I chose to start in PA this year, Bethlehem to be exact, for a simple reason – I was running out of vacation days so I did not have the extra day or two to ride the 900+ miles to the Nashville area to start. I have grown to enjoy starting in Tennessee because I don’t have to deal with the traffic of I-95 around Philly – Baltimore – Washington. Little did I know what I was going to put myself through for this rally, but that can wait…
It was obvious the theme of the Void Rally this year was restaurants, but with a theme like that the rally could go just about anywhere. We got the listing of bonus locations a week before the rally started and as expected they were everywhere. Boston to Jacksonville to Nashville to Erie. I also noted there was a clump of 10 bonus locations in New York City stretching out to the tip of Long Island. They seemed tempting but one would have to go through traffic hell to get there so I dismissed them. After a few hours I came up with what I thought would be a good route, taking me to Akron OH, Frankfort KY, Knoxville KY, and then up I-81 to the finish in Fredericksburg VA. The route was 1,450 miles 28 ½ hours so it would get me in by noon if everything went as planned. Obviously with a distance of that length that was unlikely, but since we had 32 hours it gave me a 3 1/2 hour cushion just in case. I thought I had a winner … (for me at least)
And then, on Tuesday night we got the rally book but it was too late for me to do anything with it so I set it aside and went to sleep. Wednesday after work I sat down and scanned the rally book and assorted documents and saw there were a few combination bonuses and a few other “freebies” such as bring your flag to scoring and completing a score summary sheet. The one combination simply did not make sense, but the Empire combination bonus looked promising as it consisted of picking up all four Empire diners in the rally book. The diners were in Hicksville New York (Long Island), Parsippany NJ, Manhattan NY, and Lansdowne PA. Despite my strong feelings against going near New York City during a rally, that got my attention. And then I read the instructions regarding the “Blue Plate Special” There were two versions, one was chain restaurants (Applebee’s, Hooters, Pizza Hut, etc.) and the other was fast food places (McDonalds, Arby’s, Burger King, etc.). For the chain restaurants the value of each was 75% of the bonus preceding it. For the fast food places the value for the first was 50 points and each bonus went up by 50% so the second was 75, third was 113, 10th was 1,943 points and so on. Regardless of which you chose there had to be two regular claimed bonuses between each. The fast food version allowed you to start with a fast food bonus which could make a huge difference in the number of points if you claimed enough of them.
My original route had 16 bonus stops which would allow me to get 9 fast food stops with the last being worth 1,295 points, which to me did not seem as good as it could be. I took another look at my route and thought if I stayed east and could claim the Empire combo I may be able to do better. I took another look at all of the close together locations near NYC and out on Long Island and started playing with routes. I came up with one that consisted of 24 bonus locations which would allow 13 fast food stops, with the 13th worth 6,560 points. This route was 1,255 miles and would get me to the finish at 12:30 which would leave me with a 2 ½ hour cushion. I took the time to locate a fast food restaurant on my route and as close as possible to every other bonus. All told I had 37 stops which is huge for a 32 hour rally. I sat back and thought for a while and decided “Fortune Favors the Bold” and with that I was all in. So much for avoiding high traffic areas! I sent my email to the Rally Master declaring my route which was worth 784 points and went to bed around midnight
Work on Thursday went by quickly and once home I packed up the bike and headed out for my hotel in in Bethlehem. A dozen or so of the PA starters were meeting for dinner at 6pm. Of course traffic was heavy so I was a few minutes late. It was nice hanging out with friends, some of which I hadn’t seen for a year at the last Void rally. After dinner we all went back to our hotels, some got to go to sleep, others had to update their routes. While my hope was I’d be part of the former, I knew I needed to go over a few things first. I reviewed the requirements for the Empire combo and noted that all four locations had to be claimed consecutively, so that was out. Then I read the requirements for the fast food blue plate special locations and saw that each could only be claimed once. I sent an email to the rally master and he confirmed that was the case. Fortunately I had done a reasonable job of spreading them around so I only had to replace 4 or so fast food restaurants. I went to bed around 11 pm.
