Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Void Rally Oct 5th and 6th

In just three short years, this has become the rally that I most look forward to and this year proved no different.  Everything from the day the rally is announced to saying goodbye to everyone Sunday morning is top notch.  And this coming from two rallymasters that cannot be more different from one another - Gary - the tall and quiet type, but be sure to listen to every word he says when he does talk and Scott - well, let's just say he can both shock and impress you at the same time with his directness and quick wit.  Scott yearns to be front and center during the rally while Gary is quietly hanging in the background.  However, the two of them make the 30 hours (give or take) the most enjoyable time you can have on the bike chasing after bonus locations.

The timing of this rally is always around the Columbus Day weekend and generally corresponds to near the peek of the leaf turning colors in West Virginia, Western Maryland, and Southern Pennsylvania which results in both positive and negative aspects.  By far the most positive aspect is the incredible colors and scenery we get to enjoy during the rally.  Typically, the late afternoon and early evening on Friday will present itself some incredible vistas to see Mother Nature in all her splendor and the early Saturday morning hours greet you with a new day and the colors popping back to life with the sunrise.  However, the negative is that you are not the only one out on the road to enjoy the scenery so traffic, congestion, and fall festivals in small towns restrict you time; as well creates some interesting challenges in finding a place for your rest bonus.  This year's bonus list made sure that both the positive and negatives were going to be in play throughout the rally.

As in the past, the rally book came a day earlier than the website promised.  However, this year it showed up at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon - right before I was off to a lunch meeting.  Do you know how hard it is to have a productive lunch meeting when all you want to do is rush back to the office and start tearing into the rally book and bonus locations??? I think that I pulled it off and was back in my office a little after 3 p.m. trying to figure out the twists and turns of the route.  In going through it, it was clear that past years scoring marathons was not going to be repeated and the rallymasters were going to keep you on the clock until you turn in your scoring packet.  So not only do you have to get back to the hotel before 2 p.m., but you needed to have all of the paperwork done.  A great concept and one that worked incredibly well in my opinion and I hope that they continue this.  By staying on the clock you had to make sure to leave you enough time to prepare the paperwork - though the question is how much time do you need? 15 minutes seems about right for me since I stay pretty organized during the rally and clearly know where and when I was at during the rally.  But I wanted a little bit of cushion so I decided to route my course to ensure that I have at least 30 minutes.

The rest of the rally book seems surprisingly straight forward.  Take a picture of this, read the inscription and fill in the blank, make sure you rest for at least three hours, etc.  With each page, I keep looking for a pitfall but I just can't find one.  Through all of the e-mails leading up to the release of the rally book, Scott and Gary kept stressing reading comprehension.  So there must be something hidden here.  Nope, nothing.  So realizing that all I have to do is follow the directions at each bonus, I should score pretty well once I find a route that I like.

I first zoom in on the three combo bonus - bonus locations that when grouped together you get not only the bonus but extra points for collecting two or three of the like bonus locations.  The combo locations are mostly located in South Georgia and then up the east coast.  I quickly calculate that the combo points are nice, but there are not a lot of extra bonus locations along that route.  So that means you will either have a lower score or will have to ride a lot of extra miles to get other bonus locations.  Next I look to the west.  I quickly realize that is a big waste of time.  So I move on to a northern option.  There are more bonus locations in the north than one has time for, so I need to whittle it down.  I wanted to maximize my points while keeping the mileage around 1200 miles.  The route that I quickly zeroed in on, had me beeline it up from Statesboro, GA into West Virginia/Western Maryland, and Western Virginia pretty quickly in the day after hitting some bonus locations not too far from the direct route to Wytheville, VA.  Overall, it appears to be a 567 point route with about 1,220 miles and will allow for a 4 hour rest bonus.  So I load it into the GPS, pack up the bike, and wait until Thursday to head to Statesboro.

After a half of a day's work on Thursday, I make my way down to Statesboro about 3 hours south of Athens.  The ride down is beautiful as the beginnings of fall start to make their way into the Georgia countryside.  I purposely stay off the interstate and have as much of an enjoyable ride as possible, while still making good time.  While checking into the hotel, I am already meeting up with fellow riders and friends that I haven't seen since the last rally.  We all head off to dinner and after a short detour (whoever heard of a steakhouse that doesn't serve beer??? Oh yeah, it is South Georgia), we land at a Mexican restaurant.  Given the size of the group, we have to break up and I find myself sitting with a number of riders who are riding in the IBR next summer so most of the conversation centers around that ride.  I am very interested in the IBR (11 days, 11,000 miles).  It is something that I don't think I will ever do, but hats off to all that attempt it.

Friday morning arrives and I head out to the starting gas station that I found on my way into Statesboro yesterday afternoon.  It is located on my route about 10 minutes north of the city (while still recording a Statesboro address) so I am starting my rally 10 minutes ahead of schedule already!  Can't get much better - but of course when I get my start receipt, the pump works fine but is out of paper.  So I have to shuffle into the store to check a duplicate.  All is good and I text in my starting information and head north on US 25 towards Augusta.  The first stop is the Granitesville Cemetery Historical Highway Marker that is actually within the cemetery grounds.  I stop take the picture, wave to Rick and Barbara who wind up right behind me and then point the bike towards Ninety Six, SC about 50 miles north of here. I have been to this bonus location (and the next one) before and know the roads pretty well since I have ridden them in the past (on personal rides as well as rallies) so I feel confident that I will be able to get quite a bit ahead of schedule to maximize my rest bonus. My stops in Ninety Six and then Ridgeway (home to the World's Smallest Police Station) are bagged easily enough and I am considerably ahead of schedule and feeling really good with the direction of my rally so far.

