It’s all about the hugs.

After disconnecting the race car from the tired Range Rover and speaking to various experts that called on us and came to us after our Carrera friends found out we were limping to Queretaro, we went over all our options for how to continue on to Tuxtla. Taz Harvey called us from California, had his friend who is a Range Rover expert call us to give us suggestions to solve our problem, which included air dropping us a new transmission, had his family friend and Queretaro resident car guy meet us with his older son Vitek at our hotel to help us with logistics for anything we might need. Julio our new crew member, was ready for us at the hotel with info and quotes for a replacement service car, as well as having a lovely local mechanic name Fritz meet us with his diagnostic computer. As I reflect and write this, I am covered with chicken skin because I am so blown away by all those who came to our aid. As our wonderful friend Angelica Fuentes would say,”THAT is the Spirit of La Carrera.”

In the morning, this generosity continued, as the convoy readied to depart the hotel for the longest leg of the journey to Tuxtla, a 12 hour drive, other friends Erik Kendall and Dorian, from the Alfa Taxi team, took some of our gear to help us out, as did Michael Shoemaker with the Volvo team. We owe you guys! And can’t wait to see you in Tuxtla and share a shot!

After the group left, we rented a new ride, set up a plan for the Range Rover, loaded up and headed out. We decided to head to Oaxaca and stay the night because we knew we had lost too much time to make it to Tuxtla during daylight hours. Also, hopeful to connect with our friend Luciano who lives in Oaxaca.

Julio and I drove behind Conrad and Dave in El Platillo Volador feeling relieved that we weren’t still stuck on the side of the freeway and we’re still moving! An hour into the trip, we came upon a Federale parked on the side of the freeway, who lit up and came after us! Ugh.

The trooper pulled up behind Conrad and Julio and I just ahead on the skimpy shoulder of the highway. I asked Julio if it would be ok for me to get out of our car and walk to Conrad to help with translating, since that is verboten in the US. Before he could answer, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw this.

 

  
This guy had been an escort with La Carrera last year and pulled us over to say hi! After we all got our hugs, we continued to Oaxaca and made it!

The Border…and more

Gringo Coyote ConvoyAlthough, sardined in the Range Rover, we had a very productive Friday drive leaving San Antonio for Laredo. Having arrived a bit after 1pm, we had a chance to ride to the border with our friends, Russ Fuller and Vasek Harvey to get our tourist visas.


   
Paperwork, done! Saturday, we convoy to Queretaro.
    
Gerie Bledsoe, our trusty convoy leader, deserves a shout out, a huge hug, our first borns, a place in our wills…for years he has been the dedicated US ambassador for La Carrera Panamericana, informing each team heading to Mexico the how to’s the when’s, the where’s, etc. He is quick replying to all of our questions, and speaking for myself…some pretty dense questions. He is always calming, graceful, and maintains a good sense of humor. And even though he gives all the teams more than adequate information to take care of the permit process required before crossing the border, some teams show up to Laredo without the appropriate paperwork or paperwork that is not very good looking. Somehow, he and Fernando figure out a way to help.
We took off Saturday morning for the border knowing that anything could happen. Things could run smoothly or we could have some last minute hoops to jump through.

Fortunately, our entire group got through without hassles! Nothing like looking forward to a 10 hour drive after the stress of customs! Next stop, Queretaro, where we will join up with Julio Estrada, my co crewster. 

Wellllll…. not so fast.

Turns out 280 km from Queretaro, our trusty Range Rover decided it had had enough of fourth gear and spit it out and protested the other gears as well. The rain reminded us that it wanted in on the party and so did the semi trucks whizzing a foot away from us as we coasted to the side of the freeway. Conrad tried to move the shifter, but a freewheeling tranny whined instead. Somehow, Conrad was found a way to go manual and get first, second and third and we era able to limp ourselves to the hotel. Many thanks to Russ and Dorian for keeping us bookended till we made it to the hotel and to all the others who have offered to carry our stuff and to Taz and Julio for finding new local friends that will be helping us out!