My alarm was set for 6 am and it seemed to go off immediately. I packed what little was not already packed and loaded the bike. I went down for breakfast at 6:30 and by 6:45 I was on my way to my start location which was a Sheetz gas station a few miles away where most of the other PA starters were starting. I got there about 6:55 and we could get a start receipt from 7am to 7:10am. There really was no need to rush as we had 32 hours from the time of the start receipt. I got my receipt at 7:06am, wrote my odometer reading and flag number on it, took a photo of it next to my odometer, and texted it in. I go an almost immediate response acknowledging the receipt, recorded the time in my bonus log, and I was off for my first stop just a few miles down the road, a Subway fast food restaurant. I took my photo of my flag and the restaurant at 7:23 which was 8 minutes behind schedule and was back on the road in a minute or two.
For this rally I was running Waze on a spare phone in addition to my two GPS units. I had tried Waze during the Iron Butt Rally with minimal results since it did not seem to be that popular once off the east coast. However this time it was giving me a different route that I presumed was routing me around traffic backups. Of course it was also giving me an eta that was about 30 minutes later than my GPS. I found that generally it was fairly accurate. My second stop was the Empire Diner in Parsippany NJ. I arrived there around 8:50am and took my photo. I had lost about 30 minutes so far.
From there it was on to the Empire Diner in Manhattan where I had lost another 25 minutes putting me 55 minutes behind schedule, then on to Hightstown NY on Long Island for my second fast food bonus, Wendys, and then the third Empire Diner across the street. As luck would have it, just as I got to the Wendys and found a place to park for my photo a truck pulled up in front of the building blocking my view of the sign. I rode around back and caught a sign over the back entrance. I walked across the street to the Empire Diner to take my photo however it was so windy my flag was sticking straight out and the number was not visible. I had to use a convenient telephone pole to hold it in place to take my photo at 11:14, another 30 or so minutes lost for a total of 1 ½ hours gone
I was starting to get concerned however giving up was not an option. Plus I did have some hope of gaining time as I allow 8 minutes per stop (except for the fast food stops) and it only takes me 2 or 3 minutes per stop at most. Next up was the Shipwreck diner in Northport NY. My original plan had me getting there at 10:22am and I took my photo at 11:57am. It seemed I had finally stopped bleeding time.
My next stop was a McDonalds that was only a mile or so away, and then I was off to the Zona Out East Diner in Rocky Point NY. I was looking at my time and getting concerned that I would now be leaving Long Island during NYC rush hour. I made the hard decision to drop my next 3 stops and head straight for the Catfish bonus. . I got to the location and looked for a restaurant of some type and did not see anything, however I did see a small strip shopping center close by so I pulled into their lot. Nothing. I pulled out the rally book and did a quick scan, I was looking for Montauk Beverageworks. Nothing, all I saw was the strip shopping center and a 7-11. Then a thought fizzled to life in my brain and I re-read the description. I was looking for a 7-11 and I had to take a photo of a rally flag belonging to a guy named Catfish and the flag was located near the Montauk Beverageworks display. Duh!!! And I actually knew Catfish which made it worse as he was one of the original riders in the Void whom I had met a few years ago.
My original plan had me getting there at 12:08pm, however with the delays so far and dropping 3 stops I arrived at 12:58pm, 50 minutes behind schedule. Next up was the J&R Steak House in Islip NY. I got there at 1:34pm, which was still 50 minutes behind schedule. The bleeding had stopped for now …
From there I needed the Taco Bell a block away, and then it was off to Brennan & Carr in Brooklyn. I arrived there at 2:54pm, 1 hr and 10 minutes late so I had lost another 20 minutes.
Next up was the Bayway Diner in Linden NJ, finally out of NY. Traffic was terrible, stop and go for quite a while. I got there at 4:09pm, another 35 minutes lost and 1 hr and 45 minutes behind schedule.
