Bermagui Far Ride

So this weekend we stepped it up a bit in terms of prep for the IBR with a 1000km day ride to Bermagui and home again… The Far Rides are always a great get-together for the LDR community in Australia and a bit more achievable for those of us who don’t always get a kick out of the 1600km IBA rides.

As usual, it wasn’t a great lead-in for either of us with busy weeks at work. But we got a decent night’s sleep in on Friday and then hopped out of bed at 4am (or 3.30 if your name is Kiwi) to get going.

We rolled out of Neutral Bay, onto the Harbour Bridge and then out towards the M5 at about 4.40am and TBH I have very little memory of most of the first 1.5 hours of the ride. I know we went through the M5 tunnel and that we ended up near Picton at some point but mostly I was just dozing on the back. Not exactly asleep but certainly not what you would call ‘awake’…

Breakfast was at Berry, a cute little town in the Kangaroo Valley – and the coffee and sustenance was much needed. A loo break and then onwards where I managed to keep my eyes open for about an hour and then drifted off again until about 9am. We had diverted over Berry Mountain and then back to the Princes Highway and as we were ahead of schedule when we got to Cobargo, we fuelled up, had another toilet break and then proceeded down to Bega before returning for the 12 noon check in.

Things got a little interesting about 30kms out of Bermagui when the gear shift lever decided to go awol somewhere along the road and Kiwi tried to rear-end a car turning right because he couldn’t shift down a gear… I was not super impressed, but he managed to get us to Bermagui unscathed where we did some running repairs on the bike involving a 6mm shifting socket and a couple of cable ties!

I hadn’t registered for the ride (preferring to keep the pressure to a minimum) but Kiwi checked in, we socialised for about an hour over lunch with some friendly and familiar faces (LTP, Fatman, Ollie, Derrick, Liz, Crappy, Vlad, Gags, Hackle, Craig, Ian and more) and got back on the road again.

Initially our plan had us going up Brown Mountain to get the requisite kms up, but with our detour to Bega, we could head back to Batemans Bay and up Clyde Mountain instead. It was at this point over lunch that I started giving a new app (recommended by Nadine Huval) called ‘inRoute’ a workout. It does similar things to Google Maps, but with the advantage that it caches your route so you can access it even if you don’t have a mobile signal. It was a winner.

We headed home via all the ‘Bs’: Batemans Bay, Braidwood, and Bungendore – then back out to the Federal Highway and home via the Hume.

With roughly 300kms to go I was not a happy camper and the late afternoon head games were in full swing. My butt hurt, I was on the warm side and the thought of doing this day on steroids and then multiplying it by 11 to do the IBR was beyond what I could consider. How am I going to pull this off?

We paused at Sutton Forest to refuel the bike and ourselves and I took the opportunity to stretch my legs out and get some food in. That last 150kms was looking mighty unattractive.

We ordered home delivered dinner on the way and had just jumped out of the shower when my mum and dad arrived bringing home our puppy dog from a big play day. By the time I hit bed at 8.30pm, I was done. And I was (again) questioning whether the IBR was really my thing.

So what did I learn yesterday?

  • You need to start big rides well-rested.
  • High-quality nutrition is important – for me, this means lean protein and lots of vegetables/salad, not carbs and sugars
  • Long rides without a puzzle to solve are really hard for me. I need the bonus-gathering and routing options to keep my mind busy
  • Podcasts help. When Kiwi’s comms battery died I listened to some ‘West Wing Weekly’ which took my mind off things and made the distance feel easier. We need to find a way that we can listen to things but still talk to each other when needed/wanted.

I’m still working my way towards that IBR. It’s going to be one of the biggest personal challenges I’ve ever set myself, and I will need to be really clear about my boundaries and when I need to just take 10 minutes to regroup, but I still want to give it a red hot go. I feel a lot better about things today than I did this time yesterday, but it doesn’t mean I think this is going to be an easy thing to do.

This afternoon we’ve spent a reasonable amount of time playing around with routing software – how to get bonus point coding out of excel and into gpx files, how to get gpx files to show up on inRoute, and how to waste as little time as possible on the things that add the least amount of value to our ride. More on that later.

Next week we head to Phillip Island for the Superbikes – and more stories for sure!

Advertisements

Baby steps

It’s February already (only 17 weeks until we leave for the US!) and my IBR prep is happening, but slowly. Mainly my prep this month has been in the form of working on my fitness. Turns out if I want to eliminate my lower back pain I need to work on getting ‘buns of steel’! So we’ve been showing up to PT every Wednesday morning since boxing day, most recently at 5am!!!, to put ourselves through hell in humidity.

