What do a Dodge Dart, a Chevy Astro, an Oldsmobile Cutlass, a Subaru Legacy, and a Ford Crown Victoria all have in common? Not much other than four tires and the fact that they all ran in the Gambler 500 this past weekend. And I got to chase them around while they did it.
The Gambler 500 is timed, but it’s “not a race”. It’s simply a somewhat-organized event in which participants,navigating barely running, hardly roadworthy, semi-modified, sub-$500 cars and trucks through the woods, travel 500 miles over two days, entirely off-road using only GPS waypoints (received on the day of the event) for navigation. Participants encounter all kinds of obstacles and terrain along the way, so the “gamble” is whether or not their car will make it through the entire course. Costumes and themed vehicles are highly encouraged. Side note: if your vehicle is particularly amazing or unique, the $500 part of the equation can be overlooked – such was the case in Oregon for a group driving a 6-wheeled Austrian military vehicle known as a Pinzgauer.
On this particular Saturday, the Washington chapter of the Gambler 500 was doing a short trial run – only 150-ish miles from Ellensburg up to Chelan – all on Forest Service roads, of course – most of it along a route known as the Washington Backcountry Discovery Route. This route also happens to wind through some of the most scenic views in the state.
At 8am, participants met at the start, received their GPS waypoints, and were on their way. The rest is a bit of a blur, but we managed to keep up and capture a few highlights along the way. There were breakdowns, stuck vehicles and leaking fluids along the way, but I’m pretty sure everyone made it to the end in one piece…even if that one piece was a little rougher than it was at the start.