MIDNIGHT RUN 2010 RALLYMASTER'S REPORT
It had been so many years since we ran a rally through this area. I had been longing to get into the really, really long runs through really wide open spaces, and these are definitely some of the most interesting roads in the state. Of course, San Benito County, which evidently has NO money, does not actually have paved roads in the normal sense of the term. What they do have is a series of overlapping pavement patches, arranged in sort of a line that sort of looks like a road, but is probably more of a suspension trial and navigator stomach test.
LEGS 1 and 2
We started off with something I've been wanting to do for a long time - a parade lap. So the whole rally drove in a conga line from the Harris Ranch Inn to Start/SO 1,2. I thought it would be fun and it turned out it was, even though a brush fire started by a car fire on I-5, right where Coalinga-Mendota Rd. crosses it south of Standoff almost stopped the whole rally. We were lucky, and it provided just enough drama to add to the adventure without actually shutting us down.
Legs 1 and 2 took you out into the farmlands. I wanted some time in flat country to let you settle in and to give the navs time to get up to speed.
Both legs 1 and 2 were located on Butte Ave., and entered heading north. There were 5 separate sections of Butte Ave. on the Official Maps. Map 1 showed 3 sections: between Jayne and Gale, between Oakland and Fresno-Coalinga, and between American and Jensen. Map 2 showed the first 2 sections above (Jayne and Oakland) but not the third, and added a fourth section between Marmon and Dorris. Map 3 showed the section between American and Jensen, and added a fifth, northmost section between Shields and Ashlan. No one map showed all 5 sections. In order to help you keep understand the maps, I included a "master map" which showed the relationship of the maps to each other.
Standoff gave you the bearings to both Checkpoints. 1 was due east; 2 was on a heading of 20 north. 1 was easy. 2 was tricky only in that the needed section of Butte was not shown on Maps 1 or 2, which were the maps that showed the SO. If you plotted the bearing on Map 1, it crossed no indicated part of Butte. You had to look to Map 3, which did cover the area through which the bearing passed, to find the relevant part of Butte for CP 2. There was enough time to search the nearby section of Butte from American to Jensen if you didn't trust your bearing, but you had to move quickly to do it.
The first 2 legs were on the straight, farm roads of Fresno County. Leg 3 moved us into the Coastal Range for the first of many epic roads on this event - Panoche Rd. and Little Panoche Rd. As we ran this road on our way to get from Start over to our next work assignment at CP 3, we only saw 2 civilian cars on this 60 or so miles. A sign of good things to come.
On their way to SO 3,4, Group X had to pick up a Course Control near Tres Pinos, south of Hollister. It was not particularly difficult, but the intersection where you needed to turn was not signed with the correct road name. You had to turn based on the mileage to the intersection, but then you quickly passed a confirming road sign naming the road as Southside Rd.
In order to minimize local interest in our flashing light, we used a small one. By the time last car was through Standoff, this light was getting tough to see clearly due to some thickening fog/haze, but as far as we know, everyone saw it well enough to get a bearing. This was the only Checkpoint on the rally where you had ONLY the flashing light to go by, without an accompanying bearing or other reference. The source maps for Maps 4, 5, and 6 had north at an angle, not at the usual straight up on the page. So, you had to adjust for that also. That adjustment would also play a part at SO 5, 6, 7.
CP 3 was on Quien Sabe Rd. I had originally wanted to have only a handout which would have said, "Where is Checkpoint 3? Nobody knows." But, sadly, nobody on checkout knew what that meant either, so we went with the light.
As we were setting up the Checkpoint for 3, the full moon came up over the hills. It was so bright it was like a sunrise, with sharply etched shadows that at first appeared expressionistically long and stretched out, and then shrank down to a more representational size as the moon got higher.
