For the build up to this ride, and to get an overview of the route taken, please go here.
I have written a number of these reports, and they are all available in my Diary List for anyone interested in glancing through them. Usually I describe the route, talk about locations visited and try to give a flavor of what it is like to take part in these events.
This time I'd like to do something a little different, while still retaining the basic format for those who just like to read about a moderately long ride.
This is my fifth such Rally. I'm not new to this anymore, yet I am far from the experience or status achieved by many of my fellow riders. I am close enough to understand what they have accomplished, yet sufficiently new to the sport that I have not forgotten the "newbie" feelings. Indeed they still feature pretty high in my emotions when I get to a Rally Start and see bikes covered in stickers from Prudoe Bay to Key West!
So the basic drill is that you and your motorcycle leave the start and, given decent planning and no real mishaps, arrive back, in this case twenty eight hours later, having covered around twelve hundred miles and picked up points along the way. Avoiding "Performance Awards" from Law Enforcement Officers is a good idea for any number of reasons. Avoiding deer is an even better idea for just one reason. Hitting them hurts. It can wreck your bike and hurt your body. It's enough to spoil your entire day.
These rides are a partnership between rider and motorcycle. You will be "sitting there, twisting that" for hour after hour ... after hour. Some of it will be exhilarating, and many of the hours will be tedious, repetitious and boring. I'm not down on either Kansas or Nebraska, but if your route requires that you cross either of them horizontally, then please include some form of on-bike entertainment.
Four of the nine bikes ready to go
The general consensus among the community is that "it is the rider not the bike". I am now long enough at this game to appreciated the truth of that, but even the best rider cannot cover fifteen hundred miles in twenty four hours without a suitable motorcycle. The uncommon rider can, but even they will not be keen to repeat the experience.
I marvel at the assembled machines, their modifications and creature comforts. These come at a very high price and each of them has their place. Suitable motorcycles can cost anything from fifteen to twenty five thousand dollars if bought new. Add to that anything up to five thousand dollars in "improvements", and very quickly it becomes an exclusive hobby for a few.
I am here to tell you that there is an entry point that relies on judging what is important to the task, but does not require that you sell your first-born for medical research to allow you to take part. I have no envy, feel no malice at the wherewithal of others, rather I am impressed by their generosity of spirit, and I study every bike I see in an effort to distill what it is that works, what probably doesn't and what I can use in my own quest for more comfort, more efficiency ... more miles in less time while remembering that my wife and kids want me home safe, and in one piece.
My ride is a 1986 Yamaha Venture Royale. I rescued it from the scrapheap for fourteen hundred dollars and spent the last year competing and improving it in all the areas that make a difference in completing the task. Since then it has won a Rally, placed third, ninth, second and fourth in this one. One Rally I Did Not Finish ... everyone needs at least one of those! The bikes it has beaten, and been beaten by fit in all classes from brand new Gold Wings and Yamaha FJRs, and right across the spectrum. Basically, if your machine is reliable and can carry you and all your "stuff" at highways speeds, and in comfort, then it can compete.
So the first rule of Rallying, according to Steve :) is a simple one:
"The best of everything makes the task simpler and more efficient, but understanding how it all goes together, and using what you have effectively, counts for more".
Would I perform better on more modern machinery, decently equipped and tailored for me? Yes, you bet your ass I would, but the difference might ultimately be surprisingly small. Multi-day Rallies are not covered in this, they have different requirements even if the basic principles are the same.
With Michael Hickman. Ready to Rock and Roll at the Heart of Texas
It all starts with the Rally Pack. When those plop gracefully into your email inbox, it is like opening a Christmas present. Same feeling of anticipation you remember from childhood, and even now to an extent. Same wondering about what lies within, with a twist. Rally Packs contain surprises, and traps for the unwary. Reading the frickin' manual (RTFM) takes on a whole new meaning when confronted with a brand new Rally Pack.
