Calgary to Sonoma in a 550 Spyder

Brian LeBlancby Brian LeBlanc, Treasurer of PCA Wild Rose Region in Calgary, Alberta, CanadaIntroduction by Barry Schmidt, Redwood Region Member
Photos courtesy of Brian LeBlanc

Brian LeBlanc, Porsche enthusiast and Treasurer of the PCA Wild Rose Region in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and his co-driver Dave Jones, also from Calgary, drove to Infineon in quite inclement weather in June to meet friend and Redwood Region Member Barry Schmidt (from Santa Rosa) and to attend the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival at Infineon.

Brian's daughter followed along in the family car to support Brian and Dave (who rode his Honda motorcycle the entire distance). It was about the worst time to drive an open sports car such a long distance, but Brian has thick skin and managed to brave the weather, as did his friend Dave. Saturday morning at Infineon was filled with much rain, but after the wonderful lunch and wine-tasting provided under the big-top tent at Infineon, the afternoon was much drier, just in time to allow Brian and Dave to participate in a couple of parade laps around the track.

Brian and Dave are fond of wine, and had visited several wineries in the Napa Valley the previous day with their wives and daughter. Good karma, good wine, good friends and a great Redwood Region PCA get-together. It doesn't get better than that...bad weather or not.

I hope you enjoy Brian’s story.

Barry Schmidt, Redwood Region Member

Day 1 - Calgary to Fernie
Distance: 184 miles
Time: 3 hours
Fuel cost: $36.00 

GOAL: CalgarySonoma 1,437 miles 

This is a warm up leg for us. Dave ran a half-marathon so we decided to leave at 3:00pm Brian time (4:00pm in reality). We have driven this quite a few times; the best portion of the trip is turning west just after Nanton and traveling on 533. Lots of twisties and the view is awesome. 

We ran into a little sprinkle, but did not have to put the top up. If we get rain like we had today for the rest of the trip, I will be really grateful. 

It took us three hours to reach Fernie. The Spyder ran well, but it still has a bit of an oil leak from the rear of the passenger side valve cover, so I will have to monitor my oil. We have been cruising at 3000 to 3200 RPM, which is 65 – 70 miles an hour based on my GPS. This brought up a discussion as to whether the GPS is accurate, as my emergency vehicle (my daughter in a BMW) felt it was not giving us an accurate reading of speed. 

Yes, that is snow on the side of the road! Boy, I can’t wait to see some warm California sunshine, as there were sections of the drive that one would call…BRISK! 

Day 2 - Fernie to Hood River, Oregon
Distance: 537 Miles

When we left Fernie at 6:30am, the temp was –4.5C. Let me convert this for my US friends: –4.5C traveling at 100Km/H or 60 MPH in an open vehicle with no heater equates to FRICKIN’ COLD!!!!!! Dave was a little put out when he saw the frost on his seat.

I sent Laura to fill my coffee cup and once Dave removed the frost from his seat, we were off! We decided to go to Cranbrook for breakfast, about an hour away. Along the way to Cranbrook, we saw an eagle swoop down to my left, and an elk that seemed so big I’m sure I would have had the clearance to drive under its legs!

At least the road was dry, but by the time we got to Cranbrook, Dave’s feet were freezing. He had everything except electric socks and underwear! Luckily, Laura brought some warmers, so Dave opened them up and put them in his boots to thaw out his feet, and hopefully keep them warm for the balance of the cold period. I had four layers on, but the top of my head was freezing, so I pulled my hoodie over my head and that did the trick. We stayed at a reasonable speed (about 60 MPH), as it was too cold to go any faster and my engine did not appear able to warm up sufficiently to go over 3,000 RPM, as advised by one of the Spyder experts that said you should not go over 3,000 rpm until the engine was warmed up. My engine temp took 200 miles before it passed the cold hump as shown below. Being on a two lane highway with all the wildlife around, we could not go any faster for fear of running into--or under--a deer, elk or moose. 

