In every country there are those who, by dint of personal circumstances, are forced to endure difficult or unpleasant situations. Those are the people we seek to represent, who's circumstances we work to change. While we work towards social justice and equal opportunities for all, in our personal lives we also seek challenges.
It is simply the human condition. We are built that way. If he or she can do it, I wonder if I can do it Citius, Altius, Fortius.
From my point of view it is very easy to write about success, and triumph. What happens when you reach the limits of your endurance. When, despite the mind being willing, the body proves unable? How do you find the words to describe that, yet still convey the reality that, unless you have tested your own endurance beyond it's limits, then you haven't actually found out what that limit is.
In other words .... If you attempt to find out the limits of your own endurance, you can only do so if sometimes you reach the limit, and fail the task.
I found my limit and it is laid bare beneath the Orange Armadillo Roadkill
The task was deceptively simple.
Pick any one of six start locations variously located in Nebraska, Texas, New Mexico ...
Get a Start Receipt on Saturday 31st March within five minutes of 8.00 am, then ride your motorcycle to Broken Arrow, OK. Collect bonus points along the way. Do not ride less than 1000 miles, nor more than 1500 miles and arrive before 2.00 pm the next day.
While each individual rally has it's own theme, or twist, the basic pattern will be recognised by anyone who takes part in these events. This one was no different but it was called "The April Fools Rally". I guess I should have known.
It seems that it is not always easy to attract LD Riders to come and take part in events in Oklahoma. You should ... really, you should. You will get a great welcome from a terrific host, and take part in impeccably organised and enjoyable events. Just watch out for the dog at Casa Hickman when your precious receipts are spread out on the dining table.
There is a simple and well proven route to success in Rally Events. You have to Plan your Ride, then Ride your Plan. If you planned a better ride than the other competitors, then rode it, you will win. Hidden in that simple statement lie a myriad of traps for the inexperienced, and I count myself among that number.
There are riders who have spent many years honing their planning skills, refining the equipment they use, and how they use it, and learning from their own experiences, and the shared wisdom of this small, dedicated community. They do not practise elements of their riding until they get it right, they practise until they can't get it wrong. It is against this backdrop that I am taking my first, tentative steps.
Compared with most of the motorcycles used, and much of the ancillary equipment too, I am at a disadvantage. It's okay, the concept of a "level playing field" is a bit of a myth, and if my bike is the lesser, then I will try harder. There are other newcomers who might read this, so, while the memories remain fresh, I will offer a few words, one newbie to another.
You do not need the latest, greatest motorcycle, three Garmin Zumo GPS Units and sufficient $500 lights to illuminate a night game at Wrigley Field, in order to compete. They will all help, but they will not offer anything other than convenience and some safety improvements.
What you do need is a bike that can comfortably cruise close to the speed limit, for many hours, and do so day after day reliably. Many motorcycles from the early eighties on are more than able to do this if they are looked after. Improving the lighting need not cost a King's ransom, and navigation aids, while almost essential, can be had at modest cost.
In the end, the limiting factor will be your own ability, determination and willingness to learn, then apply the lessons. I learned some on this ride, and I don't expect to have to learn them again.
We need to talk about butts. Even in polite company. Your butt is the principal point of contact with the bike. If your butt is not happy, you will not be happy and it will affect your concentration, remove the edge from your performance, distract you at bonus stops and gas stations; the very places where time can disappear, and your chances of success with it. A happy butt can ride three hundred miles between stops. An unhappy one may struggle to ride fifty, and you will be in pain for every yard of those miles. Please don't ask me how I know this, my butt still hurts!
Consider your seating arrangements as rather more important than the motorcycle you choose. You can be unhappy on a brand spanking new BMW, even if the final drive holds together. Equally, you can be relaxed and comfortable on a Gold Wing, or in my case a Yamaha Venture Royale, from the mid-eighties. Both of those bikes can, and will turn their wheels longer, farther and faster than any other bike, if that bike has a distressed rider.
I simply cannot stress this enough. Long Distance Motorcycling starts with the seat. Yours and the bikes.
