Monday, March 24, 2014

50cc Adventure - March 13 - 23, 2014

With 99.8% of the population, the conversation goes something like this:

Them:  "What are you doing during Spring Break?"
Me: "I am going down to a Motorcycle Banquet in Jacksonville, check out Bike Week in Daytona, and then ride coast to coast in 50 hours."
Them: "There is no way you can do that without killing yourself."
Me: "Yes, I can and can be very safe at the same time.  Might even get more rest than you will."
Them - walks away shaking their heads in bewilderment.

But for those in the Long Distance Motorcycling community, it goes like this:

Them:  "What are you doing during Spring Break?"
Me: "I am going down to a Motorcycle Banquet in Jacksonville, check out Bike Week in Daytona, and then ride coast to coast in 50 hours."
Them: "The banquet is cool, Daytona sucks, and I guess you're doing the wimpy southern route?"

The 50cc (50 hours to go coast to coast) ride itself is pretty straight forward.  Start on one coast and get to the other coast in less than 50 hours on your motorcycle.  From Jacksonville Beach, FL to Ocean Beach in San Diego, CA, it is approximately 2,365 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean (depending on how you chose to go around San Antonio, TX).  Assuming that you stop midway to rest (typically Junction, TX), the "wimpy" southern route can be done in 2 riding days of about 19 hours each with a lengthy rest period and still have plenty of time to spare.  So after the UTAH1088 last summer when Dorsey told us that the MTF (Motorcycle Touring Forum) was going to host the ride again in 2014 in conjunction with the IBA Banquet, my mind was made up to get that ride under my belt.

Getting to Jacksonville

The IBA Banquet was being held on Friday evening, although I could ride down on Friday morning to attend the banquet, I decided to take advantage of the location to snag a few Big Money Rally locations (mostly county courthouses and libraries) on Thursday and pulled into the Ramada about 8 pm after a very uneventful trip down. On Friday, the Bailey's, myself and a few other friends made our way down to Daytona to try and spend each others money.  Not since my one and only visit to the Myrtle Beach Bike Week in 2005, have I been back to a bike week event.  Found out that I am not missing much.  To me, it seems like such a waste to leave the bike parked to go look at motorcycle things when you could be riding.  Sure the people watching can be an event in itself and I did use the time to visit a few vendors to get some ideas as to what my next purchases may be and to sit on a few bikes that I would consider buying at some point.  But by mid-afternoon, I was ready to ride again so we headed up the A1A coast line back to the hotel and banquet.

On Saturday, we decided to have an easy day of limited riding.  So after an 11 hour sleep, I meet up with the Baileys to scout out the starting gas station in Jacksonville Beach and to acquire our sample of Atlantic Ocean water and sand (yes, you probably should do that on the clock, but it was nice to have that checked off) - plus it was fun to be walking along the beach during spring break in full motorcycle gear while the families were out there in their suits sunbathing.  After a successful scouting visit, we head south to a riverside seafood restaurant.  There is a quick rider's meeting later that afternoon where a few of the logistics are covered with no real surprises as long as one is familiar with general IBA documentation expectations.  It is good to meet the other riders as 9 bikes and 10 riders are making the voyage - including two brave souls that are going to attempt the 100ccc - 100 hours to go coast to coast to coast.  After an early night, we all head off to bed around 8 p.m.

Even though this is an IBA ride, it doesn't have to be a very difficult or tiring one.  You just need to have the ability and commitment to keep moving west. The route that we are taking is about 2,365 miles.  Based on the bike's fuel capacity (225 miles) and my bladder (3 hours), we are figuring a stop about every 3 hours or 180 miles will serve us nicely.  Based on those numbers, we are planning on stopping 13 times for gas, at 20 minutes a stop. Plus we want to maximize our rest in Junction to be as close to 8 hours as possible.  Therefore,   we plan on stopping for 12 hours 20 minutes (13 * 20 mins + 8 hours) during the 50 hour window.  So we will have 37 hours and 40 minutes of riding time - which correlates to an average of 62.8 miles an hour to make it across the country.  Since the entire trip is divided highways and interstates, it will be really easy to maintain that pace - especially out west where the speed limits are 75 and 80 mph.  See, no one needs to speed to be able to safely complete these rides - just keep moving at a reasonable pace and you can do it.

The Ride Itself

The only bad thing about staying at the IBA hotel in Jacksonville was that it was a good 25 minutes west of the official starting point for the ride.  So all of the riders were up at 4 a.m. and out the door by 4:30 a.m. to make our way over to the Gate gas station in Jacksonville Beach in time for a last group photo and send off a little after 5:00 a.m.  The ride over is simple and traffic-free (of course, why wouldn't it be at 4:30 on a Sunday morning).  The group of 9 pose for a quick picture after getting some well wishes from Ray King - our official start witness.  A quick splash of gas at 5:13 a.m. officially starts the clock and I now have until 7:13 a.m. (ET) or 4:13 a.m. (PT) on Tuesday morning to get to San Diego.

The route is simple enough.  Take A1A south to FL202 west to I-95 north to I-10 west to I-8 west and once in San Diego, I-8 turns into Sunset Cliffs Road where the Shell station is located.  Yes, you execute more turns in the first 15 minutes of the trip than you do for the rest of the 48 hours.  The morning starts off beautiful.  The night sky is clear with a giant almost full moon laying low in the sky immediately to our west. Once the city of Jacksonville is in our rear view mirrors, it is time to settle in for a little ride.  For this trip, I am doing it with the Bailey's, so I am mostly content to settle in a few hundred feet behind them and just ride.  About an hour into the ride, we see our first signs of wildlife as a few deer are grazing on the side of the interstate.  Fortunately, they pay us no mind as we zip on by.  The first gas stop is in Tallahassee, FL as day breaks and it is a quick one as we continue head west.

Just before 9:00 a.m. CT, we are east of Pensacola, FL and a light rain starts to fall.  We knew that this was ahead of us, but I was still secretly hoping that the forecasts would be wrong.  But to our chagrin, the forecast is correct and the light rain slowly gets more heavy until we are riding smack in the middle of a spring thunderstorm.  We back off the speed slightly as we cross over Escambia Bay near Pensacola.  The winds are tossing us around slightly but we keep pressing forward into Alabama.  The rains continue well past Mobile Bay and we slowly weave our way through the maze of interstates, tunnels, and ramps in Mobile and pop up into Mississippi.  Fortunately throughout the rain event, traffic remained light and my water resistant gear lives up to the promise of keeping me warm and dry.  So I am not at all uncomfortable from the storm, but certainly am glad that it is behind us.

Shortly after noon, we cross into Louisiana and head to the nearest exit for some gas and a chance to get out of some of the layer of clothes that we won't need anymore since we believe that the rain is behind us.  The stop drags on a little longer than planned - partially due to the crabbiness of the cashier who was more interested in eating her banana than trying to figure out how to get me a "good" receipt that shows the city and state that we are now in (Sidell, LA).  We are now about 7 hours into the ride and have already covered 540 miles.  Even with the gas stops and rain, we are averaging about 64.8 mph - ahead of schedule and feeling good.

The "feeling good" part is short lived as we enter Baton Rouge, where the combination of spring break traffic and just piss poor interstate design creates a 5 mile congested bottleneck.  It takes us about 40 minutes to get through it and we lose all of our time savings.  So by the time we stop of gas stop #4 in Welsh, LA, we are now down to 61.0 mph and 725 miles completed.  There is not much at the edge of town over there in Welsh, but we still seem to find the break that we need.

Back on the bike, we cross over the Sabine River and into Texas and immediately see the ever famous Exit 880 for the Visitors Center.  Yes, we are about to be on I-10 for 880 miles and Texas alone corresponds to over 1/3 of the entire trip.  Texas is one big state!

We enter the outer ring roads of Houston shortly after little after 6:00 p.m CT (about 14 hours after the start) and because it is Sunday night, the traffic is non-existent.  As I travel through the center of Houston, I can understand why people in the LD world never speak pleasantly about Houston and it's maze of HOV lanes and what I suspect would be a very busy rush hour.  But since we don't have to worry about it, we zip through the city quickly and am amazed as to how sprawling the city goes on and on to the west.  Shortly after leaving the outlet malls in Katy, we decide it is time for another quick gas break in Sealy, TX.

The stop in Sealy shows that we are more hungry and cold than we at first realized.  We are 15 hours and 940 miles into the ride and still have about 4 hours away from Junction and our hotel room.  So we decide to take another 15 minutes or so and grab a quick burger and coffee at the McDonald's across the street.  In general, McDonald's sucks - but I do like their coffee and at this point I really don't care.  The burger goes down and we hope back on the bikes towards San Antonio.