From Ridgeway it is an easy afternoon ride up I-77 into Charlotte.  Traffic for the most part remains light as I enter into North Carolina and really does not pick up until I am closing in on Concord just north of the city.  At about the same time the GPS tells me to get off I-85 and head to the surface streets, traffic on I-85 comes to a halt.  Therefore, I decide to follow Ms. Garmin and make my way to the speedway via the local roads.  As I approach the speedway (I love the sheer magnitude of size of these stadiums), I start thinking about the bonus location (a specific gate) and realize that it will likely be on the backside of the course since rallymasters are devious that way and sure enough it was.  But the speedway was deserted and I quickly made my way around to the back side and snap the required picture and still 25  minutes ahead of schedule.  I am already making plans for a solid 5 hours of sleep in my head.

While escaping the Charlotte traffic, I enter into a work zone just outside of Statesville and notice a line of police cars near the front of the group of cars about 10 vehicles ahead of me.  I am not sure what all transpired but as soon as we cleared the work zone, the lights come on and they start pulling over all of the vehicles who were traveling at the front of the line.  Once I make my way past that excitement, it is open roads into the mountains of southwest Virginia and the colors really start becoming vibrant.  Coming into Virginia, the temperatures start to drop a little but the clear, crisp air makes up for it but providing my wonderful vistas and overlooks down to the farming valleys below I-77.  Making my way into Wytheville, I remain well ahead of schedule and snap the picture of the large pencil and then point the bike into West Virginia.

Now is when the trip becomes really exciting, it is late afternoon and the sun is slowly setting off to my left as I travel north on I-77 through the mountains of southwest Virginia, through the tunnels into West Virginia, and then up the spine of the state (though one of Ms. Garmin GPS units wanted me to get off I-77 - I wasn't falling for that).  The colors are simply exploding around me, the air remains clear and crisp and traffic is very light.  So I am making incredible time while having the most relaxed ride up I-77 and then eastbound on I-64 towards Lewisburg.  The next bonus location is just off downtown which appears to have only one way into and out of from the north and I-64.  Traffic is pretty slammed once I get off the interstate and resolve not to come out the same way I am going in.  I find the required bell after a short loop around the outside of the park and head the bike even further to the east while bypassing the traffic head towards the restaurants  and strip malls north of downtown near I-64 .  I am now almost 45 minutes ahead of schedule.  Yahoo!!!

It is now pushing 7 p.m. and the sun is quickly being lost behind the mountains and the shadows of the valley start to surround me and push me and the road into darkness.  As I head into the Jefferson National Forest to search out the Roaring Run Furnace, it so spooky with the overhanging trees that I am convinced this is where the Blair Witch Project was conceived. There is still a little bit of light up in the sky, but the ground and road is dark as can be.  I have decent night lights on the bike, so I stay fairly confident that I can follow the road, but do ease back a bit on the throttle.  I get to the pull off for the furnace and find it to be a dirt/gravel roadway.  About a mile in, the road ends at the necessary gate now about 30 minutes ahead of schedule.  I snap the picture and head out of the forest thinking that the worst of my route is behind me.  Hah!

Before leaving the house, I routed my route in both Google Maps as well as Streets and Trips to see how it was going to send me through the mountains.  They both were in agreement, so I figured Ms. Garmin would as well.  So upon leaving the Furnace, I blindly follow her into Clifton Forge before turning onto a series of residential streets.  Passing a sign warning of severe curves and recommending not following the GPS route, I quickly realize that this is going to be a difficult journey in darkness.  Sulpher Springs Road is where Ms. Garmin has me heading with all of her switchbacks and lack of center/edge lines.  I don't pass another vehicle on the road in all the 30 minutes for the 15 miles that I travel on her and convinced if I go over the edge I will never be found. I finally make my way onto US 220 after giving up all of my time that I was ahead of schedule. It actually was probably a pretty neat road in the daytime, but at night, backtracking to US 220 once leaving the Furnace would have made much more sense.

US220 is a relatively easy road to keep up some decent speeds on, but after the draining 30 minutes on Sulpher Springs, I find it difficult to push it that hard.  Plus Bambi starts to make her appearance so I am constantly staying vigilant for the unexpected crossing.  Fortunately, she stays off to the side of the ride when I pass.  One interested thing about these rallies is that you come across the darnest things along the way.  US 220 is deserted and from what I can make out is very rural.  But as I turn into Hot Springs, VA, I am greeted by the largest mansion I have ever seen in the middle of nowhere.  It is called The Homestead ( and truly looks exquisite and as magnificent as the reviews that I have since read claim it to be. Maybe one day I will stay here (after I hit the lottery). After leaving Hot Springs, I make my way up to Monterey and the Giant Fish on top of the restaurant.  No problem finding it but it is dark on top of that building.  There is another rider there from Allentown and he helps light it up with his bike and it is good enough for me and I head out.  He said that I just missed the local police officer who offered to light up the fish with his spot light.  As I pull out, the cop swings by and offers to do the same for me.  However, I feel that the picture is clear enough for scoring so I decline and head back into the mountains towards Elkins, WV. He wishes me well and tells me to watch out for deer and the curves on US250.

The ride into Elkins from Monterey is on US 250 which is not a bad mountain road, but one that you just can't make up any time on and is full of Bambi and raccoons scampering across the road.  Fortunately, nothing too close but it is by far the most wildlife that I encounter on any of this rallies.  I find the Minnehaha statue on the edge of town and head through the center when I notice there is some major festival going on here this weekend.  Turns out that I just missed the Volunteer Firefighter parade (which explains the rows of chairs that are lining Main Street).  So traffic was actually pretty light and I skirted through the town without much delay.  From Elkins, it was a valley road ride up to Kingwood to an old timey gas station.  WV 92 is a great road and I have no problem keeping up speed and actually make back a little of the time that I have given up in the mountains.  I am now thinking that I will be at the hotel around 1 a.m. with a 5 hour rest still possible.

After making my way back onto I-68 to head into Maryland, the days ride starts to drag on me a little.  In all, I am on track to do about 850 miles since leaving Statesboro 16 hours ago.  So when I pull into Frostburg, MD for my rest I am more than ready.  Once checking into the Days Inn, the thought of just calling it a rally and make my way back to Lynchburg slowly once day breaks is seriously contemplated.  However, when the alarm goes off at 5:30 and a quick shower, the competitive juices start up and I am ready to finish strong even though I am about 45 minutes behind schedule since I did take a full 5 hours when I planned on only 4 hours.  But it was the right decision for me.

