An Uncertain Start
The meeting point for several of us in Virginia and Maryland was a restaurant called Family Meal in Frederick, MD. The name of the place is quite misleading. I was expecting some run-of-the-mill basic fare, like you'd get an any generic chain like Perkins or something. Turns out, Family Meal is actually one of a couple restaurants owned by renowned chef Bryan Voltaggio. The farm to table food was fantastic, and the late morning cocktails wonderfully refreshing. We used the parking lot to put the rally stickers on our cars and prepared to set off. Just as we were finishing up and ready to begin the first leg of our journey, a cop pulled into the parking lot and approached us. Prasad's look of uncertainty was pretty much how we all felt when he walked up to us.
Rallies are a growing segment of automotive events. The publicity and wow-factor of big name, hypercar-filled events like Gold Rush and Cannonball have led to a rise in smaller rallies popping up all over the place. Unfortunately, many people that get involved with them see them as a way to condone long-distance racing on public roads. As these sometimes-reckless events gain more publicity, police have become more and more wary of them, and understandably so. It's unfortunate because it brings unwanted scrutiny onto those of us that are driving more responsibly than not and sometimes leads to police being called when other drivers are concerned about the fact that there's a group of stickered-up sports cars regardless of whether or not any laws are being broken. The reality of things is that rallies are going to get mixed reactions. Some people love seeing all these cars cruising along - it's not often you get to see Astons, Vipers, Lamborghinis, Porsches, Corvettes, and other awesome cars together, especially if you live in the middle of nowhere. Other people, however, have an inexplicable resentment toward our mere existence. It's a sad reality, and one we have to deal with.
Given the constant concern of negative reaction, we were all wondering why the cop was stopping to talk to us. Turns out he was a really nice guy and he just wanted to check out the cars. We chatted with him for a bit about the cars and about our plans to drive to Canada, then started our drive.
A Rainy Night in Bedford
The first stop on our three-day trip was the Omni resort in Bedford, Pennsylvania. Stephen, the man behind iDrive Rallies, did an awesome job at setting up parking for us at each hotel. At the Omni, we had the entryway courtyard reserved for us. Stephen and his father, also Stephen, were first to arrive. When they got there, the hotel's valet staff cleared all the parking for us so we could park our cars as we all arrived.
We also had planned a nice outdoor area with a firepit and food, but the weather altered those plans. It rained all afternoon and into the night, so everyone split off into a few groups and spread out across the resort's restaurants.
The drivers meeting was first thing the next morning, with a simple continental breakfast provided to get us primed to drive without leaving us with the grogginess that follows heavier fare. Stephen went over the route to our waypoints as well as gas station locations and some general rules for the rally. The rules, in their simplest terms, are simple: don't drive like an ass and don't cause any trouble. Easy stuff, and not a problem for this group. Meeting concluded, we headed out to our cars and lined up to leave.
The two Viper ACRs, Lamborghini Gallardo, four Corvettes, Aston Martin, BMW Z4M, V10 Audi R8, and other cars we had parked in the courtyard weren't exactly quiet when started up that morning. Needless to say, by the time we had lined up, there were people leaning against balcony railings, sitting at outdoor patio tables, standing along the courtyard's entry drive, and even atop the walking bridge that crossed over the resort's private road, all waiting for the long line of cars to set out. I'm sure some of them were disappointed that we didn't lay into the throttle, but they still got to hear us and nobody could complain about the noise we made since we knew to keep things tame for the sake of those people still sleeping.
Our first stop was a little cafe tucked away in a forested, hilly area. Only half the cars made it. One of the cars in the rally, a modified Cadillac CTS-V, was having rubbing issues with one of its tires. The route we took out of Bedford had a lot of small hills, which can play havoc on lowered cars due to how quickly and relatively drastically the suspension can compress going over those short but sharp crests. The Caddy pulled over to fix the rubbing issue, and half the cars stopped with him so they could continue on as a group. We waited for a while and enjoyed the unbelievably beautiful weather before everyone decided to meet up at the second waypoint.
The two halves of the rally rejoined each other at our second stop, a scenic overlook called the Cherry Springs Vista near Galeton, PA.
After a short break and some photos we continued on as a mostly-whole group. I say mostly because one of the cars with us, a 1997 Lotus V8 Esprit, ended up going directly to Niagara Falls on its own - the copilot wasn't enjoying the winding back-country roads too much and they decided on a direct route. The rest of the drive was a bit uneventful, save everyone pulling off the road and waiting for one of the Viper ACRs to catch up with us. They got pulled over because someone called the cops to complain that they didn't like being passed. Funny enough, the person complaining actually had a video of being passed - the passenger in his vehicle had filmed it on a cell phone and it showed that he was driving eratically and swerving across the road to prevent cars from passing him. So the Viper was told to keep it chill and let go - not a surprise given that the person complaining was the one actually causing problems!
Like I said, rally groups often come across some pretty horrible people.
We eventually all got to the US-Canada border and made it through relatively easily. The border agents were polite and friendly, asking about the rally (the stickers gave us away) and complimenting the cars. While the border crossing itself was uneventful, I have to say that this was Clare's third entry into another country and she still has yet to get a stamp in her passport. She got her passport for a cruise we went on earlier this year - we were going to Grand Cayman and Cozumel, so she needed a passport for entry. But the cruise lines handle the entry so she never actually got a stamp for either port of call. She was really disappointed because her passport was still barren and those stamps are something of an accomplishment themselves. Fast forward several months and surely crossing into Canada would give her that first stamp.
