2019 Iron Butt Rally – Wow what a ride … Part III

Day 1, Leg 2 Part II: Kennewick WA – Pagosa Springs CO

I was sound asleep, dreaming about something, probably sleep … or maybe even an error free rally, when I heard a dog barking.  My eyes finally cracked open and I realized the barking dog was coming from my phone, as that is what is assigned to my alarm.  I half fell/half crawled out of bed, gathered my stuff, and carried it out to my bike.  There were a few other riders still there but most had gone.  I grabbed a boxed breakfast and went back to my room to swallow it, grabbed my helmet and put on my coat, made my way down to the lobby to check out of the hotel and sign out for the rally, and got on the road around 6:30 am, 2 ½ hours later than most of the riders.  Four days later I’d want that time back.

My first stop was Hell, as in Hell’s canyon. The rally book cautioned that the road from the north may not be paved so I made sure that I monitored my GPS to ensure I was approaching from the south. My GPS had me getting into my hotel by 11pm which was within my plan. Much of the ride after I cleared Kennewick was on US and State routes in Washington and Oregon. I was enjoying the ride but when I looked at my GPS I could not tell if I was approaching the bonus from the north or south because it was a meandering route.  Perhaps I had missed a turn? I elected to make a change and drop down to I-84 which I knew would bring me in from the south.  I knew that would add some distance to my ride but thought the faster speed on an Interstate would offset that, at least partly. I-84 was approximately 20 miles away so I made a turn and headed south.  Instantly I lost over an hour which surprised me, however I chose to continue on. When the time came I got off the Interstate and made my way to the bonus via several National Forrest roads which were in good shape with minimal traffic.  I eventually got there and took my photo nearly 4 hours after I left the hotel.

From there I had some more National Forrest roads as I made my way back to the Interstate and along the way crossed the Snake River and went past one of the dams on the river.  I was conscious that I was constantly loosing time.  As the day wore on I watched the arrival time increase.  At 4pm I saw I had a text from the hotel asking if I needed a handicapped accessible room which I apparently booked in error.  I replied I did not and notified them my arrival time was now 2am (I had added 30 minutes as a buffer). The reply was the desk would not be manned but there was a number to call when I arrived.  Uh oh, hope they answer I thought.

I rode on through the day, taking breaks as I needed them. As I neared Salt Lake City I needed a bathroom so I got off at an exit which had fuel at it and pulled up to a small building with gas pumps and some small farm animals in a caged area, I forget what they were but you could buy some feed for a quarter. Only in America can you charge money so kids can feed your animals. The door was locked with a sign that said “be back soon”. Not having time to waste I got on the bike and rode a few miles and saw a rest area so I pulled in. On the way back to the bike I bought a few bottles of water to dump in my water jug.  I also had one in my tank bag which I dropped in.  I carried the empties over to the recycling bin then hopped on the bike and got back on the road.  I tried to get a quick drink of water and nothing.  Odd I thought, and looked in my right mirror and saw the drinking hose flopping in the wind and no cap on my water jug.  Somehow I had forgotten to put the lid back on after I put water in it.  And I was heading south to Texas where I’d certainly need the water.  Just wonderful I thought. No time to stop and try to buy a new jug so I shrugged it off and figured I’d make due with water bottles. As I neared my destination I saw signs for Mesa Verde National Park, a place I visited when I was a kid which was one of my most favorite places to visit.  With a smile on my very tired face I rode on and came to a stretch of road which had fresh tar and gavel on it. I managed to get through it and a short time later arrived at my hotel at 4:30 am, over four hours later than planned.  I called the number on the sign next to the door and a few minutes later someone showed up to let me into my room. I showered and collapsed on the bed.

