoint 11 in the time allowed. It had to be north of the 3-way intersection. You didn't have time to get to the south end of the other possible road.

There was only enough time on Leg 12 to get to Goler Rd heading north, and getting there from 11, you had to watch your mileages closely because the road names were a bit ambiguous on the maps. After 12 you had just enough time to take the west loop into Garlock a second time, and get down US 395 to the south end of Red Mountain Rd. and go up into 13.

Leg 14 included a very short break for a splash of gas before the longest break of the rally upcoming in Barstow on the next leg. There was a station in Johannesburg, just after 13, but I caught the guy closing an hour early as I went through just ahead of the rally. The pumps were still working, but on plastic only, and I filled up. I hope anyone else who needed to was able to.

To break up a long, boring, high traffic stretch, we threw in 3 Course Controls and the break to keep you busy, even though local traffic is running around 80-85. Checkpoint 14 was on Riverside Dr. in Barstow, behind the old train station. I was working this Checkpoint, and watched the Amtrack from Chicago pull in past the old Harvey House, wait about 20 minutes, and then pull out again.

As mentioned above, all cars still on the course found this Checkpoint, and had all their Course Controls. Finding the Checkpoint of course was not easy. You had to make a tricky right just as the old highway climbed the bridge over the Mojave River, and then go back around under the same bridge to find Riverside Dr.

After the rally had gone through, just as I finished packing up the Checkpoint kit, the Barstow PD showed up. They'd gotten a call about some cars racing in the area. I explained it was more like a scavenger hunt, and Checkpoints like the one I had just completed were used to encourage people not to go over the speed limit. The young officer in his black SWAT-style uniform said, "So, it's like a car rally?" "Yes, Officer," I said. "Pretty much exactly like a car rally." "Cool," he says, "Have a good night." You too, Officer. You too.

After the Barstow break came the rally's only Restart, and Leg 15 featured no penalty for early arrival. Most European rallies run all their transit (non-stage) legs with this method. Get to the Control at or before your target time and there's no penalty. There's no need to creep here.

At the time of night we went through, this was a wonderful drive. Many thanks to the engineers at CalTrans for that stretch of CA 247. The toughest part of this leg should have been the turn onto North Side Rd. It was hard to see, even going slowly, because the street sign was in some brush. North Side itself lacked lines of any kind and was very hard to pick up in the dark.

By Leg 16 it was time to head for the end of the rally, so we went straight down 247 to Yucca Valley, and then down CA 62 to the top of Indian Hill Rd, the hot road for 16, in the wind farm area west of Desert Hot Springs. Again, we put in a Course Control to break up the long run. 16 turned out to be a Passage Control, but getting there was the key to Leg 17. You were told in the Routes that 17 would be visible from the PC sign for 16. So, once you got there, you needed to look carefully, because 17 could be in any of the other 3 directions at this crossroads.

As it was, you could see the Checkpoint for 17 just to your right, on Pierson Blvd. It might have taken a second look, since that Checkpoint car hadn't worked until then. David was spending the weekend in Palm Springs and the timing worked out just right for him to work this Inmarker.

To get to 17 from 16, you'd need to come in from the west end to enter correctly. The Preferred Route would take you down Indian Hill and then over to old 29 Palms Highway.

Now the question was, whether or not to get Course Control 8 on your way to 17. If you had come early into 15, since there was no penalty for it, and then even earlier into 16, since it was a long run and turned out to be Passage, you might have easily had enough time to get CC 8 as you left 16. However, if you looked at the time allowed for 17 once you knew where 16 was, you would have seen it was about 2 minutes short of what you'd need to get CC 8. The Preferred Route took Dillon Rd west to old 29 Palms Highway, and then north to Pierson and into 17.

So, after 17 was the intended time to get CC 8. And then after that you had to use CA 62 south to get to the I-10 west. for 2 exits to get to Railroad Ave. Of course, this looked simple but wasn't. First, coming down 62, it's the LEFT lane that counter-intuitively goes west. If you weren't watching carefully, you were on your way to Blythe. Second, Railroad isn't mentioned on the signs at the exit you need to take to get to it. It's the first exit west of the rest area marked on the map. You had to take it on faith. And it's a long way to the next exit west if you miss it.

If you found the exit, it was an easy run into the last Checkpoint, although it was a bit strange having the headlights from the eastbound 10 coming at you at a 130 mph closing speed. By the way, if you miss an offramp, and realize right away that it was your exit, you can't legally go the wrong way up the corresponding onramp, but you can legally BACK UP on any road, including the onramp, as long as you do so safely. So, pull off to the right shoulder after the onramp merges to the freeway, then carefully back up the shoulder of the onramp, stopping each time traffic passes you on the onramp. I once did this as a CHP sat and watched me. It's surprising what you can learn by reading the Vehicle Code.

The Casino Morongo is not our usual type of Finish location. I thought it might be kind of different. It was a disaster. I had asked hotel management where we could meet without being charged, and they recommended Studio 360, a nightclub on the top floor, so I called them, spoke with a manager, and made the arrangements. When I called Friday, the day before the rally, to confirm, the club manager informed me there'd be a charge of $150 per table and we'd need 2 tables. After a long conversation, I talked him out of it. Then, when we arrived about midnight, the manager said we'd have to pay $10 each cover charge. After a quick recon, I found the lobby for the meeting rooms empty, so I returned to the manager and told him we wouldn't need the tables after all, and that he could put them in the obvious place. Security came about 5 times, eventually leaving several big guys with earbuds to watch us.

Scoring for the event took place on Tim's office table at home. Cell phones have completely changed the way we can score these things. Results were faxed to the casino, and we were waiting with them as the last car arrived. The rally was scored before the last car got to Finish.

In spite of the trouble, the impromptu Finish location actually was really good in a way. As we waited for the last car to arrive, we swapped stories around the circle. It turned out to be a great ending to a wonderful experience. Thanks to everyone who worked or ran. See you at Standoff.