The flash of blue from the corner of my eye has me hauling on the anchors. The 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF skitters on the loose gravel and pulls up slightly askew, but I don’t notice. I’ve thrown it in reverse before we’ve really stopped rolling, and now I’m backing up to check on the little blue paddle boat leaning against a tree.
“That’s it! It’s a bloody pedal boat!” I call to my co-driver, Nadine Filion, before throwing the car back into first, dropping the clutch (Yay! Clutch) and firing off up the road.
The reason for my haste? I don’t want to give away this part of the treasure hunt to any of the cars behind me. Our mission is to match partial photos with things we see along the way, I’ve just found one – but I don’t want our competitors to. As I glance in the rear view mirror though I realize the torn-up gravel and skid marks I just put down will probably tip them off….
This is just one part of the many challenges thrown at us over three days of the Mazda Adventure Rally. Blind-map navigation, scavenger hunts, photo matching and even a fast-paced tour of the three-city Group of Seven outdoor art gallery would see each team collect points.
The winners would get $10,000 for their chosen charity, second place nets $2,000 and third would net $1,000. Our goal was a podium, but not-so-secretly I was hungry for the win.
We’d start from Toronto, and drive a few hours north up to the Muskokas, making out homebase at the Sherwood Inn on Lake Joseph. The Mazda MX-5 RF (for retractable fastback) is the car we were all hoping to drive, especially given the twisty nature of the Muskoka back roads. Nadine and I made a vow from the outset – top down, all the time – and we kept it even as the temperatures dropped below -15 on day two. We were tempted briefly to raise the roof during a second-day fuel economy challenge but opted to stay true to ourselves.
The result was the loss of a point as we missed the fuel economy number of 5.6 l/100 km by 0.3 l – but frankly it was worth it. The winners of that challenge went some 97 km at a horrific 71 km/h to record 4.8 l/100 km – which won them a point, but also earned them the ire of every other team, road user and automotive enthusiast who’s ever laid eyes on an MX-5.
Spirited driving was the order of all three days, with frost heaves, surface changes and winding, undulating central Ontario roads more than enough of a challenge even at legal road speeds. This is no race, though, and the generous allotment of time to complete each challenge ensured this event was more “fun” than “frantic”.
Still, it was important to break free of the pack and find our own space on the road, so we drove the little Mazda’s as God intended, pausing only when we needed to verify a sign or a landmark for our many challenges.
Our main challenge on day one was a Bingo car and a sign quiz. There were an additional two points awarded for those teams who remembered to fill out their lunch menu for the following day. This was necessary because a small, central-Ontario restaurant is not really ready for 20-30 odd people rocking up in the middle of the off season. Those two points were something of a gimme – everyone would get them. All they had to do was tick two boxes. Remember that task: score the points.
We did not score the points.
After day one we were third, feeling good, but knowing that those two cheap points would have seen us in second. Instead that position was held by reigning rally champions and autoTRADER.ca contributors, Vincent Aube and Dan Heyman. In the lead was Mark Richardson and Emily Atkins of Team Supernovae.
On day two we performed much better, except for the point we lost when we accidentally mislabelled the model of the car (a CX-5 RF is not a thing, as it turns out). We lost another when we failed to recognize the connection between a screen shot from a b-grade movie and the Bala Bay Inn. Despite photoshopping our car in front of the inn, badly, in an effort to score the points we wound up the day tied for third.
The third and final day would be a day of extreme reckoning. The morning challenge was a blind map challenge, with two sections and three local breweries to hit for souvenirs: Muskoka Brewery, Sawdust City Brewing Company and Lake of Bay Breweries. One team decided the map was too hard, and instead plugged all three breweries and lunch stop into Google maps.
Rally organizers were wise to this one, the third and final brewery was not only far enough away to make it impossible to get back in time to avoid a time penalty in section one, but it was also the site of several other challenges, that haste would make you miss.
The final twist of the brewery challenge? The final brewery – Lake of Bays – is closed on weekdays. Now, it turns out that rally organizers expected us to see this, go to the LCBO nearby and buy beer from said brewery to fulfil the scavenger hunt requirements. Instead, the unsuspecting office staff next door to the retail store were set upon by 20 eager rallyers – all begging to be able to buy some sort of souvenir. Badges, pins and stickers were pulled from desks, posters pulled from walls, and one poor admin clerk sent scurrying back and forth to the printer to get us all our needed receipts.
Having arrived third, I tried to save the unsuspecting souls from more harassment from auto journos by hiding, locking the door, and finally telling everyone who pulled up in the parking lot that we all had to forfeit because the brewery was closed…. Sadly, nobody believed me and everyone scored the points.
In the end, it wasn’t my unsuccessful treachery or the missed menu that cost us the win – the team of Richardson and Atkins had done far too well for us to touch them and they finished a full five point clear of the pack with 75. Heyman and Aube fell by the wayside, but the exhausted.ca team of Jeff Voth and Peter Hessels came from sixth on day two to second with 70 points on the final day – courtesy of a perfect score for the day.
Nadine and I were scuppered by the Group of Seven portraits. One, we missed entirely, the other we swore we saw, but had been duped by the Huntsville High School’s knock off of Tom Thomson’s “Sunset”.
And so, with a handful of points missed by rookie errors, a couple more missed by clutziness and a few others by honest to goodness skill failures, we found ourselves in third. Pleased with a podium, and with the $1,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society, but eager to come back next year for more. Our score of 69 actually tied the Quebecois score of Matt St Pierre and Charles Joliceur, but we were awarded the win on countback due to acing more of the seven sections.
Regardless Mazda awarded $1,000 to that team’s chosen charity, the Breakfast Club of Canada.
The $10,000 went to the Cornerstone Family Violence Prevention Centre in Coburg, Ontario, with $2,000 going to Intercede International on behalf of Good Samaritan in India.
And Team autoTRADER.ca’s podium means we score an automatic entry in the next adventure rally.
To be continued….