Words and photos by Mercedes Lilienthal
What if you were to wake up at 5:00 am, load your vehicle with tons of gear, compete in early morning time-speed-distance (TSD) competitions, drive 600+ remote and dirt-filled miles to the next TSD rally, and sleep for four hours that night, to do it again? And, again and again—for 10 days straight over 5,000 miles of gravel, dirt, and mediocre-at-best paved roads in the middle of nowhere? Would you do it? We did in our Subaru.
Even though this schedule sounds insane by most people’s standards, this is real life for a select few. This is the Alcan 5000 Rally, and the 2022 summer iteration of this long-distance, extreme endurance road rally just came to a dusty and adventure-packed close.
What is the Alcan 5000 Rally?
The Alcan 5000 Rally is a grassroots competition that was started in 1984 by Jerry Hines. This rally circuit follows the same timing as the Olympics (with the last winter rally held in 2020, the summer iteration this year, then the next winter competition in 2024, etc.).
Whereas the winter Alcan 5000 Rally allows only four-wheeled machines of all sorts, the summer rallies also invite adventure motorcycles.
This year, the Alcan 5000 Rally hosted 43 teams, 26 vehicles and 17 motorcycles. Whereas automobiles typically have a dedicated driver and co-driver or navigator, motorcyclists must do both duties independently. No matter the mode of transportation, each team must pass a technical inspection, ensuring they have the proper safety equipment and that their machines are in good working order. Once that’s done, competitors get a road book detailing daily instructions, motel stays, and notes about local areas.
Ralliers started in Washington state, near Seattle. They trekked due north through all of British Columbia (BC), and as far north as Dawson City, Yukon Territory (YT). Our overnight stay at the historic Downtown Hotel may or may not have included downing a cocktail at the establishment’s Sourdough Saloon that contained a mummified human toe (it’s real, look it up).
After an early-morning TSD rally in the city, teams switched directions and headed south toward Whitehorse, YT, with an optional westward trek to Skagway, AK (which we did), then headed east through towns like Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (NWT) and Peace River, Alberta, before finishing in Jasper a hefty and dirty 5,000 miles later.
Mitsubishi Pajero 4×4 or Subaru Outback Wilderness?
My husband and I first competed in the 2020 winter Alcan 5000 Rally. Although any vehicle could have been driven, we decided to pilot our 1991 Japanese-Domestic Market right-hand-drive Mitsubishi Pajero. It took six months to customize our already built-up diesel 4×4 to make it Arctic-ready. We successfully completed the rally, thanks to several key upgrades to make it work (like heated orthopedic scheel-mann seats, a Webasto Thermo Top Evo engine coolant heater, and an Australian Long Range Automotive auxiliary fuel tank imported by Idaho-based Long Range America.
The Pajero did great. It didn’t have any mechanical issues and powered its way through blizzards and temps dipping to -40 Fahrenheit. However, the tiny two-door 4×4 was very slow. Maintaining constant speeds during time-speed-distance rallies or climbing steep hills was difficult. It also was slow-going during transit sections lasting 500 or more miles.
After the rally, we discussed alternative options for this year’s competition. What would the ideal Alcan 5000 Rally vehicle be? It needs to have adequate ground clearance and power. It needs to be comfortable and spacious enough to carry loads of cargo. It also requires excellent traction and tires, especially during the anticipated 1,500+ miles of dirt and gravel we’d face this summer. After dissecting these points, we decided a Subaru would be an excellent choice. It is the rally’s favorite make among competitors, typically showing a force unmatched by other auto manufacturers.
This year, my husband, Andy Lilienthal, and I partnered with Subaru of America to test drive a 2022 Outback Wilderness for the 5,000-mile, 10-day event. Already familiar with Subaru’s capable all-wheel-drive system, the Wilderness boasts 9.5-inches of ground clearance (up .8 inches from a regular Outback), stock 225/65 R17 Yokohama Geolandar A/T G015 all-terrain tires (including a full-size matching spare), and a turbocharged engine packing 260 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque. The Outback Wilderness also offers an improved dual-function X-MODE system. Deep snow/mud and snow/dirt modes kick in at higher speeds, allowing for increased management and capability when driving it through tricky terrain. The X-MODE system also changes automatically, assisting drivers as conditions change or worsen.
Already Capable, Adding Key Upgrades
The Outback Wildernesses offers many factory features and an array of OE-optional accessories. Our rally-ready Wilderness sported items like a factory-available Thule roof basket, flexible mud flaps, a two-inch hitch receiver, skid plates, and rubberized protective coverings for its interior.
In addition to the Wildernesses’ stock steering response LED headlights and funky, geometric LED fog lights, we added an American-made aftermarket Rally Innovations light bar to its front. Four Lightforce Venom Professional LED Driving Lights were installed on it, improving visibility in dusty situations or past-dusk driving when wildlife is abundant.
Although it was a summer rally, we focused on preparing for vehicle recovery. A Factor 55 HitchLink 2.0 recovery point was inserted into the Wilderness’ trailer hitch, making it a legitimate, adequately rated recovery point. The roof basket held four MAXTRAX Mini traction boards affixed to a prototype Universal Mounting Plate made by Adventure Imports. A Front Runner Outfitters’ Wolf Pack Pro box carried extra cargo, and a five-gallon gas can contained extra fuel, which ended up being given to a fellow rallier in need of extra go-go juice.
A primary vehicle recovery kit included WARN soft and Epic rigid shackles, heavy-duty gloves, and a 5/8-inch Factor 55 Extreme Duty Kinetic Energy recovery rope. Ledlenser MH5 and MH7 headlamps were also on board, giving us illumination when we needed to service the vehicle, and lending light to dark areas.
Scosche TerraClamp Mounts securely held two Rugged Radio RH5R-V2 handheld radios on the power sunroof to avoid the vehicle’s extensive airbag system. Magnetic vent mounts from the same company carried two smartphones, one that managed the Richta rally app while the other ran a simple odometer app. A Scosche InVert 200 Power Inverter and PowerUp 32K Portable Power Station kept our tech, camera batteries, and headlamps charged. Finally, a Garmin GPSMAP 66i inReach device was adhered to the dash and recorded our position during the rally.
A Competent Contender
Our 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness was steadfast, comfortable, and capable. It never bottomed out or felt unwieldy as its suspension is tuned for increased suspension travel and damping force, ensuring maximum clearances.
The Wilderness kept us on the straight and narrow when roads got bad. It also had excellent visibility and tons of space. It easily allowed room for the second full-size spare tire, two extra storage boxes from Front Runner Outfitters, and oodles of gear—all behind the rear seats with its seat backs upright and cargo cover deployed.
The Wilderness’ powerplant was plenty potent and responded well to driver-led changes 95% of the time. However, it struggled at points to keep constant, exact speeds in automatic mode during the TSD rallies. This was better controlled when we kicked over to manual mode and used its paddle shifters.
To sum it up, the Outback Wilderness was an extremely competent rally contender. This all-wheel-drive vehicle exceeded our expectations. It’s no wonder Subarus are the most popular choice when the Alcan 5000 Rally runs—they’re an ideal match to handle rough roads and long-distance travel while providing a comfortable and compliant ride.