Oppo Rally 2018 is compete and I couldn’t be more thrilled with how it went.
If you’re just interested in the results scroll down, otherwise continue reading for a summary of the rally and the checkpoints I visited.
We started the day with 11 teams, over a third of which came from outside of New England to attend. Cars ranged from a trio of Ford STs to an 80's Crown Vic wagon on oversize mud tires to a Porsche 911 Turbo that I understand is now faster than it was upon leaving the factory.
The name of the game this year was the same as in last year’s Oppo Rally: I gave everyone a list of landmarks across the western part of the state, most of them weird and/or overlooked, and what town each was in. Competitors had to figure out where the landmarks were and decide which ones to go after. Like with last year the checkpoints were all broken into themed sets, with a points bonus for completing the set. What was different this year was the addition of bonus challenges. These were tasks that took a little extra time (and in some cases money) but would reward competitors with massive points. They ranged from 150 points for buying a dozen donuts from a particular donut shop to 600 points for playing disc golf at the state’s four dam-adjacent disc golf courses, to 3,500 for making yourself abjectly miserable all day by trying to visit the state’s four corners (no one went for that one). The event started at 9 with the first challenge: 80 points for anyone willing to spend three minutes with a toothpick of “the end” hot sauce in your mouth. Only four teams went for it.
Once the hot sauce torture was over the teams were released into the wild. I waited 45 minutes to make sure there were no stragglers, then hit the road myself as the roving points bonus: any team that managed to photograph my car would get 30 points, any who photographed me outside my car would earn 60.
My plan for the day was simple: Route 2 is a very good road, so I would just drive Route 2 and hit any checkpoints near it. The Route 2 corridor actually had a heavy concentration of checkpoints, making it a fun drive with lots to stop and see. (Not a good route for anyone trying to actually win though. Low value targets and no full category sets.)
My first stop was Johnny Appleseed’s Birthplace, a stone marker on a dead end street bearing his name. While there I took this as my first opportunity to use the rally’s new Instagram scoring system to see which teams had already been through (each checkpoint has a designated hashtag that must be used when posting the checkpoint photo. Look up the checkpoint hashtag and you can see who logged it and when). To my surprise I was the first one through here. In fact only one checkpoint had been logged outside of the Worcester area so far: the Geographic Center Tree in Rutland. Maybe I would be able to dodge them all this time around.
On to the second stop: the Frances Drake House. Frances and Jonathan Drake were fierce abolitionists, so much so that when they were building their home in Leominster they included a trap door in the floor of the front parlor so they could hide escaped slaves fleeing on the underground railroad. The home hid dozens of slaves during the 19th century, most famously including Shadrach Minkins. Shadrach was the first escaped slave recaptured under the Fugitive Slave Act, captured in Boston in 1851. At his federal hearing in the courthouse in Boston a group of abolitionists (some estimates say as many as 200 people) entered the courtroom by force, taking Shadrach. The abolitionists helped him escape to Canada and permanent freedom, hiding in in the Frances Drake House for four days along the way.
Again, upon arrival I checked the hashtag. Worryingly for me (I like dodging everyone) a team had already been through. Even more worrying, two teams had already logged my next planned stop. The game was on.
My third stop was one of the weirder ones on the rally: the grave of a man Jailed For His Beard (sorta). Beards had gone out of style in Puritanical Massichusetts in the 1720s, and those who chose not to leave their chins naked were ostracized. Despite this, Joseph Palmer chose to grow a rather robust beard after returning from the War of 1812. The town didn’t like this at all, the local preacher accused Joseph of communing with the devil and in 1830 four men attacked Palmer outside a hotel and attempted to shave it off. Palmer fought back, stabbing two of his attackers with a pocket knife, for which he was arrested and charged with assault. Palmer ended up spending 15 months in jail for the incident, but maintained his beard throughout, and in fact until death. As a final act of rebellion, Palmer’s grave has a portrait of him with his full flowing beard and the inscription “Persecuted for wearing the beard.” Nice.