Total distance ridden 1,300 for the day, 6,275 for the rally

Day 2, Leg 2 Part II: Pagosa Springs CO – Van Horn El Paso TX

I slept for 4 hours or so and got up around 9 am. My schedule was toast as I had planned on 4am.  I loaded the bike and when I went to get something to eat breakfast was closed so I grabbed two of the beef sticks out of my top case to put something in my stomach and I was on my way.  The roads were great as most were and I found I was passing through the town of Creede CO which I had visited earlier in the rally in the middle of the night.  I was a cool little town and I wished I had time to visit, but alas not this trip.  I continued on and had some traffic and I passed when I could. There were quite a few bikes on the road that were not in the rally. I go to my waypoint and parked, took my photo of the sign for San Juan City which was near the headwaters for the Rio Grande River.

From there I turned around and headed back the way I came, my next stop the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge near Taos NM. I had an uneventful ride and got there with no issues.  Again the scenery was great but with me being behind schedule stopping for a photo was not an option. I found the bonus location which was a rest stop.  I parked and read the rally book.  My objective was to take a photo of the sign for the Rio Grande State Park and a second from the middle of the bridge.  I went for a short stroll to take my photos.  The sign was next to the parking area so I took that first and then headed down a path to the bridge.  Along the way I had to walk around tourists who insisted they stand 3 abreast on the sidewalk while on the bridge and chat so I had to wait for traffic to let up so I could go into the street to get around them.  There were two view points on the bridge so I took a photo from the closest

With that done I headed back to the bike and got on the road.  My next stop was SANDI, an overlook on top of a mountain looking down on Albuquerque NM. I made the 3 hour ride without issue and along the way I thought the area looked familiar.  I passed a sign for Madrid NM which I had visited after the 2015 IBR.  I came to the diner from the movie Wild Hogs so I pulled over and took a quick photo to send to my wife

Back on the bike in less than a minute and I continued on toward the next bonus.  When I got close I wound my way up the mountain to the parking area. Along the way I saw group of people with what looked like a large movie camera and a short distance up the road several identical vehicles on trailers.  I figure I must have come across a movie set of some form.  I made it to the parking area and parked the bike.  I had a ¼ mile hike to the photo location and I took my photo of the sign with the city laid out below me.

I hiked back to my bike and made my way down the mountain.

The reason I had picked this route over some of the other combinations was the number of large bonus locations that were close by.  One such location was Carlsbad Caverns, a place I had read about as a kid and for a brief period of time I thought I was going to visit on this leg.  However it was time restricted and I simply could not get there in time as the last ticket to visit it was sold at 3:15pm and I was well  past that time.  I shrugged off the 5,234 points as I really did not expect I’d be able to get there anyway and set my sights on my hotel for the night in Van Horn TX 400 miles away.  As I made my way past Albuquerque I realized I had not booked a hotel yet so I took advantage of the first rest stop and pulled in.  I prefer Hampton Inns or anything else in the Hilton chain so I brought up my app and searched for a hotel in Van Horn … and nothing.  I opened up Travelocity and searched however there wasn’t much available.  I resigned myself to the fact that I was stopping short of where I had planned and started searching. There wasn’t much between El Paso and Van Horn, however I found one and booked it.  I then went to add it into my GPS and something didn’t seem right.  The address was Ciudad Juarez Blvd. Tomas  Fernandez 7770 Ciudad Juarez.  My tired brain eventually realized that was in Mexico. And I had booked it after 4pm so there was no cancelation. Crap!!! Some people were on the Road Less Traveled Rally, I seemed to be on the Unused Hotel Room Rally as this was my 4th hotel room that I had booked but not used. Oh well, no time to worry about it.  I looked for another and found one in West El Paso. I regretted the fact that I was stopping two hours short of my planned stop, however part of me was glad that I would get off the road two hours sooner.  I checked in around 10:50pm which was still 5 ½ hours behind schedule.

Total distance ridden was around 700 for the day, 2,000 since leaving Kennewick, 7,000 for the rally

Day 3, Leg 2 Part II: El Paso TX – Houston Alice TX

I allowed myself 6 hours sleep that I desperately needed and was up at 5:30am. I packed and was on the road around 6:10am. This was also my rest bonus so by the time I got a fuel receipt to end it I had almost 7 ½ hours for my rest bonus. The first part of the ride was straight down I-10 and there wasn’t much traffic.  I got off the highway and stopped for fuel and something to eat, then headed south on US-67 to Presidio TX for a photo of the post office.

