…..due to this year’s Copperstate being so much fun, with longer driving days and more conversational nights, my plan to blog during the event disappeared almost as soon as we arrived at the Tempe stadium on Saturday afternoon. However, knowing the cat and Auntie Colleen are still expecting an update, I’ll be playing apologetic catch-up over the upcoming days!
Familiar faces, another collection of impressive cars eager to hit the road, smiles, handshakes and welcomes to the newbies. As this year’s rally number was added to the Egg, my cousin and I found ourselves enjoying the realization of what was to come. We spent the afternoon wandering the field and taking in the combination of vehicles we’d be sharing the roads with; before heading off to dinner.
Yet again, the event started with a wonderful evening at the Phoenix Art museum, where the successful exhibition “Hollywood Costume” was on display and available for us to enjoy at a leisurely pace; before dinner and happy reconnections with fellow Copperstaters. Although I’ve worked in the film business for over two decades, I still appreciate the elements involved to create that wonderful make-believe world, and the selection of costumes on show bought back some great cinematic memories.
Our co-chairmen for this year’s event gave an overview of the upcoming few days. As ever, the driving routes promised to give us plenty of switchbacks, undulating curves, spectacular scenery and FUN! The Highway Patrol officers who keep a quiet eye on us and the roads we’ll be enjoying were introduced, and I could sense everyone slipping into Copperstate mode as smiles grew more apparent. It was going to be another great event.
The team involved to give us this amazing opportunity, are truly fantastic. The Men’s Arts Council pulls together an extraordinary group of volunteers – mechanics, luggage transport & tow drivers – some at least we all hope we’re not going to need the support of, but are so grateful to have! A team of enthusiasts, who help to remind all of us how lucky we are to be able to enjoy Arizona in such a unique way.
Wednesday arrived, and with it the final leg of the 1000 miles of this year’s Copperstate. We had almost made it out of the hotel car park before the mechanical cousin realized he’d left his cell phone happily charging in the breakfast room. Fortunately I have excellent turning and reversing skills, so we returned, retrieved…and headed off again.
Through Sedona, only to be met with extremely bad traffic. Living in LA, this is not an unusual experience; unfortunately we soon discovered the cause was not regular congestion, but an accident involving one of the Copperstate Highway Patrol. All emergency services had come out to help one of their own, a reassuring but still worrying sight. We later discovered what had happened – turning into a forecourt to check on another entrant, the Patrol officer was hit by a driver who decided to pull straight into traffic without stopping to look first. There was no time to take any avoiding action, and serious injuries were sustained. A situation I’ll revisit later.
Our ultimate destination was Scottsdale, and the morning route took us out to and through Prescott, and with it more stunning scenery, charming old towns and happy waving people as we drove through. The weather couldn’t have been better if we’d special ordered it. Moderate temperatures meant the Egg’s “two windows down” air conditioner was all we needed, as we meandered along small single track roads with only other Copperstaters for company. It was difficult to believe we’d already covered almost 800 miles in a 49 year old car, she was literally singing like Maria as we cornered every bend; and everything about the performance continued to improve the further we drove. We kept pushing the distance between gas stops, for no other reason than she was running more and more efficiently; maintaining a speed of anything from 65 – 80 mph was simple, because that’s where the car wanted to be. “She’ll be bulletproof”, the Egg Doctor told me, and he was absolutely correct!
The last stretch of the morning took us up and down and through switchbacks coming into Bagdad. As this section had been included last year, I was delighted to see it again, and just as happy to let my mechanical cousin drive, and enjoy watching him enjoy the experience. He smiles a great deal anyway, but by the time we reached our lunch spot, I was sharing the car with a human equivalent of the Cheshire Cat. Good times.
There are some great cars, and some really great drivers on this event. One of which was a professional Porsche racing instructor/racer; who very generously offered to let Harry ride shotgun for the afternoon in his exquisite Jaguar XK150 OTS. The remainder of the route was easy enough for me to navigate and drive, so I reassured him that I’d be fine. He left, I continued chatting with friends…but there was just something that didn’t feel quite right. Sipping coffee, I replayed the late morning….switchbacks, happy cousin, pull into car park, get out of passenger seat…happy cousin locks car and we walk into restaurant…happy cousin has my car keys. Happy cousin has gone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
In less time than it takes to shout “get out of my way”; I left my seat, sprinted (much to my amazement, had absolutely no idea I could move that fast) and found the Jag literally about to disappear into the wild blue yonder. One “oops” later from the family member, before they disappeared in a roar of engine, and normal service was resumed.
