A narrative of my participation and lessons learned in my first Mason Dixon 20-20 rally. (Or to put it more succinctly, READ THE RALLY BOOK, STUPID!)
First, let me say I wrote this for an audience that is not into rallying so if I am stating the obvious that is why.
I decided to register for this rally with about 3 weeks remaining until the start. I only had a basic idea of what to expect since I had participated in the Void rally twice plus a few smaller rallies. What I have learned so far is that one cannot know what to expect other than that a rally will start at the time and place advertised and ending at the time and place advertised. Other than that, we are pretty much at the whim of the rally master and whatever evil staff he has to rely on to come up with the rally. In both the Void and MD 20-20 we got a list of locations and associated point values a week in advance. This allows us to take our time and build a route that we are happy with. Or at least, one that we are comfortable with. However, this is where things change. In my two experiences with the Void we received our rally books several days before the start of the rally so we could take our time, read them, and understand them. We could be sure we fully understood what we had to do at the locations we selected, could make changes if we didn’t like what we saw such as having to take long walks in the woods, of allow for more time if we needed to do so. This rally differs in that we don’t get to see our rally books until the morning of the rally. Prior to the rally, the rally master made a simple statement: “For the sake of your planning, it is highly recommended that you allow about five  additional minutes to acquire every bonus. This would be above and beyond your normal planned stop time” This seemed like a strange comment to me. For those who have not participated in a rally, 5 minutes is a long time at a bonus location. My route had about 30 locations so 5 additional minutes at each is 150 minutes or 2 ½ hours. What on earth could we do?Hold that thought! My plan was rather simple. We were tasked with heading to Delmarva and the Norfolk area on Memorial Day weekend, and it was supposed to be a really nice weekend. I know what shore traffic is like, and I have crossed the Bay Bridge during the summer before and it was ugly. My plan, head straight to Delmarva and get across the Bay Bridge as early as possible and beat the traffic. Then fide down Delmarva picking up all the large bonus locations, plus there very big ones in the Norfolk/Newport News area, then work my way back towards the north and ultimately pick up the mandatory bonus location in Ft Indiantown Gap National Cemetery and head for the finish. When planning the area for my mandatory rest bonus I noted I was not far from the host hotel. I made a few tweaks to my route and presto, I was scheduled to get to the host hotel around 2:30 am which is when I wanted to take my rest bonus. Seemed easy!
Due to my being short on vacation time I had to work Friday. To ensure I could get there early enough on Friday so I could check in and get a decent night’s sleep I rode out Thursday evening and work from my hotel during the day on Friday. We had some nasty thunderstorms with hail, high winds, and heavy rain on Thursday so I had to delay my departure until 8pm. I still got rain on the way out and was treated to a light show with some lightning, but nothing too heavy. I added an auxiliary fuel tank to my Sportster a few months ago and with a 400 mile range it was going to be a huge time saver for this rally since I should only have to stop for fuel 2 or 3 times. However, two things were conspiring against me on this. One was the rally master and his incorporating a combo bonus of collecting a fuel receipt from 5 states including Washington DC, or that was what I read. The other was that my fuel tank was not flowing enough fuel to run the bike. I found that I could leave the valve open while running on the regular tank and both would feed. At least I was not carrying around 30 pounds of dead weight. Other than that I had an uneventful three hour ride to the host hotel inMartinsburg WV. Well, if you don’t count the screaming I did when I realized I had forgotten the power supply for my work laptop … Friday morning came quickly and I fired up my work laptop and did my work. I was actually having a busy day and my battery in my laptop did last most of the day fortunately. As I was working I took a few breaks and greeted some of the riders as they came in. At the end of the day I put my laptop away and went out to hand with some of the riders. Some faces I know, some I didn’t. We had dinner followed by a brief our rider’s meeting where we were given the schedule for the day, and then a novice/rookie meeting where our rally master went over the basics of a rally including some of the do’s and don’ts of rallies. Our schedule, line up our bikes at 4:30 am, riders meeting at 5:00 am, and start after the riders meeting which would likely be 6:00 am. I was sharing a room with a friend and my rally mentor. As we were getting ready to sleep he gave me a piece of advice. His words were prophetic, in the morning don’t go blasting off as soon as we are released, take a few minutes and READ THE RALLY BOOK. With that, the night was over since we had to be up bright and early.
Saturday morning came rather quickly. We lined up our bikes, went in for breakfast, and then for our rally meeting where we were handed our rally packets. We had 41 bikes with one being two-up. Also noted was the fact that there were 3 families participating with one having 3 generations which was pretty cool. Once we were allowed to open our envelopes we dug into our rally books. Trying to be a good rally participant I only skimmed the rally book and focused my attention on the rally master where it belonged. And then there it was, the explanation of the mysterious five minutes mentioned above. A large percentage of the bonus locations were not at the coordinates we had been given for planning purposes. What we had were directions to the actual bonus and an address, intersection, or other identifier to find the bonus. Many of us probably did not fully comprehend the impact of that on our schedules at that point. To do that, one would have to READ THE RALLY BOOK. What did I do? Well, I read the instructions at what I had to do at each of the locations I had selected for my route. They were all simple. For the most part I had to take a picture of something. One I had to be in the photo, one I had to buy food at a diner. I did see two wild card bonuses, one I had to get a receipt for a purchase of something with cheese, the other I had to buy two lottery tickets. I did see the combo fuel bonus but I didn’t fully read it since I KNEW it said get gas receipts in five states including Washington DC. No problem as I had all five stops covered as I was stopping for bonus locations in VA, PA, and MD. We were allowed to use our receipt for our rest bonus and for the combo bonus and since I was taking my rest inWV that was covered. That left Washington DC and since I was going close to it as I headed to the Bay Bridge into Delmarva I dropped down and caught the corner of DC and would get a quick shot of fuel and that coveted receipt. No worries, except I didn’t fully … can you guess? If you guessed READ THE RALLY BOOK, you guessed correctly.
At 5:45 am we were released. I learned a long time ago as a pilot not to rush your departure since that is when things are forgotten. It is best to simply be efficient, so most of my bike was already loaded. I gathered the gear I was wearing, walked out to my bike, fired up my two GPS’s, and I left. I wasn’t the first bike out, but I wasn’t the last either. I was headed for my first stop in Ellicott City MD. I came to the coordinates which was an intersection and then I broke out my rally book. It said something like this: From the intersection ride 3 miles west on road XYZ until you come to the clock. Take a picture of the clock next to the train station. WHAT! I had expected something like walk to X and take a photo, not continue to ride for 5 minutes. Plus, maybe when I was younger I could have remembered the instructions, but I was happy to remember the distance and direction. If I had multiple turns I was going to have to stop at each turn and read the next one. This was going to be interesting … I blasted by the clock, turned around, checked my rally book, got my photo, and was off to my next stop which was a fuel stop in Washington DC for my fuel receipt. At least that was an easy one. Got my fuel receipt after missing a turn, and was off to my next stop, Annapolis MD and a photo with Alex Haley. I rode into town and got to the provided location. Cracked open the rally book and I had to ride down street x, slight right turn on y,turn on z, blah blah blah, and take your photo with Alex Haley at the city docks. And I had to be in the photo. I headed on my way, got into a traffic circle, past the road I was supposed to turn on so I stayed in the circle, made the turn on the second go around, and found my way to the docks. Found a place to park and noted that there was a nice wall to set my camera on so I could take my own photo with the timer so I did not need to find some nice cooperative local resident to take my photo. Go that done and remembered a suggestion to read the rally book to see where you were going next. I also started reading the directions on how to get to the bonus location so I knew what to expect when I got to my coordinates. With that I was off for my next location. This cycle was repeated for most of the day until I had a revelation rather late in the day which we will come to later. I had a few surprises along the way. One was a surprise ferry ride on the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry in MD. I was luck in that I got there the same time the ferry did, others mentioned they got there in time to see it sail away and they had to ride around. But for the most part the addition of 5 minutes helped me and I was mainly on schedule for much of the day. Then I had a big one. I got to a set of coordinates, pulled into a parking lot, and read the rally book. It said something like, proceed down road X 8 miles, to … Wait, 8 MILES! And I was headed south, the directions had me go west, and since I was on the western shore of Delmarva there were all kinds of bays so I could not simply turn south, I had to back track. That 8 miles meant 8 out, and then 8 back. Plus a few minutes for a photo meant 20 minutes for this stop. Did all that and ended up being 30-45 minutes behind schedule. Started to catch up with a few bonus locations being quick ones, plus I had made adjustments to Microsoft Streets and Trips to lower the average speeds on smaller roads which was helping to provide a more realistic schedule. Then I came across another one where I had to go 5 miles the wrong way, turn and go another mile or so, and take a picture at a historical marker for a Confederate General. Being it was Memorial Day weekend it was suggested we bring two small flags and place them at locations of our choosing. I chose this marker since it was in a small town. The irony of placing US flags at a memorial for a Confederate General did not strike me until later. Since I spent a few extra minutes here I ended up being an hour behind schedule.
Then I remembered I still had to buy my two wild card items, something with cheese and $2 in lottery tickets. I was not sure if a cheeseburger at McDonalds would provide a receipt stating cheeseburger or if it would abbreviate it somehow that would mean it would not count. I chose to stop at a Royal Farms gas station around 4pm after I crossed into VA on US 13. Walked about for 5-10 minutes and was eyeing up a turkey and cheese sandwich and realized how hungry I was. Then I saw the perfect item, cheese sticks! I grabbed one, put the sandwich down, and grabbed an Italian Hoagie. As I was walking to the register I spied a lottery ticket machine so I got my tickets, paid for my items, went outside, and decided to take a short break and eat. I ate and then pulled out the rally book to fill out the information needed for the bonus. I dug in the bag for the receipt, and … No Receipt! Went inside, begged to have a reprint, discussed what I bought, and she found it. Walked outside and took a look at it and I had a receipt stating I purchased a cheddar stick, no cheese. Damn, just wasted 20 minutes. Stuffed the lottery tickets into my waterproof container with my receipts and did not READ THE RALLY BOOK to confirm I bought the correct items. Blasted off and was headed to my next stop, the Exmore Diner. This is where I had my revelation I mentioned earlier. I have known locations in the rally book. I can simply substitute the actual location for the coordinates given in advance. And it only took me 12 hours to figure it out! Popped the diner into my GPS, and headed to the diner. Got there and saw another rider as he was leaving, went inside, ordered a soda, then I saw it. A milkshake machine. Being that I ride with a group and a good friend of mine loves vanilla milkshakes I felt I owed it to him to get a shake, even if it was chocolate. What impact did that have? Only another 10 minutes wasted waiting for my shake. Next stop was the Chesapeake bridge tunnel and a receipt for crossing the bridge. Cool, I would gain 8 minutes. Tried to program in the location for my next stop which was a restaurant but could not find the town. Decided I had wasted enough time, so I pulled off my ez-pass so I was not paying for the toll twice, and headed for the bridge. crossed it into Virginia Beach and headed towards I-264. Needed fuel in VA for my combo bonus so I stopped in a 7-eleven and decided that I would also go inside and get my cheese receipt. I spent 20 minutes wandering about looking for something with cheese. Settled for Mac and cheese, went to pay for it and now there are 8 people in line. Finally got out, stowed my Mac and Cheese, filled in the proper spots in the rally book, stowed my fuel receipt without recording it in the rally book since I could do that later, and I was off. Found my next location in the GPS and got there with little effort even though it was another 5 or so miles past the location given. On the way back towards Newport News I was on US 17 and I believe the James River Bridge. Traffic was light and I was moving along just fine. Didn’t realize how well I was moving along until I started coming up to the section that opens and saw the nice VA State Troopers off to the side. Moved left to give them room and looked down to see I was moving slightly more than the speed limit. Unfortunately, the nice VA State Trooper wanted to chat with me and after a few pleasantries he returned my driver’s license and gave me a piece of paper to remember the visit we had.
I was now hopelessly behind schedule and there was no hope of catching up. I did have a few bonus locations I could drop, but I just did not want to drop them since they were two of the larger ones even though they would give me 3 hours. Then I saw an inefficiency in my route, so I was able to drop a smaller point bonus, move some waypoints, and gain about 1 ½ hours. I was now replacing the provided locations with the actual ones and that was working smoothly. I bumped into another rider at on location where we had to take a photo of an old steam powered engine next to a post office. We parted ways and as I was continuing on I realized I knew where I was. I was only a few blocks from a friend’s place! Since it was around 11PM and I had no time, I kept going. I was now going to get to my rest bonus a few hours early due to my re-routing and I decided to see if I could add any locations to replace the points I dropped since I was heading back a different way. Found I could add 3 locations for more points than I dropped, and I was still scheduled to get to my rest bonus earlier than scheduled. Things were coming together! Grabbed my last bonus for the night and I was southeast of Washington DC. Headed towards the hotel and things were going great. I was starting to feel the fact that I had been on my bike for 21 hours and then as I was getting on I-270 I got in the wrong lane. Followed the GPS and got off at the next exit expecting to be routed back on my way. I ended up on city streets, then suburban streets, and then country back roads. Near Washington DC. Where the heck was I??? Then I noticed that my two GPS’ had me getting to the hotel at different times. One said 3:15 am, the other 3:58 am. Hmm… Did some digging and it seems the GPS I was following was actually taking me to Ellicott MD, my first bonus location and I was to arrive there at 3:15. Fixed that, ended up on I-70 west, to I-81 south to the hotel. Got my rest start receipt around 3:55 am and headed across the street to the hotel. Since I never checked out I saved a few minutes since I could go straight to the room. Decided to take a few moments and fill in the blanks for the combo bonus with information from my gas receipts. Washington DC, check. VA, check. MD, check. PA, will get that in the morning since there is a gas station right next to the National Cemetery, no check but ok, DE,WHAT!!!!!! What I knew was 5 states including Washington DC was actually 5 states PLUS Washington DC! In other simpler words, I needed 6 fuel receipts! Not 5! With that, I decided to stop and get some sleep. Set the alarms, crawled in bed, and slept.
I heard my alarm, hit snooze. Heard another, snooze. Third time, got up, showered, and had a thought. How long will it take to go from Martinsburg WV, to Ft Indiantown Gap, to Newark DC, and back to Martinsburg? Per Mapquest it was 6 hours. I had 5, oh well, there goes that 413 points! Loaded my bike, grabbed some food, and was off. I had a 30 minute cushion between my planned time to get back to the hotel and the finish time. Unlike the Void where I got penalty points for being late, this one if you are late you are time barred and did not finish. No way I was going to let that happen so I dropped two locations, one in Emmitsburg MD and one in Gettysburg. That way I could keep a larger bonus. Next stop was to take a photo of the street lights in Hershey PA which went smoothly, then headed for Ft Indiantown Gap. I arrived at Ft Indiantown Gap and headed into the Cemetery. As I turned the corner I saw hundreds of US flags along the driveway, what a sight! Worked my way through the cemetery and found the grave I needed, took my photo, said hello to a fellow rider, and was on my way. Made the next stop and saw my cushion was down to 20 minutes which I didn’t like. My next and last stop was a large bonus location on the other side of Harrisburg PA and I was nervous about time, so I elected to drop it and add back in Gettysburg and Emmitsburg with the thought that I could bail at anytime and head back. I lost a few minutes in Gettysburg since traffic was heavy, but was mainly able to route around it, find the marker I needed, and continued south on US 15. Made Emmitsburg and got the last bonus, and now I was headed for the finish. I had a great ride through mountains on some wonderful windy roads. They would have been fun if I wasn’t behind a truck trying to negotiate the road and was doing 20 mph at most. He turned off and I had a 10 minute cushion. Made it to the host hotel, and checked in. Finished!!!! Now I had an hour to complete my rally book. I headed to my room, opted for a nice shower, and sat down with my rally book. I complete each bonus as I get them, so it was mainly a review. I knew I had lost the combo bonus, I filled in the info for the end, checked the info for the rest bonus, and went to fill in the last bonus, the “easy” wildcard bonus for buying the lottery tickets. As I was filling it in I (finally) read all the bonus information. It went something like this: Purchase $2 of lottery tickets from PA, MD, or WV and turn in the unscratched lottery tickets. Hmm, where did I buy these? Since they came from a machine I had no receipt. I read the tickets and no state. Then I remembered, I had most likely purchased them at the Royal Farms in VA when I got my “cheddar” stick. Re-read the rally book and came to the conclusion that VA was not in the list and there went another 50 points. Nothing I could do with it, so I collected my stuff and went for scoring.
Scoring went well, I lost no more points, and was given my final score of 5946 points which matched what I had calculated. At the rider banquet, awards were given and scores were read. Of the 41 bikes that started, all but one finished. The one who did not did so due to time and nothing more. Where did I end up? 14th place out of 40 bikes. Considering the quality of riders I was with I was very pleased with my standings. Some quick mental math and had I followed the excellent advice given which was: READ THE RALLY BOOK! I would have likely placed 11th. I had ridden 1246 miles in 32 hours with a 4 hour break. Not bad for my 3rd rally.
What did I learn?
What I am doing well: I am getting pretty good at being efficient at my bonus stops, my auxiliary fuel tank is a great aid to reduce the number of fuel stops and saves me 10 minutes per fuel stop, and I have Microsoft Streets and Trips set up so my planned schedule is close to what I will see on the roads which means I should not have to drop anything unless something goes wrong of traffic is simply bad.
What I am not doing well: I need to remember to READ THE RALLY BOOK! For every bonus I am planning to claim including any wild card or combination bonus, I need to stay focused when I do stop for fuel or to purchase items, and I need to really pay attention to my route beforehand. If I can save 3 hours by dropping two bonus locations then something is wrong and I should plan more scenarios.
Thanks for reading my rally report. I am really starting to enjoy them more and more and as I improve they are becoming more fun. And more importantly, I am starting to meet lots of great people from all kinds of backgrounds and all that matters is that we share this common addiction to competitive rallies.
Not many photos since I was focusing my time on the rally. Also, this one differed in that they kept my camera card which is fairly standard. I forgot to copy the photos off
Here are the bikes in the parking lot of the host hotel. Most are BMW’s. Honda Goldwings and ST1100/1300s are also popular. We also had one brave rider on a Ninja 300. There were about 5 Harleys in the lot, of which I was the only Sportster.
Surprise, ferry ride time! This was the Oxford – Bellevue MD Ferry
Sunset on Saturday eve somewhere in Richmond County VA. Just had to stop and share
Good example of what I had to take pictures of. Also a good example of what not to do, leave your flag. That is not mine. Poor rider realized he forgot it when he was 105 miles away and came back for it. He didn’t realize you could substitute your face for your flag (and neither did I until I got back)
Fort Indiantown Gap National Cemetery. Just had to spend the time to take pictures of this. Note that Willi was along for the ride and you can see his head popping out of my bag.