Today, I got my first official taste of Fireball Run. I spent the morning behind the wheel of Team High Gear Media's 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS, before switching seats and taking over navigation duties in the afternoon.
To reiterate, the Fireball Run is billed as an "adventure rally" which places an emphasis on scoring points in pre-assigned missions over pure abject speed (with the exception of a handful of track and autocross events spread throughout the run). While teams do score more points for being prompt, the rules of the game are set up to discourage speeding on public roads. This means that figuring out how to fulfill the mysterious missions--and how to navigate quickly from place to place--becomes more important than slamming your foot to the floor. To that end, the navigator's duties are perhaps more important than the driver's.
As a driver, my duties consisted of listening to teammate Joel Feder's instructions, keeping pace with other competitors, and maintaining a brisk but not reckless or dangerously illegal pace on public roads. Oh, and I needed to pose for photos at each mission check point.
After lunch, I took my turn in the right-hand seat. Navigating looks easy, especially if you consider yourself good with directions, but even in this day and age of Google Maps, it can be frustratingly challenging. Especially if you misinterpret the clues that you are given pertaining to your mission.
Armed with an iPhone, my Droid-powered mobile phone, and another Droid phone provided by Verizon Wireless, it seemed like we had more than enough tech on board. But things aren't always what they seem. Google Maps provided the wrong address for a destination at least once. And we lost a few minutes when we misread a clue and thought we needed to back-track, only to find out that our first instinct was correct.
Still, we never got seriously off-track. When calling to confirm if a given place was indeed our destination, we asked for addresses and directions, which allowed us to double-check if Google Maps was right or wrong. That strategy is what allowed us to discover that one destination was clearly marked wrong on the map without going miles out of our way. We also got clear directions from an employee of the store we were stopping at, which helped immeasurably.
Despite the occasional hiccups, there's no doubt that smart phones come in handy for this sort of event. Just being able to Google a clue has been extraordinarily helpful--we can research on the fly. And as the trip moves eastward, 3G cell-phone coverage has become more available. Minor hiccups did occur on both networks, but never for more than a few seconds. It's hard to imagine doing something like this 15 years ago, relying only on printed notes.
As the day wound to a close with a dinner at a St. Louis-area luxury car dealership (think Lamborghini, Bentley, Maserati, and Ferrari), we found out that even after finishing third on the day, we were still hovering around sixth or seventh place overall in the competition. There didn't appear to be any major shifts in the standings. We did get docked four points for arriving at the final check-in four minutes too early, but so did several other teams, so the penalty didn't hurt us too badly.
Tomorrow, Joel and I head to Iowa. We'll keep you updated on what happens on the road to Cedar Rapids.