The end… for now

Saturday morning started early – technically the rally didn’t finish until 6am with the penalty window open until 8am. We were up at 4 to get the odometer read and then hit scoring.

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Unfortunately this time around, I had made a mistake. When we’d stopped at the Eternal Light Peace memorial in PA, I’d written 12.10am instead of 12.10pm on the score sheet. Because it was a timed bonus, we lost those points (426 of them) at the table. It’s not a big deal, but I felt like I’d let the team down. These things do happen, but it’s frustrating when they do, and it’s easy to give yourself a hard time about it.

After we finished scoring I went back to bed and slept for a long time. We had a massage in the spa at midday and then a lazy lunch over some wine before heading to the finishing banquet. It was wonderful to share our experiences with the other riders and their friends and families, and to catch up with friends we’ve made along the way.

Despite all the fun and joy, there was also a bit of regret for me that it was over. The rally was something I’d been working towards and gearing up to for more than 6 months and now it was over and that sense of ‘what’s next’? It was, for me, a once in a lifetime experience that I don’t think I’ll ever repeat. Though I did tell Kiwi that I’d do the IBR with him next year if he bought the Grand America. I don’t think he believes me. 

I feel so lucky and so privileged to have been able to have the experience and to share it with Kiwi, and I think I better understand the appeal of the rally than I did. But it’s not my passion. I hope that I did the experience justice. I think I did my best. I didn’t want to go into this as something that I treated as a joke. Riding these rallies is something a lot of people would love to do and some don’t get the chance for all kinds of reasons so I wanted to make sure I respected the experience and I hope I did it justice. I think we finished 59th, up from 62nd after Leg 1, and that’s pretty amazing.

There are many people I’d like to acknowledge and thank for their part in helping me along the way. First, of course, is The Kiwi. He’s an incredible partner who supports me in a way that allows me to challenge myself knowing that if I fail, he’ll be there to help me get up and try again and I am so grateful and blessed to be his partner and wife. He shows me things and takes me places I wouldn’t otherwise experience and I can’t thank him enough.

Second, Team Strange. My sense was this year that the rally masters had a tough time of it with BLIX. They did amazing work finding great places to send us but a few things didn’t go to plan and by the end of the 6 days I feel like they were as tired as we were and needed a break. Lisa, David and Bart, you guys put on a great rally – thank you so much. Just because I don’t think I’ll be back doesn’t mean I didn’t have a great time! And thank you to all the volunteers who travelled to Lexington and to Maggie Valley to help score and plan and make it all such a great experience. You’re all incredible.

Third are all the other people who’ve helped and supported me along the journey – in ways big and small. Lisa Hecker sent me rally packs and advice from half way across the world, Tina Baker responded to my random text messages while I was on the rally going ‘my butt hurts’ and ‘it’s hot’ and never just gave in to the temptation to say “I’ll swap with you!” which I think she probably wanted to! And then she brought me wine! Our American family of Lori, Joe, Meaghan, Gillian and Alex who look after us so well every time we come and make sure we get some great down time after every rally – I love you guys – I hope you know how much! Thank you!

Finally, thank you for reading the blog. It’s been great to have people to share the stories with! I feel like I’ve received support from friends, family and even people I’ve never met in the LD riding community. I’m going to keep writing about my riding experiences – but they may not be as exciting and eventful as the past few weeks have been. If you haven’t checked it out already – there are more stories (from Team Strange) and photos (from Rick Corkwine) on the Butt Lite blog.

‘Till next time, happy riding and safe travels.

Bec

 

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Day 6: Lewisburg, WV to Lexington, KY

Our last day dawned at the relatively sensible time of 5.30am. We availed ourselves of the hotel breakfast at 6 and got on the road with a plan to hit bonuses on the way to Lexington and, if we felt like it and could make it in time, to head back to Mammoth Cave National Park to get a couple of ferry crossings.

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The morning went pretty much to plan – we rode some fun roads through West Virginia which I think was quite demanding for the Kiwi but all kinds of fun for me… And we had one of those ‘WTF Garmin?!?!?’ moments going to our first bonus.

We were looking for the John Henry bonus near Talcott, WV. Once we’d reached the town I stopped looking at Google thinking ‘how wrong could Garmin possibly get this now?’… That was a mistake.

Garmin said turn left here to cross the railway tracks. Where there was a train. So we stopped and waited 10 minutes for the train to pass. Across the tracks we turned right, then right again…. Where we were supposed to cross back across the railway tracks to the road we were just on!!!!! So now I’m getting back on my phone because Garmin is full of shit – it wants us to turn left onto the service road for the railway which is gravel and that is not what the bonus description says. So instead we follow the road up to the entrance to the John Henry park and ride in.

When we got there, the park manager walked over to say hi and told us that over the past couple of days, we were some of the few people who’d made it to the statue itself. Apparently GPS directions had been sending people to the other side of the railway tracks where they’d been having to cross the railway line to put their flag on the fence to take their photo… Stupid Garmin!

Next up was the Pocahontas Mine entrance, then the Hatfield-McCoy Hog Trial Site (I’m not sure if the Hatfield-McCoy dispute is something everyone in the US is familiar with but it was a new thing for me!) and some more historical markers of grizzly fights.

We also found a bonus that genuinely did have some gravel on the road leading in, but we navigated it just fine, got our bonus and high tailed it out again.

Now it was time to make a call about whether we continued west or headed straight back to the checkpoint. I think we were both feeling ok, and we decided we’d make the effort to collect the last couple of bonuses before heading back into the finish.

As I went to read the bonus directions for one of the points in Mammoth Cave it became clear that there was a bit of an issue. While the Green River Ferry was definitely a bonus, the other point was actually a bonus from Leg 1 and not available to collect on Leg 2. It wasn’t a big deal, but definitely something to keep in mind for IBR prep next year.

Finally, we hit the Green River Ferry. I’m sure it’s the shortest ferry ride in the world – we only just had time to get off the bike, take the photo and get back on to get off the ferry!

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It was a two bags of ice afternoon, but we headed back to the finish in the gathering dusk. It was incredibly beautiful. There is an Amish community around Mammoth Cave and we watched them return from their Friday afternoon outings as we rode by. I even got a few waves!

Then it was back to the interstate and on into Lexington where we were met by Tina Baker who had very kindly brought me a glass of wine to celebrate our safe return. Thank you Tina!!! It was 10pm, but we’d made it! Once again, we unpacked the bike, then headed for some food – a late dinner of crab cakes and a gin and tonic with the Lahmans and Janet Owen. Then it was bed time before a 3.30am Saturday wake up for scoring.

 

Day 5: Bedford, VA to Lewisburg, WV

Day 5 dawned better – even if it was 4am… And maybe it wasn’t dawn yet, but whatever… I’d had some sleep, we had two days of riding and collecting points ahead, and I was no longer seriously sleep deprived – only moderately so.

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Around 5am we were back on the road and found a gas station that was reported to be 24 hours so we could collect our receipt for the end of our rest bonus. In the US, that meant the pumps worked 24 hours, but not necessarily the staff… Thankfully I managed to make my credit card work with the pump sufficiently well that without even getting any gas I was able to get a receipt with a time and date stamp and we were on our way.

Our first bonus of the day was at Apple Orchard Mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway and it was a beautiful start to the day. There were a few deer around which kept our speed down a bit, but otherwise we mostly had an incredible road to ourselves and watching the sunrise over the trees was good for the soul. Life was good: I was sitting behind my man, riding some beautiful roads, watching the sun rise on my holidays. I’m blessed!

The difference between 78 degrees with 8 hours of sleep, and 104 degrees with 4 hours of sleep is immense. I was thinking reasonably clearly, I could see the positives and I was motivated. Day 5 was looking good.

After Apple Orchard Mountain we hit 20 Minute Rock and then Starbucks for coffee, before we found one of the original slave blocks, standing behind an old railway station.

One of the incredible things about the work that Team Strange does preparing for these rallies is the stories they find and share. And while I find some parts of America’s culture difficult to understand, I think it’s laudable that even the moments in American history of which its people are least proud are still honoured and not denied or covered up. I think it’s such a mature approach and something that I can learn from: those moments we’re not proud of are part of what makes us who we are.

Onwards and upwards: we headed to the statue of an extreme explorer whose dog will continue to affectionately hump his leg… forever… And then to Pennsylvania!

When we picked up the R1200RT last year, it had been carefully collected and lovingly stored by Dan Simmonds and we shared some amazing carrot cake in Gettysburg before our ride to Minneapolis. Dan came out to Oz earlier in the year to do some serious riding down under and when we decided to head for the Eternal Light Peace memorial just outside Gettysburg, Kiwi gave Dan a call to see if he was keen to come say hello – and he was!

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The eternal flame!

Dan and his partner, Renee, came to meet us at the flame just after midday, bringing bananas, ice and some fruit smoothies, as well as some great smiles and some non-rally related conversation. It was just what we needed. Getting off the bike for 20 minutes, talking about life outside the rally ‘bubble’ and getting some new air conditioning was very restorative, I think for both of us. We also crossed paths with Martin Cover, Lisa Hecker and Steve Rufo which was nice. Kiwi reassured me they’d had as difficult a day on Day 4 as we had!!

We headed west to our next bonus and considered the strangeness of the shape of Maryland… Seriously USA, what is with that???? It’s like everyone carved off all the bits of the country they wanted and then went, ‘Hey, Maryland, you can have what’s left’.

