The morning of July 8th found bonus packets for the third and last leg of the Iron Butt Rally being handed out to a surprisingly quiet group. There was some fire and brimstone from the President of Iron Butt Association Mike Kneebone. A discussion of appropriate behavior at bonus locations was followed by a discussion of doing what the bonus location required. I found myself on track for finisher status at 27K points but in no way hunting for medals. I sifted through the bonus pack hoping for a significant increase in the bonus profit to cost ratio. As I sifted through the bonus packet on first read my heart sank.
In previous rallies a perusal of bonus sheets shows a distinct increase in the points per mile for each leg. There was some of that within this rally, but not nearly to the level I was expecting. This rally maintained a much more linear path for bonus points and didn’t seem to have the “time on road” element considered in the bonus points. The increase in leg available bonus points was reflected in the amount of time and distance that needed to be covered. With a target of 60K points to reach finisher status I would need around 33K points in bonuses. I would need to maximize substantially and make zero mistakes on the last leg. Taking the Key West route on leg 1 and tossing 5K or more points under the bus had been a grievous mistake. Climbing out of the hole I found myself in would require finding a very effective and profitable route.
I was sitting in Rancho Cordova California. It was a remarkable day outside the conference center at the hotel. I was looking at a bonus sheet and thinking to myself, “There is no way I can be a finisher.” Analyzing the bonus sheets I could see that in leg 1 the Pennsylvania Turnpike bonuses had been 100 points and on leg 3 they were 200 points. Similarly when I went to Key West on leg 1 it was worth 3000 points and on leg 3 it was worth 12000 points. So, it was true that the bonuses were worth more, but it also meant rides that I was simply not capable of accomplishing. Should I quit? Should I head for home and skip out of the pain and misery of chasing unicorns and rainbows? Sitting in the conference room drinking a cup of coffee I reflected on what I thought I was seeing and what I thought I was capable of accomplishing.
I was well rested. I had been riding towards finisher status not to win the rally. I know that isn’t a sexy goal to most people but from my perspective it was worthy. I think everybody who rides the Iron Butt Rally thinks that their rally was in some way the most brutal, mind numbing, or painful compared to any previous incarnations. I watched as riders who I know are better rally riders, more skilled motorcyclists, and more experience competitors than me fall out of the competition. I reflected sitting there sipping my coffee on what I was doing. I was spending 11 glorious days chasing a thread of an idea somebody had spent years putting together. My puny 11 day effort was nothing compared to the multiple architects efforts putting the rally together.
Jumping to conclusions based on a read through is not good analysis. If I was going to be riding for non-finisher status I should know by how much I was going to miss the mark. I’d rather know just how bad I had screwed up by playing around on leg 1 rather than sitting in a chair making assumptions. Besides, if I was really screwed I should find some really fun places to make my route from and have a scary fun ride on my way back to Pittsburgh. If I was going to fail to make the 60K point target I was still going to attend the finishers banquet. Besides, I had three extra tickets to give away since my family could not attend.
Analyzing the bonus point locations some obvious large bonuses in Alaska and the whopping large bonuses in Key West and Kittyhawk are obvious. Another large bonus in Colorado and Galveston Texas is pretty obvious. Chaining together these bonuses though with daylight only requirements would be impossible for me. Others have either more stamina, will, or luck. It was pointed out to me by one rider that even though I carry 9.5 gallons of fuel the 2 gallons more other people carry reflected an entire gas stop saved every four gas stops. A twenty percent tax on my fueling time they don’t pay. I’m not sure it is as bad as that but it could be one reason among many my time across the ground was slower. Another item I fail at is bonus location speed. I’m much to slow. I’m not sure I can be any faster though.
The whopper bonuses in Key West and Alaska were definitely skewing the map. I needed to see some bonus points and relative weight to locations I could make. The high points of Key West simply wouldn’t be a possibility. I ran the route to put the Key West and Kittyhawk by themselves but that would be a 50CC plus a bit and the hours for Kittyhawk would then be all aligned wrong.
