Love the report Martin and the photos are great. The heat obviously made this a genuine tough challenge (even more than the actual Rally challenge itself). Full credit to you both for tackling this two-up
Love the write-up and blogging from both of you! Congrats on a great ride and two-up rally experience. Two-up teams are a special way to challenge yourselves in these events. I think it’s the most rewarding way of all. You both showed the joy of the ride in BLIX!
Day 4 was an early start for everyone. Rally packs were being hand out at 6:00am for those who had checked in before midnight (and 8:00am for those who checked in after midnight!) and as we were staying at a different hotel from the Rally Checkpoint we needed to budget extra walking time to and from Rally Check Point. I was up and at em at 5:00am, followed by Bec. Showered and ready to go we made the early morning walk over to the Check Point arriving early, which is a good thing in my books. There were a lot of other riders already in attendance, and while everyone looked weary there was an energy floating about the room in anticipation of the Leg 2 rally packs being handed out.
Breakfast and coffee were available, and this was being consumed eagerly by all. Once the Rally Packs were handed out the room cleared out almost immediately and we made the short walk back to our hotel and started our coding and routing. I managed to code up Leg 2 in less than an hour, while Bec studied the rally book to get a feel for possible routes for Leg 2. Options were either north east or north west and as we had ridden in from Minnesota neither of us felt like repeating that so north east it was! A route was roughed in pretty quickly that would take us up through Virginia and Pennsylvania and then it was time to close up shop, repack the bike and get back to Rally Check Point for the mandatory riders briefing.
This is when we had our first “Day 4” moment. I usually delete all the old files off Basecamp and thought I had deleted all of Leg One but for some reason all of the Stadium BP’s from Leg One were still there and quite visible in the map. Bec is a very detail person whereas I’m less so. My ‘she’ll be right” just wasn’t going to cut it We managed to work out what to do about it together and get ourselves over to the riders briefing. I am still to check back and figure out what I did wrong here! While this all seems minor in the big scheme of things these stress points are amplified in a two up team and I was very proud of ourselves that we negotiated our way through it well.
At the Riders Briefing we the riders had the riot act read to us by the Rally Masters about two things, flouting the social media rules and the “Garmin” effect of just following the magenta line. Apparently, we hadn’t been alone on Leg On of being sent down goat tracks by Garmin to the extent it was of serious concern. Leg Two would offer up plenty more “Garmin moments” as it would turn out but we would be ready for them! And so with the Rally Masters stern words ringing in our ears, we made our prompt farewells to all and sundry, saddled up and got riding.
Just another day in the Smoky Mountains...heading for our first bonus of Leg 2
Our first bonus point for the Day 4 was a leisurely 50 minutes ride away in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. These words do not that 50 minutes justice, the road was sublime, tight, twisty mountain switchbacks that seemed to go on forever. Arriving at Hot Springs NC, we snapped our photo, wrote up our rally log and got going again, all very smoothly and efficient. We were going well. Next bonus was at Mosheim Tennessee, nearer the Interstate as we rode eastwards out of the mountains. By late morning we had collected this bonus point and hopped back onto I80 to head northwards into Virginia, heading for White Top, VA.
The rolling fields of Virginia...heading for Whitetop
Leaving I80 the heat and humidity was bad, and as climbed back into the Smokey Mountains the humidity did decrease but man it was hot. The climb up to White Top near Mt Rogers was awesome but hard work in the heat. When we collected this bonus, I suggested we have a rest stop, a banana and shelter in some shade. Bec was looking tired to the extent she lay down on the gravel road and cat napped for a few minutes! I think she now understood how I can cat nap anywhere when out doing a Iron Butt ride!
I just want to sleep...
Once rested we headed back down the hill and back to I80 to continue our route northwards. About half way back down the mountains we saw a really funny furry animal disappearing into the bush, no idea what it was and spent a few hilarious minutes theorising about what it was. Back on I80 we made good progress northwards, despite the heat. Late-afternoon we stopped to cool off briefly at a Starbucks and I happened to check my phone, right at the time a message came in from the Rally Masters advising of an error in GPS coordinates for the next bonus we were aiming for and we should instead use the coordinates from the rally book. A quick recalculation confirmed we wouldn’t make it (it was a time limited bonus which finished at 5:00pm) so a re route was quickly completed and we continued on our way to the next (revised) bonus, which was quite some distance away and time limited, so our re jigged plan had us staying overnight somewhere on our way to that bonus.