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We crossed state lines at least 7 times on Thursday! We went from Virginia, travelled east and somehow ended up in West Virginia, then Maryland, then Pennsylvania, then back to Maryland for about 35 seconds, then back to WV, then west into Virginia!!! And so on. Kiwi was very confused – I swear we were going in a straight line and yet it was like we were going backwards!

Sigh.

Thankfully with the assistance of Google we went the right way. We saw some amazing sights on the back roads of West Virginia, and even after we entered the ‘dark zone’ that is the radiocommunications blackout area around the Green Bank radio telescope, we were able to find our way. It was incredibly beautiful and even after a 14 hour day I was feeling relaxed when we landed in Lewisburg for the night. Dinner was at Ruby Tuesdays (try getting that song out of your head now, I dare you!) and then I crashed out.

Day 4: Maggie Valley, NC to Bedford, VA

Day 4 started early and after not enough sleep! We’d hit the checkpoint before midnight which meant we could get our rally pack at 6am. If we weren’t there at 6, we’d have to wait until 8am and we’d lose 2 hours of potentially valuable routing time – but we weren’t staying at the rally HQ hotel (they booked out quickly!). So Kiwi was up at 5 and I was dragging my sorry ass out of bed at 5.20 to get dressed and head over.

Since I had managed to leave my thongs (flip flops) in our room at Lexington (black thongs on dark carpet = oops), I was in my motorcycling boots, 3/4 length gym leggings and a t-shirt. This is a new fashion trend I expect to see picked up in Paris later in the season. Another member of the Australian contingency was found to be wearing his top inside out, a trend I’ve found to be particularly popular among the sleep deprived, followed closely by clothing affixed to the body back-to-front!

Needless to say the 5.45am crowd at the Maggie Valley Inn was pretty rowdy. We were plied with breakfast foods of all categories and flavours (delicious, thank you!) and then handed our rally packs at which point the room cleared of people, and fast! We were due back at 8am for the mandatory riders meeting so we headed off to do as much routing as we could in the intervening period.

Kiwi was a machine. He smashed through all the coding in about an hour, and I was struggling to keep up reading the rally book and trying to get a sense of where the ‘big points’ were within our reach doing the 12-14 hour days we’d agreed. Just looking at the points on the screen, we knew we’d be heading north east from Maggie Valley. There were big points available heading north west towards Minnesota, but we wanted to see new things and places, and we’d ridden through Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin on our way down. So it was the Virginias and Pennsylvania for us!

We had enough of a plan by 7.30 that we decided we’d pack the bike and head off after the riders meeting. Unfortunately something went wrong with the Basecamp files the Kiwi was using and a whole heap of bonuses from Leg 1 were showing up on the Leg 2 file he sent me. Mostly it was pretty obvious which ones these were, as we’d already hit them (the stadiums, for instance) and they were to the south and west of where we were… but it wasn’t reassuring for me. As a result, I was a bit snarky and scratchy about ‘well, are these the right points’… But Kiwi was patient with me and we figured it was ‘good enough’ for our purposes (this is a major improvement for me, the girl who wants to make everything perfect).

Our day was going to involve heading north into West Virginia, then up alongside the mountains until we hit the Blue Ridge Parkway and decided we’d stop for the night – the rest of the route could be decided that night or in the morning.

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We attended the riders meeting, got some additional information about a bonus we knew we weren’t going to be able to get to, and the rally masters got pretty emotional about some things that had been going wrong – specifically riders getting on social media (a big no-no) and following their GPS to places they shouldn’t be going (also a big no-no and something we’d experienced yesterday!). I think we all felt pretty chastened and my resolve was strengthened about trusting Google Maps over the Garmin.

We saddled up quickly after the meeting and headed for the road. The scenery was beautiful with streams running beside the road and clouds draped across the countryside.

First up was Hot Springs, NC – a pretty little town with not much happening on Sunday morning. Again, it was good to get our first bonus under our belts but I realised we’d forgotten to write our starting odometer reading on our score sheet and also that we’d forgotten to claim the checkpoint bonus on Leg 1 – something Kiwi confirmed as a rookie mistake, but one not only made by rookies. It was ‘only’ 50 points, but it was 50 points we could have claimed with no additional riding.

After HOT was POT – a memorial to bridge burners near Greeneville, TN. And then on to WTF – an historical marker remembering the Whitetop Folk Festival at the top of a very cool road. By now I was really feeling the fatigue and it was nice to have some time off the bike, eat a banana and sit in the shade. I’ve always given Kiwi a hard time about sleeping on park benches and concrete slabs, but at 1.20pm after only 4.5 hours of sleep I was prepared to take a break on some gravel beside the road.

