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Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The Navigator Rules!

[EDITORIAL NOTE: There are a couple of stories about mothers in the hopper and as U.S. Mothers' Day is coming up on 11 May (I don't know if other countries celebrate it), I am saving them until the week preceding the Sunday holiday. If others would like to send "mother stories", I'll publish a week or so of them all at once. Deadline for submission is Friday, 2 May.]

By Bill Parker

At the start of any rally, I always rehearsed in my mind what I would do if we rolled the car. I had installed lap belts but never assumed they would work. No roll bars, nothing except the strength of the windscreen to protect us if things went horribly wrong. They never did, and many thousands of kilometres later, we lived to enjoy telling the tales.

These were car rallies with a challenge and only the navigators with a devotion to cryptic crosswords and a good knowledge of the country, plus a generous dose of imagination would do any good.

The various classic car clubs organised the events. All car marques were eligible, so my forty-year-old Triumph TR3A would inevitably be up against MX5s and RX7s with handicaps in our favour maybe, but hard to defeat the new technology. The TR3A was the world's first 100mph sports car and impressive as it was against the Morris Minor of 1958, on the country roads in the Hills east of Perth, not so fast when competing against the Japanese cars.

Speed was not the whole story and Don knew the value of skilled rally navigating. He rose to the occasion every time I went on the road with him. He did the homework thoroughly and after passing through the controls, we would sit there reading our route instructions and no signal to start the engine until he was clear about the game plan and knew what was what three steps ahead all the time. The navigator rules.

At the end of one night-time rally, being entirely dependant on Lucas, Prince of Darkness (I had restored my car to the last detail with original parts, including Lucas lights), we came home in tenth place to a round of applause from our colleagues. Severely stretched, mentally and physically, but it was a fantastic result.

Tonight it's dark, very dark, well beyond the comfort of street lighting. All we have is a navigation light on a flexible stalk and the little gizmo on the dashboard that measures actual and average speed. We have our maps, we have our route instructions. The maps on this section were handed out hours back at rally commencement in the fading daylight. We had taken a quick glance and guessed what lay ahead.

One particular map was published thirty years before tonight's event. The instructions indicate "travel between A and B at an average 75Km/h on unmapped roads". The road we are now standing on is not actually shown. So that's a correct start.

As I said, the navigator rules, and indeed has to for safety and efficiency reasons, but Don was never too arrogant or proud to say he was baffled or lost. There is a lot to be said for a man sitting in an open car hurtling along at the "prescribed average" of 75Km/h, (which is fast), unravelling the detail of old maps and imagining what it looked like thirty years ago.

Only once in all the years of rallying did he ever say "I am stumped". Discussion often ensued and my opinion - for what it was worth seemed to concur with his.

Start the engine. I hit the gas pedal a few times to get some oil up to the top of the engine, warm things up. Ease out onto the highway and pretty soon is cold again - no heater in this baby - they never worked even when new. Foot down and go! Things start fitting into place and it's that little extra of knowing the route setter's cryptic mind. Pure bloody luck? Alternatively, some hidden talent of Don's that could see out the possibilities? I'd like to think the latter.

On some rallies, our roles were reversed. Don drove; I just hung on to the chicken bar whilst he put the car through the corners. Tyres squealing but the car stable as he positioned it well. He needed no reassurance from anyone. It was his driving skills and reading of the car and its limits that got the results.

The night has marched on. That old map was hard work but we are reasonably sure we have made the right moves, only to be confirmed by the drivers and navigators chat at the last checkpoint. Later we are awarded - first place. The credit went to Don.

- In memory of Don Edmonds 1942 – 2008

[If you would like to contribute to The Elder Storytelling Place, the guidelines are here. We would all be pleased to read your stories.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I chanced to read your story tonight.

I enjoyed listening to the engine rev to take on the new technology. I looked through the dust and held on for the bumps and curves.

I found that by the middle of the story I was reading it like a metaphor on life which is why I loved reading: Later we are awarded-first place.

Cheers to you and Don!

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