I removed the really big bonuses and got a more centralized view of the bonus locations I could visit. I wanted to target a 6am or earlier finish so that I was leaving in some slack time. The Colorado, Texas, North Carolina bonuses feature prominently. Looking at the chain of bonuses down the West Coast of California a rally master desired route of travel would indicate a desert southwest to the east coast kind of route was indicated. There is the northern route but the points don’t seem to indicate it as a probability just looking at the visual depiction of point distribution.
After I pulled out the top 2 bonuses. I noticed by binning the scores that there were three very large bonuses that weren’t prominent in the previous top tier, a couple of mid range bonuses, but that the number of 1000 point or lower bonuses was significant. At fifty-three of the thousand point or lower bonuses chaining all of those together would easily rocket me into finisher status. Getting most of the 1000 to 2000 point bonus locations and just one of the big three 7000 to 8000 point bonuses would get me finisher status. The issue was finding all of those mid range bonuses and secondary, or tertiary level bonuses.
After playing with the routes and looking at how time on task and ride times were effected the first competitive route I considered was the southerly route. In July, through the desert southwest, and with a relative heat wave in place, I was considering riding what could only be considered a brutal route. The route by no means was a winning route. I don’t know if I have it in me to ride the winning route that would tie in Colorado, Galveston, Key West, and Kitty Hawk. I could pick up as many points as possible and see where that left me. Unfortunately the route as depicted was only 26, 146 points. Fortunately there was 7840 bonus points available in tracking, rest and call in bonuses. I could possible reach the 33K target points I needed to finish the rally. If I could do what might be considered the ride of my life, through some of the most torturous conditions on the planet, and make no mistakes. I might need to consider other options. I needed to analyze the timing of daylight and rest.
My target time tear sheet matched up with the daylight only requirements. I show a departure time of 11AM because all of the times are eastern time zone. I maintain on the bike one single time zone for figuring arrival departure. The GPS I used switches so I know local times when required (like rest bonuses), but I always try and keep everything listed with the specific time zone. With the number of points in route and the timing being so critical on this ride I would find myself trading rest bonus for the hours of travel. This route would require a lot of work for me to accomplish. I would mention that this route was nothing compared to what the rider who came in first place was able to accomplish.
I considered another option that got me a relatively large Death Valley bonus. It didn’t seem like a good trade off since there were bonuses along the coast more in the direction I needed to travel and would involve less pain, but I considered it. Once again I tried to tie in the Colorado bonus worth a large number of points, but it collapsed the route and put me into darkness on to many other bonuses. To be honest I might have been not pushing the 30 minutes after sunset rule far enough. I was planning my ride for finisher status so I didn’t want to push a bunch of points off the scoring table because I couldn’t see the trees in the background of a bonus picture. The central to southerly route was more miles and surprisingly comes in at a few hundred points less. There were a couple of bonus locations I wasn’t able to to make work on their restrictions (like the Titan Museum) that would make this more points.
The timing of the routes is pretty simple for this other route. It also gets the Kittyhawk bonus and the Point Bolivar Ferry in Galveston. Unfortunately it has less rest period built into the route. The base points on this route is about 25977 points which rest, call in, and tracking/fuel log would be added to.
After analyzing the route options and considering how I would get the 33K points I needed, meet all the location requirements, keep enough rest in the bank, and then I had a ride I would ride. I would ride and ride, and ride some more. If I was able to keep on track and I was able to get the job done I could just squeak past the 60K point finisher target. I would if I finished this ride never ever goof off on a leg in an Iron Butt Rally again, I would foreswear the easy and make sure I always rode like it counted from this day forward. I got out of the hotel and headed for the Horseless Carriage Garage. I was running a little behind to start and this was not a good place to be.
The 11AM departure was likely not a possibility from the start of planning. We got the bonus listings and I had to run several more permutations of the routes than I have even depicted here. I also had to overcome the funk I found myself in from the very start. 11AM was 8AM local. I actually left a little after noon or 9am local. I was behind before I started. I could have changed the times up when I was writing this and looked better, but flexibility and thinking on your feet are important. I left this as I actually did it versus making substantial changes to make things look better.
