The Great Beater Challenge 2017 – Day One Part One: Tarmac, Gravel, Tarmac and more Gravel

After having our cars and costumes judged as well as received our maps, scavenger hunt items it was finally time to set off on the first leg of the challenge. Unfortunately we had discovered that morning that the passenger side front door of the Civic no longer opened. The handle still worked great but the front fender was now blocking the path for the door to open fully. A minor problem that would perhaps add a bit of spice to the proceedings. Let’s head west to the mountains.

This year the route was a bit different with more varied terrain compared to last year’s mostly mountainous driving. The challenge remained in Alberta but added several washboard gravel roads as well as large areas of no cell phone coverage. As usual Lethbridge, Alberta was the starting point before heading west across the prairie. The route headed into the Crowsnest Pass area again but this year we headed north along gravel roads instead of further west to British Columbia. Then through the beautiful Kananaskis area before popping out onto the prairies again and heading northwest to the overnight camping spot in Carstairs, Alberta.

When driving clunkers it is a decent idea to caravan in small groups so like last year my friend Rod and I decided to stick together. Since he had to endure looking at the rear end of my Dodge Aries last time for hours on end I suggested he take the lead this time. After judging we set off but made a quick stop so he could pick up a camera battery. This lead to a fortunate spotting of a Datsun Sunny pickup truck. It appeared to be in very tidy condition and obviously was imported from Japan or Australia at some point. I received my first compliment for a random passerby in a Nissan Sentra whose younger male occupants yelled something along the lines of “Civic Pride, Represent!”

Shortly after we hit the highway for good and our Civics starting eating up the miles through the flat prairies. The rear wheel bearing droned away on my Civic and I began to regret not taking the time to fix it. The pallet wood wing was not particularly quiet either so perhaps a set of ear plugs should be on the list of items to bring next year. By sheer coincidence the crack in the windshield lined up pretty well with the crack in the road in the above photo. These in car photos were taken by which ever son happened to be sitting in the front seat at the time.

The familiar roads and an eight am start meant my two teenage car occupants were attempting to grab a few more moments of precious sleep.

One of the first scavenger hunt items was this double-decker outhouse in the small town of Lunbreck. Built in 1905, at the same time as the attached hotel, this multistory lavatory used offset chutes to allow both an upstairs and downstairs. It meant that hotel patrons could relieve themselves without having to go downstairs and through the tavern. Unfortunately the original was damaged in a 1963 fire that destroyed the hotel. This is a nicely built replica as the original has been relocated for future preservation. The locals were setting up for a parade and were quite baffled by the varied collection of rolling junk that had descended on their town. A local house was doing a home furnishing giveaway so the Mustang soon sported an ancient microwave on its roof and the Fargo farm truck was loaded with an old desk while its driver was taking a washroom break.

Soon hills appeared and we were at the foot of the mountains.

The Crowsnest Pass has a rich history rooted in coal mining and many relics remain.

We soon came across Frank’s Slide which is a well known mining disaster. On April 29 1903 the eastern edge of mining Town Frank was covered by 90 million tons of rock sliding down from nearby Turtle mountain. The mountain was the site of an active coal mine which likely contributed the slide on an already unstable mountain. Ironically many of the men working in the mine were safe and returned to find their families and homes gone. Total loss of life is estimated to be between 70 and 90. The railway was covered but quickly repaired, the mine re-opened and the remains of the town re-located. With the exception of the highway and railway cutting through it the site of the slide remains as it was in 1903.

Stopping for a scavenger hunt clue in one of the local towns a puzzled lady who asked if my wood wing was a mold for a fiberglass one to follow. She walked away puzzled as I proudly explained that the car was complete as is.

Before leaving civilization behind we decided to gas the car up. The Civic had managed to use a relatively massive 12L of fuel between Lethbridge and the mountains. Obviously our wing was creating a rather large amount of aerodynamics drag at highway speed. No need to worry about that as we were headed into the largest section of gravel so speeds (and drag) would be lower. The novelty of climbing through the passenger window is starting to wear thin already.

Highway 40 sounds like a rather grand name but in reality its a meandering track of washboard gravel. There was twenty bonus points awarded for any items that fell off your car. I worried for the safety of our rather heavy wing.

Cows, trees and mountain views are common along this road.

Amazingly our wing stayed put on the Civic. The Mustang guys keep their microwave hat on as well but I would imagine it would have made a racket over the gravel. Along the way we party crashed a random camp site and hugged a firefighter.

As usual we ended up being one of the slower teams. A series of Pontiacs shot by. We were slow but at least the antique farm trucks had not passed us.

Misinterpreting a scavenger hunt clue we built an inukshuk and then another smaller one. An inuksuk is a human-made stone landmark built and use by some of the First Nations tribes that could be use for practical (navigation, messaging, etc) or spiritual purposes. We later came across some much more impressive pre-built ones at the entrance to a local business that were the actual subject of the clue.

Ironically in a beater rally the only car trouble we came across on the gravel road was a random modern GMC.

Mountain goats were the highlight of the slim wildlife spottings.

Back on pavement we started climbing into the mountains. What a difference a year makes as the Civic was easily able to climb the mountain passes that would have brought the Dodge Aries down to urban city street speeds. It did feel rather too luxurious cruising along in air conditioned comfort on a beater rally. Rather like going camping with a massive RV with satellite TV and luxury pillows I suppose. Stayed tune for part two of day one.


The whole series:

Vehicle Selection and Preparation

The Teams

Day One Part One: Tarmac, Gravel, Tarmac and more Gravel

Day One Part Two: Out into the Prairie

Day Two Part One: Dinosaur Hunting

Day Two Part Two – Bridges, Pipes and Star Trek