Several of my friends from my HOG chapter have been riding in an event called the Crotona Midnight Run almost since I joined the chapter in 2006. After hearing about a few of the rides over the years it peaked my interest and once I started riding year round I had thoughts of participating however I would either forget about it or I’d have a conflict. And then in December 2017 I saw the 2018 event had been moved from February to January and I was free the weekend of the ride and the weekend of the snow date. “Could this be the year?”
What is a Road Rally?
Before I go any further I should explain this event. It is referred to as a “rally” however it is different from the rallies I normally participate in which are essentially timed scavenger hunts. This is a “road rally” and is something somewhat common in sports car and antique car clubs. In fact, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) defines a road rally as “a scenic drive with a purpose” and even has a webpage and RoadRally Board specifically set up to create rules for them. (https://www.scca.com/pages/what-is-roadrally). This event takes place on public roads within the legal speed limit. The challenge is to drive on time, arriving a checkpoints along the route neither early nor late. This event starts at midnight and finished around 6am so there was not a lot of scenery to see. There was a planned two hour break in the middle at a diner. The planned speed for the event was 30mph and bikes left at one minute intervals, so once started you should not see another bike until the break or at the finish if things are going as planned. Of course, how often does anything go as planned?
I began doing some reading online and thought about how I would be able to read directions while riding. I have not had to do this for several years since I switched over to using a GPS. I have a magnetic map pocket that I can stick to my tank however when wearing my modular helmet with the face shield closed it is almost impossible to look straight down to see my tank, plus if I do I am taking my eyes completely off the road and that is something I cannot do for obvious reasons. Looking at my bike I had two useless GPS mounts on my left handlebar (because we could not use a GPS for the event), a RAM ball mount in the center of my windshield that normally mounts my SPOT tracker, and a cup holder on the right handlebar. Not much to work with.
I decided to mount a clip board to my windshield using the RAM mount. I initially planned on mounting a small one with the thought I could fold the directions in half, however that would mean I needed to stop when I got half way down the page. I realized I had room to mount a full sized clip board and could position it so it was not blocking my speedometer. I needed a way to read the clip board as I was riding at night. Poking around online I decided on two clip on LED reading lights so I found some online for cheap and placed an order. My next challenge was a timer. I needed some way to know if I was on schedule, ahead of schedule, or behind schedule. I have a cheap kitchen timer I use for flying instrument approaches however it is not lighted and I wasn’t sure if the numbers would be large enough. Back to the Internet I went looking at purpose built aviation timers as these likely would have a lighted display and a way to mount them. I found one for $40 that had a “light” button on it so I ordered it.
The week before the event I started mounting everything to my bike. I decided to use the RAM mounts to mount everything so it was easily removable. I dug through my various parts spots (I really need to consolidate them) and found several unused RAM ball mounts from old GPS units I was no longer using but I could not find the spare RAM arm I was sure I had. And then I saw it, holding my second GPS on my bike. Off to the bike shop I went since I remembered seeing them on the shelf. I poked around and found a mounting arm and spied a RAM ball mount that attached to the mount for my right grip so I grabbed that as well. I saw an X mount to hold my phone and it looked secure enough that I considered using my phone as my timer but when I thought it threw I realized I would not be able to unlock the phone wearing gloves so I put it back.
I attached a RAM ball mount to the clipboard and mounted it to my windshield. I attached the reading lights to the clipboard and that solved the directions challenge. Next was the timer. I installed the mount and had parts left over, but that was due to it being a universal mount (phew!) I looked at the timer and was trying to figure out how to mount it and saw it had a clip on the back. I thought of several ways of drilling holes in the clip to mount a RAM ball to it, then spied the screw in the center that held the clip to the timer. I took of the clip, drilled a hole in one of the bases to a RAM ball, and attached it and mounted the timer to the bike.
And now a test. I turned off the light in the garage and went to turn on the lights on the clip board and tripped over something before I got to the bike. Garage lights on, clip board lights on, and garage lights off. Voila, let there be light! I could see. However, the clip board lights were far brighter than the timer and were bright white. So much for any night vision!
I solved that issue by using some red tail light repair tape to make the light red which it did and also cut down on the harshness of the light.
