2011 Rallies

2011 Rally Season

After several years of thinking about and wanting to ride in rallies, I finally decided that 2011 was going to be the year. I was going to ride in 4 rallies this season, starting with the Bonzai Rally, then the Rally Rallie at CFO, the MN1K, and top the season off with the 5 day BitE rally.

I had spent the entire winter working on my replacement FJR, after totaling my first FJR last September, to make it as close to the ultimate LD / Rally bike as I could. See here if by some chance you have not seen the thread before:

http://www.fjrforum.com/forum//index.php?showtopic=133887

I have to say that the Bonzai was NOT the rally to take on as the first one out of the gate. It was a great rally, and at only 12hours not too long, but having to find and input 60+ locations into the mapping software, and then plan your route, all in an hour and a half is not an easy thing to do. I roomed with Derek Dickson (stryg8r) which was both good and bad. I was able to witness first hand just how fast getting all this information processed can be done, but seeing him walk out the door to start his ride when I only had half of my information input into the computer was also frustrating. Derek and several others can vouch that I was more than a little frustrated at the beginning of the rally. I left the rally HQ with no plan, just the majority of the bonus locations uploaded into the GPS. I literally just looked at the GPS to see where the next closest location was, and that is where I went. I also tried to keep an eye on how much time I had to get back, so I wouldn’t be penalized or DNF.

 

(Just before starting the Bonzai. Notice almost no one left in the parking lot.)

 When I looked at the route I ended up riding after the end of the rally, it was a nice elongated loop, and I had managed to put together a decent ride out of a lot of luck and the drive to keep moving at all times.  I ended up being the top novice rider, and something like 12th overall. I was ecstatic with that, and the rally bug had bitten hard.

(The Bonzai Route was something like this)

 

(Not quite so grumpy at the end of the Rally.)

Next up was the Rally Rallie put on by Rick Corwin at the CFO rally. The rally was only 8 hours, and we received the bonus list about 3 days prior to the start of the rally. This allowed the riders enough time to really plan their route, which I enjoyed. Rick had several combo bonuses incorporated, and it became obvious that the winner was going to be the one who could combine routes to get as many of the combo’s as possible. Other than the slight curve ball Rick sent our way by giving us yard sticks as rally towels, this rally went pretty much by the numbers for me. I even had some extra time to hit an extra bonus before I had to head back to the hotel.

(TheRally Rallie Route was very close to this, with some last second changes)

If Rick is going to put this rally on again next year, I cannot recommend it highly enough for all riders, but especially anyone who wants to try a rally for the first time.

(Just look at that smile on my face at the end of the Rally Rallie)

Next up was the Team Strange MN1K at the end of July. By this time I felt like I was starting to get some understanding of how things needed to be done, and Derek had been answering my questions and giving me suggestions for months. Dana, (Opt8low) who had been encouraging me to get into rallies for years, had also been answering questions and giving advice, so I felt like I had picked up on a lot of little things that could help me. I had a few mechanical issues while on the way up to MN for the rally, but was able to get them sorted out shortly after getting to the hotel.  At the kick off dinner on Friday night  I felt like I was among the stars of the LD world. Both Peter Behm, who had just won the 2011 IBR, and Marty Leir, who had won the 2007 IBR were there, and I recognized about half the people in the room as riders who had been in and finished previous IBR rallies. I felt like a very, very small fish in a huge lake.  I starting thinking that my goal would be to finish in the upper half of the field. At the end of diner we received our rally packs, and it was off to the hotel to plan for the next day’s ride.

I was amazed, and honestly more than a little concerned, when after only about 45 minutes I had what I thought was a good route. I decided I would get the route uploaded and ready to go and then review it a little more. Having done that and not seeing any obvious big problems  I was able to get more than my usual amount of sleep the night before the rally, though I also tossed and turned a good amount with nervous energy to get going on the ride. Derek and I had agreed to meet for breakfast before going to the start of the rally, and after pushing and prodding him I was able to find out that at least the beginning of our routes were the same. That made me feel a lot better about things, but I also wondered if I was going to be able to keep up with the pace he would be setting. My concerns about how efficient Derek would be were realized when at the first bonus he had taken the required picture and was gone before I had even figured out what needed to be done.

