Next time they get stuck on the Gardiner Expressway, Tim Burgess and Jan Frolic can look ahead to a summer of open roads with truly wild traffic: elk, deer, bears, and logging trucks.
For fun and a good cause, the Beach couple is gearing up for the Alcan 5000 – a nine-day, 7,200-km rally that will take them from Seattle to Anchorage on dirt roads and Arctic highways with names like Klondike and Top of the World.
And, just to make it interesting, they will do it all in a tiny 1961 Triumph TR4.
“We were looking for a big adventure,” says Burgess, who raced older rally cars in the UK before he moved here and started driving the only rally-ready Triumph in Ontario.
“I came across this thing and went, ‘This is for us! This is a stupidly long way in any vehicle at all, and especially in a tiny little 50-plus year-old car.’”
Now in its 30th year, this summer’s Alcan rally will feature 23 cars and 46 motorcycles, each driving a minute apart.
To keep it legal, drivers hold the speed limit. They compete instead on precise cornering and by following a race itinerary that is spot-checked by people waiting at hidden checkpoints and timed to the hundredth of a second.
Nearly everyone else on the Alcan has a rally computer that beeps if a driver goes a second or two off-course.
But keeping in tune with their four-gear, spoke-wheeled, sixties sports car, Frolic will help Burgess navigate using a wind-up clock and stopwatch.
“He doesn’t have anything sophisticated,” Frolic joked. “He has me.”
The pair plan to start the August rally in style – a costume-designer friend insisted on making them sixties-style rally suits, possibly in lightweight silk.
But such finery won’t last.
“I imagine us having one change of clothes each, and that’s it,” said Burgess. Frolic has already picked out their key piece of rally-wear: camp T-shirts they can wring clean in a motel sink.
Even in the Beach, neighbours often see the two roll in from weekends in Trent Hills, Seneca, or Prince Edward Counties with the Triumph totally covered in mud.
“We kind of seek out the roads that say, ‘Unsuitable for motor vehicles,’” said Burgess.
They will find many such roads in B.C. and the Yukon, including one 160-km spur known as the “Grand Canyon of the North” that edges the Stikine River down to Telegraph Creek. Some of its hills have grades that push 20 per cent or more – think of Scarborough Road only steeper, with no asphalt and a river below.
But that’s just the sort of country that Giovanni Michelotti, the Italian designer of the British-made Triumph, had in mind.
While its 180 km/h top speed may seem modest by today’s standards, in the 1960s the high-torque Triumph was a rally favourite, especially on mountain routes.
“That’s where they really excelled, coming out of hairpins and going all the way up mountains,” Burgess said.
The Triumph also has a very simple, “un-fussy” design, he added, so all but the most serious repairs can be done roadside. Each wheel has a wing-shaped hub that can be knocked loose with a hammer, making for speedy tire changes, too.
Frolic said friends and family have told them everything from “You’re insane” to “If you can’t go, I’ll take your place.”
But however sane it is to drive a Triumph on backroads to Alaska, everyone has good reason to back the trip – the couple hope to raise $5,000 for Princess Margaret Hospital.
“We thought, it’s 5,000 miles, and if we could raise $5,000 that seems reasonable,” Frolic said. “It’s a buck a mile. We just hope we can contribute while we’re doing something fun.”
To track the Triumph during the August 18 to 26 rally, visit the couple’s Facebook page called Jan & Tim’s Excellent Adventure.
Donations will be made through the website for Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer – an Aug. 27 fundraiser they will have to miss this year since it comes on the day they will be cooling their heels in Alaska.