We got to the border around 9:00am and I achieved something I never thought could be done: I made a border officer smile! Usually these guys are very deadpan and serious.  I was first in line, followed by Laura in the BMW, and Dave on his bike. I explained to the officer where I was going and that the car behind me was my backup car and the guy on the bike was the fellow that decided on this trip, “so give him a hard time, will ya?!”  Well, the officer just broke into a big grin, passed me back my passport and told me to have a safe trip! I drove ahead and waited for Laura and Dave. Both arrived quite quickly. I informed Dave as to what I said, and that I was disappointed they did not bring him in for a body cavity search. He was not amused!

The next big stop was Spokane; we arrived there about 11:00am. Dave has been watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and knew of a place that was on the show called The Elk Public House. So we finally found the place and went for lunch. 

One of the best investments I made for this trip was a $7.00 pillow that I bought to replace the standard Spyder seat cushion. The pillow added critical padding that assisted me in the long day we had today. I only wish I had bought two! 

We continued our drive along the Columbia river. The weather did get warmer, so much so that I could 86 the gloves and remove two layers: the fleece jacket and the hoodie.

One of my clients provided me with a mascot for the trip. I call her OHHLA the Hula Girl.  It has been quite entertaining watching her rock and roll on the dash throughout the trip. 

The only issue so far on the trip is the leak I have on my passenger bank cylinders. It appears that the valve cover is leaking from the rear and I need to replace the gasket.  Will see if I can do this in Portland. It also appears we are in for some rain, so it may be good for a break to dry off and possibly bail out the Spyder if it is anything like the Escape 2010 at Sunpeaks, B.C., where on the way home I almost had whitecaps forming on top of my carpet!

Day 3 - Hood River, Oregon To Bandon, Oregon
Distance: 322 miles

A disappointing day with respect to what was covered. We were concerned that we would get rain today. We woke up to sunshine, but by the time we got going we ended up with a sprinkle of rain that slowly increased. Dave suggested I find a VW place in Portland to fix the oil leak. I concurred as the right side of the engine was covered in oil. So last night I found an air-cooled VW mechanic that I can now highly recommend.  As the rain dropped, I picked up my speed to get to the mechanic’s location in Portland, which was an hour away. By the time I turned off 205 South, it was coming down quite hard, so I pulled into a gas station where I was covered and protected from the rain. I had called the place when I woke up and left a voicemail message describing my predicament. I called again while I was waiting for Laura and Dave to catch up. As the phone rang, I was concerned that there would be no one there, but finally someone answered. I told them I was around the corner and would like to bring my Beck in to repair an oil leak off my right valve cover. They immediately went into action and found space for me to bring the Spyder in from the rain.

It took two adjustments to the valve cover and blowing out one of the hoses returning from the oil cooler to fix the problem. I now know that my car can drop three quarts of oil in a quarter of a block at 50 psi, at which time the red light of death flashes and scares the heck out of the driver. I immediately turned off the engine. I restarted it momentarily to check the light and gauge; the light was still on and the gauge showed 0 so I shut down and pushed the car back to the shop with Dave’s help. When we opened the clamshell, the right side was covered in oil and the hose leading out of the oil cooler back to the thermostat was off. So we degreased the engine and reattached the hose and all was solved. The price for the repair was ridiculous since they spent about four hours and I used five quarts of oil: three in the case and two just in case I needed more. I gave the mechanic that was working on the car 20 bucks and told him to buy beer for the owner and his fellow mechanic. When I told Dave the total cost he was expecting it to be five times the amount I was billed. Needless to say, he has guilted me into sending three litres of Maple syrup to the guys when I get back to Canada.

We were back on the road about 1:00pm. We went a short distance and then stopped for lunch. Within half an hour, we were back on 205 heading south. About 10 miles before we were to head west, we were hit with rain. It started really coming down to the point that even at 60 mph I was getting wet, so I turned off and headed for the nearest gas station to get under cover. This is where Dave got annoyed, as I began to slow down, talking to everyone, making sure the attendant filled my car correctly, and talking to fellow travelers. I paid for my gas, went to the bathroom, continued to talk to other patrons, put my jacket back on…then decided it was still raining too hard so I should put my top and one of my side windows up. All the while, Dave has filled up and moved his bike and is sitting on it in the rain. Well, at this point I got in the car, closed the roof, and hit the rain. We drove the next ten miles with heavy rain. I attempted to coat the windshield roof seal with wheel grease in hopes that it would stop rain from coming into the cockpit. It didn’t. I was still getting drops in. I also had one half of the tonneau up, which protected my stuff in the passenger seat, and you could see how much rain was really coming in. I perfected the system in my drive to the Escape 2010: I leave the window on the drivers side on and I leave the passenger side window off, but I have the tonneau covering that side. With the top up, it gets so wet inside I can sponge up the water and squeeze it off on the tonneau, then lift the tonneau up so that the water will move to the outside of the passenger side door. Any rain that might come in from the passenger side will land on the tonneau and exit back toward the passenger door. 