Nope. Three countries later and her passport is still blank. It's something of an ongoing joke now (at least for me, because she doesn't think it's too funny).
My first impression of Niagara was that it was like a much smaller, much cleaner, and much friendlier version of Las Vegas. That's not to say anything disparaging about Las Vegas - although Vegas does have its reputations for a reason - but it was something of a Las Vegas Lite. Tons of tourists, police stopping traffic to help the incessant streams of out-of-towners get to and from the falls, and hotels, buildings, and lighting all set in a way that makes every corner of the area around the falls seem like an attraction itself.
We stayed at the Hilton with a Falls-view room, which was great. And Stephen had them section off some private parking in the valet area of their parking garage for us, with full self-parking/drive-in/drive-out privileges (those of us concerned about handing our keys over know how important that is!).
We had dinner at a restaurant in our hotel, Brasa, a Brazilian steakhouse. The food was great, and the service so-so. The service would have been much better had our main waiter actually put any effort at all into answering questions about the menu. For example, when I asked about the difference between each coffee on the menu - they were listed by name without descriptions of what set them apart - all he did was say each coffee's name that was listed on the menu... but not telling me what was in each. When I specified that I wanted to know what was in each, he smiled and said he wasn't sure but made no effort whatsoever to find out. Odd thing to complain about, but it was one of a few instances where the guy showed he simply didn't care and the only effort he put into his job was to smile as much as he possibly could.
Even so, the food was great and we ate until we could bear it no more. I did order one of the coffees to help fight off the post-meal exhaustion, but I still have no idea what was actually in it (I'm guessing Grand Marnier). We then returned to our rooms to change into more casual clothes, then went out to see the famous Niagara Falls.
The rally split apart the next morning. About half the group headed to Toronto to extend the trip, and the rest drove along the Niagara River to see a bit of the Canadian side of things before heading home. I'm not sure if the rest of Canada is like this, but Niagara surprised me quite a bit in that it's not much different from the US. It's not geographically distant, of course, so it isn't much of a surprise. But what really stood out to me was a quirky thing that Americans get "teased" about quite often at the international scale: it's absurdly high-rate use of American flags to show patriotism. Maybe it's something of a misconception that I've had lately given how political everything seems to have become. Patriotism has become a double-edged sword, and it seems every display of American pride can be scrutinized one way or another. So although it shouldn't have been too noticeable, it was actually somewhat startling to see so many Canadian flags everywhere we went. I saw more maple leaves in Niagara than I see stars n' stripes in the US. It made me wonder if maybe the hypercriticality of American patriotism is unique - are people in other countries scrutinized in the same manner we are? It's something of a rhetorical question and, ultimately, it doesn't matter. We're all humans, after all.
Aside from the Canadian flags, being in Canada didn't feel any different than being in the United States. Even the currency is similar as they're both called the dollar. I chat with Canadians on a regular basis through Redpants and it never feels like I'm communicating across a border. In fact, the hardest part about chatting with Canadians is making sure we're talking about the same dollar since exchange rates affect the prices being discussed and we need to make sure the values line up with what each other expects. But really, it's often hard to distinguish Canadians and Americans from each other. It makes Canada an easy destination for anyone in the US that's looking to experience another country but want something easy to transition into.
Back to 'Murica
I hate to be cynical, but leaving the United States often comes with a huge drawback: dealing with American services. It's something of a blanket statement and I know I'll get some flak for it, but it's very often the case. The problem is a vicious cycle of poorly-behaved customers making service staff miserable, and the service staff in turn having a worse attitude toward the next set of customers. Case in point, dealing with Canadian customs officials was a breeze. They were polite and friendly. It took us a full hour to get through US customs and, once we finally got to the customs plaza, we were greeted by a rude American customs official. Had it been a matter of too many cars passing through that caused the delay, it would have been understandable. But that wasn't the problem. Rather, we got the slow lane while everyone else in our group went through just fine. It turns out our delay was caused by a disgruntled employee that obviously hated her job and took her displeasure out on everyone passing through her lane at the border crossing.
Our friends waited for us at a Tim Hortons a few miles from the border in New York state. It was a little ironic that we didn't go to a Tim Hortons in Canada, but we did in New York on our way back. But hey, I rarely do things in a sensible way anyway. And I didn't even get anything there - I was still too sour from the border agent that held us up - so it didn't really count, I think.
The next stop was at the Zippo Museum in Bradford, PA, and it'd be our last stop as a rally. It's a small museum, unsurprisingly, but has a really awesome set of displays going through the company's history. Probably my favorite thing to see there were the two display cases showing the various ways Zippo lighters have been destroyed, including being crushed by a steamroller and put into a garbage disposal. We said our goodbyes to each other, then set out for the last bit of our journey.
At this point we drove in a group until each of us took our respective exits to head home, peeling away from the rest of the cars one at a time. Eventually Clare and I made it home. It was a seriously long day, taking nearly eight hours to make the drive from Niagara Falls back to northern Virginia.
To view images from the iDrive Niagara Falls 2017 rally, visit our gallery.