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.....

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