Geezus. What the hell is going on. Today was by far the craziest day on the race. We faced fire, smoke, rain, thunder, lightning and abundant sunshine all in one day. Read on.
We started the day with a fantastic morning charge, and the day was looking great. Our array was rocking, we were passing teams left and right, and cruising at up to 76 kph without significantly draining our pack. Our position over the last couple days has moved up a few places, and now we're chasing the Swiss at 16th place (out of 35 teams). With all the challenges we've faced and overcome, we're proud to be in that position. We also needed to gain time to make the Alice Springs checkpoint since you can only miss one checkpoint before being required to trailer your solar car.
We hit the Alice Springs checkpoint in the early morning (the closest we came to city driving yet) and cruised through. For the rest of the day, we got even more sunshine, allowing us to hit our highest speed yet. Things were looking good for the SEVT, but the weather gods did not have more sun in store for us.
Our scout and ground crew back home reported gathering clouds, and we knew we were headed into some crazy weather. At the mid-afternoon Kulgera checkpoint, we had gained two hours on the next team, and officials were also reporting brush fires up ahead. We scrambled out of Kulgera and straight into ever-increasingly grey skies. Below is our strategy team trying to figure out how to deal with the situation.
About a half hour out of Kulgera, we could see smoke billowing in the distance. As we neared, we could even see flames in the distance and the fire got closer to the road the further south we went. We were shortly in a hellish wasteland of burning shrubbery and scorched earth. The scene was surreal. Below is the solar car passing the scorched shoulder - we could literally see the brush and trees burning.
We first hit rain at around 2-3pm. Lauren was unfazed, and we kept charging through the rain, no matter how hard it got. Rain-X and a little silicone on the canopy seal go a long way. We dropped our speed to account for the drop in array power, but never stopped moving forward. We don't give up that easily.
The weather stayed grey and by 4pm our array was producing no power at all. We decided to stop about 20 minutes early to avoid completely emptying our battery pack when we found a reasonable camping site. We gathered our cars and built a covering from the rain so we could cook dinner and stay reasonably dry. I'm currently writing this post from the front seat of our chase vehicle while it's pouring outside. Maybe we'll get some sun tomorrow to keep going, otherwise we may need to trailer south towards Adelaide. For now, we're sleeping in the trailer, tents and the cars while this weather clears out. We'll let you know how tomorrow turns out.
Major props to Annette and Andy Batzer, the parents of one of our students. They joined us in 2009 and came back to support the team. They have been there time and time again to help cook, manage and take care of every other little thing that we forgot. Today, they set up a shelter and cooked us some fantastic spaghetti in ludicrous amounts. A huge thank you to Andy and Annette for the massive amount of work they have put into making this trip a success.