Category Archives: Uncategorized

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The TitanArcticAdventure – Zero Gravity Seats #WhatTheTuk

“And they’re off”… the famous intro to the cartoon series The Whacky Races… and our TitanArcticAdventure may be about as whacky. Thankfully, whatever comes our way, we can be assured of a sound back thanks to the Zero Gravity Seats installed in the trucks.

zero gravity seatsOn Thursday this week, local auto journalist, Budd Stanley and myself set off on an adventurous journey to Tuktoyuktuk. We have a very special gust with us too, Steph Jeavons a famous round the world female solo motorcyclist.

The objective is to take two Nissan Titan XD trucks and be one of the last groups to ever drive on the arctic ice roads up to Tuk.

Later this year the roads will be decommissioned in favour of a new highway to avoid the danger of driving on the arctic sea ice. So how could we say no?

Well, pretty easily actually. Temperatures could be as low as -50 degrees. Like every expedition, getting started is the hardest phase. Items not being delivered on time, last minute fabrication to the trucks and minutiae that serve to delay the start.

Zero Gravity Seats

But we are off and thanks to the Zero Gravity seats in the Titan XD trucks our backs are relaxed and we are enjoying a night in Whistler before heading further North tomorrow and starting to knock off some serious miles.  Until I started to really think about it, I had not noticed the effects of the Zero Gravity Seats. Driving on the roads today I realized that what I was feeling sitting in the seat was a lot less than the truck was experiencing driving along the bumpy swing highways in British Columbia. A lot of the jarring movement of the truck was not being passed to my body. It is a curious sensation but one that will help many people who spend large amounts of time behind the wheel of their vehicles.

titanarcticchallenge

For a while now, the ice road to Tuktoyuktuk has been closed and so our hope is that by the time we get there the weather will have cleaned up and we will be able to drive to Tuk and see one of Canada’s most interesting frontiers!.

Check back in for updates along the way.


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SOME DAYS I FEEL LIKE MY TRUCK!

just do your bestI had a young friend message me the other day. He knows me from the rally driving community, so he see’s me driving a shiny well cared for rally car (at least until the end of an event)! So he asked me what my daily driver was. He might have been expecting my reply to be a Subaru STi or a BMW M5. Instead, I answered “a beaten up old Dodge Truck” I don’t think I ever received a response from him again after my reply!My truck has had a hard life. Some people look at it and chuckle, others wonder why I haven’t fixed it or taken better care of it! In truth, it has been very loyal to me. It really is a utility vehicle.

There was a time when I could have taken passengers in my truck. I can now, so long as they only see the truck only from the passenger side. The truck, you see, had an “off” at a rally. It wasn’t racing, just being it’s utilitarian self when the road underneath it went all slippy and shiny and so the truck panicked and went in the ditch. Not only did it take a very long time to get out, but the two cranes that were needed to get it out actually arrived just at the end of the rally and blocked the only road out until quite late in the evening. We all had the best time we could watching my truck get extracted while the Pizza went cold at the town hall we were supposed to be at.

The truck has certainly seen some trauma, and like me is starting to show it’s age. We are similar in as much as we haven’t given up yet. I suppose in relative years we are the same age. I am not sure if it is like dog years, but my truck was born in 1998 and I was born in 1963, I think that makes us fairly close.

My truck also likes to help people, another trait that we share in common. People borrow my truck less now that it looks a little tired, but it can still do it’s job.

I suppose I could put a new box on it and replace the door and put some shiny new running boards on, but I am quite happy with my truck the way it is. It has character. It is rather like an English movie actors teeth compared to an American movie actors teeth. You can tell a lot about a person from their teeth, like, for instance, how much money they have had to give to a dentist to get their teeth so white and straight.

As I think about the next few years, it would be easy for me to get a little excited about the plans. I am not a very good runner at all. In fact the only marathon I have attempted, I did pretty dismally in. So you might ask why I am planning to do a 100km race in November and an 800km run in Kenya and Sudan in 2013. The answer is simple, if I can save someone’s life, it will be worth it. If you can think of a better answer please send me an email .

Add to that my second least favourite sport, swimming, and you may question why I plan to do a 250km open water swim next year. The answer would be the same. In fact, I am really not terribly good at swimming, biking or running which is why I enjoy triathlons so much, lump the three together and I can at least get to the end.

My truck, like me, when it gets a little daunted by a long journey, steep hill or heavy trailer, just puts his head down and digs a little deeper. I personally find the throb of a big diesel engine very comforting. There is something about that diesel engine that gives you comfort, a certain confidence that it can get you to the end. That is what I tell my body when it complains… we can at least get to the end, maybe not fast, but we can get to the end!


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SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO RE-BOOT

When life gets too busyI guess it is genetic! Lack of hair in my family I mean. In fact half of the family is blessed with flocks of thick heavy hair and the other side, well, they just don’t have much. Nothing  you can do about it really.

As I think about it, it may not be entirely true. I had an uncle when I was growing up and I guess he knew what was coming so he grew lots of hair. He didn’t wear his hair long, instead he accumulated it on his head by sort of twirling it around and around. If you were behind him in a strong wind you were certainly in danger of losing an eye with the whiplash effect of his hair getting thrown around in a breeze. Thankfully nobody in our family suffered any life threatening injuries from my uncles hair.

As for me, I have spots on my head where hair looks like it has been rubbed off. Some people say it is an excess of testosterone. I am not sure, but whatever it is, it doesn’t bother me. When I look at my options, it was to grow long hair and store on top for the inevitable day, just like my uncle, or cut it off. I took the latter option and now I don’t have bad hair days.