Since the thunderstorms in Alabama, we have never completely escaped a fairly consistent crosswind.  However, now that we are in Texas and there is not a lot of trees lining the interstate to break up the wind, the crosswinds can really be felt.  As we head west, the bikes become more and more slanted as we zip down the highway.  It is not a terrible cross wind, but one that is fairly constant and tiring.  As dark starts to fall on us in San Antonio, we make our way through the city.  We wanted to stay on the interstate as much as possible since there was very little traffic to deal with - even though Route 1604 is slightly shorter.  The GPS does not like our choice and continues to try and put us on 1604 it regardless of what we try to do.  By the time  I-410 rolls around, we are tired of fighting with the GPS and follow her instructions.  With the exception of the tractor trailer truck barrelling down the ramp and squeezing us over the shoulder, I-410 is an easy loop road that drops us on I-10 just north of the city.  From there, it is another gas stop before the hill country and deer take center stage.

Deer in West Texas is a known threat and most riders schedule their ride through the area to minimize possible deer sightings.  We pass several as we head up and out of San Antonio, but fortunately, they are quite content to continue to graze on the shoulder grass and don't make any sudden moves towards the travel lanes.  We crest into Junction shortly after 11 p.m. CT and pull up to the hotel ready for a break.  The check-in process is quick and painless and once the desk clerk hears that we left Jacksonville this morning, he quickly mentions that one of our buddies is also staying here.  We are in the room at about 11:45 p.m..  The day ends quickly as I note that we have traveled about 1210 miles in 19 hours and 40 minutes.  So we are averaging 62 mph including stops.  Although we are slightly behind schedule, we are still making great time and most of the high traffic corridors are now behind us, so we are feeling good about our ride into San Diego come Monday morning.

We set the alarm for about 6.5 hours after checking in and it certainly feels like a quick nap, but come 6:30 we are back on the bikes, getting fuel and looking for breakfast.  We fail on the breakfast quest, but land at McDonald's which is fine.  Come 7:15 a.m. CT, we are back on I-10 heading west and the sun coming up over the hills behind us.

The winds and storms from Sunday seem to be a distant memory.  The sky is crystal clear, the air feels still (as still as it can feel when you are zipping down I-10 at 80 mph), the temperature is hovering at freezing, and the sun is slowing peaking it's head over the hills.  About an hour into the ride, we meet up with Wendell who is also making the trek but doing us one better by attempting the 100ccc (100 hours to go coast to coast to coast).  He will ride with us for the better part of the morning.  While we  are making great time, the sustained speeds in the low 80's in west Texas are killing our gas mileage so after getting into El Paso we decide to keep it closer to 75. After a quick ride along the US/Mexican border we make our way out of the tale-end of the lunch rush hour traffic around El Paso and we cross into New Mexico at 1:30 p.m. 

The goal is to make it to Deming for the next gas/rest break but coming out of Las Cruces proves to me that my bladder won't so I race ahead of the Baileys and take the next exit for our only stop in the entire Mountain Time Zone.  Back on the bikes we head into Arizona and our final time zone at 3:00 p.m. PT.  and 1880 miles into the ride.  What at first was just going to be a quick gas stop, we decide that we are more hungry than we thought since the McD's breakfast was burned up many, many miles ago, so we accept a gas station Subway as our last major meal until we get into San Diego.  While we are there, Wendell makes his way into the station.  He is a little worn but in great spirits even though his phone which was also his GPS system has stopped working and he is routing stop to stop using a Truckers Service Station guidebook.  Old school or not, it contains all of the information that he needs and is simple to follow.  He wishes us well as he heads on over the visitor center in search of a map.

Back on the road eager to get through Tuscon traffic before rush hour.  We leave Wilcox a bit too late for that and wind up in Tuscon right at 5 p.m. but it moves without major incident and we are running at full speed just before 6:00 p.m. without much in time loss.  While traveling through the town, Barbara sees an In/Out Burger just off the highway and for a quick minute I thought she was going to make a run for it!

Turning off I-10 and onto I-8 signals that the ride is slowly but surely coming to an end.  I-8 is pretty desolate and I remark how little development lines the interstate.  I later find out it is because we are smack in the middle of the Sonoran Desert National Monument.  Without cars and trucks zipping by and the setting sun among the fields of saguaro cacti, it is by far my favorite part of the trip.  The environment is so unlike anything that I have ever ridden through or have lived in.  Although I am anxious to have the trip over and the 50cc checked off the bucket list, this evening is one that I am truly trying to savor and capture.  After about an hour, we emerge back into civilization and pull into the Love's just out the Monument for our last substantial break before San Diego.  At this point we have traveled over 2,085 miles (a successful SS2000) in about 34.5 hours for an average speed of 60.5 mph with the gas/rest stops.  Just about on target for what we wanted to accomplish.  We know that we will be finishing slightly behind what our schedule said that we would, but finishing is more important so we don't worry about the lingering that happens before jumping on the bike as the sun disappears over the mountains ahead of us.

The ride out of the high desert of Arizona into California is upon us before we know it and Yuma, AZ goes zipping past as quickly as it came into sight.  As we cross over the Colorado River and enter California at the immigration check point, we team up with another rider - Marty doing the 100ccc.  We know that we don't have enough fuel to make it all the way to San Diego so a quick stop was going to be necessary. That gets accomplished in El Centro, CA.  Upon getting gas I realize that we are about 40 feet below sea level and then it dawns on me I don't think I have ever been below sea level before - I don't feel any different, but it is cool to note that.

Getting out of El Centro, we have accomplished 2,250 miles and realize that we have only about 120 miles to go.  What seemed to be so daunting just a week ago has turned out to be a very manageable challenge and one that I am optimistic that I will complete in a little over 2 hours.  Shortly after getting back on the interstate we notice hundreds of  very consistent red blinking lights up on the horizon.  For the next 30 minutes the rhythm of the blinking seems to be calling us in to it's fold.  We finally reach the lights as we climb out of the valley and notice that it is the red lights on the windmill farm.I have seen large windmill farms before, but I think this is the first time that they have blinked in unison.  It was kinda of creepy.

Now that we are pulling ourselves out the valley, we will be experiencing the San Diego mountain winds that so many have told us would be the final challenge to face on this trip.  As sure as we enter San Diego County, the cross winds start up.  I am riding about 200 feet behind the Baileys when a cross wind hits and (I swear) picked up their fully loaded Gold Wing from the left travel lane and place them down in the middle of the right shoulder.  It was the most surreal thing that I have ever witnessed to happen to another bike.  Fortunately, Rick piloted the bike masterfully through the crosswinds and we show up on the downward facing mountains a little after 11:00 p.m. PT.  Looks like a 11:30 p.m. Pacific Ocean arrival will be in the cards.

Traffic on I-8 at 11:00 p.m. on a Monday night, is very light and the ride into San Diego is relaxing and allows me to reflect on what I have just did.  It is nothing that spectacular as compared with what people had to endure 150 years ago when they traveled coast to coast, but it still is an accomplishment and I know that I am one of only a thousand or so riders who have done it with he necessary documentation to be recognized as a finisher by the Iron Butt Association.  I-8 ends and turns into a surface street about 1/2 mile from the ocean and finishing gas station.  I pull up to the pump at 11:36 p.m. and stick my card in and call it done!

Glancing down at my GPS I see the final stats:
Add 6 hours and 40 minutes for the hotel stay in Junction, TX the night before and you have my ride. A total of 45 hours and 22 minutes of time has elapsed since I left Jacksonville Beach, I have ridden 2,374 miles and averaged very reasonable and safe speeds throughout the two days.  See, I only went as fast as 84 mph - and that was probably heading into Fort Stockton, TX this morning when the speed limit was 80 mph.  So anyone who tells you that you have to speed to do any long distance event is completely wrong.  It has been said before and will again, but it is all about time management.  For the last two days, almost every waking moment was focused on riding the bike west.  We had 13 gas stops during that time, and the vast majority of them were completed in under 20 minutes.  We lingered longer at some when we needed to, but overall, we rode and fueled and rode some more.

The only thing remaining is a quick run over the the beach to gather our sand and water.  Even though it is just about midnight, the beach has quite a bit of activity on it with people walking, the homeless making camp for the night, and a group of people doing who knows what inside a VW camper van that we pull up next to.  Well, I do have an idea as to what they were doing based on the sweet smell that is hanging in the air coming from the van.

A rouge wave almost takes Rick out when he is getting his sample, but like the trip, the stop was uneventful and we both are excited about heading to the hotel, completing the paperwork and start the trek back east in the morning.   On the way away from the beach, we pass by the Shell ending station again and see that Wendell has just pulled in.  It was great to see that he made it as well.