Now my bike was ready but was I?
The event draws nearer
As the event approached I was watching the weather closely. A week or so out it looked like we’d get some snow. And it was to be cold. Bone chilling cold with temps in the teens. I was looking forward to riding in the event but not to the temps. As with forecasts they changed every day, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst. Friday came around and I got word they had postponed the event because it was forecast for rain in the morning and then cold temps causing the rain to freeze. I was actually relieved as there was no way I was going to skip it.
The following weekend approached rather quickly and the forecast was great. Temps near 50 during the day and a low in the mid 30’s overnight. I chose to get a room and head up in midafternoon. The start was about 120 miles from me and I was hoping to rest before hand. As I headed out I noticed that the cold had a negative effect on the reading lights as they were no longer flexible and did not hold their position. Nothing I could do about it but I’d need a better solution for the following year. I made the trip up and it was uneventful. I did see a Hooters about 15 minutes from my hotel and considered stopping there for some wings, but decided against it since I was not familiar with the area and had no place to secure the stuff mounted on my bike. I found a diner was right next to the hotel and figured that would be perfect. Plus I could eat something healthy for a change. I stopped at a gas station next to the hotel, topped off my fuel, and then checked in. I walked over to the diner and it was closed. They were only open for breakfast and lunch and it was now 3pm. My other option was a McDonalds, so much for eating healthy. Once back to the hotel I planned to sleep for a few hours, however my body had other ideas. I laid there, restless, unable to sleep. I turned on the TV and that was a mistake as I found one of the newer James Bond movies. I watched that and once over I was still unable to sleep. TV back on and found an Indiana Jones movie so I watched that. Now it was 9 pm and time to head over to the start. I met a few friends who were also staying in the parking lot and was all ready to go at 9:15 when I was told we were leaving. Of course, I was the only one ready. I guess we pulled out around 9:30 or so and made the 10 minute ride to the start location. There were maybe 2-3 other bikes there as we were early as registration did not open until 10:30.
It was obvious this was like the riding events I have participated in. Everyone knew each other and most people welcomed new people. I got the feeling it was like other events where if someone needed something there would be many offers of assistance. We hung out for a bit and more people came in. At 10:30 registration was open and we got in line. I was given number seven which meant I would be the seventh bike to leave and I taped that on my helmet so they could read it at the checkpoints.
Having a low numbers was important as I did not want to sit there for up to 30 minutes or more watching everyone else leave. I also got the route and took a look at it. It seemed fairly straight forward however as I was in an area that I had never ridden in I knew nothing of the roads. We were provided with the distance to each turn and the cumulative distance. Also indicated were street names and whether there was a light or T at the intersection. We spent the next 20 minutes of so figuring the elapsed time to each turn. As I looked at my route sheet I had the distance to each turn, cumulative distance, and elapsed time for each turn. This should be fairly straight forward, how could I mess this up? I figured the hard part would be maintaining a steady 30 MPH and making up time from stop signs, traffic lights, and any slower traffic I came across. Wow, what a fool I can be sometimes!
Here is an example of the first few lines of the route:
CUM INCR Direction at Description
0 0 R CR 80 Lake Rd
1.6 1.6 R CR 23 Ridge Rd
3.0 1.4 L T CR 90 South Mtn Rd
3.2 0.2 S Y South Mtn Rd
Where CUM is cumulative distance, INCR is the distance from one turn to the next, S is to go straight, T is a T intersection, and Y is a Y intersection.
I spent the rest of the time talking to my friends, asking questions, and observing the others in the room. I saw one rider I knew from riding in The Void but lost track of him. I figured I’d catch up with him at the break. There was a 1923 Henderson riding in the event so I went outside to check it out.
I stopped by my bike to put my GPS units away, attach the route sheet to my clipboard, and sync my phone to my Bluetooth headset so I had music during the ride. And then it was time to line up. And of course a group of several Harleys showed up wanting to ride in the event less than 5 minutes from the start time. Glad it wasn’t me!
