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TOPIC: A little about endurance rallys

A little about endurance rallys 1 year 8 months ago #2631

  • Don Scelza
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By now you may know that I stopped by Diane & Tim's to pick up saddle bags for my K75S. We spent a little time talking about riding and I learned a significant life lesson: Never tell the web master about anything you do that is slightly out of the ordinary. We talked some about endurance riding and competitions and she asked if I would post some stuff. I thought for the first post I would take an easy out and put up something I had written in the past. So, here is a note I did about a 2005 ride. If folks enjoy this, I can do some other posts about riding the Fur Corners (four geographic corners of the lower 48) and the Great lakes 100.

I'm sitting at home after finishing my third MD 20-20 endurance rally and thought I would write down my experiences on the ride, along with some thoughts and observations.  This rally is first class and the people who put it on do an excellent job.  All proceeds from the rally, along with gifts brought by riders, go to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.  I would recommend participation in the MD 20-20 to anyone who is interested in long distance riding.

Don's Long Distance Riding History
In July of 2002 I rode my Saddle Sore 1000, the entry ride for the Iron Butt Association.  This ride is 1000 miles in under 24 hours. In 2002 I decided to try my first long distance rally.  I signed up for the Mason Dixon 20-20 2002 rally and finished in the middle of the pack (well 44th was almost in the middle).  Not great but I finished.  In 2003, having enjoyed the 2002 experience so much, I signed up for the 2003 rally.  The dates for this rally fell on the end of my Medical Specialist training for the USAR team (PA ST-1).  That training was intensive and the day before the rally we had a 20 hour evaluation exercise.  Needless to say I was not in the best mental or physical condition to ride an endurance rally.  But I did the ride and finished, not a great score but not last.  In 2004 my niece got married over the Memorial day weekend so I didn't ride.

A little about long distance rallies
This section is for folks reading this that may not be familiar with long distance rallies and how they work. 
The basic idea is that the rally master or, in the MD 20-20 case, the Rally Bubbas, decide on a set of locations that are to have bonus points associated with them.  There may be a bunch of these in any given rally.  In the rally that I did there were 56 such locations.  There are two ways to prove that you have been to one of these locations.  The first is called a photo location where you have to take a picture to prove that you were there.  To make sure that there isn't any funny business, at the very beginning of the rally you are given a rally flag that has to show up in the picture.  The second is that you are given a question to answer that can only be answered if you are there.  For example, in one rally most of the bonus locations were diners and a question might be: "In the so and so diner, what does it say on the clock that is over the counter?".  In addition to the picture of the question answer, you have to provide a mileage and time log for each bonus location.  Given this information, the Rally Bubbas can determine if you really went there.

Sounds pretty easy right?  Here is where it gets interesting.  You have a specific amount of time (in the rally that I did this year it was 30 hours) to get as many bonus points as you can.  So, you have to pick a subset of the bonus locations that you think will give you the most points in that amount of time.  So far so good.  Next comes the fact that you can come in late, but that for every minute that you are late you lose some number of points.  If you decide that you are going to be late, the number of points that you get by visiting that one last bonus place had better be more than you are going to lose.  Still not too bad.  You just need to have a really good handle on what your average speed is over a wide range of road types and you can figure all of this out.  Well, there are these things called sucker bonuses.  They tend to either have a large number of points associated with them or seem to be very easy to get.  One year one of the large point bonuses was on an island with a 2.5 hour ferry ride.  If you went after that one before figuring out about the ferry you were sunk (pun intended).  Or there was the bonus location with an incredibly high point value in Key West.  Just looking at the roads it might seem doable.   That is unless you know that the road through the keys is two lane with very very few passing places and it's Memorial Day weekend!  One of the "very easy to get" bonuses was something at the visitors center at Gettysburg.  Given that the rally starts and ends in York, this is right on the way for most people as they start their rides.  But, oh by the way, it is Memorial Day and getting through the park might prove difficult. 

Given this set of objectives you might say, wow this is a prescription for disaster.  These people are not going to sleep and be driving incredibly fast to get from point to point.  One of the bonuses, with a point value so large that you can't win without it, is a sleep bonus.  This year it required that you sleep two hours without logging any miles on your odometer and without collecting any other bonus points.  More about this later.  As for speeding, you lose significant amounts of time if you receive a performance award (ticket).  So, it turns out that speed is not the way to win. 

I hope this background will let folks who aren't familiar with these rallies understand what follows.