On of my favorite stories from this rally happened at this Checkpoint. A few minutes before the appointed time, Car 1, David and Mike's white turbobrick, showed up and started creeping. A minute or so later, a second car pulled in behind them. After a short time, the second car turned on a bright, white spotlight, positioned high and outside over the driver's left shoulder. I said to Anita, "this can't be good." A moment later the red and blue lights started flashing and the County Sheriff pulled next to the Volvo and began a conversation with the creeping driver. "Just a scavenger hunt, Officer." The understanding Deputy nodded and drove away. Not really a lot going on in Tres Pinos at midnight on a Saturday night, I guess. Proving the value of keeping cool under all circumstances, David and Mike finished their creep and nailed the zero.
CP 4 was instructed as located on San Juan Grade Rd. The road started on the east end near San Juan Bautista as Salinas Rd., and then changed names to San Juan Grade Rd. at the Monterey County Line, so there really was no need for further instructions, as it had to be on the Monterey County section, as that was the road name listed in the routes.
Finding the road to 4 was kind of fun also, as you had to pick up San Juan Canyon Rd., off the main road, CA SR 156, and then find a poorly marked turn onto Salinas Rd. a very short distance later.
After CP 4, we headed out after the rally down towards Salinas. On previous runs, you'd come over the crest and, in one wide sweep suddenly the glittering lights of the Salinas valley all the way to the ocean would be revealed. On rally night, however, we crested the ridge and found a scene from a Japanese watercolor, with the hilltops like Dragons swimming in the sea of fog in the breathtaking moonlight.
Now you were into the longest break and midpoint of the rally. There has been some gang and street-racing-related issues in Salinas lately and the cops there are all over it, so as we came into town, some of the entrants saw a mess of cop cars with flashing lights arresting a bunch of guys with tricked-out import cars. At first it was panic, thinking the rally was being shut down. But then it was clear it was the locals getting popped this time. Guess there's not much to do in Salinas at midnight on Saturday either.
After the break there was a long run down the length of Carmel Valley Rd. A Course Control at Tassajara Rd. made it the preferred course. There were many unrelenting roads on this event, and this was a big one. Basically an hour to go about 40 miles on a road that shows up in almost every book with a title like, "Favorite Backroads," or "Best Backroads of California." It was easy to see why.
As I came into CP 6 to set up my light, it was painfully clear that none of our carefully placed lights in this area would be visible. So, none of the 4 or 5 hours Justin and Chris had spent working on the light setup with me would be seen by the rally. It's a big letdown, and an important factor in why we don't set up a light for every leg anymore. Why do we do it at all? It's just something we love to see on a rally. Come into Standoff and be shown that mysterious flashing light off in the distance. It's just cool. That's all there is to it.
So, CP's 5, 6 and 7 formed our little maze around the town of Greenfield. 5 was up on the west side, near Paraiso Springs. 6 was a trap getting into Standoff. It was on Thorne Rd., and was blocking one of the potential entrance routes to Standoff. We didn't catch anyone coming into Standoff, though some may have come through that way, but we did catch a few coming out. When you left SO, you had to make a quick turn onto Los Coches Rd. just after the river in order to avoid going backward through 6, Then, after 6, you had to use Los Coches a second time to avoid going through SO a second time, which was specifically forbidden by the Route Instructions.
CP 7 was on the far east side of the valley on Metz Road, near the cutoff to West Pinnacles. To get there you had to make your way through the town of Soledad. It was tricky, because if you made your right turn anywhere but at the right place, you got sucked into a neighborhood with no through streets, and no way out but the way you came in. But 7 was planned as a Passive Checkpoint, so no crew was there, and therefore time was not so much a factor.
After 7 you were into King City for first of two short breaks there. The preferred route took you south to Elm, and then over to the 101 for a quick hop into KC. Oh, and 101 didn't have an onramp at Elm. You had to dodge 2 blocks north through a tough neighborhood to get to the closest freeway entrance.
We had told you in advance the only gas station actually open at the 3 AM time we were there was the Arco at Broadway and the 101. For the first time in my memory, virtually all the name brand stations had the pumps unlocked and the credit card readers on, so, if you had plastic, almost everything was open.