On the way to my third stop I saw a familiar car coming up in my rear view, the light bar-adorned front end of team llocal_llamas VW Rabbit. Fortunately for me my Outback is nondescript from the rear, aside from a Jalopnik sticker in the top corner of the window, so they blew past. Unfortunately for me they were headed for the same checkpoint I was, and from the front my car’s hood scoop does a good job of identifying me. I’d been caught.
Even more unfortunate for me, the llamas were headed to the same checkpoint I was, the Aviation Toy Museum. The museum is “by appointment only” since the owner died, but just the fact that it is/was a thing at all made it cool enough in my book to be a part of the rally. I let the llamas take the photo for this one, leaving my camera and mascot in the car. Of course they also took the opportunity to get a photo of me as well. Double caught!
To add insult to injury as I sat in my car looking up my next stop a Chevy pickup came barreling up the road with two cop cars in hot pursuit. The parade stopped in front of and next to me, boxing me in. I ended up sitting there for a good 10 minutes waiting for them to either A) finish up and leave, or B) notice me and move. When they finally did notice me one of them asked why I hadn’t honked the horn or gone over and asked them to move or anything. I decided to just shrug in response instead of commenting on how when they’d gotten out of their cars they’d done so with their hands on their weapons and I didn’t want to insert myself into whatever was going on (also because I’m black).
Finally freed it was on to my fifth stop, the Giant Yellow Chair in Gardner, MA, also known as “Chair City” due to the city’s extensive history of furniture production. In it’s peak around 1910 the city had 20 companies making 4 million chairs per year. The city still holds annual celebrations of its history, including an annual chair luge, which I will absolutely be going to.
Of course just as I was about to take my checkpoint photo those jerks in the Rabbit showed up to photobomb me.
Unsurprisingly, Chair City has more than one giant chair. Also unsurprising, their Bicentennial Chair was my next stop. This time I had it all to myself.
From Gardner I went to Winchendon, another town given a nickname for its industrial history. The Converse Toy & Woodenware Company was based in Winchendon from the 1800s until the Great Depression, manufacturing popular wooden toys including drums, whirligigs, and hobby horses. Hence the town’s now iconic symbol, the Toy Town Horse.
From Toy Town it was on to Doane Falls, an impressive waterfall that drops 175 feet over a series of cascades. It’s also strategically located in the middle of a cellular dead zone, ready to make bad times for anyone who doesn’t already know where their next stop is and how to get to it. Sadly my photo doesn’t come close to doing the place justice as the waterfall requires some effort to get the positioning and framing right and I was in a bit of a hurry. For a proper look at the falls you can check them out here.
After the falls I took a break to check midday scoring on the slow wi-fi in a McDonald’s, then got back on the road to see the Tree Stump ATM.
From the ATM it was a quick drive up a twisty road to the allegedly super haunted Eunice Williams Bridge. In 1704 300 soldiers from the French army, along with warriors from the Abernacki and Mohawk tribes, attacked the town of Deerfield, MA, killing 56 and capturing 112. The army and their native allies set the 112 captures on a forced march to Canada. The captors were under orders to kill anyone who couldn’t make the trip, so when Eunice (who had just given birth the day before) collapsed she was murdered on the spot. The nearby stone marker, erected in 1834, is hella un-PC and lays the blame entirely on the natives, making no mention of the French army.
Ghosts in the rear view it was on to the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum, a neat free museum that displays and operates a variety of trolleys, trams, and rail cars. Particularly cool in my book was the caboose on site that was open for exploration.
Also in Shelburne Falls was the Bridge of Flowers. Formerly a rail bridge, the town decided to turn it into a very unique garden after the rail line was shut down.
Just up the road was this 15 foot tall fiberglass statue of mid-20th century cultural appropriation, a “Giant Indian” outside a roadside gift shop named Native Views. It used to be named the Big Indian Shop. Yeeeep.
