2021 Highland Thistle Rally
2021 Highland Thistle Rally

September 7th


Achnagairn Castle to St. Andrews

The final day!!

Internet connectivity was seriously lacking at the Rally hotel yesterday, so apologies for this late post. The upside to that is our team could relay their stories in person!

The last day of an intensive 5-day rally is no less challenging than any other. Both the Escort, Car #29, and the Porsche, Car #31, were in great shape. Comparing notes, Tim and Jim, Jeff and Chris - all spoke of how much easier to maintain these more contemporary cars (1971, 1972) are than the older cars. Morning prep is limited to checking fuel, fluid and air levels and cleaning windows. And when you pull in for the night, you can pull your bag out and head straight to the bar!

There were already two regularities completed by 10:30 AM, both navigated brilliantly by Jim and Chris, and executed behind the wheels by Tim and Jeff.

Driving up and down mountain roads was a common theme of each day of the Highland Thistle Rally. One hill they drove presented a 16 percent grade - that's a challenge to any four-wheel drive, let alone vintage cars! But with the right finesse - and lots of white knuckles - the descent was successfully completed.

The tulip books, while giving directions, do it in an unconventional way. Instead of telling you to take a left turn, the directions show a left-pointing arrow. They seldom name a road, or a highway, or a town you're passing through. Similarly, various landmarks are indicated by symbols. A symbol indicated to Jeff and Chris that they would drive over a bridge in 4.5 kilometers. With their trip meter unable to be calibrated, they were only roughly able to track kilometers, so they drove along looking for the bridge. As they doubled back to reorient themselves via the tulip book, they realized the symbol represented a dam, not a bridge! So Jeff poured on the speed to make up for lost time.

In a series of hairpin switchbacks, Tim and Jim encountered a pair of caravans at the apex of a turn. They were setting up to camp for the night in this most unlikely place, leaving Tim precious little room to creep by, certainly requiring him to slow down considerably.

As the rally progressed, some of the less-experienced drivers and navigators learned which navigators were better than others. Consequently, on his last day, Tim and Jim found two cars following closely behind them at every turn. Jim, wearing his trademark fedora, had become a beacon to these other teams: "We follow the hat!" they explained.

This event was the first Rally the Globe (RTG) event for our team. The organization was founded by folks previously working with the Endurance Rally Association. This rally was a great chance to reconnect with the organizers, and the finish allowed Peg and Gaye, who had made firm connections with these people while driving the 2018 TransAmerica Rally, an opportunity to visit as well.

Cars were arranged to finish in reverse order of Tuesday's ranking. Due to the lost first day, Tim and Jim were numbered lower in the overall rankings than Jeff and Chris, so they were scheduled to finish with the first group of cars. With the finish arch erected in the circular driveway of the hotel, Jan was already in place to greet Car #29 as they pulled in, but Gaye, Beth, and most importantly, Peg, were still running out to the finish as Tim drove through! It's traditional that each car is flagged to a stop under the arch, poses for photos, then drives on to park. Tim and Jim were concerned about the strain on the Escort's engine if they stopped, restarting on a smooth road on the slight uphill grade of the driveway -so they just waved and drove through! Once they backed in to the indicated parking space, there was plenty of time for Jan and Peg to welcome their husbands to St. Andrews.

Gaye and Beth, after hugs to Tim and Jim, walked back to the finish arch to wait for their guys. In seeing the Porsche approach, they sorted themselves - or so they thought. With everyone else driving right-hand drive cars, they were thinking Jeff would be driving on the right, Chris navigating on the left. But of course, the Porsche was designed to be a left-hand drive car! Tim's reminder came in time for Gaye and Beth to reorganize, and each was on the side of the competitor they missed most as they drove and navigated the Porsche through the finish arch.

No prizes for our team were expected at the rally dinner (though Tim and Jim were told they would have placed if not for that broken spring that knocked them out the first day), but the finish of a rally is always cause for congratulations and celebration. This Highland Thistle Rally was made up of a congenial group of organizers, competitors who applaud each others' successes, and people who enjoy the challenges, the camaraderie, and share an appreciation for the stunning scenery of Scotland. All of that was observed at the rally dinner - a fitting end to this most welcome return to rally sport - after a year and a half of Covid lockdown.

Everyone's favorite stop on the final day was at Glamis Castle, known as "Scotland's most beautiful castle ". This was the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth's mother; Princess Margaret was born here. It is open to visitors, but the Rally drivers were only able to enjoy the grounds-and the spectacular approach to this Scottish landmark.

Our team, reunited in St. Andrews, travels on (by motor coach with a hired driver!) to Glenapp Castle for a few days of relaxation. There will be much talk of cars and various rally opportunities, before flying down to London for yet another Covid test prior to departing the UK for our trips back home.

Traveling - now that it's possible again - has its drawbacks with masking, social distancing, and frequent testing, but we have all enjoyed Scotland - we and hope that everyone reading this will get a chance to tour this beautiful country.










September 6th


Achnagairn Castle, Kirkhill, and back: The Scottish Highlands

Today was a great day for both our navigators, directing their drivers through 4 regularities without missing a turn. Jeff reports: "We made all of our checkpoints in a timely manner, and all of them from the right direction!"

Tim reports "Jim did a great job today navigating. We made every turn in each of the irregularities." Gee, we thought they were called "regularities." Typographic error or maybe reflective of Tim's view of following the directions?

Another day of elevation changes, narrow roads and splendid scenery had them driving a circuitous route through the fabled Highlands area of Scotland. Distilleries, sheep and cattle, mountain meadows and narrow roads passed our drivers as they found their way between the rally-designated regularities and time trials.

Each of the three time trials today were in large open areas, one an old industrial facility of some kind, where they had to follow patterns on a track, delineated by cones, at speed. Jeff and Chris completed each course, without incident, but Tim and Jim's experience demonstrates how the demanding sport can wear on your concentration.

On the final time trial of the day, Tim reports: "The last time trial of the day was at 5:45 pm, and we were both fried mentally and physically. The diagram showed there was a long straightaway after the first left turn. The diagram made the straightaway look like it was about 200 yards long. In actuality, the straightaway was only 10 yards long, then you had to make a sharp left turn and go around a circle of cones. Well, I made the first turn then put the hammer down for what we thought would be a long straightaway, and we both completely missed the left turn. We went flying past a warehouse, up a dirt road and all of a sudden were in someone's front yard! They were very kind, and asked us if we were there for tea. We declined, and headed back to find where we had messed up, laughing so hard we could hardly find our way. Then we very slowly made our way around the cones because by then our time was up. Very funny - everyone was watching and had a great laugh!"

They definitely earned their dinner and drinks tonight!

Meanwhile, back in Edinburgh, Beth, Jan, Peg and Gaye enjoyed walking, visiting Edinburgh Castle, learning the history of the city and country, visiting countless cashmere shops, eating Scottish salmon, and ending back at the hotel for afternoon tea. Sandwiches, scones and pastries were enjoyed with fragrant pots of tea, ending around 5:30 PM with everyone deciding dinner was unnecessary, and that a drink before bed made better sense! Meeting up at the bar a few hours later, they shared a wide ranging discussion over cocktails, and then headed up to their rooms, having thoroughly enjoyed their last day together before meeting up with the men tomorrow at the rally finish in St. Andrews.

The rally organizers have promised a full day for day 5 of the Highland Thistle Rally, with more regularities, time trials, demanding roads, and amazing scenery!


Jim





September 5th


Isle of Skye to Kirkhill

Rain was the byword of the day, casting a dripping shadow over a difficult day. But our cars didn't break!

They left the Isle of Skye this morning in drizzle, mixed with intermittent rain and dreary skies. Jeff reports that their day, winding through mountains and along pastures and streams, was full and demanding.

With two regularities and a time trial, there was plenty to challenge each driver/navigator team. They drove map regularities, as opposed to the more usual tulip book regularities. In a tulip book regularity, you are shown turn by turn directions - for example: drive straight three kilometers, veer left at the fork, then take an immediate right turn - and you are allowed a specific period of time to complete them. You are penalized points for being too fast or too slow.

But in a map regularity, you match a route drawn on a map section you've been issued with the visual terrain you're driving - no additional directions given. Like on a tulip regularity, there are checkpoints along the way, allowing you to assure yourselves you are going the right way. But otherwise, it's up to the teams to time their drive and follow the map-marked route. And that is much more difficult!

castle chandelierWith Jeff and Chris's trip-meter clock off calibration a bit, they struggled through the first map regularity, missing a turn. As they headed up the wrong road, they found themselves driving through a town, clearly not the rally route!

During the second map regularity they took another wrong turn, and then saw a local standing outside his house, waving at them and pointing them in the right direction. Aware they had lost time, they recalibrated their route, barreling down the road, only to round a curve with a large truck heading directly at them! Jeff slammed on the brakes, scooted out of the way, and entirely locked up the Porsche's brakes. Once they calmed a bit from that near miss, they continued to the end of the regularity.

On that same regularity, Tim and Jim had their own close call. They had stopped the Escort in a wide spot on the road to try to match up the terrain they were driving with the map. Suddenly, a 1930s Ford came roaring up behind them. That car had started 15 minutes before them, so they knew the Ford had been lost, and was racing to pick up time. Without stopping, the Ford ripped onto the grass shoulder around Tim and Jim's car, and skidded sideways into the ditch! The competitors waved Tim and Jim on, and the Escort headed off down the road, in the right direction, to meet their regularity time.

