The Heart of Texas

The "Heart of Texas" is, in this instance, a twelve hour Motorcycle  Rally held entirely within the borders of the State of Texas. 2012 is the third annual running, and this is my first entry.

Coming straight off the back of a "Did Not Finish" in my last Rally, I was keen to at least get to the finish line, in one piece, and in time to be classified as a finisher. Before that could happen there was the small matter of six hundred miles and some Bonus Hunting to be done, all between six am and six pm on Saturday, 28th April 2012.

Around forty riders, some with pillion passengers started the Rally, most, if not all finished. As I write this I know my own final score, but the final standings are not yet published. So I know I didn't finish in the top three, but finish I did, and respectably.

Throughout this Report I am likely to make comments and  observations on the structure of the Rally, what I liked and didn't like, and how it was for me. This is my Report, and my right. Nothing is intended as a criticism of the Rally or it's Organisor, James Stovall,  and his assistants. Those good and generous people make my pastime possible, and I am indebted to them. They have both my thanks and my gratitude for all they do.


The first thing I had to contend with was a logistics problem that threatened the entire venture. Rallies like this are generally held on Saturday. I work on Friday nights until one am, running karaoke in a local bar. For a six am start in Texas I would need to get a wiggle on just to make the State Line in time. Leaving at one thirty am I could  cover the 200 miles to Denison, TX, and start from there.

There were several "official" start points all carrying bonus points. There was also the option to start anywhere in the State but it put you behind the game from the off. This was going to be a low-scoring event, and the Start Bonus represented up to ten percent of the podium finishers total score.

I could not reach any of the start locations in the time available,  and I don't fully understand the logic of the Start Bonuses. It seems to me that everyone who could reach one would start more or less level, and all it did was penalise those who were restricted from doing so. None of that was going to deter me, it is merely an observation. I was just going to have to try harder.

Starting with me was a good friend who is an experienced Rally Rider, but was starting his first rally for two years. We had each planned our routes without discussing them, and had come up with identical rides.  This was a good thing and a bad thing. Good that we were both of a like  mind, suggesting we had decent plans, not so good because from our start location, the Rally pretty much planned itself given the few bonuses available and some severe time penalties.

It is also the case that the shorter rallies have their unique considerations. In a thirty hour, or longer event there is time to recover from setbacks, errors, etc. In a twelve hour rally that luxury doesn't exist. They demand very careful planning, and good execution of  that plan or you will find that you do not finish, or finish with many fewer points than you intended. However many variations I looked at,  from a Denison start there was only one route and an absolute maximum of about 3800 points if everything played out as hoped. That point total  was lower than all three who finished in the top three places.

Denison, TX just before six am. Photo by Michael Hickman

I should explain that I had restricted my ride to a maximum of about 625 miles. That was a distance I considered to be my own limit, given  the type of roads, the need to stop for bonuses and gas (three times as  per "gas bonus") and the restricted time of the "Subway" bonus. Some  riders went further than this, but further on our route wouldn't have helped as there really was nowhere to go! That distance represents and  overall average speed, including stops, of about 52 mph, for twelve straight hours. It's enough.

Try it sometime, even in your car. Pick any route and stay off the Interstates. Mix in plenty of secondary roads and allow one hour for stops. Then go drive it. It's not as easy as it sounds, and it sounds  hard .. heh! Oh, and just to put yourself under the kind of time-pressure a rally brings, commit to a $200 donation to a Political Party you dislike should you fail!

Six am and it was a mad dash to Eisenhower's Birthplace, a mere four and a half miles away. It's still pitch black but HID headlamps are  pretty useful for illuminating State Park signs. This was to be the  first of five State Parks required for a 5X points multiplier. On it's  own it was worth 50 points, which would later become 250.

Photo grabbed, complete with my rally flag and Michael's. We would not ride together, but we would meet at most of the bonuses until about  mid-morning. We each made our own "Flags" for this rally. Mine was the  combined flags you see in the picture ... It is the image I originally designed for mine and Jodie's Wedding Cake. If I can't persuade her to ride with me, I'll take along something significant one way or another.

Bonham State Park was next, a mere thirty two miles away. This is the time when you settle into the ride. The initial adrenalin rush is  seeping from your pores, your heartrate slows and you remember you are driving on public highways. There is time on the bike to get your head into the game, make the minor adjustments that leave you comfortable and well in control of what is happening. If your bike is running well, there is every chance it will continue doing so ... after all, it has already done two hundred miles today, just to get here. The heavy cold I am suffering from, and the lack of any real sleep are not making themselves felt. Indeed, nor would they until later in the evening when I simply crash, stone-cold unconscious, on a hotel bed ... still with my  phone to my ear chatting with Jodie.

One of the planning issues with this event was the linking of several bonuses, and making them conditional upon each other. The trickiest was combining the Itinerary Bonus with the Subway Bonus, worth a combined  four hundred points. To collect them you had to submit your route in  advance, and then hit the first, third and last Bonuses on it, in order. In addition, you had to nominate a specific Subway restaurant that you  could hit between three pm and three thirty, and collect a receipt from same in the time window. This is a severe restriction on a number of counts. Usually, when planning a ride, you try to build in options for later in the day. This allows for unforseen events to be accommodated  without compromising too much. You then ride hard to get ahead of the clock, and re-assess as you go. The need to hit the last Bonus reduced the flexibility for a good finish by quite a margin. In addition, having to specify a Subway compounded the issue. Do you pick one that gives an easier last three hours, or go for one that you stand a better chance  of reaching? If the latter, it will be a tough ride home, and were you to be ahead of the clock all that work is wasted as you have to sit and  wait for the clock to strike three. It's a tough call. The upside is  that everyone has to do this, and some will not make it.