My computers used to have bad hair days. That was back when I used PC’s. They would get all confused, quite routinely in fact, and you were left with no options. The computer had stalled, a screen staring at you blankly but no activity. It was a bad hair day and so, like my head, my computer ended up with bald spots. The Ctrl, Alt and Del keys were the most bald in actual fact, because pressing them all at once a few times caused the computer to re-boot. It was the most common sequence of keys I ever pressed on a Windows based machine. I often wondered why they never made it one key. On reflection the “one” key  was probably the power button. That was a last resort, you knew that no other keys worked so you re-booted the computer by hitting the power button.

The reason I think this happened a lot is because generally, a computer has quite a bit going on. Billions of calculations a second or something crazy. I know how a computer feels. My life for the past several years appears to have been billions of decisions a second and when that happens, something called “cross-linking” occurs. It is like filing memories in little pieces in the wrong cupboards. I do that all the time. I can never find simple things like shoes. I look in the wardrobe, tell my wife I can’t find them and she looks in the same wardrobe and there they are. So the diagnosis is serious, I am cross linked.

In training, there is something called “super recovery” I believe. When you have been training hard for a while and you are feeling a little cross linked, you can stop, allow your body to recover and when you start again, you are at a much improved level (unless your nearly 50, in which case everything seems to be a bit of a struggle still!). It is a little like what a PC does. It has to turn itself off, gather it’s thoughts and start again.

Now I think about it, we can learn a lot from PC’s. You see, many of us quit on tasks because of some serious cross-linking. We are just not thinking straight. We put our faith thought in the wrong closet and like, me, we need our wife to drag it out again. It is at these times when I consider re-booting. I have to re-boot quite often now and certainly during exercise when I think about quitting.

I have no idea what possessed me to verbalise the fact that I was going to do a 100km run in November. In fact it has been verbalised so much that quite a few people are coming to join in or spectate. I get swallowed up in the romantic adventures of people like Ray Zahab or Squash Falconer or Dave Cornthwaite I guess, people who are doing some remarkable feats. Ray for example, ran 7,700km across the Sahara (http://www.runningthesahara.com) in 110 days… in sand. So I look at that and think “Well I can do a shorter distance, like, say 100km… that should be achievable, after all, Ray did 7,700km”. I already know that I am going to have to re-boot a couple of times on the run. I should have a T-Shirt printed that has a Ctrl, Alt and Del key on the front and says “If you see me laying down, press all three buttons simultaneously”.

If I am horizontal or staring back at you blankly, it is because my mind has started storing the thoughts about not being good enough in the wrong closets, the most accessible ones, so I need to re-shuffle my thoughts around and get the faith thoughts back in that closet and put the thoughts of despair in the storage locker with a padlock on. We are all challenged, every day of the week, and some of us, like Ray or Squash or Dave, tend to challenge ourselves a little more, but me, I know I need a re-boot from time to time, then I know, like a PC, I can get to the end of the adventure. That or buy a Mac computer!


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A LIFE OF IMPERFECTION

Don't focus on perfectionWhen I was at school I never had the time to do exams. I would show up, run through the questions and leave early… I hated sitting and staring at the paper trying to figure out if I had answered correctly, much less perfectly! I remember taking home report cards that almost without exception said “If Mark applied himself and slowed down he could be “really” good at this subject. He is always keen to answer in class, but needs to think more!” I had proven myself a “do-er” a Jack of all trades, yet a master of none, and continue to by living a life of imperfection.If I thought about the title I have used here, I would probably get confused and perhaps ADHD is a partial explanation for why I believe imperfection trumps perfection almost every time. You see, thinking is often overrated I believe, and besides, I am impatient and I prefer doing. I am not a very good spectator. I like to cheer people on as much as the next person, but in doing so I get excited enough to ask the question “why am I not I doing what they are doing”? There is your answer as to how I get involved in most things. I am not terribly good at any of them but I do get to do quite a few things along the way and occasionally put another plaque in a box somewhere for getting as close to perfection as I may ever get!

You probably know enough about me now to consider me crazy. Hang on a minute though, I am not saying I don’t think about or prepare for anything. As an adventurer, it is actually my objective to stay alive, otherwise I can’t be much help to the people whose lives I am trying to save. I am simply saying that if I sat down and thought about every project as much as a perfectionist would claim to, I would never actually get started at anything. I do train for events and to be quite frank, I push myself more than I ever used to think I could, thanks to the inspiration of supporters like Leanne Manlove at Pinnacle Elite Athlete in Kelowna.

I don’t believe life is about perfection. Don’t get me wrong, it is about a journey of improvement, moving towards a target that is closer to perfection. That is how we solve problems by moving closer to getting a perfect solution, but if we were waiting until we found the perfect solution we would still be at the beginning. The Wright Brothers and anyone before them who tried to defy gravity only got it partially correct, but if they had not taken that first brave step, where would Richard Branson be today (probably still extremely wealthy and successful actually!).

In November, a group of people are coming with me to Guatemala. Far from perfectionists, this group of people has selflessly made a decision to put up some money, dedicate some time and do something they have never done before… run 25km to help the children at Casa Esperanza. Wow, I am so humbled. I have the privilege of running with people like my son, Matt, who has never run before and to be honest has been struggling to find a rhythm when he does run; far from perfect, but he keeps coming back to hone his craft temporarily. You see, Matt’s goal is not to be a “perfect” runner at all, in fact it is not to be a runner, if he survives 25km he will be excited. He is doing it because he wants to help the children in Guatemala.