The track time trial took place on an airfield. With the damp conditions earlier in the day, most drivers expected the track to be wet, but in most parts it was surprisingly dry. Slower times than expected were posted, maybe because drivers were being extra cautious with the potentially wet pavement.

In the midst of the spectacularly scenic Scottish Highlands, public traffic on some of the single lane rally route roads was extremely heavy. Sightseers, caravan drivers and family cars jockeyed for road position, with drivers slowing to take in the views. Now that Scotland has opened up a bit from Covid restrictions, everyone seems to be on the road enjoying a late summer holiday!

The rally day ended at Achnagairn Castle, northwest of Inverness. While dinner was served in the castle, the teams were assigned housing in the "manors," smaller houses on the castle grounds that they joked were the housing for the castle workers!

Speaking of the partial lifting of Covid restrictions, the support team of Peg, Beth, Jan, and Gaye successfully made it to Scotland Sunday afternoon - even if Gaye and Beth's luggage did not!

With proof of full vaccination; a pre-departure negative PRC Covid test result required within 72 hours of flying; a pre-booked Covid test necessary within 2 days of arrival; and a detailed Passenger Locator Form to be completed, submitted, and presented at check-in, traveling was not easy. Boston's Logan Airport was sparsely populated, with lounges and restaurants closed and masking required. That's the price to pay to travel to the UK right now, but our teams gladly met these requirements!

The ladies changed planes at London's Heathrow Airport, which was an extremely busy place with contactless food ordering available in restaurants and lounges, and masks everywhere in evidence. They continued on to Edinburgh after a 45 minute delay. Upon arrival, Jan's bag quickly appeared on the baggage carousel. Peggy's bags soon followed. Beth saw a green bag that looked like hers, but after pulling the weighty bag off the belt she realized it belonged to someone else! After wrestling that bag back onto the belt, to be claimed by its rightful owner, Beth stood next to Gaye as they searched for their bags. And waited and searched some more. With about 20 bags unclaimed, and another twenty or so not arrived, they learned of multiple connection issues in London. So they were assigned a "delayed baggage" case number, they provided bag descriptions and contact details, and then headed with Jan and Peg into the old city.

Safely at the historic Caledonian Hotel with amazing views of Edinburgh Castle, Gaye and Beth were assured their bags would arrive by morning.

Tomorrow the rally drivers will enjoy another exploration of the Highlands, returning for a second night to Achnagairn Castle. And Beth and Gaye will either be wearing clean clothes unpacked from their delivered luggage - or they'll be sporting new clothes purchased on an Edinburgh shopping trip!



September 4th, 2021


Oban to Isle of Skye

Another day, beautiful scenery, and no broken cars!

Waking up to a new rally day, the guys stumbled into their respective bathrooms, only to find they had no cold water! A cold shower is one thing, but scalding hot water makes for a difficult clean-up!

The rough start, though, led to a spectacular day!

Tim reports: "Great day, but long. Four regularities (time, speed and navigation) and speed tests at a closed track. Regularities are on public one-lane roads with two-way traffic and blind curves. When you meet oncoming traffic, somebody has to back up to a wide spot. That costs time that has to be made up which makes for anxious moments on blind curves and hills. Great fun! We also had to dodge some sheep - as it is open range. Gorgeous country. Very rugged mountains and desolate."

Lunch found them at Fort William, a wonderfully scenic spot. Grumpy faces reflected the lack of a morning shower, but lunch and the spectacular scenery launched them into the afternoon.

The impressive scenery continued as they entered the Isle of Skye, ending their rally day at a small but elegant hotel in Portree. Both Jeff and Chris commented they would want to come back to drive around the area - there's so much to see at every curve.

Jim declared today "We didn't break the car today" Day! After yesterday's waiting for a tow, and a late night of repairs, that was reason to celebrate, indeed!

Jeff and Chris are keeping a running list of small fixes they want to do to the Porsche, but overall they are quite pleased with its performance.

Tonight, Jan, Peg, Beth and Gaye head to Scotland, to eventually meet up with the guys at the finish of the rally. Stay tuned for a report on international travel in times of Covid!






September 3rd, 2021


St. Andrews to Oban

Tim and Jim kicked off their Highland Thistle Rally first day with an 8:59 AM start, quickly followed by Jeff and Chris at 9:01. As is true of all rally routes, you can never take the shortest, easiest distance between your morning start and your evening finish!

For Chris and Jeff, the primary purpose of driving this rally is to get to know their newly rebuilt 1972 Porsche, before they attempt their third Peking to Paris Rally in 2022. Today was already a challenge; driving a difficult track test trial, Jeff struggled to most efficiently shift the car, stalling it once. He knows it's just a matter of learning when to optimally shift and brake in turns and curves, but it's a frustrating learning curve. Chris, his navigator had no such issues: "We got through the first day without getting lost once!"

