I have not ridden in a LD rally since the BAT World Capitols of Texas in 2016 and I am hungry for some competition. Having ridden in two previous NIITWIt events I register right away in July for the October rally.
Pity Party Alert!
Many of you readers know that I have participated in several events of this type over the years and look forward to them. I really focus on the prep, routing, and criteria required for each and every aspect of the event. But something was a little ‘off’ for me this time. Maybe it was the fact that I had not ridden a timed rally in over a year? Maybe it was the fact that this would be the longest duration event I was going to ride? I felt disconnected and distracted about the whole thing. Now that I sit here, several weeks later, thinking about it I’m sure that is what was happening. I just couldn’t get my head in the game. In the end this was a memorable and learning experience.
Let me share my experience:
Day -10After many weeks of anticipation the Rally Pack arrived via email tonight! Where do I go from here? The bonus locations are spread throughout the southeast. The Cape Hatteras lighthouse in the east to Slaton, TX in the west. From Venice, LA to Chicago, IL. Those are a lot of roads and places to sort through.
The Rally Pack Has Arrived!!
The Rally Pack Has Arrived!!
The theme of this rally is Haunted Places and recognition of the Naval Branch of our Armed Forces. A requirement to be a Finisher is to “Build a Fleet” consisting of a Plane, a Ship, a Sailor, and an Anchor. The scoring system is reverse from other events in that each bonus you collect subtracts from your overall score. The lower your score the better you place. How you collect your Fleet determines from where you start subtracting. The more states you collect from the lower your starting score.
The bonus at Slaton, TX, catches my attention because it is only 40 miles from home. I discard it though because there are not enough other bonuses nearby to make a good route. More processing time and I see a good route along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. If I begin in Vicksburg, MS; I can follow the Mississippi River south to Cut Off, LA; then go along I-10 to Tallahassee, FL; the first day. Then continue on I-10 to Jacksonville, FL; up to Savannah, GA; over to near Greenville, SC; the second day. Then on the last day to the finish near Memphis, TN. It’s about 2,200 miles that is doable with a few places to bail if needed. It should net me a score of about 4,233 points. I like it.
Day -4It is Sunday just four days before the rally begins. Today is the last chance I will have to thoroughly go over all the packing and maintenance items that need to be addressed.
- Duffel Packed: check
Credit Cards verified: check
Paper maps for each state: check
Windshield clean: check
Tire pressure: check
Cables lubed/adjusted: check
Spare keys: check
Routes uploaded to GPS’s: check
GPS’s mounted to the dash: “Crack!” OOPS!
Remember that I said the gps mount crisis was seeming averted? I get a call from Martin to tell me that the cost for overnight shipping is *VERY* expensive! My stress level rises as I contemplate shelling out big bucks to get this mount to me in time to install it before the rally. Martin suggests that he can ship it to my hotel in Vicksburg, MS with guaranteed arrival on Wednesday, the day of my arrival there, for a lot less. I think it is a great idea. I give him the hotel info and he sends me package tracking info.
Crisis averted again!
Day -2Nothing really taxing is happening today. I check on the gps mount shipping progress throughout the day as I go about my workday and it is making good progress. This makes me happy.
When I get home I begin getting things secured to Hidalgo for tomorrow’s trip to Vicksburg. Checking the weather report I see that I will be getting wet for much of the day. My duffel has been pretty good about keeping the water out of its main compartment so I don’t even consider adding any additional wetness protection to it. I will find that this was a Big oversight!
Everything is packed and ready to go. I hug my boys and wife goodbye then mount up and head east. It is 6:35am. Vicksburg is only 760 miles away.
It is still dark, cold, and raining. The morning traffic is slightly slower than normal but still moving along at a good clip. About six miles from home I have my first incidence of hydroplaning. I am wide awake now!
Other than being cold and wet the travel is uneventful. Sure my visor is fogging up and I have to wipe it every three minutes but I’m making progress. I am riding Hwy82 to Texarkana but both GPS’s want to route me through the DFW metroplex. Due to this rain I am avoiding it like the plague. Sure this route is a little longer and slower but I want to live.
