The desert sun beats down on the pale sand that stretches for miles in either direction, bathing Death Valley with the kind of heat that bakes flesh off bone and paint off metal. I nudge the wheel of our yellow 1969 Camaro to the right and its wide rubber bites into the soft shoulder of US 190, the rumble of open headers fed by a 383 cubic inch Sprint car V8 falling silent as I kill the ignition.
Flashing in the rear-view mirror through the Chevy's tints are a familiar pattern of blue and red, mounted atop a park ranger's Dodge Ram pickup. I glance over at Steve, my co-pilot for this final leg of the Gumball 3000 Rally and see that he's as cool as a cucumber, his natural state regardless of what's blowing up, raining down, or walking towards the car. It's a startling contrast compared to the gorgeously barren oven that is the lowest point in North America, a blowtorch that's been held against each of the Camaros for the last 300 miles of hoping every hose holds on as tightly as my fingers on the wooden steering.
- Also: 2015 Gumball 3000 Rally: Stockholm To Las Vegas, In A '69 Chevrolet Camaro
- Also: Gumball 3000 Rally Day One: Stockholm to Oslo
My phone dings. It's an update from the chase SUV that was waved past us by the cop now approaching that passenger window: 45.5 degrees C. I nervously glance at the console gauges showing us running a little too hot for my liking, especially with the engine off and coolant sitting idle in the block.
By now Johnny Law - or is that Ranger Smith? - has pulled even with the Camaro's open window. He leans down and takes in the scene: myself, Steve, and Carrie in the back seat, cracked out from six days on the road, dumping half our respective body weights in sweat into the car's vinyl seats, and trying to look both innocent and friendly. Even though we are probably only one of those things.
He adjusts his sunglasses.
'Do you know why I pulled you over?' he asks, his tone somewhere between amused and exasperated. Outside the car, a vulture dies in the distance, and the puddle on my seat cushion only gets deeper.
'No, officer,' comes my reply. Which is partly true.
'You really can't be driving this slow on a highway, son. It's...dangerous.'
And so it goes. I become the very first Gumball 3000 driver in history to be stopped not for speeding, but for its polar opposite. It's not my fault, really - I had been tailing Anthony in his own '69 Camaro at the time of the alleged infraction as he vented his frustration with how our convoy had been treated by said rangers ever since leaving Stovepipe Wells by meticulously driving 20-mph under the limit in the hopes that they would end their unofficial escort. I find out later he was unable to stay slow enough to escape his own police stop a mile up the road, making him the second Gumball sloth in the record books. This is the only time either of the muscle machines will be snagged by five-oh at any point in our epic journey from Stockholm to Vegas.
It's a dubious achievement - and one that sees me let off with a stern warning to 'pick up the pace, please' - but hey, at least we didn't run out of gas like Lewis Hamilton did 50 miles back in his Agera R. Could that have been the only time Instagram has been used to send a distress call? Hamilton makes it to the finish line feathers ruffled, but he doesn't know how lucky he is, as he won't have to suffer the indignity of the succession of slow-related nicknames that will plague me for the rest of my days.
Gumball's Own Worst Enemy Is Gumball
The parking lot of the Bellagio is an unceremonious end-point for what has to be viewed as an unqualified success for Team Asiandate.com and Team Anastasiadate.com: the shepherding of not just a pair of 46 year old Camaros across five European countries and two of the hottest, and least traffic-friendly U.S. states, but also eight support cars and a group of nearly 40 journalists, fixers, and crew members. Full credit goes to Ryska Posten, whose logistical efforts and unflappable poise in the face of a series of unfortunate circumstances has kept us steadily pointed in the right direction come desert, ocean, mountain, or German roadblock.
In fact, it's fair to say that in addition to fighting the odds stacked against such ancient metal making it mostly intact across such a vast landscape, Ryska Posten also had to do battle with the incredibly poor organizational skills of the Gumball 3000 Rally itself. The past week has been littered with cancelled events, terrible scheduling, the laughable safety car solution to traversing Germany that saw over a dozen cars ticketed for following the leader and every single participant subjected to roadblock passport and paper checks, and now as we sit stuck in traffic trying to leave the Bellagio the realization that the promised police support for the Rally's victory parade has failed to materialize, leading to its cancellation. It sets a precedent for tomorrow, when we'll learn that the promised second-day party has seen all of its major headliners pull out and the tattered remains of the event opened to the public at no charge. Of course it won't be Gumball that lets us know: the Las Vegas Sun beats it to the punch.
The Gumball 3000 Rally might be a highly-corporatized caravan of moving parties and overindulgence, but thankfully, Team Asiandate.com and Team Anastasiadate.com was not. Professional, yes, but with a personality about as distant from the Gumball's mega-marketing effort as one could get, the company put together a Rally effort that was fun, friendly, and true to the spirit of the event regardless of how far the actual organization might have strayed from its roots.
I can't imagine how frustrating it must have been for teams without Ryska Posten and A-date to lean on in dealing with Gumball's predilection for chaos. I also can't imagine anyone paying 40,000 euro to endure what we just went through. I had the drive of a lifetime in the company of the best team on the Rally, but that was despite the Gumball, not because of it.
Gumball By The Numbers: Day Six
Ryska Posten Crew Members Excitement About America Level: 15/10 (Death Valley is the anti-Sweden, and the enthusiasm was enormous)
Number Of Times I Stalled The Camaro On The Way Up To The Bellagio's 4th Floor Staging Area: 2
Bags Of Jerky Purchased In The Mojave Desert: 3
Gumball Organizational Failure Index: 1000%
Number Of Teams Wearing Full Roman Armour Walking Behind A Scottish Piper At The Finish Line: 1
Number Of Impromptu Death Valley Photoshoots By A-Date Models: 3
Total Hours Sleep In The Past 6 Days: 21
Number Of Miles Travelled: 3000?
New English Words Learned By Per, Our Swedish Driver: None, because the Mojave's beauty crosses all linguistic barriers.