The proprietor at the Horseless Carriage Museum had put up hooks for us to hang our rally flags from. Even though I was feeling the stress of time crunch I stopped and chatted with him for a few minutes. A couple riders came in and left while we chatted. Even though I was realizing my time at bonus locations was not meeting my scheduled five or ten minute time window I was having fun talking to people. I found that most people were pretty cognizant of the fact I had to get down the road and after a few minutes I would tell them I had 100 or 500 miles to go before my next meal. They would shoo me off and send me down the road. I’m not the most humorous or slap happy fellow but I tried to leave people smiling.
I chased across California to find myself at the Wings of History museum. It was hot. The ride was glorious. There is just something awesome about back roads in California. Grabbing the photograph of bike and rally flag was simple. I was chasing another rider Sanjay Dixit for quite awhile and was surprised that he kept going past this bonus to another bonus. Though you might find yourself on the same road at the same time with any other Iron Butt Rally rider you might be on completely different rides. I chased Betsy Young for awhile and a few other riders from time to time. It was interesting as I found that I was following a route that a lot of other riders were on similarly or nearly the same.
I hit the Estrella Warbird Museum next. It is out in the middle of nowhere but guarded by a water park on the main road. Guarded is not a pejorative term usually, but in this case it would become one. When I got to Estrella a few other riders had already cleared the bonus and were on their way out of the location. We were supposed to take a picture of a particular air plane on display, but the picture and current aircraft didn’t match. To make matters worse the museum was closed so I couldn’t even go ask where the plane might be since I’m not an expert at aircraft. I grabbed a picture that seemed to be the same location. A few other riders arrived and we decided to call in to rally headquarters. The answer was follow the rules and document that you were at the location. Rally flags away and grab some photographs.
I got the picture of the plane currently on display that I could see and I grabbed a photograph of the closed gate. One of the other riders rode down the road to see if there might be a back entrance though I appeared to be sitting on top of the actual GPS location. Sometimes when time is moving fast having a bonus closed is actually a good thing. The documentation for a closed road, or closed bonus is fairly straight forward and not a tricky thing. The basic principle is that you have to make sure that access is actually denied. If there is a back way in and it it is an extra hundred miles that isn’t the rally masters fault and you get a little longer ride than you planned. In this case the location was closed up tight.
As I left the Estrella War Bird Museum the water park was also emptying out. Instantly I was in super hot, inching forward traffic on two lane. I waited patiently slowly filling my boots with sweat until I go onto the main road. Then I found myself in slowly inching forward four lane road waiting to get on the highway. The water park had become a guardian standing between me and an on time route. Then I saw other riders lane splitting. I’ve done that but rarely. I considered the heft of a fully loaded adventure bike with panniers, the time saved by lane splitting (or Europeans call it filtering) and the relative risk. I stayed where I was and watched the bike heat up. 20 or so minutes later I was on the main highway making time. There was a clock ticking and a string tugging me towards Pittsburgh.
Even though I was worried about time I was rapidly making up the lost hours. I was moving faster than I expected and my GPS generated routes were coming out shorter than the Basecamp (computer) generated routes. After Estrella I was only about 20 minutes behind my schedule. By the time I hit the Solvang Motorcycle Museum which was also closed I was right on schedule. I would grab some sleep along the route to the next bonus and skip some of the Los Angeles bonus points as possible time wasters. I wanted to get through the traffic of the big city as fast as possible and outside the normal commute.
I hit the late rush hour working my way south and across the basin. After crawling up Interstate 10 for awhile I stopped at a gas station and grabbed some food. I had been eating primarily Lara Bar’s which withstand heat quite well. I stay away from chocolate as it puts me to sleep. No, I don’t know why it puts me to sleep, but it works so well that a small chocolate bar and I’m instantly in dream land. When I stopped for gas I smelled something funny. The smell of burning rubber is not something you want hitting your nostrils when you’re holding a gas nozzle between your legs and halfway through the fill up. There was nothing obviously wrong with the bike. After finishing the fill and looking closely at the bike I realized I had gotten the dreaded “Receipt Inside” on the gas pump. Getting off the bike I looked across the street to see a box van (truck) on fire. That was kind of interesting. As I turned to walk into the gas station a tire or battery blew up. While I was getting the receipt I mentioned the blazing truck fire with no fire trucks around to the gas station attendant. I don’t speak Spanish and she didn’t speak English but “FIRE” and pointing caused some rapid gesticulations including her handing me a fire extinguisher which I handed back. It was a little late for that. I tried “Telephono 911” and she grabbed a phone. I headed over to MacDonald’s for two hamburgers and a bottle of water. Firetrucks put the fire out and then they opened up the road.