The Bike
I ride a 1998 BMW R1100RT.  I have made a small number of modifications to make long distance riding easier.  I changed the stock seat for a Corbin heated seat.  While I'm not thrilled with the Corbin, it is significantly better than the stock seat.  I added heated handgrips.  I'm not sure how I lived without these on previous bikes.  I added a set of highway pegs.  These provide me with more ways to move around and let me sit longer.  Finally, I added a Garmin GPS.  This device is awesome on these types of rides.  You can program in all of the bonus locations that you are going to try to get and have the GPS figure out the route.  There are some issues with this approach that will become apparent later.

The 2005 Ride
The theme for this years ride was Holes and Dams.  The basic premise was that you have a reservoir that will hold your bonus points.  This reservoir has a dam and that dam has some holes in it.  So, in addition to the normal list of bonus locations, there is a list of plug locations.  These plugs do not have any bonus points associated with them, however, they do keep your hard earned bonus points from going down the drain.  The ride would leave the hotel in York at 8:00 am on Saturday May 28th and finish back at the hotel at noon on Sunday the 29th.  You could finish as late as 2:00pm on Sunday but you would lose points for every minute you arrived after noon.

For the ride that I did, the list of bonus and plug locations, not the actual questions to be answered but just the locations, was available about a week prior to the ride.  I took these locations and entered them into my GPS mapping software as waypoints.  I divided the possible locations into two sets based on bonus point value.  Locations worth over 600 points got one symbol and locations less than 600 points got a different symbol and plugs got yet another symbol.  Once that was done, I looked for groupings of the plugs and large value bonus locations.  I then created an initial route based on getting all of the plugs and a reasonable number of high value bonus locations.  I then add the lower value locations that were close to the route between the plugs and high value locations.  Now all that I had to do was to ride 1332 mile in 28 hours with two hours of sleep in there somewhere.

I left home in Valencia around noon on Friday for the ride to York.  Got there right about 3:00pm and registered.  Registration is a pretty simple process.  You fill out some paperwork and turn over your first set of gifts for the kids at Johns Hopkins.  This act gets you 350 points, 250 for the gifts and 100 for registering.  Then it's off to odometer check.  Your current odometer readings are taken, then you ride a course of known length and new readings are taken.  This allows the Rally Bubbas to determine a factor to be applied to the mileage you write in your logs.   After this is completed you are free to do whatever you like until the riders dinner.  I took a little ride around York and found the Rex and Laurel Fire Station.  This is the longest continuously operating fire station in the US. It opened in 1877 and has been staffed ever since.  When I got there they were out on a call but as I was getting ready to leave the truck and ladder came back to the station.  I asked one of the guys if I could look around.  He said sure, and then spent about an hour with me talking about the history of the station and current operations in York.  Back to the hotel for some beers with other riders and then dinner.  After dinner, Don Arthur, gave a talk on fatigue in long distance riding.  Don is a well known and respected long distance rider, holder of the current record for the Four Corners ride, and the Surgeon General of the USN.  Very interesting guy.  There is a mandatory 6:30 breakfast meeting tomorrow morning so after Don's talk it was off to bed.

Got up at 5:15.  Showered and then packed the bike.  As far as I can tell I'm ready for the ride.  A light breakfast was followed by the ride briefing.  This is where we got our rally books.  We then spent time going over the details of record keeping and any changes or updates that might be important.  Bonus 156, worth a whopping 23 points, is part of this process.  You are given all of the information (the name of the place is Placita de Borrero) that you need and all you need to do is record it correctly in your rally book.  The final part of this pre-ride portion is to declare your route.  This bonus, worth 250 points, is just a list of the bonus locations, in ride order, that you are planning on hitting.  You are not required to stick to this initial plan (given my planning ability that's a good thing), it is there as a safety measure. 

8:00 and it's off.  I picked up the three plugs first thing off.  These were pretty simple to find.  The only problem was with Plug 13, the first one I went after, in that the owner of the house that was the destination had removed the street sign.  So after about 2 hours and 40 minutes and 141 miles, all of the rest of the points that I get will stay with me.

10:41 it's time to go get some points.  I'm headed for Luray, VA to a dentist's office to see what note is in a window that is applicable to this adventure.   But first I'll pick up one of the secret bonuses that you only find out about when you get the rally book. 