This weekend we’ve come to Canberra to get my Honda 800 serviced, some new tyres put on and some engine bars fitted so that if I do drop it, it doesn’t cost a fortune and a half to fix!

Since I don’t have much to share this month, I thought I’d put together a bit of a highlights reel of sorts from the ‘Dam Hard to Say Round Up’ – a 30 hour rally starting and finishing in Taree, NSW that we did two-up late last year.

Because we never learn, it started with half a day at work – then a race out the door to get to Taree on time and an extended period sitting in traffic on Pennant Hills Road getting out of Sydney.

We made it to Taree where the jacarandas were almost in bloom, checked into the motel and did some socialising before it was time to head to the local Chinese restaurant for the starting banquet. It was a pretty rowdy bunch at the table and competitive spirits were high.

The Motley DHTS crew

Rules of the game were fairly straightforward – do the base route precisely to be a finisher, or do a route of your own choosing and make sure you get enough miles up (a bit over 1000) and a decent score. The words below that are bold and underlined will come back to haunt us.

Rules of the game…

Nonetheless, the rally masters were very kind in allowing us to text them our photos to find out if we had successfully bagged the bonus, which meant we could leave knowing either we did or didn’t have the points in hand.

With rally books in hand we headed back to the motel where we were happily surprised to find out that the USB had not only GPX files and the rally book in PDF, but also an XLS file pre-coded with bonus point values! As a girl who loves a good spreadsheet this was a seriously happy-making find and with a quick ‘sort high to low’ on the bonus values column, it became fairly clear where we were heading: south through the Hunter Valley, down to Wiseman’s Ferry and then out across the mountains.

With a fairly clear route (at least for the first day’s riding) planned, our heads hit the pillows and we got a reasonable night’s sleep.

Heading out of Taree at six, it was two-up teams first 🙂 and we rolled out to retrace our steps of the previous day back down the M1 as far as Beresfield.

First up was Koorainghat – where we couldn’t find a sign for the town’s name…

Rally masters said ‘no’

Next up was Grahamstown Dam… And finally we had some points!

Then it was on into the Hunter where we collected some decent points, enjoyed a beautiful morning, lovely scenery and some great riding roads…

We crossed paths with Jeff the Chef a couple of times on our route!

The day got warmer as we headed south to the outskirts of Sydney and we paused at Windsor for some snacks – sandwiches and a cold drink… Then it was on up the Bell’s Line of Road chasing more bonuses. By mid-afternoon I was starting to feel like we had a rhythm going and our route looked pretty good. Then it started to go a bit pear-shaped.

First up we had some difficulty finding Carcoar Dam – the GPS coordinates weren’t quite right for the dam… But we were only 6kms or so away so we hoofed it up the road and got the bonus. More problematic was Wyangala Dam – which was roughly 70kms from where we’d originally had it marked.

We decided it was still worth it given the points and had a lovely ride in, got the sign and headed out again.

But now we were running behind the schedule we had planned and it looked like we were going to need to start dropping bonuses.

Things only got worse when we headed out of Canowindra for Dubbo and ended up on a dirt road. This was the one time the Garmin was saying ‘go this way’ and Google maps put us wrong. Again, being tired and on the clock, rather than turning around and taking the longer route, we persisted on the gravel, which became dirt, which became sand… And then we were in the sand and not quite so happy with life.

The squiggle in the road where we dropped the bike…

Although it was a lovely afternoon with the sun shining and the temperature starting to fall, my anxiety sitting on the back was increasing. As navigator I felt responsible for putting us on the dirt road and chances were we were going to be really late getting to our accommodation for the night.

Even more troubling, I was starting to doubt our route and whether or not the bonuses were going to be where we thought they were. In the daylight, finding alternatives was tough but do-able. In darkness I didn’t want to end up on another dirt road, miles from anywhere without phone signal.

On top of that, as we left our fuel stop post-dirt road, the Beemer did it’s ‘limp mode’ thing and told us to go to the nearest dealer. Thankfully after turning it off and turning it on again, the bike seemed to be back to normal, but it wasn’t exactly confidence inspiring.

We bagged our next bonus and then decided on a change of plans. Rather than heading across country to another dam, we’d keep heading straight up to Dubbo and stay the night in Gilgandra, leaving early in the morning towards Gunnedah and Walcha before the run back to Taree by midday.

We got our final few bonuses for the day – now few and far between – and booked some accommodation to get a few hours sleep.

What dam is this again??