In the category of it wasn’t a bonus point but should have been. I stayed the night in Gila Bend in Arizona. The road cuts out having to travel through Phoenix. The Space Age Restaurant and Hotel wasn’t a bonus location but they should have been. With a rally based on trains planes and automobiles they need more planes and cool stuff that flies even if only in the imagination of a writer.
In the restaurant there was a huge mural that gave a pretty good idea of how the rest of the restaurant was themed.
It was then head for one of the bigger bonus points on my route. I arrived at the Titan Missile museum and found myself in the company of Sal Teranova. An infamous and master rally rider he had some issues on Leg 2 with his bike, but was riding hard. We waited patiently for the next tour and the staff chatted amiably with us about the rally. They usually only let one in each tour group sit in the command chair where a cold warrior of times past might have launched armageddon. Since we needed the photograph the staff was relenting and running the riders directly to the seat rather than through the entire tour. This started to bump against what Mike Kneebone had warned us about. And consequently conflicted with the other warning from Lisa Landry to be on our best behavior with our interactions towards staff.
It isn’t that we didn’t get a tour. We most assuredly got to see some cool stuff. The tour guide had worked within the space and ballistic missile commands previously. He gave a pretty outstanding tour of the site only abbreviated slightly so we didn’t disturb one of the other tour groups.When you are visiting a bonus location it is imperative to be nice. There are enough stories about crazy motorcyclists.
When it was all said and done the bonus said, “Get your picture taken in the command seat of the missile silo.” Sal took my picture and I took his picture. Reading comprehension on the rally bonus listings is important. If you can’t read and comprehend you shouldn’t be doing this as an activity. I always read the bonus listing directly off the paperwork before I do the activity required and then I read it again as I put down the score. I always fill out my bonus sheet at the time I am actually doing the bonus. As I’ve said previously that means when I hit the checkpoint I am ready to score. Picture taken and tour completed I hit the road.
In the place between places there are side shows and wild little dives that are worth the stop. Often nothing more than attractions to get your gas money and perhaps some candy money or tourism views these places can be awesome. In the Dakota’s it is Wal Drug. In Arizona it is “The Thing”. Stopping for gas and some more water was a good idea anyways. I was a little behind schedule and I wanted to pile on some miles. I had to stop more often than I was expecting and had come out of the Titan Missile Museum 4 hours behind schedule. That sounds like a lot but by the time I hit “The Thing” I was only 2 hours behind schedule. I was making up time by shortening stops, being way more efficient at fuel stops and I realized that my highway transit times were all around 55mph so at a posted 75 mph I was making up time fast. The OSX/Mac version of Basecamp doesn’t allow for easy changes to the travel speed. You can adjust across all activities by adding or subtracting but not by particular roads. The windows version allows for much finer grained controls. I would have to think about that in the future.
I’m still not sure what “The Thing” is, but I got a picture of a Surrey (I didn’t know what a Surrey was either). There were some other really cool cars but I was behind on time and needed to make tracks. The string tugging me towards the finish was starting to feel like a noose.
For less points than I would like the 1008 point Shady Dell bonus would have me riding through Tombstone and getting stopped by the Border Patrol to make sure I was alright and remind me to watch out where I was going. Since I was on an “off road” bike I think they were concerned I might wander accidentally across the border. To be sure, and to make this explicit, the interactions were positive, humorous, and seemed to be genuine concerns. I got none of the authoritarian dictator type interactions others have reported. Chasing this bonus location and then heading back to the main highway I had three different interactions at water stops, and gas stops that were generally very positive. At a pop-up border check station I was waived through with a, “Have a nice day.” Since two of my colleagues write extensively about cross border violence I was interested to see how the interactions would take place but like much of my ride there was no drama. As to time I felt the noose tightening. Invisible the hand of time is strong.