11:45 This one is get a receipt from a donut shop.  Rolling down the interstate, I see a sign for a Dunkin Donut shop at the next exit.  Off I go.  I pull into the place that has a Dunkin Donut sign and go in and buy a donut.   Much to my dismay the receipt does not say Dunkin Donuts.  So, I take my donut in my Dunkin Donuts bag, grab a Dunkin Donuts napkin and I grab a Dunkin Donuts Manager!  While I can't figure out how to bring her along with me, I do get her to write that it is a Dunkin Donuts shop on the receipt and sign it.  I hope this works!  Now it starts raining.  Not only is it raining, but there must be something I don't know about this part of Virginia because everyone is driving 5 miles an hour under the speed limit! This sucks! Talk about knocking the wind out of your sails.  Finally I get to Luray and find the dentist's office. 

12:48 Even if they drive slowly in VA at least you can get your teeth cleaned for $20.20.  I've now ridden 233 miles.  It's now off to Tunnelton WV (get it?  Tunnelton -> Tunnel -> Hole).  It has stopped raining! This is great!

1:01 Time to get gas and the next Special Bonus.  This one is buy a York Peppermint Patty.  No problem.  Fill out the fuel log, get the patty and then off again.

4:27 Finally in Tunnelton.  A very small place with a church.  Log the church name (location left over from the 2003 Seeking Higher Ground rally?).  And it's off to Philippi, WV looking for some weird yield sign.  So, remember that I set GPS waypoints for all of the bonus locations.  At each location I tell the GPS to find the fastest route to the next location.  So far so good.  However, something seems to have possessed my GPS.  It has decided that some very small and often unpaved roads are the best way to get there.  I figure this isn't too bad.  It's sunny and the roads are really not that bad.  When I emerge from the deep woods I'm at a T intersection and not sure which way to turn.  When it comes to rallies, I have overcome that male aversion to asking directions.  I see a guy walking down the road and ask him if there are any yield signs around.  He says that there is an intersection off to the right that may have one but he's not sure.  We talk a little more and I tell him that the sign I'm looking for may be unusual.  He says, Oh there's a yield to airplanes sign just up the road to the left.  Did you say airplanes?

5:28 I'm sitting at a small airstrip where the runway crosses the road.  And yes, there is a sign that says Yield to Aircraft.  Record the appropriate info and then it's off to Steubenville.  But, not before the GPS drags me down some even smaller dirt roads.  This part is getting a little old.  It is now raining yet again.  This sucks!  I'm now in Elkins, WV and want to get some fuel.  There's a McDonalds and a gas station.  I go into McD's and meet a couple doing the rally two up. It is now pouring!  Raining so hard you can't see anything.  We wait for the rain to slow to a mere downpour then we leave.  This really sucks.  After riding for a while the rain stops and there is a rainbow on my right.  This is great!  I drop in behind someone riding a BMW F650GS.  It looks like we're headed for the same place.  Once in Steubenville we are having trouble finding the marina which is the next bonus location.  Once again I ask directions.   It seems the entry to the marina is in the middle of a cement plant.  I head that way but lose the GS at a stop light.

9:03 I'm looking at a sign that says that the locks that used to be on the Ohio at this location were replaced by a, you guessed it, dam up stream.  After making the appropriate notations, it's off to Linesville, PA.  There are supposed to be signs at the town entrance that tell you what the "Ducks walk on".  And by the way, once you find out the answer, don't forget to get a receipt from somewhere in town.  I ride up and down the roads in town looking for a sign.  I stop in a convenience store to ask about such a sign and no one seems to know about one. I do take the opportunity to buy some water so I can get a receipt.  Finally, I stop a cop and ask him.  He says that there used to be signs on all of the roads but now there is only one and points the way.   He tells me he couldn't remember which road it was on earlier when someone else asked for the same information so he want out and found it.  I would like to thank who ever got there before me. 

11:21 I'm reading a sign that says that the ducks walk on the fish.  This is at the Pymantuning Spill way (yes, another dam). Anyone who has ever been there has seen the water at the spill way boiling with carp.  I've now ridden 703 miles and am getting a little tired.  I figure I'll head to Meadville and find a 24 hour restaurant that has a closed section where I can crash for my rest bonus.  It's after 12:30 and the Perkins is hopping!   It doesn't look like I'm going to be able to sleep here.  I buy an iced tea that I can use as the starting receipt for my rest bonus if I find somewhere to sleep very close. 