John and Janet Jansen, good friends of mine, also decided to Run4Life! In fact, they became so excited about the project that they challenged one of the founders of the Casa Esperanza, Kim Weiler, to run 25km also. He agreed, and now, with a few other people in the mix we have 10 runners, running a total of 500km to help the children of Guatemala. If we had all wanted to be “perfect runners” then nobody would be going and Run4Life would not exist.

Life is not about being perfect, it is about moving forward, about gaining experience and learning how to get better, it is not about getting better before you do something. I am also told that I must be passionate about running to want to do a 100km race! Frankly, nothing could be further from the truth. Running is a means to an end for me. It is probably a sport I enjoy less than anything else I do, but it pushes me mentally and the results are a level of fitness that I enjoy. Running and the associated endurance training prepares me for other adventures but I am not passionate about it.

I don’t believe you need to be passionate about an activity to do it well, I believe you have to be passionate about why you do it! There have been many books written on the subject of performance and dedication and one I enjoy specifically is Maxwell Maltz’s The Magic of Thinking Big. Early on in the book he talks about a trial between two groups of people competing against each other trying to get a basketball into a regulation hoop. The first group can practice as much as they want and the second group are not allowed to touch a ball but are trained to mentally visualise themselves throwing the ball into the hoop. Guess who won? I won’t spoil it, it is a good book, but you get the point hopefully.

Our Run4Life team is excited to be doing something to make a difference in the lives of children in Guatemala and I am completely humbled and inspired by their spirit and dedication, it is enough to help get me to the end of a 100km run! Over the next few weeks, I will introduce you to the team at the charity website, www.Rally4Life.com, but in the meantime, if you would like to support their efforts, you can donate through Fundrazr below…


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DECEMBER 26TH, 2013

No is the most important wordRecently I have had a series of meetings with a really good friend, Rolf Issler.

Rolf was a big encourager during the recent Guinness World Record trip to Australia and is an uplifting person by nature. He is also very busy in his business, where he helps plan and prepare brighter financial futures for his clients (http://www.rolfissler.com/about/).

Knowing that Rolf is very busy running his successful financial consulting business, I was surprised when we sat down for a coffee a few months ago and Rolf explained he felt compelled to help out in some way with the limited time he has. I should not have been surprised because I do know both Rolf and his wife Lisa have huge hearts and are always available to help when someone asks.

To suggest I was in trouble and really needed help was perhaps an overstatement on my part, but I did realise that somewhere in the day to day existence of pulling a funded adventure business together, for the benefit of charity, I would really be able to use Rolf’s help.

As the coffee sessions evolved and we poured over the various logistics of what it takes to evaluate, prepare and execute a successful adventure, we started to realise that there was an area that was weak, my Achilles heel if you like.

There is a saying that the longest journey in the world is from the head to the heart. Well in my case there is a very short distance from the brain to another part of my body that has been causing some consternation. You don’t need GPS to navigate, the distance is barely long enough to be able to draw a line indicating how far it is. Very simply, what I have struggled with is the apparent, very short distance from my brain to my mouth.

I was gifted with some kind of auto-receptor when I was born. When my brain hears someone talking about something which is “fun” and that someone asks if I would like to join in, my mouth says yes instantly! Later in life I read a personality book and I found out it is because I am a Sanguine, the Otter of the animal world… I like playing around and having fun. It is a good job there are a few Sanguines out there because a world full of Melancholic people, the Beavers of the animal world, would soon get dull I think, but then that is just my perspective.

This compulsion to keep saying yes has led to a diary that is all but full of adventures for the next two years. Now, when I look back, perhaps there should have been a little more thought, but I find everything is so difficult to say no to. The difficulty comes in passing up on a project that can get the charity some serious attention, my main purpose in life.

So Rolf, is my filter. We share a lot in common. We both have a strong Christian faith, we are a similar age, live in the same valley and in Rolf’s recent past is a series of Ironman triathlons. I have done a few bike rides with Rolf in the past few years and I have a hard time keeping up even though he hasn’t participated competitively for a few years now. Rolf understands what I am trying to do and I know he understands the importance of us trying to steer attention to the charity, so meet Rolf, my new filter!

He is going to be an amazing component of the team and instead of simply saying “Yes, that sounds cool”, he is going to take some time to evaluate the opportunities that cross our desks and run some due diligence to make sure we are doing the right things for the right reasons.

I am absolutely stoked to have such a first class person on board.


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THE COURT OF POPULAR OPINION

Learning to trustMy grandfather was a tremendous judge of character. It appeared as though he would be able to weigh someone up in the first five minutes.

My wife, to a certain extent has the same innate sense of being able to read the unreadable during a meeting. It is one reason why I try and have her join at me meetings as much as possible because, firstly I am a guy and sometimes I am not listening when you think I am, secondly even when I am listening, there is a good chance I am missing the point, particularly if I am not having fun and thirdly, well, lets just blame it on A.D.D. I just don’t like meetings that go past an hour and I guess I am easily distracted. I apologise!

What this all leads to is me being a terrible judge of character so I have now given up even attempting to figure out who somebody is. I have my good days and my bad days by not forming an opinion of someone. Sometimes, most of the people I meet are very honest and what I see is what I get and other times, it is a little more painful than that… it wastes my time or perhaps even my money.

Many years ago I was playing in a Church band, a worship team and there was a young drummer, Johnny Jansen whose parents are very good friends of ours. It was always fun to play with Johnny, I have never seen a drummer with so much energy and afterwards the stage is covered with splinters from broken drumsticks… enthusiasm doesn’t go far enough to describe Johnny.

One Sunday morning, Johnny showed up with his friend, Kyle Tubbs. Since I first knew Johnny, he had always wanted to carve out a career in the music industry and Kyle was apparently going to join him as a guitar player and lead singer in their band. As a guitar player, it is always cool to play with other musicians and so I was looking forward to the time together.