Planning though is a process of refinement. Riding a motorcycle across the country a couple times in a couple of weeks and drilling holes in the air turning dinosaurs into fun is bluntly selfish. Pushing the limits of planning, time and distance calculations, and the machinery carrying you around the country is not dangerous just sensitive to mistakes. There are also false economies in planning and trade offs that can bite you on the ass like a great white shark. Riding like you have a giant predator chasing you makes sense for very few use cases and will generally get you into trouble. Once I got into Texas I was on 80 mile per hour roads. This surprisingly was my first time on a high speed highway since they changed Montana to posted speeds instead of “reasonable and prudent.”
I already had been pushing the fuel range of the big GS Adventure. It is not a slippery bike and with great big boxes, a bunch of lights, and not much more than a barn door for a windscreen, fuel economy above 60 miles per hour is marginal at best. Over the course of the rally I would see fuel economy as good as 47 miles per gallon, and as poor as 32 miles per gallon.
It was after midnight eastern time and about 11PM local time as I headed out of Fort Stockton Texas headed East on Interstate 10. I was heading east burning a lot of light and looked out to see two coyotes worrying a road kill. I thought to myself this would be a sucky place to run out of gas. My gas gauge and range estimate showed that I had enough gas to make it to Ozona and be rolling in with 300ish miles under the bike. Unfortunately if you take your finger and put it on nowhere in Texas it lies right about mile marker 330 on Interstate 10. That is where I ran out of gasoline. The fuel strip they use on the BMW R1200 GS instead of a tried and true float system can misread by over half a tank. When the bottom of the fuel strip went dry I went from showing half a tank (reasonable under normal circumstances) to no bars showing and a low fuel warning. Unfortunately the engine then died. Time crunched and from 1:37 to 2:47 i am stopped on the side of the road waiting on gas. Literally in the middle of nowhere.
I’m a top of the shelf premier member of AAA. Not inexpensive but well worth the cost. I was extremely lucky that “middle of nowhere” has cell service. As several trucks and motorcycles passed me I patiently explained to AAA Hoosier that I was not in Indiana, but that I desperately needed help in Texas. After awhile I got a Texas AAA operator who got my location and promised I would have gas enough to get to a town in 30 minutes. I patiently explained I wasn’t 30 minutes from any location. She said not to worry and they would text me when the driver got closer. I never got a text, but the driver arrived 40 minutes later and instead of 2 gallons of gas he gave me nearly 5. I’m not sure how I would log that in a fuel log. I asked the AAA driver how much I owed and he said, “Mister you’re a premier member no charge.” I gave him $20 and a perfuse thanks and made tracks. I most assuredly wasn’t on schedule now.
In Ozona and then Sonora I looked for a hotel. I was feeling amped up and upset at my stupidity. Every hotel at that hour was full up. Finally I found a little hole in the wall hotel and I grabbed 3 hours of sleep and hit the road for Galveston. I had a bit of a hiccup making the transition south towards Galveston driving accidentally in a big circle. Take this off ramp, get on this off ramp, don’t take that off ramp, oh the construction sends you back to the first off ramp, then silently scream (or not so silently) while cursing the ticking clock. I felt time yanking on hard rope around my neck.
I headed for the Point Bolivar Ferry in Galveston. I knew that I was behind but wasn’t willing to figure the exact delta until I got off the ferry. There is nothing like grabbing a bonus that sends you out across the open bay. You are hot, smelly, sweaty, and tired and you get to see a great view. Regardless of the time crunch, and regardless of the time constraints there is a great view. This is an awesome ride.
The bonus listing said to grab a picture of your bike with the ferry under way. I waited about ten minutes and made sure the angle of the shot showed my bike, and the scenery receding into the distance. The time stamp on the photograph shows that I’m approximately 4 hours behind on my proposed route. I have three hours time at the end of my route plan as a pad but even at this point I know that the Kitty Hawk bonus and the balance of my points toward finishing are up for grabs.