From there I turned east and rode along the Rio Grande river.  The scenery was great and the road had lots of twisties and small hills.  About halfway to the next bonus in Big Bend National Park I came around a corner and entered the town of Lajitas.  And in the middle of town was a golf resort.  The best way to describe the location is I was abso-frigin-lutely in the middle of nowhere.  I shrugged and continued on my way and came to a gas station and in the parking lot was a tow truck in the process of loading a Goldwing belonging to a friend of mine and his girlfriend who were in the rally.  It seems they got a flat and were headed to get a new tire which was waiting for them about 90 miles away.  I confirmed they didn’t need anything and wished them well.  I did make the mistake of going inside for something to drink and it was nice and cool.  The temp outside was around 100 degrees. I drug myself outside and for some reason did not get gas. I continued on my way and found the next bonus and took my photo of the sign for Boquillas Canyon

I realized my call in bonus was due so when I passed a small rest area I pulled in, made my call, added it to my log, and headed on my way to my last bonus for the day In South Padre Island. I realized I was not going to make my planned end for this leg near Houston so I decided to book a room near my next bonus. Unfortunately when I went to book a room, there were none available.  I ended up in Alice TX near Corpus Christie, 7 hours and 500 miles behind schedule.  This was to be a quick stay of a little over 3 ½ hours. I checked in just after 11pm and planned to hit the road at 3am.

Total distance ridden was around 870 for the day, 2,850 since leaving Kennewick, 7,850 for the rally

Day 4, Leg 2 Part II: Alice TX – Greenville SC

As quick as I laid down, my alarm went off and I was up and out of the room.  The plan for the day was to ride 1,700 miles in 26 hours; essentially it was to be “The Longest Day.”  My wife had asked me when I would make it into the finish earlier in the rally.  At the time my plan had me getting in around midnight.  I told her that, but then stated to her “what’s the fun in that?” and told her that I had to make it exciting by sliding in to the finish sideways at 7:59 am. She groaned, and said something to the effect of stress and gray hair.  Now as I was leaving my hotel I noted that my arrival time at the finish was 5am, but I was dead tired and only had 3 hours sleep.  Plus I knew from other riders that I could expect significant traffic delays on I-10 in several spots.  I still had the last bonus for the combination to get in South Padre Island, plus two large bonus locations, the Tobasco Factory Tour which I was really looking forward to and Venice Marina which according to the rally book “to get any closer to the mouth of the Mississippi River you’d need a boat.”  I was still planning on picking these up but did realize that I would need to drop them if I was running behind.

I headed south and was making good time with almost no traffic.  I crossed onto the island and made my way to the bonus.  Surprisingly I was on some side roads and ultimately on a dark tree lined road.  The last few times I had been in the area I was in what looked like a shore town.  I saw a sign that the pavement ended and then suddenly it did.  And maybe 50 feet if that there was water.  Good thing I had slowed down as this could have ended badly … and wet.  I had to take a photo of a sign for Boca Chica beach which I found with little effort

I turned around and headed on my way and on the way out I passed a few other rally riders.  I stopped at a gas station to top off and continued.  I was heading north and around 7:30 am I felt myself beginning to nod off so I pulled into a rest stop to take a 10 minute nap.  At that moment I realized this truly would be the longest day and the likelihood of my picking up the last to bonus stop was slim.