It was all going really well until Kyle started to play! His guitar was not in tune. Perhaps he wasn’t an early riser, not quite awake at the time and couldn’t hear what I was hearing. Many people can’t even hear when a musical instrument is out of tune, but as a musician, it is like clanging bells in your head. It is indeed a nasty sound. Kyle didn’t seem to mind though. Through the whole set he played his guitar out of tune. In fact I think he might have tried to tune it and made it worse.

Well, sadly, those were the days when I still judged people and while I only judged Kyle in my head (OK, maybe to my wife too) I did tell myself that Johnny needed a new guitarist. If Kyle was going to sing too, how would that work. The voice has an infinite number of notes unlike a guitar and all but one of them are incorrect!

Several years after that I went to a school play that my son was in. We had a great night and there was a really cool musician who had written some guitar music and serenaded the evening. It was a great night and when I asked my son who was playing the guitar, he indicated it was Kyle who I had played with at Church. Cynically I probably asked if someone had tuned his guitar for him! But truthfully, I was impressed.

Fast forward to 2012… I can’t believe how cool these guys are. Kyle is a rockstar, Johnny is an amazing entertainer and with two other very talented musicians and close friends, they call themselves Fields of Green! They are amazing. Kyle not only can tune and play the guitar amazingly well but he has a voice that is extremely rare to find. Not only is it good, it is unique.

I hope Kyle will forgive me judging him all those years ago because, it is him, not me that is actually making a living with a musical career. Fields of Green are on the verge of some incredible success. They recently won the Fox Seeds competition in Vancouver and are now coming to the end of an even bigger competition, the Peak Performance Project. Next week in Kelowna BC, they will be performing. It will be part of the competition, but get this… they are doing it for charity, Rally4Life to be exact to help install safe clean burning cook stoves in Guatemala when we go there next month.

If you have anything to do next Wednesday evening, cancel it, come on down, donate $10 or more to the charity and have a great evening with Fields of Green. You won’t be disappointed. After this, I hope that the sky is the limit for this talented band. They have put their heart and soul into creating a unique niche for themselves and work so hard to entertain the crowds they perform for. They need our help next week. We need a sell out. I would love to see people standing outside hoping to get in because the house was packed. That way, they will do well in their competition and Guatemalan children will live longer, healthier lives.

Follow this link for more information: https://www.facebook.com/events/112880442199121/?ref=ts&fref=ts


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WHAT DO I HAVE IN COMMON WITH AN OLYMPIC ATHLETE?…

Training for an ultraYesterday on my 50km training run, an observer would assume nothing at all. I ran at a very steady plod, consumed 3 litres of water, endured my first trial with eating salted boiled potatoes (Yes I am proud not be a doper and only use salted boiled potatoes and some Ibuprofen occasionally! I am a clean athlete!!) and tired at the end, yet in three weeks I have to do twice that distance… The comparisons with an Olympian were hard to find after hobbling home exhausted.

After yesterday I know “elite performance” is not something I share with Olympians. Perhaps enthusiasm is something I do share with many Olympic athletes, but more importantly… Kinesio Tape. We both look like Spiderman with a hangover.

The difference between me and an Olympian is that they use Kinesio Tape to enhance their performance whereas I use it to repair my injuries!!

Since the Flight4Life project in Australia I have had a stubborn knee injury. The worst thing for healthy knees I find is to run on the road. I love running on trails, the uneven surface gives my ankles a workout and I can run for three hours without my feet hurting. Roads on the other hand have a way of making my knees sore, my feet sore and my head bored. All these things I have to overcome in Guatemala in a few weeks time. Add in to the mix a knee injury that is aggravated with road running and I have a little cause for concern.

Now is the time when my head starts playing games with me. Do I have what it takes? Can I go the distance? Will I be able to finish in the allotted time? Of course all these questions will be going through my head during the run. The adage that getting to the end of an endurance event is 90% mental and the other 10% is in your head is so true. While the body may hurt, the head may be asking silly questions, much of the skill is taking charge of those messages and countering them with a stubborn perseverance.

I am not talking about ignoring the signals from the body that are genuine and indicate that something has gone wrong, but the important point to remember is that when you run 100km and you are doing it for the first time, some stuff is going to hurt…

So after visiting one of my sponsors my legs looked like a cobweb, a very brightly coloured cobweb. My masage threapist, Paul Dournovo was recently trained in Kinesio Taping. It is the tape that you see during the Olympics or the Tour de France. Paul’s company, Apple Valley Massage and Kinesio Taping, has been one of the professional partners that helps keep my aging body going!

There has been some confusion over what Kinesio Tape actually does. Many athletes think it simply provides support for various areas of the body, similar to Physio tape. In truth it is much more complicated than that. I certainly don’t profess to completely understand it, but here is what I have learned over the past few weeks.

When applied the tape should not be stretched in most circumstances. In most instances a slight 10-20% stretch will suffice. Unlike Physio tape that is applied to prevent injuries from getting worse by providing support, the Kinesio tape takes a different approach. It actually serves to lift the skin slightly which I am assuming might have the effect of blood getting to the area more easily.

Developed in Japan, it is believed to improve circulation and lymph drainage, two things that could benefit any athlete in performance and recovery. Is it a miracle cure? I doubt it, and likely it will take some experimentation for each person to find out how they can best derive benefits.

For me, the immediate indicator that something was happening was extra heat in the area. In fact, after I had one knee taped and the other left alone there was a physical difference between the temperature of both knees. I ran a marathon like that a few weeks ago, with one leg taped and the other not. Interestingly, the taped leg was stronger through the run than the untaped leg.
Years ago, I would honestly say that I did not know my body well enough to know the difference, but now, after so much training I can honestly say there was a noticeable difference.