For this Rally it was both simple and complex, contained ideas and creativity some of which worked superbly well, other bits worked less well (my opinion) yet I find myself again congratulating the Rally Master for thinking well outside the envelope, and offering real planning challenges. I always try to remember that I have, in this case, twenty eight hours to cover maybe twelve hundred miles. To a large degree it really makes no difference where you go, or what you do, it is the same number of miles whatever road you travel. I remembered that when I had to spend several hours going back and forth, back and forth, and back again along the same two stretches of Interstates 35 and 44. There were different bonuses at the end of each leg, so the points were mounting.
Oklahoma was split into quadrants by those two interstates, and the key provision was that you could not collect successive bonuses in the same quadrant. There were also bonuses in the surrounding States, and some of them were key. Right from the start it was clear that the winning route had to include the two bonuses in Texas. These were Allen Field, a high school football stadium, and the Forth Worth home of the Dallas Cowboys.
It really was only possible to win without those two if the riders who did collect them had not maximised some other features. That is actually how it panned out ... life is like that sometimes. I don't believe any of the top three went to Dallas but a "wildcard" bonus thrown in at the last minute affected the outcome. You learn from that and move on to the next Rally because there were some real positives for me in this one, and that, plus the great company, is what I take away. I also took away a brand new First Gear Mesh Tex jacket. My thanks to the Sponsor who provided it and Bobby Fox for choosing a lesser prize when the choice was his to make. Jodie now has her first proper riding jacket ... it's a bit big but we will figure something out.
I gather that not everyone enjoys the planning phase of a Rally, but I also believe that real success in this sport involves not just riding a long way, but riding to the right places and being there at the correct time. The so-called "Big Dogs" have a happy knack of accomplishing both tasks successfully, and using those skills to build upon basic physical preparation and well thought out and implemented equipment. Put that lot together effectively, and you will be very hard to beat.
Planning done, sidestands were up at ten am Saturday. Quadrant rules and bonus multipliers meant that at least half the field chose to head east before turning round for the slog west to Oklahoma City. Plans diverged after that, but in my case I was leading a field of about four to Clear Creek Monastery for the first half of a two part "MONK" bonus.
Collecting this bonus was tricky, involving a ride of about seven miles on unmade gravel roads to get in and out. My motorcycle can do many things, but it is not at home on dirt roads, especially ones that have been used by construction traffic building a monastery! Before the ride I had worked out that my moving average speed needed to be fifty seven miles per hour to make my plan work. When I finally hit tarmac again it was running at forty two mph. Not helped by the sight of Brian Walters on his BMW GS whizzing by at some ungodly speed as I struggled to keep a nine hundred pound supertanker upright.
As the day wore on, and mileage mounted, so did the points. The SAC and FOX Memorial, Guthrie Masonic Boy's Home, the SEABA Motorcycle Museum ... and interesting conversion of an old Route 66 gas station where I wish I had more time to linger. Then on the the Black Jail, the first Territorial Federal Prison and winding up at Pops Soda Ranch in Arcadia, OK.
My original plan had me arriving at Pops at around six forty pm, twenty minutes before this time restricted bonus became available. In the end I was there at six twenty five and what pleased me most was that the plan was being executed more or less precisely as written.
The commonly accepted wisdom is that you "plan your ride, then ride your plan". This does not happen by accident. Plans have to be tough to achieve. If it were easy there would be no competition, and someone planning a tougher ride, then riding it, would win every time. Riding a plan that is right at the edge of your ability is neither easy nor natural. It takes practise so when you do find yourself being right where you planned to be, without compromising along the way, then it is a good sign that you are beginning to appreciate how these things work and come together.