Before the rally I broke the rule about not changing or modifying anything before an event. I bought a new pair of boots a week before and they have issues. They are leaking through the side zipper and they won’t easily connect with the sidestand to put it down. This sidestand issue could be a major inconvenience over the next few days so theorizing a solution for this problem I stop at an auto parts store in Saint Jo, TX and purchase a length of fuel hose to slip over the peg on the sidestand. I will use this hose to pull the sidestand down now. Crisis now is reduced to an inconvenience.
In Paris, TX I stop for a late lunch to check timing for the GRUB bonuses during the rally. Can I really do a proper lunch in 30 minutes? If this stop is an indicator, yes I can.
For some reason I have not really studied my route for this event like I usually do and take a longer route around Texarkana. I know the major roads in the area and having not trusted the GPS’s all day I ignore their hails of a shorter route. Oh well, a few more miles today won’t hurt much. (This type of routing confusion will come to pass later.)
The rain has lightened up a bit as I turn south’ish towards Shreveport. The fuel stop in Shreveport takes a LOT longer than planned. Sure, the fuel stop itself was fine but it took three cycles of a very long traffic signal to get back on the road. It could have been that it was the 5:00 rush hour.
It’s a straight shot from Shreveport to Vicksburg and, thankfully, the rain is letting up. Not going away completely, just down to that nasty drizzle that gets all over everything. Near Tallulah, LA, my bike’s odometer rolls over all 0’s for the second time in its life. 200,000 miles! I stop on the side of the interstate to document the event. (yes, it’s that important) I then pick up a Subway sandwich at a truck stop near Delta, LA to take to the hotel for dinner. When I arrive at the hotel it is a bit after 8 o’clock. 13 ½ hours and 760 miles covered.
I check in to the hotel then unload the bike. The hotel clerk finds the GPS mount from Martin and I swap it out. (Thank you Martin. I owe you one man!) While unpacking my duffel I find that EVERYTHING is wet! I mean everything. The front desk clerk was kind enough to put my clothes in their dryer but all ten of the paper maps that I sent off for are ruined. Into the trash they go. She also loans me a fan to dry my riding suit and boots. My laptop has an issue with the charging port, display, and lid switch now. I hate riding in the rain. Now it is time to get my mind set to Rally Mode!
The Rally begins today at 6:00am Sharp! I get up at 5:00 and check my gear. Most of it is dry enough to repack or wear and the morning hotel clerk is kind enough to give me some heavy duty trash bags to stow my clothes in.
Going out to pack the bike I find that it is still raining. Grrr! Oh well, carry on. I leave out for the short drive to my start location and arrive at Exxon at the corner of Clay and Mission 66 in plenty of time to get set up for the START receipt. I fill the fuel tanks and the pump prints a good receipt stamped 06:01am. Perfect! Snap a pic of the receipt with my bike’s odometer and email it to Rally HQ. The Game Is On!
Okay, I’m on-the-clock now and head to my first bonus, Kuhn Memorial State Hospital (code KUHN) about a mile away. This is a building some distance from the road behind a fence and it is still dark out so to illuminate the building I use the bike’s headlights and get the picture. First bonus ‘bagged’.
The Memorial Arch at the entrance to Vicksburg National Military Park is next. It is well lighted and easy enough to get its pic from the ‘Cherrybark Oak’ walkway. Two bonuses (bonii?) bagged in 25 minutes. I head south along the western border of Mississippi picking up GULF, WIND, and KING.
GULF is an abandoned store at Grand Gulf. It’s a good ride down the well maintained and twisty road past the Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Plant. It would have been a lot nicer if it weren’t for the wet leaves on the road. The Windsor Ruins (WIND) is seven miles away as the crow files, but eighteen miles by road. Nice and twisty are the roads. Easy pic with my bike and rally flag.
King’s Tavern (KING) in Natchez comes next then on to The Myrtle’s Plantation (MYRT) in St Francisville, LA. I had left the next bonus with the USS Kidd in Baton Rouge up in the air as to whether I would attempt it or not. I’m feelin’ good and decide to get it. The entire memorial complex looks like it would be a great place to visit later.
