Rally Prep

Once again I was riding in the Void rally in 2017. This rally has three start locations, PA, GA, and TN and always starts on a Friday.  Due to the traffic on I-95 and I-81 I again decided to start in TN and avoid the mess of I-95 south of Washington DC as well as I-81.  This year the TN start was in Franklin TN, just south of Nashville.  I signed up and wrote the dates on my calendar so I did not forget.  A few weeks later I signed up for a two day conference in Chicago for work and when I went to write it on my calendar I realized I had a scheduling problem – the conference was the Wednesday and Thursday before the Void.  I thought the best compromise was to ride to Chicago and then head down to Franklin after the conference on Thursday.  Checking the distance, it was around 800 miles to Chicago and then 600 miles to Franklin. That seemed workable, so I got that approved and was all set.

 Since the Void has a remote start the starting process differs from other rallies. We get our information via email in installments.  The first piece comes two weeks prior to the rally and consists of start and finish procedures for the rally, as well as asking for confirmation of our email address to ensure we receive subsequent email communications. Once we confirm our email address our rally flag and three stickers were sent via postal mail.  The second installment came a week prior to the rally and consisted of the bonus locations in various formats as well as their point values.  This allowed us to start planning a route. It also alerted us to the minimum (777) and maximum (1595) miles we could ride for the rally as well as informing us of a required rest bonus of at least 3 hours, however we had the opportunity for more points for up to 6 hours of documented rest.  The third installment came the Tuesday prior to the rally and consisted of the rally book with the detail of what we were to do at each bonus location as well as some other non-location specific bonus opportunities such as bringing our flag to scoring, making a donation to The Fisher House, and a few combination bonus opportunities.

 When I received the bonus locations hurricane Irma was churning away and was headed up the west coast of Florida and was then forecast to fall apart in TN in the area of Nashville.  Great, too late to change my starting location now!  I planned a route staying to the north to be away from as much of the rain from Irma as possible however that necessitated my heading down I-81 to get to the finish which I had been trying to avoid.  Once I got the rally book I scanned for other bonus opportunities and as suspected there were a few combination opportunities.  I tried incorporating all of them into a route and none produced a better route than I already had.  One combination bonus was interesting, if I picked up the WRI1 and WRI2 boni and claimed the combination bonus I got 60 points, however the two individual bonus locations were worth zero points.  Odd, but not surprising for our rallymasters. That was already in my original plan.  I systematically went through all of the higher point value bonus locations attempting to build a better route but came to the conclusion that my initial route was the best so I stuck with it.

 My plan: make my first stop at a bonus close to the starting point, and then turn northeast up through Kentucky and Ohio, then southwest into PA and finally turning south on I-81 and head to the finish in Fredericksburg VA.  So much for my getting away from I-81, but at least I was not riding on it during a week day. Thursday came and I had an uneventful ride down to Franklin TN. 

And the Void begins

I awoke around 6:30 am and had a few things to do.  I had not had a chance to make my donation to the Fisher House so I did that and used the hotel’s lobby computer to print the receipt.  I grabbed some breakfast at the hotel and took my time packing and loading the bike. With 10 minutes to go I headed over to the gas station for a start receipt.  I had done a test the night before and found the time was fast by two minutes, so I would take that into account when I filled up and sent in my start information.  As I got ready to fill up another rider came over and mentioned his phone had quit working.  Not being one to turn my back on a fellow rider I lent him my phone and he played with it for a minute and handed it back.  I had assumed he sent his start information in so I sent a text letting the rally master know that another rider had used my phone so he would not be confused by receiving two start messages from the same phone. He acknowledged the other rider had used my phone and as I was about to send in a photo of my start receipt he sent another reply indicating he had not received a message from the other rider.  Now I was confused.  I spoke with the other rider and gave him my phone again so he could send his info in.  Once he was done I sent in my information and recorded the start information in my bonus log. I got the confirmation of both messages and informed the other rider.  He thanked me and we both rode off.  However the entire process had me off kilter and I ended up taking 10-15 minutes longer than planned.

