Welcome to the Keweenaw Peninsula.
As mentioned in the previous installment I made it to Houghton (rally HQ) by the end of Tuesday, the fourth day of the trip. The rest of the team wasn’t arriving until after 5 PM on Wednesday, so I had a free day to explore.
The Keweenaw Peninsula is the large peninsula on the northern shore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (yo, dawg, I heard you like peninsulas). Houghton resides on the southern bank of a canal bisecting the peninsula and the rally takes place on roads south of there, which means in all my visits to the rally I’d only ever traveled a few miles north of the canal. I decided to fix this with a full counterclockwise loop of the northern half. This was an excellent decision.
The first stop was just across the canal. One of the areas where you can race in the Dirt 3 video game is right here on the Keweenaw, and fictionalized versions of real area landmarks were actually put in the game. One of the most prominent of these is the Smelter, where the game’s Michigan rallycross and landrush events take place. The real Quincy Smelter, part of the massive Quincy Mine complex, isn’t nearly as large as in the game, but is still a very impressive complex. You can’t currently walk among the buildings as the site is currently being restored for inclusion in the Keweenaw National Historic Park, but I was able to walk around it all outside the fence.
A little further up the canal was the Quincy Dredge. Originally brought in to reclaim stamping sand for further processing it now sits semi-submerged near the shore.
One of the places that sadly didn’t make it into the Dirt game is also the self-proclaimed most photographed place on the Keweenaw Peninsula, the sign outside the Gay Bar (gay bar gay bar). Named for the town in which it resides, the Gay Bar is a popular stop for tourists.
The next couple hours were spent alternating between taking photos and enjoying the incredible twisting, diving road along the Eastern shore of the peninsula, until it turned inland and joined the equally twisty US41, which I took until it dead-ended near the tip of the peninsula. To go any further required a state park visitor pass and ground clearance to get you down the rough and rutted dirt road. I had neither so I turned around to go back along the west coast.
The road along the western shore was even better than the east, with the highlight being a bigger version of Bathurst’s Dipper, a sharp, steep downhill right with the road dropping away on the inside. I felt the right side wheels momentarily float in the air as I dropped into the corner. It was an incredible drive. Added bonus, I found the lighthouse from the Peninsula Run stage in Dirt 3.
Final stop was the hoist building at the Quincy Mine. Probably the most iconic building from the Dirt game, you can’t drive through the real thing (there’s a rail car there), but it’s still a cool stop.
That was the end of my Thursday adventures, as the team was arriving and I had to get down to rally business. I spent the evening talking pace notes and recce plans with my new driver, Mark Williams, and got my notes written up for recce.
Thursday was a long day of recce on very muddy and slippery stages (made better by Mark’s gorgeous white modified STI recce car), followed by about a dozen miles of testing as we dialed in the new suspension (Reigers). I’ve yet to find a person willing to admit to me what a set of Reigers like these actually costs and Mark was no different. His response “look up the price of a kidney.” I did, and if you’re in the U.S. and have insurance an average kidney transplant is about $33,000. That’s honestly probably not far off the price tag for a set of Reigers.
Friday started late, with parc expose at 2:30 PM and the first actual stage not running until around 5:30. LSPR prides itself on its night stages, and to ensure we have to do it in the dark the day starts late. Only the first two of the day’s eight stages were in full light, with the third running in fading light and the final five in full dark. We had an excellent first day, setting top 10 stage times and firmly holding second in Super Production by the end of the day. Mark was thrilled, saying he’d never felt more confident to commit to the notes and never driven so fast, especially in the dark. Despite that we did have this one high speed (75 mph) close call on the third stage. (If Kinja eats video you can find it here).
We woke up Saturday to a different world. It had snowed overnight, leaving us with a world of white and a tough call to make on tires. With less than an inch on the ground, ten cars on the road ahead of us, and temperatures above freezing we opted to run on soft gravel tires with extra mud cuts, counting on the cars ahead of us to break through the snow and dig up the grippier mud underneath.
On the drive to the first stage we felt confident in our decision. The cars ahead had already removed the snow on the transit road and the grip on the mud was decent. That changed when we got on stage.
Mark attacked with the fury he’d shown on the dirt yesterday. That lasted about three corners, where he slid straight off the road, just touching a very large tree. The car was still okay, so we backed off the pace and continued on. A mile later the back end snapped around sending us off the road into the woods backwards. Mark and I both braced for the big hit but it never came. Instead we bounced off a dirt pile and back onto the road. Near miss number two. There wouldn’t be a third.
A little over four miles into the stage we went off the road for a third and final time. Doing 30 through a corner that would have been 70 in the dry the car went straight again. We slid off into the ditch on the outside, and while we yet again avoided hitting anything hard we couldn’t drive it out. Game over. We waited for the pull trucks, drove it back to service, and put it on the trailer. (Once again, if Kinja hungry check out the video of our off road excursions on Instagram).
Retiring sucks, but Longbow (who drove up from Kentucky to watch the rally) made it suck less by letting me drive his Lotus while waiting for the city street stage to start. After the street stage we went to the awards dinner then packed it in. It had been a long day.
Today begins the drive home, Houghton to the Macinac Bridge, then down the east coast of Michigan on US 23 to Imlay City. Just today and tomorrow, then I’m home and can avoid work no longer.