Practice makes… average?

Today was our first test run of a rally routine and all I can say is that it’s just as well we’re starting now!

In terms of ride preparation, this one didn’t start brilliantly – last night was a late night out watching the BBL cricket at Manuka oval so we were both a bit tired starting out. But it was a low point for me when we pulled into the local shops and the conversation went something like this:

Piglet: ‘why are we going here?’

Kiwi: ‘to get a starting receipt’

Piglet: “oh… that’s something I should get good at doing, right?”

Kiwi: ‘Probably…’

Me fighting with the ATM… I won… eventually…

To be 100% honest, I hadn’t fully grasped that today was going to be a rally test day. Not that I hadn’t been told, or that I didn’t know, but it just hadn’t hit that level of consciousness where I realised that we were actually doing this thing… So we didn’t start all that well. I had to have three goes at the ATM to get the receipt, then I started asking questions:

Piglet: ‘So, is the camera in the Camelback’ (on Kiwi’s back and therefore accessible to me)

Kiwi: ‘No, it’s in the tank bag.. why?’

Piglet: ‘the rally flag?’…

Essentially, I was asking all the essential questions too late. Kiwi had all the gear where he would usually have it if he were riding a rally solo, and I hadn’t given any thought to this prior to getting on the bike. So after some bitching and moaning on my part (it’s actually quite warm… I think i need access to the camera… surely…) we had a conversation about how we’d do this rallying thing – I could get off the bike take the photo with the flag, Kiwi could write up the log while still on the bike and we could go again. Even when the rally instructions were more complicated surely I could read them aloud through the intercom and we could do it that way?

Long story short, we have a lot of things to work through, but at the first ‘bonus point’ there was some rearranging going on. The camera and rally flag moved to the camelback, I dumped my camelback in the top box and from then on things were pretty schmick at our bonus point stops. Stop one was the War Memorial at Gundaroo… since we’re not totally sure about what the rules are, Kiwi had a staring role in the photo:

In all, the first stop, including a bathroom stop at the local public loos was 10 minutes. Not terrible, but not Butt Lite material. From Gundaroo we headed north through Gunning and up to Crookwell. This bonus was my first chance to show how fast I could be at this – off the bike, rally flag in hand, walk to the memorial, ‘click’, then back to the bike. I think we were on the road again in less than 3 minutes with log written up and photo in hand.

From Crookwell we headed further north to Taralga where things got a bit tricky – the memorial wasn’t where the map said it should be, so we got a photo of the next best thing, the centennial plaque, and stopped for lunch at the Ploughman’s Cafe. It was just what I needed. Food, a cup of tea, and some time on a normal seat. Afterwards we asked the staff where the memorial was and were directed efficiently up the road (past where we rode into town!)

Helmet hair leaves much to be desired, but that’s something i’ll just have to get used to.

Our last bonus for the day was Tarago on the way home and by then we had the routine down pat, though I perhaps was a bit cheeky when i accused the Kiwi of being inefficient when I was ready to get back on the bike before he’d finished the log… Nevertheless, we were done and on our way in record time (for us).

This was where things started to go wrong for me. It had been warm all day, and that was ok while we were moving and I can push through up to about 35 degrees without too many dramas. But my back was starting to hurt. A lot. We got home ok, but given the ride was only about 320kms in total, it made me worry about my ability to get through a 6 day rally. As we arrived back into Canberra I was feeling fatigued, hot, and in a lot of pain. I got home ok, but needed to do lots of stretching and moving to feel normal again.

Things I learnt today:

  • I need more practice!!!!
  • Everything I thought I knew about riding is wrong when rallying
  • I’m a novice. Deal with not being perfect first time out!
  • There’s a difference between discomfort and pain. Discomfort you can push through, pain you can’t.
  • I have a lot to learn…

Our regroup/debrief at home was good. I was tired and pretty disappointed with my ride fitness, but then I can’t really expect much different when I haven’t done much time on the back of the bike recently. Between now and July I need to do everything I can to improve my core fitness and test my limits in terms of fatigue and ride time – otherwise we’re going to be DNF and that’s something I don’t want to be responsible for.

For now, it’s sleep time… More later


Feather Butt

So another week has passed and this weekend we headed up to Goulburn in NSW to visit MJM custom seats.

While the ‘real deal’ in the long distance riding game is called the Iron Butt rally over 11 days, the Butt Lite rally is still a goodly 6 days long. For work I ride a desk, which means I’m pretty comfortable with sitting for a couple of hours at a time on an office chair, but it’s pretty unusual for me to work a 10 hour day and even then I get up to go to the bathroom, get a coffee in the kitchen or walk to a meeting room. Those are luxuries I won’t have when we’re on the rally. And that means I need a seat that doesn’t leave my ass feeling like it’s been hauled over hot coals.