Whitetop Bonus Point Virginia
Heading ever northwards in the heat and humidity I was feeling good, it was late afternoon early evening and we were chatting away. Mentally I was good to ride for another 2-4 hrs. In the course of our discussions I mentioned we should buy some new thongs (flip flops) for Bec as she had lost them earlier in the Rally. Bec suggested stopping at a Walmart but that wasn’t going to work for me as it was too far off our route, when I suggested we try a Dollar General (they are everywhere and always on route!) Bec wanted to know it they sold thongs to which my joking reply was they sold “stuff” which Bec didn’t find quite so funny. There was a long pause in the conversation at that point and the decision made to take an early mark and take our Rest Bonus ASAP. We needed sleep.
Fortunately, we were able to ride past a Dollar General and thank goodness their stuff included thongs! (I waited outside in the shade while Bec went inside….) After that significant purchase it was to the nearest motel and I suggested in the interests of time I drop Bec at the hotel to check in/get showered while I fuelled up the bike, but in the end we didn’t. Bike fuelled up we then rode across the road to check in, I waited on the bike while Bec went in to check in, and I waited and waited. The check in took nearly 30 minutes due to a delay with another customer ahead of us. Once we had our room we got ourselves set up, grabbed some dinner (Mexican which was dericous!) and I managed to smash my shin while trying to move the bed to locate a working power point! Day 4 stuff happens!
Our Day 4 "moment"...
It took a while for Bec to wind down and finally fall asleep from which she didn’t move for a good 8 hrs. I stayed up for a while, working with with Basecamp, looking at route options, while mentally double checking our bonus points collected for the day.
Day 5. Virginia, Pennsylvania and on to West Virginia (and that John Denver song)
I was wide awake early at 3:30am, ready to get going. We had agreed to get back on the road as early as possible any by 5:00am we were collecting our rest bonus receipt (finish) from a 24hr service station (that wasn’t opened) but Bec mastered the art of obtaining a receipt from the pumps and off we went into the pre-dawn darkness.
Blue Ridge Parkway...things are always better after 8 hours of sleep
Watching the sun come up on the Blue Ridge Parkway...
Things always feel better after a good nights sleep and as we made our way up the Blue Ridge Parkway to collect our first bonus of the day things were certainly better, it was cool clear ride watching the pre-dawn aurora give way to a spectacular sunrise, life was indeed beautiful as we rode the Blue Ridge Parkway to our first bonus. We had the road almost entirely to ourselves, other than the deer of which there were plenty!
The first bonus of the day was collected at Apple Orchard Mountain, and then it was a simple matter of continue on the Parkway (if you insist!) to 20 Minute Rock for the next bonus. Once that was collected we descended from the Parkway and headed north, grabbing a quick coffee and brekkie at a Starbucks. That coffee tasted so good! Our next bonus was at Luray Virginia and required taking a photo of a slave block located adjacent to the town square. A sobering reminder of human history.
From there we continued northwards to Winchester Virginia to snap a photo of the statue of that great explorer Admiral Byrd and his faithful canine companion. Oddly enough it appears the dog is humping his leg? We were collecting our bonus points pretty efficiently this morning, a good night’s rest and cooler temperatures all doing their bit to make our rallying routine feel easier. And then into Pennsylvania! I had messaged fellow LD rider Dan Simmonds to see if he was around as we were aiming to collect the Eternal Light of Peace Memorial bonus near Gettysburg and as it turned out Dan and his partner Renee were able to come out to meet us, including bringing some fruit and ice!
In pursuit of happiness...
It was great to see Dan and Renee, especially as they were non-rally people and it felt quite invigorating to have some non-rally conversation. Plus, by now the temperature & humidity were up there, so the ice was most welcome and would last another hour of riding, providing cooling relief to us both. About the same time, Martin Cover, Lisa Cover & Steve Rufo arrived to collect the same bonus, so we had a quick chat. They had also had their “Day 4” moments which I relayed back to Bec. See, I said, everyone is having to cope with the same “stuff” Waving goodbye to Dan & Renee we headed off for our next bonus.