I repositioned to the exit from the parking lot and found my place behind rider six. And waited. Fortunately it was only six minutes, I would have hated watching everyone leave like I did for the 2017 Iron Butt Rally. And suddenly there was only one bike in front of me. I had written my cumulative times out assuming I would start my timer when the bike in front of me headed out. As he pulled out I started my timer and moved into position and watch the starter’s time. And promptly at 12:07 am on Sunday January 21 I was rolling in the 100th Crotona Midnight Run and suddenly alone.
As I rode on I kept an eye on my speedometer which is not something I am used to as I normally use my GPS for speed information. I kept creeping up to 30mph which was not unexpected. I had a red light here, stop sign there, and got to my first turn and my time was within 10-20 seconds and odometer was dead on. I really thought to myself that the turns should be relatively easy to find when my odometer and timer indicated I was in the correct spot and I could confirm it with reading the street sign. As I’d make the turn I’d read the next line similar to what I do on other rallies except in this event I was reading the time and distance to turn and which way I was to turn. I’d also mentally note whether the turn was a T intersection. This went on for about 15 miles and 30 minutes without incident. I noticed that as I got further down the page it was a little harder to pick off where I was on the directions but it was manageable. I then read my next turn and it said:
CUM INCR Direction at Description
19.2 3.0 BR ramp Sterling Mine Rd CR 74
Ok, what did that mean? Ok, BR likely means bridged (it doesn’t) and I obviously know what ramp means but not in this context. I thought perhaps the ramp was after a bridge so I went with that. I saw a bridge coming up and suddenly I passed a ramp I had not noticed until then and once past the bridge I started looking for a street sign indicating the name of the road and another ramp. After a mile or so the light bulb in my brain fizzled to life and I realized I was probably supposed to take the ramp before the bridge. I yelled many expletives to myself and turned around. As I approached the point where I saw the ramp I saw the road was a divided highway at that point and I could not simply turn left and there was no ramp on the right that I saw. I needed to go down and find a place to turn around. I rode for a mile or more until the divider ended and I was able to turn around and along the way I passed a bike stopped at the ramp presumably trying to figure out what to do and two other bike. I made my U-turn and now my mind started playing games on me. How many ramps did I pass before the one I was supposed to turn at? My timer and odometer were now useless due to the extra 3-4 miles I have ridden and I had neglected to mentally note my odometer when I passed the ramp. For some reason I thought I had passed one ramp along the way before my turn. As I approached it I did not see the street name I was looking for nor did I see the route name that was indicated. And then I saw the bridge and realized I had just passed the turn, again!!! I came to the end of the divider and decided riding the wrong way back to the turn was not the thing to do so I made another U turn, rode the distance to the other end of the divider, made another U turn, and came back for another try. I then passed a sign indicating the junction with the route I was looking for and a few more expletives were said as I almost passed the unlit ramp for the third time. I took stock of the time I was off which was in the area of 15 minutes and the distance which was about 6 miles and said some more expletives.
I was back on course and was getting closer to being on time with each minute that passed. I now had to do math at each turn to figure out the cumulative distance at each turn and had to be sure I stayed on time to be able to identify my turns. It got difficult as I came up behind other riders as they were doing a steady 30 mph and we were on small back roads so passing opportunities were limited. I also had to make a choice, do I rely on my LED headlight and stay warm with my heated gear? Or do I flick on the super bright auxiliary lights to turn the road into daylight but get cold? Light or heat, I had to decide on one or the other as my now stock charging system could not produce enough power to provide both. As it was getting warmer I opted to turn down the power to my heated pants and turn on my lights. What a difference! And with the route being all back roads and so early in the morning there was little oncoming traffic to cause me to turn them down. I was fairly close to being on time but still a few minutes or two behind schedule. Then I came around a turn and passed some fools sitting in lawn chairs next to the road waving a flashlight at me. As I blew passed them I realized it was likely a surprise checkpoint. I passed them by about 50 feet so I backed up so I could check in. Once done I proceeded on my course. Because of my backing up I lost a minute or so but was able to get back to being relatively on time.