The nailing down of bonuses and itineraries, combined with few bonus opportunities did turn this event into more of a time-trial than a traditional rally. I'm not claiming it was the worse for that, it was  just different and anyway, I finished and I collected every damned bonus I planned for, and one I hadn't. I did miss one, and I'll get to that. It took four hundred points off my expected total. Add the four hundred I might have expected for a Start Bonus, and it's easy to see where the points went.

The next four bonuses came and went in regulation. Somewhere in  between the Sam "Lightning" Hopkins Statue and Washington-On-The-Brazos  State Park I lost Michael when he buggered off into a field to scarf  down a sandwich. I would meet him again around four thirty, before the final dash to the finish.

Now passed the halfway point. Still feeling good and still right on  schedule. Grab a photo but this time inside a restaurant with a waitress holding your rally flag, and including the Texas Flag on the wall in  the shot.

The bearded chap looking intently at the camera was riding with his  wife. They would finish third in the "Two-Up" class. Good Job. They are  nice folk, it was a pleasure to meet them.

The waitress told me I was about the twelfth picture request of the day. Good, I am doing something right.

Next up is Subway, about eighty miles away. When I planned my route, the BaseCamp software told me to expect to arrive there at 2.24 pm. When I punched the location into the GPS, it said my expected arrival time  was 2.26 pm. Jeez! Over three hundred and fifty miles in, and I am two minutes off. That has never happened before. In the event I took it easy because whatever time I arrived I couldn't claim the bonus before three ... See what happened there? All the advantage I built up was now  squandered waiting for the clock to catch up. The Subway receipt is time-stamped 3.00.47pm.

I have three hours to cover one hundred and fifty one miles, and collect two more bonuses arriving at the finish no later than one second before 6.00pm. Not an impossible task, by any stretch, but not easy and I have already ridden six hundred and fifty miles today ... and I am still sneezing into my crash helmet, but let's not go there!

Now is the time to push a bit. Getting out of Temple, TX, was a  frustrating business. The GPS let me down when I found myself facing a  set of concrete bollards where there should have been a highway. I wouldn't mind, but I have 2012 mapping. Oh well. Soon sorted but five minutes disappears. I know I have to maintain an overall average speed of 51 mph, and I also know that every mile I cover in less than sixty seconds builds a cushion. What I didn't know was that I was going to need one.

 Take a close look at that road surface will ya? On the turn-in to Colorado Bend State Park I met Michael, on his way out. I should have  looked more closely at the condition of his dust-covered bike rather  than waste my time wondering how the hell he was there before me ... He must have passed when I was waiting at Subway.

I knew it was just three miles to the Bonus, so I figured he was five to ten minutes ahead of me on the road. I have never been more wrong! Half a mile down the road and I hit dirt. About five miles of it in and  out. Now my motorcycle does quite a few things tolerably well. What it doesn't do well is dirt roads, but I had little choice so on I went. It  was tough, and hot, and dusty, and unpleasant but the picture tells the tale. I collected the bonus and headed out.

It's a straight run to the finish now. Sure there is a bonus to  collect, but it's an easy one barely half a mile from the finish line. The GPS is telling me five forty three pm at the bonus. Easy street but I have every intention of making it even easier.

Let me tell you a little about the byways of Texas.

Where most States limit the speed on those narrow roads to about 55  mph, in Texas they are 70 mph. You travel for mile after mile on  deserted roads. No houses, no people, few other cars. There are some great bends and the fun factor is high. So now I can let the old girl  free. Free to run across this landscape. Free to bellow the exhaust a  little, the rasping note dissipated by the wind. Even the Forest Rats (deer) stay out of the Texas heat. They are smarter than me, but I am  just pleased I don't have to worry about them.

The sign on the bend indicates 50mph ... It's a warning that the Yamaha chooses to ignore. Dive in at seventy, a dab on the brakes, look  through the bend and nail the gas. The big old bus seems to squat a bit  as she hitches her skirts, thinks about it, then launches towards the  redline in a whirl of V4 gorgeousness. Mile after glorious mile ... This is it. It's late, I'm tired but between me and the machine we are  flying, and enjoying every damned yard of it. Thank You Texas.

The final bonus. I am there twenty minutes before six. There is lots of time and my rally is done. I grab a picture. Riders are there  already, and still arriving. Michael arrives. Damn it now he is behind  me. I sometimes wonder what he gets up to! I have already passed the hotel. The parking lot is full of bikes, and a few minutes later I roll in to join them .... and let the lies begin!!

I missed one bonus. It was a fun idea, and even more fun if you  grabbed the four hundred points that went with it. We were to get a group photo of five unrelated motorcyclists, with their bikes and with one of them holding your rally flag. I met no groups like that, not the  whole day and believe me, I was looking. If you found a group the bonus  was available and you got the points. If you didn't find one, it wasn't. Better luck next time.

My overall takeaway from this rally, as part of my long term progress is that I planned this ride to the minute ... and I rode my plan ... to the minute. That is the first time I have managed to achieve that, and it was a good feeling.

Within thirty minutes of leaving Brady the next morning, for a five  hundred mile ride home, I passed three groups of riders any one of which would have got me those points. That's just how it goes sometimes.

Okay ... The results are in and I placed 10th. That is way higher than I had any right to hope especially given the start circumstances. I am very new to this sport, and I was only beaten by veterans ... I feel it  represents good, solid progress :)