It’s over 100 miles to LSAI in Cut Off, LA so I get going. Just before crossing the mighty Mississippi River at Gramercy I stop for GRUB. A cheeseburger and heaping helping of french fries was my lunch. Having not committed my route to memory and relying completely on the GPS’s I got confused and concerned when the route chosen was not a straighter shot. (I am used to the flat plains of west Texas where everywhere is a straight line.) I forced a route that was a bit straighter but was calculated to take longer. Thinking that I was the smarter one (of all the routing computers on the bike) my straighter route would be supreme. *sigh* It was not. Small communities with lots local traffic caused many delays. I did eventually arrive at LSAI about 23 minutes behind schedule and was also able to locate a NAVY seal bonus here as well.
Alrighty, I head back north towards LULI, the Luling-Destrehan Ferry Disaster memorial that is under the Luling bridge. There is also a nice park with a R/C race track here.
The next bonus chase cost a lot of time. The F. Edward Hebert Defense Complex (EHDC) is well off the main roads through many traffic signals. After getting the required pic I headed northeast towards LANC, PELI, and PIKE.
LANC is the anchor in front of the Eden Isles neighborhood. PELI takes a bit of time as I had not known exactly where I would find the ‘Pelicans On Parade’ in Slidell, LA. I am to find and photograph three of the painted fiberglass pelicans on display throughout the city. PIKE is an easy pic then it’s eastward to the Rock ‘N Roll graveyard (RNRG) outside Ocean Springs, MS.
The Longfellow Place (LONG) in Pascagoula, MS is somewhat special to me as it is right on the beach. So far Hidalgo and I have been as high as Pikes Peak and now as low as the seashore. It’s interesting that the gps shows elevation as -11ft. I guess that the 20ft accuracy extends to altitude too.
Mobile, AL has the grave of the last known survivor of the African slave trade. His name was Oluale Kossla. (KAZO). Also, the USS Alabama is here and it is code ASHP.
The next bonus, FLPN-Alternate, was a last minute change to the FPLN bonus that is on the Pensacola NAS property. Because the original bonus is on an active naval base it is not available to non-military personnel after 1700 hours and not available 24 hours as intended. So Mr. Rallymaster offered the F9 Cougar in Blue Angels livery at the Florida Welcome Center at Pensacola as a substitute. Thanks Troy!
I still have to ride into Pensacola for SKAT. This is a large roller skate in the parking lot of a skating rink.
Okay, I am now about 45 minutes behind schedule. It’s not as bad as I feel that it is but I am still frustrated that this day is going long and the gps estimate to the last planned bonus for today, VELD, is nearly 1:00am - I am feeling fatigue set in. Pushing through to finish today’s plan doesn’t feel safe so I pull off the interstate at Chipley, FL with the intention of getting a hotel and some rest. After I get my starting receipt for ZZZ1 at 22:21 I begin searching for a hotel.
After finding the No Vacancy sign lit at the third hotel I am told that there are NO hotel rooms available for several hours around due to the recovery crews still clearing damage from Hurricane Michael that came through a few weeks ago. Darn! I formulate a Plan B to find a quiet place to lay down and at least close my eyes for a while. A short search found such a place at a nearby church. It is a portico with an asphalt floor and brick wall to the outside. It is dry, quiet and will be mine for the next few hours. I lay down and drift off to sleep.
Day 1 is Done.I awake a little after 05:00. It did not rain last night, for this I am thankful. As I am packing up I notice at the top of the door to the portico the little green tree frog that was there when I laid down is still there. He kept watch over me the entire time and kept quiet. Thank you Mr. Green Tree Frog.
The New Plan
The New Plan
Breakfast at the Waffle House helped get my day started while I worked with the now dried out laptop to revise my schedule today. Due to the delays yesterday I decide to drop all the bonuses I had planned in Jacksonville and Savannah and go straight north to Aiken, SC to pick up my original route.
Okay, breakfast done and new route is uploaded. It has begun to rain again as I get a receipt to end ZZZ1. It is exactly eight hours! Whew, something went right for a change.