The first stop of the morning occurs just before daybreak at the Road Kill Cafe just north of the Pennsylvania/Maryland border.As luck would have, shortly after leaving the Cafe, Bambi runs across the road directly in front of me.  I guess she was thinking that they could serve her up today! From there it is time to start heading south towards Lynchburg.  The next stop is of a giant statue of the Midas Man in someone's property.  The route is clear enough, just head south on US522 and you are there.  However, as I enter into Berkeley Springs (also known as Bath), WV I am greeted to another small town festival for Apple Butter.  I am there just before 7 a.m. so everyone is just setting up, but it is clear that if I was there much later I would be in the middle of some parade or detour to God knows where.  With that mess behind, I hit the bonus location and am surprised to see that I am only 15 minutes behind schedule now.  I should be able to hit all of my locations with minutes to spare.  Man is this turning into a great rally!

The next is the highest point location on my route (an HMM honoring Mosby's Rangers) on US 50 about an hour west of Washington DC.  I was surprised to see this as the highest point location because it seemed to be fairly straight forward easily found on the side of the road with very little morning traffic.  There were two different HMM there, so maybe the rallymasters were banking on the fact that we might take a picture of the wrong one.  No problem on my end so I snap the picture and enjoy the very expansive (and expensive) horse farms just outside of the metro area of DC while I make my way on US 50 and the side roads down to the next bonus location. I am just about back on schedule and decide to tackle the bonus location that will require about a mile walk (round trip).  The bonus is a stone pyramid marking the birthplace of John Marshall (4th Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court).  The hike through the woods at first feels great since I am stretching my legs but by the time I get to the pyramid, I am ready to be back on the bike.  All in all, it was 18 minutes to walk/run to the site and back to the bike.  Not too shabby for motorcycle boots and full gear (minus the helmet).

Shortly after leaving the pyramid, I catch back up with Rick and Barbara by chance on US 29 and ride down together towards the Orange County Airport (yes, the same airport I rode by on last Void while reminiscing about my skydiving days at Virginia Tech).  Originally, we were to stamp our rally book with a stamp that is kept at the airport.  However, on Friday I got an e-mail saying the stamp wasn't there - just take a picture of the sign.  It turns out the stamp was there but I wasn't going to spend time to look for it since the sign picture was going to be accepted. I am just about right on schedule now and plan to finish out the route as planned with a quick gas stop along the way

From Orange, it was a scenic ride on VA 231 to I-64 and then past Charlottesville to the Swannanoa  Golf Course near the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I wait a bit longer than I should to get gas, so as I go into fuel conservation mode on I-64, Rick and Barbara pass me and I limp into a gas station.  Even with that stop I am still right on time so I know that I will be fine in completing the route as planned with plenty of time available to score before 2:00 arrives.  From Swannanoa , it is to Washington and Lee University for another HMM.  However, the route takes you right through the VMI campus and adjacent to the football stadium that is preparing for a 1:30 homecoming game. Luckily for me, the traffic was not too bad and kept moving right past the stadium as people started queuing up for the gates to open at 12:00.  By this time, there are four of us riders grouped together for the ride into Lynchburg.

However, there is still one more bonus to hit - the Dino Girl just outside of Lynchburg.  Once again I catch up with Rick and Barbara and we head into Lynchburg behind a nice line of leaf watchers.  We lose a little bit of time along the way, but by 1:22 p.m. I arrive safe and sound at the hotel to begin the scoring process. I whip out the laptop and feel really good with my ride.  I hit everything that I wanted and it should yield me 567 points.  I start filling out the rallybook and want to double check that the picture time still matched the bike time that I wrote down at each bonus location.  That is when my heart sinks.  I left my camera on Central Time from when I did Michael Hickman's rally from a few weeks ago.  DoH!  That will cost me 105 points (about 20 percent).  Everyone makes a mistake on these rallies and I was long overdue for leaving points at the table.  Lesson learned. As Rick Miller (who scored me) said, now it is up to me to go out and figure out new ways to screw up.

Overall, I finished with 462 points - good enough for 7th place with about 1225 miles in 24 hours of riding time and 5 hours of rest.  I enjoyed every minute of it and even the cold rainy Sunday morning that greeted us could not wipe the smile from my face.

Thanks Scott and Gary!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Autumn Equinox Rally - September 22nd

Disclaimer:  The first part of the report is mostly personal reflection and non-motorcycle related, so feel free to jump down to "RALLY" to get to the meat of the report.


The Road to Broken Arrow

Solitude on the bike is usually a great thing and something that I cherish on most of my rides. In fact, I cherish it so much that I have disconnected the cell phone from my helmet's audio system. But there is a dark side of solitude that can, and does at times, rear its head and it can be one heck of a demon.

I signed up for Michael's fall rally because I have always heard great things about his rallies and I have never ridden in Oklahoma before. Actually, I do not believe I have even stepped foot within it's borders. Plus with Stillwater being so close to Tulsa, I would be able to see my friend, Jason. So off I head to Oklahoma on Friday morning at the ungodly hour of 2:30 a.m. Riding this early in the morning generally treats me well and as I headed out, it was a little brisk but nothing too bad. I made my way to my first stop in Birmingham, right on schedule. As the sun started to rise, I found myself having more and more trouble remaining focused on riding as I got colder (it was now in the upper 40's). Recognizing the signs of fatigue and since falling asleep on a motorcycle is the last thing you ever want to do, I make the smart decision to get off the bike, warm up, and get something to eat.

