Story and photos by Brendan McAleer

Sundance, Utah – A fierce, scorching wind is whipping plumes of fine white dust away from the wheels of the lead vehicle as our impromptu three-car convoy barrels across scrubby Utah desert in search of tarmac and behind the clock. Mostly straight, the road – well, a trail really – alternates between soft red powder and corrugated washboard gravel that briefly blurs vision as our CX-9 crabs sideways.

2013 Mazda Adventure Rally
2013 Mazda Adventure Rally
2013 Mazda Adventure Rally
2013 Mazda Adventure Rally
2013 Mazda Adventure Rally. Click image to enlarge

It’s sneaky, this dry wash, and likes to throw hidden crests and bends at you in an effort to catch out the inattentive driver. We’re creeping up on the lead car when suddenly the wind turns dead aft, plunging us into a sudden total whiteout. Whoops – no way to check the proximity of the CX-5 that was hot on our tail as our own dust storm is obscuring vision to the rear. The navigation system is showing a turn coming up – although it’s been far from accurate in this remote location. Tapping the brake pedal and hoping the blink of our taillights penetrates the murk, we slow our breakneck pace, watching the tufts of vegetation on the verge for the upcoming twist of the road. There!

Putting the right-most wheels in the shallow ditch, we slingshot through the turn as if Colin McRae were at the wheel (well, Colin Mochrie, anyway – any heroics are down to the traction control and all-wheel drive). Trust Mazda to put the “rally” into an Amazing Race–style scavenger hunt: their 2013 Adventure Rally.

Held over two days in Colorado and Utah, this long-distance driving event isn’t actually intended to be a speed course. Rather, two-person teams are given a series of puzzles to solve, pictures to take, and GPS-based feats to perform in an effort to score the most points. Grand prize? Bragging rights, of course, as well as a whopping $10,000 prize to the winner’s charity of choice; second and third place also receive cash donations.

What’s more, a little extra publicity for the charities that each team has selected – and they’re a varied lot, from the Canadian Cancer Society to literacy programs – is surely no bad thing. There are 10 teams vying for the podium, and each has both their publication and their charity proudly emblazoned on the flanks of their Mazda steed.

Better yet, Mazda is really taking the reins off on this one. When presented with the list of the first day’s challenges, more than a few faces looked somewhat alarmed. What do you mean there’s no planned route? You want us to climb up how high? Are you suggesting there might be *horrified gasp* math involved?

They were. First challenge involved trying to string together as many Rocky Mountain passes as we could within a strict time frame, leaving from our Boulder, CO starting point. Not a bother – just fire up the navigation, right?

Not so fast – Mazda’s vehicles for the event were a 50/50 mix of seven-seat CX-9s and 2.5L-powered CX-5s, both in trim levels that provided all-wheel-drive and a few amenities, but no cheaty navigation systems. Doing some back of the page calculations, we determined that turning to our old friend Google Maps would be the best move for our team.

Oh yeah, our team. Given an open seat by our illustrious editor, I decided to bring my brother along. He’s an excellent photographer, he’s good with computers, and it’s been a long time since we spent all day hitting each other with sticks of various sizes. We hit the road at 8 AM.

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