New York to Montreal overnight--with no GPS?

In the inaugural Rental Car Rally, you'd be surprised how many teams didn't opt for a GPS navigator. Even the ones that did still encountered a few surprises.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read
2008 NYC To Montreal Rental Car Road Rally. FYI, the video contains one or two mildly objectionable words.

(Credit: Richard Blakeley)

One piece of advice that should've been obvious to participants of last weekend's Rental Car Rally from Long Island City, New York, to Montreal, Quebec: use GPS.

Or so I figured, as one member of a three-person team equipped with a MacBook, an EVDO card, a GPS navigator, a backup GPS navigator, and a radar detector to know when authorities were nearby in case we, uh, pushed the speed limit a little bit. (We only used that in New York state, though, because radar detectors are illegal in Vermont and Quebec.)

The surprising truth? A large number of the driving squads had nothing but paper maps on them, making the overnight rally--with six backroad checkpoints, most of which were marked with nothing but a set of coordinates, to ensure that you couldn't just take I-87 the whole way--a pretty difficult affair.

But even with GPS, there was some head-scratching when everyone's Garmins and TomToms navigated them right to the shores of Lake Champlain and recommended that they take a ferry. The gadgets were right: teams that drove onto the Grand Isle ferry arrived in Montreal hours before teams that chose to drive around the lake.

As for the teams that opted for maps over GPS, most of them made it...eventually.

The race pitted 60 costume-clad teams in Ferraris, Corvettes, Mini Coopers, commercial vans, and even a Smart ForTwos against one another (though, as seen in the video, the two guys in the Smart soon realized that their baby roadster couldn't go very fast).

Choosing the winners was based on more than just time: it also took into account mileage, speeding tickets, and creativity of costume. The funnier your costume, the more likely it was that the Canadian border patrol would give you a hard time--apparently five fratty guys in tuxes must be a threat to national security.

And rumor has it that at least one car wasn't allowed into Canada because the guy in the passenger seat had an arrest for a bar fight on his record. Ouch.

The grand prize--a "golden gas pump"--ended up going to "Team Vampire," who took a commercial van and dressed it up as a blood donation van. If you think that doesn't sound creative enough, try crossing the Canadian border in a car disguised as some sort of public service vehicle, and see if they don't perform strip searches.

A special style award was given to the drag-friendly "Team Knot," an all-male squad in the guise of a wedding party.

P.S.: You can spot me in the video, which was created by local videographer-prankster extraordinaire Richard Blakeley. I'm the one in the fake-fur coat on the Royal Tenenbaums-theme team. In case you're wondering, I found it on sale at Filene's Basement last week. And yes, we did take the ferry.