We touch base with the ride witnesses and tell them that we will meet up with them in the a.m. to go over our paperwork.  That is fine with him so we head to the hotel for some much needed showers and rest.

Getting Home

At the hotel, sleep does not come easy so I decide to put together all of the receipts and necessary paperwork now instead of the morning.  Fortunately everything comes together and by 2:00 a.m., I am ready to drift off.  We are up at 8 and heading over to get all of the paperwork delivered so we can find some real food (since it was Saturday's lunch the last time we have) and head back east.  The witnesses are happy to see us and informed us that everyone made it and the two that are doing the 100ccc are already back on the road home.

The plan for the road home is a simple one - Hit Sedona, AZ, the Grand Canyon, White Sands National Monument, and Huntsville, TX - all the while picking up Big Money Rally bonus locations and staying off the interstate as much as possible.

The ride on Tuesday was pretty uneventful since we all were quite tired.  Riding back on I-8 we got to see everything we missed the night before and turn up the Imperial Valley.  Riding through the farmlands that are all below sea level and irrigated by the Colorado River makes you wonder and understand how massive the business of food really is.  From the Imperial Valley it is up into Arizona  cutting our way northeast on US-60, AR-89, and Iron Springs Road (an amazing back road) into Prescott.  From Prescott, it is through the Black Hills mountains and down into the Verde Valley.  It is getting late, but the descent down the mountains with the setting sun behind us is breath taking beautiful - especially Jerome which is a small city literally built into the side of the mountain from it's old copper mining days.  We briefly get separated coming out of Cottonwood into Sedona, but quickly catch up at the Sedona Library and make our way to the motel and a dinner at a local microbrewery.

The next morning we continue our trek on 89A through the Oak Creek Canyon and into Flagstaff for a quick breakfast (not quick enough though since one of my gloves goes missing from the bike - a puzzlement), a Big Money Rally library bonus location and then up US180 towards the Grand Canyon.  Words and pictures can't do it justice so I won't even try.  I would like to return and do some hiking at some point, but not on this trip. We spend about an hour at the Grand Canyon before heading along the south rim.  Once we leave the park grounds we are on Navajo property and stop by a roadside stand to get some jewelry and souvenirs.  From there it is through miles and miles of desolate Indian territory and back into New Mexico near Gallup. After a brief ride on Route 66, we are heading east on I-40 towards Albuquerque.  Shortly after crossing the Continental Divide, we stop for gas and to figure out our next plan.  It is about 7:30 p.m and the sun is setting but we only have interstate travel to contend with.  So we decide to book a room in Socorro (about 120 miles away), but first have a decent dinner at the truck stop we are at.  After dinner we zip down I-40 and over on NM 6 - which was by far the darkest, most void of light place I have ever been.  The stars above me were out in abundance but yet you could not see any lights on the horizon in any direction.  As Albert Brooks once said, "Why, there could be nuns ahead, we wouldn't even see them." We pull into the EconoLodge a little before 11 p.m. and call it a night.

The next morning we head out around the Trinity Site on the White Sands Proving Grounds (closed to the general public with the exception of the first Saturday in April) to the White Sands National Monument.  The brightness of the gypsum sand is incredible and as we are riding into the park, the number of families that treat the area in the same way one treats a snow park is quite evident.  Because of the ever present winds, the dunes are continuing moving around and people sled down the dunes on the sand like it was snow.  Younger kids seem to take great joy in running through the sand in their bare feet.  We get back to the main parking lot, snap a few pictures, run up the dunes once (and then carefully down) and then hope on the bikes to head over the Lincoln National Forest.  The ride over the mountains and through the forest is an incredible contrast to the desert that we have mostly been riding through over the past couple of days.  The smell of pine is a welcome change but once we get on the eastside of the Sacramento Mountains, the winds pick up again and really start to throw the bikes around.  After about 80 minutes, we make our way into Artesia, NM at the start of their short rush hour.  Artesia has an abundance of very large bronze sculptures sprinkled through the town commemorating various events that have occur in town and their dependence on the oil/gas industry.  It also crazy about high school football based on the size of the high school stadium and the proud list of every title ever won painted on the side of the water tower.

We turn south on US285 and head our way to the hotel in Monahans, TX.  US285 is jammed pack with oil/gas trucks making various deliveries to the fields and pay us motorcyclists no mind as we now have to fight them and while continue our battle against the wind as we head through Carlsbad and another BMR library bonus.  Just inside Texas, we pass the Gas Card fueling station in the middle of nowhere that we used to ensure our trek along the back roads between Kermit and El Paso last summer happened us fuel to spare.  No need to stop on this trip.  We head in to Pecos for a quick Mexican dinner before making it into the $150 a night hotel room (thanks oil boom) after a quick detour off I-20 due to a terrible crash that occurred earlier in the day.

The plan of Friday is pretty simple, get to Huntsville while nabbing a few courthouses along the way.  It is an very uneventful trip first through the oil/gas fields of West Texas,  than as San Angelo appears we start into the hill country and farmlands that we really haven't seen since Sunday.  Based on the number of dead deer we see on the side of the road, this is not a place we want to be traveling through at night.  We make our way east through farm fields, cattle ranches, and small towns as we thread the needle passing between Waco and Austin over to I-45 and down to Huntsville.  It is nice to share in the hospitality offered by Chris and eating a home cooked meal is a special treat after 11 days on the road and of course, who doesn't like to sleep in a real bed.

Saturday morning, we head out to get back to Tuscaloosa.  By the time we get to Vicksburg, Rick and Barbara have decided that they don't need to repeat the BMR locations they have already gotten earlier this spring, so they head home as I ride into town.  Traveling through Vicksburg was an unexpected surprise, the hills and older homes made the side trip very enjoyable even if it has started getting a little warm in all my riding gear. I snap the required pictures of the library, courthouse, and Battlefield and head east into Alabama for the last couple of stops before arriving at the Bailey's safe and secure.

Unfortunately, the last 250 miles of the trip looks like it was going to be a difficult one with heavy rains forecasted for Sunday all the way into Athens.  I bid Rick and Barbara good bye early Sunday morning and head out in a steady drizzle that turns into a heavy rain by the time I am in Birmingham and at the Barber Motorsports complex.  I am staying dry but I really don't want to deal with this.  Fortunately, by the time I get into Georgia, I am sufficiently ahead of the heaviest rains and it is only a light drizzle.  As I travel through downtown Atlanta, the rain is now completely behind me and I am actually riding in the sun by the time I reach my garage - with plenty of time to make it to the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby finals.

As I unload the bike, I check the odometer and find that the trip was a little under 6,000 miles during the 10 days or so of riding.  A great start to the 2014 riding season!

Friday, November 29, 2013

BigTex Rally - October 15th - 21st

Having just completed a successful Void 8 rally the few days before - well except for the starting text issue, I repack the bike and get ready to head over to Texas for the 2nd Annual BigTex rally.  After a fairly rushed and hurried Void 8 route, the plan was to ride a bit more leisurely, but first I had to get there.  First came a half day of work to tie up some loose strings for the week and then I head out to meet up with the Baileys right before the Atlanta rush hour can begin.  Unfortunately, just when I merge onto I-85 about 25 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta, my dashboard lights up and informs me that I am quickly losing air in my back tire.  I am in the fair left HOT lane and have to maneuver six lanes of I-85 high speed traffic to figure out what I am going to do next. Once in the far right lane, I am hoping to make it to the next exit but by that point I am down to 5 psi in the tire and still a mile from the exit.  So I pull over to the shoulder.

After a few attempts at finding a spot that is level enough for me to place the bike on the kickstand, I inspect the back tire.  No nails or screws sticking out so that either means that the tire spit it out or I have a valve stem leak.  If it is a nail, I am fairly certain that I can repair it and my trip is salvageable.  While trying to get my repair stuff off the bike, a GDOT Hero truck shows up and offers some assistance.  With his help (and air tank), we determine that it is a hole in the tire and not the valve stem, but can't exactly find where the hole is.  He gives me enough air to get to the next exit where I will be able to plug the hole somewhere more conducive than the side of the road.  I make my way to the exit and am lucky to find a small used tire shop at the top of the exit ramp.  I pull into his parking lot and start to look at the tire once again.  The owner of the shop comes over and offers to plug it for me for $10.  No brainer there.  So after about 10 minutes, the tire is plugged and I am back on the road.

I continue on the road to Rick's consistently checking the tire pressure monitoring system and reassured that the plug seems to be holding and I will be able to continue on the trip.  I get into Tuscaloosa about 90 minutes later than I was planning but there is a beer and steak awaiting me - just as Rick promised!

