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Mazda Rally: Two days, two writers and a Colorado adventure

Thin air does strange things to your head and body. The higher we go, the goofier we get — and, always, a headache

Published July 26, 2013

Wheels writers Peter Bleakney and Gary Grant took part in the two-day Mazda Adventure Rally that had select Canadian auto writers hurrying a gaggle of CX-5 and CX-9 crossovers overland from Boulder, Colo. to Sundance, Utah. Routes had to be plotted, times met and landmarks photographed. The winning team received $10,000 from Mazda for the charity of its choice. Although our men didn’t emerge victorious, they did snag some great photos and gain a new appreciation for this awe-inspiring region.

Here is Day One of their adventure:

BOULDER, COLO.—Breathtaking! It’s Day One of our Mazda Adventure Rally. I’m not talking about the majestic vistas and otherworldly geological apparitions that meet our eyes at every turn.

For much of the day there is a distinct lack of oxygen: Breathtaking, indeed.

Colorado sits at about 6,800 feet (2,070 metres). Our elevation this day hovers around 10,000 feet.

Thin air does strange things to your head and body. The higher we go, the goofier we get — and, always, a headache. Our bodies are losing water 20 per cent faster than normal. We’re drinking like Russian sailors.

Cursing like them, too. But only because the scenery is so astonishing.

I sprint ahead of our Mazda CX-5 at the 11,800-foot summit of Ophir Pass to take of shot of Gary negotiating a narrow gravel track between two snow banks. I just about pass out. I think the wind is keeping me upright. Ophir, now a ghost town, was established in 1875 when gold was discovered here. It got its name from the gold-rich Arabian city. The Ophir Pass was originally cut as a wagon road connecting gold mines in the region. With the opening of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad in 1890, the pass was used only as a light wagon route. I’m guessing they had brave horses.

At the moonscape summit, well above the tree line, the vistas are of a tremendous scale. On the west side, a very steep, narrow and rough gravel shelf road descends into a spectacular valley. Inches from our left wheels, the land drops sheer into the gorge.

Our compact CX-5, in 185 hp GT guise ($33,250), proves a worthy ally on this day. Over the winding paved sections, its taut chassis, alert steering and nicely bolstered seats really makes pressing on a joy. It’s a good little scrapper in the rough stuff. Looking at the off-road sections we had to tackle, I would hesitate to send the CX-5 up there. This crossover takes it all in stride.

But the thin air takes its toll on internal combustion engines. Up here, our 2.5 L four loses about 30 per cent of its power.

But our Little Mazda That Could, did.

For Day 2 of the Mazda Adventure Rally by Gary Grant, click here

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