Regardless of the issues on time management and routing the view was spectacular. Dolphins were playing in the water. Birds were going after small fish. Best of all like a true motorcyclist on a ferry I was guaranteed to be first off the boat. This is pretty sweet.
I made tracks north. There was a New Orleans bonus that I had been keeping in my back pocket if I had time, but I skipped it. I needed the miles down the road. Fortunately one of the stops along the way for only a few points was right there where I needed it. The Lunar Lander at a rest stop was an easy picture and I needed to get off the bike for a few minutes anyways. I stopped and changed my clothes as I was getting chaffing from having sweated so much earlier in the day. When I say chaffing I mean I was eaten bloody raw by my shirt and underclothes. The sweat having dried left the salt that was like fine sandpaper eating my skin away. This wouldn’t normally be an issue but it had been hot.
At the lunar lander I see Sal Terranova grabbing the bonus along with another rider. I take their picture and they take mine. Thank goodness this is a 24-7 bonus listing, but at so few points it wouldn’t impact my placing or finishing status. I was supposed to be taking this picture at 9PM so I am still behind on hours and haven’t at this point made up any of the time. Should I continue on and hope for the best. I need to decide on whether to take my scheduled rest period or some hybrid. I follow Sal out of the Lunar Lander location to a truck stop and we decide to take a nap there. I usually would have gone ahead and gotten a hotel but I’m thinking I can save and bank some time. I was in trouble and I didn’t even know it.
Sal and I rested up a bit and that was actually good. I had been going hard but I needed more rest. I chased Sal north for awhile but he was going faster than I was ready to travel. I was feeling icky but not sicky. I was just not feeling it and as my speed went under the speed limit from time to time he just rode away. In some circles that would be bad but Sal was on a mission and we weren’t riding as a team and didn’t even really know each other. He was just better prepared and a better rider. After awhile his tail light was beyond where I could see. Roads, rides, and rider being what I am at that point and not something I could wish to be differently I headed for a hotel. A mere three hours in a hotel room with a shower and I was refreshed. I felt literally ready to take on the world. As the anchor fell off the deck, and chain around my neck pulled tight I had some math to do if I was going to be a finisher.
In the check point three riders meeting the prime directive for sunset and daylight was simple. For a given location daylight would be considered 30 minutes after sunset. The directive was indicative of things should be visible in the distance, but the prime was 30 minutes as a rule. I could do this. I pulled up the local sunset time for Kill Devil Hills North Carolina where Kitty Hawk was located and it said sunset 20:21. If I could make it to the bonus location and get the picture before 20:51 I would be able to argue the location and all things being equal possibly be a finisher of the 2013 Iron Butt Rally. The key word was “if”.
Every gas stop the estimate time of arrival crept above 20:50 and after a few dozen miles the time would creep below. Regardless of best or shortest route the route my GPS selected was locked in. I could watch the estimated time of arrival creep up and down based on traffic. A storm passed through and it got really dark. Would they accept the bonus picture even if the time was OK? Then it would get lighter. I realized I was still wearing my sunglasses. So it was much brighter than I was thinking as I got closer. Sun glasses in tank bag I kept riding. The time got better than worse. I was on time, and then I was going to be late. How close or accurate would my time be at the actual bonus? How accurate was the GPS? How much time to get the picture would I have? I was taking no chances and riding smooth. Some people might rush or take chances to try and get some small perceived advantage. Every time you speed, every time you cut a line a little close, every time you take a chance you increase risk. The key was to let the clock tick and time tug you along the route, but not to let it ruin a great ride.
I arrive and a few other riders are there. I hit the bonus point location within 10 minutes of my original (8:26 pm) predicted time. I had predicted my arrival on the east coast days previously on the west coast within a few minutes. I took me all of six minutes to get my pictures and record my bonus and I had scheduled ten.
