It's about 9:00pm, early in August,
1986. I'm sitting at the navigators
station on my sailboat, Harlequin Pup, at the Port of Everett Marina, paying
some bills when the phone rings.
is this Steve?"
my name is Ken Maytag. Jerry Hines told
me to give you a call. He said that you might be interested in navigating for
me on the Alcan Rally in September."
gee...uh....didn't Jerry tell you that I have been out of rallying for a while?"
but he said you were capable, and had the kind of experience I was looking for,
and thought you could get right back into the swing of it, assuming you had any
desire to go of course."
been cooped up in this boat for the better part of 4 years, I realize that
while the cruising life has been wonderful, it really would be nice to do a
little rallying again. Besides which
I've been thinking of selling the boat and moving back onto hard ground again anyway.
Ken, I just might be interested. Maybe
we ought to get together and talk about it."
great. I live near Santa Barbara but
plan to be in Seattle, next week and maybe we can meet then. We'll have dinner."
like a plan. Give me a call when you
get into town."
week later Ken called to say that he was staying at the Sheraton in downtown
Seattle, and that I should come down the following evening for dinner.
brushed the mildew off my sport jacket and met Ken the next night at the four
star Fuller's Restaurant in the Sheraton.
Pretty fancy I'm thinking. It's
a good thing I brought my Visa.
was excellent and when Ken asked the wine waiter to show us what Cognac they
had on hand, I patted my back pocket just
to be sure my wallet was there.
seemed to be pretty smooth and knew the ropes when it came to the good life and
I had the opinion that he dined like this regularly.
do you do for a living Ken?" I asked sheepishly.
silence that followed almost caused me to loose the Chateau Briand that had
tasted so good about 45 minutes before.
My God, I thought, I've just had dinner with a drug cartel kingpin or
said Ken, a little uneasily, "Actually, I guess... I don't do
was getting worse!!
father," he went on, " was chairman of the board of the Maytag
felt like crawling under the table but I decided the other patrons wouldn't
understand. At any rate, we had a very
nice meeting and decided that we (three of us actually) could manage to get
along for eleven days in Ken's Audi 5000CS Turbo Quattro. The third member of our team was to be Glenn
Bjorkman of Goleta, California. Glenn
is a corporate pilot for a California company.
A very good driver in his own right, Glenn is currently racing a Formula
Mazda in his spare time.
pulled my Curta Model II out of storage and cleaned it up for the ordeal
ahead. I had purchased it in 1968 for
use by my then navigator, Brian Dearmin, on rallies such as Nor'wester, Oregon
Trails, Ponderosa, Long Days Journey Into Night, and many, many others. I had never navigated on any of those
rallies but in the process of driving so many of them, some of the finer points
of Curta operation naturally rubbed
on my boat, I sat at the navigators station (quite appropriate I thought) for
hours, practicing cranking the Curta along with a stopwatch, making early-late
calls, speed changes, pauses and whatever other skills I thought I might be
needing. I put together factor tables
and all the other rally paraphernalia I thought I would need. It wouldn't be quite right going into this
thing completely cold and unprepared, would it?
was to be the third running of the Alcan 5000.
Ken and Glenn had run it the previous year in a GMC Suburban. They finished, but since they had a total of
one previous rally's experience between them they were a bit unsure of how
things were done and understandably didn't fare too well. But they were really getting into this
rallying thing by now and wanted to whip the world next time out so they
brought along the "hired gun" ... me. Right.
were flagged off the start from Bellevue's Greenwood Inn on Saturday,
September, 20th. As car number 11, we
were part of a 30 car field which included none other than: Pro Rally champion
John Buffum with navigator Tom Grimshaw and Richard Hughes as back-up driver,
also in a Audi; nationally renowned Gene Henderson with Navigator Mike VanLoo,
in a Subaru; off-road celebrity Rod Hall with navigator Jim Fricker, in a Dodge
Raider; Gary Sowerby, internationally recognized adventurer with his navigator
Greg Turner, in a Suburban; and the omnipresent Satch Carlson with Bob Chandler
and Elliott Nelson, in a Saab 900.