12:50 I'm in the parking lot of a Home Depot.  They have areas for returning carts that are are two rows of things that are like Jersey Barriers covered by a canopy.  And there are no carts in them!  I pull the bike in and get ready to get some sleep.  After listening to Don earlier I now know that if you leave on your riding suit and helmet it's not too bad sleeping on the ground.  I'm up at 3:32 ready for the rest of the ride.  Looking at my plan I figure that I'm not going to make all of the rest of the bonus locations.  So, I figure I'll head to Pit Hole and then start back to York.

3:43 Time for some gas and another of the special bonuses.  This one is to buy two dollars of instant lottery tickets and bring them back.  I get gas and go into the store for the tickets.  The conversation goes something like this (remember it's 3:45 in the morning and I've just slept on a parking lot and I'm in a full riding suit):  "Good morning, I would like to buy two dollars of instant lottery tickets".  The clerk eyes me suspiciously.  "What type of tickets would you like".  "Instant lottery tickets". "For what game" she says in an irritated voice.  "I didn't know there were different games.  I don't have a clue which one.  Is there a difference?". "Not really".  So finally I get the tickets and as I leave I'm sure the clerk is checking my height as I walk out the door.  I'm now rolling down a north central PA road in the night, prime deer time, and in the fog.  I'm now thinking that even though I've read that deer whistles don't work I should have spent the five bucks and put some on.  But I get to Pit Hole with out incident.

4:43 After a little searching I find the marker that tells me at one point in time only Philadelphia and Pittsburgh got more mail than this oil boom town.  As I'm getting ready to leave I see a flashlight in the parking lot above me.  I call to the person and who do I see but the GS lady!  We talk a little bit and she asks which way I'm going to head out.  I tell her and she says that she thinks she'll go back the way we both came in.  I'm not sure that it matters but that's OK.  I now find myself on small muddy dirt roads at 5:00 in the morning.  Thanks Mr. Garmin!  I wish I had gone with the GS!  After what seemed like hours I'm back on the hard top and off to Punxsutawney to find out who donated the park there.

6:22 I find out the the Rev David Barclay gave the money for the park.  The total mileage is 842. I'm now becoming slightly concerned about being able to make it back to York before I start losing bonus points.  I figure out a route to get there and there is one more bonus location on the way.  On the way to the next location I stop for gas at a truck plaza.  Coming out of the door as I'm going in are the couple riding two up. They had a hard night and are just trying to warm up and then head back.  We talk for a while and then part company.   I get to the little town where the next bonus location is suppose to be.  After looking for some time I decide to take a look in the rally book.  Low and behold the bonus isn't in the town, it's in the median strip on the four lane road that passes the town.  I'm off on 322 looking for a historic marker that is in the middle of the road. After going further than I think it should be, I a pull a u-turn, yes I know you're not suppose to do that but the next exit was a long way. Going back the road I see the marker.  Pulling over quickly I park the bike.

9:39 I have just run across two lanes of US 322 twice to find the death date of some guy.  It's now back to York.  There is one last bonus that I want to try to pick up.  This is one of the special bonuses and involves buying a patch that can be sewn onto a patch vest.  This seems like it should be pretty simple.  You should be able to go to any motorcycle shop and buy one.  Oh right, it's Sunday.  I search until I'm pretty sure that I just have time to get back to check-in before I start losing points. 

11:40 Back at check-in.  Total of 1,075 miles in just under 28 hours with a couple of hours of sleep.  I get all of my paperwork together and check it over a couple of times.  I get all of the items I am suppose to bring back, lottery tickets, donut... and go to have my points tallied. 
The rider's dinner and awards banquet is really nice (here are some photos from the the start and from the banquet).  The results are posted here. This year I came in fifth!  Not good enough for a nice glass trophy but considerably better then pervious years.  After some good food, a lot of stories ( a number of which were about the dirt roads that people took while following their GPS) and some beers it's time for bed.

5:00 I'm up early and off for home.  A non-eventful ride back to Mars was a great way to end another great rally.

General Observations or Don's Chautauqua
So, now it's time for some lessons learned and general thoughts that have come from doing this years rally.
RTFRB - This is a slight change to the standard RTFM.  I missed an easy 250 points by not really reading the rally manual.  There was a set of bonus points that was buy "another" toy for the kids at Johns Hopkins.  Because I read it quickly, I thought that the first set of toys was what this bonus was all about.  Given that I was looking all over for that sew on patch, I could easily have gotten these points.