 On route to my first bonus, a marker for the center of Tennessee worth 60 points, I got behind some traffic and had limited opportunities to pass.  I had been hoping to make up some of the time I had lost but I ended up losing another 5 minutes putting me 20 minutes behind.  My route did not have a lot of leeway as I had one bonus that opened at 9:30 pm in Steubenville OH and another that closed at midnight in Warren OH.  I had to be at the 9:30 bonus, take my photo at 9:30, and be immediately on the road to make the midnight bonus.  Dropping either was not something I wanted to do as they were the two biggest point values for my entire route.  I got to my first bonus and could not park to allow me to take the photo from my bike so I had to get off and walk over.  I took my photo and since I use the time from my camera (it does not change when I cross into another time zone) I checked the image so I could record the time and I got a message “this file contains no images” Huh?  I reseated the SD card and took another photo and that was fine.  Then the batteries died!  I had checked them the night prior and they were fine. Fortunately I carry spares with me so I changed batteries and rechecked the time to see that I had left my camera on Central Time from the Iron Butt Rally and I wanted it on Eastern Time for the Void, so I changed the time and once again I took another photo. This time it was good and I recorded the bonus in my log.  This entire fiasco took 8 minutes, which is how much time I a lot for each bonus.  The problem is, that 8 minutes includes my overhead for small traffic delays, fuel and other stops, etc.  I should have been out in less than 5 minutes allowing me to close the gap on the 20 minutes I was behind.

 First bonus, marker for the center of TN

 From there I turned north and picked up I-65 towards Louisville KY.  I stopped in Bowling Green KY for a photo of the mascot of Western Kentucky University worth 24 points and then into Hodgenville KY for photos of two statues of Abe Lincoln also worth 24 points. 



From there I continued into Louisville KY where I stopped for a photo of the Pepper Tackle bait shop worth 24 points.  This was interesting as its claim to fame was two very large fish in the parking lot and our task was to take a photo of the bait shop sign without the fish

 So far everything was going just fine however due to traffic I was unable to pick up any of the lost time.  I continued Northeasterly towards Youngstown NY and did manage to get off the highway for a bit when I stopped in Goshen KY for a photo of a giant abacus worth 24 points.

 From there it was back on the highway and I was heading towards Dayton OH. The first of two Wright Brothers bonus locations was located there and my GPS had me getting into Dayton at rush hour and I simply could not afford to lose any time. In actuality, I was falling slightly more behind and needed to find a way to gain some.  Heading into a city was sure to cost me a fair bit of time.  I made the decision to drop both of the Wright Brothers bonus locations.  That gained me all of time I had lost at a cost of 60 points which I thought was acceptable.  Once I hit I-275 which is a beltway around Cincinnati traffic slowed to a crawl and it was only about 4pm.  I got around to the Northside of the city and made my next bonus which was a fire fighting squirrel was in Glendale OH worth 36 points.

 By this time I needed gas so I made a quick stop to fuel up and grab a sandwich. I picked up I-71 and headed to my next bonus in Columbus OH, a giant duck boot at an LLBean store worth 60 points and then continued north a short distance to Centerburg OH for a photo marking the center of Ohio for another 60 points.  I had a nice ride on some backroads which I enjoyed.  I was fortunate in Centerburg as they were having some event there which was just wrapping up for the day.  I was able to get in and get my photo but could imagine anyone arriving an hour or so earlier could have run into some difficulties.



 From Centerburg I headed back to I-70 and took a short dash to the east to Newark OH for a photo of a giant basket worth 24 points.    This used to be the headquarters for a basket company (imagine that!)  but it was not vacant.  Looking at it and imagining what the builder thought when handed the plans for the building an old episode of the TV show the Brady Bunch came to mind where Mike Brady was asked to design a building with a roof that opened like a ladies compact.  Sometimes I wonder why these tidbits from my youth pop up …  Anyway, here is a my photo of the basket building


 From there I had a short ride to Byesville OH for a photo of a coal miner worth 36 points before I turned north to St Clairsville OH for the first of my two largest stops, a photo of a chef outside a pizza place worth 144 points.  This is where our rally masters tried to trick us up as this stop did not become available until 9:30 pm, however stopping there left one a very tight schedule for the another large bonus location in Warren OH which was a Friday only bonus so I needed to take my photo before midnight.  As I exited I-70 I was right behind another rider and passed a third headed back to I-70.  We arrived at the bonus location at 9:40 which meant I was just a few minutes behind schedule.