The next morning, Rick, Barbara, and myself head out early to make it over to Huntsville, TX to meet up with a army buddy who is fairly new to long distance rallies.  Since I was hoping for a more scenic visit through Texas during the rally, the plan is to ride the rally as a group of three bikes riding leisurely along. The ride over to Huntsville was wet, foggy, and, honestly, not a ton of fun.  But we made good time and pulled into Chris' home a little before 6 p.m. The hospitality that Chris showed was second to none.  We all compare notes as to the rally route and call it an early night.

Since it is a relatively easy ride of about 250 miles down to Victoria, we decide to go the scenic route and by scenic I mean a visit to the Blue Bell Ice Cream factory in Brenham.  A brief tour shows some of the simple tasks that are completed to make the ice cream. But the true reason for the stop is the ice cream sample at the end of the tour - not really a sample but a dish full of two scoops of the ice cream and then for a $1 you can have more.  I think Barbara and I could have spent the rest of the day there.  But alas, the rally awaits and we boogie on down to Victoria.

The night before the rally, most of the riders met at the local Texas Steakhouse for dinner and drinks.  We are all spread out, but we do get a chance to meet a lot of neat folks that we don't normally see on the east coast rallies.  An early night leads to an early morning for the final rider's meeting before the start.

The BigTex Rally is similar and yet different than other rallies.  There are four starting places, but all starting places are scored together.  I am not quite how Wayne creates an even playing field from no matter where you start, but he seems to pull it off.  The rally is set up to cover about 1500 miles in 36 hours. In addition to the normal bonus locations at fixed places, this year Wayne created 12 true scavenger hunt locations - things to find while riding.  So that kept you looking for things while heading from bonus to bonus.  It was a great concept and one that I hope other rallymasters adopt.

A Petrified Boot
There are about 25 of us starting from Victoria and after a quick riders meeting, we are all off at 6:00 a.m.  The first stop along the way was deep in oil country in the heart of Tilden, TX at a most deserted cemetery.  The roads leading into Tilden are beat to hell due to the oil trucks and made for a slower than anticipated arrival time.  We are already 15 minutes behind schedule and only 2 hours into the rally when we pulled up to the bonus.  This is not a good sign.  We turn around and point the bikes due south towards a 4 hour ride down to Brownsville.  The ride down is easy and the warmth of the morning starts to show herself. 

These signs are everywhere!
Riding with others does make photo taking easier
Along the way, we get to pick up a few of the scavenger locations (a windmill and Cattle Raiser sign).  But never really make up any time.  I am beginning to think that my travel speeds in Texas are not as fast as I thought they were going to be.  But the four of us continue to press on and make our way all the way down to the site of the last battle of the Civil War - which actually occurred a week after the war was over.  The Battle of Palmetto Ranch monument is a simple marker on the side of the road.  Snap the pictures and head back west.  We past through the first of several Border Patrol Stations - no doubt we piqued the officer's interest since we passed by him gong the other way less than 5 minutes before.  He asks us a couple of questions and when he is convinced we are not a threat to society, he waves us through the station and back onto the open road.

Rio Grande City Hall
From Brownsville, it is a scenic? ride up the Rio Grande River basin towards Laredo.  I was really looking forward to ride in this part of the state since I have never been before.  However, once we got off the interstate, the divided four lane US route was fairly boring and the scenery was not much better.  This is a hard part of the state to make a living.  It is the middle of the desert with few towns between here and there and most people seem to be in a hurry to get to someplace else.  We hit the city hall in Rio Grande City at around 3:00 p.m. - well over an hour behind schedule.  It is clear that the planned route will need to be modified and we start talking about what we are going to drop off the list.  I am hesitant to make any decisions yet, but know that I am going to need to start dropping a few before the day is out.  We continue heading west along the valley - occasionally getting a glimpse of the Rio Grande River canyon and Mexico on the other side.   But by and large it is a rather slow and uneventful trip into Laredo. 

The Bench!
A cactus
Chris and I are a few minutes ahead of Rick and Barbara and hit the San Agustin Plaza first and spread out to find a specific bench in among 35 or so.  The Plaza is packed with people who just crossed the border and waiting for rides.  So Chris and I have to look around people to find the right one.  Most of the people seem to enjoy watching us look at each bench as much as we enjoy looking at all of the different people in the Plaza for a wide variety of purposes.  By the time Rick and Barbara show up, I can tell that they are getting done and we agree to part ways and met up at the hotel in Brady later tonight.  Even though I am way behind schedule, I am optimistic that I might be able to make up some time so I head off with a renewed resolve. But before leaving town, I capture another scavenger hunt bonus location - a cactus found on the side of the road.

Popeye and Me
That f**kin' Marker
As I head north on US83, I slowly start making up some lost time and begin to feel good about my chances of salvaging the rest of the day.  A few low point bonus locations are along the way and I easily snag them - including a required self portrait of myself and Popeye located in Crystal City.  After a quick call-in to rally headquarters, I point the bike towards Leakey, TX.  The setting sun is beautiful as I enter into the much talked about hill country of Texas.  It certainly looks beautiful and just wished I was on schedule and was seeing it during the daylight instead of the evening's twilight.  As I pull up to the coordinates for the next bonus, I get worried since I googled the site earlier in the week and could not find the marker.  However, the rallymaster assured me that it was there.  So I spend the next 20 minutes looking behind every tree and fence post that is within a stone's throw for where I am at.  Not finding anything makes me quite frustrated when a kind older lady pulls up and asks me what I am looking for.  I tell her and she says it is about a mile up the road.  So I hop on the bike and head there.  As I pull up to the marker, Rick, Barbara and Chris do as well and Rick sees my frustration and tries to calm me down a bit through humor, but it really doesn't work since I am stewing about the 25 minutes that I had lost.  In hindsight I am appreciative of what he tried to do, but I was too hard headed to understand it at the time. After expressing my frustration and my decision is to say "screw it" and announce that I am heading to the hotel (about 2 hours away), I bolt away from the site on TX 336.  Shortly after the marker, I see a warning sign that announces that over 10 motorcyclists have died on this road since 2005 and to be extra cautious.  After traveling the 30 miles or so, I understand why.  Even in the dark it was a beautiful road with a number of vertical and horizontal curves that overlooked the valleys off in the distance.  This is definitely a road that I want to ride again in the future.  However, I cant help but notice that Rick and company are no longer behind me.

That is quickly reveled when TX336 dead ends into TX 41and turns back to US83.  About 10 seconds before I get to the intersection, Rick and company zip through the intersection.  Obviously, their Garmin told them to go a different way - wouldn't be the first time.  Anyway, we head up to Brady, cold, tired, and once we got to Junction, a light rain and strong winds were upon us.  I think it must have dropped 30 degrees in about 20 minutes.  The ride into the hotel was slow but we got in around 10 p.m.  After hoping to get a pizza (fail - Pizza Hut doesn't deliver after 10 pm.)we settle on a McDonalds meal - which you can imagine how that felt.  Anyway, over the quarter pounders we decide to throw most of tomorrow's route away, get a good night sleep and have an enjoyable ride into Austin for the group photo.

A License Plate in Luckenbach
The Armadello
After a long 8 hour rest, I am feeling better and while it is still cold, we head out just before dawn, weaving between deer and other wildlife critters and make our way into Luckenbach, TX.  This is the weekend of their annual motorcycle fall camping and vintage bike festival and we are certainly a bit out of place with our attire as compared to the campers.  But we make it to the location, snap the required picture, and even find an armadillo to scratch off the list.  We had out and decide to hit two more spots before the group photo at noon. 

Dead Man's Hole
Bastrop Statue
First is the Dead Man's Hole site, where a 150 foot drop was used for a variety of purposes over the years before "they" cemented over the opening and then it is past Austin to Bastrop to take a quick picture of a fireman statue in honor of Ardy's "Queenie" request.  From there it is an easy ride over to the riverfront park in Austin in plenty of time to meet up with about 80 percent of the riders for a group shot to be taken at high noon.