I should perhaps at this point make mention that this stretch of Route 2 is called the Mohawk Trail, as it follows what used to be a major Native American trade route for the Atlantic tribes. Which helps explain both the running theme and my next stop, a statue named Hail To The Sunrise. This statue depicts a Native American man in traditional attire with his arms extended to the east to great the Great Spirit. In front of the statue is a reflecting pool lined with 100 inscribed stones from Native American tribes and councils across the U.S. The fact that this is just up the road from the Giant Indian is quite the study in contrast.
After greeting the sun it was on to another icon of the region, the Hoosac Tunnel, once the second longest tunnel in the world at 4.75 miles, and still the longest active U.S. transportation tunnel east of the Rockies. The Hoosac Tunnel was started in 1851 with an expected cost of $2 million (roughly $65 million in 2018 money). The tunnel was completed in 1875 at a final cost of $21 million (somewhere around $500 million in 2018 money. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact because the difference in inflation between the start year and finish year is over $200 million) and the lives of 193 workers. Death was so common that during construction the tunnel earned the nickname “the bloody pit.” As I stood at the entrance, staring into a void somehow beyond black, the winds suddenly picked up. Dust billowed, trees leaned, birds flew backwards. I took this as an indicator that I shouldn’t go into the creepy blood hole and went to a nearby cemetery instead. On the way out I passed team poor_sh and their Cayman headed the other way, but they didn’t notice me. Anonymous car FTW.
I don’t know who Gordy Burdick was or what he did, but his Parking Meter Tombstone make me think he and I would have gotten along.
After the tombstone I would totally get if I planned on being buried (I don’t), it was another Mohawk Trail roadside statue, this time The Elk On The Trail. Erected by the Order of the Elks, this is perhaps one of the more unusual World War I monuments I’ve seen.
The ill wind at the Hoosac tunnel produced an intense but short-lived rain storm. Coming out the other side by the famous Route 2 hairpin I was greeted by a beautiful view of the valley, with a low evening sun over even lower clouds. I didn’t stop to take a picture because I’m dumb, but the llocal_llamas did and it’s a beauty.
I was feeling good about managing to avoid everyone for most of the day, but that came to an end at the Harmonic Bridge. arch_duke_maxyekno, delayed by his incompatibility with modern technologies such as Instagram, was hanging out under the bridge as I arrived. Caught again.
Never mind that though, the Harmonic Bridge is the star here and it’s some seriously trippy shit. An artist from Mass MoCA attached two 16-foot-long resonating tubes to the bottom of the highway overpass above and placed microphones at specific intervals to pick up the sounds of traffic, resulting in this low, resonating C note.
Closing in on the finish I stopped at another odd art display, this one at Williams College. Outside the school’s art museum are these giant eyes. At night their pupils glow various colors. Artists are weird.
Speaking of weird, if you haven’t gone down the bizarre roadside rabbit hole that is the Muffler Men then you’re in for a treat. These fiberglass giants spread out across the country in the 60s and 70s, positioning themselves on street corners and in parking lots under the guise of selling mufflers, burgers, tires, and motorcycles, waiting for the day they will rise up and overthrow us all.
The final checkpoint was a prime example of me being a bastard. Wally the Stegosaurus is located in front of the Berkshire Museum, literally right around the corner from the rally finish point at Patrick’s Pub. Because of the downtown parking situation in Pittsfield some teams even had to walk past him from where they parked (I was one of those people). The fun was seeing how many teams would be too tired/too hurried to notice and miss these easy points. While most teams were wise to my tricks, three missed these sneaky points, with a fourth rushing out of the restaurant last minute to make the score upon discovering how close it was.
Speaking of Patrick’s Pub, they were a great finish venue. Good food, ample varieties of beer (and other booze), and not a single menu item over $20, not even the chicken parm. The waitstaff was very attentive and helpful, and they had a reserved table ready and waiting for me when I arrived. 10/10, would use as rally end point again.
