More than any other human invention, the automobile has brought the remote parts of the world closer to average people. In the modern age, we simply need a reason to transform the dishwater-dull prospect of a long car trip into a thrilling adventure.
Several Portland-area drivers, including me, experienced such a journey last month as part of the Alcan 5000 Winter Rally.
The Alcan is a 10-day, 5,000-mile competition that takes participants from Kirkland, Wash., to the village of Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, located about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
Competitors make the trip in ordinary cars and SUVs outfitted with winter tires and a few key safety items such as two-way radios and tow straps.
'I wanted to see the north country in winter. This event offers great support, and the competitors take care of each other, so we decided to go,' says Portland's Frank McKinnon, a veteran of several other intensive adventure rallies such as the La Carrera Panamericana, which traverses Mexico.
Competition on the Alcan Rally is divided into three parts. Most of the final score is determined by a series of time-speed-distance rally legs.
In these segments, teams are given a route to drive and an average speed to maintain. Winning teams are those who pass hidden timing stations at exactly the correct times. Teams that are early or late earn penalty points.
The second part of the competition takes place on frozen lakes, where the organizers set up a small race track. Competitors drive the course as quickly as possible, and the winning car is the one with the fastest time on the ice.
The third challenge on the Alcan is simple endurance, and this is what sets an adventure rally apart from all other motorsports. In order to win the event, a team must make it to the finish line under the car's own power.
Covering 5,000 miles in 10 days is hard on people and machines alike, and the Alcan Rally is subject to some of the most extreme weather conditions in the most remote regions of North America.
'It's the challenge of both competing and completing the rally,' Paul Eklund of Tigard says. 'The Arctic in winter is a magical experience. Not a lot of people get the chance to see that.'
Together with his rally partner, Kala Rounds of Portland, Eklund won the Stock Odometer class on this year's event. In this class, competitors are limited to the car's stock speed and mileage equipment and a pocket calculator to determine correct time and speed. Eklund also dominated the ice racing portion of the event.
'It's exciting to win, because it's not easy to maintain correct course and speed for 10 days. It's a tremendous mental challenge, and we were very pleased to not make any errors,' Eklund says.
The overall Alcan Rally win went to Russ Kraushaar of Portland. Kraushaar's Subaru Impreza finished with just 39.1 seconds of error over the 10-day trial.
It's a rare thing when motorsports combines with natural beauty to produce a truly memorable adventure, but that's what the Alcan Rally is all about.
The next Alcan Winter Rally is scheduled for 2012. To read Jeff Zurschmeide's blog of the entire event, go to www.team-mitsubishi-alcan.com.