CP 8 was undoubtably the toughest Checkpoint for Group X. Both the B/N and X Checkpoints for 8 were on the same road, Lonoak Rd., and both were to be entered heading east. But they were not in the same place. On two of his priceless and unforgettable "Lost Mines and Ghost Town" rallies, Ron Dunlop gave me the idea for this. The first time he tried it, he had all the Groups all coming into the same hose, but at offset times. So X would be 3.50 minutes behind B and N, meaning if you were X and Car 1, you would now suddenly find yourself creeping between cars 4 and 5. We watched as cars creeping would edge door to door and have, shall we say, discussions about their relative position in the creep line. One group X said to the CP crew, "there's a bunch of damn ***'s in some kind of parallel universe or something out there."
The second time he used it was on his epic, 40 hour, 61 Checkpoint rally, "The Gold Country, LM> Revisited." The last leg of the night was a splt, B's and N's into the first hose, X's into the second, further hose (by hose, I mean Inmarker, or Active Checkpoint). The way X's knew the first hose was not theirs was the wording of the CP location in the Routes. There were 3 roads intersecting the road on which we were traveling. The 3 roads were fairly close together. The B/N Checkpoint was between the first two roads; the X Checkpoint was between the second and last roads. When I came into the first one, which Ron was working, we practically had to break his arm before he admitted it wasn't my hose. Ethan and I were laughing so hard when we pulled out, I'm not sure how we made it that next hose.
On Midnight Run 2010, Groups B and N had Route Instructions which located Checkpoint 8 within 2 miles of King City. X only had the Passage Control sign showing "San Benito County Line", and the direction of entry. However, that was not all the information they had. The front page of the routes said each Passage Control sign was within 1.25 miles of its intended Checkpoint location. A sentence like that is on the front page of almost all our rallies. On MR10, just to keep my conscience clear, I included a sentence on the front page of the routes, amongst the warnings about road hazards and our entreaties not to litter, etc. It basically said that if you found a hose in a place not consistent with the Route Instructions or Generals, the leg would not be scored. That was to give the X'ers absolute certainty that the first Checkpoint they came to was not theirs.
There was a bit of twist in that the county line on the map crossed Lonoak in 2 places. The one closest to King City was about 7.5 miles out, and the farther of the two crossings of the county line was nearly 9 miles away. With that, X's had to figure that CP 8 would have to be, at the very least, 6 miles from King City.
So, when you came up to a hose about 1.7 miles east of King City, if you were B or N, you sighed relief and started creeping.
If you were X, you said something like "WTF, we have 10 minutes (or more), we can't creep this off!" If you braved it and went in early, or just said f*** it and went in anyway, the crew gave you a handout saying it wasn't an X Checkpoint, it was an uninstructed staffed control. Uninstructed staffed controls are most commonly used in an emergency capacity, for example to instruct you add time to a leg due to dense fog, wild fires, and so on, for safety reasons to prevent anyone from trying to make it anyway. Here, in its capacity for Group X as an uninstructed staffed control, it was the place specified in the Generals to turn in the Passage Control information from Leg 7. Everybody got that part right 3 cars managed to find the real CP 8X about 7.5 miles east before their max times.
After 8, you were on to a long Leg 9, and the very soft, very first light of the day would have been coming up in the east. CA SR 25 is a lush indulgence. Lots of long straights. Turns are very well signed. The reflector dots showing you the line. That was the Dr. Jekyll part.
Peach Tree Rd. and Indian Valley Rd. were the Mr. Hyde part. Fast as hell, but no lines or dots or warning signs. Even though some of it had been recently mowed, it was still very tough to see the lines due to tall weeds crowding the edges of the pavement. No potholes really, but a heaving, roiling ride on a surface pitted with a million little sinks, and punctuated with a million little bumps.
A challenge to be sure, but so good if you got it right.