The final leg from Bagdad to Scottsdale was a great combination of open scenery that stretched for low desert miles in either direction, with occasional bursts of small towns. At one point it was just me and the Egg, cruising happily along a route that was so quiet, I wondered if maybe I’d accidentally taken a wrong turning and stumbled into somewhere the world had forgotten about. Time has a different meaning in this situation. No radio, no need or desire to be glued to some electronic device, a watch that I inevitably forget to wind most mornings…all I could do was just enjoy the moment and the environment. Through Wickenberg, every speed limit was fastidiously observed – as the local constabulary had politely alerted us that any decision not to do that would be dealt with appropriately. The Copperstate isn’t a race, it’s a rally – but when you’re presented with perfect driving conditions, and long inviting roads, it’s easy to forget that there are limits we’re expected to maintain!
One final section before reaching the outskirts of Scottsdale included another change of scenery; driving through Peoria and the tall pines were back. A few miles that reminded me again of Europe, before coming back into the early afternoon heat and sunshine that everyone associates with AZ. I pulled into the car park, and was quickly amused to discover that I’d beaten the XK150….which explained the stationary flash of red I’d spotted on the way out of Wickenberg!! My tortoise to their hare, clearly benefitting from the classic F1 move of the when to fuel. How often it all comes down to time spent (or not) in the pits 🙂
Snowy conditions……my favourite! That news greeted us over the coffee and croissants for Tuesday’s breakfast, and presented a few more options for all of us than initially expected. Our route was to take us up to an elevation of at least 8000 feet, so the weather change shouldn’t be ignored. A quiet review of road conditions with the mechanical cousin, based on the theory:
- We had The Egg (German engineering)
- All weather tyres (rain and snow no issue), and
- Two drivers born in England (bad weather is synonymous with our cultural identity)
Left us flipping a coin and deciding we’d chance our luck until it ran out, and take the original mapped route.
Heading through Flagstaff, we seemed to be driving for an awfully long time with nothing listed in the route book, showing up on our horizon. With no visible landmarks, there seemed to be only one option – good old Google maps. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to offer the immediately expected result, so I decided that old school was the last resort. We pulled into a garage forecourt, and I headed inside with the route book and was happy to discover that we had done nothing more than overshoot a turning about four miles earlier.
At this point, I should also mention that my mechanical cousin is many things….all good….but keen navigator is not one of them. It’s not that he can’t navigate, he just occasionally forgets. Not a serious problem, but certainly added a level of excitement throughout our entire trip. By the time we retraced our steps and found the right track, we’d eaten up about an hour and better still, given the sun enough time to start drying out the road.
And what a road…..forty plus miles of gently undulating curves that took us up and over a mountain pass. Tall pines and the occasional deer our only companions as we headed through some of the most desolately beautiful countryside of the entire rally. Our plan paid off, as we made it all the way to the lunchtime stop, an airplane museum in Valle. Now on the other side of a mountain, weather conditions had changed from cold and snowy to just as cold wind, a not completely welcome change. Lunch was a welcome break before heading off to our next exploration, the big ditch.
I’ve lived in Los Angeles for eighteen years, and am embarrassed to admit that I have not seen the Grand Canyon. Many trips to Las Vegas, and yet there never seemed to be the time or inclination to add it to the itinerary. Having seen so many photographs, there’s a sense of familiarity which may be the reason….but all of that changed on Tuesday afternoon as we paraded through the Grand Canyon National Park.
Stopping at the first recommended viewing point, I finally managed to see it with my own eyes, and the only word I could come up with seemed to be “wow”; which obviously falls short of any real description, but if you’ve seen what the locals affectionately call ‘The Big Ditch’, you will understand. Photo opportunities were perfect as we reached our destination early enough in the afternoon for the combination of sun and shadow to play across this natural wonder.
Our cruise back to Sedona continued the slightly alpine theme, from the vegetation at least. The last few miles coming back into the valley was breathtaking…..the layers of red sandstone forming beautiful rocks that are so unusual it’s tempting to expect Tim Burton’s Martians to be hiding in crevices. Or maybe I’ve been living in LA too long!!!
Story swapping back at base was a mixed affair. Those who opted for the alternative route were either relieved or disappointed to find out what we experienced. After all, being in a convertible when the top almost works is not really conducive to winter climates. For a few others, the realization that if The Egg could do it, so should they was a little more bittersweet. Best news, no real casualties either way; which is all that everyone hopes for by the time cocktail hour arrives.
