Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Podium Finish ... really .... me?

The 6th Annual Void Rally - October 7-8, 2011

I have sat through a fair number of after rally banquets over the past four years and have always been amazed at the accomplishments of the podium finishers. Although I have secretly strived to be one, I was pretty much resolved to the fact that I will probably never make it there. I thought that I just don't ride aggressive enough, but this past Void Rally proved to me that you don't have to ride overly aggressive to place in the top three. Others have said it, and I never truly believed them, but if you plan a good route, execute it exactly as planned, and just ride smart over the entire rally, just about anyone can bring home a trophy. I now understand that.

The riding weekend actually began on Thursday morning as I left Athens for the Void 6 start in Albany. Earlier this summer, I partook in the Tour of Georgia fundraiser for the Lions Club Summer Camp and completed 16 of the 19 possible Georgia First locations (you only needed 16 to be deemed a finisher). More out of a sense of accomplishment, I decided to use the trek down to Albany to hit the three Georgia First locations in the western part of the state (Griffin, Columbus, and Shellman). The trip was only going to add about 70 miles and the weather was going to be beautiful, so I decided to bag them. The HHM in Griffin documented the fact that Spalding County was the first county between Chicago and Miami that had a continuous concrete roadway on what is referred to the Dixie Highway back in 1919. Something that is pretty amazing considering Spalding County was extremely rural back then (and probably not that well off financially).

After the stop in Griffin, it was over to Columbus. Not much traffic or development in this part of Georgia, but the rolling nature of the topography is really something I enjoy riding through. Although most of the routes were two-lane, I was making great time. The major disappointment was when I stopped to get gas, I noticed that I had "attracted" a Dremel grinding stone from my garage floor to the bottom magnets on my the tank bag (I had taken the tank bag off after the Georgia In-State ride and put it back on Thursday morning). So the past 150 miles the slight vibration of the tank bag allowed the grinding stone to do a nice number on the gas tank's paint job. Pulling into Columbus right before lunch, exposed me to the typical traffic of any city as I traveled the local streets to the First Black Combat Aviator marker.

After a quick lunch at Arby's, I made the rest of the trip down into Albany with a brief stop in Shellman and it's City Hall, the home of songwriter Boudleaux Bryant (The Everly Brothers would still be unknown if it wasn't for Boudleaux and his wife Felic). As I drove through the quiet streets, I wondered what it is like to live in one of these sleepy, rural Southern Georgia towns. Some of the homes from yesterday are amazing to look at as you drive by and you wonder how people can afford to keep them up.

I pulled into the hotel a little after 4:00 p.m. and attended to the last minute details (a quick trip to Wal-Mart for tank bag food and a quick tour of northern Albany gas stations looking for a good starting receipt). Thanks to an on-line deal that I found for the Country Inn & Suites, most of the Albany starters were staying at the same hotel. So we all met up in the parking lot for some general discussion about the pending rally while we waited to walk over for dinner at the Mellow Mushroom. I had the honor/privilege of sitting next to Karl Snell who recently placed 13th in the 2011 version of the IBR and he was more than willing to share some of the stories from his adventure plus other observations about motorcycles, riders, and rallies. Of course, most of the discussion centered around the rally locations and possible routes. It seemed that most people felt that the Group N (or the "Virginia Loop" as I was calling it) bonus was impossible since you needed to be in Danville at dawn to take the required picture of the water tower and you couldn't finish the rest of the "Loop" in time. I felt pretty sure that you could and had spend all my prep time on since Tuesday planning to do that ride, but by the end of the night, I was convinced to route out an alternative plan. So instead of having a relaxing evening, I started routing again at 9 p.m. By 12:30 a.m., I was pleased with the alternative and decided to go with that unless I got into Virginia much earlier than I was anticipating and feeling extremely well.

One of the best parts of the Void Rally is how heavily theme oriented all of the bonus locations are. This year is spooky things and water towers. So every bonus location will have one or the other (sometimes even both). The water towers had to be bagged during daylight hours, so routing and time management was critical at those locations. I learned some really great folklore along the way.

Okay - Now the fun begins. Friday morning, I get the starting receipt at 9:08 a.m. (meaning I had to be in Lynchburg at 2:07 p.m. on Saturday), call into the rally headquarters, note my odometer as 16,886 and head off to Americus. I follow John Bailey up US19 out of Albany to Americus, we arrive at 9:44 a.m. (5 minutes ahead of schedule), note the odometer as 16922, and take the required picture of the haunted Windsor Hotel (with the water tower in the background). One done, several to go.