My first new bonus is EGGS, The Two Egg Stump Jumper. It is a small boat ramp with pier on the Chattahoochee River. The rain has let up for a bit and as I ride towards this location I am amazed at all the devastation from the hurricane. Trees uprooted, broken or blown over, houses with roofs missing and piles of debris waiting to be hauled away. Last night I was not happy with the recovery crews. This morning I have respect for them and sympathy for all the residents of the area. After a few reroutes I find the boat ramp and take its picture. The hurricane damage makes the boat ramp look quite different from the reference picture in the rally book.
VELD is the next bonus in Tallahassee and was my intended last bonus for yesterday. The ‘Hanging Tree’ in Monticello, FL, is the last bonus in Florida before turning north into Georgia.
I get today’s GRUB at a Whataburger in Thomasville, GA. The Whataburger chain is based in San Antonio, TX and for me it is a taste from home.
The Douglass Theater in Macon, GA is the only bonus available between TREE and AIKN so I avail myself to bagging it.
Arriving at the Hotel Aiken (AIKN) in Aiken, SC I have caught up to my original plan. Bagging the SANC bonus in Cross Anchor, SC completes my four-state Fleet!
I get a bit confused at the next bonus Chain Gang Hill Road (CGHR). Depending on Garmin I keep passing the waypoint but there is nothing there except for some trees. Stopping and rereading the description I see that this road is only a half a mile long and the waypoint is in the middle. I am to take a pic of the street sign at either end of the road. Okay, crisis averted and bonus bagged.
The Old Hester Store (HEST) in Easley is quick and easy. However the Poinsett Bridge in Landrum is downright spooky because it is here that my camera caught a ghostly image. The bridge is a stonework bridge built in 1820 that is way back up in the mountains. I decide to keep the bike running and its lights on just to give me a beacon to home in on while I am at the bridge. I have to walk down toward the bottom of the bridge where the creek is to set up for my pics. In the first few attempts there is a fog that appears in the picture that blocks the view of the stone arch of the bridge. I am finally able to get a clear pic and store it. I also try at the top of the bridge and get the same results. Foggy pics until finally a clear one. Pics taken and emails pending I head down the mountain to civilization.
Lake Lure is a place that I have heard about as a great riding destination but this is the first time that I have visited. Taking a picture of The 1927 Lake Lure Inn and Spa completes today’s bonus chase. All I need to do now is to find a place to stay for the night and head to the Finish tomorrow.
The road out of Lake Lure is very twisty so making time is not possible. Eventually the road straightens out and I am able to make some speed. Arriving in Asheville, NC I start the ZZZ2 bonus at 00:39 on Saturday morning. I had contacted a hotel and reserved a room so I knew that I had a warm and soft bed for tonight. My plan is to get up at a reasonable time, eat a filling breakfast, maintenance and pack the bike and leave out. I verified what time I needed to be on the road, about 08:39, took a hot shower and went to bed.
Day 2 is complete.I am awaken by a text from my boss who is sending me a song from his youth about the roads I have been riding. My first thought is why would he be sending me a message so early. I know I have an alarm set for 6:00 and it hasn’t gone off. I check the display and am shocked so see that it is 8:12!! WHAT?!?!?! Had I missed my alarms? Had I totally slept through them? What happened? No time to answers those questions, time to pack and go!
Catching up to the Original Plan
Catching up to the Original Plan
By the time I got packed, checked out, and got my end of ZZZ2 receipt it was 8:42. Only four minutes over. Whew! No maintenance or breakfast this morning but at least I’m moving towards the finish.
According to Garmin my finish time should good with over an hour cushion. I still have to make bonus stops and GRUB so it’ll be close.
The Helen-Zealandia bridge (ZEAL) is the first planned stop and it’s within a mile of the hotel. It is in a maze of very steep and twisting residential roads but I eventually find it after stopping and reviewing a gps screen of the local street names. (thank you GPSmap 478, the nuvi 1450 can’t easily do that)
The Thomas Divide Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway was an excellent ride! Fog, rain, and wet leaves did take away some from the enjoyment but I * Rode * On * The * Blue * Ridge * Parkway!! Now it’s time to put the hammer down for the push to the Finish.
