the next two nights were spent working on the outline of a couple routes. didn't want to put anything in concrete and face the disappointment of having to make too many adjustments friday night when the rally master gave us the rally pack with updated requirements for the rally.
the second biggest disappointment came thursday night when tim and julie, my mentors from last year, had to drop from the rally. the first biggest disappointment being my wife and son not accompanying me on the journey. although i do understand them not wanting to be holed up in a hotel room while i'm off exploring parts of north and south carolina i'd only see for a few minutes. with tim and julie out, my training wheels were being removed for good. we still talked and shared ideas on routes, but the execution would be all me this time...
before i knew it, friday had arrived and it was time to pack and head out. over the previous two days, while i had my head stuck in the rally book, scouring, plotting and planning, my wife took care of me by gathering some clothes and toiletries for me. it really helped me get myself together and out the door friday.
the ride down to wilmington friday was nice. i left early enough to avoid the rain; although the wind was blowing me all over the place. in order to be more prepared for travels on the bike, i've been trying to get in the habit of filling my tank on my way home. that way, when i'm ready to head out my tank is full and i'm ready to go. imagine my surprise when i check my mileage and discover i don't have too many more miles before i'm out of gas. i usually save this gut-wrenching situation for the end of the rally when i have to decide between filling the tank up or arriving on time.
i punch in the nearest gas station, which isn't so near. when i roll off the exit and head about a mile down the road, the gas station isn't there. there's nothing there. dang it! now i have to punch in the next closest gas station and hope that i have enough to make it there. luckily i did. and as it turns out, there's a smithfield's chicken n bar-b-q right next door - which i sang for my smoke chasing. maybe things aren't turning out so bad after all...
as i'm rolling in to wilmington, comfortable in the fact i have enough gas to get there, i start thinking about the rally. about the chaos that will take place at the friday night rally meeting. it dawns on me that the ten hour ride on satruday is actually the easier part of the rally. from the time the rally book arrives until we leave saturday morning is the most hectic. preparing the gps with all the bonus locations, planning routes, replanning routes, second guessing routes, time guesstimates, etc. it's all so crazy. but once the ride starts, it just time to execute. time to ride the ride.
i get to the hotel, check in, head to the room and unpack. i decide to get a little lunch to kill time until the meeting that night. of course another bbq place to satisfy my stomach and another smoke chasing stop.
it's time for the friday evening rally meeting. i catch up to my friend bill who i hadn't seen in a year or so. i also get to meet john - a fellow smoke chaser from years past. and a new friend tj. since we're all from the raleigh area we seem to have an instant bond.
so the biggest surprise from the meeting friday night was no surprise!! the only change was to the start. instead of the shotgun start from the hotel we usually have, we can start at 6am from anywhere that we can obtain a date/time stamped receipt with wilmington as the location. we have a ten minute window on either side of six. and we have exactly ten hours to get to the finish line. if we start at 5:55am, we need to be at the finish line at 3:55pm. good enough.
sleep friday night wasn't going to happen. i have an alarm set but fear i might oversleep. it seems every ten or fifteen minutes i'm waking up to check the time. at four i decide to just get up. i prepare everything i'll need. i adjust my morning plans. i decide i'll stop at mcdonalds for some oatmeal before heading out to my start location. i also figure this will be my backup plan. depending on the receipt i get, that might be my starting receipt. if it doesn't have the right information, i'll head to my original starting location.
all the mcdonalds i'm familiar with open at five thirty. i get to mcdonalds at about five forty. closed. they don't open until six. scrap that plan. and breakfast. i head to my original start location. a gas station that opens at six. i hope this isn't a sign of how my day is going to go.
sitting outside the gas station, i see the attendant preparing the coffee, putting out donuts, getting the store ready. as i'm watching him, i'm watching the time, i'm thinking how often does he open on time?? is anyone really there at six?? does he take his time and open a little later?? the clocks ticks closer and closer to six. then past six. i'm starting to panic. if i have to scrap this location, i have to bail quickly *and* find another start location. one that will give me a receipt with a time stamp no later than six ten.
luckily he opens the store. i decide to pick up a pack of gum and get a receipt with a time stamp of exactly six. i text in my starting information and begin my journey.
this year there were bonus locations of libraries. each library was worth two hundred fifty points, up to a total of a thousand points. oh, to mix it up a little, your motorcycle, passenger if you have one or rally flag cannot be in the picture. this is a twist because your rally flag must be in every picture. put your rally flag in library pictures and it doesn't count. my first stop was a library just down the street from my start.