The other important aspect for me was recovery. When I did my first marathon a year ago I remember being very stiff the following day, and this year, my youngest son turned to cursing every step at UBC upon returning to University after running the Kelowna marathon with me. This year, in fact these past two weeks where I ran a marathon, followed by a weekend off and then a 50km training run, recovery has been rapid. After the event, I am naturally tired and need to eat, drink and sleep, however, there has been little to no soreness or stiffness in my legs. After the first marathon I did a 10km run 24 hours later with no feeling of tiredness in my muscles at all.

Is this conclusive evidence that Kinesio Tape is the next miracle treatment for baby boomer athletes, or is it something you should take the time to learn about? I would say the latter is true. Visit a certified taping professional and talk about what you can expect from a treatment. Give them feedback and see what happens. Like me, you may end up being surprised.

Check out Apple Valley Massage and

Authentic Kinesio


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I AM LOST AND I NEED HELP

Rally adventureI took a deep breath as the car groaned and clunked to a final stop. The metallic screeching of the rocks jammed in the brake pads always left me wondering how much it was going to cost to put the car back together again, but in reality the odd cacophony of sounds was normal.

The Bruised Banana!

It had been a fast ride. The acrid smell of burning brakes filled the air and as I looked over to the passenger seat, all I could see was a big smile on my wife’s face underneath her helmet. It was a slightly frosty morning in the Okanagan and some local rally enthusiasts had worked hard to get access permissions on a section of forestry road so we could safely do some testing. For me, it was an opportunity to fulfill some promises to winners of tickets for a ride along, allowing our charity to earn some extra money from time to time.

Today I had taken a few guys for a ride along in my rally car. At some point in it’s life, the car had been appropriately named the Bruised Banana by the volunteer service crew who assembled on these odd weekends to try and get us to the end of a test day or even a full rally event. The name initially came from a yellow and black colour scheme although Jennifer, my co-driver and me had put the car through it’s paces and at one point nearly pitch poled the car end over end, resulting in a very severe stop and a bent chassis somewhat akin to the shape of a banana. I guess in the end the name might simply have been a self fulfilling prophecy.

My intercom system, which was critical in the actual rally events as the co-driver reads notes back to me, attempting to help us as a team to go faster and faster, served another purpose when I did ride alongs… I could hear every squeak and whimper and I had already heard plenty of them from the guys on this particular morning. Mind you, I almost took out a bridge abutment just in front of a police officer with one of my passengers in the car and as I wrestled to straighten out the car just as we squared up for the single car track over the bridge, an “oh my God” from my passenger took some of my attention away. Some of the guys just about leaped out of the car when I came to a stop and I could see the surprise on Jackie’s face as the slightly ashen guys removed their helmets and staggered over to the spectator area.

Rallying should have been invented in Canada. Although, we probably share a lot in common with the Scandinavian countries which turn out so many good drivers. Fast sweeping gravel roads, scenic lakes, good winter weather and enjoyable summers. Rally is a unique sport for a privileged few. There is nothing else which can replicate being so close to out of control in real time, and just as you feel you have it all together, the next unpredictable corner lies ahead! The sport really allowed me to put trust in someone else completely for each event. Rally is without a doubt a team event. You cannot drive a car to win as a driver. If anything, the co-driver is the secret to a fast event. At the beginning of a rally in Canada we do two passes of each stage, which vary in length from typically 5-6kms up to around 35kms. We are allowed to drive through the stages at speeds of no more than 60kph and write a cryptic set of notes which to be delivered perfectly and be accurate when we travel through the next day at speeds of up to 200kph. The reaction of the car on the road at 200kph compared to 60kph is remarkably different and if you make a mistake in the notes, you will likely go out of the event in a massive cloud of dust.

As we do the “recce” passes, I call out the notes to my co-driver verbally. I need to have those same notes read back to me and the co-driver’s job is to use their own personal shorthand to write the notes and then somehow read them back the next day at a perfect pace.

Co-drivers are a breed apart. They think rally drivers are somewhat insane and yet they get a kick out of sitting in the next seat as an almost helpless spectator yet confined to the seat with a 5 point harness and helmet… small consolation when something goes wrong at over 100kph on a single track forest stage. Despite the fear and unpredictability of each and every turn, typically, very tight relationships form between co-drivers and drivers and it is absolutely true that in some measure, each partner agrees to put their life in to the hands of the other.

The point is, you can’t drive fast enough by looking at the road. What we need to know as drivers is, what is next on the road, but beyond our vision, a sort of 2 dimensional description of the road using standard notes and modifiers. The ability to set the car up for what is around the corner, while negotiating the current corner creates that hundredths of seconds advantage you need, to do well in the event. It is a very fine balance to have a co-driver deliver the right amount of notes at the right pace with the right stress, without giving the driver too much or too little information. As soon as something is not perfect, the driver is back to driving “on-sight” which is without a doubt slower. It really is the ultimate test in faith.

That is precisely why I was surprised when my wife Jackie said she wanted to jump in the car with me and then announced she was going to read the notes. The problem was she did not know what a note was, and more importantly how Jennifer, my co-driver at the time actually wrote her notes with a secret type of shorthand.

In the back of my head, I just resigned myself to the fact that this would be a slow run but I knew I could make it fun for Jackie. After a few minutes of instruction on what R6/Sm Cr –> L3- >  meant we inched our way noisily up to the start line. The car at the time had been swapped with a stand alone engine management system and had a few bells and whistles which made it a crowd pleaser (it was noisy!!!)