The seat on the 1200RT in the US isn’t toooooooo bad. It’s a Corbin aftermarket seat which I sat on from Washington DC (after Kiwi collected it from Dan Simmonds’ place in Pennsylvania) to Lori and Joe’s home in Apple Valley, Minneapolis (more about these legends soon). This map shows our first two days of riding…

And this is us at one of the incredible rest areas on I76! I do have the gear, I swear!!

Anyway, I managed roughly 6-7 hours per day on the back for I think about three days before my butt started hurting. Then I became like the kid in the back seat on a long road trip “Are we there yet?”…

By contrast, the seat on Kiwi’s K1600 here in Australia was made by someone with a vendetta against pillions. On our trip out to Temora a few weeks ago I lasted no more than about an hour and a half before my butt felt like it was on fire. I know it sounds like an episode of ‘The Princess and the Pea’ but it’s serious stuff! Which brings me back to MJM on Saturday!

Mick at MJM knows a think or two-hundred about motorcycle seats: how they’re made, where the pressure points are, where the manufacturers manage to cut the foam so that it feels like it’s the corner of a box cutting into the back of your leg… the lot. And when he pressed down on the pillion seat on the K it became apparent that I haven’t been bitching and moaning about the seat for no good reason. I feel like I need a medal for making it to Silverton and back on that seat in 2016! The foam is rock solid below 1cm and there are at least two different edges in the foam that hit the edge of the seat right in the wrong place. Thankfully Mick is my feather butt’s best friend and is going to rebuild the seat for us so that hopefully I can do some longer rides without becoming that whiny SOB I referred to in an earlier post (thanks Mick!!). When we know it works for the seat here, we’ll get Mick to make one to replace the seat in the US also.

Which brings me back to the legends mentioned above. Dan Simmonds looked after the bike in the US despite never having met either me or Martin in person! Not only that, Dan helped Martin out with test riding the bike – purchased sight unseen and the bike was delivered from Illinois to Dan’s place in PA where we picked it up. The day of pick-up is famous in our house for the carrot cake eaten that day…

Even with the three of us we didn’t finish it!

I’ll leave Lori and Joe for another post… it’s a loooooong story…

Some context and omissions

For those of you unfamiliar with the ‘Butt Lite’ concept, it may seem like overkill to be talking about preparation for a motorcycle ride 6 months out… So I thought I’d provide a short summary of Butt Lite (BL), based on my past two experiences as a spectator. Essentially, I like to think of it as a six day scavenger hunt (on steroids!) on a motorcycle:

  • The night before the rally starts, you get a list of bonuses available for collection, each bonus has a different points value, some are available only at certain times or on certain days (e.g. daylight hours, museum opening hours, only on weekdays) and every bonus has a story behind it.
  • The bonuses could be anywhere in North America (though most are usually in the continental US) and sometimes the values of the bonuses change half-way through the rally (you might get 100 points for something in leg 1 but 1500 for the same bonus in leg 2) or based on what other bonuses you’ve collected (extra points if you collect all the points related to alien sightings), or what order you collected them in.
  • The aim is to maximize the points you collect over the six days.

There are some other things to consider:

  • There are special requirements to collect a bonus (e.g. take a photo or get a receipt)
  • You have to complete your paperwork correctly to collect a bonus
  • There are bonuses available for taking time off the bike (e.g. To sleep!)
  • Depending on how well you operate when sleep deprived, there is a non-zero trade-off between riding more hours/distance to collect more points, and resting to ensure your brain is functioning. I can’t count the number of stories from past rallies where someone has made a mistake collecting a bonus because they weren’t thinking straight or they hadn’t read the instructions properly/remembered them!
  • Importantly, if you don’t follow the instructions correctly, you won’t get any points for a bonus.

To be honest, spending hours on the back of the bike isn’t as much fun as it looks in movies. And I’m telling you here and now, nobody looks like Kate Hudson in ‘How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days’ when they take their helmet off. It’s bullshit. Doesn’t matter what you do with your hair, when that helmet comes off, it’s plastered to your head – there are no ‘sexy curls’ going on. Also, the rally is during the northern summer and it gets really hot in all your gear (and not wearing the gear is just dumb: if gravel rash when you fall over walking is painful imagine it at 80km/h (50mph) and if you’re going any faster really all you’re doing by not wearing gear is saving your insurance provider a whole load of cash coz they won’t be taking you to the hospital, it’ll be straight to the morgue).

For me, the attraction of the rally is the strategy behind collecting the bonuses and the opportunity to see some cool places. I’m always a bit jealous when Martin is planning his routes because I want to be doing that part – but it’s against the rules to get help from someone not on the rally so I’ve had to just let him do his thing. Don’t get me wrong, Martin does long distance like a pro and he has done pretty well in previous rallies, but when it comes to routing for bonuses there have been other riders who manage to do roughly the same distance but get quite a few more points. This year I’m hoping we can bring the number of miles down a bit (spending 12-14 hours a day on the bike rather than 18-20) but keep the points collected up, maximising points per mile ridden. The thing is, while I understand the theory, I don’t have the same sense of what the roads are like and some of the other things that will slow us down (like deer and other wildlife) that Martin has – so we’ll have to work out a plan for that.