GRUB comes at a Love’s Truck Stop near Dandrige, TN. The stop was almost for naught as the receipt did not have the proper time on it. I talked with a manger who was nice enough to print a different receipt that did have the time. Thank you Love’s manager.
Next up would have been GOOH, the Ryman Auditorium-Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville. Traffic comes to almost a standstill a few blocks from this bonus though. For at least five blocks it is packed with partyers (sp). This is downtown Nashville on a Saturday afternoon and I couldn’t stir ‘em with a stick if I had wanted to. Approaching the bonus location I was not able to get into the proper lane to turn and missed the street. As I rode by I also saw that the in front of the of the building I was to get a pic from was packed with partyers. Since I was also getting close on time to the Finish I decided to not attempt to go back and try again. Darn, 189 points not lost. (or is it lost, this NIITWIt thing gets confusing)
Getting back onto the interstate I continue west towards Hurricane Mills and Loretta Lynn’s Ranch. The ranch is a few miles from the highway and, again, Garmin attempts to send me down unpaved roads despite the fact that I have it set to avoid them. Pressing the Reroute button gets me to the main gate of the ranch a few minutes later. There is an equestrian event happening and this place is full of people and horses. The ranch house is past this crowd and is tranquil and quiet. I get my pic easily. The road continues past the ranch house and Garmin says that it is a route out of here so, trustingly, I decide to continue down this road. It quickly turns to a nice wide gravel road, then that road narrows, then that road turns into switchbacks. UGGHH!! (I am having flashbacks from the 2015 NIITWIt in eastern Oklahoma.) After a few miles it ends at a highway. *I Love You Pavement*. “Garmin, we *need* to talk about this unpaved road thing.”
Next is either a church or the Finish line. Don’t worry, the church is a bonus location. If I go to the church it will put me at the finish with about ten minutes to spare instead of 25 minutes if I don’t go. After much self-consultation I opt for safety and go straight to the Finish.
Arriving at the Finish hotel I see that there are already a couple of dozen bikes in the parking lot so I am not the first one back. Stopping the clock at 5:40 my moving time for this rally is over! My first 60-hour Rally is done! I DID IT!
Now it’s time to prepare for scoring. I have to verify all my info and be ready to meet with the scoring team within the next hour. Finding a table in the bar I do exactly that. Upon entering the scoring room I see that my scorer is Cletha W., who I have met at other rally events. Scoring goes smoothly and I am awarded all claimed points! No points lost at the scoring table!
Now I can really relax. No more clock to contend with until tomorrow morning, time to mingle.
The banquet dinner is roast beef and fish with tasty vegetables and all kinds of cobblers. Troy gives recognition to his Rally Staff as well as the hotel staff. The results for the five 12 hour rally riders are read then the results for the five 36 hour rally riders are read.
The 60 hour rally results are last. There are 26 finishers to this event and I am called at 11th place with 7,450 points, just one point from 10th place. (I should have gone back in Nashville.) I am a Happy Rider!
I entered this event because I wanted to prove to myself that I could handle a multi-day event. I made some mistakes and learned some lessons because my head wasn’t really ‘in the game’ and I thought it would come together for me at some point. Unfortunately it never did completely come together. The start was okay but I was stressed from the weather. Towards the end of day 1 I was more stressed due to delays that were less severe than I thought they were. I was less than one hour behind schedule instead of the two hours I thought I was. That extra hour was due to me not taking into account the time zone I was going to cross into. In hindsight I think that I might could have ridden most of my original route and still finished in time. By the end of day 2 I was feeling much better about things.
Pack for wet weather
Basecamp doesn't calculate time zones, GPS's Do. Adjust the plan accordingly.
Make sure that you set your wakeup alarms. Don’t assume!
Study your route for the day to know the roads you intend to travel.
Thank you for reading this far. I hope you have enjoyed it.
Bill & Hidalgo