Berkeley, Ca 🔜 Tuxtla, Mexico

Just when my Brown Turkey fig tree was bearing these gifts:

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We pack up and do this:

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As you may have noticed, our rig has changed a bit! We are using a TRAILER! But since flavor is important, we will ditch the trailer in El Paso and flat tow the Flying Saucer (El Platillo Volador aka EPV) to Queretaro. Once arriving in Queretaro for the evening, the two cars will consciously uncouple and Conrad and our new co pilot, Dave Le of Oakland, California, will have seat time for the rest of the drive to the race start in Tuxtla.
To many’s amusement, including our own, we made it to Turlock, Ca on our first day’s drive heading to Laredo, where we plan on joining the Coyote Convoy, to travel across the Mexican border in a group with the other Gringo racers. The reason for this is simple, we first drove north a couple of hours to drop Harrison off at our friend Julie’s house. Enjoyed a nice breakfast in downtown Turlock with our friend Tom Watling at Latif’s, a must for those with a soft spot for mid century decor and American diners.

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After a donkey route aiming for El Paso, and no excuse for dropping off our dog on that leg of our trip, we motored even less impressively into 5 o’clock traffic in Pasadena and stayed that night in Banning, yup, California…still. There were all sorts of pointing fingers flying around inside our cock pit!

Alas, Wednesday was a productive and long day. I-10E is a long haul, but it isn’t without interesting sites.

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We finally made it to El Paso and said goodbye to the trailer. Thanks to Arturo Cazares for giving it a safe place to park while we pull El Platillo Volador behind the Range Rover for the rest of the trip. Wednesday, we hook up with our friend Fernando Garcia, navigator with Gerie Bledsoe in the Studebaker Commander ‘El Zorro’, who will ride to San Antonio with us, where we will join up with Dave Le and continue on to Laredo on Friday.

Thursday’s showers produced alarming texts that buzzed our mobiles on the I-10.

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We charged on and made great time to San Antonio in time to meet Dave who’d just arrived from Oakland. Next stop, Laredo!

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¡En sus marcas! ¡Listos! ¡CARRERA! 2015

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On your marks! Get set! CARRERA!

First things first. Our gratitude!
Before yammering on about our stuff…our stuff wouldn’t be, not without the amazing support from the following people:

First, huge thanks to Dave Le, for hopping in the co pilot seat. We’ve seen Dave and Andrew Sather in our rear view mirror on several rallies and are excited to have him this year IN our car! Also, Julio Estrada! Gracias, amigo! Our experienced crew mechanic from San Miguel de Allende. On pretty short notice, Julio hopped on board! We are looking forward to working with you!
Jon Norman Racing Group! Thank you Jon, Dennis Etcheverry the master welder of EPV’s headers which were fabricated by Larry Dickman…Thank you Larry, for them headers and so much more, suspension components, your shoulder and elbow. Dan Marvin, for practical advice on race car set up, engine, chassis, machining, an inspiring racer, you are amazing!
Gracias, Pedro Lambert y Linda Lotriet for loaning us the most comfortable car to tow and crew with on this wild journey! You are too generous with us! Not complaining!
Tom Richardson, when he isn’t designing new Cliff bars, he is skipping the learning curve and mainlining to master of upholstery out of his garage. Thank you for the beautiful work you have sewn and stitched in our little car!
Mitch Parella, you have always gone above and beyond with our projects, your patience, generosity, and sweet nature, not to mention, long hours are most appreciated.
Getting to the race start wouldn’t have been as safe without you, Larry Eisner! Thank you for sprucing up and reworking the wiring on our trailer and tow bar. One of these years you will come with us…we are hopeful.
The lovely Lauren Pressler, who once again helped make our postcards happen! They are super cool!
Thank you, Jeremy Heslup for so much! For the photo on the front of our postcards and your hard work photographing, filming and editing the story of our car, and to Petrolicious.com for sharing it with your viewers! Here is link for anyone who is curious:                                                 http://www.petrolicious.com/alfa-romeo-sprint-speciale-is-a-racing-statement
Andrew Watry, not only did you donate your garden sculpture to our crazy dream, you put in many hours of your time helping it become a car! You crewed for us and towed her home in 2013 and have been a steady friend and mechanic to our team, gracias!
Bill (Memo) Mertz, you are our rock! Don’t know what it will be like this year because we have never done this event without you! Quit swingin’ from chandeliers and heal fast!
Ed Adams! We thank you for offering to tow EPV for us this year, as we are making the trek ourselves. Yikes! You are a bad ass! You made way better time than we have made, which makes us most appreciative of what you have done for our team and offered to do again.
Also grateful to Dennis and Elaine Dale, for the check you made out to Conrad…you thought it’d go to the race cause, little did you know it would go to Conrad’s tequila cause!
HUGE thanks to Julie Duarte for giving our darling dog Harrison a second home while we are away. We know he is happy and having fun with his brothers and sister at Camp Julie!
Last but not least, our 24 Hours of Lemons family, our only sponsor brave enough to slap their sticker on our car! We will do our best to not embarrass you!