(The Covered Bridge, 1st Bonus of the MN1K)

Throughout the first 8 hours of the rally Derek and I played “catch up, keep up” as we went from one bonus to another. He would get out in front of me, and then I would take a gravel road short cut and end up in front of him, only to have him be in and out of the next bonus location in half the time it took me. By late afternoon our routes had split apart from each other, and I found I was running ahead of schedule. This allowed me to add two additional bonus locations on to my route, and that is what made the difference for me. I didn’t add them in the most efficient manor, but it was good enough.

(Bonus #24 which made the difference)

Derek and I both planned on taking the 4 hour rest bonus at the very end of the rally, and decided that we would meet at the same restaurant we had eaten breakfast at. He called me when I was still about 20 minutes away from the restaurant asking where I was, but I was having issues with the microphone in my helmet so it took awhile before I could get him to understand that I was getting close. We both had something to eat and reviewed the bonus locations we had been to and the pictures we had taken. Then there was nothing left to do but to try to sneak in a little sleep, which the manager of the restaurant did not approve of, before heading for the finish line and the scoring table.

Derek had indicated that my route and point totals sounded really good, but with the experience of some of the riders in the rally I figured he was just being nice. I was hoping I could manage to finish in the top 10 or 15 since my ride had seemingly gone so well. Then the more I talked to the riders at the finish it became apparent that my ride was actually really good, and maybe I did have a shot at winning.

(MyMN1K Route)

Still, Derek and Dana had a good old time messing with my head while we were waiting for the results to be announced. In the end I managed to pull off winning the MN1K, which still seems amazing to me, and Derek finished a very close 2nd. What was more amazing is that it meant a slot to the 2013 IBR. Now I just had to convince my wife that it was OK for me to ride in the IBR.

My wife and I had SPECIFICALLY discussed the 2013 IBR, and had agreed that I would not apply for it since she wanted me to wait until our kids were older (they are 5 and 3 right now). Maybe it was because I won the slot, or because she just didn’t want to rain on my parade at the time, but my wife seemed to accept the idea of me riding in the IBR very easily, and even started talking about bringing the kids with her to the finish line, wherever it might be. I am one lucky guy.

(I still can’t believe I won the MN1K)

In two VERY short weeks it was time to leave for the BitE rally. During that time I had once again asked Derek about a million questions, and generally been a pain in his ass. Since he was going to be riding right past my place to get to the rally we had agreed to ride down together. Derek wanted to make several stops along the way for the “Smoke Chasing Rally” which was fine with me; I was glad to have the company for the ride down.  We made our way from one stop to another, up until the time that Derek’s camera had some…issues. Then it was time to hot foot it down to Statesvile NC, where the BitE was being based from.

We met most of the rest of the riders and the rally staff at dinner on Saturday night and confirmed what the schedule was going to be for Sunday. Sunday was spent doing some paperwork, ODO check, and making a trip to a local Walmart to get some medicine to try and help me get over a cold I couldn’t seem to shake. I started to wonder if I was getting strep, since my throat was killing me. Luckily I was feeling better by the start of the rally, but my wife did end up with strep while I was away on the ride.

We received the locations for the first leg Sunday morning, but no point values until the end of the dinner Sunday night. Then it was off to try and plan a route for the first leg of the rally, which went from 5:00 AM Monday morning to 5:00 PM on Tuesday. The check point was at Ed’s Last Resort in Surrency GA, which was several hundred miles to the south. Obviously it would have been best to start heading south right out of the gate, which is why I was pretty sure the best route would mean heading north. That is just how the rally bastards do things. Sure enough, my route took me north into VA, WV, back into VA,  and over to Washington DC. Then it was a little further East to DE before heading south along the coast. I felt like my route was good, but nothing fantastic. I was trying to not press too hard since this was my first multi day rally, and it would mean spending more days in a row on the bike than I had ever done before.

(1st Leg Route )

Monday morning I met Derek for breakfast, and when I once again pressed him for some information about his route he stated I was now “the competition” so no insight for me. Fair enough. As we all left the parking lot I was a little surprised to see only one other rider heading north behind me, and that rider peeled off after about 30 minutes. I rode from one bonus to another, and started to get into some of the best twisty roads I have ever been on. WV has some roads I really need to get back to one of these days, but by Monday afternoon I was REALLY sick of twisty roads and felt like I was behind schedule because of not being able to make any real time on the winding roads. Still, I managed to get to the bonus at the US Naval Academy before the time window for it closed at 8:30 PM, and that was the key for my entire leg one  route. From there it was over to Delaware for a fuel receipt and then to start the trip down the East coast.