 Miner photo in Byesville OH


 Chef photo in St Clairsville OH


 After Chef bonus I was concerned that I would not make the large bonus in Warren OH.  My plan only had 5 minutes to spare and I was already 5 minutes behind schedule.  I had 3 stops before Warren OH, a mural of Dean Martin in Steubenville OH worth 60 points, a giant teapot in Chester WV worth 72 points, and a marker for one of the survey points from when the US was surveyed in 1786 in East Liverpool OH worth 60 points.  I needed to make a change to ensure I made the large bonus in Warren OH which was the location of Neil Armstrong’s first flight worth 144 points.  Looking at my route, the Dean Martin mural was almost directly on my route and there was little value in dropping it.  The other two stops required me to backtrack after picking them up and when dropped gained me about 30 minutes.  I decided to play it safe and drop both for a savings of 30 minutes and a cost of 132 points.

 I continued north on some nice roads but the view was wasted as it had been dark for a while.  I came to Steubenville OH and rode through town thinking of my being there in 2014 when riding in my first multi day rally, Butt Lite VII. I came to the area where the stop was and there were people all over the place, some walking 3, 4, or 5 abreast in the middle of a road totally oblivious to me being behind them.  I got through the mess of people and stopped to dig out my rally book to see exactly where I needed to take my photo and I spotted another rider so I rode over to where he was and stopped behind them.  Confirming in the rally book that I was in the right spot I snapped my photo and documented the stop.  Just then the other rider looked up and said hello.  I recognized him instantly as one of the top riders starting in TN and said hello.  My thought at the time was if I was seeing John here I must be doing something right.  I pulled out wishing him luck and continued on my way.

 Mural of Dean Martin


 As I was riding I decided to check my status.  My GPS had me getting to the next bonus by 11:40.  I took another hard look at where the TPOT bonus was and noted that while in WV it was only just across the border.  I weighed my options and when adding it back in I saw it only added a few minutes to my route and I would get in to Warren with 10 minutes to spare.  Thinking that winners won because they took chances I decided this one was worth the risk so I added it back in.  After recalculating my route my second GPS locked up. This GPS is also my source for music while I ride.  Since the power button no longer works I can only shut it off by removing it from the cradle and if that fails by pulling the battery.  I removed from the cradle and nothing.  I cannot remove the battery while riding so I would do that after I got the bonus in Warren since each minute counted. 

 While heading to the teapot bonus my bluetooth headset alerted me that the battery was running low.  I carry a small battery pack in the breast pocket of my riding jacket just for this purpose so I pulled the micro USB cable out of the breast pocket of my riding jacket and attempted to plug it into my Bluetooth receiver.  Keep in mind this is something I do on any ride that goes longer than the 12 hour life of my Bluetooth headset and is almost an automatic reflex.  Tt did not go in the first time which is not unusual so I felt the connector and flipped it around since it was backwards.  I tried it again but realized something did not feel right.  I felt the left side of my helmet and realized the control module had fallen off the helmet mount.  The road I was on was pitch black, had a concrete barrier down the center so I could not turn around, and there was really no safe place to pull over.  I had no choice but continue on and forget the lost module.  I had been having issues with the unit because of a stuck pin resulting in no sound in my left speaker and was planning on replacing it when I got home, however I was hoping to have music for the rally. And now I no longer had the ability to make calls on the road which I do from time to time when tired or when I want to check in with my wife to let her know I am doing ok. Such is the cost of riding in a rally sometimes.  Little did I know it would get much more costly before the rally was over.

