The 2nd Trans-America Challenge 2015
7th - 28th June 2015
Route Survey News and Reports
Here are the reports sent back during Kim and Nikki Bannister's route survey for next year's Trans America Challenge.
Part One - JULY 12TH 2014 - Kim Bannister
from Buffalo, NY
Weather dominated the first few days of the trip. Running from Hurricane Alfred, dodging fallen trees, reversing out of muddy roads and waiting for a Tornado to hit, all thankfully freak weather at any time but most certainly not likely when we start the rally in June 2015.
Halifax to Moncton
Where to start and where to stay? We are talking to the local authorities about starting from the world famous Halifax Citadel, right in the centre of the city, and are waiting for news. Where we stay has been arranged and our home will be on the waterfront with easy access to all Halifax has to offer during the day and evening. We have negotiated a fabulous Welcome Dinner for you overlooking the harbour.
With little time to explore the whole of Nova Scotia we thought a little local knowledge would be useful. The Concierge of the hotel proved invaluable, he had been there 27 years, and suggested “go east young man” and that is what we did.
Heading east from the start took us around Cole Harbour and through the beautiful Lawrencetown area on the southern coast. We then headed north over the superb Mooseland Road to our first planned circuit of the event near Shubenacadie. This 11 turn, 2.4 kms track will be great fun and provide the first “medal section” winners.
Lunch is planned in a small restaurant in Shubenacadie before heading north and out of Nova Scotia into New Brunswick. A scenic run down to the Bay of Fundy, which has the largest tides in the world, finishes the day before we head to our hotel for the night in Moncton.
Moncton to Edmunston
Today will re-start from our second circuit of the event at the Petty Raceway, a tarmac oval circuit around 30 kms from Moncton. Another “medal section” will be decided here before heading off to a Passage Control at Magnetic Hill, an amazing optical illusion where you appear to be rolling uphill backwards, very strange.
The rest of the morning was spent plotting a route through the maze of roads and sandy tracks in New Brunswick before a chance to get some lunch in Rogersville.
After lunch we headed west along Route 108 passing Kennedy Lakes which is the only road in this area, we had to avoid fallen trees for 35 kms; nature had created some fantastic chicanes! Although the storm had passed less than 24 hours before, the locals and the New Brunswick authorities had already cleared a path for one way traffic and I expect all evidence of any storm damage has long been cleared away now.
Our final stopping point of the day was in Grand Falls where there is the most spectacular waterfall right in the centre of the town, all with easy parking so you can take plenty of photos.
From Grand Falls it was just a short run on the Trans-Canada Highway to our overnight halt in Edmundston, a town so close to the US border that the nearest fuel station to the hotel was in America rather than Canada.
Edmunston to Quebec
We used a road that stayed alongside the US/Canada border, so close to the US that you feel you could almost swim the narrow river and land in someone’s back yard. Then into Quebec Province and the sudden realisation that everything is in French and many of the locals do not speak a word of English. No problem for many of our competitors but very strange none the less.
Our first all gravel “jogularity section” was found before we headed to the shore of the St Lawrence River.
Our first plan had been to take the rally across the St Lawrence on a ferry from Riviere du Loup. When we investigated further we found that the boat ran only twice a day, once early morning and again in the evening, and held a maximum of 42 cars, so too small for our event.
Instead of the ferry we used the road alongside the St Lawrence with some great views of the river and its many islands. Lunch can be taken in one of the many restaurants and cafes in Kamouraska before we finally do get the chance to take a ferry with the short crossing of the St Lawrence from Levis to Quebec. Our hotel for the next two nights can be seen directly across the river, Le Chateau de Frontenac, one of the finest in Canada. You can be forgiven for thinking that you are travelling along the Loire Valley; it looks just like a French Chateau. This hotel, built at the end of the 19th century, is in the old walled town of Quebec , so there is much to explore on the first rest day of the event.
Quebec to Old Forge
An early start took us over the old Pont de Quebec and away from the city, a really easy way to avoid the traffic. A run along the St Lawrence then gave us a chance to look at the race circuit at Ste Croix, right on the river bank. Negotiations to use the circuit are ongoing but are looking good.