I wanted to find a McDonalds or some other kind of all night restaurant for the three hour rest bonus we all took (the points made it impossible to ignore) but by 12:45 am on Tuesday morning I couldn’t find anything that was open, and ended up sleeping for just under 2 hours in the parking lot of a 7/11. When I went to get the receipt to document the end of my rest bonus I noticed the receipt for the beginning of the rest had 12:45 PM and not AM on it. I started to wonder how screwed I might be, but figured there wasn’t anything that could be done about it.  I continued the long, slow trip down the coast, picking up as many bonuses as I could. The traffic was bad, and I wasn’t making good time, but I wasn’t far behind schedule either. I dropped one very low point value bonus from my route, and I only made it to the check point with 15 minutes to spare, but good enough is good enough. Luckily for me the rest receipt had a time code on it for the credit card approval, so the damn “PM” on the receipt ended up not being an issue. Another big lesson learned, look for the invoice and approval codes on the receipts, since they have a lot of the information you need.

While the scoring was being completed at Ed’s Last Resort, which was the location for the check point (thanks again Ed!) I was able to take a shower and grab some food. I hadn’t eaten anything more than a Cliff bar and an apple since early Monday morning. Between the food and getting cleaned up I almost felt human again. Rick Miller announced the leg one results before letting us open the leg two bonus packets, and much to my amazement I was in first place. I had talked to Derek once or twice during the first leg, since we finally figured out what I was doing wrong with my microphone set up, and he mentioned he was putting in a ton of miles. I figured he was going to be way out in front of me in points, and I was OK with that. With being ahead of Derek by a HUGE 9 total points, or 0.0022%, I knew Derek was going to be gunning for me in the second leg.

It was too hot, and there were too many people around for me to concentrate at Ed’s so as soon as I confirmed there weren’t any bonuses that would require an immediate departure, I hot footed it to a hotel I had researched in the weeks leading up the rally, where I could plan my route and get some much needed sleep. For the 2nd leg we were given two different rally packs, a “B” and a “C”. We needed to choose which of the two we were going to use, and go from there. For a lot of reasons I went with the “B” list. Mostly it had a lot of places I just wanted to go to, and it was less complicated. Places I really wanted to go to included:

(The Coon Dog Cemetery in Alabama)

(The Popeye statue in Chester Illinois)

(Annie Oakley’s grave in NW, OH. I thought it was great that there were flowers on her grave)

and the Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania.

 It is really great when you can have a route you feel good about, and it also happens to take you to places you want to go.

As I was checking in to the hotel where I would be planning my leg 2 route, and getting some sleep, Derek showed up there as well. I planned my route, and got 4 hours of sleep before heading back out, and I wasn’t surprised in the least to see that Derek had left before me on Wednesday morning. After a few hours of going through Georgia and then down into FL to head west on I-10 I received a call from Derek, who said he was already in Mississippi. My first thought was that he was on the same route I was on, and hours ahead of me.  I had needed the sleep the previous night, so I figured whatever the case, it was what it was. I later found out that Derek had chosen to use the “C” route listing for the 2nd leg, and was putting in some massive miles to try to claim some of the large point value combo bonuses I had shied away from.

Wednesday went well, and I made very good time on the open smooth runs of slab throughout the south. It was warm, but not nearly as bad as I knew the south could be. Everything was going according to plan, and I was actually a little ahead of schedule when I headed for the bonus in Cairo, IL. Then, my “oh so perfect plan” turned to ash on the western banks of the Mississippi. The Garmin wanted to route me into Cairo from the west, or Missouri side, which makes sense since there is interstate on that side, and it should be faster. As I was a few miles south of where I needed to exit the highway to head for Cairo, I caught a glimpse of a sign that said something about a bridge being closed ahead. I only caught part of it, since I was passing a semi at the time, but after a quick check of the GPS I noticed there were two bridges going over to Cairo, and figured even if one of them was out it wouldn’t be a problem. WRONG. Not only was the bridge I was being routed to out, but so was the one to the north of it. Now I should have looked even further north to the next bridge, but I had it in my mind that I needed to enter IL as far south as I could, and I just wouldn’t give up on that idea. Luckily, there was a ferry a few miles south of where the bridges were out, and it could take me back over to the KY side of the river where I could take back roads and enter Cairo from the East. The only problem was that after riding all the way down to where the ferry is, I found out that the ferry wasn’t working. I had to drive all the way back up to where I had been before I could get back on the highway, so I had wasted at least 2-2.5 hours by this time. Once again, I should have just headed north to the next bridge up river, but I was just trapped in the mind set of having to enter IL at Cairo, so I headed all the way back through Missouri and into Western Kentucky. I eventually ended up in Hickman, KY at a BP station that had good receipts. There were only about 30 minutes until the window for taking a rest bonus that was worth a lot of points closed, so I decided to hunker down at the gas station and try to get some rest before heading back out for the elusive Cairo bonus.

I had read many times about riders sleeping in the self serve car washes as one version of the Iron Butt hotel, and since the gas station had such a car wash I thought I would give it a try. The good people of Hickman were obviously very concerned about my welfare, since at least 8 of them stopped by and woke me up to make sure I was OK; including the sheriff. They all meant very well, but they were killing me. The heat and one billion percent humidity didn’t help either. As I was waiting for the time to pass so I could get my receipt to document the end of my rest bonus I noticed that one of the doors on the ice chest in front of the now closed gas station (I had checked to make sure they leave the pumps on) was not locked. I leaned my entire upper torso into the freezer for several minutes to try and cool off while waiting for time to pass. It was the best I had felt in hours.

With three hours and one minute of “Rest” recorded per my receipts, I headed back out on the road. No matter how far east I went, the Garmin continued to want to route me back to the non-functional ferry, or the closed bridges. It was only after at least a good hour or more of forcing the matter that Garmin finally gave up, and agreed on completing the route into Cairo from the East.

(The elusive Cairo Bonus)

The rest of the day went fairly well, and despite having to drop two medium size bonuses, one for 551 points in Kentucky, and one for 388 points in central West Virginia, I was able to stay with my leg two route for the most part and made it to the largest point value bonus of leg 2 for me in PA, before the time window for it closed at 8:30 PM.

(The 1300 point bonus at Hyner View State Park, PA)

After that I knew it was time to get some rest. I headed a few miles south and thought I had landed in nirvana. I found a Pilot gas station where I knew I would be able to get a good receipt, and nice new McDonalds for some food, and several hotels where I could get a really good night’s sleep. The rest bonus for that night was once again only 3 hours, but I could afford to take about 6 hours, since the next bonus I was headed for wasn’t available until after 5:30 the next morning.  I figured I would check into the hotel, and then get my start of rest bonus receipt and some food before heading to the room and calling it a night. As I was walking up to the check in desk at the hotel I had a feeling I was in trouble. There was a couple there ahead of me, and the desk agent was shaking his head with an apologetic look on his face. Sure as hell, there was a huge baseball tournament in town and every single hotel room for miles was taken.  I couldn’t push on any more to find another town with hotel rooms, so I got my receipt to start the rest bonus, and headed for McDonalds. Luckily for me the manager of the McDonalds was very understanding, and let me sleep in the restaurant for about an hour and forty five minutes before telling me I had to go because they were getting ready to close for the night.

I got my end of rest bonus receipt, and headed for the Flight 93 bonus which was available 24 hours a day according to our rally book. Since I was hours ahead of schedule I really took my time getting to the memorial bonus. However, when I got to the gate the GPS wanted me to enter the memorial at, I found the gate locked and this sign:

(First gate I stopped checked out at the Flight 93 Memorial)

About a quarter mile further down the road was another gate, but it too was locked. I was already about a half mile down the road, and headed towards the next bonus when I thought that since I had time I should double back and really document that the bonus was closed. In the process of doing that I took this picture:

(The Correct Flight 93 Bonus Photo)

Of course I didn’t take the time to actually Re-read the bonus listing, since it was for the Flight 93 Memorial, and it was obviously closed. Later I realized that the rally book told us to take a picture of the “Brown and white Flight 93 Memorial Sign that gives the hours the memorial is open.” Nothing more than stupid luck that I happened to go back and take a picture of the exact sign they wanted.

