This is a summary of what the whole Targa trip amounted to for me.
I left NC on September 1, knowing that I would have to be in North Sydney, Nova Scotia on the night of September 5, in order to catch a ferry to Argentia, Newfoundland. I expect to more or less take my time. That first day I was actually planning to stop somewhere just after NYC, but when I reached the Connecticut border I discovered that hurricane Irene had taken out power on just about all the coastal towns along I-95. I drove east to Mystic before I finally found a hotel that was not full of people without power, or the trucks of work crews there to restore power and take care of downed trees. By that time of night I was just happy to get a place to sleep.
I always expect delays going through Washington, D.C., and New York City, but I-95 through Connecticut is pretty much of a joke. It doesn’t seem to matter what time of day or night that you transverse it, you need to be prepared to just crawl your way across. A trip on an Interstate you should be able to average at least 50 mph, but if you can achieve half that on I-95 through Connecticut you are lucky. It is pitiful. It would be rhetorical to pose the question, “What would happen if there was a need for an evacuation?” You would be better off to walk than travel I-95 in a car.
The next day I headed north through Rhode Island and Massachusetts gliding through Boston and on to New Hampshire.
I wrote earlier about the automotive places that I enjoyed as I made my way to Mt. Washington.
After spending a night in a charming bed and breakfast in North Conway I took off for Canada by way of Maine. I crossed the border into Canada and switched to metric measurements and set my clock an hour ahead.
I spent the night in Saint John, New Brunswick. The next day continuing east and enjoying the countryside. The eastern part of Canada is full of ocean inlets, bays, and peninsulas. While a lot of the view from the road is of trees there are plenty of glimpses of these other features.
I made it to North Sydney a day early and found accommodations on a hill overlooking the ferry.
The next day I had a lot of time to kill so I explored the area.
Mining was a big part of the areas history as was fishing. I noticed that there were Leonard brothers that were central to the fishing industry at one point.
I came across a lone classic Chevy sitting in the driveway of a house in North Sydney.
Eventually the time wore away and it was evening and time for me to check in to the ferry. After receiving my ticket and mag-key to my berth on the ferry I joined many more cars in line and waited about two hours for the signal to drive on to the ferry itself.
In the lines of vehicles were many of the Targa contestants and their cars, trucks, etc. It was fun to have the time to wander through the lines and take photos and talk to the Targa folks.
Finally we were signaled to start our vehicles and waved to one of two rams that brought us to our parking spot on the ferry.
I grabbed my bag and headed up to my berth to drop them off and then wander around the deck. It was almost another hour before the ship departed and headed off on the 16 hour voyage to Newfoundland.
I had hoped to enjoy the view of the ocean from the deck but we were soon socked in by fog that lasted the entire voyage.
On board was a bar and lounge, a snack bar, a full restaurant, a sitting area with many large flat screens and comfy chairs where you could plug in head phones or ear buds and listen as well as watch.
The night in the cabin was not too bad, but the bed was perpendicular to the orientation of the vessel which made things a bit odd as the ship rolled and pitched.
In the morning I was able to shower and then head for the restaurant for an enjoyable breakfast. We did not land until noon on the sixth. From there it was hour drive to St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland.
I located the place I had reserved to stay. It was an efficiency apartment which allowed me to cook what meals I wanted to and a coin laundry room for guests.
I phoned the Stage Operations Team Leader and let her know I was in town and ready. She picked me up the next afternoon and we met with another team that was setting up and testing their timing equipment. This not only gave me some experience with the equipment I would be using, it gave me a chance to get to know some of the people that would be part of the Stage Operations teams. We were all a bunch of dedicated volunteers that were in for an exciting and demanding week.
Friday we met at the ferry to a small island, Bell Island, near St. John’s, where we would practice running a couple of stages with a few of the contestants.