On the way back down the hill we saw an animal unrecognisable from our previous experience. It had a wiggly bum and a furry tail and in the absence of a better name we dubbed it Gluteus Wigglus while I giggled on the back of the bike. It may have been a groundhog. Or not. We may have discovered a new species not previously known to man. Who can tell??

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We stopped for a late lunch/afternoon tea somewhere that had a Starbucks (I can no longer recall where this was) and as we were leaving got a text to say that we should use the coordinates from the rally book for our next bonus. We did a quick check and discovered that we weren’t going make it in time (it was a time limited bonus, closing at 5pm – it was 4pm and we were still an hour and a half away). I should have realised it was going to be an issue when the bonus point description said ‘Appomattox court house’ and the little red dot was about 50kms west of the town, but I repeat: sleep deprivation.

We re-jigged our plans to get to a different time limited bonus – Booker T Washington and booked a hotel for the night in Bedford, VA, about half way to our next bonus point.

This was where I tipped over the edge from fatigue to exhaustion. On the way, Kiwi mentioned we should get me some new thongs, so I didn’t have to keep wearing my motorcycling boots for dinner. I did a search and found a Walmart that was about 5 minutes off our route – then the conversation went something like this:

Piglet: So, there’s a Walmart about 5 minutes from the hotel
Kiwi: Is it on the way to the hotel?
P: Not directly, but it’s not that far off.
K: What about Dollar General?
P: Do they sell thongs?
K: I don’t know, they sell stuff.
P: But do they sell thongs?
K: (joking) They sell stuff!
P: (not finding this funny) But does the stuff include thongs?
K: …
P: (thinking) I am only getting of this damn bike once. If Dollar General doesn’t sell thongs I’m going to be seriously annoyed. And he’s going to hear about it!
K: (thinking) Time to get off the bike!!! She’s losing it!

We got to Dollar General (which was closer than the Walmart) without issue, and thankfully for all involved, they had thongs. It took me 15 minutes in the store. Not only did they have thongs, they had them in multiple sizes. And I could no longer make a decision about what size to get – I wasn’t taking my boots off to try them on. It took me a good 7 minutes to come to the conclusion that the thongs were only $1 a pair, and I could buy 2 pairs for $2 and they’d probably fit on the bike… If they didn’t I fit I could leave one pair at the hotel.

Kiwi suggested he could drop me at the hotel to check in while he filled up the bike, which sounded attractive but I was all about the ‘rules’ and I think there’s something about both people needing to be on the bike the whole time and it seemed like I would be cheating if I went and checked in while he was getting fuel. So I went along to the fuel stop, and then we hit the hotel.

It took 30 minutes to check in. Two people were in front of me and only one had ID but they wanted two rooms. Then the phone rang. Meanwhile Kiwi was outside on the bike in the heat. By the time we got a room arranged I was feeling very anxious and my brain was on overdrive (I should have come and checked in while he got fuel, I should have picked a different hotel, he’ll be getting hot, maybe he should come inside, should I be more assertive here…).

We unpacked the bike and showered but when we went to charge our helmets we couldn’t get any of the powerpoints on the wall to work! In rearranging the furniture to try to get to a powerpoint Kiwi bashed his leg quite hard against a metal thing under the bed and then I nearly burst into tears… It was all too hard and I could no longer manage normal functioning.

After dinner in the hotel Mexican restaurant (delicious but enormous), I fell into bed – but was still so worked up it took me a good hour to calm down and get to sleep. I was crying for no reason just cleaning my teeth. I was exhausted and stressed and even though I knew I was fine, and just tired, it felt like the worst place in the world. I think I fell asleep about 8pm hoping like anything that tomorrow would be better. Thankfully it was – but more about that next time!

Day 3: Thomson, GA to Maggie Valley, NC

Day 3 was eventful. And long. And kind of funny now – but not so much at the time!

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It started, happily, with breakfast and coffee at 6am, then we packed and got on the road pretty efficiently. Our first bonus was in Columbia, South Carolina: our second-last stadium and a great place for second-breakfast. It all went fine – we found the bonus, took our photo, then found the local Starbucks where I entertained the staff with my Australian accent and the short answer to ‘so why are you in Columbia’?!?

When we got back to the bike we had a parking ticket. Dang it!!!!! We didn’t feed the meter! In Australia this would be somewhere between an $85 and $175 fine, depending on the city. Happily, in Columbia, SC, it was $8. I pay more for parking every day at work when I park legally! So we had a bit of a giggle and got on our way.

Heading north, we bagged a statue of Nina Simone, I got to go shopping for things ‘White Squirrel related’ and we headed towards ‘Cold Mountain’, made famous by the book of the same name.

Then we headed for our last stadium bonus in Knoxville, TN, passing right on by Maggie Valley on our way.