After a brief break, I am back on the road and back to feeling good as I head toward Memphis.  Riding through South Memphis is just plain unpleasant between the rain showers that I am riding in and out of and the damn truck traffic (South Memphis must be the epicenter of freight distribution).  However, that proved to be easy compare to the pending demons lurking in the foreground.  Shortly after entering Arkansas, my thoughts start turning sinister in my head.  No longer are they about the morning and the anticipation of the Oklahoma adventure that I've signed up for, but they become fixated on my pending divorce, the fact that my wife has left me, what I could have differently to prevent this from happening, what she could have done, and the fact that my desire to be there for my son will be terribly challenged in the very near future.   At first the thoughts are just the typical unpleasant nagging sensations, but as the day continues the thoughts of my pending loneliness start to build to a point where this whole trip is starting to seem completely fruitless.   Try as I might, the black clouds hang around until I ride into Broken Arrow, 850 miles and 14 hours after leaving Athens. I pull into the Super 8 to check into the motel with the very serious thought of sleeping for a few hours and then turning around to head back to Athens.

A nap and then a quick shower starts to shake the cobwebs, a call to a few friends back in Georgia further starts to bring me back to realization that I am doing what I love (rallying) and that I am not going to be completely alone when I get back to Athens.  By 5:30 p.m., I am feeling like myself and head over the pre-rally barbeque at Michael's house about 10 minutes from the hotel.


Autumn Equinox Rally

One of the highlights of Michael's rally is how well he takes care of the riders.  The night before the rally he hosts an informal gathering of riders at his home for some last minute rally details/instructions, but most importantly, food and more food. Since I am the rider who has traveled the farthest of all the rally participants, at first I feel a little bit on the outside of the group (most who know each other and have ridden in Michael's rally in the past), but it is not long before I feel welcomed and enjoy hearing the stories that most rally participants love to tell about previous rally efforts and anticipation of this one - especially if and when he will drop some game changer. The dinner is quite fulling and the food seems to be endless.  Then Michael lets us know that he has added another bonus location that will be dynamic.  There is a Facebook group called Iron Butt Tag ( where you are supposed to take a picture of your motorcycle in front of a designated object.  If you successfully do that first, you get to choose the next object.  The current object is a National Park Service sign.  Michael then states that for each tag you start he will award 1,000 points.  He further informs us that the closest National area is the Fort Gibson National Cemetery (  Whereas it may not be considered to be a National Park, he will accept it.  I really don't have any interest in playing during the rally, but I join the group on Facebook anyway thinking that it would be fun to do in the future. Michael also passes out our "rally flag" which are balloons.  He further clarifies how the balloon needs to be inflated with the emblem clearly visible in the pictures.  He used this flag in the past the the other riders are quick to share their technique to make this an easy undertaking.  Actually it was and proved to be easier than the traditional golf towel style flag that most rallies use.

Saturday morning all of the riders (8 of us) assemble at Michael's home for a quick rider's meeting and to get any final direction. Some good clarifying questions are asked, but nothing that alters my plan.  However, one rider was under the impression that the final score was going to be based on efficiency (e.g., points/miles ridden).  There was an e-mail that said that would be the case but it is not in the rally book, after conducting a conference with himself, Michael rules that the finishing order will be determined by total points after Pandora's Box is taken into account (more on that later).  That works for most of us, except for the rider who routed for efficiency since he is not sure if he route will hold up on a total point basis.  He is visibly disappointed in his route and I thought he may whip out his computer to reroute. But he quickly seems to accept his fate and takes off with the rest of us at the stroke of 10 a.m.  We now have 28 hours and the entire state of Oklahoma (plus her contiguous states) to explore.

 My first stop is the Cherokee Nation Heritage Center for a picture of The Weaver Cottage. Apparently, the Cherokee women were accomplished weavers and this cottage is laid out with a loom and other tools of the trade.  The Center is a really neat historical educational center that appears to include a number of structures that depict Cherokee life. After a few minutes of searching the Center grounds, I easily find the cottage, snap the required picture and off on my way with 56 miles down.

While riding towards the Center, I noticed a sign on US Highway 64 for the Fort Gibson National Cemetery.  Hey, isn't that what Michael said would count for the tag??? So after a quick detour, I snap the picture and upload it to Facebook.  Since I now own the tag, I decided to get rid of it quickly, so just down the road is a water tower with the High School mascot on it.  Good enough for me.  So I post this picture and move on my way.  (Editor's note: the tag game went on a weird tangent at this point which I will not rehash.  Let's just say that the rally participants and the regular players of the game had several disagreements over what was going on and in the end, the rally wound up hijacking the game for the weekend.  All is now right in the world and the game is progressing along nicely).

Next on my route is the Circus bonus which will require the picture of a headstone in the Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Hugo, OK - the winter home of two touring circus companies.  This is also the first of my Pandora Box bonus locations - locations within Oklahoma submitted by the riders in which you get the points for visiting the bonus and everyone else will lose the same number of points. It is an easy enough ride down to the southeast corner of the state and I marvel at Lake Eufaula as I make my way through the area.   I start playing some mind games second guessing my chosen route.  I figure out an alternative route along the way that I think will score me better but will put me much later at my rest bonus that I would like and that will significantly cut into my Sunday route which starts with a time specific bonus that closes at 7:00 a.m.  I still haven't decided what to do by the time I ride into the cemetery and take a picture of the required headstone. ( I finally decide to revise my route and start to head out of town, but while getting gas, I second guess my decision and decide to stick with my original route and head off in the opposite direction.  But I second (third?) guess that decision and turn around only to second (fourth?) guess it one more time and decide that I will stick with the plan and head south towards Paris, TX.  All in all, I probably lost 15 minutes riding around in circles in Hugo (which is so small, that it is hard to do).  Past rallies have taught me, to plan the ride and ride the plan.  It has served me well in the past and I have no clue why I even started second guessing my route mid rally.

So now that my original route is back in play, I settle in for a long ride across the top part of Texas between Paris and Vernon along US 82.  It is a good ride and road, but hot (well into the mid-90's).  Traffic is not too bad and I make decent time, even with a 30 minute break from the heat to get some food and I find my way to Doans, TX and the site of a former ferry crossing of the Red River between Texas and Oklahoma and a adobe building that once served as a general store for the region.  I am now 494 miles into this journey and prepare to head back into Oklahoma and further west.