Now for the only part you actually care about, the results of the rally. Starting with the Honorable Mentions:
Marathon man: #teame82 (12th overall)
Known around these parts as “The Arch Duck,” teame82 traveled the furthest to attend, coming from Florence, Kentucky. I’m pretty sure he also traveled the furthest during the rally, as he did no mapping or planning of his route but just sorta went after whatever checkpoint caught his fancy, sometimes traveling the same road back and forth three or more times (and on one occasion getting himself lost in a cell phone dead zone while trying to find the infamous fighter jet crash site). He earned the lowest score (even lower than mine), being the only team to hit fewer than ten checkpoints, but he gets a mention anyway for his effort.
Photobomb master: #teamhardcoreporg (9th overall)
There are four things porgs are good for: eating, eating, eating, and ruining photos. Team Hardcore Porg’s mascot managed to just barely peek into every single photo the team posted, until it was finally fully coaxed out in front of the camera with a beer. I admire commitment to a gag, and this made me giggle every time. Well done, porg. Now get in my belly.
This is how you bribe: #teamELMNTR (8th overall)
Arch Duke brought a very good bribe in the form of homemade jerky, but teamELMNTR stepped it up with this fantastic classic cars book they found in the Montague Bookmill. The obsessive level of depth the book goes into is the stuff Raph Orlove’s most fantastical dreams are made of, and I can’t wait to read it. Bonus mention, teamELMNTR showed up without a mascot so they were saddled with a radio safe Limp Bizkit CD. They played the CD on loop for the duration of the rally.
Grand Day Out: #criticalmasshole (7th overall)
Team Critical Masshole hit the second fewest checkpoints, only logging 11, but if the photos are any indicator they had a hell of a time. From going into the darkened, horror movie parts of the Rutland Prison Camp to battling it out on the disc golf courses, to being chased out of the woods by meat ticks when they tried to find the plane crash. This was as much about two longtime friends reuniting as it was about the rally, and that’s pretty cool.
Wrong Way Warriors: #fistfetish (5th overall)
First off, that hashtag brings up a few not quite safe for work images, so I’m just gonna link directly to their IG account. Ok, cool. So anyway, when the rally started and all the other teams went west, FiST Fetish broke the mold and made a play for the east. That’s because the category with the highest completion bonus was eastward, a convoluted mess of 13 checkpoints with no coherent path between them, and just to make it that little bit extra demanding, the final checkpoint to complete the set is the aforementioned Campus Eyes in the northwest corner of the state. No other team dared take the risk on this set, but FiST Fetish went for it, earning the highest bonus score of all teams and missing the podium by a scant 69 points (niiice). More importantly, they got a great photo of Ponyhenge, which is the whole reason I created the eastern set in the first place.
Masters of the Setlist: #poor_sh (4th overall)
Team Poor_sh had a strong strategy going in: complete sets, earn bonus points. And it paid off, eight of the twelve teams failed to complete a single set of checkpoints, only Poor_sh managed to complete more than one. Poor_sh completed both the rail-themed set and the architectural set, earning themselves the second highest bonus score. Very impressive.
The Press On Regardless Award: #largetimeracing
This is the specialty award that I come up with during the rally in order to give a trophy to a team that deserved it. Large Time Racing is no stranger to crapcan treasure hunt rallies. Their beater Crown Vic wagon has done the Lemons Rally, the Gambler 500, and the first Oppo Rally. This also means they know what to do when things go wrong. Their day started in Maine, getting up super early to drive down for the rally. When the rear end started overheating in the afternoon they called up a buddy in the area and limped the car to his shop. Upon taking it apart they discovered all the rollers in the wheel bearing were junk. For most teams this would be game over, but with their buddy’s help they found a new bearing, installed it, welded the axle, and went right back to hitting checkpoints. They did end up packing it in “early” (around 8 PM), but that was only because they still had to drive all the way back to Maine that night. This is how you rally.
Organizer’s Choice Award: #teamaubergine
If there’s anything I can be critical of this team for it’s choosing a team hashtag that already has a presence on Instagram, forcing me to wade through way too many tangentially eggplant related photos. But on the other hand I forced them to carry an eggplant through a cemetery, so it evens out.