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At this point I was starting to feel really tired, and I was having difficulty getting on and off the bike, which was not helping Kiwi. We didn’t have our shared mojo going and it was taking its toll on both of us. We stopped for another Starbucks break to regroup, had some iced tea and a snack, and figured out our plans.

It seemed a shame to head straight back to Maggie Valley. There were a few bonuses we could get on some very cool roads and it would only add about an hour and a half to the day. I was keen to do it – it would be a bit of a challenge but not too crazy and we had plenty of time until the checkpoint closed. Even with the extra bonuses, we’d still land in Maggie Valley at about 9pm. So we went for it.

The first section was down the interstate (boooooring), but we turned off towards the Cherohala Skyway and the road got more interesting and more pretty. About 6.15pm was when things started to get even more ‘interesting’ and the discussion went something along these lines:

K: Turn right here?
P: No, Google says straight ahead
K: Well both GPSs say turn right.
P: Google says there’s no road here…
K: There is a road here! (turns right)
P: Not according to Google. This is making me nervous.
K: It’s fine – there are people coming the other way, they look fine.
P: It doesn’t look right!
K: It’s a paved road, there won’t be any gravel – don’t worry.
P (thinking): Well I wasn’t worried about gravel… But now I am! And this doesn’t look like a $100m road which is what the bonus book says we’re looking for.
K (thinking): What could possibly go wrong??

At this point I kept my mouth shut. I was fatigued and it didn’t seem right to me, but Kiwi appeared confident, and the GPS said the bonus was only another 40kms away which was about the right distance. In the meantime we were on a paved road beside a pretty river… I did have a nagging feeling that this wasn’t the right road, but it was all going fine and he was right, there were other motorcycles on the road coming the other way and they looked fine.

Not long afterwards we passed 6 or 7 Harley Davidsons with pillions and left them in our dust… before the road turned to gravel…

So now I’m swearing in my head, and trying reallllly hard not to say ‘I told you so’ – because we’re meant to be having fun, and saying ‘I told you so’ is not what we do and it’s not going to help. The GPS was saying only 17kms to the bonus point, and it couldn’t all be gravel could it?

Turns out it could! I sat very still, stayed quiet (by now my intercom had run out of battery) and did my best not to upset the bike. In the meantime the gravel turned from relatively small, well packed stuff, to larger rocks that required first gear and full concentration. I trust the Kiwi implicitly when he’s riding. He has lots of experience. But this was not the place we were supposed to be. No $100m road has this much gravel. It shouldn’t have any gravel at all! And now it was really hard to turn around – there was no place to do so! Thankfully, we made it the full 17kms without incident. Then we reached the ridge. And the Cherohala Skyway was the bridge over the road.

At that point I was swearing out loud. There was going to be a big tantrum and very soon. It was 7pm and I did NOT come up here all that way on gravel only to have to go back down again. Thankfully for our relationship, the gravel road met the parkway another 100 metres up the road after a right hand turn and we stopped to get off and to take a breath.

I was not impressed, but Kiwi seemed exhilarated – it had been a challenge and he’d done it! For me, it was a lesson in how hard it is to process information when you’re tired. We’d read the rally book multiple times, we had the benefit of additional input from Google saying there is no road there (well, there is if you zoom in enough, but I didn’t have mobile phone coverage by then) and yet we still followed the GPS directions. We’d been on the road since 7am and even with two nights of a reasonable amount of sleep, clearly our ability to make good decisions was suffering.

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For reference, we were supposed to be on road 165 – the yellow line – instead we were on the River Road – the blue line – which was unpaved from Bald River falls and equivalent to those little white lines you can see.

Anyway, we got the bonus, one last bonus after that, and headed on in to the checkpoint.

I was really nervous about scoring – I was sure I was going to ‘get in trouble’ for not following the rules! But, we checked into our room, got some food and after checking our score sheet again, we scored, left no points at the table, and finished Leg 1 with 8440 points – ready for bed at midnight.

It was a long day, but we learnt a lot, had plenty of laughs along the way and some stories to tell on our return. It took me a while to get to sleep after a very big day but it came eventually!

Day 2: Oxford, MS to Thomson, GA

I was not ready for the alarm at 5.30am on Monday morning. Admittedly, it was 6.30am where we’d come from the day before, but it didn’t feel like enough sleep! I move s-l-o-w-l-y in the mornings, and it required food and coffee in the hotel before I was even slightly ready to get back on the bike.

We’d had a discussion before bed about which bonuses we could fit into the day. Aside from some bonuses on our route directly between stadiums, there was a big value bonus (470 points) just outside Birmingham, AL which was time limited (only available during museum opening hours) and was going to add about an hour to the trip. All up the day would be 11-12 hours of riding, plus stops for fuel for the bike and for us! 

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Our first bonus was at Mississippi State University – a bulldog statue followed by additional caffeination.

Then it was into Tuscaloosa, AL for another stadium. After coffee we agreed we’d go for the Birmingham bonus and the Kiwi was drooling when we got there. I suspect we’ll be back to Alabama one day – if only to visit the motorcycle museum!!

I think between the air conditioning and the motorcycles we could have been there a while but we were on the clock! And apparently there are so many motorcycles that even if you only spent 30 seconds looking at each one, you’d be there for a full 13 hours!!!! We didn’t have that kind of time!

Again, the day was getting hot as we headed into the early afternoon. We cruised on into Georgia and saw some pretty interesting sights on the interstate!!!

The most disturbing by far was the ‘mobile cigar lounge’ – I was kind of grossed out when I thought it was actually just a place to smoke cigars on wheels… but I suspect that may not be all it is… Anyway, the dude with the ladders was a novelty! Not sure where he was going or what for, but he was prepared!!

We hit Auburn University for another stadium and then managed to navigate the Atlanta traffic with the help of Google Maps and Waze! Thank goodness for technology because there was a 20 minute pile up on one of the orbitals that we managed to miss. We did go close to three other bonuses we could have collected, but as neither of us is very comfortable with the volume of traffic on main roads here, and it was basically rush hour when we hit Atlanta, we felt discretion was the better part of valour. We were going for fun and conservative, rather than daring and divorce-inducing with our route planing!

We cruised on into Athens, GA in the late evening and agreed to head on towards the next point for Tuesday morning before we stopped for the night. We’d collected our rest bonus the previous night so we could afford to relax a little and not worry too much about receipts and things.

Unfortunately the University of Georgia had decided to do some roadworks where we were supposed to take the photo from – but Rule 13C came in handy and we got our alternative photo showing we were there and showing the roadwork then headed into a beautiful sunset on our way to Thomson.

It was a big day – I think 960kms and 14-ish hours on the road. We grabbed a sandwich at Arby’s and called it a night! No problems with getting to sleep, or staying that way!

Day 1: Lexington, KY to Oxford, MS

So after not that much sleep, but more than I was expecting, at 5.30am I was awoken by the Kiwi who was revved to go and had bags packed!

I was not ready to be awake, but after some food and coffee things were looking up. We got all our gear on the bike, with some room to spare, and then counted down to the 7.30am riders meeting and 8am start time. This time it was Kiwi who had the fidgets, while I was relaxed (or still asleep, they look pretty much the same).

With no last-minute bonus points handed out, things were pretty calm leading up to the start and we rolled out of the parking lot to our first bonus – the Kentucky University stadium only 10 minutes away.

It was good to get the first bonus done, but we didn’t really have a neat system worked out. One of the bigger disadvantages of using this bike only once a year is that we didn’t have the opportunity to practice with the setup we had on the road. The custom-made tank bag the bike came with (designed specifically for an IBR rider) is perfect for the job, but it was hard to have both of us on the same side of the bike trying to do different things. Since I have neater handwriting, we’d agreed I would write up the log. Kiwi was in charge of the camera and obviously my role was holding the rally flags so they could be seen. This is easier said than done when there are two flags and a breeze is blowing. But between us we managed it!

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It was pretty busy with lots of other riders collecting the same bonus but thankfully at 8am on a Sunday the parking lot provided plenty of space for us to spread ourselves out.

It took a while for us to figure out our routine on day 1, but we got there. I had the rally book saved in my iBooks on my phone and as we got to within about 30-45 minutes of the next bonus, I would read the bonus point out loud over the intercom (sometimes twice). I’d read it out again when we got closer, focusing on the thing we needed to do (take a photo or get an answer) so we were ready to go when we got really close.  Eventually we also settled on a process off the bike where I went around the ‘other side’ of the bike to do my thing, while Kiwi stayed on the normal side. He’d get the camera, I’d get the flag, we’d take the photo and then I’d write up the score sheet/log while Kiwi was punching in the next bonus in the GPS.

We hit a few bonuses on our way to Louisville and rode some beautiful roads.

Then it was time for the giant bats. The rally book had two ‘giant bats’ – coded RGB and RBG. Not being locals, we weren’t familiar with the Louisville bats. I had in my mind that I was looking for flying bats, but a google search on the back of the bike suggested that we were looking for a very large baseball bat as one of the bonuses. It was pretty hard to miss! Standing about 6 storeys high, the ‘Louisville Slugger’ is definitely a giant bat and it was the first one on our route. Of course having found the baseball bat, we were looking for a second bat and getting Kiwi to stop the bike for a flying bat on a wall went something like this:

P: It should be just down here on the left… There it is!
K: Where?
P: Right there! on the wall! In front of you!!
K: I can’t see it
P: (hitting K on the shoulder and gesticulating wildly at a wall) Just stop the bike here!!!! Park anywhere! It’s there! Right there!!! No, Stop!
K: Oh! I was looking for another baseball bat! That’s very confusing…

We got there in the end… then found the giant horse statue, and decided it was time for a coffee break!