It is quickly becoming dusk and I just simply love the scenery that I am riding through as the day ends.  The fields seem to reflect all of the setting suns rays and with the Witchita mountains illuminated by the setting sun off to the east, I am sad to see the day come to an end.  As I turn due west at Altus on to US62, I ride directly into the sun as it disappears over the flat horizon.  In so many ways, it reminds me a lot of watching the last bits of the sun disappear over the ocean (probably since the ocean is as flat as western Oklahoma appears to be).  My only concern with the loss of sunlight, is the increase chances of animal interactions.  But I put on the high beams to throw out as much light as possible and try to keep a constant watch as to anything moving in the shadows.  I do see a few critters along the way, but nothing major and nothing that found it's way into my path.  Traveling through Shamrock, TX to get to I-40, I notice a building on the old Route 66 corridor that I am sure was in the movie Cars.  Sure enough - 

The trip onto I-40 west is easy down a few exits to McLean, TX for a picture of some large balls of barbed wire - the things we have to go to in these rallies is always fun in a warped sense.  Anyway, it is a quick turnaround to head back east into Oklahoma and the site of an old jail in Texola, OK.  Yes, that "original" sounding name stems from a combination of Texas and Oklahoma and sits on the border. ( In this thriving metropolis of 47 people is the site of a small territorial jail.  Even in the complete darkness, it is not difficult to locate and snap the necessary picture and find my way back on I-40 east with 659 miles under my belt.

Just before 11:00 p.m., I find my way to the Super 8 motel room and settle in for a 6 hour rest bonus, which includes almost 5 1/2 hours of actual sleep.  Awakening refreshed at 4:30 a.m., I make my way back onto I-40 with the sole thought of getting to POPS before the ending window of 7:00 a.m. Heading east, I figure that I have enough cushion in my route to go ahead and snag a low point, but very simple bonus just off I-40 in El Reno.  It can be dangerous, but sometimes you have to put your faith in the GPS coordinates that the rallymaster gives you to find the bonus.  It worked in Texola and as well in this case. So it was a quick detour to the historical monument and back on I-40 I go.

After leaving El Reno, I skirt the edge of Oklahoma City to head to a new icon along Route 66 - Pops ( whose towering 66 foot (get it?) tall soda bottle that is illuminated at night with an every changing array of lights.  The bonus required you to be there between 7:00 p.m and 7:00 a.m. and I arrived a little after 6:30 a.m..  So with plenty of time to spare, I snap my picture and head inside to look around and enjoy a drink or two.On my way out, Jim Orr has arrived and satisfying his bonus requirements as well.

The rest of my Sunday plan is to ride up and back I-35 hitting various bonus locations east and west of the I-35 corridor before heading back to Tulsa and Broken Arrow.  My next stop is the Riverview Cemetery in the abandoned oil lands called the Three Sands Field (  Like most long distance rallyists, I run two GPS while on the bike.  One I have set to exclude routing on gravel or unpaved roads.  So when that one is telling me that it is impossible to reach the destintion, I know that I have dirt in my future.  The 4 miles of dirt roads to get to the cemetary and then back out really were not too bad.  They were dry and mostly hard packed and obviously see a lot of traffic.  Albeit, it is still unnerving to be riding on gravel and the soft areas that pop up from time to time, the ride over to the cemetery is fairly easy and successful with 916 miles under my belt

Away from the gravel, I head another exit north on I-35 towards the Marland Mansion (  It is a really easy ride on a sleepy Sunday morning.  As I am leaving Paul arrives and we talk for a few minutes. It really is amazing how riders cross paths throughout the rally even when there is only 8 of us. So I turn around and head back south on I-35 to Guthrie.Shortly after getting on I-35, I pass 1,000 miles in less than 24 hours for another unofficial Saddlesore 1000.

Guthrie actually has two bonus locations within 1 mile of one another, but since the rules of the game prohibit you from claiming two bonuses in a row that are within the same quadrant of Oklahoma as defined by the I-35 and I-40 corridors, I can only bag one at the moment.  So I decide on getting the first territorial jail to complement the one in Texola.  It certainly has fallen on hard times and hopefully is on it's way to renovation.

Since I have to get on the other side of I-35 before returning to Guthrie, I wanted to hit the Seaba Motorcycle Museum ( but afraid that it may make my arrival at the final bonus location too late.  So I drop it in favor of the easier Round Barn. (  Plus this location is another Pandora Box bonus so it will at least provide some damage to the other rider's scores. I get to ride past Pops again so I use the chance to get the splash of gas that I need to finish my route and to enjoy another bottle of soda.

After the barn, it is back to Guthrie for the Pandora Box bonus that I submitted, the Guthrie Boy's Home, which is claimed to be haunted (  Before getting there, I pass Art heading back to Tulsa so I do my quick and easy stop and then I head back to Tulsa.  I arrive at the cemetery just before 1:00 p.m. for the last bonus for Cpl. Jared Shoemaker who was killed in Iraq in 1996 and await for the window to open with five other riders.  We all help each other take the required picture of the headstone and rally balloon before headed back to Michael's house to finish.  1178 miles (GPS) or 1199 miles (bike) after leaving Michael's house on Saturday morning, I arrive back there on Sunday afternoon a little before 1:30 p.m.

Thankfully, we all arrive safely and go through the typical scoring process before having a great beef barbeque meal.  Beef brisket is something Georgia does not do, so it was a nice change from the typical pulled pork BBQ that I love to eat here. Overall, I am pleased with my efforts.  Certainly not my most successful rally, but given where I was on Friday afternoon, I am happy with the places I visited and the finding the uniqueness of Oklahoma which I was hoping to discover.  I finished 5th overall after the Pandora Box subtractions were taken into account.  I like the idea of Pandora's Box, but maybe would have tweaked it a little.  For example, only subtract points from those riders that did not collect the bonus - or better yet, subtract it from those that did.  We hang out with Michael for a few hours before the energy levels start to drop with the setting sun. We bid our goodbyes and head off our separate ways.

