Here is my photo dump.
I planned to use my $100 barn find Saab to go, but last minute issues meant it wasn’t going to be driveable in time, so I took the normal Saab which still had the 27" Federal All-Terrains mounted on it.
We saw a lot of interesting vehicles there.
I invited fellow Texan, Stef Shrader, to come along as my co-driver. Thankfully she obliged, which is good, because the checkpoints were handed out as a sheet of GPS coordinates, and I’m total crap at electronics and numbers (as it turns out, I have number dyslexia (dyscalculia) which I didn’t even know was a thing until it was explained to me as an adult, after I bombed every math class through grade school and college).
We arrived Friday night and set up camp. Saturday morning was the driver’s meeting, and after a cursory safety check, we were released into the wild.
I didn’t get a lot of photos of the road portion. I was driving, and we were trying to keep pace. The Saab was really slow on the paved bits, and even on the dirt we’d end up with other gamblers piled up behind us - but when the going got muddy we always seemed to lose the other cars!
Originally, I planned to hand the wheel over to Stef at checkpoint 25, and she’d complete the second half of the road portion. After five or six hours of driving she began plugging in the last checkpoints to see where we were headed and we found out that they really were trying to fit 500 miles of back roads driving into one day. We also came a couple time to roads that were either on private property, or had closed gates, or road closed signs on them, either because they had been closed since the pre-running, or because google maps was giving us bogus directions. On a couple of checkpoints we got as close as we could to the coordinates without trespassing or running past barricades.
I’m not sure what time it was, but at some point in the evening, after checkpoint 29 or so we pulled into Rusk, Texas, in search of some food.
We ate at a Mexican restaurant, with the most hilariously grotesque decoration I’ve seen since the 1990s. This place had like, those cars and airplanes that are made out of welded together sparkplugs and bolts and stuff. And on the wall was a painting of three floating horse heads that I could not stop staring at.
After some much needed rest and mediocre (but completely necessary) food intake, we were back on the road. Stef took the wheel. I decided we’d keep running until the sun went down, then we’d head back to camp. It had been raining off and on all day, so some sections of road were in particular bad shape. We finally ran into one section that temporarily defeated the Saab.
We came to a muddy hill in a dark woods that stalled the Saab in 2nd gear. Stef restarted and tried in 1st. Now the car was clawing for traction and flinging gravel but still not getting over the crest. So I got in and tried, and did the same thing. Finally rolled back down the hill a ways, and got a running start, keeping it in 1st the whole way while the tires scrambled for grip and threw gravel around, and finally the barely got over the the top of the hill. Just a bit past this we found a whole bunch of guys in a large, white, 1980's station wagon. They were trying to get their headlights to work, but just discovered the high beams still worked and said they’d be fine. I however was ready to call it a night. We had to find gas anyway, and had been driving for over 10 hours now. We drove by checkpoint 32 but didn’t stop, and finally found a gask station before turning around and heading back to camp. Where, not unexpectedly, we found a lot of people had already turned back and were drunk and partying and in a generally good mood.
Around 3:30AM, people who continued, including those in the station wagon returned to camp. Apparently, around checkpoint 44 or 46 was a road that became impassable after the rain, and everybody got stuck and turned around. Only a handful of people made it the full distance, presumably because they passed that point before the rain got to it.
The next day was the obstacle course portion, a circuit set up on jeep trails at Creekside Offroad RV Ranch in Splendora, TX.
A number of people showed up, just for the trail portion of the event - and a number of people who came for the road part left before it started. The course had mud, sand, some steep hills and drops - it would be a challenging drive for a 2-wheel drive $500 shitbox sedan, but nothing a stock Subaru Forester couldn’t handle easily. I let the air out of the Saab’s front tires, until it only had about 22PSI left, and we only got stuck once (and Stef pushed the car out after I dug the front wheels free, no tow needed), but a lot of the newer, lower cars were really challenged by the deep sandy areas.
There were of course, various breakdowns - as beating the remaining life out of crap cars is half the point of the Gambler 500. This however mean we often got piled up the trail behind the corpse of some freshly deceased auto, waiting for the recovery truck to haul it away.
Would I go again? There’s no question. I’ll be going back for the next one. In fact, I’m obligated to. You see, much to our surprise, once we got back from lunch, a man in a golf cart fetched us and brought us on stage so we (or the car?) could receive the Scepter of Disaster, for winning the people’s choice award. LINK IN CASE OF KINJA
The winners are asked to return, so they can present the scepter to the next winner. So there you go.
It was a blast, and the organizers and participants were great people.