Finishing Le Jog: Who Needs To Sleep When There’s Road Rallying To Be Done?
Photography by Will Broadhead
To catch up with the first half of the Le Jog Rally, part one is available here
It’s sometime around 10AM on Tuesday that I find myself hurtling down the A9 coast road in Scotland, a mere 20 miles from my final destination and the terminus of the 1500-mile adventure that I have been on since leaving Land’s End 74 hours ago. I’ve been on the road since 8AM the previous day (no, really), and with very little sleep on this whole trip I’m very much in the grip of fatigue beyond garden variety tiredness.
With my goal in sight, though, I am reenergized, a little buoyant even, excited to reach the end of all this time spent. It’s a bare and remote landscape up here, the North Sea rages to the right and crags of rock and moorland stretch out to mountains on the left. Every so often the view includes smatterings of tumble-down cottages, long-abandoned relics of a different generation that stand in contrast to a few small modern settlements. Civilization is sparse up here no matter when you look though, and this sums up the final legs of this rally too. The drive that began over the border in the north of England seems like a lifetime ago.
8AM on Monday and the sun has risen blood red over the bleak landscape of the borderlands, and after less than three hours of sleep it feels almost comically foreboding as I wonder what the next 26 hours will bring. A severe frost has made its way across the area overnight, and as I travel in my media wagon to my first point of intercept with the rally participants, I find fields and heathland covered in a crisp white finish, and more pertinently, the roads on this remote route of ours are often encased in ice.
At my first stop I meet with a couple of the event photographers—it’s nice to hear the voice of someone other than the Sat Nav lady—and we wonder together how the crews in the event are coping with only each other, their maps, and the clock as company along the vast mileage of the rally. I learn from my colleagues that going into the final two legs there have already been many automotive casualties, and at the latest count we seem to be down to 54 crews out of the 79 that embarked from Land’s End (only 51 will finish); a vicious rate of attrition that shows just what a feat of endurance completing this trip really is.
Little did we know that as we photographed the first car through—a beautiful 1937 Bentley Derby of Stuart Anderson and Richard Lambley—that they themselves would shortly fall victim to mishap with an incident on the narrow backroads forcing them to retire. Thankfully they were both alright, but it served as a timely reminder that difficult roads and weariness can be a dangerous combination, especially so in something that doesn’t exactly meet modern safety standards.
The route was challenging but worth it. Despite all of the wonderfully scenic and playful stretches in the previous legs of the rally, when we began our climb into the borderlands of Scotland it really started to come into its own. You can almost feel yourself getting further from the earth in your gut, and the environment takes on an almost alpine appearance. Swathes of pine forest stretch out across the flanks of the hills and mountains, and the idyllic setting allows one an escape from the exhaustion that has become a collective feeling at this point. The sun is in the sky today, lighting up the matte colors of the vegetation, sparkling off the lochs and rivers and casting great shadows behind the mountains.
The roads are a joy in their own right, and nothing paved seems stays straight for very long up here. The constant left, right, left, left, right of the sweeping ribbons is mesmerizing even at legal pace, and the feeling of hooking it all up euphoric when you need to catch up to somebody or make sure the rental tach goes as high as it claims to.
As I stop to photograph and simply watch the classic cars on sections of the route up here, I can see that the drivers are enjoying it more so than previous bits despite the fatigue. They rail through the turns with some extra exuberance, pushing the gauges rightward on the dash as they make their sprint through the kind of topography that sports cars were built for. It reminds me of waiting for the bikes to arrive during the Isle of Man TT in many ways. You can hear them long before you can see them, and each gear change and slip of the clutch announces their imminent arrival as your own anticipation and excitement builds with the volume. It seems I am not alone in my love of this particular medication, as despite the chill in the air and the relative loneliness of the landscape, many of the hillsides are lined with spectators all showing their appreciation for what these crews are accomplishing.
Sadly, the dark arrives far too soon and daylight views of the even more mountainous scenery is lost to the night, but the roads get more and more fun as the rally charges on toward Fort William and the final leg through the rest of the night to John o’Groats, which will begin at midnight.
My own journey takes me across the width of Scotland, racing for the sunrise that arrives in a slow burn of amber and pink across the expanse of the North Sea. It lifts the curtain on the highlands, cloud-capped peaks that reflect the colors of the sun as the first rally cars appear out of the dawn gloom—the whole spectacle takes on an ethereal sense of weight, thanks only in part to exhausted deliriousness. It is in so many words beautiful, and as the realization that we’re approaching the end of a “classic car rally” of some certain magnitude, I find myself fraught with emotion. There is a lump in my throat and a sting in my eyes as I focus my camera on the surviving cars making their way up the road towards me. The same is true at the finish line an hour later, with displays of jubilance and elation from the finishing teams as if they have just won a world championship.
I have to walk away for a few minutes of contemplation away from it all, and as I look out across the water to the Orkney Islands, I replay the last three days with added hindsight. This may not be the longest endurance rally, or the most remote, but it is certainly one of the toughest. These crews, these end-to-enders, they have all pushed themselves and their machines far outside anything close to a comfort zone. Here at the end, everyone involved in this effort, this awesome manifestation of driving for the sake of driving, they all deserve to call themselves a unique group of enthusiasts even though they’re much too humble to say so. We’ll finish up our coverage of the rally with a look at the night stages next week, but in the meantime I think a few good nights’ sleep are in order.