Once again I see Ken Meese. He is well rested, he is on a mission, and he takes time out of his ride to make sure with minutes to spare I get my bike in the picture. This is a cool and unflappable dude. He’s riding to win and I’m riding to finish. He takes time out of his ride to make sure I get the bonus picture correct. Then I turn around and he is gone. Ken is no drama and still gets it done. I look at the time imprint on my photographs and realize I have made up all the time and made it to the bonus on time with good pictures. I carefully record the bonus point and make sure I have what it says. Verify, validate, and then ride some more.
I had made it to the Kittyhawk bonus and then even within the time allotment got a receipt from a nearby store to prove my time at the location. The time stamp not being enough evidence for the rally staff I wanted to make sure I belt and suspender validated the bonus. My entire finisher status hinged on this one bonus. Filling up my gas tank I followed the route out towards Richmond that Ken Meese had taken and hit the road. I had no more bonus points that I had to collect and all I had to do was make it from the Outer Banks to the final checkpoint in Pittsburgh.
Then it started to rain.
No, not a nice spring rain or summer cool down the night kind of rain. This was epic rain. It would be the hardest rain I had ridden in for the entire rally. The water on the roadway was getting so deep that the GS Adventure was starting to hyrdoplane. I don’t know how that group of riders we call dark siders were doing on car tires. The wedge shape of my rear tire with the minimal squaring off of the rally was floating when the water got several inches deep. Clutch in and off the gas and the bike hit the road with a twitch as it sank back down to the roadway. Then back on the gas. I had to slow, but I had plenty of time to get back and all I really wanted to do is arrive safe. The rain continued to pound me sucking energy and heat out of my body. I finally stopped to get some coffee and some food at a MacDonald’s. The first place I stopped at the dining room was closed but they could handle me in the drive through. I just wanted to get out of the rain for a minute. My hands were starting to prune up (get wrinkly and feel funny). I finally found restaurant opened and got some food. I wasted more time looking than I actually spent eating.
Back on the road I watched closely as exits went by. I had traveled this route several times as slightly further east my in-laws live at Smith Mountain Lake. To get to their house on the lake I often would take US29 south from Centreville Virginia on weekend family get aways. Pretty soon I saw the sign and grabbed US17/29 North Westerly bound. This is a great two lane divided road you can make good time on when there is no traffic. It is much better than the frightful I95 when it is raining. Where I95 can be log jammed by one bad driver the 17/29 route rarely is perturbed and it takes a significant amount of time off the route up to I66.
All was not to be though. My phone tracks where I am and started sending me national weather alerts of take shelter from flash floods. Every few minutes I would get another major warning. The relentless tug of time pulling me along the route had quieted as my GPS reported a check point arrival time of 5:30AM. Plenty of time. Plenty of time to be sure. No drama on this ride. I am going to be a finisher of the Iron Butt Rally. Then like any great plan it fell it apart when reality slapped me up side the head. It was really raining hard and my ride was in jeopardy. I just wasn’t paying attention.
The first thing somebody should say when looking at the map above is, “What the heck?” I entered that little spur around 1:30 AM on the morning of the finish and exited back onto I95 around 2:50AM. I lost an hour and 20 minutes. I almost made it to Interstate 66. If I had made it I would have been at the finish almost 2 hour earlier than I originally planned. If on the return trip I had grabbed the 15 towards Nokesville I wouldn’t have lost so much time. I wasn’t thinking, I had allowed the chain of time to get away form me and I headed out to the main road to try another route I knew much better.
The shortcut of 17/29 is well known to me as I traveled on it many times. I used to live off the 29 in Centreville Virginia and used 17 as a quick route to miss the Washington DC metro area. On the morning of the Iron Butt Rally finish my route ran into 10 inches of problem. The first splash was a 2008 BMW GS Adventure hitting around 10 inches of water in the road that looked like normal road. The dip completely hidden by the water surprised me as I clenched the seat and stabilized the handlebars. Hitting deep water at speed can be instant rally ending. I motored through and continued on towards my destination.I am almost sure that my skid plate was letting me slide across the water. That’s silly but that is what it felt like. The number one result is my open Aerostich Darien pockets filled with water. After that I headed down into a draw and traffic stopped. The Police had closed the road due to flash flooding. My weather alert was going off like crazy. Flash flood warning, seek higher ground, and more it kept warning.