The people of Bell Island were terrific. It was a fun show for them and they had their own private view of some pretty spectacular cars at speed. The kids, especially, enjoyed being up close and personal with the race cars.
During one of the stages, when a Viper completed a run I asked the driver if he would like to pull over on his last run and let the kids have some photo time. He said, “Sure, why don’t we do it now!” That was the kind of attitude you saw for all of Targa. The competitors really understood that they were able to run in this unique event because an entire island’s communities pitched in and allowed public roads to be closed off for their enjoyment.
One competitor, Moto-Man, had a camera car that tagged along with his entry vehicle as well as a stationary video crew that picked a spot on stage to film from.
There were the “Hot Touring” cars that were a new addition. They were people with too much money that had some very exotic cars (about $8 million worth) and wanted the thrill of running the stages without worrying about points. There would be as many as five of these, but after the first day it became three or four.
Attrition is part of automotive competition and Targa was very demanding on cars and drivers. It was estimated that 25% of the starting entries were not able to complete the event.
The Targa event honors the public of Newfoundland by making sure that every night the competition cars are available for viewing at an arena local to the last stage of the day. Cars must be washed and there was a line of volunteers waiting to help the teams clean their rides every night.
Sunday was a preliminary running of stages. The times would not count, but it gave both competitors and stage operations a chance to really wring everything out before the official start on Monday. The drivers loved the chance to really let everything out and test their skills and equipment. The next day it would count.
The first day brought with it some offs and some equipment failures. The Lotus blew its engine. It called in the problem to Targa Operations and before they got off the phone a replacement engine had been located and was on its way.
The support crew spent all night doing the engine swap. They just didn’t have time to put all the rear bodywork on so the Lotus was on the starting line the next day sans its rear body work. There is nothing like the tenacity of automotive competition.
Weather varied from over cast and calm to sunny and extremely windy. At times it was so windy I didn’t know how the cars stayed on the road as the safety tape that was strung for crowd control whipped about in the gusts and was stretched into the roadway where it was often clipped by the cars.
Some days were preceded by nights of rain that left the village roads slick and the wooden bridges greasy. It was a constant challenge to drivers and teams.
Even when things were dry the road surface could quickly change from tarmac to gravel and then back again. A driver was lucky if the change of surface didn’t occur in the midst of a corner.
There are over 1500 people that volunteer to help out with the running of the Targa. Some will work for an hour or two as a safety marshal, while others will work all week long going from stage to stage ensuring that everything is prepared and as perfect as can be for the competitors. Then there are the people that work all year round to ensure that the communities directly involved are prepared and involved to have their roads usurped for the benefit of the Targa competitors. It is a lot of work and it is amazing that it can garner so much support from the community.
I mentioned in another post how the last day was run virtually in a hurricane. The storm whipped up all night long and well into the morning of Friday. It was an hour’s drive to get to the first stage and raining the whole time.
By the time I was set up for the finish of the stage I was covering the rain had slacked off and while overcast, it was clear of precipitation. This would be a stage that was going to be run twice.
There was a yellow Lab puppy that was without a leash that we had to get under control. It would have been tragic if that dog had been wandering across the road while cars were competing. The owner had left it tied up but the puppy had chewed its way free. With the help of another stage crew we got the dog under control and the stage could open.
By the second run on the stage the storm had come back again and I, for one, was soaked. When the stage was completed I gladly packed the equipment into my trunk and headed for my room in St. John’s where I could get cleaned up and into dry clothes.
Feeling human again I headed to the docks where the cars that finished were parked and the crews and competitors were enjoying themselves over drinks and great food. I located the team and we sat down for some down time and food.
Saturday night was the Gala event where trophies and tales of the event were the order of the day. It was a last chance to get together with my new friends and bask in the shared memories of this year’s Targa.
The following morning I would pack up my luggage and drive the 900 kilometers to the south western part of Newfoundland known as Port aux Basques where I would catch a ferry back to North Sydney, Nova Scotia.