I purposely took the course the last week of April to avoid cold weather, let alone snow! Mother Nature had other plans, dumping eight to 12 inches of snow the first night and more throughout the second day. Not only did we slosh through mud, but we had to break through several inches of snow as well.
The mud-and-snow courses were actually less slippery than the all-mud setups on the first day. We switched from cars with front-wheel drive to those with all-wheel drive, experiencing how the drivetrain configuration dictated the approaches to slalom turns and other maneuvers.
Our speeds increased, and I felt more worn out at the end of a day spent focusing on different techniques in different types of turns with different surfaces. We were building up an arsenal of ways to drive efficiently on dirt, gravel, mud, clay, snow, and more.
Throughout the day, as we slogged through the snow, mud, and slushy combinations of both, I thought of the Formula 1 drivers who have their shoes covered when it rains so that when they get into the cars, their shoes don't slip on the pedals. We had mud-covered everything – shoes, socks, jeans, coats, sweatshirts, helmets, seats, and floors. No covers for shoes for us!
The exercises wore away preconceived notions about rally driving and driving habits formed by years behind the wheel. Rally driving is an art, not an exact science.
About half of us took the last class of the second and third days to earn coefficients – points that go toward entry in our first rally event in Rally America. Instructor Wyatt Knox covered what a person needs to rally and the process of an event – where things happen and how. I had picked up most of that information from attending rallies, but this pulled everything together.
Each morning, I woke up more confident that I could use what I learned the day before. Of course, you don't know until you're in the driver's seat – that's when anything can happen, from flawlessly executing a maneuver to hitting the wrong pedal with the wrong foot and plowing a car gracelessly forward instead of turning. Two feet/three pedals were the toughest challenges for me. Another was spending all day with clutches that engage differently from one another, then climbing into my Impreza and relearning yet again.
I had awoken long before the alarm clock rang on the third day. I lay in bed and tried to visualize the course from the day before. It proved to be too much thought, and I spent half the morning at school working out of it.
One of the instructors suggested trying to feel more of the weight transfer in the cars, and that helped. Crossing up clutch and brake pedals (yet again) didn't help my confidence much.
At a certain point in time that third morning, though, I started having fun instead of worrying over feet and techniques. A couple of well-executed trail-braking turns ratcheted up my enthusiasm. Then we added greater length to the course, and I found a couple of the turns particularly satisfying.
A number of things came together: having no driving partner (just the instructors), being able to drive intensively without overthinking, satisfactorily negotiating part of the course, and finally executing some of the techniques with a degree of competence.
You'll see by the photographs that the cars we trained in weren't the newest, but they are durable and reliable. It's not so much the vehicles that we drove that enabled us to learn, but the staff. All of them encouraged and guided with patience.
Eventually, the course wore dry. By midafternoon, it had to be watered so that it wouldn't have so much grip.