10 Days, 10 Reels, 5,000+ Miles: An Alcan 5000 Rally Recap

Subaru Outback Wilderness on the Alcan 5000 Rally

It’s exactly two months to the day of the winter Alcan 5000 Rally start line. Andy and I are partnering with INEOS Automotive to drive their Grenadier Trialmaster 4×4 for the competition. The 2024 Alcan 5000 Rally starts February 21 and runs through March 1.

However, in honor of this massive 5,000+ mile, 10-day Arctic undertaking, we wanted to share with you 10 days of Alcan from the summer 2022 Alcan 5000 Rally, where we partnered with Subaru of America and campaigned their Outback Wilderness. 

Each Reel below is accompanied by a description of the day’s happening. Days 5, 6, and 9 of the below coverage just earned a prestigious award from the Texas Auto Writers Association, nabbing First Place Social Media for the 2023 event. The judges said, “The quality of this is excellent, as is the copy. It really gives the viewer a sense of the pleasure and the pain of such an adventure.”

Hope you enjoy the adrenaline-filled ride as it happened!

Day 1: 2022 Alcan 5000 Rally Start and Initial Emotions

The Outback Wilderness ran strong and was a very comfortable, good highway cruiser with plenty of passing power. Ralliers traveled from the start line of Kirkland, WA to Quesnel, British Columbia. The first of two time-speed-distance (TSD) rallies gave us some challenges, but we found our error, got back on the rally route, and finished the day strong.

Two unexpected road closures forced the first TSD to be cut short and the afternoon stage to be canceled entirely (due to a landslide in Lytton).

Next was Quesnel to Smithers, BC! We were honing time calculation skills to integrate them into each TSD section. There was lots to do as we ran the SOP, or “seat-of-pants” class over the next 10 days.

Day 2: Major Gravel and Major Miles

We got our first taste of major gravel! Ralliers headed from Quesnel, BC to Smithers. The morning TSD challenged even the best of teams, offering long stretches of off-pavement opportunities while the afternoon time-speed-distance event gave way to time allowance requests and even bypasses for those who took too long for the interim gravel-logged transit section.

The Outback Wilderness’ all-wheel-drive system shined here as the car clawed at the dirt and gave us exceptional traction. Additionally, the suspension system soaked up potholes and bumps easily and provided a comfortable, compliant ride.

Day 3: Sixteen Hours and Tons of Gravel

Smithers, BC to Watson Lake, YT. 4:00 wake-up alarm, 16 hours logging 664 miles (lots of it gravel), a 42-mile gravel TSD section, and the more extreme control option was chosen: 140 miles of gravel to Telegraph Creek, BC and back. DONE.

We saw two bears, two porcupines, a lynx, and a fox, and gained about 10,000 dead bugs on our front end. Our roof rack and storage box took the brunt of the late-night meet-up, with a three-dimensional thickness only an ice scraper could take off.

We heard the summer Alcan 5000 iteration had a propensity for tire issues, especially on the route to Telegraph Creek. So, we packed for the worst and hoped for the best. We were equipped with two full-size spares, an ARB tire patch kit, and a portable air compressor, but didn’t need any of them.

The Outback Wilderness proved itself in many ways while off the well-worn path. Subaru’s symmetrical AWD system kept us planted through loose gravel and 12% downgrades, coming together brilliantly in a variety of unpaved conditions.

We were weary but comfortable and focused. We learned a bunch about time calculation integration, how to take time allowances effectively (and learning from mistakes), and had an awesome time rallying alongside so many wonderful people. It doesn’t matter who is who, everyone is helpful, kind, and happy to be competing in the mother of all North American rallies.

Day 4: TSDs and 600+ Miles to Reach Dawson, Yukon Territory

An early-morning time-speed-distance challenge had competitors turning and twisting quickly through Watson Lake, YT. After a brief post-rally visit to the town’s iconic Sign Post Forest, we took off for Dawson, YT (home of the famous Sour Toe Cocktail). Teams were faced with several delays due to construction zones and pilot cars. We also encountered heavy rain, but that washed off the dead bugs.

Although we skipped the mummified toe beverage this time around, we gained our rite of passage through the area by each drinking one during the 2020 winter Alcan 5000 Rally.

Over 600 miles later, vehicle teams arrived to the city for another night of auto inspections, time calculations, and hopeful solid sleep. Adventure bikes took a different 301-mile route for an overnight of tent camping in Canol Camp. We left Dawson to take to the road/gravel to Midnight Dome for another early am TSD rally. Then we headed to Whitehorse, YT via another optional extreme control, to Skagway, Alaska.