The plan every morning has been to start an hour earlier than everyone else, just to ensure that I have some feeling of distance (if not accomplishment) by the time the pack starts hurtling past. Although I’m driving a 356 Porsche with the larger 1600cc engine; in the company of the other 74 entrants I’m in the automotive equivalent of a lawnmower! However, please don’t think this is a complaint, because there really is a perverse kind of pleasure when a 911S, any number of Ferrari’s, Shelby Cobra…..and the list goes on…..roars past. The sound of engines against the relative silence of our surroundings is a automotive audiophile’s dream!
So, Tuesday’s driving consisted of a 300 mile loop from Tucson, south towards the Mexico border and then back again. Within 15 minutes of leaving our hotel, the roads were taking us through national parkland. The only proof of local residence was occasional lines of mailboxes in line on the roadside, and the terrain was a collection of mesquite trees and high desert scrub. I had assumed, wrongly, that Arizona would resemble California, so the varieties of different plants and colours have been a continued surprise throughout this trip.
Heading through a corner, we came to a sadly familiar sight; one vintage car, mechanics truck and collection of heads in a downward direction around an open bonnet (hood). This particular entrant was a 330 Ferrari…that was usually only spotted in the car park at either end of the day. Mark, the driver, waved us down; and in my typical English fashion I politely asked if there was anything we could do to help. With the collection brain trust around the car already, and my technical knowledge limited to being able to recognize the difference between a spark-plug and a distributor cap, this was probably a stretch…but the Copperstate engenders a sense of camaraderie and support that’s as much a part of the event as the road under rubber. Mark nodded, and then announced loudly, “we need your toolkit!!”
The remaining brain trust looked a little mystified, until I produced my treasure. Nods of appreciation, followed by assurances that “this will do” confirmed the words of wisdom I’d been given by the boys at TRE…I may not have the remotest idea what’s in my bag of tricks, but the professionals will, and we just received two thumbs up!
The car was soon running again, and so we all headed on together towards our lunch break at Sonita. Heading towards Nogales, the presence of Border Patrol started in to noticeably increase. Initially there would be the occasional van parked on the side of the road, but as the ranch country expanded into even greater swathes of nothingness, we suddenly found ourselves being required to stop for a full scale border patrol check. Serious looking men with guns and dogs watched as we slowly crept through their checkpoint; and I had to hold back the overwhelming desire to confess to something, anything; simply because they were SO scary!
Unfortunately the dulcet tones of the Egg started to take on a slightly more “too much curry last night” tone as we drove towards Patagonia. Backfiring and burping, and then finally just gliding to an elegant stop. By this time Mark and the Ferrari had become Mark and the Lexus, as his car had also stopped again not to be easily revived; so he kindly collected us and the Egg continued the rest of her journey on the back of a tow truck.
Our afternoon took us through the barren wasteland that is Fort Huachuca. A fully functional fort, its also some of the most desolate scenery we had for the entire trip. The Fort’s history is varied, as it was the headquarters for the famed Buffalo Soldiers as well as the training base for U-2 pilots. For us it took a slightly more entertaining turn, when coming down a particularly windy road, we found the real-life equivalent of the wacky races. At the bottom of a t-junction we found the D-Type, GTO, one of the 911’s and Shelby GT350 all parked in different directions. Some were holding maps, the others waving smart phones helplessly begging the Googlemap gods to answer…everyone was lost! The fort seems to take stealth training very seriously as road signs are virtually non-existent, so in the end we opted for the low tech version of GPS – coin flip and people’s vote. Not technical, but eventually successful!
My day ended with a mechanical conflab. Again, these guys are all volunteers, and they are total rock stars. A combination of experience from Hot Rods to high end restoration, which ensures no car is too complicated to be dealt with. Chad assured me that they’d look over the Egg and do everything possible to have her ready to drive the next morning. Unfortunately the late night update wasn’t so good. A combination of aluminium (AL–OOO-MIN-EE-UM) on one of the plugs and arcing ignition wires suggested something a little more serious than the blocked oil filter or carb gasket problem I’d been wishing for. Once again, Copperstate to the rescue. Although it wasn’t part of my plan, they had a number of loaner cars that are available for participants; so we’d have a Lexus available to complete the last day and reach our return destination of Phoenix. My trusty Triple A card ensured that the Egg had a flatbed trip all the way back to our final location, which she shared with a rather handsome Italian, so she couldn’t really complain either!