Canadian Consulting Engineer

Mystery Tour

January 1, 2000
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

It's a quiet late-October morning in Grand Valley, southwestern Ontario. As lunchtime approaches, staff at the town's three restaurants find the seats are filling up ... fast. Before they know what's ...

It’s a quiet late-October morning in Grand Valley, southwestern Ontario. As lunchtime approaches, staff at the town’s three restaurants find the seats are filling up … fast. Before they know what’s hit them, they’re filled to capacity and can’t handle the sudden demand created by 180 hungry car rally participants.

Chris Gauer, P.Eng., a senior project manager at Marshall Macklin Monaghan in Toronto, learned his lesson from that experience. Now he warns restaurant proprietors at the rally’s lunch stop a few weeks ahead of time so they can prepare to feed about 250 people. “They tend not to believe me,” he laughs.

Nine years ago, Gauer’s neighbour decided it would be a good idea to organize a car rally to raise money for the Children’s Wish Foundation. She asked Gauer to help. From 30 friends and relatives in 15 cars, the event has grown to include 270 people in 93 cars. After a day of deciphering riddles, puzzles and other clues to find various checkpoints, participants arrive at a resort destination for dinner, dancing and a presentation including the solutions to the clues and the announcement of winners.

“Part of the attraction is a night away from the kids, and not knowing where you’ll end up,” Gauer says. After about six weeks of planning the route and coming up with tricks and riddles to make the course a challenge, his reward is, as he puts it, “the Machiavellian joy of watching people get lost.” And of course, he likes watching them have fun doing it. He also enjoys driving the route during the planning stages. The best of the fall colours are on display when he tours the countryside looking for interesting roads and out-of-the-way spots to stop.

“At the end of the day, you keep yourself busy, do something fun and achieve something for someone else,” he says, explaining that the rally raised over $2,000 the first year; this year the figure was $17,000.

The $200 registration fee (for which entrants receive a $40 charitable donation receipt) covers the hotel stay and dinner. With the success of the event, a further fund-raising effort — a silent auction of donated gifts — has been added. All of this means more work. A committee of 10 people solicit the gifts and organize the hotel events. But the rally itself is left to Gauer.

“The first rally was set up on a manual basis,” he says. “Now I do it on a spreadsheet so the production of instructions is much more professional.” The software also makes tabulating results a lot simpler. “I have to score 93 cars [by calculating] their times, odometer readings and the participants’ answers to 50 questions.” He adds that he has improved his skills with the spreadsheet program as a result of the rally, and now uses this knowledge at work.

People come back every year, and they bring friends. “We are ‘maxing out’ in terms of capacity,” Gauer says. “Our limitation is the size of the [resort] facility. It’s tough to find places within an easy drive of Toronto that can take 250 people.” Various Collingwood-area inns have hosted the annual charity event, as have hotels in Niagara Falls and Kitchener.

At the request of entrants, he has divided the rally into two. There is a non-competitive tour for people who just want to take a drive in the country and enjoy a “fun night out.” The competitive participants have to follow complicated clues to get to the secret destination … all while driving within the speed limits, Gauer stresses.

It is no surprise that Gauer is a transportation engineer. He recently finished working on the New Brunswick toll road and is part of the team designing Highway 407. Consulting engineers from various firms participate in the rally, and Gauer has noticed that they do well on his courses. “They think more the way I do … linear thinking,” he says. “Salesmen tend to do the worst.”Sophie Kneisel


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