I continued on for approximate 90 minutes and I was looking for a sign for Route 17K which should not be hard to miss. Unfortunately I was not quite on time and had lost track of how many miles I was off so I managed to pass the turn. A ways down the road I passed another rider, he was one of my friends and was actually the first rider out. I thought to myself that he was having a worse night than I was as he was six minutes more behind schedule than I was. We rode down and I realized that I had to be passed the turn so I made a U turn. I slowed at each intersection looking for the turn and after about a mile two of back tracking I found it and made the right turn the directions said I should make … except I was coming from the wrong direction so I should have gone left. Unfortunately my more late than I friend also followed me so he was falling further behind as well. Fortunately the next turn was only .6 miles away and after a mile I realized something was wrong so I pulled into the parking lot of a gas station to confirm the name of the street I was looking for and there I saw it, the directions said turn right but since I was coming from the wrong direction I should have gone left. A few more expletives were said and I took off in the correct direction and came to my turn and made it. And about ¼ mile down the road was a second surprise checkpoint. How did they know where I would foul up so they could place their checkpoints???? From there I continued on and got back on schedule but did have one more blunder where I blew by a turn because I forgot what my odometer reading should be for the turn. The rest of the first leg went according to plan and I was more or less on time. As I was coming up on the location for the break I was looking to the left side of the road as the directions said to turn left. As I passed the diner I realized they were wrong so I turned around and pulled in. Leg one done, now a two hour break. I parked, caught up with my friends, and sat down and ordered breakfast at 2am. We hung out for 2 hours talking and then it was time to saddle up again.
As I was sitting on my bike setting up the route sheet for leg two I was happy leg one was over. I was starting fresh for leg two so all my distances and times would be correct again. Now that I had made some mistakes and (hopefully) learned from them this leg should go smoothly. Let one was not so bad, I was maybe a minute or two late for the first hidden checkpoint, probably 10-15 minutes late for the second, relatively on time for the third, and maybe a minute or two late for the end of the first leg. Hardly a stellar showing but I saw lots of bikes which meant that others were off their time as well. I got in position and realized there were one or two bikes missing so they must have DNF’d. Suddenly the sixth rider was alone in front of me again so I got myself ready and started my timer when he pulled out. A minute later I was on my way as well looking forward to an excellent leg two (HA!)
Turns came and went and I was on schedule for about an hour. Then I came across a set of turn instructions were confusing, I had to make a right and then bear left. I somehow passed the turn but caught it about ½ mile down the road so I made a U-turn and went back and turned left and left again. I saw three other riders stop in confusion at the turn which made me nervous. I checked the next street sign I passed and I was on the correct road so I breathed a sigh of relief. My distance was relatively close as I had not gone that far off course and my time was about a minute off. Two miles later I came to a point in the directions where I was to turn left onto US 6, and the directions said “do not take Truck 6.” I got on 6 and it was a 4 lane highway for a mile or so. I did the speed limit for a bit to get caught up and then slowed to 30 mph. I had a 6.6 mile long run for this for this part which was fairly long for this event. About 2 miles down US 6 I came to a Y and had a bit of confusion as to which direction to go. It appeared to me the way to go was straight as it looked like going right was taking an exit ramp. I saw signs for US 6 in the direction I was traveling so I felt at ease with my decision. Plus my new found understanding of the directions told me they would likely say BR (bear right) for a turn. I had about 4 miles to go until I came to a traffic circle and was to take the 3rd exit to remain on US 6. 4 miles passed with no traffic circle and I got the worried feeling that I had messed up again as I also realized I had not seen a sign for US 6 for a while. I made a U turn and headed back to the Y where I made a U turn and stopped to read the road signs. Sure, left was US 6, Truck US 6! US 6 was right. Had I written the directions I would have specified the Y as a turn point. Did they do this to purposely throw riders off? Did they do this because they were familiar with the area and knew which road was which? It didn’t matter as I was now hopelessly behind schedule, my time and odometer were hopelessly wrong, and I was very frustrated. I calculated that I was now 9 miles and 17 minutes off. I was able to gain back a big chunk of time because the road was a US route and was fairly straight, I made the traffic circle and made good time and eventually got back on time.