The Gang
The picture is snapped by the rallymaster himself and we all take off for the final six hours of fun.  We decide to head over to the shooting range before hitting the mandatory BBQ joint and then the finish line. However, upon getting back on the bike, I notice that I have lost a significant amount of air since this morning in my plugged tire.  I had been checking it every 20 minutes since I put the plug in several days ago and never had a problem.  So I was taken back as to why I was losing air now.  I tell Rick that I am going to find a gas station and fill it up and see if it will hold.  Rick and Barbara follow me for a bit but then decide to take off since there really isn't anything for them to do.  I find a gas station in a very Latino part of Austin  As I come back from getting quarters from the clerk for the air hose, an elderly gentleman has pulled up to the air pump with a bicycle with a completely flat back tire.  It is obvious he doesn't quite get how the pump works nor speaks any english, so I take the air hose from his hand and in my best gesture - I inform him that "I will do."  I put the quarters into the machine and inflate his tire for him.  The smile on his face reveals his pleasure in my assistance gives me more thumbs up than I can possibly count as he rides off down the street.  I fill my back tire up and head back out to monitor how fast it is losing air.  After about 20 minutes, I have lost about 8 lbs - not a serious leak, but one that will not make it to be an easy finish.  As I continue riding north contemplating my choices, I pass a Kawasaki dealership on my right and immediately make the decision to see about getting a new tire.  After all, I am still over 1200 miles from home and with tomorrow being Sunday, I really not want to risk being stranded somewhere.

I pull up to the service center and explain my situation to the service clerk and he said that it will not be a big deal to get a new back tire - they even have my preferred tire in stock and they are running a tire special so the labor will only run me $25.  The only hitch is that it will likely take them about 3 hours to fit me in. Therefore, that means my rally is over.  I still should be able to get to the finishing hotel by the rally time limit, but since I will not have stopped at the mandatory BBQ joint, I will DNF.  Still, better safe than sorry, and I make the call to the rallymaster and tell him the situation and than I will still be at the banquet tonight, but will DNF.  It is a difficult call to make - only the second one in five years of rallies.

The shop actually does a great job of getting me in and out and I am back on the road about 30 minutes earlier than initially planned and make my way to Cedar Hill, TX and the finishing banquet.  Knowing that I have a fresh tire makes the ride straight up I-35 easy and I enjoy the scenery as I pass through Waco and come out of the hill country.

The finishers banquet was delicious with an open bar.  Since I don't have to worry about scoring or putting my finisher's packet together, it is very relaxing and enjoyable to meet up with everyone over drinks and then dinner.  Based on the scores, it is clear that the route that Rick, Chris, Barbara, and I chose sucked big time and they will be finishing (albeit they did finish) near the bottom of the group.  Having had more than my excitement for the day and not in the hunt for any trophies, I turn in early after coordinating with Rick and Barbara about our departure time for the next morning.

Our Sunday ride back to Tusacoloosa was very easy.  We make incredible time and pull into the Bailey complex at 6:00 p.m. after riding 800 miles.  Enough time for the pizza that we didn't have in Brady and an early night before I have to finish up the 250 miles on Monday morning.

Overall, it wasn't the rally that I had hoped it would be.  But I learned a lot about routing out west and did see some areas of the country that I have always wanted to see.  Plus it gave me some much needed experience in how to handle bike issues while on the road.  I still think I made the right call in plugging the tire and continuing with the trip.  But I am certainly happy to have past Central Texas Powersports in Georgetown, TX when I did.

The rally season is now over and I have some big plans for 2014 that I hope will happen as planned.  Until then.....

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Void 8 - October 11th - 14th

Always remember to fully read the rally book

After my summer trek out west (yes, the ride report will be finished one day, yeah, that's the plan), I have not had a chance to do much riding during the waning summer months or the early part of October.  However, having signed up for both the Void 8 rally as well as the BigTex Rally in consecutive weekends, I was ready to be on the road for a good 10 days or so and racking up about 5500 miles.

Although I have often worked with other riders to develop and compare routes, I have always rode rallies alone.  However, for this year's Void, Rick Bailey and I discussed the possibility of riding the Void together since he would be passengerless this go around. The Rally Book and bonus locations were presented in two parts - the first part was just coordinates that showed up on Saturday and the description of the bonus locations as well as some other twists and turns that was to show up on Wednesday. As promised, the coordinates showed up on Saturday and I quickly started putting together routing plans, without the benefit of the rally book descriptions you were a little in the dark as to what exactly might be the correct route.  However, after playing around with several possibilities, I landed on a route darting up through South Carolina and North Carolina before entering the twists and turns of Western Virgina, Eastern Kentucky, and West Virginia and then dropping into Fredricksburg that would have be traveling about 1250 miles which appeared to be doable for 31 hours.  So after comparing notes with Rick, I decided that it was all we could do for now until Wednesday.

When the rest of the rally book is released, I find that the route that I generally laid out over the weekend was a good one and only minor additions and tweaks were necessary.  So all that was left to do was load it into the GPS, load up the bike, and point south to Brunswick.  After a third grade breakfast with the greatest kiddo in the world, I started my 250 mile trek from Athens to Brunswick.  The weather was incredible - sunny skies in the lower 60's as I took a series of back roads south that would allow me to collect some additional Tour of Georgia locations as well as my personal trek to visit all Georgia Courthouses.  I collected two addition Georgia tour locations and 8 courthouses, before pulling into the hotel a little after 4 p.m.  Just in time for the traditional dinner/drinking/discussion at a local restaurant that we meet at the night before the rally begins.  It was a good group of people - some just completed the 11-day epic Iron Butt Rally (11 days and 11,000 miles of this excitement).  So it was great to hear about the stories that each had about their experience.

Back at the hotel, Rick and I compare notes to ensure that we are on the same page for the route and estimated times.  We discuss a couple of bail out points along the way if needed.  But in general, we feel that we have a very doable route that should land us near the upper end of the finishers list if we pull it off.  We disagree about one bonus location, but don't need to make that decision until Asheville.  (HINT:  Important plot development forthcoming) I double check that I have the call-in text number stored in my phone - yep, there it is from last year - make a series of notes what I need to do after getting my starting receipt and then call it a night.

Unlike some rallies, Scott and Gary (the Rallymasters) put a ton of thought into creating a specific theme for each year's running of the Void - one of the reasons why I love riding in it.  This year's was musical based.  They Rallymasters came up with a great smorgasbord of venues and other off the wall locations that were either directly or not so directly tied to some musical performer.  Since the south is peppered with so much great musical history, they had no trouble coming up with 90+ bonus locations sprinkle throughout the southeast and the northern border states (Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland).

YMCA - One Bonus Down!
Both Rick and I scouted out the same gas station on Friday afternoon to ensure that it would give us a "good" receipt (Correct date/time and city/state information).  So we pull in at about 840 and wait until 850 so we can be on the road.  I top off my tank at 852.  I send the necessary information to the text number stored in my phone and since the instructions said don't wait for a response, another important plot development I store the phone in my tankbag, and head off to the Golden Isles YMCA (remember I said that the bonus locations were tied to a music theme - who hasn't done the YMCA at some wedding or sporting event?).  The day is beautiful and cool and I am excited about pulling off a winning route. 

Love the Smile!!!
Aptly Named for the Void 8
The first few bonus locations are not that exciting.  A music store, a gas station receipt from Statesboro (in and among Georgia Southern football game day traffic), a Motel 6 in Augusta, a pawn store that deals with Guns, and then a florist that sells Roses - get it' Guns 'n Roses?  before pulling up to the James Brown statue in downtown Augusta.  Rick and I arrive at about the same time with several other riders and we descend on the statute the same time when a group of red hat/purple dress ladies are there out on the town.  We get one of them to pose with the statue while holding our flags.  She certainly seem to be mystified by the happenings.  At this point we are slightly ahead of schedule and about 200  miles into the ride.

From Augusta it is a series of US highway up to Greenwood, SC for another gas receipt.  Since Rick and I are significantly ahead of schedule, I use the time to extend the gas stop into a mini break.  After fueling, I pull out my phone just to double check my starting text was received.  Well, imagine my surprise that 1 minute after I sent the text back at 0852, I had a response back saying that I had sent it to the wrong number.  I call over to Rick at the next pump and asked if he got an "ok" message for his starting text.  He said that he did.  I ask what number did he use.  He said the one in the rally book instructions.  I whip out the instructions and there it is right on the front page, but upon closer look it is a different number than last year.  It appears that the number that I used is no longer acceptable for texts just phone calls.  So it is now about 12:45 p.m. and I have don't have a good starting time.  I have a couple of choices.  First, I could say screw it and go home - after all I am only an hour from my house at this point. Second, I can ignore it and worry about when I get in to Fredricksburg tomorrow - not an option, I can't really ignore things.  Third, send Scott a new text with the information and see how many points he will deduct.  I resend (to the correct text number) my starting information and then add the following : "Send this at 0852 to the wrong text number.  But am continuing with my rally."  Rick and I jump on our bikes and head up to Spartansburg.