Travelling westwards, I got quite disorientated as we kept crossing the state line for Maryland, several times and I’m sure I annoyed Bec with repeated question of “is this right way”? After all that riding in and out of Maryland we collected our next bonus in Pennsylvania. With much thanks to Google and not Garmin! We took a moment at this bonus location, in a forest to rest in the shade and have some fruit. It was great to recharge the batteries and just take some time off the bike.
In and out of Maryland....this is somewhere along there...
Leaving Pennsylvania, we rode into West Virginia, at which point all I could think of was John Denver’s song which wouldn’t stop playing through my mind on a constant loop. Dammit. Having said that the scenery was spectacular, as we spent the afternoon and early evening riding through never ending river valleys and over steep mountain climbs. The last bonus of the day was at Green Bank Radio Telescope and what a beautiful place that is, although very isolated! After 14 hrs of riding for the day, we had to make a call of where to stay, as accommodation options were limited out here. We chose Lewisburg, WV, arriving at dusk and celebrated a good days riding with dinner at Ruby Tuesdays, which then had that song playing through my head for the rest of the evening. It had been a really good day for us after Day 4 and we both slept well that night ready for the last day of the rally.
Day 6. The End is Nigh! (Time to head for the Barn!)
Day 6 dawned cool and clear. We were out on the road again early, and I have to say by now our routine of starting the day was going smoothly. “Sleep, get up, pack the bike and ride” For me I felt like we were in the multi day rally groove and were just starting to hit our straps. But we had day 6 to deal with first, and that involved collecting lots of bonuses and getting back to the barn (Rally HQ) safely and on time.
Day 6 & minutes away from our next "Garmin moment" & our first bonus of the day
First Bonus up was the John Henry statue in Talcott, WV. It was a good couple of hours on some really winding back roads. And this was to be one of those Garmin moments…. Arriving on the outskirts of Talcott, the Garmin’s say turn left across this railway line, sure, but hold on that train has just arrive, so we sat there for what felt like 15 minutes waiting for the endless train to pass. Once done we continued, only for the Garmin to direct us back onto the same main road (we had just left). Bec was back on the phone furiously checking google as our Garmin moment warning radar was going berserk. Sure enough once we were directed back across the railway line the garmins then wanted us to turn sharp left onto a gravel service track, which both of us said no way are we doing that! Bec using google said lets just go up the main road a bit further and sure enough we found the entrance to the John Henry Park, despite what the Garmins were saying and we just rode in and up to the statue that was the bonus. As we were collecting the bonus, the park manager came up and told us that there had been plenty of other rally riders who had arrived on the wrong side of the tracks (using their Garmins) and had to trek their way through undergrowth and across the tracks to take the photo.
Made it!....and on the right side of the railway tracks.
Back on the road to the next bonus at the Ponchatos Mine in Pochatontas VA. It was more endless winding roads through river valleys. And after nearly 2 hours of constant corners I was quite happy to stop and rest while we collected this bonus “HOG”, the site of the one longest running feuds between two families. We were now back in Kentucky and it was relief to climb up out of the valleys onto Highway 119 and enjoy some open road as it followed the ridge lines. Things were going smoothly as we made our way westward into Kentucky collecting bonuses along the way. One of these involved a few miles of gravel (as highlighted in the Rally Book) and while that was challenging it was not as bad as our Fire Trail experience off the Cherohala Skyway.
No prizes for guessing what the bucket on the tractor was being used for...."nothing to see here"
Mid-afternoon, and it was decision time! We were on track and time with our route, having allowed to be close to Lexington (rally HQ) late afternoon and as an option we had the choice of continuing further west to Mammoth Cave National Park for a daylight only bonus at the Green River Ferry, plus another close by. This meant heading away from Rally HQ and then back tracking, arriving later Friday night. We decided we could do it and off we set, the good news it was basically easy riding on the Cumberland Parkway, which for Aussies is a road as good as our motorways or freeways. So it was set the cruise control and just cruise along in the afternoon heat enjoying the Kentucky scenery counting the hours down to the Green River Ferry. We had a slight moment of confusion about our route as we hadn’t realised the other bonus after the Green River ferry was one from Leg One and this was one of the mistakes I hadn’t deleted from Basecamp Leg One. Oops! Not too worry, we sorted it out as we rode along, watching the sun move towards the horizon in front of us.