Things went well for about 15 minutes and I was looking for Bullsontown Rd and was to turn right. At the point my time and mentally determined elapsed distance came up there was no turn. About a ¼ mile later the road came to a T and the name was not the one I thought I was looking for. I turned around and headed back taking my time and reading every street sign. I passed several bikes and realized I was not the only one having a bad night. I went all the way back to my last known turn which fortunately was only about a mile and made a U turn. I noted the distance to turn and tried again and at that distance I was at the same T intersection. Then I checked the name of the road, DOH! It was the correct name after all, I had simply looked for the wrong name. I made a left and rode the mile or so to where my next turn was to be and nothing. A look at my directions showed that I should have gone right! This was getting ridiculous! I headed off in the correct direction and passed a few other bikes which had me worried as I was sure I was correct this time. Right where it was supposed to be was my turn so the other riders must have really screwed up like I had earlier.
From that point on the roads were too small and windy and I was now behind several bikes with no place to pass so there was no gaining time. I came to the end of the first page of the route sheet for leg two so I stopped and flipped the page. I continued on and was able to gain time for a while. I came to a surprise check point and stopped so they could record my number. I was curious as to how close to being on schedule I was so I took a look at my timer and noted that I was only a minute or two behind where I figured I was. Not too bad I thought, I had made some really bad blunders but had recovered from them before the surprise checkpoints so I was not doing that badly, so I thought! At my next turn I looked at my timer again and it said I was ahead of schedule. How could that be? And then I noticed that it was not moving! I must have accidently stopped it when I flipped the route sheets 15 minutes ago. Boy did the expletives roll off my tongue at that point! I considered bagging it and just heading straight to the finish however I had no idea where I was and did not want to stop to pull out my GPS. I followed the route and came to a turn and made it. Then I saw something unusual, it said turn right and then no distance and turn left. I could not figure out what they meant and there was no immediate left turn which I would have expected. After about .1 miles the road made a sudden left and came to an end at a T about after a little more than a car length. My now tired and frustrated mind told me that sudden left was what the directions meant and they must have forgotten to add the .1 mile distance into the route. The next turn was a left also but for some reason I went right and began looking for my next turn which was about a mile down the road. I saw I was on County Road 300 and no names. There had been a rider behind me and he was no longer there and after a mile I realized I was lost so I made a U turn and retraced my route. I realized I should have made a left where I had gone right and went a mile past my turn point and nothing. Another U turn heading back to my last known turn and at a light I saw 4 bikes crossing in front of me. I looked up and there was the name I was looking for so I fell in line behind them. At this point I was tired, cold, and had no idea how far behind schedule I was. I followed them for about 3 ½ miles and there was the Ramapo Clubhouse, it was over. I pulled in behind them at the second entrance as stated in the directions and waited to check in as there was only one person there. And one of the riders did not follow directions and had turned in the wrong entrance so he was now behind the person checking us in and the bike in front of me waving for him to go next. Eventually I was checked in and I moved out of the way and parked. I pulled out my phone to see how far behind I was and I noted it was 6:35 am, I was over 20 minutes late!
Well that did not go as planned!!! But it was fun!!!
I made some huge mistakes that I never thought I’d make. I had the mindset that I did not have spare time to spend to stop at a questionable turn and validate my understanding of the directions and that bit me hard as I had all the time in the world. When the average speed is 30 mph and you spend a minute to verify the directions you can easily catch up in a minute if you can do 60 mph or 2 minutes if you can do 45 mph. I also did not fully understand the directions as evidenced by my Bear Right/Bridge blunder. I later found there was a legend explaining BR, however it was at the top of the second page and not at the top of the first. And lastly there were some errors/omissions in the directions such as saying the diner for the end of leg 1 was on the left but it was on the right, or when I came to the split of US 6 and Truck US 6. I expected a point like that to be a direction point on the directions with a time and distance to the Y however there wasn’t. Was that an omission? Or an assumption because everyone is familiar with that stretch of US 6? Or was it a “trick” to catch the unwary rider off guard? I suspect it wasn’t a trick as I’ve learned from the rallies I have completed in the past the riders are far better at tricking themselves than a rally master or in this case route master could ever be.
Overall I had a great time. I got to put over 400 miles on my bike in mid-February, ride with 3 friends, and do something different than I had ever done before. I learned a lot from this event and I plan on learning from my blunders and coming back with a vengeance next year.