Day 5: Euphoria and Skagway, Alaska

Dawson, YT to Whitehorse, YT via an optional extreme control to Skagway, Alaska, and back. The trek was 556 miles. It was filled with dense fog, loads of rain, and more road construction. Punctured tires and mechanical issues hampered some teams, but we remained steadfast. The Outback Wilderness has become our trusty rally companion. Although it’s a challenge to hold slower prescribed rally speeds with the CVT in automatic mode, the Wilderness chews up and spits out whatever we throw at it. It’s got plenty of power and never bottomed out. Additionally, its factory Yokohama Geolandar A/T G105 all-terrain tires provided excellent traction in off-pavement situations, their overall demeanor was an ideal match for this type of competition.

Day 5’s TSD segment led teams up a gravel road that ended at Midnight Dome, an overlook that would normally showcase expansive views of the valley below. However, we were greeted with a thick layer of fog that eventually parted ways at the top, giving us a feeling of euphoria as we sat above the fog line, awaiting our car’s official out time to continue the time-speed-distance competition.

After a few hundred miles, competitors could choose the afternoon TSD or complete the optional extreme control section: Skagway, Alaska. Extreme control teams would receive the best score in their class via competing teams running the TSD, while still contending for the coveted Arctic award. This is an accolade given to those who complete all optional extreme control segments. Our Pajero and us earned that award during the winter 2020 Alcan 5000, and we went for it again in 2022!

The next day we departed Whitehorse, YT to tackle the Long Lake TSD and then headed straight to Fort Nelson, BC (a mere 605 miles later). Sleep-deprived but happy and laser-focused, this was endurance rallying at its finest!

Day 6: Total Redemption and Northern Lights

Fort Nelson, British Columbia’s morning TSD, Long Lake, consisted of 11.64 miles and dirt/pavement roads.

This up-and-back time-speed-distance event was total redemption for our costly mistake on the rally’s very first TSD: missing a turn resulting in timing out of all but the first checkpoint. By the time we confirmed where we were, it was several miles in the wrong direction with no chance of getting back on time.

On day 6, however, we were in total sync. Equipped with a mass of time calcs, freeze-dried biscuits, and gravy in our bellies, and a silent hail Mary, we completed the TSD and celebrated near-perfect scores through most of it.

Twelve of the 16 checkpoints were three seconds or under off, six being .5 seconds or less than the rallymaster’s perfect zero time!  That’s a HUGE accomplishment as we learned how to properly calculate rally times and integrate them during each TSD. It started to sink in. We used to be happy with any single digits!

Day by day we settled into the new-to-us “seat of pants” SOP class. Thanks to those who lent their time and expertise to help us true up calcs, especially buddy cars #15 (Glyn and Bart) and #3 (Jeff and Ella). We appreciate you!

After a wildlife-filled drive to Fort Nelson, an incoming late-night text read, “Come out. Now.” This was followed by unbelievable photos of the Northern Lights, piercing through a pitch-black sky. We clamored about, grabbed our sweatshirts, and dashed out to view Mother Nature’s brilliant canvas. Awe-inspiring neon green ribbons danced across the stars, creating the perfect symphony of color and contrast. Who cares if we got less than four hours of sleep mid-way through the rally? It was WELL worth it.

After an early AM TSD, the Simpson Trail, day 7 went from Fort Nelson, BC to Yellowknife, NWT, some 635 miles. We were more than halfway through the 10-day, 5,000+ mile rally!

Day 7: Rock-Hard Dirt Coatings, Near-Perfect Scores, and Rolling Frost Heaves

The Simpson Trail, our early-AM TSD, was littered with speed changes and gravel. After a stressful start with lagging times, we finished strong with the last eight of the total 14 checkpoints being 3.5 seconds or less off the rallymaster’s perfect score. YES!

Day 7 moved us to Yellowknife via the remote Liard, Mackenzie, and Yellowknife highways, many of which included miles of dusty gravel or rolling frost heaves. Teams experienced their longest stretch between fuel fill-ups: nearly 300 miles. Conservative driving and fuel preparedness came into play as ralliers wound their way through the middle of nowhere.

After our lengthy and flat jaunt, we discovered the Outback Wilderness took on a whole new look. It was caked with an even and thick rock-hard dirt coating … something we’ve not quite seen before. After a quick attempt to scrub off the brake lights and flee the flies, we carried on in search of a hot meal and a comfortable bed.