I got back on the bike and was on my way.  I decided to drop the last two stops from my route which really hurt as they were worth 3,667 and 9,438 or over 10% of my total points for the rally. This was going to hurt, however it was much better than getting in late and DNF’ing. I was talking to friends off and on all day as I had done for most of the rally when possible, but today it was more than other days. I pulled over and rested as needed and continued on my way. I ran into several traffic jams and two or three heavy but brief thunderstorms, all before the sun went down. At a traffic jam near Lake Charles LA I exited the highway and hoped to get on a parallel road but a bazillion drivers had the same idea.  I was running out of water and creeping along.  I looked to my right and saw a bar.  It was tempting to simply pull into the lot, grab a cold beer, and simply wait until traffic died down.  However I had a feeling it would not die down in time for me.  I smiled to myself and crept along with the rest of the traffic and got back on the Interstate as there were no other bridges over the lake in the area.

I kept riding and as I did I noted that the time was slowly slipping away and my arrival time was getting closer and closer to 8am and penalty points.  I finally made my turn onto I-65 and was headed north for a change.  It is those small milestones that help me pass the time.  It got dark and I was doing well, however as the night wore on I needed to take my 10 minute naps more frequently. I approached Atlanta around 5am or so and suddenly I no longer had the road to myself, bummer.  Traffic never got heavy but it did slow me down.  As I left Atlanta behind traffic let up.  My arrival time was now down to 7:50 am or so. I needed to use a bathroom so I took an exit an lost 5 minutes.  Then as I was getting closer to Greenville I saw brake lights in front of me and traffic came to a halt.  I crept along and noticed that one lane was closed due to a broken down truck blocking part of the right lane.  I finally got passed the truck and my GPS now indicated an arrival time of 8:05.  Finally, I came to my exit and took it.  As I did I called my wife and when she answered I asked “Do you want anything from McDonalds”. Most of her words were not fit to print but she did ask where I was and I told her at the light down the street from the hotel. The light turned green and I headed down the street following a dump truck of all things, doing 10 mph less than the speed limit.  As I muttered a few choice words I passed the entrance to the hotel so I turned around and headed into the hotel parking lot.  I came to a stop, shut of the bike, put the side stand down so the bike did not fall over, and then tried to fish my ID out of my jacket which took forever. I finally dug it out and stopped the clock at 8:10 am, 26 hours and 1,490 miles since I left my hotel Thursday morning.

Total distance ridden was around 1,490 for the day, 4,340 since leaving Kennewick, 9,070 for the rally

What a relieve it was to be done that leg.  I was exhausted but on an adrenaline high.  It was great seeing my wife and friends in the parking lot, however I wasn’t done as I still had to present myself to be scored.  I gathered my stuff and made my way into the hotel and up to my room where I took a quick shower to reactivate some of my brain cells for a bit.  I set up my laptop and copied all my photos from my camera card so I would have them and took a look for anything that was not rally related.  I found one or two of the ground and my jacket and deleted them, and then turned my attention to my scoresheet.  Everything looked fine and I did not see anything missing (even though there was something obvious).  I gathered my receipts for each rest bonus and found a clip for them, collected my flag, and made my way downstairs and turned everything in for scoring. I didn’t have long to wait and I was ushered into the room.

After scoring I sat down for breakfast with my wife and a few others and had some bacon with my coffee and a side of bacon.  Once done I went up to my room for a well-deserved rest. Wow that bed did feel good.  I slept for a few hours and went downstairs to hang out with my friends. Just like prior years there were stories floating around about this rider who did this, and that rider who did that. After a while it was time for dinner.  As usual the food was excellent and as we sat there happily eating and talking it was easy to forget why we were there.  Then as dinner was winding down it was time for business.  After some opening remarks by Mike Kneebone, our rally master Lisa Landry took the podium and began announcing the riders in reverse order starting with the last rider who was 71st.  After a bit I heard my name, I was 43rd which was about 10 places behind where I finished in 2017.  I was fine with it given how badly I did during the first part of the second leg and how hard I thought this rally was. Then when the last ten riders were left Jeff Earls took over and all ten were called to the podium.  Each was announced with Jeff providing a bit of background on the rider and/or their ride. Then there were two, Wendy Crocket and Mike Heitkamp.  Jeff started his talk and we were all on the edge of our seats. His words were carefully chosen, saying this rider or they, to not give away the name of who came in second or first. Then Jeff said “he” referring to Mike coming in second, with the entire room erupting in cheers for Wendy Crocket who was obviously the winner.  In retrospect, everyone was cheering for Wendy and ignoring Mike who came in second.  Mike, if you are reading this, congratulations on a fantastic ride! And of course, congratulations to Wendy on a magnificent ride!!!

After that everyone hung out talking.  Of course Wendy had a crowd around her, as did Jeff Earls and Lisa Landry. After a few hours the crowd dispersed it was time for bed and my first good night’s sleep for almost two weeks.  And so ends the 2019 IBR for me.

After Rally Thoughts

While drafting this rally report I have had time to reflect on and digest everything that occurred before, during, and after the rally. That is one of the reasons why I write these reports.  My overall thought on the rally remains as I thought shortly after the finish, “Wow What a Ride” I visited places that I have visited in the past such as Yellow Stone and Old Faithful, passed by locations that I had visited when I was young such as Mesa Verde and Wolf Creek Pass, and saw new sites that I never would have thought to visit such as Mt. Saint Helens and the Rio Grande River.  Some places I would have visited had I known about them such as Hells Canyon in Oregon.  I made a trip to British Columbia for the first time and cannot wait to go back. And I skipped the Tobasco Factory Tour due to time but it is on my short list of places to visit, most likely in the summer of 2020. And those roads, just wow.  I am not a fan of twisty roads and I got my fill of them this rally.  I did feel that my technique improved, and if it didn’t at least my confidence did.

I don’t regret most of the choices I made on the first leg other than possibly the photo bonus.  That cost me roughly 90 minutes.  Who knows, perhaps that extra 90 minute of sleep on the first night may have helped me not make as many rest stops on the second day.

And then there is the first part of the second leg.  It is hard to describe how I felt that first day of that leg.  The best way I can think of is by referencing a scene from the movie “The Replacements” which was about a football team during a players strike.  Keanu Reeves who played the quarterback said: “You’re playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can’t move… you can’t breathe… because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand.”

That entire 2 ½ day period I felt I was playing catch up, questioning every decision I had made previously.  Every time I did something I thought I was struggling, digging myself deeper and deeper. I’ve never felt that way during a rally before.   A few months earlier I had a similar conversation with a friend of mine who was a rookie in the rally about breaking the chain of events by stopping and getting a room when things started going wrong.  My advice to him, stop and get a room to clear your head.  That was essentially what I did when I stopped for the night in Olympia and reviewed my options.

For the second part of the second leg I likely could not have gotten on the road much sooner as I needed sleep after spending the night reviewing my route.  In hindsight I should not have included the HELL bonus.  Yes it was over 1,600 points, but my attention should have been focused on getting the combination bonus first.  There were several bonuses I could have picked up after the last bonus in South Padre Island. A better plan would have been to pick them up on the way back to Greenville.

Overall, I placed 43rd, about 10 places behind 2017.  But I am happy with that.  I got to see some amazing places, some I had visited before, some I would have visited if I had known they existed.  I was in British Columbia, an amazing place.  I likely would have never gone there on my own due to the sheer distance from home.  But now that I have I will go back, sometime.  And those roads, just wow!  I would have never intentionally ridden on them during a rally due to the amount of time it takes, however I am glad I did, even though I really had no choice.  I once commented that my first ride to Key West was the hardest ride I have ever done since my gaze was to the amazing view. Well, that was doubly true during the 2019 IBR.

It was commented that the theme of the rally actually had a dual meaning.  The road less travelled, well the roads we travelled were certainly “Less Traveled”  But then there is the poem it comes from, “The Road Not Taken” There are always plenty of them in any rally since it isn’t possible to visit every bonus.  And that was certainly true in this rally as well. I wonder, how long will I (and others?) wonder what would have happened if we would have taken “The Road Not Taken”.