I stopped at a Checkers down the road for my next fast food bonus and then I was headed to Hightstown NJ for the Hightstown Diner. I parked and took my photo at 5:07pm, another 15 minutes gone and 2 hours behind schedule. The bleeding was continuing, and now I was headed down to Philly at the end of rush hour. My GPS told me it was a 58 minute ride however Waze had it at 90 minutes. And with that all of my 2 ½ hour buffer would be c\gone and I’d have no choice but to considerably shorten my route. I just could not continue to lose time like this and have any chance of a decent finish, so it was time for plan B. I had a mandatory rest bonus of at least 3 hours that I had to take. I had planned on taking it near the VA – NC border, however if I took it now I could wait until traffic died down and stop the bleeding.
First thing I had to do was see if there were any hotels in the area. I prefer Hampton Inns so I got out my phone and sure enough there was one just a few miles away towards I-95 which was where I had to go anyway. The rate was a little steep at $185 for the night including taxes but there was no time to shop around. I booked it and then headed to the closest gas station to start my rest at 5:20pm. After fueling up I headed towards the hotel but took a wrong turn and got on a highway so I had a 2 mile ride to an exit where I could turn around. That detour cost me 15 minutes of sleep.
Once in the hotel I grabbed some microwavable food and headed up to my room. Of course there was no microwave so it was back to the lobby to use theirs. I spotted an ATM in the lobby and thought maybe I could get my ending receipt there to save time, however it did not have an address so that was out. Back in my room I ate my food (Hot Pockets), and got out my laptop to see what I could due for my route. After a few scenarios I found if I dropped my last 3 stops I would gain back 1 ½ hours which would leave me a 1 ½ hour cushion. Nothing else would get me more time unless I dropped at least 6 stops and I certainly did not want to do that.
Now that I had a plan it was time to sleep. I had 90 minutes to sleep which left me with no time for a shower or to even change, so I laid down on the bed and closed my eyes. Of course with it being 6:30 pm sleep eluded me. While I was relaxed with my eyes closed I wasn’t really asleep. I thought this was going to make for a long night and finish for the rally. At 8pm I got up, put my boots back on, loaded the bike, and was at the gas station at 8:25. I got my receipt and then went inside to use the restroom. My XM radio wasn’t working and I realized it had stopped in Manhattan which given the tall buildings was no surprise. I had checked the cables and they were good at the time so I had assumed my antenna had died again. I decided to check them once more and found the connector had come apart, so I reconnected it and voila I had XM radio again. I was going to need that if I was to ride the remaining 18 ½ hours of the rally with no sleep. That little episode cost me 10 minutes and I thought about getting another end receipt for the extra points but decided the 5 minutes it would likely cost me wasn’t worth it. So at 8:35 pm I was back on the road Headed for the Empire Diner in Lansdowne PA. I arrived at 9:49 pm which was 25 minutes behind my adjusted schedule.
From there it was a short ride to a Popeye’s restaurant for my next fast food bonus and then a 2 hour plus ride to the Perdue Technical Services center in Salisbury MD. I was making good time and got there with no time lost. However the parking lot was chained off so I could not get very close to the building. Taking the photo was a bit challenging due to spot lights on the sign messing with my camera, but I found if I used the auxiliary lights from my bike it helped
My next stop was a familiar place, the Exmore Diner in Exmore VA which was an hour and 15 minutes away. I was making good time on US-13 because there was little traffic. Once I entered VA I knew I’d have to watch my speed and I did a fairly good job of keeping my speed within 5 mph of the speed limit. However there were some towns right on US-13 and the speed limit would drop from 55 to 5 or 45 mph. As I entered Onley I missed the change in speed limit and suddenly I saw the familiar lights of a police car flip on in front of me. I was hoping it was a coincidence, but it wasn’t. 10 minutes later I was back on my way with a caution to be on the lookout for deer as several had been hit that night.