We needed to drop south away from Quebec and Montreal, so jumped on the Trans-Canada Highway for a short distance before heading south to our second circuit of the day at Sanair, near St Pie.
I had a chance to meet with the owner here and discuss our plans for next year, he seemed very keen and we were shown round an area which could be used with both an oval and road track, another medal section will be decided here.
From the track we used the back country roads of Quebec to head to a border crossing at Rouses Point to go into the US; we were the only car there so the crossing was matter of a few minutes.
Once into New York State we turned south west and made for the Adirondack Mountains and enjoyed a superb evening drive along roads that curved and dipped through the Eagle Bay area to our stopping point in Old Forge, the largest town in the Adirondacks and home of an annual classic car show. Much enthusiasm was shown for our event, so expect a great welcome here.
Old Forge to Buffalo
Heading out of the Adirondacks we used some lovely New York back roads to find another two gravel jogularity sections before discovering a stunning lunch stop on the banks of Sodus Bay, the largest on Lake Ontario. Crews will enjoy a buffet lunch overlooking the marina from the restaurant’s sun deck.
A final run through New York State roads took us to Buffalo and the hotel for our next day.
The original plan was to stay in Niagara Falls but a meeting with a man called Jeff Mahl, the great grandson of the winner of the 1908 Great Race from New York to Paris, gave us the opportunity to arrange a dinner at the world famous Pierce Arrow museum and stay in the city of Buffalo with its excellent infrastructure. Crews wanting to visit Niagara Falls on the rest day will be able to do so as it is only a short drive away and transport will be laid on. To be honest with you, the town of Niagara was a disappointment, we couldn’t book hotels of the standard we wanted for a 2 day stay, so now we are looking at a Grand Hyatt in Buffalo, so hope to secure that. The Falls are really stunning though.
Tomorrow we head back into Canada before continuing our journey to discover more interesting back of America, this time in Michigan.
Part Two - JULY 19TH 2014 - Kim Bannister
from Bismarck, ND
Buffalo to Bay City
After the bad weather of the first few days it was great to leave Buffalo in beautiful sunshine as we crossed the Peace Bridge into Canada. When the rally crosses here it will be Sunday morning so a very simple entry back into Canada is expected.
We then headed into the maze of straight roads that form this part of Ontario, imagine a typical US city grid system and apply this to a whole province and you will have some idea of the accurate navigation required to make the route notes for today. We used traffic free back roads and even a small amount of gravel to avoid any major towns and continue to head west towards the pretty lake side town of Grand Bend on the shore of Lake Huron.
We also took the chance to visit the Grand Bend Motorplex and talk to the owners about using the circuit on the event. They are going to check their programme for 2015; we would be arriving at the track on a Sunday, but they hope to find a way of working with us as they are very keen to have the cars visit the track.
After lunch in Grand Bend, where there is a large choice of restaurants and cafes, we headed west along the shore of the lake to cross back into the US at Sarnia. The crossing was busy as we were there mid-afternoon on a sunny July day, but the crossing was quick and efficient, as you would expect, and we were soon heading into the Michigan countryside.
The run to our overnight hotel near Bay City took us through some quiet roads before the final run-in on I-75 past Saginaw, made famous in the Simon and Garfunkel track “America”.
Our hotel tonight was a golf club so crews arriving early will be able to play 9 holes or more before dinner on the terrace overlooking the course.
Bay City to St Ignace
After the less competitive day of yesterday we were determined to pack as much as possible into today, and I think we succeeded.
Heading north away from the hotel we used a short run on the Interstate to get us into the countryside, away from traffic and along the edge of Saginaw Bay.
Our first gravel jogularity will run through the Au Sable State Forest, lovely sandy tracks making for a great fun section.
Heading further north we went into the Huron National Forest and found three potential sections before lunch in Hillman.
After a well-earned lunch it was back into the woods for more exploring, this time in the Mackinaw State Forest, and a further two excellent roads were noted as possibles.
Just to put the icing on the cake of a really great day we found a tarmac oval track near the town of Onaway where cars were practicing. The lady on the gate turned out to be the owner and she was delighted to think we would bring the event to her facility to finish off the competition for the day.