By the time we were heading west, the rain slowed down and eventually stopped. The road west to 101 was really great: twisty and covered on each side with lots of trees. I found that as I was getting closer to sea level, my car was getting more “snap”. It seemed that the engine was either off or on. At 60 miles an hour, I would either press on the gas or release my foot. When I pressed on the gas there was acceleration, and when I eased off there was deceleration. I could not get a constant speed. Also, taking off from red lights was somewhat embarrassing, as I would practically peel out. It was awesome!

We finally made it to Bandon. When we pulled into the restaurant for dinner, Dave was followed by one of the local constabulary. I thought he was going to give Dave a ticket, but it appears he had a bike similar to Dave’s and wanted to discuss saddlebags. By the time I got out of the Spyder, I suggest to the officer that he should give Dave a ticket for being miserable, but I guess he had reached his quota for the day, as he declined my offer.

Tomorrow, we plan to leave about seven and hope to reach Sonoma in the early afternoon.

Day 4 - The final leg: Bandon, Oregon to Novato, California
Distance: 436 miles

This was definitely the nicest part of the trip. It would have been a lot better if it did not rain though. The beginning seemed cold but at least there was not a lot of traffic at the time.  We were able to eat up quite a few miles before the traffic picked up.

The drive on 101 seemed more inland than on the coast, but it would go back and forth.  The coastline was beautiful; when we went inland, we would go into some spectacular forests with massive redwood trees. I was fortunate that when the rain came (and did it ever!) I would generally be at a section where it was four-lane highway so I could pass with ease and attempt to stay dry. It seemed that it would begin with small sprinkles and then pick up to a good rain where you knew you were no longer staying dry, then it would slow down and eventually you would see some blue sky and it would cease raining for a while. I decided not to put the roof up as I still had rain leaking between the top and windshield. So I just continued on and tried to stay around 60 mph, as this seemed the best speed to avoid getting too wet. When the rain would start really coming down, I would pick up speed in hopes of getting over the rough spot as quickly as possible. I was very fortunate in not being pulled over, based on the speed. It seemed we only passed the Highway Patrol when I was going slowly. At one time, I was cruising around 70 and the detector started going off. I was looking down the road but could see no black and whites.  Suddenly, I see a black and white in my side view mirror; he passed me and continued south on 101. After about a mile, he turned around and chased a car going in the opposite direction.

I have come to the conclusion that the top does not really help. There is quite a bit of leakage between the top and the windshield, which is really aggravating. Going topless, you don’t really notice the water coming over the windshield. If it does, you just turn on the wipers, and it clears the water before it reaches the top of the windshield. If you are going over 60 mph, it appears the water goes over you. I found that my preparations of sealing around the wheel wells did little to nothing; my carpet was soaked right behind the wheel wells. I will need to do more work on this for future trips. My Lord…what am I saying?! Most people think I was crazy to undertake this one! But tomorrow = Infineon!!!!!

All in all, the trip down was great, even with the wet weather. The car ran very well, but I have my wife bringing down my other jets so I can change it up and hopefully settle down the engine. It is very hard to run at 45 mph, but it could cruise all day at 70.

Dave has begun calling my car The White Fog.  Sounds like a comic book hero…or is that villain? I’m not quite sure.

Day 5 - The reason for the drive: The Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival

Saturday’s weather forecast called for rain and high winds. While calling a fellow Spyder owner (Barry) to see if the racing was still on, there were two fellows that were eavesdropping on my conversation. When the call was over, one of the fellows asked if the races were still on. I confirmed that they were. His clear Aussie accent had me inquire as to where from Australia. “Queensland,” he said proudly. I ran into them a few moments later as I was sliding into the Spyder. He asked me if I drove this all the way from Canada.  I replied, “We Canadians are a lot heartier than Aussies!” His buddy asked how many miles? I told him about 1,450. His mate from Queensland immediately blurted out, “You win!!!!”