If you cannot afford a Russell, or Mayer product then save up. In the meantime you will have to be creative, or eat burgers, lots of burgers as I hear that "amply proportioned" can help.
Two weeks prior to the April Fools Rally I attempted a Bun Burner Gold. That failed, but I did achieve (subject to verification), a Bun Burner. In any event, as I traveled to Hickman, Nebraska, to start the Rally, it became clear that I hadn't fully recovered from that event. Nothing drastic, I just knew that I wasn't fully fit in the seating department. What was also to become clear was that I had fallen for a time-worn trap in the Bonus Listings. I had worked out a route that scarfed up a good few "high-point" bonuses and had made the fatal mistake of ignoring many smaller ones that would add up to a lot more points.
This was a beginner's error, and one I will strive not to repeat. The irony was that my body gave out before my desire to succeed, due to a need to get off the bike. Had I taken the route I planned after the event, then I would have been off the bike more, and the chances are good that I could have finished, and finished well.
Saturday morning dawned bright and clear. I had the bonus of a twenty minute chat with Phil O'Connor at the chosen start point for both of us. At 8.00 am on the dot we rolled out together. He headed South into a well-deserved second place. I headed West to a Did Not Finish (DNF)
I want it to be clear that this is not a tale of woe. This was a fabulous experience. A wonderful ride through spectacular scenery. It was a total of 1700 miles covering six States. I saw the Rockies, I rode up a volcano and at one point found myself about 400 yards from the Uni-Bomber. I expect that I was, despite the pain, having a slightly better day than he. I arrived home safe and sound, and ready for the next time. All in all, placing well is nice, but taking part is better.
My first scheduled Bonus stop was to be Cheyenne, WY. There is a replica of the Liberty Bell and I needed a photograph of it. I don't actually know why the citizens of Wyoming need their own bell, but I guess it saves them a trip to Philly to view the real one.
It was four hundred and eighty miles from the start to this Bonus but the points were high and the rest of the day would see bonuses arriving at much shorter intervals. The aches of the previous day hadn't taken long to emerge, and I was beginning to understand that it was to be a very long day.
Despite that I arrived in Cheyenne only fifteen minutes behind the best time I had anticipated, and well ahead of the schedule that would have caused me to rethink the route. From Cheyenne I was going next to the Federal Maximum Security Penitentiary in Colorado. As new as I am to this country, I am thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to see so much of it. It was a special moment when I realised that the snow-capped mountains I had for company on my ride down I 25, were the Rockies. The last time I saw mountains like that, it was the Alps.
Michael wanted the photograph taken specifically from the waypoint, which was six hundred yards south of the Main Gate. I figure that was a spot least likely to have men in a Jeep speeding up to politely inquire about your activities.
I was suffering quite badly by this point. It was around 7.00 pm and my time had slipped from 15 minutes behind ideal, to around an hour. I was now on my outside limit of the planned timing, and was beginning to think that my original plan would be compromised.
On the flipside ... The ride from I 25 to the Prison was spectacular. A pass through the mountains complete with some of the best "twisties" I have ever had the pleasure of riding. Thirty eight miles of motorcycle bliss, and the bike didn't once put a tyre wrong. Some of you reading this will understand perfectly. To the others I can only say that if you ever get the chance, grab it with both hands.
Two motorcyclists stopped to ask me if I was okay, but no security men appeared. Leaving there it was about another thirty miles or so back towards the Interstate, but on a different road. This one was just as good. Narrow but open, you could see for miles. It was a fast run but it was dark by the time I arrived in Pueblo, CO. Again I had needed to stop more than I planned. I was suffering from an aching back, burning pain across my shoulders and serious rear-end issues.
I stopped at a gas station, filled up and dragged out my laptop to start looking at routing options. The next bonus was the Capulin Volcano in New Mexico. I was keen to get there, even in the dark, but doubted my ability. It was a lonely low point in my short LD Riding career. The pain and effort required just to stay on the bike was taking a vicious toll and I even entertained thoughts as to whether or not this was a sport for me. Many of you know this feeling, and I hate reminding you of it.