 I got on US 30 and crossed the river to the WV side and got off the highway.  There was a fair bit of construction and signs that a road was closed, however the teapot sits in the middle of the clover leaf to get back onto US 30 headed west so I made the turn onto the onramp and pulled over behind a construction vehicle to take my photo.  No one paid any attention to me so I assumed I wasn’t the first to do this.  A quick 2 minutes later and my photo was taken, information recorded, camera put away, and I was headed to Warren OH which was an hour away

 I had an uneventful ride to Warren but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous and wasn’t constantly watching my arrival time at the next bonus.  I pulled into the stop and noticed another rider was there.  I had 10 minutes so I pulled out my rally book to confirm what was required and took two photos, one with the sign for the location to demonstrate I was at the bonus location specified in the rally book and another of an easy to spot object that was likely in the example photo used by the scorer, a replica of a lunar lander



 The photos are certainly not of a high quality but they were good enough.  I realized the other rider was the one who I had loaned my phone to and we chatted for a few minutes.  He was able to get his phone to work at the cost of 90 minutes at his wireless carrier’s store and I quietly noted that I was glad I carried my work phone with me on rallies just in case something similar happened to me.  We said our goodbyes and I started looking for a place to get a few hours sleep.  I have found if I stop before my body tells me to I am far better off.  Also, after midnight the online or phone booking applications default to the next day since it is already “tomorrow” so I wanted to find a place before midnight and get it booked.  I found a Hampton Inn in Youngstown OH which was close by so I booked my room and moved on to my next stop, a giant sculpture of a steelworker outside of a scrapyard worth 72 points.


 I then continued on for a few minutes and got on I-80 for an exit or so and then exited for my hotel.  I stopped for my first fuel receipt to start my rest bonus and went in to grab something to eat as I was hungry.  After I inadvertently went the wrong way for 100 or so yards I headed a mile or so down the road to my hotel.  I checked in and the desk clerk was nice enough to let me leave my bike out in front of the entrance.  I thanked him, grabbed my gear, and headed for my room.  I took a shower to wash some of the grime away and booted up my laptop to take a look at my route, go over the rally book and my score sheet to ensure everything was recorded properly and that I had a good overall picture of what my route was for the morning.  I then promptly fell asleep for 4 hours.

 My alarm went off around 5:45 and I only hit snooze once or twice. I got up, dressed, grabbed my gear and went downstairs to load my bike.  I still had 10 minutes or so to continue to collect points for my rest bonus so I scavenged around the breakfast area for something to eat.  No bacon, but I found something that wasn’t too bad for me and headed out for a receipt to stop my rest bonus.  I topped off my fuel tank and got my receipt.  I ended up with just a few minutes over 6 hours, and I got points for up to six hours rest.  Happy with that I was on my way.  My plan for the day was to ride down US 30 picking up 5 bonus locations along the old Lincoln Highway that were part of the LINC bonus combo.  Each bonus was worth 60 points and the combo of all 5 was worth an extra 156 points.  The catch was I could not stop at any other bonus locations along the way and there was one right in the middle. Making the extra stop would be an easy mistake to make and I am sure our Rally Masters planned it that way because that is what they do.

 I had two stops to make before I got to US 30.  One was in Mercer PA for a large bull at a livestock auction yard worth 72 points and then down to Cheswick PA for a photo of a purple elephant on top of the sign for a pool supply store worth 36 points.  It was a nice ride on back roads to Mercer PA and then a short jaunt on the PA Turnpike to Cheswick PA


 From there I was headed to US 30 and the old Lincoln highway for my 5 bonus stops which were part of the LINC combo.  All of these stops were part of a project where High school students enrolled in five different Career and Technology Schools were tasked to create giant sculptures.  These stops consisted of a giant Packard automobile, a giant gas pump, a giant bicycle built for 2 with w riders on it, a giant quarter, and finally a giant apple truck.  I was back in my rally rhythm and making good time at the Packard I pulled up, took my photo, recorded it, and was back on the road in 3 or so minutes

 At the next stop, the giant gas pump, I had to park on a side street so I had to get off the bike, but that still only took 3 or 4 minutes


 At the bicycle I was able to stop without getting off and again was done in 3 or so minutes


 Happy to be gaining time I decided to stop for a top off of the tank and for a short break as I didn’t quite have enough fuel to finish the rally.  I also knew there were sections of US 30 where services were limited and I needed to use a restroom.  While riding I saw I had a call from a friend who was also riding in the rally but without my headset I was unable to take the call.  I spent 10-15 minutes at the gas station and checked my voicemail to ensure my friend who had called didn’t need something.  I shot him a text letting him know I got the message and told him I could not receive calls but if he needed anything to leave a voicemail message and I would stop to check it.  That done I was on my way to my next stop, the giant quarter