Next morning with some much-needed shut-eye on board we headed off again in the dark for the last run home.

The rest of the ride wasn’t particularly eventful. We got back in the groove of ride – stop – take photo – write up log – ride again. And while it was a close thing getting back to the finish line, we did manage to get a coffee in Taree on the way and even got back to Koorainghat to get the bonus correctly this time.

Slightly less terrifying sight!

The scoring table was slightly less terrifying than the first time on BLIX and we came away without losing too many points at the table (with the exception of the ‘error free log’ which Kiwi and I interpreted as meaning different things).

How did we do? Unfortunately we couldn’t stay for the finishers banquet but it turns out we won! And as with all these rallying things, it was a heap of fun in hindsight (if not always fun at the time) and we learnt loads to take with us to the IBR.

Until next time, ride safe all!

Perhaps not quite the end…

So it turns out I might have been bitten harder by the rally bug than I first thought.

At the finishing banquet rally master Lisa Erbes asked whether I’d maybe do it again and I was pretty emphatic in shaking my head that this was a one-time only deal… I was sleep deprived, I had pimples on my ass and I was quite prepared not to get back on that bike. Ever.

Kiwi very kindly offered to pay for me to fly back to Minneapolis and I only half-reluctantly accepted. But when I arrived at the airport and Kiwi was on his way to Minneapolis on the bike, I felt like I was missing out. After 10 days together on and off the bike, it felt like I was cheating by flying back and I felt really jealous of Kiwi – he was off having adventures on the bike without me!

Not much more than 12 hours later he joined me back in the Twin Cities and we proceeded to have a fabulous week of holidays.

As we were relaxing with our MN family up at Long Lake I may have mentioned that if Kiwi purchased the Grand America (K1600 B BMW) I’d join him on the IBR. It was a fairly empty threat at the time since I couldn’t see him putting down $25,000 on a new bike when the 1200 has done good service so far. But in all seriousness, I felt like if I could be more comfortable on the bike, then I’d consider doing it all again and on steroids.

Then about 3 weeks after returning home from BLIX in July, I started thinking that maybe the rally had been kind of fun after all. And a week later I might have mentioned something to Martin about how if I had more time to prepare for an IBR I might consider it. Over a few wines at the Turner RUC in Canberra we considered what an IBR two-up might look like for us – could we ride a rally that we’d both be comfortable with? Could we ride smart enough to compensate for my lack of hard riding and would we both be ok with that?

Some of the best women in the business (and their trusty chauffeurs) were kind enough to share their wisdom with me – John and Nadine Huvall Skyped with us for an hour from Lafayette, LA, Lynda Lahman suggested I check out Two-Up: Navigating a relationship 1000 miles at a time, and Lisa Erbes just gave it to me straight up. But none of them said ‘don’t do it’ (which is kinda secretly what I wanted them to do).

So many voices in my head were saying it was a crazy idea. 11 days is a long time, what if we have a massive argument? what if I can’t do it? what if I fail? Worse, what if I let Kiwi down? To be honest, it’s been about four months and I still have all those questions running through my head. It’s taken me this long to put it in writing because this makes it real. But I haven’t come up with a good reason not to do it…

In September sometime I sent off some paperwork signing my life away and asking if I could sit behind Kiwi for the 2019 IBR… And the Queen of the IBR said “sure”.

Which means I’m currently entered as a pillion for the 2019 IBR! Am I totally insane? That’s entirely possible? Have I told my mother yet? HELL NO! As far as she’s concerned, the US of A is one of the most dangerous places in the world right now (don’t ask) and combining that with extreme motorcycling would likely give her heart palpitations… Did I mention I’m an only child?

I’m under no illusions that the IBR will be easy. It’s twice the duration of BLIX and we’ll have to ride another 50% more distance each day just to be finishers. Also, the release forms I signed says

“the risks associated with participating in the 2019 Iron Butt Rally include divorce”

Holy Crap, Batman! For now I’m trying not to let the freak-out get in the way of being excited about preparing for the next level of crazy. Or as Kiwi is now calling it “Piglet Rides Again”!

Over the coming months I’ll be sharing my story – the preparations, the wins, the misses and, I’m sure, the doubts. Happy 2019! I have a feeling it’s going to be a big one!

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.

IMG_2988

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

 

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.

Day6

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Day5

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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’.

Maryland.jpg

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.

Day4

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??

IMG_2766.jpeg

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!

Day3

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Cherohala

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! 

Day2.JPG

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

IMG_2610

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’:

SOM.JPG

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.