I didn't entirely have the heart (nor the time) to type this up immediately after I got back, and have been putting it off ever since. So, without further delay, I finally get around to the second day of the Oregon Trail Rally.
For this day we intended to go catch the first stage only. My flight was set to go out later that evening, and one of my friends decided that she wasn't feeling well enough to go along. She decided to stay behind, and so we wanted to get back in time to do lunch and have some time to hang out with her and chat before having to drop me off at the airport.
And so it was that Mark and I set off at some horribly early hour of the morning (7:30, I think it was) to grab breakfast and drive the hour or so out to where the stage was. On the drive out we chatted of this and that, and Mark recounted many highly entertaining stories about his undergraduate days. We realized part way out there that we had dressed for the wrong weather, as it started it rain. Fortunately it was off and on and never very hard. Hopefully it would at least keep the dust down a little, and not get any harder.
Having been warned by our experiences from the day before, we kept very close track of the map, the directions, and the odometer, and managed to get out to the stage with few problems. It turns out that our timing was perfect, as not long after we got a parking space spectators began to seriously flow in.
Spectator parking for these events is kind of entertaining. For Oregon Trail the stages are all out on dirt logging roads in the middle of a forest. Parking was all done by pulling over to the side of the road as much as possible on a one-lane dirt road. Once parked, there would be a walk to actually get to the spectator area on the stage.
Since the roads were all dirt, there was some concern about if we were going to be able to get out if the rain soaked the roads too much. Fortunately, the weather held for the entirety of the stage, and we didn't get noticeably wet. The sun even peaked out every now and then, though not for long.
The spectator area for this stage was along a bank at an intersection between the road we drove in on (and parked on) and the road the rally cars would be coming along. Both sides of the cross-road were blocked off by vehicles, preventing any of the spectator cars (or any other passers-by) from being able to accidentally drive onto the stage. From the bank we could see the cars come around a right-hand turn, go through a slight bend to the right, down a little dip in the road (where the other road intersected it), before vanishing around an uphill left. It turned out that the cars would be in front of us for about thirteen seconds. It was an even nicer vantage point than the one we were at yesterday!
We were lucky to have our pick of spots to set up, since we were there fairly early. Even so, the turnout was light that morning. At the time I wasn't sure if it was because of it still being fairly early, or if the rain was keeping some of the spectators away. In retrospect, I wonder if the accident of the previous day might not also have damped some people's enthusiasm to spectate...?
It was while waiting for the stage to start that we were told that the accident the previous day had been fatal. One of the marshals was wandering around chatting with folks, and Mark asked him what had happened to the crew in the accident the day before -- were they all right?
"They're dead," the marshall replied.
You know the cliche about how it felt like a blow to the stomach? There's a reason that it's a cliche, 'cause that's precisely what it felt like. Mark asked if it was both the driver and the codriver, and the marshall confirmed that yes, both of them were dead.
"Do they know what caused it?" Mark asked.
"Going too fast for the roads," the marshall replied. (After he had gone Mark and I both commented that we thought this a somewhat strange statement -- isn't the whole point of rallying going too fast for the road? Though I suppose I can see the marshall's point. The official police report on the accident estimates that they were going somewhere between 80 and 130 MPH. One lane. Dirt. Logging road. Trees. 80 MPH. Yeah. I would have considered 30 MPH to be a reasonable clip to be going at. More than twice that would be... interesting.
I asked who the crew was, figuring that it would be one of the club teams, as they tend to have less experienced drivers, and might have less high-end safety equipment than the factory-backed teams. I got another punch to the gut when he replied "Mark Lovell."
Now, I'm fairly new to following the SCCA ProRally, and don't know most of the drivers names. That one, though, I recognized. He had just won at Pike's Peak a few weeks back. It really didn't seem possible or real. My brain would take the idea and flick it back out, like a pebble being tossed off a moving wheel.
We chatted with the marshall for a while before he moved on to chase some spectators back into the designated areas. I don't know if the organizers were being particularly strict because of two spectators killed at a ClubRally event in Pennsylvania a few months ago or not. But either way, the marshals were very dogged in keeping the spectators inside the marked areas. After pondering a minute, Mark and I decided that as cool as it was to have a shot dead straight down the road, if a car had a serious problem, we were still low enough down the hill that it was within the realm of possibility that a car might be able to fly up and land on us. It was an insanely remote possibility, but under the idea of better safe than sorry, we moved a little further up the hill. This was just as well, since once we did, we realized that we had an even better view up there.
We didn't have that long to wait before the sweep car came by, followed a couple of minutes later by the zero car. Based off of our experiences waiting the day before, I was a little surprised at how smoothly everything went once things got started. (Now I realize that the stage we caught the day before was quite a bit unusual; at the time I was still fairly ignorant on what had happened.)
This stage had a little more excitement in terms of thrills and spills, though none of them were major in any sort of way. More like entertaining little differences throwing some spice into the mix.
There was one noticeable incident that was probably all the more entertaining because we could hear it, but not see it. On this stage, we could hear the cars coming for a ways. We heard one car headed our direction, then heard it abruptly slow, followed by the crackling of branches. We all looked at each other curiously -- clearly the car had just had an off-road adventure, though there was no *thunk* of the car hitting anything solid. A moment later we heard the car screaming in reverse, then get thrown into gear and floored like the driver were trying to make up for all the lost time by accelerating for all he was worth. When the car did appear, it looked to be undamaged from it's little excursion.