 Stillwater and Beyond

Monday morning, I head another 75 miles to the west to spend the day with Jason and his family.  At first I start questioning my sanity for traveling 75 miles out of my way today just to travel back the opposite way on Tuesday.  Not the first time that I (like most LD riders) ever has done that.  But the day with Jason exploring Stillwater is more relaxing and enjoyable than I was ever anticipating and the day quickly disappeared.  Tuesday morning I head home and tackle all 925 miles in about 16 hours from Stillwater back to Athens.  The trip home is much more enjoyable and relaxing than the anxiety that I experienced headed west - well except for the damn construction on I-40 just west of Memphis and on I-20 just east of Birmingham which added about 45 minutes to my travels.  But the important thing is that I made it home safely. Now that I am back home, I will be able to start picking up the pieces and start accepting my new life and different roles but also the next Rally.

All in all, it was about 3,070 miles in 5 days (4 days of actual riding).  Not too shabby.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Rain, Rain, and More Rain - May 9th

All the way up to Tuesday afternoon, the weather forecast was calling for a beautiful Wednesday.  So I planned a simple 300 mile loop into the North Georgia mountains to hit a couple of locations for both the Tour of Honor and Grand Tour of Georgia. But not so.  Shortly before sending kiddo off to school, the rain starts.  I double check the weather forecast and they say that the system is moving to the south and east and areas north and west should be seeing clearing skies in late morning/early afternoon.  But not so.  I figure that I needed to hone my wet weather riding skills, so I decide to stick with the game plan and trust the weather people that my rain experience will be short-lived. 

As I leave Athens, there is a steady, but light, rain falling.  Enough to call for my rain jacket in addition to the waterproof riding jacket and pants. But as I travel up 441, I seem to be traveling into the center of the storm and the rain starts to pick up into what I would call a driving rain.  I feel pretty good still, so I continue moving north at about 35 mph with a group of cages watching for standing water or other water related concerns that I may be traveling into/through.  About 5 miles south of Commerce, a pick-up truck starts to pass the line of vehicles at about 60 mph, as the line crests a hill we see him hydroplane from the passing lane, across the grass median and opposing lanes of travel (thankfully no one was coming in the opposite direction) and smack into the embankment on the side of the roadway.  He doesn't seem to hit the embankment hard, but he will definitely need a tow truck to get the vehicle out. See going slow and steady has it's place.  I notice the driver of the vehicle in front of me is reaching for his phone.  I assume that he is calling for help, so I keep going without giving it a second thought.  The rest of the ride up to Tallulah Falls and the School is uneventful.  I ride on the campus of the school and is instantly amazed at the beauty of the small campus.  It must be a great place for learning. Even with the rain, I am only slightly behind my planned schedule, so I am thinking that maybe the worst is behind me.  Not so.

From Tallulah Falls, it is a short ride into Clayton and the TOH memorial site.  Finding it is simple and after a quick gas stop, I am on my way west along US 76 through the north Georgia Mountains.  Typically, this is a scenic route with a lot of slow drivers.  Not today.  The rain is keeping most people home it seems.  With little traffic on the road, I figure that I will make some good time.  Not so.  The rains pick up again and rainy, switch back mountain roads do not tend to allow for quick, safe travel.  So my schedule is going to be abandoned and I am going to try and enjoy the ride as much as possible.  The ride over to Blairsville is marked by how cold it becomes. The air temperature is reading the middle 50's, but with the wind and dampness, I feel my body heat being zapped from my body which makes me tired quickly.

Arriving in Blairsville, I easily find the park where the next art piece is located.  It is on the top of a hill from the parking lot, so I begin to hoof it up the hill through the freshly cut grass.  By the time I get to the sculpture, my boots are covered in grass clippings.  The picture takes more time and effort than I was thinking it would, in the steady drizzle, the camera was having a hard time focusing on both the passport book and the sculpture.  But after playing around with a few settings on the camera, I wind up with an acceptable photo and make my way back down the hill to my bike.

From Blairsville, I decide to head further west to get to explore some roads that I typically don't have a chance to ride.  They are interesting enough, but nothing that I would go out of my way for.  The rains continue so just outside of Woodstock, I decide to have lunch to warm up.  I wasn't planning on stopping for lunch today, but the rain and cool air have taken their toll and I decided that it would be best to have a break.  Besides, maybe the rain will be done by the time I finish. Not so.  Arriving into Roswell, I pass the infamous Castle House on Georgia 140 (more information here:  Although I only capture a glimpse.  It is a fun, unexpected find along a typical suburban Georgia highway.  Getting to the Faces of Memorial in Roswell is simple and once I get to the memorial, I am immediately taken back at the detail in the soldier's faces along the copper wall.  This is truly an amazing memorial.  Too bad it was having some work done, because I would have loved looking closer at the detail.

From Roswell, it is a cross suburban journey to Buford and the American Made statue.  Given the requirements of having your motorcycle in the picture, I had to take the picture further back that I would have liked since the statue had a lot of detail as well.  But I take the picture and move on.  Finally, the rain has stopped and now it is just a wet road ride home.  I stop in a the Kawasaki dealer in Hochston (since Top Gear in Athens closed after Christmas) to introduce myself and look around.  It is a nice shop.  Not too far from Athens and some of the mechanics came from Top Gear, so I feel good about the possibility of using them for my needs.

I get home about an hour later than I was planning, but I made it home safe and worked on my riding in the rain skills, so I feel that it was a worthwhile trip.  Plus I found out that my waterproof riding jacket, pants, and boots are pretty close to just that.  I am not really wet anywhere - slightly damp in a few places, but overall, I am pleased with the gear. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cape Fear 2012 - April 19th thru 24th

The 2012 Edition of the Cape Fear Rally started off easy enough (or so we thought).  At 5:30 PM, the Rallymaster sent out the Rally Packs and we all got to work.  I really don't look at the locations in the rally packet, I just start trying to get the coordinates into Streets and Trips. The first thing that most of us noticed was that unlike previous years you could not cut and paste the coordinate information out of the pdf document.  So instead of hand entering them (I would definitely transpose something along the way and find myself in some deserted place at 2:00 a.m. miles away from the correct location), I printout the book and start to rescan the pages into an OCR program.  The coordinates are getting into a decent format and about 20 minutes into it, the cell phone rings.  Another rider is calling me to ask if I thought the rally book was right.  Why wouldn't it be?  I did notice high point locations near the start of the rally but really didn't give it much thought other than a lot of them were duplicates from last year.