Why do motorcycle manufacturers make vehicles capable of nearly two hundred miles per hour (not mine), then fit them with lights that would struggle to illuminate a walk-in closet? With the possible exception of the newer Gold Wings and BMWs, motorcycle lights are uniformly appalling, and most LD Riders upgrade as soon as possible. High Intensity Discharge (HID) lights and newer LEDs are preferred. They can range in cost from ultra reasonable but bulky and ugly, to prices that their makers are clearly quite proud of, but they look nice. Mine are of the less good-looking variety, but the HID Projector and accompanying driving lamp make fast highway cruising possible ... even in the dark. I still don't like it much.
This was definitely well off the beaten track but worth it. While my HIDs were lighting up the front of the building a security guard arrived. We visited for a few minutes and he suggested that I might get a better picture inside the well-lit 24 hour lobby. I was simply thinking that it looked a decent place to throw down a sleeping mat for a few hours, but however much I needed a break, it wasn't on the plan until later.
I leave Randlett at around nine fifteen pm. I have approximately one hundred and thirty miles to the next bonus. By now I have been on the bike for the best part of twelve hours, and it is dark but mercifully still warm. These are the tough hours. Along with lights, motorcycles makers are very good at another thing. They have a peculiar talent for designing seats that do not deserve that description. It's completely unreasonable that a motorcycle advertised as able to cross a continent can only do so if no human actually has to sit on it. Custom seat-builders can do, for a few hundred dollars, that which defies the might of Yamaha, Honda and BMW, and there is simply no excuse. I have improved mine on my budget with an AirHawk cushion seat and a sheepskin. It's good for about five hundred miles but then certain areas best not discussed in polite company begin to make themselves heard. The trouble is that whatever the limits of the seat, I still have another four hundred miles to go before I get that rest.
If there is anyone out there just starting out, or even just thinking of attempting a longer ride than the usual Sunday afternoon jaunt, these are the things that will, literally, bite you in the ass. I mention them here because you can do something about it in terms of improved ergonomics. There is another reason though. Long Distance riding, indeed any form of endurance event, is not meant to be easy. If it were easy no one would bother. While I do not liken it to climbing Everest, or the North Face of the Eiger, few would bother were it easy.
So you have to get your mind into a place where it will do something hard. Riding a motorcycle, even riding it a long way is a very simple business; it's just not an easy business.
I don't know about you, but about this time I usually get a second wind. From aching and tired to alert and wide awake. Push through the tough stretches and enjoy the feeling on the other side. It does matter that you learn when you need to stop. I've explored those limits and I bailed on a Bun Burner Gold, and DNF'd a Rally because I knew that were I to continue the risk would be unacceptable. I wasn't even close to that point yet I was in the place that reminds you that you are engaged in something that is hard to do. Still, on the bright side I am now only forty five minutes from my rest stop. On the run in to Allen Stadium I had become concerned that I might be running late. This mattered because I had to start my rest stop before three am or I would be disqualified (DNF) My GPS had been showing an expected arrival time of one minute past eleven. I pulled over to check. Fired up the laptop and right there on my route plan, done in the comfort of the living room was the eta at Allen Stadium ... 11.01pm!!!
This is "riding a plan"
It was one of the best moments of the entire Rally for me, because it told me, right there on the screen that I was getting very close to being able to plan a ride that tested me hard, but plan it accurately, then go out and make it happen. It may be that the rides get longer and harder, but hopefully the planning skills will continue to put me in a place where I can pull of what I set out to do. Much of this does depend on nothing unforseen, but that is just the chance you have to take.
Some months ago I asked a question about the Iron Butt Motel on the LD Rider email list. The IBM is the practise of taking a short nap, or even a whole nights sleep away from the comfort of a regular bed. The responses were terrific. So much so that I was asked to write an article that duly appeared in the Iron Butt Magazine. To be honest, I felt a bit of a fraud. While I have slept in many and varied places, the Iron Butt Motel was one guest accommodation I had never myself checked in to. Well tonight was the night.