next stop atlantic beach, sc. about an hour away. the ride is wet. and cold. it early. i've got an urge to go to the bathroom. and i'm wondering why i'm on this journey. i'm thinking how bad would it be to just head back to the hotel - to the finish line?? i can't do that. i won't do that. not without at least one or two stops under my belt.
i make my first stop in atlantic beach, nicknamed "the black pearl." interesting history, but no time to stop and look around. in order to expedite my stop, i pull up on the sidewalk next to the historical highway marker. it's a small brick sidewalk. i figure it's early enough no one is going to be out. as i back up to take the picture, i notice the marker is in front of the town hall. then, out of the corner of my eye, i catch a police car less that fifty yards down the side street. now i'm hoping they don't head out and spot my motorcycle on the sidewalk. i get the picture and get on my way...
a useful feature on my gps is the ability to find things along my route. my planned route already had four library stops built in. but i decided that if i could find libraries earlier, i could adjust my route later if necessary. so i punched in libraries along my route and discovered one directly on the route between atlantic beach and myrtle beach. sweet! two libraries down.
now on to warbird memorial at myrtle beach. i can't count the number of times i've been to myrtle beach and i never knew this hidden gem was there. makes me wonder what other treasures we're missing around us. i needed to get a picture of the stone memorial with the flagpoles in the background. when i get there, i notice there are several stone markers. now i'm starting to think to much about what's needed for the picture. nearby there's a large memorial. but it's got what looks like marble placards with people's names. is this it?? it's not what i might consider a stone memorial. crud! i'm losing time thinking. and i'm over thinking. i take a picture of the memorial and take my chances.
now it's about a two hour ride to my next stop in pineville, sc. it gives me plenty of time to think. and the thoughts of giving up and turning around are gone. i'm into the ride. i'm into the competition. and i'm having fun. it's times like these that i realize how much i enjoy long distance endurance riding. i'm in my element.
as i make the turn into my next stop, i see a motorcycle behind me. part of the rally?? most likely. darn it. i hadn't seen anyone else along the route and i was hoping i was the only one heading for these high value locations. fat chance.
i pull my bike around and almost dump the bike. before i turned my bike around, i scanned the road, noticing a lot of long pine needles and puddles. i carefully turn my bike around and clip the edge of a puddle with my front tire. what i didn't realize was the puddle of water was surrounded by a thick layer of mud. my front tire slid and the bike almost went over. luckily i managed to keep it up. although i guess i would have been lucky to have another rider show up to help me pick it up should i not be able to do it by myself.
i write down my information, grab my flag and camera and greet the other rider. it turns out to be tj - who i met the night before. pretty cool. this stop is franscis marion's tomb.
on our way out tj asks if i have any aspirin. i do and give him some. he apologies for slowing me down. no big deal. to me taking care of fellow riders is more important than winning the rally. although i don't really have any delusions that i'll be at the top!! tj mentions he's making good time and is going to his a high value location. we're both heading there so i tell him i'll see him there.
on my way there, i'm wondering if my gps is giving the quickest route. i've often wondered about the reliability of the routing of my gps. usually it's not a big deal. if i'm on the bike and it takes me a little longer, who cares?? but not now. i need the quickest route between locations. i'm also thinking this would probably be a good time to have traffic information fed into the gps so it could route appropriately.
i get to the next stop, take the necessary pictures and take a minute or two to eat some dried fruit. i missed my planned breakfast but i'm not hungry enough to stop yet. i'll keep pressing on.
the next stop is a good one. smallest police station with a library at the next stop. as i head out, tj and i pass. i wonder if we're on the same route at this point. i'll know shortly.
as i enter ridgeway, i notice they're having a flea market. it's like the whole town is out and everywhere, everyone is selling stuff. i sure hope all the people and activity don't slow me down too much.
on the way to the next stop, i decide to try another feature of my gps - optimize route. when i do this, i realize i get another fifteen minutes. fantastic, i'm feeling better now about making the last stop and having time for stops. but i the back of my mind, i'm wondering how i could have gotten the order of the route that wrong. doesn't matter, i'm saving fifteen minutes. but something isn't right. i look down at the arrival time and realize it says four thirty! not three thirty. instead of gaining fifteen minutes, i've lost forty five! so much for route optimization.