There was an exciting moment when the cameraman from the Speed Channel was leaving the stage. Before the stage went hot he had hiked a little way up the road, presumably to find a better vantage point to shoot from. After maybe a third of the cars came through, we saw him strolling back toward the spectator area. As there was no car around, no one paid him much mind. Before he got more than about half way back to the spectator area, though, we could hear a car coming in the distance. He continued to stroll down the road as the car got closer and closer. Before long, the spectators were shouting at him to get off the road. He eventually did, but not with a lot of time to spare. I have a picture of the car coming down the road, with him sprinting down the cross road.
You would, by the way, not believe how far these cars can chuck rocks. We were up a bank, and about oh, I don't know, 40-60 feet away and still got hit with a few rocks. The cameraman probably got quite a shower from where he was at!
We stayed through to the end of the stage. It went a lot faster than it had the day before, as the cars came through consistently at one minute intervals. Sadly, I did not see the pickup truck. Nor did I see the RSX Type-S. I don't know if they just didn't run (as several teams dropped out after the accident was announced), or if they ran and had retired on the previous day. Ah well.
We headed out, and got back onto the tarmac road with no problem at all. Mark's car handled all the rough roads with more aplomb and grace than one would usually expect from a high-end Accord. The poor car did look horribly embarrassed at being so dirty. (There did seem to be a certain amount of smugness under all the mud, almost like the crazed look in the eyes of campers who have been without modern conveniences for several days. That look of "wow, am I filthy. But you will never believe what I just went and did!")
Getting back to Hillsboro, we grabbed hoshikage and headed over to the Spaghetti Factory for lunch. The Spaghetti Factory is cool.
After lunch we headed back to their place to hang out until we needed to head out to drop me at the airport. I grabbed a Net connection and ran through a few of the rally related sites that I had the links to memorized, and checked to see if they had any news on the accident of the day before. By then of course it had started to hit the boards. Reality had started to sink in by that point, which was rather sobering. Yeah, I know that rallying is dangerous. But after watching so many stunning accidents that the crews either walk away from, or come away with relatively minor injuries (I mean, a broken rib from hitting something that is designed to stop TANKS? That's relatively minor), I think I've sort of picked up a feeling that the safety equipment in the cars can handle just about any eventuality. It was a rather rude awakening to have it shoved in my face that no, no matter what equipment you put in a car, there are times when it just won't be good enough.
Watching a truly preposterous episode of Knight Rider with hoshikage distracted me nicely for a while. She and I share an odd taste for trashy shows that almost no one else I know have, so it is always a treat to be able to have someone else to shriek with laughter with at things that would have most people groaning and fleeing the room. ^_^
After a few really quick rounds from the Kamen Rider Agito game (more trashy goodness), we headed over to the airport. Remembering taeriel's recommending Evanescence, I asked to listen to some. I have subsequently become addicted to their "debut" CD.
At the airport we made our farewells. I was glad to hear Mark enthusiastically reply that he also had really enjoyed spectating. I know that not everyone enjoys being dragged over all kinds of horrible roads to stand out in the sun and the rain and dust to watch cars driving by. I think hoshikage also had fun the day she came along on the spectating, though it was damped somewhat by her being in pain, and not being as much of a car geek as Mark and I. (*sheepish look* Car geek? Who, me? >.>)
Getting checked in took forever. I had to check a bag because I had forgotten that I had my pocket knife with me on the trip up. The lines were interminable, and eventually I tried the electronic check-in, which I had never done before and wasn't sure how it worked. That went surprisingly smoothly, and I had no problems getting to my gate after that. By that point in time I was starting to feel the cumulative effects of coming down off of a really fun weekend, the huge lack of sleep I had been getting over the weekend (and for several weeks previously), and getting depressed about the whole people being dead thing, so I was starting to get into a bit of a funk. The hour and a half flight home seemed to stretch forever. Eventually I gave up on reading, pulled out my laptop, and watched some anime. That distracted me enough that I managed to stop being restive for the remainder of the flight. Hooray for laptops!
Arriving home, I got to try something new and different -- taking BART back from the airport! Hooray! It's such a small thing, but I am totally jazzed that they finally have BART running to the airport. Considering that I live about a mile from a BART station, this makes my life incredibly convenient. About five minutes out from the station I called my roomie and he came and picked me up, sparing me a twenty minute walk.
Overall, I had a really excellent time over the weekend. Standing out in the woods hanging out with friends and watching cars go by was every bit as much fun as I expected that it would be. It's a real shame that hoshikage wasn't feeling entirely well, and I feel badly about dragging her all over the place (while selfishly being glad that I could combine visiting and watching cars -- two great tastes!!) I sometimes also feel a little guilty about having enjoyed the rally so much. It seems a little... I don't know, inconsiderate? to say that I had a great time at the rally. I mean, people. Dead. Not good. Not fun.
I continue to be impressed with the civility of the people in the rallying community. Within hours (some within minutes) of the official announcement at the driver's meeting on Saturday night there were people all over the world expressing sadness over the accident in Oregon. In the latest WRC round both works Subarus had a tribute to Lovell and Freeman on their rear wing, and one of the drivers for another team (and his codriver) wore a tribute to them on his helmet. I was really impressed that people at the topmost level of the sport would express sympathy for events that happened in a remote corner of Oregon. I dunno, maybe I'm easily impressed. But I still think more highly of the teams involved for their gestures.
I'm looking forward to heading out for Rim of the World next year. Hopefully it won't rain next time.