Checkpoint 9 was instructed differently for B/N and X. B/N were told it was on Hare Canyon Rd. X 's were told it was on a road intersecting Indian Valley Rd., and was to be entered heading away from Indian Valley Rd. That gave Hare Canyon Rd., Cross Country Rd., and Bradley Rd. as your possible targets. Bradley Rd., the "T" at the end of Indian Valley, would have been possible in both directions, so that gave 4 possibilities total.
A few X'er's admitted to using their iphones or blackberries to locate the ranch named in the Passage Control sign, and had learned it was on Hare Canyon Rd. That was still not a certainty, since it could have been a big ranch with signs on more than one road, but, the info, plus Hare Canyon's position as the first of the possible CP roads you'd get to, made Hare Canyon the prime target. Working this event with only 4 worker crews dictated that 9 would have to be Passive.
Perhaps I should have mentioned earlier that we were giving handouts to Groups B and N at each Standoff or Checkpoint. These handouts were simply Google instructions to the next Standoff or Checkpoint. At 8 they had been given handouts for 9 and 10 and told that 9 was a Passive Checkpoint, and that they should find the Passage Control sign and write the requested information on their Control Card.
So, after 9, they knew how to get to 10, which was via the 101. They also had different instructions for Leg 10 than did Group X. B and N were told 10 had to be entered northbound. That meant it could be approached from the 101, running on the Checkpoint road, Oasis Rd., to its intersection with San Lucas Rd., then turning northbound into the Checkpoint.
Group X had Route Instructions that said 10 was on Oasis Rd, but entered heading away from San Lucas Rd. The old school way to do that would be to loop around west and come in via San Lucas Rd., but to take a route through the town of Jolon, and come up San Lucas Rd. to its intersection with Oasis Rd., so as to avoid traveling on the Checkpoint road in the wrong direction, was almost 45 miles. To use the 101 was about 32 miles, and they had 39 minutes for the leg. They had to use the time allowed, with the knowledge that the leg had to be timed below legal speed limits, to determine that they could approach 10 traveling in, for them, the wrong direction up Oasis Rd. to San Lucas Rd., then turn north onto Oasis Rd. and find the Checkpoint.
Working 10, we were watching the soft sunrise, canopied by some thin clouds, and a mere quarter mile south of us, in the direction from which the rally would approach us, was a wall of fog. It was very surreal seeing the lights of the row of creepers coming at us through the grey mist, floating back and forth like fireflies, before each one in turn would float down from the mist and creep out of the mist and into the Checkpoint.
After 10, into King City for another short break, short to keep you hungry for the feast at the Finish, and to help navs keep it together on the tough Los Gatos Rd. coming up. King City at 5AM was already awake and buzzing like the agricultural hub that it is. Map 6 gave a clear depiction of everything you needed to find Bitterwater Rd. Now in the bright light of a sunny and warm day, Bitterwater Rd. was one of the wider and smoother roads of the rally, well signed and very quick, and the entrants were enjoying the wind in their hair on their way to Course Control 4. CC's 4 and 5 were to give you something to do to keep you focused during the long run to Standoff 11,12, 14, and CC 5 was also used to provide you a mileage reference to check your odometer's accuracy for the upcoming Minimum Speed Leg 11.
Los Gatos Rd., also one of those roads in all the "beautiful back roads" books and magazine articles, was a seemingly endless, 53 mile, series of challenges and opportunities. Brief tight sections separating long valley runs, and several long series of sweepers alongside winding Los Gatos Creek, which drains the mountain-locked watershed into the deep blue and on this day, glistening Lake Hernandez.
We had a great run with Car 2 into Standoff. Two very well-matched cars pushing to the very limits of their engineering, and once in a while, a bit over those limits, the two drivers understanding each other's every move, as if they were telepathic. To get a run or two like this on a rally is worth all the time and money and effort it takes to get there.
Standoff 11, 12, 14 gave you a photo with headings to 12 and 14 (there was no leg 13), and a handout for 11, the Minimum Speed leg, giving you the miles from the nearest intersection. For these 3 legs, Groups B and N did not get the Google handouts, and they had been warned they would not be getting them. They got a more typical handout for their Groups, and had to figure their routes to the last 3 Checkpoints using only the maps.