i have to manually reset the order of my stops and get everything in place. on my way to the next location, i hit some button on my gps and now it's telling me to make a u-turn. what?? i couldn't have missed my stop. i pull into a parking lot to check the route. after getting the gps back into normal mode, i see that i was indeed on the right track and i just need to keep going. this was probably the only mistake i made that cost me a few minutes.
my next stop is the forth and final library in bishopville, sc. it's nice that i can pull up to the opposite corner of the intersection and snap my picture.
my next stop is just down the street. "doc" blanchard, mr. inside, is a local hero and has three statues dedicated to him - one as a child, one as a football player in college and one as an airman.
i get the picture and check my time. it's too close for me. i decide to cut my next stop, making this the last one. except for a stop for gas and cold beverage. that should give me time to make it back with breathing room.
on my way back, i make one more decision that might cost me. as i'm turning on to the highway, there's a gas station. i can fuel up and get my beverage. the problem is i'm about 150 miles from the finish line. 150 miles is when i like to put fuel in my tank. it's my safe zone. i can go further, but why push it. of course, when i'm running faster speeds, as i will on my trip to the finish line, my fuel mileage tanks, so-to-speak. to the point, i'm lucky if i can get 150 miles out of the tank. too late, i've pulled in to the gas station. i can't afford to pull away and make another stop.
i fuel up and head in to get my gas receipt and beverage. being the mom-n-pop joint, no one is in a hurry to help. this is killing. let me pay and get out. i get to the counter, ring up my order and swipe my card. nothing. swipe again. nothing. okay, let's try credit. i swipe again. and again. now the cashier wants to try. she wipes my card, and tries again. and again. now she calls the manager over. time is ticking away. finally i decided to just pay cash. cash is king. it gets me back on the road.
now i'm looking at arriving with eight minutes to spare. if traffic isn't bad in town, i can make it. as i'm riding in, i gain another minute. good. keep adding minutes. but i'm also using fuel fast. can i gain enough time to justify another stop? will i need another stop.
cruising down the road, about a half mile in front of me, another motorcyclist pulls in front. heading in the same direction. i'm sure this is another rally rider. i'm feeling good at this point. if i don't make the finish, i won't be the only one. as i close in, i notice it's tj! i'm feeling good. i'm pretty sure we're going to make it.
we get in to town, traffic isn't that bad. we're going to make it. i'm following tj and he makes a turn down a side street that will bring us in behind the hotel. i'm thinking this is good because we'll be able to make a right onto the road in front of the hotel instead of having to make a left at the light. as we make the right, tj heads across the street to the gas station. i'm torn. do i go with him or do i head in to the finish line. i'm heading to the finish line. and make it with plenty of time to spare. but not enough time to have made the last stop. now i'm just waiting to see if tj makes it in. he should. unless the gas station is slow or he can't get across the street. neither happens and he makes in in time as well...
so the execution of the ride is done. now for the most stressful part of the whole rally, scoring. now's the time to make sure your ride is documented correctly. any mistakes and you leave points on the table, as they say. correct dates and times and locations in the correct spots. memory chip into the scoring envelope. once the envelope is turned in, no changes, no additions. it's over. i turn in my scoring pack and wait for my name to be called.
one of the last to be score. i was score by jason jonas, who's instrumental in the iron butt world. it was a pleasure meeting him and being scored by him. when it was all said and done, i ended up with sixteen thousand nine hundred seventy six points. enough to get me an eleventh place finish. didn't even make the top ten. but i did finish. which was probably my biggest goal.
as always, there are lessons to be learned from the experience. for example, don't reset your gps the week of the rally. you'll most likely forget to reset your fuel mileage. and all your personal routing preferences will be gone. not a good thing to figure out on your way to the rally.
next year i will also write my bonus locations on my windshield. this will help me with routing and i won't have to worry about opening my windshield bag and having things blow out. no, this didn't happen. but i didn't take the chance of opening the windshield bag in fear my sheet would blow away.
in closing, i'd like to thank jim, the rally master, and the costal carolina rally krewe for all their hard work in making this rally successful. and fun. it's no easy task organizing four groups of riders in four starting locations.
also to tim and julie for their support. even if they couldn't be present to ride.
and finally my wife for supporting me and letting me do crazy things like this. and for being apart from one another. i wish i could share these experiences with her but i know it's not her type of riding. we'll get to share other experiences together.
let's finish this up with the notes i took during the ride and my route...