And my rally gets more expensive in other ways …

At the giant quarter I was back in my rhythm and again made my bonus stop without getting off the bike and I did not put my kickstand down. I did not realize the front wheel was on a slight rise that ran at a 45 degree angle to how I had the bike parked.  I did my bonus chores quickly and when I went to put my camera back into its case I dropped it on the right side of my bike.  I bent over to pick it up and the bike started slipping to the left.  In my bent over position I did not have the leverage to stop it and over the bike went spilling me on the ground.  I was unhurt other than a slight bruise on my left hip but strung together a few well-chosen words that would make most women blush and got up.  I grabbed my handlebars and the backrest of my seat in an effort to lift the bike.  The angle of the bike due to the slight rise it was very awkward and the bike was actually past the 90 degree point.  Both fuel tanks were full and I was carrying more luggage than usual due to the work portion of the trip so my bike was very heavy with all the weight on the top.  I got the bike about a third of the way up and was having trouble getting it further.  Then I felt a sharp “pop” in the back of my right leg and had no strength in it so I was forced to put the bike down. Two people came running over to help me lift my bike.  As I tried to help them lift my bike I then realized I was in a lot of pain when my hamstring was tightened and I had very little strength in it so I was unable to help them.  They got my bike up and I thanked them profusely.  As I tried to get on my bike I could barely lift my right leg high enough to do so.  I managed to get on and got on the road headed to my next and final stop on the Lincoln Highway, a giant apple truck.  As I continued my leg got worse and I had a hard time finding a comfortable position for my leg.  I feared I had just torn my hamstring.  

 An hour after the giant quarter I came to the giant apple truck and again took my photo from my bike, this time with the kickstand down! 


 From there I headed into Chambersburg PA and then turned south on I-81.  My next stop was a giant apple in Martinsburg WV which was also a time capsule and was worth another 60 points.  I found it but did not like the parking in the street so I parked in a parking lot close by.  As I tried to walk I realized my leg was in bad shape and walking was not fun.  I took my photo, hobbled back to my bike, and went through the ridiculous exercise of trying to get back on my bike.


 I continued south and since I had plenty of time I searched for any other bonus locations that were easy to pick up.  I knew from my planning there was one worth 12 points and as luck would have it I had just passed it when I did my search.  Since there was a fair amount of construction and traffic on I-81 and my leg hurt I decided the 12 points was not worth the effort and continued on.  So much for the winning attitude and taking risks J  Seriously, it was my assessment that 12 points was not likely to make a significant difference in the point standings which was why it was not part of my route in the first place. 

 40 minutes after leaving the giant apple I was at my next stop, Dinosaur Land in White Post VA where I was tasked to take a photo of the two dinosaurs outside the building.  I was able to do so without getting off my bike and was on my way in a few minutes


 From here I was on mainly back roads all the way into the finish at Fredericksburg and I was enjoying the ride and the view.  I got to my next and final stop in Midland VA, a silo painted like a giant corn cob.  I was again able to take my photo without leaving my bike.  I was now done and on my way to the finish.  I had a 35 minute ride to the host hotel in Fredericksburg and despite some moderate traffic and a short 3 mile jaunt on I-95 I got in at 3 pm. 

 Rally Finish and scoring

 When I pulled in to the check in location they recorded my time and I was asked to show one of the stickers that I had been sent.  One bonus was to have a sticker in an obvious place that could be seen at check in (i.e. not in your tank bag) and I had placed the sticker on my auxiliary fuel tank.  I pointed to it and scored another 24 points.  Since this was a 31 hour rally based on your start time with no extra time for paperwork preparation and I started at 8:06 am CDT (9:06 EDT), I was a little over an hour early. This meant I had a little over an hour to go over my paperwork and submit it for scoring.  I pulled into a parking spot and went inside to register and get my hotel room.  That done, I hopped on the bike (literally, hopped!) and rode to the back of the hotel where the other bikes were parked.  I stopped, hopped/fell off my bike, gathered my gear, said hello to a few of the riders, and hobbled into the hotel.  I chatted with a few of the other riders for a bit and then hunted for my hotel room.  Once in the room I showered, dressed in a pair of shorts, fired up my laptop, and went over my paper work.  I recorded the sticker bonus using my end time and mileage as required and knowing there was an additional 24 point bonus for bringing my flag to scoring read the requirements for that.  I noted that it had to be the last bonus recorded on my scoring sheet so I made the proper entry and I was done.  It is worth noting that the Sticker and Flag bonus were in the middle of the rally book and not on the last page as is typical.  Again, just another reason why it is worth taking a few extra minutes to read the entire rally book.