Oh the things we take pictures of.
The Asheville Music Venue
The ride up to Spartansburg was at first very trying.  I was quite upset that my rally was basically toast now because of my screw up.  I try to keep my spirits up by telling myself that we really don't do these for the trophies (we really don't) but that a few of them are nice additions to the office shelf.  I finally talk myself into enjoying this rally and think of the story that it will turn in to.  So Rick and I hit a Buffalo's Wild Wing and the Case Brothers Piano Tuners before completing our ride into Asheville and the Orange Peel music venue.  Driving into the heart of some sort of street festival in downtown Asheville lead to great people watching but a slow go.  We are now just about on schedule after losing a bit of time since Greenwood.  But we have a decision to make.  Over in Greeneville, TN there is a small bonus location that I thought we should hit.  Rick thought otherwise - too many twisty roads, too late in the day, for too few points.  But I talk him into it and we head to Greeneville.  Long story short - Rick was right.  The ride over was beautiful at times, but passing was difficult and the points just didn't justify the 45 minutes of time we have lost.  We should have stayed on I-26 to Kingsport.  But alas, we didn't and started to fight the clock as darkness and a short rain shower began to fall upon us.

Carter's Fold
We quickly hit the giant Indian statue and head over to the Carter's Fold outside of Hiltons, VA.  What a sight.  Every Saturday night they still host bluegrass/Appalachia music concerts and they were getting everyone parked as Rick and I pull up with the setting sun.  Typically, I try to be fairly respectful when pulling up to a bonus location and not attract too much attention.  However, having looked at the place on-line before the rally started, I knew that it would be important to pull up close to the building and head back out as quickly as possible.  So I ride past the guys directing people where to park and pull up into the VIP area and ride almost up to the record image on the side of the building.  An older gentleman manning this area and moving the VIP cars into place seemed to understand that something was up when I pulled in and let me do my thing and head out.  The only hiccup was the gravel lot was incredibly uneven and on a slope that seemed to be much worse that I initially thought so turning around was a challenge but I managed to keep everything right side up - much to Rick's entertainment.  After all with the wing all he had to do was put it into reverse.

Pulling away from the Carter's Fold, we need to check in with the Rallymaster via text message.  Mine goes through without incident (thanks Verizon).  Rick's doesn't without a cell signal (boo AT&T).  So we head down the road and try again and he succeeds.  It is now dark and we have several hours of twisty mountain roads ahead of us.

Crooked Trail Visitor Information
We hit a small visitor information sign announcing the The Crooked Road - Virginia's musical trail.  While there another rider swops in snaps his picture and moves on.  It was a blur.  Don't think he is from Brunswick, thought.

Van Lear Museum
From there it is deeper into Kentucky's back roads to hit the Patty Loveless homestead area outside of Elkhorn City, KY, a phone booth for Dwight Yoakam in Pikeville (after an unplanned detour on the brand new bypass), and hitting the Van Lear Coal Miner's Museum in Butcher Hollow - home to Loretta Lynn.  The museum doubles as an Haunted House in the fall and it was quite the happening place as fifty or some teenagers are waiting in line to go through it.  At 10:50 p.m. we are still a little behind schedule, but making good time.

Blame this theater for Miley Cyrus
It is an hour trek up to Ashland, KY to finish out the day.  It is an hour riding in complete darkness but on a very good four lane divided US Highway 23.  I get the sense that we are riding through a river valley based on the recreational areas and power plants that we pass, but can't be sure.  Driving into Ashland is easy going, with limited traffic and the two locations are within a few blocks of each other.  We stop by the theater where Billy Ray Cyrus filmed the Achy Breaky Heart video and then over to the fire department.I lead the way and Rick and I make the short run up into Ohio because that is what Miss Garmin said and point the bikes towards the hotel in West Virginia.  Getting gas before getting out of town leads us to an incredible site of two 20-somethings coming back from a costume party.  Let's just say that I don't think that police officer outfit was departmentally issued!

We hit the final bonus location in Cross Lanes, WV before finishing out the day with a rest receipt at a gas station.  We check into the hotel and set the alarm for about 2 1/2 hours.  Crash hard and are both up at 4 a.m. and heading back to the gas station to end the rest bonus.

Back on the road we know that we will be riding into rain today - just hope to get through the mountains of WV first - or at least get into daylight.  The first stop of the day is a receipt documenting that we were in Charleston.  Easy right - well no.  I chose a gas station right in the shadow of the capital building to be sure that we were in Charleston but both the pump and store give bad receipts.  We were just about to head over to McDonalds when the clerk says that the lottery machine might give a good receipt.  Sure enough it does.  Mission accomplished and back on the bikes - but first we witness a very drunk/high young lady having trouble getting (and staying) in a taxi cab.  The commotion has attracted several taxi drivers so I figure it is time to get moving before more attention is paid.

From Charleston, it is down to Oak Hill to pay respect to the city where Hank Williams took his last breath.  The marker was easy to find in the shadows of their main street and then it is over the mountains to a civil war statue in Valley Head, WV.  Fortunately it remained dry as the morning light crept over the mountains behind the clouds and, as we are pulling out, the rain starts and we won't see dry until after the rally is completed.

A quick stop for the Purple Fiddle in Thomas, WV and gas in Gormania, WV, both Rick and I are feeling pretty good.  US 50 in West Virginia and Western Virginia is a pretty decent road and although the rain slows us down, we are making good time.  We do stop for a quick break to allow me to better water protect my bag and Rick to capture a few puffs.  And we continue to head east into Winchester, VA for the bell tower honoring Patsy Cline. It is almost noon and quite frankly I'm done with this rally and just want to get to the hotel.  But Rick convinces me otherwise and we complete our route by heading up to the Rainbow Road honky-tonk in Rippon, WV.

We point the bikes to Fredricksburg and even though my Garmin probably didn't route us the best way, we hit the Cracker Barrel at 2:10 and pull across the finish line at 2:20.  The penalty window started at 2:00 so the finishing paperwork must be done quickly.  I get mine finished and time stamped at 2:50 p.m.  So I will lose some points for being late - but does it really matter since I didn't start correctly?

Resting it off.
The scoring process was easy and I didn't loose any points as the scorer ran through each of my photos and receipts.  I finish with 1,849 points.  But now, it is time to see what my bonehead starting move will provide in the negative category.  The damage is revealed to be 4,286 point penalty based on the time that elapsed until I got my starting information to the right person.  OUCH!  So I end up with -2,437 points.  Not going to win this one!

The dinner was very tasty and the company incredible.  The results are read through and I am happy to hear that Rick finished in second place.  Not to pour salt into the wound, but my 1,849 points would have won - just edging out John Bailey - a very capable C14 rider by 2 points.  But alas, it was not to be and I am deep at the bottom.

The ride home to Athens was quick the next morning.  It was one of those days that had light traffic and overcast skies.  I quickly got into a grove and made the trek home with limited stops.  Overall, it was a great rally and the rally book is being held so I can explore other locations while out and about since they did such a great job with the write-ups.

On to the Big Texas Rally. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Cape Fear 2013 - April 17th - 21st

Once April gets here, all eyes in the long distance motorcycle community turn to Wimington for the annual Cape Fear 1000 motorcycle rally and 2013 was no different.  I was fortunate to be selected for my 6th year in this incredibly fun and well run event.  This year I chose to start the rally from Union City, TN (in northwestern Tennessee about an hour from the Mississippi River as the crow flies).  Given the fact that I am currently doing three additional rallies this spring (Big Money Rally, Tour of Honor, and Grand Tour of Georgia), I decided to start the Cape Fear ride a little early this year and took off on Wednesday.  I figured that I could hit a number of BMR, TOH, and Georgia spots along the way, then spend the night outside of Nashville, figure out a route in the hotel room, and then ride into Union City by midday on Thursday.

Historic Floyd County
A Lyerly Twofer - BMR and Georgia Tour!
Like always, getting out of Athens was later than I was hoping for, but I managed to get out of town a little after 12 noon and settled in for a good 450 miles of riding.  Fortunately, it was a quick journey through Atlanta traffic and up I-75 towards a few Georgia courthouses that I am collecting along my various journeys this year.  The Floyd County courthouse is actually an historic structure now with a modern version just down the street.  With three courthouses down (now have 26 of 159), I head towards a couple of Big Money Rally bonus spots. The Big Money Rally is a "do as time permits" between January 1st and the middle of May.  You have to score 144 points to be considered a finisher and I am slowly making progress towards that end.  The first two bonus packets focused a lot on fire stations, national forests, great places to eat/hot dog stands, and ski areas.  Just my luck, my route through NW Georgia and NE Alabama was peppered with all of them.
Menlo, GA Fire Station
Cloudmont Ski Area in Alabama!?!
Huntsville Veteran's Memorial
Overall, traffic was extremely light and the weather was just about perfect but the temperatures continued to tick upwards into the mid and upper 80s throughout the afternoon ride.  I started getting frustrated with the heat - however, in hindsight I would have love to have that weather back.  Once I got closer to Huntsville, AL, I was able to snag a few Tour of Honor memorial locations.

