Pine Barrens Express 2006

Well, yesterday was a lot of fun. David N0YMV and myself left my house around 11ish, and headed down to the NJ Pine Barrens for the Pine Barrens Express Road Rally. For those that don’t know, a road rally is where the drivers have a course defined for them (a series of instructions consisting of speed, distance and what turns to make at intersections or other road information instructions, but *no map*) and have to complete the course in a certain amount of time. They leave the start point about one minute apart, and they’re timed at various checkpoints along the way. There’s also a dinner break in the middle, since the event starts around 14:30 and didn’t finish until about 22:00. David and I went down to volunteer for communications during the event, and there’s quite a bit to do – plus, you become one of the members of the checkpoint crew, watching as these vehicles go by and grabbing their time and car number to write on the list. It’s usually a lot of fun, and this year was no exception.

Edit 20061119 @ 2024UTC: Uploaded the whopping two photos I took to the gallery – find them here.

We started the day at Rally Central, at the Sawmill Road Nature Center near Pakim Pond. David and I were the third and fourth people there, so we started to unpack Bill KC2CNB’s truck with all the equipment. We were told that a ranger would be by to unlock the building for us, so we began by setting up the antennas. After a bit, we had most things outside ready to go, but still no ranger – they were supposed to be there no later than 13:00, and it was already 13:45. Bill had to leave to get in the lead car and be first through the rally, and after another person called the main office at the park I headed over to pick up a key to the building. Which of course meant I was now “responsible” for said key, and was told numerous times how I had to return it, etc. Interestingly enough, nobody bothered to check my ID, and I probably could’ve wrote “Santa Claus” for my name and not been questioned. But that’s another story. Finally got back to the building, opened it up, and it was about time for me to leave for my checkpoint. I was teamed up with Julius, the gentleman that I joined last year, and we started by catching up on things that were going on when last we spoke. On the way to the checkpoint, we found a tree that had recently fallen, and was almost blocking the road, so we called that in to net control to let them know about it (it was later trimmed back a little, but still a tight fit through there). Got to where we thought the checkpoint would be, and got setup and waited for the lead car to come by (and hopefully tell us, “Yeah, that’s the spot right there.”) Then, the waiting – we were all set a little after 14:30, with our first car (at perfect time) not due until just after 16:30. Time to eat :>

The first checkpoint was slightly eventful. We were parked on a cranberry bog’s dam access road, and the pond was quite full. The spillway for the dam, which was of course right next to the driver’s side door, kept a peaceful drone of falling water with us the whole time. Which of course did not help for the amount of coffee we’d drank so far that morning. We chatted for a while, told a few jokes, and finally heard the first car on its way by us. Sure enough, they were spaced fairly close to perfect – just enough time when one went by to get its number and time written on the scratch sheet, copied over to the score sheet, and then the next one was on its way. So far, the only casualty was one driver whose skid plate was coming off, and it took him over an hour to get it fixed enough to make the car driveable, so he dropped out of the rally. Everyone else was still in the running – cars 1-44, with 5 no-shows (and now one dropout). While manning the checkpoint, we heard a few people smash into things on the way around the corner (mostly that they went over a bump or pothole at the wrong speed, and bottomed out somewhere), had a couple that fishtailed a little bit as they rounded the corner and came in full view of us, and one that went so far that he almost spun either into the bog or into the pond – pointed right at us and blinding me with 4-6 headlights and spotlights, and making me wonder if I needed to jump behind the truck for safety. He recovered in time though, and hesitated for a moment after that, probably realizing how close he came to being glad I’d brought tow straps and a chain with me.

Only other interesting bit about that checkpoint was watching the A-10 Warthogs fly maneuvers overhead. Real interesting because earlier in the day, before it started getting dark, they appeared to be making attack runs. And sure enough, on the second or third pass, I heard the telltale “brAAAAAAAAp” of twin machine guns being fired from the air, and small puffs of smoke from the front of the planes. Later in the evening was more fun, as they started flipping flares around, lighting up the underside of the clouds and everything on the ground for quite a distance. Julius and I agreed that today would’ve been a good day to bring a white flag, keep the laser pointer tucked away, and not look at all like a target.

Finally the scoring car came by and collected our score sheets. We headed back out the way we came in to move towards our next checkpoint assignment, and on the way found what some of the folks on the air were joking about before. Seems that someone’s vehicle lost their air dam, and possibly two (or more) wheelwells, due to a rather bumpy bridge and potholes. Why were we joking about them? Because the call came out on the air about some “body parts in the roadway”. Just didn’t sound good.. and of course Joe (N3IE) who was running net control kept correcting himself: “There’s some body parts – AUTO body parts – in the road on the way to checkpoint 6…” Since we had to pass them, and the sweep car was quite a distance from us, I pulled over and we moved the bits off to the side of the road. Then it was back to the highway, and off to checkpoint 12.

We were trying to figure out if the spot where I stopped was the checkpoint – according to GPS, it was pretty close – when we heard that the lead car was just stopping at the location for checkpoint 12 and tying a ribbon on the tree to mark the spot. I quickly sped up down the road and saw their headlights – perfect. We got setup, and this time I pulled in to the parking spot instead of backing in so we could sit on the tailgate. Didn’t seem like we had as much waiting before the cars started coming, and we both realized how much warmer it was now that we were away from the water. And either spot was warmer than last year – we froze our butts off at both locations, even before the sun had set. Though this year I also had an extra layer of socks, and wore sweatpants under my jeans, plus a hooded sweatshirt in addition to the long sleeve tee and jacket.

The second checkpoint was a bit more interesting – there were quite a few dropouts this time, and one section of five cars came through all at once, just barely enough time to read the number off the first one before the second one was in front of you. And the worst bit was one of the A-10s from earlier that looked like he wanted to land the plane in the bed of my truck – if that pilot had smiled down on us, I could’ve told you how many cavities he had. But, once the score car came through again, we handed over our paperwork and were packing up to head back to rally central.

Got back to base, turned in our equipment, and Julius and I parted ways again – both with a “See you next year!” David and I gathered our stuff to get back in the truck, and then headed inside to relax for a bit by the fire while we waited for things to finish. Since I had the key to the building, I had to wait until everything was done to be able to leave. So we started tearing down antennas as they weren’t being used, and had to wait for a bit while the sweep car (which had by now picked up three other lost drivers) figured out where they were, and how to get back to rally central. Once they did, we packed up the last of the equipment and headed out. About 35 minutes after dropping off the key, David and I were back at my house, and he and his wife went home not long after that.

All in all, it was a lot of fun this year, as it was last year. A few mishaps here and there, nothing serious, always makes for an interesting event – and the fact that it lasts for so long. A great excuse for me to get out into the woods again, and give the truck a little workout in 4wd as well. Plus it helps to make the rally run smoother for the event coordinators.

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