Welcome back to AutoGuide’s exploits at the Mazda Adventure Rally. We rejoin team Eunos Cosmo (Sami and Mike) in the final stretch as they look to improve their third place ranking and win $10,000 for their charity, Camp Sunshine.
Telluride, Colorado and Sundance, Utah, the two extremes of our trip today, sit just over 330 miles apart. That is, if you take the easiest, quickest and most painless route there. Today, however, Mike and I will do the exact opposite of that, as we look to stay in the top three of the Mazda Adventure Rally.
As we left it, we were just setting off out of Telluride, with a goal of hitting six US zip codes, and taking a photo proving we were at those locations. We also had to accomplish the task without doing any u-turns, or straying off the main roads. Mike and I aimed for the post-offices in each town, as each have their respective zip code written on them. We gunned it for the first town called Placerville, Colorado.
The entire route required us to stick to the CO-145 highway, and we passed through Norwood, Redvale, Naturita, Bedrock, and finally La Sal. Driving through these locations, and taking a photograph of all six post-offices allowed us to get the maximum amount of points. It might sound boring, but it wasn’t close to being dull thanks to the brilliant backdrop of Colorado as well as Mike’s spirited driving. At every stop, Mike barely gave me a moment to take a photo of the post office, before already asking for the directions to the next town.
Mike’s competitive spirit helped give us an edge. Last night we stayed up past midnight figuring out how to get the very most out of the challenges for today, and it seemed possible to get every single point out there, and even move up in the standings… if any of the other two teams ahead of us couldn’t do the same thing. At the very least we should be able to stay in third place, earning $1,000 to our charity, Camp Sunshine.
Blasting through the first challenge we ended up in Moab, Utah. The town is known for its annual Jeep Safaris and offers a serious set of off road trails. Our second challenge of the day takes place on these same trails, and we also have the tasks of recreating scenes from famous Hollywood movies, which were shot in the area.
After seeing so much breathtaking scenery yesterday, we thought it would be hard to get blown away again. We were wrong. The same thought process was in our head about the vehicle we were driving. While the CX-9 we drove yesterday proved to be quite capable, especially in high altitudes, today’s CX-5 was equally impressive, galloping about in places that only the true hard-core off-roaders dare to go.
OFF-ROADING WITH JEEPS
In fact, during our paths in Moab, we came across several Jeeps and 4×4 which were purposely modified to go off road. With ride-heights that require a step-ladder to reach the driver seats and big knobby tires usually saved for construction vehicles, these “purpose-built” off-roaders actually ended up just getting in our way.
Mike relished embarrassing these Jeeps. He fed on it, like a wrestling foil feeds on the crowd’s boos. Pushing the little CX-5 to its limits required smart driving. Mike kept the CX-5 safe from tire-killing rocks and perilous drops, and I just held on for dear life.
Eventually, it seemed like we were going a bit slow and could possibly be penalized for being behind schedule. While Mike didn’t rule out the possibility of those slow Jeep drivers ruining our rally, he also decided to switch off traction control for the duration of this route. Sure enough, the CX-5 responded and it finally wasn’t fighting with Mike for control. We barreled our way towards Shafer Canyon Road, and collected all the points we could along the way.
Unfortunately, all our plans went out the window when we discovered that the main pass was closed for construction. While we saw some pretty gnarly roads up until this point, we were promised even crazier passes, with limited lane width and higher peaks. We doubled back and went through another pass cleverly called “Pucker Pass” which had a number of “Don’t look down” moments while Mike navigated the small crossover through the narrow, rocky-roads. We made our way to Dead Horse Point National park, and recreated a shot from the movie Joe Dirt. We then made our way for Arches National Park to shoot a scene from Indiana Jones, and the Hulk movies.
Finishing up those goals, we hit the Salt Valley Road, another rocky, dusty trail. This time, we found ourselves behind two other competitors. This was the closest thing I’ve ever encountered to being Mr. Magoo, as the visibility in front of us was literally nil. Mike continued to drive fast and hard despite the dust and debris being kicked up by the cars ahead of us. We’d briefly see a flash of a brake-light, then brake ourselves, or the glint of a rear windshield, so we could see where to go next. It was exhilarating and terrifying. The road was far from smooth. Mike dubbed it “the washboard” for its road texture, and we were worried about the Mazda rattling itself to pieces.
Challenge two finished far too soon in our opinion. We could have spent hours playing in the sandbox of Moab if given the chance, and Mike’s hunger for shaming other 4x4s was hard for him to give up. Reminding himself of the charitable gains at the end of the rally, we got ready for the next challenge.
Now in Green River, Utah we had to drive to Fairview Utah, passing the following counties in order: Emery, Carbon, Utah, Carbon Emery, Sanpete. We also had to do it in the shortest possible distance, and in just 1 hour and 15 minutes. There was also a bonus question about the Scofield mining disaster. Fortunately, we were tipped off about a local AM radio station, which would provide the answer to that piece of trivia, and we arrived in Fairview just on time. Mike also drove the car to perfection and used every inch of his lane to minimize the driving distance. That extra movement seemed to pay off as we hit the jackpot, netting the maximum amount of points again for the segment.
With near-perfect driving and plenty of preparation, it was all starting to pay off. We began our final challenge with a skip in our step. It had us snapping pics of eight particular “Adopt-a-highway” signs along the way from Fairview to Sundance. We drove at a slower pace than usual to seek out these elusive signs, and only found six of the eight that were mentioned to us. Confidence dropped as we hit the final stretch of interstate, and we realized we might have left some points behind. Mike rationed me out of a depression by saying if we couldn’t get the final two signs, than likely no one else could.
He was only partially right it seems. As we checked into our final destination in Sundance, Utah, we were informed that there were actually only six signs on our route, and that the other two signs don’t exist in the area. They were decoys, and no one got them.
We anxiously waited for our final results. In the end, it seems like the two other teams ahead of us performed just as well as we did, meaning we stayed in third place. Mazda handed us a lovely trophy, and while we didn’t come in first, we were certainly happy that all the winnings were going to charity.
A TRUE ADVENTURE
Additionally, it should be said that Mike and I won’t forget this journey anytime soon. This “choose-your-own-adventure” story had its ups and downs, emotionally and physically. In this part of the world, both the scenery and the altitude are capable of taking your breath away.
The two Mazdas performed admirably, though it was the CX-5 that really earned Mike’s respect, competing with the lifted Jeeps on the rough-stuff and handling as well as any sporty family sedan on the switchbacks.
My early anxiety about the Mazda Adventure Rally, and not knowing what lay ahead, proved to only be just the tip of the iceberg. Having more questions than answers at the start, both Mike and I were continually challenged with more of the same through this journey. How intense will the roads be? How do we get there? Which way do we go? Will this little crossover really be able to drive those roads?
In the end, both the drivers and machines were pushed well outside their comfort zones, creating a long-lasting memory and the realization of just what can be achieved when challenged.