After coffee and a snack, we headed back to the interstate and south to the grave of the world’s greatest cave explorer, buried in Mammoth Cave National Park. The roads into the park were gorgeous, and we even saw some signs to make us think of home!

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Out of the park, we headed to our second stadium bonus in Nashville (where we spied fellow rider Dylan filling his new Goldwing with fuel and his tummy with M&Ms) and I had my second experience of the day with people asking us what we were doing. It was easier to let the guy take our photo together than knock his kind offer back – and I’m pleased we have at least one photo to show Kiwi collecting bonuses!

I had also started pondering whether we could improve our route. The route we originally planned had only two bonuses between Nashville and Oxford, TN where we were planning to stop for the night – but it looked like we could do the Natchez Trace Parkway (a road we’d wanted to ride since early 2016), collect more points and not add too much extra time to our trip.

So we changed our plan on the fly and it was awesome! The Parkway is beautiful (even if speed limits are a little slow) and we had it almost all to ourselves. Apart from a few cyclists and the occasional tourist, we saw almost nobody else on the roads. We got into a pretty good routine with taking the photos and writing up the log, and I think we both started to relax into a rhythm.

I find the battlefield parks in the US quite moving and, perhaps ironically, peaceful. Often there are very few people around but lots of memorials and large grassy areas. I think it’s nice, and important, that the histories of these places and people are remembered, even if I wish the wars themselves hadn’t been necessary.

We stopped for a break to have a snack and cool off at the Shiloh National Military Park and I was starting to feel the fatigue. The heat had been sitting between 100 and 105 F all afternoon and since we’d been travelling west and changed time zones, the day was an hour longer than normal. We had two more bonus stops for the day before we packed down for the night and I was itching to get them out of the way.

Our very last bonus was at ‘Ole Miss’:

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It turns out Chucky’s simple philosophy was ‘Never Quit’, which I dutifully wrote in our log, but we also took a photo for good measure. Thank goodness we did! I woke up in the middle of the night fretting that perhaps it was all in capitals, or there was something else – in the end, our answer read: “NEVER QUIT!”, which got us the points – it needed the punctuation!!

Dinner was very average – gas station food – because I couldn’t face getting back on the bike at 9pm after an 8am start. The zipper came off my pannier bag (!!!!!) and I realised I’d left my thongs (flip flops) back at the hotel in Lexington. Thankfully I managed to get the zipper back on – I don’t know what I would have done otherwise because we didn’t have a back up – and after food and a shower I crashed for the night. Apart from the midnight freak out about our last bonus, I slept like a log.

Day 0: Lexington, KY – planning our route

Day 0 for me was basically the night before the rally started! We spent most of the day (Saturday) trying to get some rest, attending the mandatory riders’ meeting and trying to stay calm while organising our packing and plan for the evening’s routing. Kiwi was pretty relaxed. I, on the other hand was second-guessing everything. To be honest, I didn’t feel ready for what was to come… but it was a little late for that now!

After some fun times socialising over dinner, we each received our rally packs containing a rally book, a score sheet, a flag and a thumb drive at about 7.30. Everyone headed back to their rooms pretty quickly after that and with Kiwi doing the electronic coding and me reading the rally book and messing about in Google Maps we had a rough plan for the next 3 days by about 10pm. I was still wired from the adrenaline so it took me a while to get to sleep, but I think we did fairly well with our first routing practice ‘for real’ and we had enough time for a decent 7 hours of rest before Day 1 started.

Just about all the bonuses were below and to the left of a straight line between Lexington, KY (the start point) and Maggie Valley, NC (the checkpoint).

Leg 1 Bonuses

I’m still a little sleep deprived so I can’t recall if I’ve already explained this, but for those unfamiliar with these types of rally, the basic premise is that all those red spots are bonus locations, and each location is worth a different number of points. Obviously it’s not possible to go to every location in three days, so the aim is to plan a route that allows you to collect as many points as possible in the time available (you lose points for arriving back to the checkpoint late and if you’re more than 2 hours late you’re time barred and classed as DNF – did not finish). Each location has specific requirements to successfully claim the points so you have to make sure you fill in the score sheet and read the rally book carefully.

In Leg 1 there was one ‘combo’ bonus – if you successfully collected the points for 9 of the 15 South East Conference football stadiums, you’d receive an extra 2500 points. I’m a visual person – so this is what it looks like when you make the stadium points little running men, with the green house as our start point and the green bed as our checkpoint. The yellow stars were other points that looked interesting.

