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It’s autostrada (superhighway) all the way to Genoa. And after we get out of the Milan metro area, the speed really picks up to 130 kph (81 mph) and the little Fiat 500L diesel doesn’t have any issues keeping up with the occasional BMW or Alpha Romeo Stelvio. I’m impressed.

We’re actually on our way to Rapallo for the night but we want to stop in Genoa, home of the celebrated (and reviled) Christopher Columbus to wander about the Old Town. In about an hour and a half we’re in Genoa with the GPS leading us around the tiny back streets as though it’s just fooling with us. We haven’t found the Old Town yet but we have found the seaside and a small restaurant to grab a lunch.

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A nice euro breakfast: coldcuts, cheese and Italians. Delivered to the room. A quick coffee and down to the street to look for a taxi. The taxi that brought us to this little hotel told us that there are two taxi stands just up the street at the piazza.

Genoa Old Town

We drag the bags out to the street and right out the door up to the piazza. There’s only one taxi and when I walk over to him he waves me off. We take a position at the taxi stand sign and wait for the next taxi. About 2 minutes later the first taxi drives up and asks us where we are going. “To the Centrale railway station.” “Okay, get in.” There are some things I just don’t understand.

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Milan, May 28, 2023

Soon enough (it’s really amazing how long 81/2 hours in economy seating and how short the same time is in business) we’re landing in Milan. It’s sunny and a nice 72° F at the airport and the fewer passengers make de-planing a lot faster than usual.

The long hike to customs. Face recognition to compare with the passport photo. (Face recognition, much to the dismay of the TV crime series, still not ready for prime time.) The human immigration officer only takes the passport without looking at any of the info, finds an open page, stamps the page and we’re off to baggage claim. There, we finally get back to earth and wait for the industry standard 30 minutes for our bags to show up. But they do show up. Huzzah! Off to Milan proper.

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Newark, May 27, 2023

Uber shows up on time at 10:15 for the ride to the airport. We have a flight to Newark just before 1 PM. We’ve booked a flight on a French boutique airline, La Compagnie, that flies from Newark to Paris, Milan and Nice. It’s an all business class airline flying Airbus 321 Neo aircraft. They were running a sale earlier in the year and we went for it.

They have great reviews and they were about $1,000 a seat lower than competing options. The only issue up front is that you can’t (or I wasn’t able) to book a connecting flight to Newark with them. That meant that we had to book a flight to Newark (AA, of course), get our bags, leave security, reenter security and check in for the flight to Milan.

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We’re all ready for the show to begin. This is our third day here and the race doesn’t start until tomorrow. The Lowrance units need to have the data chips installed by PCI and we have to get all of the GPS trackers setup so that they can all communicate with Spotwalla.

The Lowrance GPS units have the route way points programmed onto a data chip and that chip has to be installed by a technician. In order to prevent the racers from prerunning the race route, the chips are held by PCI until the race organizers release them to the competitors. At 9 AM we send all of the Lowrance units to the PCI trailer and wait for them to come back.

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Today is the beginning of tech for the vehicles and the drivers. Because we got in yesterday, we are early to the tech line. But before the car can even start tech, we have to stop the car in front of a huge banner for the race. We all line up around the car for the official team picture. Then the car moves into line for tech.

The Team

The tech is pretty simple and basically only safety oriented. There’s no FIA-style foot thick book of regulations. And no FIA-style self-appointed tech tormentors. Lots of smiles and joking.

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I saw a post from an old rally friend of mine, Dick Rockrohr, that he was doing the Mexican 1000 Rally in Baja California and he needed a service truck driver at almost the last minute. The short version: I dropped him an email and told him I was available. I few messages back and forth I was sending shirt sizes and making plane reservations to San Diego to meet up with the team.

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Up, out of bed and across the main street to a small hotel with a restaurant. And a sleeping restaurant owner. A local wakes him and tells him that there are a dozen or so people who want breakfast and that rouses him pretty quickly. He starts us off with tea and flat bread. He sends his boy off to the bakery for more flat bread and starts on omelets for everyone who wants one. There’s nothing like money to get the locals moving. Some thing really are universal. Into the cars and down the coast road.

It’s more of the same as late yesterday. The road runs down the coast with the coastal cliffs falling into the Atlantic on the right and sand dunes as far as the eye can see to the left. The prevailing wind off the ocean blows a fine mist of sand across the road making the road look like either the desert roads in Kazakhstan or the ice roads in the Arctic. Without checking the temperature it would be easy to mistake this for the Arctic desert rather than the African desert.

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It’s just barely getting light when we go down for some breakfast of flat bread and omelet. It’s very cold in the first floor dining room. The fire from last night hasn’t done much to warm the room and, when I go outside to start packing the car, the wind is howling. I sure wouldn’t want to be in the High Atlas today.

The sun is just rising above the eastern horizon when we get the group moving. As we pass the Trotting Celts RV. We each let out a serious blast on the car horn. There’s no good reason for them to sleep if we have to drive. They’re probably happy to see us go.

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We (the five cars that have formed into what is rapidly becoming our “group”) leave Marrakesh after breakfast. We’ve decided to head pretty much due south, away from the autostrada that would bring us back to the coast. Instead, we plan on following some smaller, two lane roads into the Atlas Mountains.

The paper map that we have doesn’t show any detail for the urban area of Marrakesh so we follow the GPS. Of course, the GPS is determined to find the shortest way through the city streets and alleys and that leads to some serious disagreements between the Garmin GPS, Google Maps and the Maps.Me app. Part of the discrepancy is due to the fact that the Garmin and the Maps.Me app are using static data while the Google Maps is using live data.

One minute the assorted GPSs have us on a city boulevard, the next minute they have turning into tiny city alley ways. Couple that with one way streets that none of the GPSs know anything about and we find ours selves driving in circles and not getting anywhere, certainly not leaving the city which is vaguely reminiscent of trying to leave Tirana, Albania years ago.

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