We then had a short run along the shoreline of Lake Huron before crossing the Mackinac Bridge, which separates Lakes Huron and Michigan, and on to our new overnight halt in the lake side town of St Ignace.
Our original plan had been to stay in Sault Ste Marie but having travelled to the city and stayed there ourselves we felt that St Ignace was a much nicer option.
At this point we also made a major decision to continue in the US rather than crossing back into Canada and driving around Lake Superior to Thunder Bay.
The reasons we made the decision were many, but principally we felt that just driving along the all tarmac Trans-Canada Highway, with less infrastructure in the way of fuel stations and stopping places, was not as good as heading back into the Michigan countryside for more of their excellent gravel roads combined with far more fuel options and lunch places.
St Ignace to Duluth
Within 4 kms of the re-start we were back onto gravel roads for the first section of the day skirting both Round and Beaver Lakes in the Hiawatha National Forest.
A short run through the small town of Trout Lake and we were in the Lake Superior National Forest for our second run on gravel before turning west to find our third and final jogularity finishing near the town of Creighton. Smooth tracks and flowing bends were the order of the day and justified our decision to remain in Michigan.
As there was still a good distance to run before our overnight halt we headed west along the southern shoreline of Lake Superior, the largest lake in the world which holds 10% of the earth’s fresh water, and into the town of Marquette where lunch can be taken at any one of a number of restaurants or cafes.
The rest of the day was a straightforward run along good tarmac roads to our overnight halt in Duluth, just over the border in Minnesota, on the west shore of Lake Superior.
Duluth to Grand Forks
Having made the change from Thunder Bay to Duluth it allowed us to get further west than originally planned to another new overnight halt at Grand Forks, just across the border into North Dakota. It also allowed us to explore the beautiful lake area in and around the Land O’Lakes Forest.
Despite a day when it rained for most of the time, we were able to enjoy numerous smooth tracks, made slippery by the weather, and some wonderful scenery before finding a quirky lunch stop in the town of Park Rapids.
The afternoon was spent heading north into the Itasca State Forest where we found more testing gravel sections, then we headed west to our new overnight halt in Grand Forks, the third largest city in North Dakota.
Grand Forks to Bismarck
Just for once we stayed a whole day in the same state.
North Dakota is very similar to Ontario for road structure, endless straight roads in a grid pattern and we looked long and hard at a route to make the day as enjoyable as possible.
We combined good, traffic free, tarmac roads with some great straight gravel ones and even discovered a wonderful jogularity section through smooth flowing gravel farmland roads to end the mornings run.
We decided to finish the day at Jamestown so crews would have time to visit the various attractions in the area; the Frontier Village and Buffalo Museum were two highlights, before having the chance to get some lunch at one of the many restaurants in the town.
In the afternoon we have decided to give crews two route options, one along the Interstate or the other along the miles of straight gravel and tarmac roads which run through the countryside of North Dakota to our overnight halt in the state capital Bismarck.
Discussions are taking place with a local boat company for us to charter their fantastic old paddle steamer to take everyone on an evening Lewis and Clark cruise, named after the famous explorers who visited the region, a lovely way to finish off the day.
As this is written we have decided to move the rest day to Rapid City in South Dakota to allow crews more time to explore the wealth of attractions and sight-seeing opportunities in the area, something that was not available in Bismarck. Unfortunately, Bismarck lacks charm; it’s a typical American city – great infrastructure but nothing much to do or to see.
South Dakota and the wonders of Mount Rushmore and Little Big Horn are waiting for us over the next few days and will be included in our next report.
Part Three - JULY 29TH 2014 - Kim Bannister
from San Francisco, CA
Bismarck to Rapid City
Leaving Bismarck behind us we headed straight into glorious North Dakota countryside and used some superb gravel farm roads for the first 100 kms before emerging onto tarmac near the wonderfully named town of Flasher.
We then needed to head south towards our next state, South Dakota, and did this on fast straight tarmac roads through the vast farms of the area. No traffic and a speed limit of 65 mph made the miles disappear before the chance to get some lunch in the town of Faith.