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Our number 1 goal for the rally was to have fun. I figured I could do maybe 1000kms a day, perhaps less on days it was really hot. This meant that we needed to plan and ride a route which was pretty conservative by Butt Lite standards, and visually this meant that the stadium combo made a lot of sense if we picked up the 9 stadiums that were closest to ‘home’ – those in Kentucky (1), Tennessee (1), Mississippi (2), Alabama (2), Georgia (1), South Carolina(1) and North Carolina (1). We’d make sure we did our rest bonus perfectly to pick up those points (another 2400) and then fit in what other bonuses we could that were relatively close to our route. So we had a plan.

We were going to have to have me and both flags in every photo so this was the plan for my rally pose:

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You can tell from the look in my eyes that perhaps I’m a little more alert than I should be for 9.45pm. But at least the camera works!

With that it was time for sleep!

We did it!

I’m sitting at Gate A2 in Lexington Bluegrass Airport, KY on my way to Minneapolis via Chicago. It’s hard to believe the rally is over after all the prep and it feels strange to know that the Kiwi is out there riding, on his way back to Minneapolis without me. Let me be clear, I don’t think I could have done another 12-14 hour day on the back of the bike and it was entirely my choice to fly back. But now I feel kind of left out of the adventures and it is really weird to be apart after 2 weeks of being together 24/7.

Over the next few days I’ll write about our adventures on Butt Lite IX. I hope you enjoy!

End of days… of preparation

Last chance to purchase things and make sure our bike set up is how we want it!

When we arrived last night and got talking to the Lahmans and Jim Owen, I mentioned that I was starting to get sore pelvic bones already. Jim pointed out that I should get that fixed before the rally because what was annoying now would feel like an ice pick in 6 days’ time. Linda recommended the pillion version of the Airhawk as something she’s found invaluable before and while I had tried the Kiwi’s rider version without much success a few years ago, apparently the pillion seat version works better. A little while later Ian and Colleen McPhee (fellow Australian LD riding community members!) joined us and Colleen kindly offered to buy one on Amazon and get it shipped overnight using her US account. Unfortunately ordering on Thursday night for Friday or Saturday delivery wasn’t an option so we went to plan B.

Up early this morning, Kiwi did some research and found some local motorcycling shops we could try. But first to Walmart. We needed some essentials:

Man things:

  • Socks
  • Undies
  • Deodorant
  • Shorts without holes

Rally things:

  • SD cards for the camera
  • Lithium batteries for the Spot
  • A bag for the non-essentials and clean clothes we will leave here in Lexington for the week

Piglet things:

  • A couple of spare pairs of compression socks
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Girl stuff

As we were finalising our list I had a bit of a moment. I unpacked my bag and found my bike shorts. I hadn’t been wearing these on the ride down *facepalm*! I know these help ensure my butt hurts less and I hadn’t been wearing them. Yes, I would probably have been a bit warmer wearing another layer but they will definitely help with the pressure points.

Then Kiwi found a ‘stadium seat’ in the sports/camping section of the Walmart. I haven’t seen these in Australia but it’s basically a foam cushion with a handle on it that is exactly the size of a pillion seat. I tried it out on the way back to the hotel and it’s a winner. I’m a little concerned because Lisa said ‘Bless your heart’ when we got back to the hotel and I told her, and those who’ve been playing along know that things don’t usually end well when Lisa has to bless your heart. But she assured me she meant it in the good way. So I think I’m ok :|. I hope!

We also set up a couple of our GOT ‘flags’ on each side of the bike screen so I can hopefully take photos as we’re riding along. And for good measure I have a credit card sized one on a lanyard just in case. So hopefully we can slay two dragons with one rally… or something like that…

Anyway, we’re pretty well set now I think. I’m a little nervous after the rookie briefing. I know we’re not aiming to come first or break any records or anything but watching how other people do things is making me question whether we’re doing it ‘right’ and I’m one of those people who has to do everything right… Sigh. But we have a plan. Rule 1 is to have fun. We have a plan for roughly how many kms we will travel per day, with options for shorter days if it’s super hot and longer days if we’re feeling comfortable. We want to see new and different places together and so if we collect fewer points on more interesting roads rather than massive points by spending 3 days on the interstate then that’s ok. We’ll ride our own rally and see how it goes.

This is probably my last post until after the rally. It’s a ‘media blackout’ for us while we’re rallying – no Facebook or blogging or whatever – which is probably a good thing! If you want to keep following the Butt Lite IX adventures of all the riders, head over to the rally blog where the day’s best stories will feature. If it’s anything like the IBR blog, I’m hoping you don’t read about us! It’s usually the stories about how someone got lost in the woods, hit a deer and turned up at a bonus at the wrong time or on the wrong day!

Once we’re back here in Lexington, or perhaps up at the lake relaxing with our American family, I’ll tell you all the best parts. In the meantime, we might see you on the road!IMG_2566