Think ahead some more - The patch was another easy set of points that I could have picked up on a Saturday with very little effort.  It became close to impossible (it was impossible for me) to pick it up on a Sunday.

Don't jump to conclusions or more Yin less Yang  - There was a big set of points, 456 to be exact, that you could get by delaying your start until 9:00.  I very quickly decided that I wasn't going to sit around for another hour.  This was not a good decision.  456 points in an hour is a pretty good deal.

If I had done these things, third place and that nice glass trophy would have been mine!  

Gumption Traps - In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig writes about "gumption traps".  In his example, it is a stripped screw head that keeps you from doing some maintenance.  On this ride, it was the weather. I am sure that there are thousands of these traps waiting out there for anyone who is willing to be caught by one.  It is possible to keep from being trapped and from having gumption drained out out you.  You just need to be aware of when it is happening and decide not to allow it.

The Long Distance Community - I find this concept to be very interesting.  At first you would think that this is a very solitary endeavor.  In general, while riding, it is a very personal adventure that is yours and yours alone.  But there is something very special and amazing about meeting someone in Pit Hole Pennsylvania at 4:45 on a foggy morning that happens in this sport.  I'm sure that everyone who rides these rallies has stories about meeting people at odd places at odd times: crawling on a sidewalk in front of the Friends Meeting House in Pittsburgh at 3:00am and meeting someone else doing the exact same ludicrous thing; knowing that if you need help it's there,  someone from the community will help you.  There is a rally rule that says you must stop for a rider in trouble.  This is a great rule, but I would like to think that it's not really needed.  I would like to believe, and in fact do believe, that we would all stop, rule or not. 

I hope you have enjoyed this little story, this personal adventure that I took alone with a bunch of riders who were taking their own adventures.  If you are currently an LD rider, I wish you lots of miles and bonus points with few "gumption traps".  If you ride but haven't tried long distance riding, I suggest you give it a try.  There is lots of information on the Iron Butt page.  If you want to try a rally, you couldn't go wrong in picking the MD 20-20.

Good riding to you.
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Re:A little about endurance rallys 1 year 8 months ago #2633

  • Jay
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Thanks for sharing the Long Distance rally experience.
A few- many ? years ago, I stopped over at a hotel in Cranberry that was the HQ of an IBA Rally. It was interesting to see the variety of bikes taking part, including a Ninja 250. I notice you didn’t describe one if the modifications I saw- a contraption to facilitate a bathroom break without having to stop.
I took a few pictures that I still have on my phone so will share these here.

We’ve had a couple of club members (Ralph and Walt) do the Saddle sore in search of Post Offices beginning with X. Maybe there may be others.

Oh BTW, I think yinz IBA guys/ gals are crazy!!

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A little about endurance rallys 1 year 8 months ago #2634

  • Kevin
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We have several Iron Butt Riders in the club. A few years ago myself, Tim, Jim and Frank rode to Moonlight BBQ in Kentucky and back one day. Frank met us there and rode by himself. The other three of us spent a lot of time chewing the rag during rest stops. The 24 hr and 1000 mile is doable from that standard. We had a great time. My certificate hangs in the garage with pride.

The BBQ wasn't anything to write home about.

Jay - I stopped in the Marriott the morning the IBA was departing. Your Right - CRAZY. :silly:

Nice post!!!
Every time I start thinking the world is all bad, then I start seein some people out there having a good time on motorcycles, it makes me take another look. - Steve McQueen, 1970
Last Edit: 1 year 8 months ago by Kevin .
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A little about endurance rallys 1 year 8 months ago #2636

  • Frank Beatrous
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I used to ride down to Sarasota to visit my parents each year. One day down, one day back. 1100 miles each way. I was younger and tougher back then.

If memory serves, John Allen rode from Pittsburgh to Colorado Springs in one day.

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A little about endurance rallys 1 year 7 months ago #2640

  • Tim Pears
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Don, very interesting write up. Lots of strategy in the road rallies that the straight mileage runs don't have. The same year Kev, Jim and Frank and I did the documented IBA Saddle Sore 1000, I ended up with an unplanned 1300 mi ride straight home from my buddy's in Florida. It got so late, dark and foggy, exits and motels were too hard to find! :dry:

Some years ago, a bunch of us were out at the Top O the Rockies rally and after visiting his sister in Colorado, Leo rode straight home by himself across the plains in July! I'm sure there's a few in our club who've done some long ones.
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