John and I quickly part ways after the first boni and I head up to Between to grab a photo of the two water towers. Arrived at 12:35 p.m. (3 minutes ahead of schedule) with an odometer of 17088. Next, I head over to Waynesboro for another water tower. Ms. Garmin is telling me to get off I-20 and cut over on Georgia state routes. I ignore her and stay on I-20, I figure it will be about 10 miles longer, but I will be able to maintain 70 mph speeds without going through small towns or deal with school buses. I snap the required picture at 2:55 p.m. (4 minutes ahead of schedule) and have already logged 353 miles in a little under 6 hours. One of the salesman from the Ford Dealership where the water tower was located came over for a little chat. I tried to be polite as possible, explained what I was doing - easiest explanation it's a "scavenger hunt on a motorcycle", he looked over my bike, wished me well and I was off.

Next was an old relic from the slave trade days in Downtown Augusta. Zip into town and bag that one at 3:30 p.m. (10 minutes ahead of schedule) with 17270 showing on the odometer. I head out of town thinking that since I am good on time, I could afford a short break at a gas station before heading onto I-20 towards Columbia and the Longstreet Theatre. Of course after the break and about 20 minutes outside of Aiken all lanes of I-20 come to a halt. Fortunately (or maybe not), I am at an exit ramp so I take it. Most of the vehicles are turning left at the top of the ramp, so naturally (like a dumb-ass) I go right. I thought that I would be able to pick up a county road that runs parallel to I-20 jump down an exit or two and hop back on. Well, Ms. Garmin's map resolution sucks and instead of stopping at the gas station and come up with a plan, I just follow her until I work something out. That probably cost me about 20 minutes. So instead of finding the parallel route (the second left), I go about 20 miles out of my way towards the southeast (I-20 runs towards northeast here) and see a central part of SC that was not on the agenda. Lesson learned. So I finally pull into the Longstreet Theatre at 5:22 p.m. (26 minutes behind schedule now) at 17358. While in the vicinity, I see several fellow riders including Rick and Barbara out of Alabama and Jim and Donna from just down the road from Athens.

Desperate to get make up the lost time, I put my head down and become bound and determined to be back on schedule by the time I hit the NC/SC bonus location on US1. While making my way there, I go through Cheraw, SC. Why do I know this place? Then I pass the "Dizzy" Gillespie statute on my right which was a 2010 Cape Fear bonus location. It is amazing how these towns get burned into your brain during these rallies. Anyway, I pick up a Harley rider and his old lady - yes, I am being stereotypical here, but that is what they were even had the straight unbaffled pipes and enough leather to be mistaken for cows. We rotate the lead for about 30 minutes or so when I pull over to take a picture of the upcoming Historical Marker at the North Carolina state line (7:07 p.m. 11 minutes behind schedule at 571 miles). They pull over too. Seems that it is time for them to put on their helmets now that they are out of South Carolina. They notice that I am taking a picture of a sign and ask what the heck am I doing. I go through the abbreviated version and they seemed generally interested in the concept of the long distance rally. She made it clear that there was no way they were going to do one, though. From my brief encounter, I really think that they were good people, just doing their own thing, their way, on their bike. We parted ways just north of Rockingham, after passing "The Rock" (glad to see NASCAR is coming back there in 2012).

Next came Chapel Hill, NC. Of course, it was Friday night of a home football game weekend. You can imagine the traffic (both vehicles and pedestrians). The bonus point here was a cross that was on the ground next to the Dromgoole Castle - the site of a pistol duel gone horribly wrong. The street where the castle is located is lined with (easily) $1 million homes. It appears that we have attracted the attention of the local residents since a couple comes up to me and wants to know what is going on since he has seen a dozen of motorcycles taking a picture of this cross over the past hour. Again the abbreviated scavenger hunt story, and he seemed relieved. Since he says that he really doesn't trust bikers. I assure him that most of us are really good people. He smiled. Anyway, again loosing time due to traffic, I pull in at 9:21 (15 minutes behind schedule) with 17562 on the odometer.

After Chapel Hill, it was time to claim the rest bonus in Danville, VA. I had hoped to be there before 10:30 p.m., but it was closer to 10:46 p.m. before I pull into the Super 8 Motel where I had a reservation (bonehead move on my part by reserving a smoking room, but I was tired and didn't care to push the issue). Easy check-in, and with a 2:00 a.m. wake-up call, I am back on the road heading towards Lynchburg by 2:15 a.m. I have learned if you carefully take everything off in a certain order once getting into the room, you can reverse the process very quickly and get out of the room in minutes.