About an hour into it, I think he is right and something is up with the books and not in a good way.  I try to continue to give the Rallymaster the benefit of the doubt and just then we all get an e-mail saying stop what you are doing.  We have the wrong books the correct ones will be sent shortly.  It is now about 7:00 p.m.  No big deal, I will wait patiently.  7:30 p.m. still waiting, so I will do the dishes.  8:00 p.m. - still waiting, so I will load up the bike.  8:30 p.m. still waiting (not so patiently anymore).  9:00 p.m. - F*ck it, I'm going to watch TV.  Of course, 9:05 p.m., the e-mail comes with the correct book.  Time to get back to work.

This book allows you to cut and paste the pdf document, so it takes only about 45 minutes to get the raw data coordinates uploaded into Streets and Trips.  Routing may begin.  The first thing that I notice (after the mileage cap) is that there are some decent bonus locations in Southern Ohio.  I have always wanted to ride there and now is my chance.  It will require some high mileage (about 1300 miles in 23 hours), but I think it is doable given the forecasted weather and the amount of interstate riding that I will need to do.  So in about 2 hours, I draft out a decent route with 8 boni locations that should get me about 39,000 points including the six-hour rest bonus and odometer check with the time, speed, odometer component.  Off to bed.

The beginning of the actual ride was like other years.  I left the house a little early to hit a few spots along the way to Paris, TN that are locations on other tours that I am doing this summer.  This year I am focused on two - Grand Tour of Georgia for Eddie's Road and Tour of Honor for the Wounder Warrior Project.  So leaving Athens, I wind up in Rome in just a few hours to hit the Romulus and Remus statue in front of City Hall.  The ride over was not bad, but the grey cold morning that I started with in Athens never really left.  Riding from Rome, I pass by Berry College (pretty) and I head over the Cloudland Canyon portion of Northwest Georgia.  I have never ridden over here and was looking forward to it.  The weather did not get much better and I spend a good deal of time riding either in low lying clouds (hence the name) or heavy fog - I am not really sure.

The minute I get over the pass, the skies part and a beautiful day is upon us.  So it is a quick ride in to Trenton, GA for a metal art piece and then over to Rossville, GA for a Civil War Memorial.  The detail on the Iowa monument was really incredible and I appreciated the stop as part of the Tour of Honor.  Leaving Rossville, I really don't have any other plans other than make my way up through Nashville and over into Paris, Tennessee to meet up with the other riders.  That is what happens, almost like clock work and I roll into the hotel at 4:00 p.m.

Dinner and discussion with the other riders was fun at a pizza place next to the hotel.  This year a number of new rally riders were encouraged to sign up with a mentor.  So the dinner was neat as we listened to the new riders talk about what lies ahead. We have all been there at one time, but I had forgotten the level of anticipation that these new riders brought to the mix.  In listening to the other riders, I stayed pretty confident on my route choice, even though most thought it was too many miles and I was crazy to try and bag a North Myrtle Beach bonus.  But I stayed unswayed.

Friday morning is filled with the typical impatient doings - a breakfast at the hotel, a quick ride to scout out a good starting location for a gas or otherwise starting receipt, and to try not an tweak with the route.  I succeed on the first two, but fail on the third.  I lay out two possible options to tack on Saturday morning depending on how I am feeling.  The first is a relatively simple 900 point bonus location that is not really on the way, but may be worth the time.  The second is a more ambitious two stop location that has a time requirement that both most be collected after 12:01 p.m.  I am not going to commit to either right now, that decision is not needed for 24 hours.

9:04 Central Daylight Time (10:04 EDT) finally gets there and I'm off.  I am one of the last riders out of the BP station.  I don't know if that is a good sign or not, but I figure that I need as much time before the DNF starts.  So as it stands, I need to be in Wilmington, NC at 3:04 p.m. on Saturday.  Let the fun begin.

My first chosen stop is 200 miles down the road in Hodgenville, KY- the birthplace of Abe Lincoln.  I really hate to start a rally droning out miles on the interstate, but that is what I am doing.  I quickly get into a routine up from Paris and past Murray State College.  As soon as I get on Carroll Purchase Parkway (also known as I-69), a police car pulls up beside me.  I am thinking, come on I am only going about 75 mph in a 70 zone.  I glance over and he hits his lights.  It might be a long day, but he is not pulling me over he is using the median break to do a U-turn.  Somehow, I think he is just messing with me.  Anyway, I pull into Hodgenville right on schedule and get the necessary picture of Abe sitting in the center square.  One down.

Second stop is in Harrodsburg, KY for a World War II memorial - I arrive minutes after 10 or so other riders.   I am now 288 miles into the ride and things are looking good.  From central Kentucky, I part ways with most of the riders as I head north to Southern Ohio. 
I travel through Lexington and then up into Cincinnati.  No trouble until I hit early rush hour traffic at 4:00 p.m. just outside the city -I think Atlanta rush hour traffic is more bearable believe it or not.  I pick up another Cape Fear rider and we dart in and around the traffic for the next 20 miles (about 40 minutes) and we pull into Bowersville at about the same time.  The wind blast from the surrounding trucks play a little havoc with my flag at the birthplace sign but I get a good one and head out with 465 miles down in a little more than 7 hours of riding.