Our second to last bonus of Day 6...a poignant moment in a quiet section of Civil War Monument Field in Kentucky
The final section of roads through the National Park to the Ferry were sublime. Motorcycling roads shaded by tall trees filtering the early evening setting sun. It was divine.
Riding into Mammoth Cave National Park...days like this.
Arriving at the ferry I was so chilled and relaxed while soaking up the moment, Bec gave me a hurry up on taking our bonus photo on the ferry. We literally only had 1 minute to park the bike on the ferry, hop off, take the photo, hop back on and ride off the ferry. We ended up riding off the ferry and parking on the exit road to write up the rally book and double check our route to Lexington. From here we cruised on through Mammoth Cave National Park, finally leaving to wind our way through gorgeous farmland that appeared to be Amish, the horse and carts were out taking people back home in the setting sun and we attracted a few waves. From there it was on to I65 heading to Louisville before detouring off onto the Bluegrass Parkway for the final hour into Kentucky,
I love moments like this, the sun setting as motored into the dusk, hardly any traffic, with the stars coming out. We rolled into Rally HQ right on 10:00pm, parked the bike and turned off the engine to be greeted by a glass of wine for Bec, courtesy of Tina Baker, What a champion! I’m sure the first glass of vino didn’t even touch the side.
With the important stuff unpacked, our rally pack/camera etc we checked in and adjourned to the bar for a late dinner of crab cakes and a gin & tonic for Bec (I was much more restrained), shared with he Janet Morgan and the Lahmans. There were a few stories told there!
But our job was not done! Scoring opened at 4:00am, so were up early to ensure we had time to double check things, get the odometer read by the indomitable Pedro from Team Strange & we were ready to hit the scoring table. And that went well with only one mistake costing us a few points, (writing the time as am instead of pm) easy to make and one we won’t make again. We were done and were Buttlite IX Finishers! Bec went back to bed and I wandered the parking lot soaking up the atmosphere as the late arrivals clocked in closer and closer to the penalty window. We then had a lazy afternoon before the finishing banquet, which was great, socialising with other riders, supporters, and rally staff/organisers.
Smiles all around....mission accomplished!
And then just like that we were done, the adventure was over and it was time to think about returning to our normal life. Sunday morning Bec flew back to Minnesota and I rode the 1400km’s back, arriving late Sunday night. I wasn’t done yet and felt like I could have kept on going and in hindsight I should have ridden a SS1600 but just hadn’t thought about that before departing Lexington.
Don't dream it's over...watching the sun set near the Wisconsin side of the Minnesota State Line. Km 1250
So many people to thank,
…the Team Strange Rally Masters, Lisa, David and Bart, you did great in providing us the opportunity to participate in such an event along with the volunteers who all make this happen. This is my third Buttlite and every time I enjoy the Rally more and more.
…to all the people who helped Bec and I along the way, a journey that started 12 months ago, including our American family in Minnesota, who put up with us arriving and then departing again, turning their world upside down for a few weeks and also storing the RT for us.
Lastly and by no means least huge kudos go to Rebecca, firstly for committing to coming along 12 months ago and then “doing the training”, the 1,000km rides, her first SS1600, the pains, the aches, the tiredness all in the interests of stressing ourselves for 6 days of riding god knows where in the USA. It was an awesome experience to share with the one you love and changed the way I view rallies. I went into the rally with a preconceived idea of how two up teams work and came away humbled by what it really means. Think its hard riding a multi-day rally on your own? Try doing it with the one you love, who is on her very first rally, not just her first multi day rally.
The best of times! What an experience and I so want to do it again. I’m not done yet.
Just binge read both Martin's and Rebecca's reports. Its especially fun reading a pillion's perspective on any rally...but an Aussie on her very first rally and a 6 day one in another country...WOW. Loved it!! Not sure I'll ever get my wife to commit to anything over 36hrs, but I'm thankful she rides the shorter ones with me. As all 2-up teams know....it will test your relationship. LOL Martin, we'll see you next summer in the Southeast. Ken