The Tour of Honor is also a "do as time permits" rally with all of the proceeds going towards the Wounded Warrior Project.  They do a great job with this rally and the locations of the memorials are always very interesting and very reflective of the past events which they honor.  The first TOH stop along the way to Union City was the Veteran's Memorial in Huntsville.  I had the wrong coordinates for the location of the memorial typed into the GPS, but the size of the memorial made it a couldn't miss. A quick U-Turn pulled me right into the center of the site.  After a brief conversation with one of Huntsville's Finest about my mid-block U-turn maneuver (he actually was very cool and liked hearing about the Tour of Honor and appreciated the fund raising aspect of it).  I got to explore and snap a few pictures of the memorial.  While there, Rick Bailey texted me that the Cape Fear rally books were released and I should get busy.  Well I still had about 2 1/2 hours of riding ahead of me, so I tried to put the anticipation aside of the routing portion for a little while longer.

Ardmore, TN Welcome Center
Elkton, TN Fire Station
After leaving Huntsville, it was a quick stop north of town for a (former) hot dog stand through stop and go traffic around Alabama A&M University.  Aside from the jackass who  decided to shoot across three lanes of traffic to do a quick left-turn directly in front of the vehicle in front of me, the travel out of Huntsville was uneventful and the farmland was actually quite pleasant to get lost in as the evening started to approach.  Crossing into Tennessee allowed my to quickly stop on I-65 for another TOH monument at the Welcome Center and then another fire station in Elkton, TN - which is located on top of a small hill in the center of "town" with the most unstable gravel driveway I have been on for quite some time.

After Elkton, it was time to settle in for an easy ride up I-65 towards Nashville before cutting over to I-40 on the recently completed TN-840 route.  TN-840 travels through some beautiful countryside and was the source of quite a number of lawsuits and compromises.  In the end, it is a great road with some great vistas and hopefully remain some sort of gem in the Tennessee road system - as long as the exits don't become havens for every chain. I rode into the Dickson Super 8 motel a little after 6 pm ready to route! Incidentally, the Dickson Super 8 is a real gem of a motel - especially for the Super 8 brand.  Not only was it modern, clean, it is family run and the owner and his extended family are extremely welcoming - all of this for $40.  Needless to say, I enjoyed spending the night there.

The routing did not go as great as I had hoped.  Given the pending storms on Thursday night and Friday morning, I was having difficulty in picking a direction to head from Union City.  I landed on due east and became fixated on getting the Mount Mitchell bonus stop as part of my routes.  From there, there were over 4500 points available near the coastal town of Edenton that was a must have.  So with the wildcard bonus point locations and activities, I was looking at a 35,000 point ride (about 17,500 for wildcards and 17,500 points of riding to bonus locations) in 1200 miles. Happy with it - not escatic but it seemed to be very doable even with a 6 hour rest bonus.  Rick texted me shortly before 11p.m. saying that he was looking at a 20,000 point ride.  For the life of me, I couldn't see it.  So I decided to go to bed and revisit the routing in the morning.  

The morning routing exercise did not yield any epiphanies, still stuck on about 17,500 points by way of Mount Mitchell and Edenton - how in the heck is Rick doing this?????  A quick look at the weather indicated it was going to be a windy day as the stormfront headed into Tennessee from the west.  I figure that I will have plenty of time to get to Union City before the rain hits, but I don't want to daudle in Dickson for too much longer.  So I pack up, check out, and hit a local print shop to print out the rally book and other needed receipts.  While there, I was speaking to the technicians about the rally and the fact that I was headed to Union City and she immediately let me know that her husband is from there and gave me an alternative route to go instead of I-40.  After the short interaction, I was out on the road heading due west into a 30 mph head wind.  Yeah, this is going to be fun!

Union City, TN TOH Memorial
Big Sandy, TN Fire Station
There were still a few more TOH and BMR stops that I wanted to hit along the way, so after the fire station detours in Big Sandy and Henry (why are rural fire stations located on gravel roads any way????), I arrived in Union City just after 1 p.m. and headed over to the courthouse for the TOH memorial.  After the courthouse, I made my way over to the Hampton Inn where most of the riders were staying.
Henry, TN Fire Station
This was another really well run hotel with a great atmosphere and super staff.  Upon checking in, I decided to try and do some more routing.  After some tweaking, I was up to about 19,000 points for the route, but still shy of the 20,000 that Rick had.  I just didn't think it was possible to hit Mount Mitchell as well as the Edenton area.  Well shortly after 3 p.m., Rick and Barbara show up and he enlightens me what I am doing wrong.  It was simple he said - Forgo Mount Mitchell and focus on the southern border of Virginia.  Ahhhhhhh, now I see it.  Thanks Rick.  So now I am set.  Wait a second, no I am not.  I can do better!  So I tweak a little more and find another 1500 or so points that can be obtained.  So now I am up to 21 bonus stop locations for a total of 21,443 points in 1190 miles and an additional 17,500 wildcards.  Good to go.

Now that all of the routing is completed, all is left is to wait out the pending storm and have dinner with many of the other riders at the adjacent restaurant.  The pre-rally dinner is always fun in talking to other riders about their routes and meeting up with old friends. Once dinner was over the rains started and it came down hard for a few hours. Man it rained hard so I used the time to relax a little while I finish the last minute preparations for my route.  Once the rain stopped, the temperature dropped pretty fast so that it was in the low 40's by the time the morning came and the rally was about to start.

Obrion County Library
Eugene Lewis Crypt in Nashville
9:00 a.m. CDT comes and I am at the gas station that Rick scouted out yesterday afternoon that gave good receipts.  Although we can start anytime between 8:50 and 9:10, I chose to stick close to 9:00 a.m. to keep math simple.  I now have 29 hours (3:00 p.m.) to be in Wilmington.  Immediately down the street is the first bonus stop - a public library.  An added twist this year was to collect pictures of up to 4 public libraries (without you, your bike, flag, or riding partner).  So the majority of riders hit the Obrion County (Union City) library before leaving town. From there it is a relatively straightforward ride down to I-40 over to Nashville for the first bonus location in a cemetery.  Cemetery boni can be tricky, finding a specific gravestone can be a real challenge if it is not an unique gravestone.  Fortunately for us, this one is a giant pyramid with two sphinx lions in front of it.  The only problem is that there are two cemeteries right next to one another and they are not interconnected.  I get confused and head into the wrong cemetery and drag Rick and Barbara with me. Since you can see the pyramid from the "wrong" cemetery, I say screw it, park the bike and walk over to the bonus location and snap the correct picture.  One down, 20 to go!

Spring City School Bus Crash
From Nashville, it is a quick ride toward Knoxville, but before there I dip off I-40 to Spring City, TN where a tragic and deadly railroad/school bus crash happened in 1955.  They have a beautiful monument to recall the tragedy in the center of town.  I can't fathom how this crash would have impacted this rural community in 1955. After a moment to look at the monument and to look over to the crossing, it is time to move on to Buffalo Mountain Church in Laurel Fork, VA. However, I had forgotten that it was going to be almost 300 miles of interstate travel without any bonus stops - so I settle into a five hour ride listening to the satellite radio as I watch the scenery of the mountains of eastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia.  I make great time and I notice that once I get closer to I-77 the temperature is quickly rising.  So no longer am I in the low 40's but it is in the mid-60's!!! But that only means that I am catching the storm front.  It is clear that it has rained all over the place, but for now it is still ahead of me and I am enjoying the dry warmth.

After hitting a couple more library locations and navigating 2 miles of an uphill gravel road, I pull up to the Buffalo Mountain Church which is an absolutely beautiful church which is on a paved road.  I snap the required picture and decide to try my luck and follow the paved road down the mountain since I was not looking forward to trying the gravel road on the downhill path.  Fortunately, the paved road drops me right where I need to be and I point the bike east on US 58 and follow the VA/NC border.  Coming down from the Appalachian Mountains, I pass a beautiful overlook called Lover's Leap just outside Stuart, VA.  It is a breathtaking vista of the surrounding valley and the patchwork farm fields getting ready for the upcoming season creates a gorgeous view as the sun sets behind me. Shortly after I pass through Stuart the rains start and I am hopeful that it will be short lived.  Well I can at least hope.