I got to the Exmore Diner and it was dark with no lights on. Fortunately my aux lights fixed that and I got my photo at 1:49am, still about 30 minutes behind schedule.
From there it was time for my next fast food bonus, a Hardees just around the corner. I pulled into the lot and it too was pitch black. This photo was a little trickier since my bike had to be in all photos of fast food restaurants. Fortunately I had two flashlights with me and with my auxiliary lights, some creative flashlight work, and the flash on my camera I was able to get the photo
After I took my photo I recorded my bonus information, put my camera away, and continued south on US-13 towards my next stop, the Leaping Lizard Café In Virginia Beach. As I approached the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel I saw construction signs. They had one lane closed on the first bridge heading southbound. Fortunately at 2:30 in the morning there was little traffic so it did not pose an issue. Once off the bridge I came to the bonus, pulled in, and pulled out my rally book to see what I was supposed to take a picture of. As I did so my heart sank as my flag was not in my tank bag. A lost flag is not the end of the world, however my fat face now had to serve as the rally flag and I would somehow have to take selfies and get the bonus in the photo and for fast food restaurants I’d also have to get the entire bike. That wasn’t going to be fun. Nothing I could do but move on, so I checked the rally book and saw I had to take a photo of the sign on the building. I got off my bike and too my surprise my flag was twisted around my luggage rack and the white pants hanger I used as a counter weight was still attached. However the selfie stick was long gone. I could deal with that.
I had some trouble getting the photo without the selfie stick because I now had to hang my flag on something. Plus there were spotlights shining on the sign which washed it out when I tried to take a photo. After several attempts I got the correct combination for an acceptable photo at 2:58am, still about 30 minutes behind schedule which was good as I was not losing time.
My next stop was a little less than an hour away in Smithfield VA, home of Smithfield ham. The ride went as planned which is not too difficult at this time of day and I pulled into town. It looked like a nice small town and as I drove through nothing stood out at the coordinates or address of the bonus so I turned around and went back through town … nothing. I stopped and pulled out my rally book to see what I was looking for and then figured I’d put the address back in Waze and walk through town, however when I looked at the phone the mount was empty! The phone was there as I pulled into town so it had to be close. I got off the bike and walked back to my turnaround point and nothing. I walked back to the bike and still nothing. My only thought was perhaps it got hung up on something when it fell, so I took a look at the right side of the bike and there it was, hanging from the power cord. Crisis averted I started looking at addresses on buildings until I found the one I needed, hung my flag on a convenient wire sign stuck in the ground, and took my photo at 4:11am. My walkabout looking for my phone cost me 20 or so minutes so I was now 55 minutes behind schedule and I was down to a 40 or so minute cushion.
I had another 50 minute ride and that went without issue other than the Dairy Queen being almost a ½ mile from where my GPS said it should be based on the address plus I turned into the wrong lot because I thought they were connecting. Of course due to my not having a selfie stick I had to hang my flag on my bike for the photo which is something I don’t normally do. And when tired and it being dark doing things out of the ordinary is a sure way to mess up.
From there it was another 50 minutes to my next bonus which was Rocky the Giant Rockfish in Weldon North Carolina, the “Rockfish Capital of the World.” It took a bit of riding around to find it as the fish was on a sign welcoming people to town. I parked and opened my tank bag to get my camera and flag and once again my flag was not there. Really!!!! This is getting really ridiculous as I have never done this before!!! I jumped of the bike and low and behold there it was wrapped around my luggage rack again. With a sign of relief I walked over to the fish and tried to figure out how to get the photo with the lights on the fish but not on the sign above which I wanted to include. Hanging my flag on the lights did nothing but wash out the flag so it could not be read. I ended up taking off my helmet to hold the flag and with some creative flashlight work and my flash I was able to get a photo at 6:08 am, somehow I had lost another 10 minutes due to my searching for the bonus and trying to take the photo
Fortunately that was my last night time bonus as the sun was due to come up before the next stop which was the Rockin Comet Diner in Clayton NC which was only 30 minutes away. I got there without issue and took my photo, and managed to make up about 10 minutes along the way so I was back to an hour behind schedule. Not sure how that happened but I was happy to take it. My next stop was an Arby’s which was ¼ mile away. Other than a non-responsive traffic light I got in and got our quickly.