I planned to spend my rest stop at the Loves Truck Stop in Denton, Texas. My plan called for me to be there at around two am, and stay until seven. There were some issues with this. My unscheduled stop to check my plan cost me a few minutes and I arrived at two twenty. I immediately bought milk to get a timed receipt. Some time later, having previously asked the cashier what the time was, I checked the receipt. THERE WAS NO TIME ON IT! This is major. I hastily stick a gallon of gas in the bike and get a good receipt that cost me forty minutes and put me five minutes from a DNF. It appears that the till receipts at Loves stations do not carry a time stamp. You have been warned. I was still staying until seven but that was 250 points thrown away, and they made a big difference at the scoring table. It might not have been my fault, but it makes no odds. No complaints, stuff happens.
This was my bed for the night. I pulled the bike over to a relatively quiet corner of the parking area and unrolled my Thermarest alongside it. Boots off, bike cover for a pillow and my jacket for a blanket I settled in. I managed three hours of solid sleep which I didn't really expect. I woke before the alarm feeling good, if a little bemused but nothing that coffee couldn't quickly fix.
More confusion over a timed receipt for the end of the stop but it was finally resolved and I was on my way at seven am.
I had only about three hundred miles to cover today, just another benefit of putting in the graft yesterday. There was another wildcard bonus still available to me. A Facebook "thing" had caused some confusion, but left me in pole position to grad an extra one thousand points. I do not look a gift horse in the mouth, so the Chickasaw National Recreation Area was rapidly added to the list.
The other thing I realised was that if I could cover one hundred and fifty miles before ten am I could pick up an In-Rally SaddleSore 1000 ... So I kept that in mind too.
Out there in the boonies you can run wild and free. It's what motorcycling is all about and I treasure those moments. Fast empty roads, even the local Sheriff is in church. Slow down when there are speed restrictions, because it means that people live here, but once the sign goes back up to sixty five mph, then all bets are off. It's a wonderful feeling.
The GPS had me ahead of the game so I could relax and just enjoy the ride. The quadrant rules also meant that I couldn't add any bonuses because none of the other quadrants were in reach.
As the odometer hit one thousand miles before nine thirty, I just needed a receipt for the SaddleSore. I figured I would ride another fifteen miles then stop at the first gas station. That would put some padding in the numbers.
There wasn't a gas station. Mile after mile with diminishing hope. At around nine fifty five I pretty much give up hope of getting a receipt before the necessary cut-off time of ten o'clock. Magically, a couple of minutes later there is an intersection with a gas station. Off the bike at a run, into the store and I buy a pack of Tic-Tacs. They are about fifty cents, but the time stamp of 9.58 am is priceless!
A short hop to grab the picture of the church at the top of this report, then a longer slog to the last bonus. It is the final resting place of Jared Shoemaker, an Oklahoma soldier and a Tulsa Police Officer who fell in Iraq, The horrors of that untimely end are a million miles from the pleasant warmth of an Oklahoma cemetery on this September afternoon.
When the bonus becomes available at one pm there are five of us waiting. Bobby Fox did the honors with the Rally Flags and we all rode together the ten short miles back to the barn, scoring, supper and they lies we always tell.
There were a multitude of ways this Rally could have been scored, but only one that actually counted. Jim Orr came out on top and I extend my warm congratulations to both him and everyone who made this such a wonderful weekend.
This was the first time I have ever planned a Rally and ridden it exactly to plan. With the exception of the nonsense over the rest stop receipts, there was nothing I could have done to improve the performance. Was it the best plan? Well it didn't win, but for me the things I learned about my own abilities were a worthy outcome ... and I had a terrific time.
I do urge everyone to sign up early for a Michael Hickman Rally ... They are hidden gems that should not remain hidden any longer.
I have been mindful that quite a few people have recently signed onto various lists and forums and expressed some interest in Long Distance riding, be it for certificates or Rallying. I have tried to convey a sense of what it is like to compete, and how a growing awareness of the issues helps to develop a rider. I also tried to make it interesting.
See you on the road!