I stuffed my camera card and flag into my scoring envelope and closed but didn’t seal it.  I then realized I had forgotten to put my score sheet in so I checked to ensure my name and rider number were on them and stuffed them in.  Then I realized my receipts for the start and rest bonus were not in the envelope, so I put them in there.  I must have been more tired than I thought!  I pulled everything out to go over it again and double checked the finishing instructions to be sure I had everything.  Satisfied I did, I stuffed it all back into the envelope and hobbled down to scoring and turned in my envelope with 20 or so minutes to spare.  I then relaxed and hung out with some friends who had ridden in the rally and who were also waiting to be scored. 

I had placed my cell number on my envelope and would be called when there were two other riders in front of me to be scored.  I decided I had plenty of time so another rider and I went on a search for some food and a beer.  We found the snack area and since they did not serve slices I asked what was quick to prepare.  I ordered some fried cheese sticks and a beer.  As I was waiting my phone rang and of course it was time to be scored.  I grabbed my beer and asked the other rider to bring my cheese sticks, and hobbled back to the other side of the hotel for scoring.  I got there just in time and was ushered into the scoring room.

Another rider from the Iron Butt Rally was scoring me and I sat down with him.  Forgetting the process I opened my envelope to dig out my stuff, laughed that I was doing his job, and put it down.  He did the usual steps of bringing up my spreadsheet for scoring, entering my finish time, start and stop times for my rest bonus, and copying all of my photos onto the network drive for the rally.  He reviewed my scoresheet and commented that several riders had not recorded the FLAG entry last as required in the rally book.  Being happy that I read the rally book we proceeded to review my photos and record the claimed bonus locations.  I don’t know why but I always like it when I have a few locations my scorer had not seen before.  Perhaps it is because I am hopeful that I went above and beyond what other riders did.  However sometimes it seemed like I simply had gone off in the wrong direction.  Who know which is was this time.  We finished and totaled up my score.  It was in the area I had expected but I am not one to typically come to scoring with my score already calculated.  I know I should because scorers do make mistakes, but the desire to be done typically over rides this for me.  Maybe that will be my goal for next time.

 Banquet time!

I hung out with the other riders waiting for the start of the banquet. When it was time the door to the banquet room opened and we all went inside.  Eventually food was ready to be served and we sat down.  Once again the food was excellent. I was seated at a table with the rider who I had lent my phone to at the beginning of the rally as well as a few others who I knew. After dinner the more vocal of the two rally masters got up and started. I was surprised that I was called out for assisting another rider at the start as I didn’t think it was anything special.  A few others were noted including the rider who had forgotten to delete all of his vacation pictures from his camera card and once the penalty points were added up he had such a large negative point value that it eclipsed the prior “record”.  I am sure someone will eclipse it in the next year or two.

As we were talking at the table the third place winner for the TN starters was called up.  I didn’t quite catch the number of points he scored but I thought it was less than mine.  Then the second place finisher was called up and the number of point he scored was definitely less than mine.  And then my name was called.  Holly cow, I won for the TN starters!  My first rally win!  I was shocked! 

The GA and PA starters were called up as well.  The GA starters had a tough time as their starting location was changed at the last minute because the town they were to start in was hit hard by the hurricane early that week and there was still flooding and large scale power outages.  As for PA, it is typically that largest group of starters for the rally and this year was no exception.  Unsurprisingly, this year the winner for PA was the winner of the 2017 Iron Butt Rally (and the only two time winner). Eventually the banquet ended and many of us hung out at talked.  A large group wandered across the street to a restaurant to hang at the bar. I had plans to join them but never made it.  I hung out in the hotel until around 2am before calling it a night. For me, the best part of the rallies is catching up with friends.  However, having the 1st place trophy in my back pocket wasn’t bad either J

My route

And my trophy

Was it worth it?  Of course it was!  Except I could do without the pain!