Bringing up the rear of this odd caravan was, amazingly, a 29 foot
Rockwood motor home driven by Richard Gordon and Rob Rissberger who were using
the rally as a publicity vehicle for their after-market motor home equipment
business. Like us, there were 4 other
teams who chose to run with a three-man compliment.
had decided that during the TSD sections, the best way to work the three man
system was for the "timekeeping" navigator, me, to sit behind the
driver, Glenn, and look between the seats at the odometer which was in front of
the "course-and-mileage" navigator, Ken. For the first 5 or 6 years, the Alcan did not allow computers,
only hand held calculators which were to be totally independent from car input,
and auxiliary odos. For mileage we were using a Timewise 547 "B"
box. This had quite a large and
readable mileage display which I could see very well from the back seat, day or
first half of the route would take us from Bellevue, over the North Cascades to
Winthrop, then all night to Jasper and on to Fort Nelson in extreme northern BC
for our first overnight stay. From
there we drove into the Yukon and Dawson City.
From Dawson City it was over the Top of the World Highway to Tok
Junction Alaska, and then on to Anchorage, for our first major rest halt at the
rally midpoint on Thursday, the 25th.
we headed out of Bellevue toward our first TSD section north of Darrington, Ken
and Glenn thought it might be a good idea to practice some average speeds while
we were on the highway and without the pressure of the "real thing." This sounded good, in theory, but I hadn't
really planned for this contingency.
ahead and give us some calls at 62 miles per hour Steve," said Ken. "Yeh...OK," I
responded." Uh... just let me get
the factor...uh... what did I do with my tables....uh...damn, my tables don't
have 62...uh...just a minute I'll calculate the factor ...uh ... where is my
calculator...uh...OK, now I have it...let me see...we can't zero the ODO
because we're on an ODO check...uh, let me see...uh...time...I need to start a
went on for several miles and during this confusion I noticed Ken and Glenn
giving each other sidelong glances.
Eleven days, they're thinking, what have we gotten ourselves into?
finally arrived at the start of the TSD on the outskirts of Darrington, never
having had even one time call by me during the ODO check. After a visit to the woods, we piled back
into the car and pulled up to the out marker as our out time of 2:41pm approached.
guys," I said, "zero the ODO ."
could cut the tension in the car with a knife.
pulled gradually away at about 2:40:50 and got up to our average speed. I started my analog, decimal reading
stopwatch precisely at 2:41:00 and we were on our way.
eight," I called. "Up
five...up two...down two...up one...on...on...up one..."
went on every two tenths of a mile for the entire 20 mile section. Ken was busy
dialing in the factor and correcting mileage as needed and Glenn was quickly
getting into the rhythm of averaging a speed.
He later commented that it was much like flying an airplane. First you stop the error from progressing
and then you gradually work to bring it back to nominal so as not to
atmosphere eased considerably as the section progressed and Ken and Glenn began
to gain some measure of confidence that I actually knew what I was doing. We motored on through the afternoon and into
the night and through the next day until we finally arrived at our first rest
halt in Fort Nelson, B.C. on Sunday night.
next morning everyone was seen to gather around the door of Jerry's room where
he had posted the first two day's scores.
Lo and behold, we were in third place behind John Buffum and Gene
Henderson. Ken and Glenn were
absolutely beside themselves with joy and I was, to say the least, relieved.
continued to polish and improve our technique during the next several
days. I found that trying to change my
focus from the counters on the dash, to the stopwatch velcroed to my knee, and
the Curta clenched in my left fist, was causing some slight delay and
inaccuracy, not to mention a headache.
We found that if Ken would say "mark" every even tenth mile
(or whatever we decided) I could maintain focus on the watch and give some very
we pulled into the halfway halt in Anchorage, and checked our scores, we were
astonished to discover ourselves in first place. Buffum's Audi was slowly
disintegrating around them as on the first night they had a slight
"off" which bent the front suspension and they fought with it, and
other mechanical woes, for the rest of the rally. Grimshaw was heard to say, “They're destroying my office."