Continuing west we decided to take the route through Sturgis, home one of the world’s largest motorcycle gatherings which takes place in August each year. From Sturgis we headed to the famous old cowboy town of Deadwood and the final control of the day at the “Days of 76” Museum. Crews can then take their time to look around this historic and fun town before heading through the Black Hills National Forest to our overnight stay in Rapid City.
We also gained another hour as we had entered “Mountain Time” which gave us even more time to take in the sights and sounds of Deadwood.
Rapid City – Rest Day
Moving the rest day from Bismarck to Rapid City seems to have been the right decision as there is much to see and do in the area, including a lovely old downtown area of Rapid City to explore for those not wanting to stray too far and some interesting places to go to, Keystone in particular, for those prepared to drive a little way out of town.
Rapid City to Sheridan
We had taken the opportunity to explore the area on a day off so have planned a route which we think takes in the best of the area for our route away from South Dakota and into Wyoming.
Heading south from Rapid City we visit Mount Rushmore and the carvings of the presidents in the rock face. Crews can take photos from the road as we approach or there is the chance to stop and get a little closer for a parking charge of $11. Time will be allowed for this.
After Mount Rushmore the route goes through the Needles Highway, an incredible drive through sheer rock faces and wonderful scenery in a National park. There is a small charge for using the road but it is a fantastic drive.
Our plan is to then re-group all the cars at the Crazy Horse Memorial, a huge rock carving still in progress, before heading west for the rest of the day.
Lunch can be taken in the town of Moorcroft before heading into the gravel roads west of Gillette for some jogularity sections, with a nice all tarmac alternative route for those who want to take it.
The original plan had been to spend the night at Gillette, but when we drove through we decided to look elsewhere, you will drive through the area and will see why we made the decision.
We ended up in the town of Sheridan in Wyoming, a great location for our plans for the following day and which also allowed us to take the event to the town of Cody in Wyoming, much closer to Yellowstone than our original stop of Billings.
Sheridan to Cody
This was one of our favourite days, although this is a very personal opinion, as we headed off into the traffic free rolling hills of Wyoming before crossing into Montana to visit the historical site of “Little Big Horn” and “Custer’s Last Stand”.
Time will be allowed to visit the various areas of the battlefield before re-grouping at the Battlefield Museum a little further south in Garryowen where we can get coffee and snacks or spend money in the excellent well stocked gift shop.
We then headed into the Big Horn Mountains as the road climbed ever higher with snow still evident on the mountain tops, we reached over 2600 metres (8500 feet) before dropping slightly to the Shell Canyon and Falls with stunning views all around.
We also explored a wonderful twisting gravel road which started at a height of 2400metres and dropped slowly to the finish some 20 kms later. This will make a fantastic and testing jogularity section, as long as the snow has gone.
We had decided to move the end of the day from the rather ordinary town of Billings to the cowboy town of Cody, named after William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. A nightly gun fight is played out along the main street outside the Irma Hotel for the visiting tourists. The Irma is named after Buffalo Bills daughter and we had originally looked to stay there but the hotel is too small for our needs and a much nicer alternative was found.
As Cody is known as the ‘Rodeo Capital of the World’ we just had to arrange to take everyone to see the rodeo show in the evening after dinner. Hopefully, another night to remember.
Cody to Idaho Falls
On the event we have decided to make this a transit day so crews can spend as much or as little time as they want in Yellowstone National Park.
We have planned a route that takes in most of the highlights of Yellowstone but crews will be free to take other routes if they want to.
Our route headed north west from Cody over the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway and the romantically titled “Dead Indian Pass” before entering Yellowstone at the Silver Gate (North East) entrance and then headed south west past Yellowstone Lake and Old Faithful before leaving at the western exit and the town of West Yellowstone, where a great lunch can be taken if you have the time.
In Yellowstone we saw stunning scenery, wonderful lakeside views, a wide variety of animals, no bears this time but they will be about when we visit and geysers spurting water into the air.
From the park we used the freeway to get to our overnight halt in Idaho Falls.
Idaho Falls to Elko
Today will be a long day on the event as we need to head west into the open vastness of Nevada and the gateway to California.