My next stop was the Time Out Restaurant in Chapel Hill NC, about 50 minutes away. That went without issue and no lost time, however I found out there was some time of event going on in town but fortunately I was in and out before it became an issue.
My next stop was the Milk Carton on a pole in Eden NC. It seemed familiar so I probably had visited it before on a rally but could not remember when. I made it there without issue and took my photo. I had gained a few minutes which I was happy with, however after I took my photo I got a message on my camera that memory was full.
I could not figure how that was possible since I did not have my photos overly large and I knew I had a fairly large memory card since you cannot find smaller ones anymore. And even with a 1GB card there is plenty of room for a rally’s worth of photos. I went through and deleted any extra photos I had to make room and headed for my next bonus which was a Bojangles a few minutes away. I pulled into their lot and took my photo. Concerned that I would not have enough room for my remaining photos I reduced the size of my pictures to 640 X 480. I then headed out for my next stop, Burnett’s Streetcar Diner in Chatham VA which was 50 minutes away. I got into town and fortunately caught the bonus out of the corner of my eye just as I passed it. Since there was a car right behind me I could not stop so I had to turn on the side street just passed the bonus and park, however the road had a severe crown to it so there was no way I could park normally. I had to park perpendicular to the curb and with no selfie stick hang my flag on the bike. Note the small size of the photo…
Even with the time taken playing with my camera I had not lost any more time and was about an hour behind schedule with two more stops to make and 200 miles to go. My next and last regular bonus was Walker’s Diner in Farmville VA which was hour and 40 minutes away. Whenever I see that name I chuckle and think of the Facebook game Farmville which was also featured on a South Park episode. I headed off and was feeling pretty good as it was looking like I was going to make it without dropping anything which was good as there really wasn’t much left to drop. Of course I had a new worry due to what was going on with my camera. I pulled into Farmville and there were people everywhere which was not surprising as it was a really nice day. Plus it was lunch time. I got close to my bonus and made a turn, but did not see my bonus and then I was passed it and there was way too much traffic to turn around. I took the next right which was 100 yards or so away and went around the block. I pulled into a parking lot when I got back to Main St and pulled out the rally book. Sure enough, the restaurant was directly across the street. I increased the size of my photos and took a few test shots and realized there was enough room for larger photos so I reset the picture size. I also opened my camera to see what sized card was in it and surprise, there was no card! I was using the internal memory of my camera. Nothing I could do now so I closed the camera, crossed the street, hung my flag on a convenient trash can, and took my photo. The looks I was getting from the customers were priceless. As I was recording my info I saw another rider who I knew was in the rally so I waved him over and pointed at a parking spot. We said hello and I headed out as he was taking his photo
I was now in the home stretch. My next stop was a Chick-Fil-A just a few blocks away. I pulled in, took my photo and recorded everything. My eta per my GPS was 2:35, counting the several minute delay from getting my start receipt at 7:07am I had a 32 minute cushion. I was nervous because traffic around Fredericksburg can be pretty bad, plus I had to learn how to copy photos over to my SD card (assuming it was possible). That 32 minutes could evaporate rather quickly leaving me with a DNF. I got on the bike and headed out. Ten minutes down the road I could not stand not knowing if I could copy the photos so I pulled over at a convenient parking lot and dug out my phone to do a Google search. Several links were found and I had two options, use a cable and connect the phone to my laptop, or use a copy feature to move the photos to the card. Satisfied that I had options I put the phone away and as I was about to pull out the rider I had seen a few minutes ago slowed down to see if I was ok. I gave him a thumbs up and pulled out behind him. I had 110 miles to go. I made good time heading back and was relying on Waze to get me in on time. At one point it showed me getting in at 2:50 which made me nervous, however as I rode I saw my arrival time get earlier and earlier presumably because of changing traffic. I was surprised that Waze was taking me to I-95 but I stuck with it. I had a few slowdowns which concerned me but they did not affect the arrival time from Waze so I figured that was why Waze had me getting in 10 minutes later than my GPS.