This year, the Rallymaster threw an interesting twist to the route planning, if you make your way to the hotel mid-rally and conduct an odometer check, all points after the odo check would be doubled. It is about an hour ride up from Danville and I arrive to start the check at 3:30 a.m. After given the instructions, a big right turn box, I head out. Five minutes into the ride, I cross over the James River and into a wall of thick fog which stays with me through most of the box. Riding a bike through fog is disconcerting since you really can't see whats in front of you and your reaction time is greatly diminished. So the check takes me longer than what an open roadway at 3:30 would typically provide, but I make it through and complete the 14.6 mile odo check in 21 minutes and head back on the road about 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

Given the relatively low bonus point locations around the hotel, the only logical route was to high tail it out and head either north or south. Since I always wanted to be in Gettysburg at sunrise, my routing plan had me head to southeastern Pennsylvania. Getting to Gettysburg from Lynchburg is not a hard ride. Ms. Garmin had me take a "shortcut" over the mountains instead of staying on the divided highway of US29 to I-64. A quick scan of the route makes me believe that it is not a bad option, even for 4:00 a.m. and it turns out to be a pretty good road. Some twisties, but none that were that tight and (of course) no traffic. Along the way I had the "normal" wildlife encounters including a doe crossing my path about 50 feet in front of me, a beautiful 8 or 10 point buck and a flock of does off the field to my right, and the occasional possum scampering across the road. I hit the interstate at around 4:30 and settle in for a 2 hour I-81 ride while waiting for the sun to rise.

Just before hitting the West Virginia line, I cut over through the northern part of Virgina to Harper's Ferry, WV and then Maryland to pick up a water tower bonus. As I am riding along the Potomac River, it suddenly dawns on me that there is a lot of fog coming up from the river valley and I hope that it isn't going to mess with the bonus picture. Pulling into Brunswick, it is clear as day with the sun shining. Looks like I am going to be okay - but then I follow the road down a slight hill to the Southern States store (required to be in the picture) and into a wall of fog. How can that be? Literally 100 feet up the road it was clear.
Typically, what the Rallymasters tell you to do in these cases, is to do as much as possible to prove and document that you were at the bonus location. So I took a picture of the Southern States sign in the fog, went around the corner and took the clear picture of the water towers, and then ran over to a store and bought a drink to get a receipt to prove that I was in Brunswick, Maryland at 7:22 a.m. This proved enough to claim the bonus. So I am now 19 minutes ahead of schedule after traveling 1028 miles in about 22 hours (another undocumented SS1k).

From Brunswick, it was a quick hop up to Gettysburg. As I arrive at Devils Den, I see Karl Snell at the bonus location. At first, I am excited to see him because he is a great rally rider and one that is always near the top of the finishers, so I thought I was on the right route. I also thought he was just about ready to take off, but then I notice that half of his bike is sprawled out on the parking lot. Not a good sign. It seems that his transmission froze on him about 30 minutes ago and his rally was over. Knowing that I couldn't help him with the mechanical side of things, I offered any other assistance that I could - a ride somewhere, food, water. But he seemed quite content staying right there, he assured me that he already had AAA on the way, had wireless internet service, and that I was burning precious time talking to him. He encouraged me to take the bonus picture and head out. So I did. Upon reflection of our brief visit, I was truly amazed as to how calm and accepting of the situation he was. I know that I would not be. He kept saying that he was fortunate that it happened there and then and not along the side of an interstate at 4:00 a.m. He has given me great advice (through words and actions) as to handle the time (and yes it will happen to everyone in one of these rallies or long distance adventure) when I get stranded somewhere. So thanks, Karl. Anyway, it's 8:19 a.m. and I am still 17 minutes ahead of schedule with an odometer reading of17964.

From Gettysburg, it is a quick ride down I-270 and I-495 to Fairfax County. Along the way I ride through the job site that I worked on 20 years ago as a surveyor. As I ride past the center bridge abutment, I glance over to the median wall looking for the benchmark that I set that summer. No clue if it was still there, but in a moment, it was 1990 all over again. Any way, Roundtree Park is just off US-50 near Falls Church and I ride in at 9:55 a.m. (13 minutes ahead of schedule) with 1,160 completed. As I leave the park, I hear a slight pop from my splitter cord to my 12 volt receptacle and then the GPS goes dead. WTF???? A quick check of all other electrical components (they all are working fine), leads me to believe that I blew a fuse. The splitter was always cheap anyway and probably shorted out. At first, I think I can finish the rally without a GPS and then sanity returned. My GPS has about a 4 hour battery so there is a chance that if I conserve power (turn it off for interstate travel), I probably could make it back to Lynchburg. So I head south on I-95.