The other thing I’m looking forward to is seeing interesting places. Lisa Erbes and the other rally masters do an amazing job of finding odd, out-of-the-way things for bonuses. Martin has promised me that rather than just riding up, collecting the bonus and then going again, if there’s something cool to see, we can stop to see it for 5-10 minutes. We haven’t explored the east coast together yet, so it will be a great opportunity for us to do that. And I’ll find out what this rally thing is all about!

Progress so far

Having established that Butt Lite isn’t a walk in the park, and that there are some things I know I need to manage, I’m working on my strategies to prepare.

First, the ‘reduced alcohol intake’ thing… Let’s be clear – I like my wine. Nor am I averse to a good G&T. I do the obligatory 2 days a week without alcohol because my doctor says I should (usually Tuesday and Wednesday because after Monday I need a drink!), but the rest of the week I do my bit to make sure that the NZ Sauvignon Blanc industry keeps ticking over. I understand this isn’t the healthiest habit I could have, but it’s my version of chocolate or ice cream. Given the choice of dessert or a second glass of wine – I usually choose the wine!

So reducing my intake to one (max two) glasses of wine on only three nights a week is going to be tough. To help make it easier I’m doing something I picked up on Jamie Oliver’s ‘5 ingredients’ show and making ‘fruit infused water’. It’s basically a jug of water in the fridge to which I add fruit and/or spices to make the water taste less like water and more like something I actually want to drink. The aim though is to keep the calorie intake down – as far as I’m concerned replacing wine with cordial is just not worth it. So this week is passionfruit water… As I mentioned in the last post, so far it’s going ok. I kept myself to one glass of wine each night on Friday and Saturday and had two tonight just because. The water tastes nice and I can kid myself it’s still a fancy drink which helps me not just keep pouring more wine into my other glass. Week two of work coming up so we’ll see how it goes from here… If it genuinely helps me feel less tired and sleep better, then I’m all for it!

Second, the heat and hydration management thing… The first couple of rides I found this a problem were a few years ago now. Heading down to the Philip Island SBK in 2015 was the first time I’d been on the back of the bike in temps above 27 degrees and after an hour and a half I was well and truly over it. I wanted to get off the bike and NOW. The best I could do to keep cool was hold my arms out with my elbows at right angles trying to get some air flowing up the sleeves of my jacket and I was sweating up a storm. Second time was a loop I did with Kiwi down to Merimbula and back – by midday I had a screaming headache and needed to get off the bike for a nap in the shade… I can only think I was not a desirable passenger at that time.

Fast forward to our first Piwi practice ride for Butt Lite out to Temora between Christmas and New Year 2017 and a very kind Alison Gilbert lent me her airflow jacket for the ride home in 36 degree heat. I can now say I understand what the fuss is about and I have to get me some of that! We have some new Rukka airflow gear on order for me, unfortunately it won’t arrive until April or May but knowing it’s coming is making me feel far better about the riding conditions in the US in Summer. It might not be so unbearable after all! And I also have my own camelback water hydration system which should help with the dehydration – only problem is that with a top box behind me and Martin in front with his own camelback, there’s not a lot of room for me with anything on my back… so that’s the next problem for solving.

Between now and July I’ll be looking for all the advice I can get on making life on the bike easier so throwing it open to the brains trust… Any assistance greatly appreciated!


The beginning…

There are a few things I’ve learnt about being a ‘good’ pillion since first getting on the back of Kiwi’s BMW 1100GS (aka Bert) about 5 years ago including:

  • Falling asleep is not desirable, especially if you tend to stir mid corner only to completely upset the line of the bike
  • Core strength is surprisingly important in helping make sure your lower back doesn’t give out after a few hours
  • At temperatures above about 28 degrees I dehydrate very quickly in my standard Rukka Flexina jacket and textile pants (ATGATT)

Added to these things, I know I need to eat at regular intervals. If tired, hungry, in pain or hot, I become a whiny, grumpy pain in the ass and very unpleasant person to be around. So the first thing I need to do to prepare for Butt Lite is find strategies that work for me to manage these things.

Having been assured by Kiwi that reducing or eliminating my alcohol intake will help with fatigue management, that’s step one this year. I’ve committed to only drinking Friday-Sunday nights and then no wine at all in June.

Second is getting some new gear – I need airflow jacket and pants. Third is either finding affordable Pilates classes or increasing my personal training sessions each week to help manage my back and finally food and water intake… that comes next.

So far the reduced alcohol intake is going well. But it’s only week one back at work… we’ll see how we go.

This is serious

So in what I like to think of as a moment of weakness, late last year I agreed to sit behind Martin (aka Kiwi) for Butt Lite IX. This will be the story of how I actually get my shit together so I don’t completely embarrass myself come July!