And then suddenly I saw the sign for my exit being 2 miles away. I was getting more and more optimistic. I got off the exit, made the turn into the shopping center area which included the host hotel, and then turned into the entrance. I stopped at the lobby entrance to get my finishers envelope and the time was approximately 2:45, so I had 22 minutes. With no time to check in to my hotel I headed over to the conference center entrance where we were, parked, grabbed my tank bag and laptop, and headed in. There was room at a couch just inside the entrance so I dropped my gear, shed my jacket, and pulled out my laptop. Inside my laptop bag was a small case with my spare SD cards so I pulled one out and inserted it in my laptop to confirm if it was empty. It wasn’t so I deleted the photos on it and inserted the card in my camera. I pulled out my phone and read the instructions on copying photos to my card. They were simple enough, from the viewer hit menu and select copy from memory to card. A moment later it was done, so I removed my card and inserted it in my laptop. All the photos were there and the date/time stamps were correct, so I pulled the card and dropped it in my envelope. I then recorded the info to claim my flag bonus and the bonus for totaling my score. I stuffed the flag in the envelope even though the instructions said I could carry it, stuffed in the score sheet, bonus claim form, start and rest receipts, and the receipt form my donation to the Fisher House. I double checked everything and was confident I hadn’t missed anything, then sealed the envelope and took it down to turn in. It was turned in at 3:01pm, I had 7 minutes to spare. Wow!!! What a relief!
I had quite a stack of envelopes in front of mine for scoring so I gathered up my stuff and walked to the other side of the hotel to check in. I got my room, carried my stuff in, and took a well deserved shower. I went back to the waiting area for scoring and hung out talking to friends. I was hungry as I had hardly eaten anything since my rest bonus the prior evening other than a small sandwich from a Sheetz and a few monster Slim Jims I had with me. Hanging out talking to people I realized there were quite a few who had started in PA and had more fast food places than I did so I was not hopeful on my placing. My number was called and I went into scoring. Scoring went well and I was proud not to have lost any points.
And with that I was free for the next two hours. I socialized with friends, we talked about our experiences during the rally, what bonus locations we visited, etc. Happy hour started at 6pm however several of us hung out upstairs until 6:15 and then headed down. Scoring was backed up and we started dinner around 6:30 or so. Sometime later our Rally Master came in and started to announce the results. He stated that this year he had a separate class for two up riders which was a first for me. He went from location to location reading out the top three finishers, and then he got to PA. Third place solo for PA had 11,000 more points than I did so I assumed I was mid pack which is what I expected for starting in PA as there are over 20 starters and quite a few good riders. I also noted that 3 of the 4 two up riders had over 10,000 more points than I did. After the results were read and trophies handed out the results were posted. Eventually I walked over to see who finished where and to my surprise I was 4th. Cool, I was good with that!
Overall I was satisfied with my performance. Not only did I place 4th, I had conquered my aversion to going near New York City and Long Island during a rally. One of the reasons I decided to give that a go was I had noticed that when that area was in play many of the top finishers when there when the points were high. Now I know what to expect based on experience. I also spent some time talking with the top finishers who had also gone to Long Island and they had either gone up to Connecticut and taken the ferry or had waited until later in the rally. I’ll be tucking that away in my bag of tricks for the next rally. Also, I will have to take a day ride and take the ferry to Long Island to see what it is like so I am familiar with how to get there and the schedule. For me, the 14th serving of the Void was satisfying.
Here’s my route