Junkyard Dinosaur Halifax, VA
US58 is a really good east west roadway, much of it is four-lanes with ample passing locations in the areas that are still two lanes.  So I am making really good time even though I have been running in a steady rain from about 8:30 on.  After skirting around Martinsville and a quick gas stop in Danville, it is up to a couple of night bonus stops.  I love riding at night but I have never really liked my ability to take good night shots so I have recently switched rally cameras to one that takes much more clearer night shots with a variety of settings.  Plus I also bought a high powered spotlight this spring to light up whatever the RM throws at me.  Fortunately, the few night locations are extremely well lit so with the exception of keeping the camera dry while snapping the shot, the night bonus locations were easy to snag. After hitting the last bonus stop a little after 11:00 p.m. (right on schedule), I had about an hour to get down to the hotel I reserved in Roanoke Rapids.  Good thing too, I was getting tired, I was fairly dry given the waterproofing that I applied on my jacket and pants, but the gloves were soaked and the glare off the rain really was getting to me.  Ms. Garmin told me to head due south on the two lane state route - VA46 and that was the straightest shot, but I knew it would be slow going so I headed due east to I-95 and then down from there.  A great choice and it got me into the gas station to start my rest bonus at 12:13 a.m.  After a quick check-in at the Super 8, I get into the room start laying everything out to dry.  Then before turning in, I spend a few minutes going through my receipts and notes for today's ride and make sure everything is good to go for Saturdays route.  Since it will be 15 stops, I don't have a lot of time to spare on Saturday.

The Cape Fear has really increased the bonus points associated with rest bonuses and the structure of it now is it is a minimum 4 hour rest with extra points (50 points a minute) up to six hours.  So it really is tough to not take the full 6 hour bonus.  I set the alarm for 5:45 a.m., get a quick shower, load up the bike (no more rain!!!) and head back to the gas station for an ending receipt.  With that accomplished, I am back on the road at 6:15 a.m. and heading over to the boyhood home of Paul Rose (founder of Rose's stores - I remember when Blacksburg had one while I was there and there used to be one here in Athens as well).

From Seaboard, NC, it was a criss cross path along the northeastern portion of  North Carolina as I pick up
American Legion Tribute - Aulander, NC
the Halifax Resolves in Halifax (NC this time) and then over to the American Legion Tribute stone monument in Aulander before up to Ahoskie and the 4-H Historical Marker.  Glancing at my route cards, I notice that I am actually ahead of schedule by about 45 minutes and I am looking at a 1:50 p.m. arrival time.  So I can start to relax, enjoy the sights of a Saturday morning in this part of the state instead of feeling rushed.  I make it over to Edenton and bag the two bonus location located at the same park - Battle of Albermarle Sound Civil War plaque and the Edenton Bell Battery.

Roper (NC) cemetery
Edenton (NC) Bell Battery
Leaving Edenton, I pass over the Albermarle Sound - it is an impressive body of water as I head towards another cemetery in Roper NC.It seems like a fairly straight forward gravestone.  However, when I arrive at the site there are actually two black granite grave markers - one for the Swain family in general and one for Burl Swain.  The instructions say take a picture of the Burl Swain grave stone.  However, the description of the gravestone in the rally pack matches the general family marker.  So I take a picture of both markers and resolve to figure it out later.  However, I get a mile down the road and it dawns on me that I could really cover my bases and snap of picture with both markers in a single photo.  So I swing back and take that picture. It served me well since I bagged that bonus without discussion at the scorer's table.

Blue Crab, Chocowinity, NC
Croatan National Forest - BMR
Upon leaving the cemetery, I noticed that I almost an hour ahead of schedule now and start to think about stopping to get something to eat since the morning muffin and glass of milk at the hotel wasn't much of a breakfast.  Driving through Washington, I am certain that I could find something, but alas I must of been routed through the less traveled path since I barely even saw a gas station.  So I moved on through and hit the large Blue Crab in Chocowinity. I continue to head south on US 17, through New Bern, and amazed as how little traffic there is out on this Saturday morning.  When at the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of a National Forest sign.  Hey, I need those as part of the Big Money Rally!  Just down the street is the Ranger Station for the Croatan National Forest.  I quickly pull off US 70, change out the flag for the BMR placard and snap the necessary picture.  Hey, that is 3 more points!

9-11 Memorial, Havelock, NC
After that quick BMR stop, I start to think if there are any additional ones along the way.  Sure enough, there is a diner down in Morehead City.  So, I add that to my itinerary.  But in the meantime, it is two more Cape Fear bonus locations - the Diamondbacks A4-M Skyhawk plane and the 9-11 Memorial both located in Havelock.  As I enter Havelock, the road is peppered with fast food joints.  So I quickly pull off the highway into Wendy's for a quick burger to last me until I pull into Wilmington. The rest of the Havelock stops go off without a hitch and I remain on schedule for a 2:00 p.m. arrival.
Els Drive-In Diner, Morehead City, NC
I continue to make my way down US70 into Morehead City for the Carolina Sounder monument dedicated to the commercial fisherman.  It is a simple monument on the edge of the harbor.  While making my way into town, I notice the Els Diner that is part of the BMR on the opposite side of the street, so I make a mental note to stop on my out.  Easy in and easy out for that BMR bonus and I collect another 3 points.Good thing that I grabbed a burger just a short time ago, the place smelled wonderful and I was very tempted to grab a sandwich, but knew that I needed to keep moving.
Otway Burns, Swansboro, NC

So I follow the coast over to Cedar Point, NC.  Hey I haven't been here since my first Cape Fear in 2008 when the Masonic Octagon House was a bonus point.  This time, the Rally Crewe has us passing through Cedar Point and over the Hampton Bay bridge right into a parking lot overlooking the Bay and am greeted by Captain Otway Burns.  I grab the necessary statue picture and move further south.  It is now a little after 12 and quite frankly, I am getting done with the Rally.  I really shouldn't be complaining it has been a relatively easy Saturday morning ride along the coast.  But I still have about 80 miles and 2 more bonus stops to hit before the Greentree Inn.  So I just change the channel on the satellite radio (how did I ever ride without one?????) and settle in for the next 2 hours.

The next two stops were just off US17 near Sneads Ferry, NC.  The first was a question that had to be answered in front of the library about the flagpole and the second was a picture of a large shark located outside a swimwear/beach store.  Both were easily bagged and I headed into Wilmington.  A stop for a cold six pack just before the hotel allowed me to pull in at 2:20 p.m. - still about 25 minutes ahead of schedule with about 1,194 mile according to Ms. Garmin (according to the bike =1,220 miles)  traveled since 9:00 a.m. CT yesterday.

With the ride behind me, all that is left is to organize the receipts, pictures, and rally book.  Since I refuse to fill out any "official" paperwork while on the bike during the rally, my system is actually pretty clean and efficient.  I pull out the index cards and plug the camera card into my computer to be sure that I can clearly see everything I need to.  I recorded each one and count up the total number of points to be 21,443 for the bonus and claim the full rest bonus, fuel log, beverage, and all four wildcard boni for 17,500 which lands my 38,943.

Scoring goes fairly smoothly.  The only real hiccup was at the very beginning when the scorer's computer could not read my camera card.  It just worked!!!!  Nothing will sink your heart faster than a technical failure at the scorer's table.  But blowing on the card and reinserting it brings all my pictures up without any problems. After a thorough review by the scorer of each bonus, she signs off on my total and credits me with 38,943 points.  I leave the table a happy camper and head to check-in for the hotel room and a much needed shower.

While the scoring is being finished and dinner begins, I begin to notice that I seem to be at the upper end of the point totals for Union City.  That would really be something if I was a podium finisher at the Cape Fear.  Alas, when the results are read - I am fourth out of about 35 Union City participants.  But wait! One of the top three riders believes that his score is incorrect and believes he should not have scored that high.  So the final results will have to wait until Jim can audit the scores after the rally.  It did turn out that there was a scoring error and I wound up in 3rd place!  Yes, I am very happy with the result and the ride that I pulled off, but there still is a lingering sense of doubt in my skills since Rick suggested that I forgo Mount Mitchell for a better route.  I sincerely thank Rick for the advice.  In the end, it really is not about the plaque and more about the friendships that exist and are fostered during these events.  So, again, I thank Rick for his suggestion.

At first I had thoughts of trying to hit several more BMR stops along the way home from Wilmington NC, but I decided that if I beelined it home, I could be productive for a few hours so that is what I did.  I did use the time to hit three more Tour of Honor memorials since they were exactly on my way - Wilmington, NC, Marion, NC, and Columbia, SC. I pulled into the Athens driveway at at 2:00 p.m. ready to cut the grass and so some yardwork!  All in all, it was about 2,200 miles since Wednesday afternoon and a great time.  As always, my hat is off to the Rally Crewe for a great adventure.  Here is to next year!

Wilmington Flame
9/11 Memorial in Columbia, SC