So, I turned around and traversed the route in reverse including the water crossing which was well over the pegs at that point. That’s how I filled my boots the rest of the way with water. The air-inlet on the GS is just above the pegs on the right side. Not the smartest place, but the bike didn’t even hiccup. A dually four wheel drive I followed through had water up to the trailer hitch. So, it was pretty deep. They stopped on the other side of the flooding to watch me. What I looked like lit up like a Christmas tree chugging through water over the foot pegs I have no idea.
As I got back on the road to head north I knew I’d need gas and I’d need one bio-break along the way. The GPS was giving me an arrival time of 0830. At 20 points per minute that was 600 points I could not afford to lose. The wrenching yank of a time anchor chained around my neck pulling me off the deck and down the road pulling me out of my safe little happy place. It was raining, the lightning was near constant, and my pin lock visor fog shield delaminated leaving the helmet visor perpetually fogged. The GPS ETA grabbed my attention and I watched it slowly recede. First I made it to I66 and I started making better time. I would hit bands of rain showers that would deluge the bike and the outer edges would be wind filled. The route pointed ahead and the time pulled and strained. I gave myself permission to stop. I said I could quit anytime but I continued riding. Nobody would care if I didn’t make it. Nobody will notice if I don’t make it. I’m not some great rider or some personality within the Iron Butt Rally community. If anything at worse a failure at this point would be quipped about as an anecdote by Bob Higdon as an epilogue. It is easy to quit. Why try?
The rain and wind drowned my hopes of finishing. I had gotten so wet I started to shiver. I stopped for three minutes to toss my jacket liner into the Darien. I added three minutes to the estimated time of arrival. I saw a rider pass me on I81 like I was sitting still. I was riding 10 miles per hour below the speed limit. I had missed the increase in speed and was wasting time. Off I81 onto I70 I headed towards Breezewood. I could cut across I81 but US75 to short cut for I76 but that route had a lot of risk. I took the less direct but faster route out to I76. Headed up I70 I saw a rider on the side of the road. He was cruising around 20 miles per hour on the side of the road. As I got closer he started to pull out so I moved over and blasted by him. I checked my mirror and it looked like he was in the lane moving so I figured he had stopped for something and that they were pulling out into traffic. Then I wondered if it was even a rally rider. Then I wondered if should have stopped. I was second, triple, and quadruple guessing my decisions. I was chained to time and it was messing with my head. I guess there are people on the road who aren’t riding in the rally. Aren’t there?
Out onto I76 and blasting through the toll plaza thanking my stars for having an EZ-pass and up towards Pittsburgh. This is a route I’ve ridden many times as I commuted between Virginia and Indiana. I gained a few minutes on the clock and make the required bio-break. Total time stopped is 3 minutes, but it adds 6 minutes to my estimated time of arrival. How does that happen? As I approach the turn off for the check point the GPS tries to send my up 19 but I hold out for the 281 exit. There is one stop light less that direction. I am holding to the speed limit and checking all lane changes three and four times. I don’t want to be the rider within seconds of finishing and DNF because of an accident. There is no room to fail. I’ve made so many mistakes on the last leg I don’t want to make another. I’ve got both hands around the chain of time pulling me towards the check point and it has turned into a giant python. With big teeth. And googely eyes.
I pull into the parking lot and there is hooting and hollering. Kickstand down, bike off, unplug my headset, half a dozen people blur past at a speed talking so fast I can’t hear, I have ear plugs in, but I’m barely understanding. I get off the bike and they are dragging me towards the door and my left knee is buckling (my ACL was replaced two years ago). I will not fall down. I run through the hotel to the scoring room. I am thinking “where are we going and why am I in this hand basket”, but I say to Ira Agins, “Sir, I would like to stop the clock now.”
Ira looks over at Mike Kneebone and says the time is eight oh one. I finished the Iron Butt Rally with one penalty minute.
I was ready to score when I arrived. With an odometer statement I on the spot reported for scoring. It would be a few minutes wait so I took a quick shower and parked the bike. The final tally would show Sam Liles finished the Iron Butt Rally with 10,280 miles ridden and 60,776 points.