After that I was headed for “The Coffee Pot House,” but it wasn’t available until 5:30 AM. I got to the bonus and could have easily taken the picture early, but then it would have been rejected at the scoring table. Instead I put a fleece on under my Stich to stay warm and took an hour and a half nap on the gravel area in front of the bonus. I woke up shivering, but only had to wait about another 10 minutes until I could get the needed picture and get on the road towards the finish.

(The Coffee Pot House)

 I was really fighting to stay awake and alert as the sun was coming up and had decided I would have to pull over for an Iron Butt Hotel rest break, but then I found a McDonalds. I decided to play a card I had been holding back and planning on for months. Since mid June I had cut ALL caffeine out of my diet strictly with the thought that if I needed a pick me up during the rally I wanted the caffeine to have some affect. I got a medium coffee from McDonalds and chugged about ¾ of it. WOW!!!  I felt like I could take on the world, but hoped that I wouldn’t have the caffeine crash before I got to the end of the rally.

I picked up the good size bonus at the Mathias, WV post office,

And then after a good chunk of slab got on to the Blue Ridge Parkway and several other great roads to pick up the last of the bonuses I wanted before calling it a day.

At the last bonus, which was a sign for the birthplace of General J.E.B. Stuart, the FJR decided it had been working too hard, and needed to lie down and take a rest.

(Tired FJR)

I had stupidly parked the bike with the kick stand on the uphill side of the gravel parking area, and almost as soon as I got off the bike it started to fall away from me. Try as I might I could not get the bike back up, since the tires were uphill. I am sure the car tire made this significantly harder, and that it wasn’t my complete lack of correct technique. Luckily for me a passerby sent two big, and I mean BIG, guys down from the local convenient store to give me a hand. These two guys probably could have lifted the bike completely off the ground if they had wanted to.

With their help I was back on the road, and had only lost about 15 minutes. As I arrived at the finish I noticed that I still had 35 minutes until the penalties started, so I took 5 minutes and put some gas in the bike and collected a North Carolina fuel receipt which somehow had eluded me over the last 5 days.  The one bonus that carried throughout the entire rally was to get fuel receipts from at least 16 different states. I had 17 at the end of the rally, and that was after having to throw one out, since I needed to use it for the beginning of a rest bonus I had not documented quite right. Again, luckily for me the receipts all worked out OK.

One of the things I was most happy about was not losing any points at the scoring table for either the first or second legs of the rally. I had some very close calls, and receipts that were reviewed by all three of the rally masters, but in the end everything passed muster.

I had spoken to Derek during the last day of the rally, and he told me he had bitten off more than he could chew, and was not going to be able to get all of the points he had planned on. Part of me believed him, and another part figured he was just playing head games.  I was tired enough that it didn’t matter that much to me. I had planned my ride, and by and large ridden my plan. I had finished my first ever multi day rally, and hadn’t had any really major issues.

(What my actual route for Leg Two of the BitE ended up Looking like)

Winning the BitE was the perfect end to my first season of being in rallies. I had done better than I could have ever hoped for. A HUGE part of my success was just luck. I had done a lot of things to help get me into a position to be able to take advantage of that luck, but I still had more than my fair share of good fortune during this rally season. The prize for first place at the BitE was another slot in the 2013 IBR, but this one came with a paid entry fee. I figured this would make it even easier to keep my wife convinced that I needed to plan on riding in the IBR.

The Saturday morning after the BitE Derek and I had breakfast, after getting  10 hours of sleep that was desperately needed, and then went our separate ways to head towards home. Derek wanted to scout a few places for future LD rides, and I just wanted to get home. The miles on the way home seemed to fly by at first, but the closer I got to home the slower things seemed to go, and I was glad when I finally pulled into my driveway at just after 10:00 PM on Saturday night. During the 7.5 days I was gone I had ridden 6489 miles, which was way more than I have ever ridden at one time in my life. I had seen many great and strange things, and had found out a lot about my abilities to plan and ride long distances. I also found out where my personal limits are, and how I need to plan for them in the future.

I have been home for a week now, and the desire to ride more rallies has already got me looking at what rides I might be able to squeeze in still this season, and which rallies I want to plan on for next year. The 2013 IBR is a long way off, but it is also something I think about and am already making mental plans for.

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