The starter counted down from 5 and started us, we were out of the gate. I had a close ratio gear box on the car, which meant I could accelerate quickly from the start line and combined with the effects of the anti-lag engine management system, it meant our heads were pushed pretty firmly into the back of the seats… it truly was exhilarating. I was holding back as I drove on sight. Then, after about the third turn I heard Jackie’s voice on the intercom “right 6 minus in to left over small crest 100”. It was at that moment I realised, she was on target, with perfect timing in her delivery… time to have some fun.

We were on the westside of Okanagan Lake on a closed forestry road and the scenery was stunning. We were racing uphill for about 8 kilometres and it was “game on”.

Jackie kept her head down, something which is really difficult to do since your frame of reference for pacing of the notes then comes from the feeling your butt gets in the seat, and not from what your eyes see. An occasional glimpse up will show you quickly what is ahead, but can also lead to you losing your place in the notes. She rattled off the notes in near perfect fashion and I felt totally in the groove, the bruised banana was dancing and there was no feeling like it… ditch to ditch with the rear wheels just kissing the loose rocks on the outside of the racing line and the nose tucked in on the corners, this was rally, and I loved it.

My head loves rally, it pushes me. It might be somewhat similar to flying a helicopter. Moving the rudders, cyclic, collective and power all at the same time, is like, driving full tilt through a corner, keeping the car just on the road while going as fast as possible and listening to a co driver who has just read you all the notes for the next 200m of the road you have not yet driven and while you continue, so does the constant onslaught of co-drivers notes. It is a mental puzzle and one you cannot over think! You bizarrely need to relax. I don’t find it possible to intently listen to every note, which is why a co-driver needs to stress the “critical” calls. Instead, your head files away the data almost without you realising and it, hopefully, comes out in the right order. If the co-driver calls a left 4 and the road looks as though it goes to the right, you will find that you turn left as a driver. We drive what we hear, not what we see. It can take a while, but when it clicks, you can feel it!

The new Evo IV

After a sharp right hander, an open hairpin, we drift into an uphill left open hairpin and what faces us is a fast uphill straight section… time to let the car breathe! As we travel over the crown of the last crest, I suddenly realise there is an obstacle in our way. That is when I remember another note… this one from the organisers of the event… watch out for cows, there is a range lease in the area!

Cows are a rally drivers worst nightmare. They feel somehow superior to a rally car, so whenever you see them at a closing speed of 200kph, they simply stare you down and they are very immovable!

In this instance, we were probably running at around 150kph and the cows were about 100m ahead. Time to stamp on the brakes. That is when a co-driver knows something has gone wrong, we are no longer driving to the notes.

The car ground to a final stop with my front bumper tickling the cows leg, and she just stood there and stared us down through the windshield with some slimy slobber dripping on my hood. Out of all corners of her mouth came half chewed pieces of the local wild grasses which she mundanely continued to chew as she stared us down and steadfastly refused to move. I am not sure if she was anxious or stoned on wild mushrooms. Her actions would indicate the latter. A quick honk on the horn pulled her out of a weird trippy space that cows appear live in, in the face of obvious adversity and she walked into the bush and left us to thankfully continue on our way again.

Unfazed, Jackie settled straight back in to the notes. By now, there was steam coming out of my helmet and sweat pouring down my face… this was fun.

After another 3 or 4 kilometres, I heard Jackie’s concerned voice in the intercom.. “There are no more notes, what do I do now?” she questioned. I could sense an annoyance in her voice, as if she had messed up and turned too many pages or confused something. Instead she looked out of the window and said “Oh, is that it, I was really enjoying it” She had stayed focussed for an 8 kilometre stage, did not get distracted when we nearly turned a stoned cow into beef and was disappointed when we got to the end because there were no more notes… perhaps she is a natural. I was impressed.

In November last year I sold my 2004 STi rally car, which had been a great car for us, it had been on the podium several times and was feeling comfortable, but I needed more funds for the Australian Guinness World Record trip and so, needs must.

Yesterday, however, I saw for the first time a rally car I had purchased a few months ago and has been sitting just south of the border close to Abbotsford… a Mitsubishi Evo IV.

The new office!

The Evo IV is one of the most classic iconic rally cars. It is light, nimble and can be fast. From a technology point of view, I can’t keep up with the spending of the front runners. If we had a one design series in Canada, I feel confident I would do very well, however, rally goes through phases where the person with the most money can go fast and that is certainly the case in the UK and Ireland where you can show up at an event with a lot of talent and a reasonable car only to see an ex factory WRC car on the start line ahead of you and you know it will be a challenge to keep up!

So the EvoIV does not have anywhere close to the technology of today’s front runners, is a good 15 years older than those cars, but we should be able to “shoe horn” it on to the podium at an event or two.

So we have a new car, it needs some work and a few bits and pieces, like a fancy rally computer which is really a sophisticated odometer, it is already quite bruised and then I need a co-driver. It will boast the livery of Valley Mitsubishi, a local Kelowna Mitsubishi dealer, who were, in fact, my first ever sponsors when I started rallying. Rick Wright, the owner of Valley Mitsubishi has been a big supporter of the sport locally and knows that we will do whatever we can to promote his business and add value to his brand. It will be an exciting campaign.

I was starting to think about co-drivers a few weeks ago and I had sent out a few emails and chatted to a few people. The fit is so important, my first co-driver, Wynne had been such an amazing help in getting me started properly and together we won a couple of championships. Then I got settled in with Jennifer Daly, who helped us get another championship and several podiums and in between, a few guest co-drivers that I have really enjoyed working with.