Final Day. Zacatecas to Durango.

These lyrics of 9th and Hennepin by Tom Waits sort of sum up the day for me:
…And the rooms all smell like diesel
And you take on the
Dreams of the ones who have slept here.
And I’m lost in the window
I hide on the stairway
I hang in the curtain
I sleep in your hat
And no one brings anything
Small into a bar around here.
They all started out with bad directions…

The lovely gents who went off the road yesterday rode to Durango in the Duster with Jeremy and Sean today. Matt and I were supposed to lead…with bad directions, which affected all decisions having to do with directions, to the service and possibly a speed section. Seems like major punishment, but Hans and Anders were super gentlemen about it. Somehow, my instinct for direction was bass akward, all due to sleep deprivation.
The hotel in Zacatecas boasted Wifi, displayed a confident connection, but sucked, it was fake, completely fake. Haven’t decided what is worse yet, the hotel in DF that charges for Internet by the hour, or the hotel with fake Internet.
Rain again in the still dark morning.
As we headed out of town we were graced by the most beautiful sunrise.

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And a full rainbow, perhaps a double?

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We missed everything. Speed section and service, the road was closed and there was not a chance to penetrate the police barrier, I tried. So we headed back to Durango and caught the race cars arriving to the finish arch.
Erik Comas, the former Formula 1 driver won after Emilio Velazquez went off in a speed section, thrusting our friends Doug Mockett and his wonderful navigator, Angelica Fuentes (who also performed a mechanical fix on their alternator the day before) into second place.

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As always, this race never fails to amaze me. Each year we meet more wonderful people and our bond with those we have met in previous years gets stronger. Although you are hammered physically and emotionally from the intensity of it all, and think you may want a year off, forget it, you always will come back for more. Caution! This is highly addictive.
Our aim is to return with the Alfa El Platillo Volador next year. Till then, shiny side up!

Day Six. Guanajuato to Zacatecas.

Today we drove to the service stop in La Congoja before ending in Zacatecas. It is a very small town perched on the top of a mountain with a population of three hundred (a figure I overheard only). I have been there before and what I remember most of this town is the exuberance of the children.

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Before the race cars arrive, we have plenty of time to greet our friends who feel like family this particular week in October every year. This is Sean’s first time in Mexico, and as many of us dog lovers, he too, is torn by the street dogs and puppies…so he bought a bag of dog food to feed the ones he encounters. This is the first guy.

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The main street of this town was lined with service vehicles, pop ups, jack stands, jacks, tools, lunch tables, and ready mechanics anticipating the needs of their cars and drivers. It is really interesting to watch the choreography of each teams action of service. Each car pretty much begins its service oeuvre by getting jacked up onto stands and wheels off.
Having an hour to kill once the drivers and navigators arrived, I remembered that I’d brought a stack of 24 hours of LeMons stickers to give away, and gave myself the task of ‘LeMonsing’ up some of the front runners.

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On our way down the mountain after all race cars had departed for La Bufa, an impressive mountain that commands a presence in the landscape of Zacatecas, we came across a Ford Falcon off the side of the road. Driver and copilot were fine.