Team Aubergine originally planned on bringing their 1987 Mercury Colony Park Wagon. But the wagon’s transmission was broken, so they bought an ‘85 wagon to be a parts car. When they ran out of time to do the transmission swap they decided to throw the 87 plates on the unregistered 85 wagon, only to discover the wipers on the 85 didn’t work. Which left them with their safe choice, their eggplant-colored 2009 Honda Fit which, and I quote, “I just fixed the A/C in for maximum comfort.”
Aubergine showed up at the start line wearing utilikilts and attention-grabbing rainbow stripe socks and I couldn’t decide if this was for the event or their actual every day wear. An hour into the rally the air conditioning in their “safe reliable car” broke, leaving them to sweat out the humid day. Over the course of the day these two and their giant eggplant went on to prevent two teenage pregnancies, hit 28 checkpoints (the third highest of all teams), complete two challenges, and generally weird out the normies with their large one-eyed vegetable. They earned Organizer’s Choice last year with their famous “last minute truck build,” and they earned it again this year. Well done.
Checkpoint Gods Award: #oppollama
This award goes to the team that scored the most points of straight checkpoints. Points from challenges don’t count. Set completion bonuses don’t count. Start line points don’t count. Just hard earned checkpoint cash. As I mentioned, Team Aubergine hit the third most checkpoints at 28. The second most checkpoints hit was 33 (more on that later). The Llocal Llamas hit an insane 42 checkpoints, which is more than half of the checkpoints in the event. Their straight checkpoint score was a massive 1,380 points, which on its own would have been enough to earn a top 5 finish. It was pretty clear these guys were in it to win it at the start when they broke out the giant paper map, pens, and hi-lighters, and it paid off. I considered more than 30 checkpoints nearly impossible, and they smashed that number. Behold your new gods.
Third Overall: #teamdangerzone - 1426 points
Some questions are better left unasked. “How’d the rookie team in the 911 Turbo with the five point harness and the roll bar manage to hit a whopping 33 checkpoints” is one of those questions. What I do know is that these two were great sports and seemed to be having a blast in every photo. They showed up with a homemade replica Top Gun Maverick helmet, they made a Spock hand at the Yankee Candle #candlehand challenge, they were the only team to make it to Three Sisters Sanctuary, and they even helped a stranded motorcyclist bypass a bad fan switch using a fuse from their own car and electrical tape from their helmet. Great job!
Second Overall: #rallytoucan - 1632 points
You know the saying “work smarter not harder?” That was the name of the game for team Rally Toucan. They only hit 15 checkpoints during the day, the fourth fewest, but by focusing on challenges and bonus points they monstered almost everyone, landing themselves in second by a margin of over 200 points. They completed two challenges on the day, including the lucrative Dams and Discs challenge, and completed the Nature Boy set to get the 300 point bonus off that as well. One look at their obsessive planning an tracking of checkpoints and it’s no wonder they did so well.
First Overall: #oppollama - 1905 points*
From the very beginning these four were on another level. Not only did they replicate the loot llama from Fortnite as their mascot, but some of the weapons/tools as well, because nerds. At checkpoints they didn’t just take a photo and run, they carefully decided on the best angle, framing, and staging, for maximum entertainment (seriously, just go through their photos). They golfed in a cemetery for the second straight year. They entertained the many kids (and sometimes not kids) who recognized the llama from the game. They even managed a stop at one of the team member’s high school reunion. They were the most fun team to follow, and I suspect the team having the most fun. They took it to 11. And with the highest checkpoint score, the third highest challenge score and the third highest start line score it’s no wonder they ran away with this one. Enjoy your loot, llamas. You earned it!
*At the awards I said their score was 1895. That’s because I forgot to give them extra points for making a rude gesture with their candle hand.
And that’s it for Oppo Rally 2018. I’m thrilled with how the game and the scoring went this year. A look at the top finishing teams shows there’s value both in hitting as many checkpoints as possible and in aiming to complete sets and do challenges. This is good as it gives teams options on how to play the game, and in the future either strategy could prove a winner. Expect more of this next year. See you in 2019!