As I make my way over to Lancaster, Ohio, Ms. Garmin keeps telling to go north into Columbus and then head out south.  No way.  The farm roads of Southern Ohio are usually well kept and straight so passing shouldn't be a problem.  I peel off I-71 and head due east. The ride over is beautiful as I pass through a couple of small farming towns, but mostly the rural farming charm of Ohio.  I pull into the Caboose bonus location at around 6:30 p.m with 540 miles down.  I am feeling really good and enjoying this ride.  So I continue to press on eastward towards a small town called McConnelsville.  I have to back track a little through Lancaster, but traffic is light so I am making good time.  Until I get to the eastern part of the city.  There must be 50 vehicles pulled over to the side of the road ahead of me.  The travel lane is still open and clear, but something is up ahead.  As I make my way to the front of the queue, I realize that they are all queued up for the gates to open for the Drive-In theater.  A truly midwestern experience.  The rest of the trip over to McConnelsville is easy and I find the World War I statue just outside of town without delay.  Again, I am impressed at the small, simple nature of another rural town.  By now, it is almost dark and I am 600 miles into the madness.

From McConnelsville, my plan is to head over to I-77 and down through West Virginia.  I really don't like riding mountains at night so I figure staying on I-77 is going to be a safe bet.  Though Ms. Garmin really doesn't want me to hit I-77 until I go through Marietta and Parkersburg.  I buck her directions and make up my own route over the low lying mountains of Southern Ohio.  Although she stays mad at me the entire way and constantly recalculates the route, by the time I hit I-77, Ms. Garmin realizes that I really haven't lost any time. and she says I should be in Beckley, WV for the next stop a little after 10:30.  So I settle in for a simple zip down the interstate.

Just before I reach Beckley, I peel off I-77 to head over to a miner memorial statue in Oak Hill, WV.  The instructions for the memorial are very specific and you must have the miner, the mine cart and the base of the statue in your picture.  So after fiddling with the camera settings and positioning my bike to light up as much of the statue as I can, I wind up with the following picture.  I think mission is accomplished.  From Oak Hill it is back on I-77 to Wytheville, VA and the Super 8 Motel that I have reserved.  I still get a lot of grief for reserving rooms for my rest bonus before the start of the rally by many.  But it works for me, and I enjoy the fact knowing that a room and bed are awaiting me when I get to where I need to be.  The process has only really bite me once when I reserved a room too far out during last year's Cape Fear. The rest bonus has to start after 12:01 am.  So my schedule has me pulling in at 12:16, seems just about right.  I arrive with 853 miles down and I settle in for a nice 6 hour break.  Sleep doesn't come easy, but after an hour it does and I sleep soundly until 5:30 when the alarm goes off.  I take a quick shower, reload the bike, and grab a ending rest receipt for 6:13 a.m. - so that means I have a 5 hour and 57 minute rest.  I will lose 150 points for not taking the full 6 hours.  I hope that doesn't come back to bite me.  Probably should have gotten another receipt, oh well.

Just before 7:00 a.m. I am routed onto the Blue Ridge Parkway for the Blue Ridge Chapel bonus.  Getting it is easy, but the route Ms. Garmin sends me to get back to I-77 is not for the faint of heart.  Thankfully, it is daylight and I can see where I am going and to stay off the dirt roads that she wants me to explore.  I know many riders probably hit this late last night.  I am glad I can see where not to point the bike as the road seems to simply send me falling off the mountain. All is fine and I settle in for a beeline of interstate travel to the required odometer check on I-40 just past I-95.  I pull into the odo check right on schedule at 10:00 a.m. and complete the 19.2 mile odometer check in 19:12.19.   Part of the challenge was to do the odometer check with the same time as the average for all riders.  Though I followed all laws and speed limits, I caught the traffic signal coming off the ramp and feel that I may have finished a little quick. I have now completed 1,140 miles and suspect that I have about 200 more to go before 3:04 p.m.

Now it is decision time, I have time to hit the two higher point locations northeast of the odometer check or I can head south towards North Myrtle Beach.  Although I feel that I can and should do the higher locations, I decided to stick with the ride plan since it has worked so well for me so far.  Off towards Elizabethtown I head. Elizatbethtown is the home to a Space Shuttle pilot and they have a beautiful mural painted in his honor.  From there it is back roads into North Myrtle Beach.  The thing about the Myrtle Beach area is to know how to get around without being on US 17.  Before the rally started, I found out that the bonus location was located on US 17 - but near a brand new crossing of the intercoastal waterway.  So I figure I can stay inland until the crossing hit the bonus and head back out without seeing much traffic.  That is exactly what I do and I hit the putt-putt course actually ahead of schedule at 12:50 p.m. and 1,250 miles into the ride.

The ride up into Wilmington is simple enough (thank goodness for Hickman Road) and after a quick stop for a six pack for the dinner.  I arrive safe and sound at the Greentree Inn at 2:04 p.m with 1,335 miles.  I have never ridden so many miles in a 29 hour rally before and yet I still leave 60 minutes on the clock.  I probably should have done the other locations, but am very pleased with my ride.  I did everything that I wanted and now I will be scored to see how things progress.  Scoring is easy - everything is in order and I wind up with almost 39,000 points.  I did lose 150 for the rest bonus being less than 6 hours and another 180 for being too quick on the odometer check.  I wind up 13th of 42- unlucky or not, I am happy with it.  I do lose to Rick and Barbara - who rode about 200 miles less than me.

There are a lot of would've, could've, should've discussions over dinner.  But it is fun seeing so many friends and comparing notes.  Really the dinner at the end of the event is really what these things are about in my opinion and I linger longer that I probably should trying to say hi to as many people as possible that I have come to know over the years.  There is never enough time to see and talk to everyone.  One thing is for certain - Jim and the rest of the Rally Krewe put on a great event and one that never disappoints.  Thank you Jim.

I head out first thing on Sunday (in between rain showers - it is Cape Fear after all) to spend a few days with Mom in Southport before heading back to Athens on Tuesday.  On the way home, I hit another Tour of Honor location in Augusta so I am now 3 down with 4 to go.  This is turning out to be a great tour with some really incredible looking memorials.

Overall, it was a good 10 days of riding- due to a number of reasons, I haven't gotten to ride much this spring and it feels great to put over 3,000 miles on the bike in such a short time.

The satellites seem to keep up with me fairly well over the days (including the training ride the week before) and can be seen at this link :

which kinda looks like this: