I was a difficult decision signing up for the 2017 MD2020 as Memorial Day weekend is tough for me due to other commitments, however I realized I needed the practice for the 2017 Iron Butt Rally starting four weeks later so on March 22 I registered. I had some scheduled maintenance to do on my bike to prepare it for the Iron Butt Rally but that would be long completed by then, or so I thought.
I had a leaking base gasket for my rear cylinder which I replaced without incident on April 8th. This really is not a trivial task as I need to remove the head and cylinder to replace the gasket.
Then on April 9th I tackled my next maintenance project, replacing the primary chain and sprockets. I removed the primary cover and the first thing I noticed was the clutch hub was wobbling on the shaft, however the nut was still tight. That wasn’t a good sign. I removed the clutch hub, primary chain, and from sprocket and found the bearing for the transmission main shaft was missing the cage that holds the actual ball bearings in place
I had a decision to make, do I rig up some tool to pull the bad bearing and replace it? Or do I pull the engine, split the cases, and replace all of the bearings. Since the engine had 206,000 miles on it and I had no idea what the rest of the bearings were like, I chose to pull the engine and replace all. Doing the work was time consuming however it went fairly smooth. With the help of a good friend I replaced every bearing in the transmission plus two for the engine crankshaft. I installed the engine and had it running on Sunday May 14th, Mother’s Day.
I started the engine and it did sound like it was making noise in the top end of the engine, however Sportsters always make a lot of noise in the top end. I chalked it up to my running a different oil and my imagination as I certainly could not have done anything that wrong since it is such a simple engine. I took it out for a short 2 mile test ride and did not make it home. I called a friend who came and picked the bike and I up and brought us home where I immediately started looking for the problem. I removed the front cylinder head and saw the piston
I had destroyed my engine. It seems I must have installed one of the cam shafts incorrectly causing the exhaust valve from the front cylinder to hit the piston and the engine essentially ate itself. Now I was done as there was no way I could get the bike running again before the Iron Butt Rally, let alone the MD 2020 just 2 short weeks away.
Then, my buddy who had helped me said I could use his Sportster for the rally. I accepted his gracious offer with a sigh of relieve since I had spent too much time and money to not start in the Iron Butt Rally. Then other offers came out of the woodwork. I had my choice of several other bikes from other manufacturers, plus a few other friends who had previously said I could use their bikes. I have an awesome group of friends! And the Long Distance Riding community is terrific since I know I could have put the word out that I needed a bike and I am sure I would have had my pick of bikes.
A second lifeline
Then another friend suggested I purchase a used engine for my bike. At first I was against this idea however after checking to see what I needed to do to ride someone else’s bike in the Iron Butt Rally I was informed that crossing into and out of Canada on a bike I did not own could be problematic. Plus I needed a higher level of motorcycle insurance than most people carry and this would be a burden to the owner of the bike I was using. I decided to go with the used engine, and on Friday May 19th it was delivered to the bike shop that does the work on my bikes I choose not to do. I picked it up, took it to my shop where I work on bikes, and proceeded to remove and replace my engine. On Thursday May 25 I started my bike up with the replacement engine and it ran great.
MD 2020 time
While all of this was happening with my bike time moved forward for everyone else. On Sunday, May 21 the bonus listing for the MD 2020 came out. I spent maybe 5 minutes looking at it, imported the bonus locations into my mapping software, and read the rules provided. I said “Huh!!!” and scratched my head, and then moved on. I gave serious consideration to not riding in the MD2020, however I needed the routing experience and the riding as preparation for the Iron Butt Rally since I had been on my Sportster a total of 2 times since October 2016. In March I went to Jacksonville and in April I rode 980 miles in PA. Plus I needed the shakedown ride so I could be comfortable with my replacement engine. So, at 10:30 pm on Thursday May 25th, I began planning my route for the MD2020. At 2:30 am on Friday May 26th I was done. Not done planning, but done physically and needed to get some sleep. I called it a night (morning?) and went to bed.
I had to work ½ day on Friday and as soon as my head hit the pillow it seemed like I was up and getting ready for work. The day went quickly and I was home around noon. I packed quickly, loaded the bonus locations and my route into my GPS, and headed to my shop where I had left my Sportster. By 3pm I was on my way to Martinsburg WV. After a few miles my auxiliary tank stopped feeding so I switched to my main tank. I had changed fuel lines and suspected that the fuel line was too close to the head and vaporizing the fuel causing vapor lock. Nothing I could do about it as I rode so I continued on. I had to stop for fuel about 25 miles from Martinsburg and after I topped off I had a hunch that the cause may be a clogged vent so I loosened the fuel cap on my auxiliary tank. Sure enough, it began to feed and worked just fine for the remaining 30 minutes of my ride. I arrived around 7pm and went straight to the riders banquet where they had just begun distributing the rally books. I leafed through it looking for any boni that was a not location based and found one for a photo of a dairy cow. At the end of the banquet I went to my room, showered, and went to work on my route. I added in one more location in Newport RI, and made some notes as to other locations to add to the route if I was ahead of schedule. I also remembered to write down my route as we get points for declaring it prior to the ride.
My route was around 1400 miles and went something like this:
Martinsburg WV to Ft Indiantown Gap PA
Then to Boston MA
Then to Bloomsburg PA where I would sleep for a few hours
Then to Carlisle PA
Then west out US 30 to Pittsburgh PA
Then back to Martinsburg WV
Around 11pm or so I went to sleep.
And it begins
At 5am or so the alarm went off, and I carted my stuff down to the bike and moved it into position in the starting area and went in for some breakfast. At 5:30 we had a short riders meeting and by 6am we were off. I take my time heading out since my thought is if I need to run and be the first one out of the lot I had already blown it in the planning. About 2 minutes after most of the group left I headed out and made my first stop in Ft Indiantown Gap where we paid a visit to a fallen rallier Lt Col Jim Young who was one of the earlier riders of the MD2020. I was about an hour ahead of schedule so I checked my GPS and found 3 bonus locations close by so I quickly added them in and picked Reed’s Fort, Fort Swatara, and Fort Henry. At Fort Henry the bonus was not at the coordinates provided and several of us went right by the bonus looking for it. When the road turned to gravel we stopped and re-read the instructions. As one rider started turning around she dropped her bike because there was a significant crown in the road and her right foot had nothing underneath it. I helped her up and she headed off, and I was close behind her. Good karma that I surely needed after the prior 2 months. We got the bonus under the watchful eye of a farmer sitting on his tractor and headed out.
From there I was heading east towards Boston. I had tentatively added in the Rhode Island bonus and it only added 45 minutes or so to my route which would end for the day in Bloomsburg PA where I planned to take my 3 hour rest bonus. I made two more stops on my way to Boston including Skylands Manor at the New Jersey Botanical Gardens in Ringwood NJ and Plum Point in New Windsor NY. I was cruising along on I-84 towards Boston and traffic slowed to a crawl. It continued to speed up and slow down many times and I watched my arrival time for my rest bonus in Bloomsburg PA get later and later. Eventually I got to Boston and found the park where the bonus was and it was a mob scene. There were park rangers in the lot gelling cars they could not sit and wait for a parking spot to the dismay of the drivers. I took this as a sign that I could not do my normal trick of simply parking at the end of a row or in an area with the hashed lines indicating no parking. I spied a car backing out so I took its spot and then hunted for the marker for Fort Independence. I found it after a few minutes and took my photo. As I walked back to my bike I saw other riders pulling up and parking in areas with the hashed lines and the rangers letting them stay after a brief chat. Oh well…
I headed south for my next bonus near Newport RI, Fort Wetherill State Park. Had no issues finding it other than my ezpass not being read. The toll taker tried to help and suggested that I remove it and hold it up in the air, but I simply did not want to take the time so I gave her the cash and moved on. Once I had my photo I pointed my bike west towards Bloomsburg. I had a 300 or so mile ride with no planned stops along the way. I did have a growing issue, my rear brakes were intermittent. I needed to stop for a break so I pulled into a rest area and took a look at my rear pads. It turned out the issue was due to a small clip that keeps the pads in place. It was no longer doing its job and was allowing the inside pad to slip and rotate so it was sometimes between the caliper mount and brake rotor and sometimes wasn’t. I put it back in place but short of removing the brakes there wasn’t much I could do other than use the rear brakes sparingly. I continued on my way. As I got close to where I planned my rest bonus I decided to add in one stop a few miles away, a historical marker for Fort Wheeler. I followed my GPS and did not see the marker so I pulled into a gas station. I read the rally book which confirmed I was in the right place, so I rode up and down the street. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the marker right at the intersection next to the gas station I was in. I got my picture and headed to my hotel a few minutes away. Stopped for a receipt to mark the start of my rest and checked into the hotel around 11:45 pm.
Three hours went by quickly and I was out and getting my receipt to end my rest bonus around 2:50 am. My next bonus was just down the street, a historical marker for Fort McClure. The next few bonus locations were a string of historical markers or other signs which highlighted old forts built during the French and Indian War when General Forbes marched from Carlisle PA to Pittsburgh to attack Fort Duquesne. Everything went smoothly and I found myself riding with two other riders from the rally stopping at the same bonus locations. The second to last bonus had both a historical marker and a granite memorial marking the location of an encampment. The rally instructions were clear in that we had to take a photo of the granite memorial, however approximately half of the riders took a photo of the historical marker despite the fact that the rally book had a photo of the correct object. This cost most of those riders dearly at the scoring table as they lost a combination bonus and a multiplier which had severe ramifications to their score.
The last one in the string overlooked the City of Pittsburgh where Ft Duquesne (renamed Ft Pitt once captured) use to be. There were a few other riders here and for the most part we were all done. I checked my GPS and decided to pick up a few more that were more or less on my way back to rally headquarters. I had a nice tour of some of the local neighborhoods of Pittsburgh and picked up the last two bonus locations. At 10:30 am I pointed southeast towards Martinsburg WV and arrived around 1:30pm with about 30 minutes to spare.
I took a shower which is my standard process before scoring so 1) I smell better and make a better impression on the scorer and 2) I feel more awake and am hopefully less likely to forget something I need for scoring like a critical receipt. At scoring I lost no points which was a relief. During the finishers banquet we were treated to a great meal and then the results were read. I ended up finishing in 6th place which is the highest I have ever finished in a rally.
In hindsight, I could have done much better. I passed right by 3 relatively large bonus locations near Morristown NJ and did not realize they were there. I chalk this up to my last minute decision to head for Boston coupled with the fact that I only had a few hours to plan a route rather than several evenings. But as they say, shoulda coulda woulda! I planned my route and I rode it, I have no one else to blame. I was happy with the fact that I planned a decent route and was able to ride it and add to it, a certain improvement of my routing skills. Now if I can work on my efficiency so I can have more riding time I will be able to move up another notch.
Here are some of the photos I took
Fort Henry marker
Foot Independence in Boston
One of the many markers for Forbes Road
The monument that around 50% of the participants got wrong. To it’s right you can just see the edge of a historical marker. Since most had taken many photos of that type of marker denoting Forbes Road many made the mistake of simply taking a photo of the marker rather than the memorial.
Looking down on Pittsburgh
Next to last bonus, the Braddock Carnegie library, first Carnegie library built in the US