Then a few days ago, Jackie heard me thinking out loud about what to do for a co-driver and said, “I would like to do that”. I dismissed it at first. Jackie is a self professed bookworm, she tolerates adventure, but something is changing. I think she sees what we can do from a publicity point of view for the charity if we can create interesting stories and I think she genuinely enjoyed the co-drivers experience.

I questioned her for a few minutes about the commitment, the process, and a few other important things, but all I could see in my head was a wonderful smile from my lovely guest co-driver on that test day a few years back and I remember thinking that it would be cool to see that at the end of each stage!

Please welcome the Rally4Life teams new bookworm, co-driver… Jackie Jennings-Bates. Now lets rally!


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MY FIRST ULTRAMARATHON! – PART 1

Winning the raceIn this 4 part series, I want to share with you what it was like to attempt to run my first 100km ultramarathon in Guatemala this past November….

Rivers of sweat poured down the channel in the small of my back, straight into my running shorts, which made them clammy and uncomfortable. As I ran past row after row of gleaming new Peugeot cars at the Talbot factory in Ryton-on-Dunsmore, all I could think of was the exciting smell you experience with a new car. It was thrilling to get into a shiny new vehicle when I was a child, dreaming of being old enough to one day drive and access a new freedom.

Sadly the Talbot factory no longer exists!

At the time however, looking at all those expensive new cars took my mind off the drudgery of running and helped me think happy thoughts of one day driving everywhere, and no longer running!

I knew the exercise was, generally, good for me. At 13 years old, I had already figured out I felt better when I ran. Back then we didn’t have the internet as a resource, but if we did, I probably would have found an article saying something about the benefits running, or, of wearing a plastic garbage bin liner under my t-shirt. I am not sure where I found that article then or even if it was true, but somewhere I heard a rumour which sounded cool and so I stole a bin liner from my house and carefully cut out a hole for my head and one for each of my arms. As my Mum and Dad looked on quizzically, I probably made up some story about the benefits of wearing such a device during periods of exercise but in truth I knew nothing about the physiological benefits to wearing plastic bags when you run, it just seemed like a good idea.

I don’t want to mislead you, I was athletic, but my sport was Fencing and running was just a way to stay somewhat fit and be a somewhat good Fencer! So I didn’t take running too seriously. Only seriously enough to choose to wear garbage bags over my head, which apparently was ahead of my time, since the trend in the 70’s with Punk Rock was to, in fact, wear green garbage bags, but they would wear them on the outside and generally didn’t run with them.

I never took anything too seriously. In fact, in my humble opinion, children under the age of 35 are forced to take many things far too seriously and make decisions well beyond their years. I chose to deal with each day at a time, much like today.

So it was, when, one evening in a pub somewhere, a friend cornered me and said “You look fit” and added, “How would you like to do a half marathon tomorrow?”. “Great, I said, count me in” as I ordered another beer. With the beer in my hand I quizzed him about exactly what a half marathon was. I was 17 at the time and after he explained it was a 13 mile run, I wondered how bad it could be? The next day, I packed my car, a 1957 Morris Minor with my dog, Polly, my girlfriend Jackie and a pair of shorts that were later used by Simon Pegg in Run Fat Boy Run and registered myself in the Warwick half marathon.

At the end of my first half marathon… never to be repeated for about 30 years!

It turns out many of my former school mates and other friends already knew what a half marathon was and had chosen to do the same thing, and probably, like me, had decided the previous night in a pub somewhere in Leamington Spa. We all had a habit of doing thinfs spontaneously and wanted to have fun. I remember that day being not much fun until it was over… my time was a pretty slow 2 hrs 12 minutes, but I was proud, I had not trained. The night before I didn’t even know what a half marathon was and yet here I was, running 13 miles.

My recent adventure in Guatemala unfolded in almost the same manner, except now I take things a little more seriously and I don’t spend quite so much time in pubs. Last week, as I ran the Cabrakan 100km Ultramarathon, I couldn’t help but wonder why my disturbed mind had, at some point in it’s existence decided running could be fun. Then I found the answer. Run as an advocate, on behalf of someone else. So, I did exactly that on November 17th 2012 with a team of 8 other people running also.

A little over a year ago, I met Matt Blacklock for the first time. I had known of Matt for some time. He was the Base Director for FeViva at their Guatemalan operations. Jackie, my wife had previously visited the childrens home and our charity supports them. Matt is an advocate for our charity, Rally4Life, because he runs so many ultramarathons. I am not sure quite how the conversation went but in listening to his stories of running  I do recall my mouth saying at some point “I would be interested in running an ultramarathon” as my brain screamed “NOOOOOO, DON’T DO IT”.

Matt looked me straight in the eye and said “You should do the Cabrakan 100km in Guatemala, it is a pretty straightforward race”.


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PART 2 – THE TRAINING AND PREPARATION

training for successI started training and telling the press and friends what I was going to do… slowly and surprisingly, people started asking if they could join me and then asking if they could run too, so we ended up with two complete 4 x 25km teams, John, Kim, Jackie, Matt, Janet, Brady, Kristen and Petra…most of whom had never run much before. I was surprised, and excited at the same time because we now had a group of 10 people raising funds for the charity rather than just me.

Training for the ultramarathon

We trained, sometimes individually and sometimes as a group. I remember the first few runs with some of the new runners and 3 to 5km was a really challenging run for them. In the fall I entered the Kelowna Marathon and had an excellent marathon run with my youngest son Leagh, which I really enjoyed and then I ran a 50km training run  a few weeks later which I did not enjoy. I was dehydrated, my achilles tendons, which had been playing up for most of the year were now so angry that I had a hard time walking most of the time, but I put it to the back of my mind and just did as much rehab as I could to help them recover…. that was three weeks before the race and I decided it was time to taper and let the body heal.