Tim and Jim had weightier issues. While climbing a steep hill, they hit a rut in the road. The car broke down, and they weren't sure what the problem was. They eventually diagnosed a snapped leaf spring, but didn't have a spare with them for a roadside repair. They decided to call for a tow, and were able to source leaf springs to be delivered on to Oban. The first day of the Highland Thistle found them waiting for the tow truck in what Jim called "the charming town of Kenmore," while the other rally drivers continued on their ways.

Overall it was a demanding day, with technically difficult regularities, changes in elevation, and challenging directions. By the time they checked in at a time stop at Inveraray Castle, Chris and Jeff were tired enough to not bother to take in where they were or why - they just had their timecards signed and went on their way - but Chris did snap a great picture for our blog!

Arriving in Oban, they learned that Tim and Jim were enroute with their Escort in tow. The springs were enroute, too, scheduled to arrive at 8:30. The mechanics working the race, known collectively as "The Sweeps" had agreed to meet the car upon its arrival, and help Tim and Jim with the replacement. And so they did! By 11 PM, the Escort was back in business, and will take its place for their start tomorrow morning.

Oban is a harbor town (the name "Oban" means "Little Bay"), and sits on the Firth of Lorn on the west coast of Scotland. The harbor forms a horseshoe shape, making it a well-protected place to secure boats of many sorts. Many whisky drinkers will recognize the name; the town grew up around a distillery, which still produces a West Highland flavor whisky - not as smoky as the island whisky, not as sweet as Highland whisky. It is one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland, but Oban Whisky has many fans - for good reason!

Jeff took pictures of the beautiful harbor, with islands in view. He said they could also see mountains in the distance - and that's where they're headed tomorrow, as they drive Day 2 of the Highland Thistle.




September 1st, 2021


navigatorsYes, they're at it again!

When the New Zealand Rally ended in March 2020, the world was shutting down for Covid. We were all lucky enough to get out of New Zealand back to the States just as that far-away country was shutting its doors to protect its population. We came back to quarantining, Covid testing, masks and social distancing!

While the urge to travel didn't leave anyone, it certainly was stymied. We all managed to get through those 18 months relatively unscathed, jumped at our first chance to be vaccinated (in four different states!), and looked for opportunities to get back on the road!

Jeff, Chris, Jim and Tim first signed up for the Lima to Cape Horn Rally, scheduled for a late October start. We were all excited about Machu Picchu, Peru, Argentina and a possible detour to Cape Horn - when we received word that the rally had been postponed due to Covid fears and poor vaccination availability across South America.

Searching for another option, we landed on the Highland Thistle Rally, five days of driving through Scotland, hosted by the organization "Rally the Globe". With Covid case numbers dropping, and the UK doing well with vaccinations, the guys signed up. Tim and Jim would drive the 1971 Ford Escort they drove in New Zealand, and Jeff and Chris would get a trial run in the rally car they had been having built all during their Covid isolation - a 1972 Porsche 911.

They all headed over to England the last week of August, to have some driving time before the rally started. Their goal was to sort out the cars to be sure they (especially the Porsche, which they were seeing in person for the first time!) were rally-ready.

Driving around England and Wales proved a great opportunity to test their dormant navigational and driving skills. Track time challenged them behind the wheel again, and they were reminded that driving is not just a means of getting from point A to Point B.

Of course, being who they are, they have already had some adventures. Going through a round-about, Tim slammed on the brakes to avoid another car, and Jeff, following closely behind, nearly rear-ended him! Wiping out two rally cars, days before the rally even started would have been a catastrophe!

But they managed to avoid a crash. Continuing on to their stop for the night, our star navigators put a little too much trust in Google maps. They ended up driving an hour past their destination before they realized they were lost. A quick consultation set them right, and they were eventually able to arrive at their hotel. Everyone went their separate ways to recover a bit from the extra-long drive, with Jeff thinking a short nap might be in order. That thought was upended when a bagpipe group started practicing outside his window. That's all part of preparing for a road rally in Scotland!

The first of September found them driving into Scotland, where masking is universally mandatory. They were all pleased to arrive at a classic resort hotel, with comfortable beds, powerful showers, laundry service, great food - and lots of time to enjoy the amenities, while sorting their cars for the start of the rally. Scrutineering, where the rally managers check each car's safety equipment, took place Thursday afternoon, and the welcome dinner kicks off the event Thursday evening. Rally start for car #29, Tim and Jim, and car #31, Jeff and Chris, will be Friday morning from the hotel in St. Andrews, Scotland. By the time morning finds us in the States, they should have a few miles under their belts!

Another car rally for the Bodacious Racing team. Look here to see daily updates - and stay healthy!








August 30th, 2021


The guys arrived in the U.K. to prepare for the Highland Thistle Rally the last weekend in August. More updates will be posted soon!









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