Day 3 is the longest day on this year's edition of the Gumball 3000 rally, both in distance and time, and by seven am we've already seen the schedule go up in flames. The path that's been laid out for us between Copenhagen and Amsterdam features two enormous obstacles to overcome: an inflexible ferry schedule, and Germany (more on that later). After waiting 45 minutes for stragglers to emerge from their recovery cocoons, we finally leave the hotel with only a slim chance of catching our planned crossing and making it to the Netherlands by six that evening.
We're also missing Jeff. A mysterious text sent early that morning places him at a dive bar with some newfound Danish friends, leaving us to think he overslept and simply overshot the departure time, but as the drive progresses we learn that he's not answering his phone and isn't actually in his room. Ryska Posten dispatches a team member to investigate as we chase the fleeting remnants of our tattered itinerary.
- Also: Gumball 3000 Rally Day One: Stockholm to Oslo
- Also: 2015 Gumball 3000 Rally: Stockholm To Las Vegas, In A '69 Chevrolet Camaro
Red And Black Blues
Then there's the red Camaro. An hour into its third day of being mercilessly flogged in the pursuit of Ferraris and Porsches, it decides that what it really wants to be doing is steam-cleaning its engine bay with a fine mixture of distilled water and coolant. As we pull up to the ferry terminal and get in line for a crossing more than two hours after our originally-scheduled boarding, I see the pair of '69s roll onto the loading grid together, yellow leading a limping red that's been reloaded with whatever off-brand Scandinavian bottled H20 could be found at the nearest fuelling station. Rumours of head gasket problems are floating around like a fine slick of muddy brown oil in a calm overflow bottle.
It turns out we're not alone in missing the ferry's rigid loading time, as approximately 25 Gumballers are scattered throughout the parking area with us. One, a Ferrari 458, features a front lip so low that hydraulics have to be deployed to lift it up front and rear to clear this simple obstacle. While the Ferrari defies the rules of ride height, its hard pressed to trick its way out of the next (very real) road block that awaits us as we exit the ship onto German soil - the extremely efficient, and rather pissed-off German police.
A Meeting Of The Minds
A brief history lesson. It turns out that Germany really doesn't like Gumballers, having once forced the entire Rally to truck their cars and bus themselves nine hours across its territory lest they face instant arrest upon crossing its borders. This year, peace for our time was negotiated between Maximillion Cooper and the Teutonic authorities in the form of a compromise that would see Gumball cars lead across nearly 500 kilometres of German countryside in packs of 10 led by officially-appointed safety cars. The rules were simple - pass one of the pack leaders, and your vehicle is instantly seized.
I suppose it seemed fair at the time, but logistically, it turns out to be an absolute nightmare. With logos and stickers taped over to adhere to uniquely-German laws regarding the corporate sponsorship of a rally effort, we form up outside the dock to await our safety car assignment. The confusion is palpable as the first group manages to leave 30 minutes post-disembarkment, but the revelation that chase cars such as the Volvo I am riding in can dispense with this half-baked compromise sees us quickly scooting off the shoulder and heading off towards Holland.
For about 30 minutes, that is, at which point we are subjected to a horrendous traffic hold-up. Unable to see what's trapped us in gridlock, we're horrified to see the red Camaro coast past us on the shoulder, coming to a very wet stop a few hundred metres ahead of us. I run out of the SUV with as many water bottles in hand as we have rolling around the floorboards and am instantly honked at by irritated Germans being made inexcusably late for their utterly organized lives.
Five minutes later and the traffic around us has an even more legitimate reason to hate both myself and the Gumball Rally drivers I have allied myself with. It turns out that the three-lane slowdown is the direct result of a roadblock funnelling any car with a sticker, taped or otherwise, into a roadside service area packed with more German police officers in fluorescent yellow windbreakers than I have teeth in my mouth. We're one of the first to arrive, and we slide the XC60 in beside a group of Ferraris and turn off the ignition, not at all certain as to whether our day might already be over.
Minutes later, my passport has been confiscated, along with any and all driver's licenses and vehicle registrations that the cops can get their hands on. In the parking area it's pandemonium, with at least 50 cars overwhelming the smothering police presence via a combination of accents, exhaust notes, and unusually-coloured travel documents. I mill about, catching bits and pieces of conversations about missing number plates, fines to be levied, and denials for selfie requests from the polite, but dutiful officers in charge. After what seems like forever but is in reality only half an hour, a tall, older police man - not the one who originally took my passport - returns it to me, and seizing the opportunity I manage to gain permission for two of our chase cars to return to the highway.
It turns out we we're the lucky ones, because while members of Team Anastasiadate.com and Team Asiandate.com's support staff bomb down the highway at Volvo's corporately-mandated 220 km/h fuel cut-off, the rest of the Gumballers are delayed much longer, completely obliterating whatever hope there might have been for an orderly procession to the Netherlands.
One Dead, One (Thankfully) Alive
We're also the lucky ones because we're not Jeff. Or the red Camaro. The latter finally pukes its guts out in a heap of coolant and deflates its oil pressure to the point where a knock can be heard over its open-trap exhaust system. It's out for the count and trailered to the airport where it will be put on a cargo plane later that night to be flown back to the U.S for the second half of the rally. A replacement car is already waiting for us on the runway at Reno, ready to pick up the heavy lifting for our American drive.
The former's tale is even more worrisome. A series of texts from Jeff that first seem like a practical joke but quickly became alarmingly real detail how he had been jumped by three men the night before on his way back to the hotel, and then robbed. He woke up this morning in a noisy, pitch-black utility shed, half-bound with zip ties at the bottom of a parking structure, and wandered into the street where passers-by helped him to a police station. Dusted for DNA evidence, Jeff was then shuttled to the hospital to treat his painful, but thankfully not critical cuts and bruises. Arrangements are hastily made to get him on a flight to Amsterdam, and somehow locate a team member who will reach the city soon enough to pick him up at his planned seven pm arrival time.
Whirly Gumball Bird
We volunteer to do the job, but it quickly becomes apparent that traffic and distance will push our ETA all the way back to nearly nine at night. Out of the blue, a text from Dimitrii asks us if we'd like the use of his helicopter, as he's finally managed to find a hole in the weather and protected aerospace that stretch across Germany and had his pilot land near Bremen. We meet up at the rendezvous point and I board the R44 Raven II, a quick and nimble chopper that gets me to Amsterdam with Dimitrii at the controls just in time to meet Jeff in the hotel lobby and hear his story first-hand.
We are safe and sound in Amsterdam, but considerably more wary of our Gumballer fortunes and the target the rally appears to have painted on our back. Time now to gird our loins for tomorrow's even more absurd flight plan that will take us to Reno by way of Portland, Oregon, and then ask us to drive to San Francisco before we can put the Camaros out to pasture for the night. I'm exhausted even just typing that.
Gumball By The Numbers: Day Three
Number of Danish men who screamed at me in the cargo hold of the ferry: 1
Personal ability to understand Danish improved by steadily-increasing vocal volume: 14%
Number of Camaro-related explosions in a single 12-hour period: 3
German Police Efficiency Index: 7/10
German police officers who told me I couldn't take a selfie with them: 3
German police officers who blushed when I asked them this question: 1
Maximum fine for speeding on Germany's autobahn: $500
Fastest our chase car driver Elizabeth has ever driven in her life: 170 km/h
New German Words Learned: 'NICHT SCHIESSEN,' which means 'Don't shoot.'