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<img src="http://scuderiadiscovolantedotcom.files.

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Kids lined the streets scrambling to pick up candy teams threw for them.

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Then we entered Zacatecas. Woohoo! It is hard to not have the final night here.

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We made fast friends with photographers Beco and Manuel and the lovely Maria when we cut them off while driving on the highway. Once we got to a gas station and Beco was prepared to serve us our asses in Spanish, English, Italian, German, or French…well, our friendship began!

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Day Five. Morelia to Guanajuato.

Last nights deluge, complete with thunder, lightning and a foot and a half of water flooding the streets, was a bit of a concern for what the climate might be today. Finding a Starbucks on the way out of town was the beginning of a lucky day.
The morning speed section of La Casacada was in our crosshairs for action filming and photography. Plan after that was to head to the service stop in Silao at the Expo Center to catch some mechanical prowess in action.
Another lucky and much appreciated bit is that the race start was scheduled for 9am. WooHoo! That extra hour of sleep is a psychological magic bean.
Cloud formations today were ESPECTACULAR!

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After driving up and down La Cascada, we settled on a spot that worked for all of us near a couple of houses, especially after borrowing a machete to do some ‘filandscaping’, bush whacking for our filming visions.

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Just before the cars began the stage, a Federale in a Charger pulled over to ask us not to let the people living in the houses to drive out onto the road. Since we’d already started borrowing their driveway and gardening equipment, saving their lives was the least we could do.
The familiar ‘Estud’ sounds screaming up the road, lead way to the following cars into our view finders. Oh, I forgot to mention, AND the livestock having breakfast on the side of the road and the neighbors curious pups checking out the gringo gardeners.

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After the Sweeper car passed us, we packed up ad back tracked to the highway heading to the service stop in Silao, stopping for some photos to share the incredible beauty of Mexico’s landscapes. AND we found a surfboard at the bottom of a waterfall, go figure. Surf’s up!

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Day Four. Toluca to Morelia.

Today we watched the racers leave Toluca headed towards Chapa de Mota speed stages and met them again at the service stop in Atlacomulco. Weather seemed good and everyone looked like they were in fine form. It is late so I will post photos of all the wonderful people who participate in La Carrera Panamericana, as you will see, the energy is all good!

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After the service stop, we drove by a couple of beautiful lakes on the way to Morelia for the finishing arch.

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I will have to add more, later. I am dead tired , and I still have to talk about the dreadful storm.

Day Three. Distrito Federal to Toluca.

After leaving the underground gas chamber of a parking garage at our hotel, Presidente Intercontinental, this morning in Mexico City, we made our way out of town, thanks to Google maps, to a colorful row of restaurants lined up the side of the freeway. We ate breakfast tacos with another film crew of awesome guys working with our friend Tomas Lopez Rocha in a Studebaker.
Edgar Fuentes, drove by with a train of cars following him to Toluca. We hitched our two rides to his caravan…ALL aboard!
Today’s speed stages took place in the national park of Nevado de Toluca, an inactive volcano, very reminiscent of areas in Lake Tahoe, with pines and COLD!!!! weather…but alas, no rain for most of it.
We hung out with friends we only see at this time of the year and met new ones. Some crafty gourmets brought cooking gear and shared it with us. My favorite day so far….until, unbeknownst to us, these great shots we took of the cars racing through, came with a bugger of a price.
Please enjoy these photos taken today on two of the speed stages. Apparently, while we were in the woods taking them, we were being bitten by flesh eating spiders.

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Once the race cars passed us and headed to their service stop, we had approximately 40 mins to search for the next photo place where we could feed more spiders. During this time, fans were cooking up a storm!

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The federales started giving signals as they carved through the corners in their Challengers. And the next stage began.

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Tomorrow we head to Morelia and Mil Cumbres (one thousand turns) and a visit to my old stomping ground with all my service peeps! Woohoo! Got a nap today and had time to fix the sleep blogging edits I made! Till tomorrow!