Travelling to the track was wet. The rain continued to come down, and I attempted to keep the speed up so that most of the rain travelled over the cab and me. When we got to Infineon, Barry put some bubbles on the car doors (44) and I parked with fellow Porsche aficionados. The place was nearly empty due to the weather. We walked around the paddock and saw some really nice cars, including quite a few that were covered up. The cars from the pre-war years really fascinated me. There was a really cool ‘31 Chrysler with a straight eight that never raced due to the weather.

We moved to higher elevation in the stands so that we were covered. The winds and the rains picked up. Conditions were brutal, but they held time trials throughout the morning.  Quite a few open wheeled cars were running. We saw a spin out; luckily there appeared to be no damage. One of the best races we saw included Minis, a 911, and a few Lotus Élans. One of the Élans was in the lead after the first lap, but after several more laps it fell to fourth or fifth place, and a Mini took the checkered flag.

We then went into the wine tent to dry off and sample some of California’s wines. Although you were limited to four wine tickets, eventually no one was asking for tickets due to low numbers through the wicket.

The weather finally improved in the afternoon, and the last feature was to allow the clubs to take a parade lap on the track. Dave rode shotgun so I had him make a movie while we went around the track. There were 240Z – 370Z’s, TR4’s, TR6’s, even some Morgans, several Porsches, and then me and Dave in my Beck. The track was amazing; the elevation changes and turns make it an awesome ride, even at slow speeds.

It seemed as soon as the day had started it was over, and everyone was packing up and calling it a day. Dave and I went back to the hotel to regale our trip on the track to our wives. We would leave Sunday morning to head back to Canada; the plan was for me to get back and then immediately hop on a plane to Montreal, as I had to attend a conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.

The Way Home (and then some) 

Beginning Sunday morning, our return plan was as follows: Day 1 – Novato, California to as Redmond, Oregon (484 miles in 8 hours, 51 minutes by Google standards); Day 2 – Redmond, Oregon to Cranbrook, B.C. (561 miles in 10 hours, 16 minutes); Day 3 – Cranbrook, B.C. to Calgary (242 miles in 4 hours, 53 minutes). For me to make my flight, we would have to meet our daily goals; any mechanical failure would be disaster in meeting the timelines.

We left at about 8:00 am on Sunday and drove to the Oakland Bridge. This to me was the scariest part of the trip. I still remember the images of the earthquake where cars were sandwiched between expressways. It was now that I prayed an earthquake would not happen.

The weather started out cloudy. Soon the clouds opened up and we were dumped on,  then the rain subsided. However, within an hour or two, we were back into it! As long as I was going faster than 60 mph, it appeared I would remain relatively dry, but I was still taking water in from the wheel wells. We arrived in Redmond exhausted, but I did empty copious amounts of water with my $39.00 mini Shop Vac from Canadian Tire. Boy, am I glad I brought that along; the alternative would have been some boat sump pump to drain the car on the fly!

We were aware that day two was going to be a big one considering that we would lose time going uphill. After a few minutes, I pulled over halfway up a hill because the car’s idle was slightly rough. By the time Dave and my wife caught up to me, I was checking my carb connections to see if I was only running on two cylinders. Everything looked fine, so we continued on. I had regained my power, so climbing the hill was not a problem. Within half an hour, the problem resurfaced, so I checked the sky for rain. It was a dry period and the skies looked light, so I pulled over and checked out my fuel filter. The filter was black, and a lot of sediment was dropping from the filter. Luckily, being an old boy scout, I was prepared and had a new filter with me. Within ten minutes, we were off and running, power restored and eating up the miles again. We were fortunate because it started to rain again shortly after getting back on the road.