In Trinidad, CO, I could go no further without rest. I had originally planned to simply find a quiet spot and sleep out ... For those not familiar with this it is referred to as the Iron Butt Motel. My pansy-butt and screaming back and shoulders were demanding something more substantial, so I found a real motel, with beds and stuff.
It was midnight and I emailed Michael ... who called me back. We chatted briefly and I said that if I left the motel by around two thirty, I would still have time to get back to the finish with a decent points haul before 2.00 pm, the official end time. So I set the clock for two and a half hours sleep. When I woke up I couldn't move. My back seemed to have gone into some kind of spasm, and I couldn't even sit up. So I did what most other folk would have done. I turned off the alarm and got another four hours sleep.
I was up around 6.30 am. I now couldn't reach the finish in time so I sent a DNF email to end my participation in the Rally, and I reset my SPOT page so that Michael and others could keep an eye on my progress during my five hundred and fifty mile ride home. At that moment in time, home seemed a long way away.
In my ride plan, the Capulin Volcano was the next Bonus location and now I was going to miss it. I had breakfast at the Burger King next to the motel and hit "Home" on the GPS.
The a funny thing happened.
I was no longer "on the clock". I could relax, stop when and where I wanted with no real pressure to be anywhere, anytime soon. The Interstate was clear of traffic and the sun was rising over the mountains. I was still hurting, but I began to enjoy the ride. The scenery was gorgeous, and I had time to enjoy it ... an unexpected luxury. One worrying thing was seeing deer poop in the middle of the road. Not only do deer get onto the Interstate, they have time to poop while wandering across the main arterial road in Colorado! I also saw a dead deer at the side of the highway. It had been severly damaged by some unsuspecting motorist, and a little further on a coyote lying forlorn. I couldn't help glancing over at the critter and thinking "Ken Meese sends his love".
Then the sign for the volcano, only three miles off the main route. What the hell, I have come this far, so why not. I took the marked road and headed up. Stopped at the Ranger Station and paid the $5 fee to use the spiral road to the summit. The Park Ranger told me that the road was closed and barred at 4.30 pm each evening. The irony here is that the Bonus was listed as "Available Anytime", so had I actually arrived in the dark I wouldn't have needed to ride up. A photo of the bike next to the locked barrier would have gained about 650 easy points.
The road up is narrow and the "corner" fairly tight. Stick it in second, get up to around 20 mph and cruise up. It's easy. The view from the summit cannot be done justice by a simple photograph, but I took some anyway. When I arrived home my daughter was worried. She figured that it had erupted once, and was most likely to do so again right at the moment I was at the top. Fortunately, it didn't!
From here it was about one hundred miles to Boise City, the next Bonus on my long abandoned list, but it was on the way and by then was back in Oklahoma and really heading home.
The Oklahoma Panhandle is not the most exciting place in the world. It is pretty empty, the roads are not too bad if you stay on the tarmac, and it was a simple matter to set the cruise control at sixty five and just rack up the miles. The panhandle may not be all that interesting, but it is big.
Then you suddenly find yourself back in New Mexico, or Utah. Totally unexpected and quite splendid, the Glass Mountains of Oklahoma. This was a nice surprise, and I took a well-earned and much needed break. I was still hurting but, and I know this sounds odd, I was also enjoying the ride again. As I cruised the vast open landscape my thoughts had moved from wondering if I were doing the right thing, and gone to how I might do it better.
First though, I have to fix that seat.
Finally home. Tired, hurting and happy.
For those who like the detail:
The route I planned and pretty much rode, if not in the allowed time:
The blue line represents the ride from home to the start, and the purple line is the Rally Route. They were about 380 and 1350 respectively.
The Speed and Elevation Graph tells a tale. I rode 800 miles the first day, and 550 the second in addition to the ride to the start. The Graph covers the Rally Route. Elevation is 600 feet at home, and I went as high as 8000 feet. What can also be seen is the drop of about 10 mph when I took myself off the clock: