On day three, everyone on the AMSOIL American Adventure rally awoke in Lake Placid, New York, and the views from the lobby of the hotel were simply stunning.
The mist hanging over Mirror Lake—the actual Lake Placid was just down the road—gave the sleepy little ski town an almost ethereal feel, and I probably shot two dozen photos trying to capture the majesty of the moment.
The night before, all the teams had competed in a hockey challenge, which saw everyone walking on the ice at Herb Brooks Arena. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the place where the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team—a huge underdog at the time—defied the odds and defeated the heavily favored Soviet Union to take the gold medal. To call that victory a big deal is a huge understatement: In 2008, the International Ice Hockey Federation named the game number one on its Top 100 Stories of the Century.
The ice wasn’t nearly as slippery as you might think, but plenty of people fell down anyway—and that was before everyone hit the bars.
We were on the road before the mist had lifted, and after making some pit stops at the city’s Jack Shea Arena—and a couple of other local landmarks, Ben, Eric and I were headed to Fort Crown Point on the border between New York and Vermont. The fortification was originally constructed in 1759, to protect the American colonies from French aggression. But unlike Fort Ticonderoga, it was unrestored. Fortunately, there was enough of it left to make me glad I wasn’t born early enough to be an 18th Century conscript.
This stop was chiefly distinguished by Ben discovering that team America—maybe you can guess where the name came from?—had left the keys in their vehicle, so he kindly moved it a five-minute walk away. Given the fact that Beast of Bourbon’s luggage was being left unsecured in the bed of the truck at each stop, it was a risky move, which fortunately never spurred any retaliation.
After exploring the ruins of Fort Crown Point, we crossed the Lake Champlain Bridge, and were back in Vermont.
The scenery continued to impress, and the first thing we did once back in the Green Mountain State was head to an autocross course set up in the parking lot of a ski resort. Now, since the AMSOIL American Adventure is a competition, we were obviously going to be timed on our performance.
Unfortunately, there’s a reason you don’t see a lot of pickup trucks outfitted for the precision-driving exercise—they’re unwieldy and just not suited for it. But while both of the boys managed to pull off respectable times, the highlight of the day was 14-year-old Carter Boles’ performance in the windy little circuit. Because while he didn’t come out on top, he didn’t nail any cones along the way, which was particularly impressive given that racer Bill Caswell had taught him to drive stick—on Team Brickyard Bowtie Bandits’ C7 Corvette—just moments before ripping around the course.
It was one of those random rally moments, and I was glad to be there to see it.
We spent the rest of the day chasing the competing teams around Montpelier, where all the AMS American Adventure teams basically accosted tour guides at the State Capital Building to locate a few certain artifacts. At dusk, we finished up at Northeastern Speedway—”the Birthplace of Motor Racing in Vermont”—where we faced the day’s final challenge: navigating the track’s steeply banked oval as slowly as possible. It was the only challenge I actually drove for all week, and the combination of my lead foot and the Ram’s predictably epic turning radius took Beasts of Bourbon out of contention immediately. As a unapologetic speed freak, I’m completely unashamed to say I failed miserably.
I didn’t spend too much time lamenting my disappointing performance, however, as the next day, the rally was headed to the destination I was most excited about: Team O’Neil Rally School.
Since you’re reading this on AutoNation Drive, it’s reasonable to assume you like cars, and if you like cars, you know that rally driving is incredibly tricky. I have a decent amount of experience on pavement, but some of the techniques drivers utilize to navigate twisting forest roads at such a furious pace are often counter intuitive, and to be honest, I struggled on the muddy skid pad.
The objective of the exercise was to keep the gas pedal on the little Ford Fiesta pinned, and steer the car by pounding the brake and getting the rear end to rotate in relation to the skid pad center point. And it’s hard—so now I know another thing I’m bad at. I did better on the slalom course, however. After spinning the car, I found my rhythm and was able to successfully whip the little Ford Fiesta through the cones without incident.
Ben and Eric were as pumped as I was about rally school, and honestly, the rest of the final day was kind of a blur. As we stood on the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire just a few hours later, I couldn’t help but think about how surreal it was that I was going to get on a plane and fly home to Seattle the next morning. So it was easy to be reflective when we arrived at the rally’s final objective, a lighthouse on the coast of Maine. The sun was setting, and it was beyond beautiful. None of us could think about a better way to end the week.
In the true spirit of the rally, I don’t want to identify exactly where we were. I’ll just say it’s not too far from Portland, and the are ruins of an old american military officer’s manor are there, along with a lighthouse. Trust me, if you look, you’ll find it… Eventually.
Big time thanks to Ben and Eric Nelson for letting me tag along on this trip of a lifetime. If you have the means to do it, I can’t recommend the AMSOIL American Adventure enough. It’s a true celebration of everything we can experience in our great country by car, and in a day and age when vehicles are used for recreation less and less, this rally serves as a powerful reminder about just how much awesome fun you can have by hitting the road. With any luck, I’ll be back next year!