We stopped for a bite in Kennewick, Washington then continued our journey. By the time we reached Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the rain was really coming down. I quickly ducked into an Exxon station for cover and texted my wife as to where I was. When Dave and Kim caught up, Dave pointed out that we have not gone four hours without rain the whole day. As I refuelled, I noticed the pump’s cut off valve was not working, and I received more gas than I wanted…all over the front of the car and into the hole where the filler comes out of my car! The attendant then told me they were having trouble with that pump. It would have been nice to know this prior to me turning on the pump! So the trip north on 95 had my car wafting of premium fuel. It wasn’t until we were close to Cranbrook that the fumes subsided. The rain continued until I was close to the border. By this time, I was quite a distance from Dave and Kim. Once I cleared the border, I found that I had no reception, so I continued toward Cranbrook. About 10 miles outside of Cranbrook, I got reception back and got a hold of Kim. They were about 10 minutes away, so I continued to the hotel and met them there. We all agreed that this day had been the wettest and roughest part of the trek. 

The next morning, we slept in a bit and left about an hour later than planned. It started out quite nice, but by the time we got to Fernie the rain began again. The trouble was that we were on a two-lane highway, going 80Km per hour (50 miles per hour) behind a semi, with the water swirling around. I got wet…I mean REAL WET!

We refilled at Blairmore on Highway 3 and had a coffee break, hoping that the rain would subside. It didn’t. Kim and Dave left first, as I was in no hurry to get wetter than I already was. As it turned out, this was a good set-up. As I started to take off, I was passing everything possible, and the rain began to really come down. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Dave had turned off. Had they not gone ahead, I would have missed my turnoff to 22 north. I quickly turned around and met up with Kim and Dave. Eventually, the rain stopped and we were going through one of the nicest sections of road, heading toward Nanton. Most of this road is freshly paved, and it is one of the most scenic drives in Southern Alberta. Sadly, the RCMP have become aware that this is a favourite for motorcycles and hot cars; on the way down, we saw two cars stopped, with the police probably requesting large donations to the Provincial Treasurer of Alberta!!

Our last fill up was at Nanton, which is about an hour from Calgary. Dave lives in the south end and I live in the north end of Calgary, so we congratulated ourselves, split up, and headed home. When I got home, I had about two hours to get organized for my next trip but we made it and I was quite proud of that. If I was to do this again, I would not bring the safety vehicle, but then again I don’t have room in the Spyder for the Shop Vac!


Best service: Chuck’s Volks Werks, 5629 SE 111th Avenue Portland, Oregon 97266. Great service, took care of me immediately and had me on the road within four hours, and their bill was ridiculously low.

Best hotel: Comfort Inns and Suites in Redmond, Oregon. I was leery when I was informed the cost for a night was $45.00 including breakfast. I was worried I was entering a fleabag hotel, but this was a great place!

Oddest law: Oregon and their pump attendants. Is this a make work program for the homeless? Throughout Oregon, not one pump attendant offered to clean the windshield of either of my cars, or check the oil. Come on, people. If you are going to do something, do it with pride and excel at your job.

Best supporter: Barry Schmidt, who was so keen when I mentioned the plan for our trek to Sonoma that he provided me with bubbles (numbers) for my car, which I kept on all the way home and was surprised not to be stopped by the gendarmes throughout the trip.

Best and most miserable sidekick: Dave Jones, whom I met in College and has been a dear friend ever since. I attempted to get him strip-searched at the border because of this crazy idea, and arrested for being miserable in Bandon Oregon. But since the trip was his idea, maybe I should get this award.

Prep work for the trip:

 Knowing the significance of this trip, I prepped the car quite a bit:

            Replaced the clutch cable
            Repacked the front wheel bearings
            Adjusted and bled the brakes
            New front shocks
            Grease the front end

Tools and equipment:

I brought a large amount of tools, wrenches, sockets, a jack, air pressure gauge, and snail for tuning my Webers.  In the way of spare parts, I brought the following:

           Fuel filter
           Clutch cable
           Throttle cable

In hindsight, I should have also brought my lug wrench and a fan belt. Had my belt broken in the middle of nowhere, I would have been hosed.

Would I do this again? Yes I would, but I sure hope the weather would be drier!!!



      past events



550 Porsche Spyder
Elk Public House
Engine Temp
Frosty Seat
Hula Girl
View from Dave's Place
Car Problems
Day 3
The View
Before Vacumming
After Vacumming
Infineon Under Ominous Clouds
In the Corral
In the Corral
In the Corral
Parade Laps
Return Trip
Rain Here Too