Gene was now in second place, only two or three seconds behind us. It was very
close but we were actually in first place and that night Ken treated Glenn and
I to a celebration dinner at Josephine's Restaurant atop the Sheraton
Anchorage. I didn't worry about my Visa
balance this time.
two days in Anchorage, we headed out for the return trip. Our first TSD out of Anchorage was exciting
beyond measure. We were all
understandably a little nervous at this point, being in the lead and all. We
started on our correct minute and I began my calls.
says Ken, at the first tenth mark
one," says I.
says Ken, at the next tenth mark.
one," says I.
continued to call out the tenth mile marks and I continued...
three...down six...down ten."
Glenn began to accelerate hard to try to stop the bleeding. Our CAST was 37mph and by now we were up to 55 or 60.
twelve...down fifteen...down twenty..."
going on?" yelled Glenn."
"Are you calling the wrong side of
double checked, I triple checked. I was
OK. I was right.
twenty five," says I.
shouted Ken. "I'm marking the time
instead of the mileage!"
two displays looked alike and were one above the other. An easy mistake to make.
At this point Glenn immediately performed
a proof test of the anti-lock braking system.
After pulling my head out of the see-through headrest on the drivers
seat back, I ran a new "out time" on the Curta. About 15 seconds later we pulled away, back
on time. Around the very next corner
was the first checkpoint, which we zeroed.
adventure continued with many high spots and a few low ones. One very serious setback was getting caught
behind a logging truck just before a checkpoint and picking up 12 points on
that control alone. We had pulled away from
Gene a bit but now we were back, neck and neck again. On into the Yukon again and over to Whitehorse, where we picked
up the beautiful Cassiar Highway down to Prince Rupert, on the B.C. Coast.
Tuesday, the 30th, we all boarded the Ferry to take us to Port Hardy on the
northern tip of Vancouver Island. On
the ferry ride we noticed Gene and Mike huddled together trying to figure out
how they were going to beat us. After
our logging truck incident we again continued to pull away, one second at a
time, and as long as we didn't make any mistakes it wasn't looking too good for
we were busy going through the route book, trying to find anything that might
cause us problems on the last two sections.
We read every instruction, pre-calculated every known reference point,
did all the little things one needs to do to be competitive. We noticed that there was one instruction
that had a rather complex alpine diagram with five intersecting roads coming in
at odd angles and we promised ourselves we would be very careful to get through
it properly and cleanly.
disembarked at Port Hardy at 10:30pm Tuesday night and proceeded to the first
TSD section on Vancouver Island. We
picked up a few more points on this section but we knew that even if Gene
zeroed all of the controls we should still be front by six or seven seconds. On to the last section.
was quite rough and narrow and by now we were on pins and needles. I was intent on reading the Curta in the
light of my REI camping "head lamp."
It was very dark outside the car with trees seemingly brushing both
sides of the car and the headlights illuminating a hole in the gloom
ahead. Then came the five road
was looking down, as usual, and I heard Ken say,
time now...less than a tenth...here it is, here it is."
turn had come up much quicker that Glenn expected and it was very difficult to
see off to the right. We overshot only
about thirty feet but enough to have to stop and back up. Glenn slammed it into reverse and got us
onto the correct road very quickly, but no sooner had we gotten back on course
when there was a checkpoint, the last of the rally. It was Jerry.
were in shock. We didn't know exactly
how much time we'd lost but now it had to be very close indeed. All that remained now was a drive to the
ferry in Nanaimo for a trip across the Straits of Georgia and onto the
fairgrounds at the 1986 Vancouver Worlds Fair.
The ferry was littered with exhausted rallyists and bored morning work
scores were announced. We had lost to
Gene by one second. Ken was sick. Glenn
was sick. I was sick. But we had made
our presence known and over the next two years we returned to win the event,
once in August, of 1987 and again on the first Winter Alcan in February, of
1988. Once we got over our initial
trial by fire at the Darrington TSD, our team jelled into a really tight and
cohesive group and rarely have I had so much fun as I had on those early Alcan
rallies. It wasn't until several months
after the first rally that I told Ken I had never used a Curta before. He just smiled and said that I didn't know
how close I'd come to being thrown out of the car on the trip to
Darrington. It was fortunate that
neither Ken nor Glenn had the faintest idea what I was doing in the back seat
with that pepper mill that made such wonderful noises.