Everybody impressed me in their commitment to go the distance. Of particular note was Kim Weiler, the founder of FeViva who we were supporting. Kim is a little older than me and was challenged by a good friend, John Jansen to join us on the run. John thought it was a pretty safe bet to challenge Kim because he would say no and John would be off the hook. Kim laughed initially at the suggestion, took another gulp of coffee and then said “Yes”. I had known Kim for a long time, and he is an amazing man, a man of faith without a doubt, but this may be a stretch.

Kim launched headlong into a training regime and pushed everyone around him. I think he may have lost 30lbs in the fall, and we often went for 15km or 20km runs as he prepared for the Guatemala run. Kim had a naturally fast pace and so keeping up with him was good training for me and John as we went running together. Whenever the running was a little arduous or difficult, we just started talking about how much we would be able to help the children of Nicaragua and Guatemala and put our focus right where it needed to be.

On November 14th, the team were so excited to be boarding the United Airlines flight from Vancouver, high spirits, coupled with a healthy dose of nervousness permeated the teams spirits. We all had certain fears and limitations which kept us pensive and quiet for much of the time.

Despite the fears and anxiety, the overall anticipation and excitement was in regards to seeing the Casa Kids. They are a very special group of children. Kim and Lyn Weiler, founders of Fe Viva, run a Children’s home which is part of their Guatemalan operation. It has been very successful and highly admired for the way it operates. Looking after somewhere close to 40 children. Feeding them, clothing them, teaching them and above all loving them is critical to their successful development. One of the most recent admissions was three children from the same family who were found tied to a post, badly abused and severely malnourished. Kim and Lyn were asked to look after them but the children were in such a bad state of malnourishment that they needed a three month residential stay in a hospital just to get them physically healthy.

Petra reading enroute to Guatemala

My philosophy has always been that it is harder to quit when you are doing something for someone else and the rest of the team had risen to the challenge admirably.

The flights to Guatemala City went very well and we were met at the airport by Kim and Matt who were shuttling us back to Casa Esparanza near Chiquimulilla. Once assigned to our rooms at around midnight, everyone disappeared to attempt to get their first Guatemalan sleep.

Guatemalan sleep is like none other. The first thing you learn is the Roosters don’t crow at dawn, they do it all night long, apparently because they are hungry. You also find out that mangoes make a very loud sound, much akin to a hand grenade going off, when they are blown off the tree and land on a tin roof. As if that were not enough, you will find out that Guatemalan’s start their day very early, lighting their aromatic hardwood fires and preparing to cook copious amounts of Tortillas. Then, if you are not accustomed to creepy crawlies, the sounds of tiny scorpion feet, buzzing mosquitos singing lizards are likely to keep you awake.

None of that seemed to bother me, I travel very well, had just spent three months sleeping in the Australian bush in a hammock, so why when I woke up did I feel like I had a massive hangover? I was awake around 7am and breakfast was at 8am and I was already looking for the bus that had so obviously run me over in my sleep! It was going to be a rest day for us thankfully. My body was present for the whole day but for some reason my brain never showed up. My wife could not understand, she had not seen me like this before. It was as if I had been awake for 36 hours.

Installing the stoves

Thankfully night fell, and off to bed I went after convincing someone to give me a pair of their ear plugs, just in case I had not slept well. Thankfully, I had a good nights sleep and ended up feeling rested. It was a good job because this was a work day. We were off to install two clean burning wood stoves for cooking in some remote homes to help families reduce the chances of child mortality and bronchial infections.

The Guatemalan’s have one of the highest rates of child mortality due to their terrible cooking conditions. Children are burnt, scalded or die of severe bronchial conditions. Their kitchens usually have an open “three stone” fireplace with no chimney so the whole building fills with smoke. The new stoves that we installed burnt far less wood, had a flue to direct the smoke over the roof tops and were safer for pots and pans that would not accidentally fall over. It was hard work for the afternoon. First we installed the new stoves on freshly installed concrete pads and then dismantled the old stoves to remove any temptation to go back to old habits.

Playing with some of the “Casa Kids”

We were tired, hot and happy. Many of the team had not been to a developing country and took to hugging the poor people incredibly well. Everyone was discussing tactics to remove hair lice and fleas once back in Canada and talking about the chances of getting Chicken Pox again which seemed to have affected many of the children, but not one person was cautious about giving a big hug to a child or elderly person, knowing that it meant so much to them.

Smoky kitchens cause all kinds of problems for Guatemalan’s

Back at base we had a fabulous pep talk from Matt and Kerry about the run. They had so much experience and willingly shared it with the team. Even as far as to talk about the dynamics inside an 11 passenger van. Many of the team would be in the van for almost 24 hours with very little time to get out, other than for their leg of the run. The discussion ensued about changes in personality with enforced sleep deprivation. It was obviously going to be a very interesting evening.

What did become obvious during that conversation was the “team spirit”, the Esprit de Corps as the army calls it. The willingness to give whatever it takes for the team. It was clear that the one thing that would not be missing was encouragement. In all, we would be 15 people. Matt and Kerry had agreed to drive the passenger van that would follow and support the relay teams, Edwin, a partner with Fe Viva had agreed to drive a support vehicle following me and Grant, Anthony and Shaun were going to be “runners” between the two teams with the purpose of filming a documentary, iRun, which should be ready for viewing early next year.

With all of our gear packed, food organised and strategies at hand, we set off at lunchtime the following day to drive almost to Antigua, the oldest capital city in the America’s. This would be the starting point for our epic overnight adventure.