We found a dirt oval track just outside Idaho Falls but unfortunately there was no one there to talk to so we took details and will try and find a way to use the circuit on the event for some fun on our journey west.
After a short but polite chat with an Idaho State Trooper we continued on our journey. All State Troopers have radar which detect a cars oncoming speed, so be aware of this.
Our route continued west through the “Craters of the Moon” National park, an amazing drive through lava fields and great scenery before we had to decide the best route into Elko.
Our original plan had been to visit the Shoshone Falls near the city of Twin Falls. We went there on the route survey but there are notices everywhere showing the work that will be carried out in 2015 which would make the area more of a building site than a tourist attraction. We decided then to change the route for the afternoon and will head west to the town of Mountain Home and approach Elko from the north. This will also give us the opportunity to run at least one jogularity section on the tarmac road through the Mountain City area.
Our overnight stop will be in the town of Elko, generally used as a stopping point on the way to Reno, just as we are doing.
Elko to Reno
To reach Reno we needed to head west across the vast openness of Nevada, 70 mph speed limits on many of the roads helped us to cover the distance quickly.
Our journey took us past another Eureka, the Nevada one, before heading into the Green Mountains on a wonderful traffic free side road and the chance to run an all tarmac jogularity through the hills before the chance to get fuel and food in Fallon.
After Fallon we decided to take the road through Silver Springs and Virginian City, what a great decision. The road to Virginia City twists, turns and climbs before the lovely old town where we took the opportunity to stop and wander around, we will add time in so crews can do the same and enjoy the experience.
From Virginia City there were more twists, turns and climbs before joining the I-580 and the last leg of the trip into Reno, the “Biggest Little City in the World” and our hotel at one of the casino resorts that are all over the city.
Reno – Rest Day
Our contacts from Buffalo also have friends at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, where the Thomas Flyer, the winner of the 1908 Great Race, is on display. It would be great to join the circle having seen the Pierce Arrow museum in Buffalo and then to see the winning car in Reno. We are working on a number of ideas, including dinner at the museum and a visit to the exhibition halls.
Those wanting a quieter day will find plenty to do in the hotel, not just playing the tables unless you want to.
Reno to Eureka
From Reno we took the Interstate out of the city, we will be leaving on a Saturday morning so traffic will be lighter than during the week, and headed into our final state of the event California.
A wonderful sweeping gravel road into Taylorsville will be our first jogularity of the day, but crews wanting to stay on tarmac can enjoy a stunning drive through the Lassen National Park and the town of Quincy before meeting crews from the gravel road.
Our next stop was in Red Bluff, the birthplace of Tom Hanks, where lunch can be taken, before we headed onto one of the most enjoyable driving roads we have seen, the fantastic highway 36 which sweeps and swoops through the California countryside.
Our second section of the day will be over the all tarmac South Fork Mountain Road, although crews wanting to avoid this can continue on the amazing highway 36 to the evening halt in Eureka.
The run in to our hotel in Eureka will give crews the first sight of the Pacific Ocean in the Humboldt Bay, an area which produces 93% of the Oysters eaten in the US and nearly 60% of all seafood consumed, so expect some fish on tonight’s menu.
Eureka to San Francisco
After a short run along highway 101 we turned onto the “Avenue of the Giants” for a 50 kms (30 mile) run through the mighty Redwood trees which abound in this area. This road was a little slower than using the parallel highway, but the view was much better.
The final day of the event needed to be special so we decided to get off highway 101 and onto the iconic route 1 along the “Pacific Coast Highway”. The views of the Ocean were amazing with waves crashing onto the rocks only feet away from the car and glimpses of hidden coves and beaches far below the road.
Route 1 can be slow going though, there will be traffic returning to San Francisco on the Sunday evening, but the drive is worth it.
We entered San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge, surely the only way to go, before heading downtown to our finish hotel where the world famous Cable Cars run nearby and the hills made famous in “Bullitt” are to be found.
Now we are in San Francisco we can look back on an incredible “Road Trip” which has taken us from the Atlantic coast in Nova Scotia to the pacific coast in California, truly “Sea to Shining Sea”.
All we need now is a great group of people to complete the picture.