These legs were intended to be a straightforward set of hoses to bring you into the Finish on a high of low scores. Mostly it worked. There were some curious occurrences though. Checkpoint 11 was a Minimum Speed Inmarker, meaning you had to maintain 30 mph into the Checkpoint. There was really nothing but some petro facilities on the road, and we hadn't seen anyone during any previous trips. Of course, on rally day it was different. Here is Nathan's account of the story.
The tale of the Walker.
Sunday morning at CP 11, about 8:00 AM, Rich and I were set up and waiting for cars. Much to our surprise, over the hill, walking in the morning sun, came a gentleman walking down the road on the west side. He was about 55, muscle shirt, shorts, tennis shoes. Curious as to who we were and what we were doing, he came over to talk to us.
Walker --- Hi, Guys, what'cha'll doing up here?
Rich - Oh, just a traffic survey.
Wallker -- There's no cars out here. You say it's a traffic survey???
Rich -- Oh, yes, sir, that''s right
Walker -- You working for the government?
Rich -- Right.
Walker -- Wonder why they're doing this. Don't really trust the government.
Rich -- Don't really know. We''re just doing our job
Walker -- You probably won''t get more than one or two cars all day
Rich -- Oh, well, we just go where they tell us.
Walker -- Think they''re doing this about the repaving out here?
Rich -- Who knows, it's the government.
Walker -- Who sent you out here anyway?
Rich -- It's a government job. People at UC Santa Cruz called us.
Walker -- They're a bunch of idiots. There's no cars out here. Stupid Government.
And, like the avatar of Homer Simpson, he wandered off. Somehow, I managed to keep a straight face and nod along with Rich. Then the rally showed up. After all the cars had gone through, and driven past the Walker up the road, we were picking up the Checkpoint when the Walker returned to us.
Walker -- You guys done?
Rich -- Oh, yeah, we got our quota.
Walker -- Quota?
Rich -- Yup, once we got fifteen cars, we're done.
Walker -- Those guys were goin' pretty fast.
Rich -- Sure were.
Walker -- Wonder where they were going?
Rich -- I have no idea what they were up to.
Walker -- Strangest damn thing. There's never any cars out here. What's the damn government up to?
Rich -- Well, we're all done now. See you later.
Walker -- Have a nice day.
Rich -- You too.
The Walker now had a story to tell his friends about those UC Santa Cruz Government people who happened to show up doing on a traffic survey in the middle of nowhere. just when fifteen cars suddenly appeared for no reason on a Sunday morning. Twilight Zone time.
Many thanks to all those who participated in this event. Special thanks to all the great people from NASIOC who came out and ran this rally. And our most sincere and heartfelt thanks to the people who gave so generously of their time to help put this together. Justin Murphy and Christopher Wassenberg for the long hours setting up the lights, Rachel Smith, Rich Nohr, Nathan Harris, Larry Scholnick, and Anita Lampert for running a grueling, all-night checkout. Paul McGaffey for hours and hours of work posting notices on all kinds of websites and club bulletin boards. Rachel, Rich, Nathan, Anita, Justin and John Searight for working and scoring the event. Many thanks also to the wonderful people at Harris Ranch Inn who provided such great food and hospitality. They really made us feel welcome.
In the weeks and months and years after a rally, it's very clear that the competition itself is not what matters, but the great stories we get to tell about the adventures, mis-adventures and near-adventures we've had. All those roads, all those hours, all blend together into something a bit beyond the pale. We get to say, "hey, I did that". "I drove those roads. I found all those intersections and made those turns. We stayed up all night just so we could have the roads to ourselves."
"And we were really, seriously, hauling -- for the whole freakin' 14 hours."
And that, dear friends, is what we are about.
We hope to see you October 23 for Harvest Moon in Santa Clarita.