We were more than halfway through the 10-day, 5,000+ mile rally! It was hard to believe there were only a few days left of this competition. Everyone bonded over cars, calculations, and culture. We knew we’d surely miss the comradery, stories, and laughter. The 2024 Alcan 5000 can’t come soon enough!

Day 8: Conquering Extreme Challenges and the Ingraham Trail

After figuring out last-minute hotel changes in Yellowknife last night, we slept like babies once we got our room and coveted a few extra hours of slumber. This would be one team’s day off and another’s optional extreme control route. What did we opt for? Of course, driving the Ingraham Trail, the optional route! No time-speed-distance challenges today, it was the rally’s “day off.” Some people lounged, shopped, or slept their way through the day instead of taking the rally route … but they lost 10 points.

Most of our buddy team opted for the optional drive. We had a great time photographing each other’s vehicles, along with the beautiful scenery behind them.

Our steadfast Outback Wilderness donned a thick, hard coat of dirt patina. It’s not wipeable but was scrapable (we took our hotel key and scraped off the Alcan Rally decals). It was literally full-bodied concrete. From what we learned, the gravel roads in NWT, Canada were coated with calcium chloride. It’s an agent that’s soluble in water and solid at room temperature. However, it melts up to eight times as much ice as salt alone. It also hardens the roads as people pass. This is what causes the intense and crusty dirt covering.

The next day we’d get up early again, making our way to Peace River after our early-AM TSD. Then we’re off to Jasper, Alberta for the final big day.

Day 9: Severe Exhaustion and Doubling Down

After a few days of flatland monotony, teams trudged on from Yellowknife, NWT to Peace River, Alberta, adding 628.5 miles to their overall rally experience.

An early-morning time-speed-distance competition, the Yellowknife Loop, consisted of 25 miles. This pressure cooker of a challenge happened during morning rush hour with clogged city traffic, eventually finishing on a frost-heave-strewn highway. The TSD left competitors stressed, questioning their day’s performance.

We’ve done the Alcan 5000 Rally twice now. It’s around days 8 or 9 when fatigue and a longing for “normal” food and daily life can set in. People’s digestive systems can get out of whack. Voices may be lost, throats can get scratchy, and eyes can burn from constant AC or heat.

However, this is when competitors need to double down. The final day of the 2022 Alcan 5000 rally consisted of 373 miles, with the last TSD being 27.28 miles. It boasts a long list of routes, instructions, and speed changes.

Although we suffered from a TSD mishap on day 1 that toook us out of podium potential (this still stings), we instituted time calcs in nearly all the TSDs successfully. We learned a lot of what to do (and what not to do). The big picture: push beyond your comfort zone to improve. Overall, we had never gotten as good and consistent scores in the “seat-of-pants” or SOP class, garnering a wide array of digits three seconds away from the rallymaster’s perfect score, or under. We were very proud.

Time-speed-distance rallies marry several things we love: being together, traveling, learning, and meeting like-minded automotive enthusiasts. TSD rallies are one of the most underrated and approachable forms of motorsports … they challenge us. They also reward us with pride, happiness, and confidence.

It boils down to this: One can be complacent in life or try something new. Don’t wait for the perfect time or it’ll never happen. You never know, trying something different may just change your life for the better.

Day 10: Cranked Windshields, Single-Digit TSD Numbers, Crossing the Finish Line

It’s the FINAL DAY! Ralliers endured 10 days and 5,000+ miles of challenging driving and navigation, little sleep, tire punctures, cracked windscreens or other mechanical issues, and on-the-go changes. However, that paled in comparison to the incredible time we had, coming together to help one another, creating a genuinely unique experience.

It didn’t matter if you drove a classic Mini, Jeep Gladiator, or Subaru Forester, or if you were new to rallying or a 40-plus-year veteran. The comradery that organically happens during the Alcan 5000 Rally is like none other: teams honing rally intricacies while supporting others in a pinch.

Although we have a ways to go to solidify hard-core confidence in the “seat-of-pants” or SOP class, our showing at the 2022 Alcan rally confirmed a drastic improvement as we implemented time calculations.

We garnered near-zero scores and single-digit consistency while experiencing beautiful scenery and new places to visit. We are proud. CONGRATS TO ALL THE TEAMS, and we’ll see you at the 2024 Alcan 5000 Rally!

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