The 2nd Trans-America Challenge 2015
7th - 28th June 2015
Day 11 - Duluth to Grand Forks
A very gravelly morning was in store for us as we made our way from Duluth to the Minnesota Lakes.
We were routed along the little used byways of St Louis County west of the Arrowhead through a series of passage controls around Swan River, Willow River and Moose River but not before we'd enjoyed a drive through Floodwood, the self proclaimed Catfish Capital of the world. Soon after it was across and alongside the yet very young Mississippi River. We'd crossed a much more mature Mississippi on the 2012 Trans America when we visited Memphis, so it was nice to see how the Old Man River started out.
This is backwoods country and the twists and turns through farmland dotted with Dutch style barns and woodland full of deer and wildfowl took us on and off the Tarmac with a satisfying regularity. An almost complete absence of traffic made this drive a quite remarkable one and we had two graders working flat out to keep this piste smooth, just for us.
A fantastic morning's driving then was crowned by lunch in the West Forty Restaurant in Park Rapids. Hearty American food was served up in the usual man sized portions to the hungry Rally.
Soon after, very soon after in fact, we were back into Regularity mode for the two timed sections of the day in the Itasca State Park, where the actual headwater of the Mississippi is located. This is a fantastic piece of land, no tarmac, no people, lots of bugs. Small lakes, swamps and creeks flowed in and out of each other like the bends of the road past cabins, barns and lodges.
The first based around Sugar Bush Lake gave us more than 17km of track to enjoy while the second along Height of the Land Road came up just short of 17km.
Top of the tree then for these two sections were Peter and Zoe Lovett, Clint and Dawn Smith, Martin and Olivia Hunt, Gavin and Diana Henderson, Philip and Yvonne Haslam and Alastair and Dorothy Caldwell.
Once out of the woods we could almost see the finish line in Grand Forks, North Dakota, a mere 168km away on superb American "pavement". We're on mountain time now but this afternoon we drove through the Minnesota prairie lands which are as flat as anything we've seen so far and the sky was as big and blue as you could have wished for.
Car washing, refuelling and a quick coffee then was the order of the day in Fosston, the last town of any size on the way into the night halt and some of the crews remarked that this was the best days driving so far. Certainly we'd be happy to agree with this sentiment.
As is our custom, we crossed a river to get to the hotel in Grand Forks, North Dakota; although the bridge which we used tonight was the least grand of all so far. Spanning the Red River of the North, the Red River Bridge, also known as the Sorlie Memorial Bridge, is a mere 86m long. Arthur G Sorlie was the 14th Governor of North Dakota and "was a true friend of better roads and bridges".
There have been a few of issues today with a couple of cars. The Rolls Royce of Hok and Eric Kiang Sia was suffering from ignition problems. We saw them by the side of the road before lunch being helped by Paul Hartfield but they made it to the night halt under their own steam.
The new Datsun 240Z of Richard Martin and Travis Cole is receiving attention from the sweeps this evening. There's something not quite right with the rear axle they tell us but as the car wasn't 'prepared' they're not quite sure what they'll find.
The Mustang of Nick and Dom Marmont developed a problem with the camshaft which means that the car is sadly now out of the Rally but the crew hope to rejoin in a rental car. Roger and Christian Clark, whose Daimler blew a gasket three days ago are also back with us in a rental car.
The leaders tonight have had a bit of a swap around. Phil Garratt and Kieron Brown are still on top spot with Zoe and Peter Lovett in second. Mark and Colin Winkleman however have slipped neatly into third place. Their consistency in the smooth running Porsche 912 has finally been rewarded while Alan and Tina Beardshaw in the Aston have slipped into fifth.