As soon as I leave Springfield on I-95, traffic immediately starts to slow - never quite stop, but very close. Since the GPS is off, I can't tell how much time I am losing, but I know that I am losing time. When I get within a stone's throw of Fredricksburg, I hop off I-95 and over to US 1 to head to Morton's BMW to get Steve Anderson's autograph and photo. I arrive at 11:09 a.m. (now 1 minute behind schedule) with the odometer reading 18098. While there, I ask Steve Anderson if they happen to have any fuses. They don't, but I decide to check my bike just in case I have a spare 5 or 10 amp on the bike since I really feel like I am going to need the GPS to get back into Lynchburg on time. So, I play a little parking lot mechanic and lo and behold, once I pop off the seat I find a spare 5 amp fuse. I immediately remember putting it under the sear just for this possibility. So in 5 minutes, I have the fuse in, the seat on, and heading out right behind Jim and Donna Phillips who happen to have pulled in to Morton's immediately behind me.

Jim and Donna are truly exceptional rally riders and an incredible team. It is common knowledge that if your route meshes with theirs (and you can pull it off) you will be near the top. So I immediately decided to stay a respectful distance behind them, but at the same time I wasn't going to lose sight of them as we make our way back to Lynchburg. Traffic is heavy, but passable as we head towards Gordonsville for the last water tower picture. Along the way, we pass Orange County Airport, I am convinced that is where I first learned to skydive while at Virginia Tech. It was one of those places that I have not given a second thought of in 20 years, but as soon as I saw the layout of the airport and the restaurant on my right, I knew when and why I was there in the past. The Gordonsville Water Tower was an uneventful stop at 12:14 p.m. (4 minutes behind schedule) with 1,259 miles bagged so far.

The road out of Gordonsville was heavy with traffic with no places to pass. It was about a 30 minute trek down to I-64 so I had nothing to do but accept the fact that I was going to be at the mercy of the train of vehicles that I was following (Jim and Donna were now immediately behind me). Once I accepted that fact, I started noticing the scenery. It was breath taking gorgeous. Too often on these rallies, you don't get to enjoy the countryside that you are riding in. But for the next 25 minutes, I got to really soak up beauty of the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah mountains. The last stop was a simple 66 point bonus location at the Winton Country Club immediately north of Lynchburg at 1:27 p.m. (2 minutes ahead of schedule) with 18213 showing on the odometer.

After bagging the last bonus, it was a quick ride back into Lynchburg and the Quality Inn. Knowing that I was going to make it with a few minutes to spare, made the last miles much more enjoyable. I pull across the "finish line" at 1:51 p.m. (16 minutes before I needed to) with 18237 on the odometer meaning 1351 miles ridden since leaving Albany, GA 28 hours and 44 minutes ago.

The scoring process was really quite straight forward, primarily due to the index card system that I use to keep track of my bonus locations, times, and mileage while on the bike. That information is easily transferred to the rally book for scoring. I turn everything in at 2:45 p.m. and take a shower before getting scored at 4:00 p.m. The scoring process goes smoothly. The scorer has no problems or questions with my photos and documentation and I wind up with 10,237 points. He mentions to me that that was the highest he had seen from Albany. That is when I first believe that I may have done a very successful route. But then again, there were 10 different scorers and not everyone was scored yet. So, I thank him for the kind words about my route and head over to Outback for a pre-banquet snack. I meet up with John Bailey who tells me that he successfully ran the Group N bonus, since that bonus was worth 6,666 points, I pretty much believed that I was looking at the winner.

At the banquet, I am surprised to hear my name called behind John's, and Jim/Donna's for third place of 19 starters from Albany. It is really isn't a big deal and I won't be all that moody if it doesn't happen again, but that trophy looks good in my office now as Marie quickly informed me that it was not going to be in the house :-)

Sunday morning, after getting to say good bye to a number of people, but not everyone. I head down to Beth's for a brief visit with her, Travis, and the boys. They both wanted turns sitting on the bike. So there is hope for them yet.

I guess the only disappointment in the trip was how much of duplicate roads I was on this trip. I usually can make it work out that I see different routes through the weekend. But this trip had a lot of duplicates (both getting to and from the rally as well as during it). The rally season is over for 2011. Lord willing, the Cape Fear 1000 awaits me in April.

This is what SPOT saw during the weekend (including the trip down to Albany and home via Beth's):

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on the finish. I will see you at Cape Fear 2012 as I won a spot at Ed's Last Resort Rally (only because Jim and Donna were the Rally Masters)

    Miles Lee