Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Butt Lite IX Recap - Epilogue - We've Got The Weenies!

No story would be complete without documenting the voyage home.  Sunday morning Karen and I slept in a bit before staring our day.  Since Karen came to the finish, she went ahead and brought our little utility trailer so that we could load the bike on it and we could travel together back home.  Slipping on some clothes we ventured out to the parking lot to load the bike before getting cleaned up to leave.

The parking lot showed signs of dozens of riders that had already hit the road to their various homes.  I know many had significant treks up into the northeast and was pleased to hear later that everyone made it to their destinations safely.  With the Trophy loaded up and cinched down, we headed back up to clean up and pack.

From Lexington, KY to home in Fredericksburg, VA it is a simple task of hopping on I-64 and driving east as it passes within 50 miles of our home.  A short way down the road we stopped for breakfast, checked the bike in the trailer and continued on our way.  Passing into West Virginia, Karen and I simultaneously remembered that we had planned on a visit to Hillbilly Hot Dogs which is just off the Interstate in Lasage, WV.

The Hillbilly Hot Dog compound is quite a sight to behold. A pickers treasure trove.  At the main building the line usually stretches outside. As you make your way in, you are greeted at the ordering desk with a smile.  If you tip the employees sing the Weenie Song.  The menu is quite extensive and the food was really good.  Hillbilly Hot Dogs has been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

West Virginia Table Decorations
School Bus Dining Areas
Hillbilly Wedding Chapel
For Marry'n Relations
Darth Billy
A Look Around


Lastly, I'd like to thank the folks at Team Strange for hosting this event.  The staff and the volunteers are awesome. Simply awesome.  I can't thank you enough for the experience.

It was good seeing friends in the LD community. Steve Gallant, Rick Armour, Gerry Arel, it was great hanging with you guys.  Martin and Lisa, you know that I admire your father/daughter relationship.  It is something that I wish I had with my daughters.

Congrats to all the finishers.  This was a tough one for me at least.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Butt Lite IX Recap - Finish Day

Credit: Rick Corwine

Credit: Rick Corwine
Waking at 4:00 am, I slid on some thankfully fresh clothes that Karen had brought with her, collected my scoring materials and stuff, and sauntered off to the scoring room.  Now I know that you have to get up really early in the morning to get an upfront spot in line.  It seemed like all of the early arrivals had also made their way down for scoring.  There was a breakfast area set up in the next room where some of the late arrivals were getting their scoring materials together.  I decided that the line was going to be what it is and headed over to the buffet.

My buddies, Steve and Rick, were there diligently working on their prep, both having just arrived in the wee hours.  Looking up I see Jim Owen walking in with gear, helmet on, and bags. I have to admit that I wasn't quite ready to see the obvious wear that the road had taken on him. Jim Owen having the meat-on-a-stick look?  That just doesn't compute.  A few minutes later I was in the buffet line next to Jim's lovely partner in crime, Janet, and she confessed that she had never seen him coming looking so roughed up.  I take solace in knowing that this rally took it's toll on everyone, even the biggest of the big dawgs.

A while later I get my turn and am ushered into the scoring room where I had over my camera SD card and the contents are copied off to my rally pack thumb drive.  I only have to wait a few minute before a scoring table opens up.  I sit down across a really special lady, Minna Case. Minna was the only female participant in the NotSuperman Coast to Coast ride that I did in 2016.  She piloted her "Tigger" from Coney Island, NY to the Golden Gate Bridge, CA, a distance of just over 2900 miles, in under 50 hours. Known offically as the 50CC Gold, it is also known as the 50CC The Hard Way.

After catching up for a few minutes we got down to business.  I handed over my receipts, my purchases, and my mug.  Minna started her process of reviewing my claimed bonuses.  Thankfully all my photos made it this time.  After scoring 7-8 bonuses, Minna sat back with a quizzical face and called over the Rallymaster.  Sure enough, the date set on my camera was off.  Bitten by the new camera bug again!  100 point penalty.  Thankfully that was the only issue with scoring this time around.

Leg 2 point total came up to 10793.  When combined with Leg 1 score of 7528 I ended up with an overall score of 18321.  Looking at the official standings, my placement would not have changed appreciably if I had bagged many more bonuses.  Total official mileage was 4707 which is about 1000 less than what I had expected of myself.

With all the business stuff taken care of and a few more hours of sleep, I took the opportunity to practice my UAV flying as I have recently obtained my FAA Commmercial Remote Pilots License.  Below is a sample which is a flyby of the reserved parking for all the BLIX participants.

Later that day we settled in for happy hours and the finishers banquet.  I'm pleased to hear my name called up for 54th place which was an improvement of 15 places over my Leg 1 placement.  I had set a goal of placing in the top 30.  Had I not lost the stadium combo I would have finished in the top 20.

As the scores are continuing to be announce in reverse order, my buddies Steve Gallant and Rick Armour were seated at the table with me and they still hadn't been called yet.  The carrot here is that if you place in the top 10, you are automatically invited to participate in the Iron Butt Rally the next year.  The unluckiest place is #11 and it falls to another friend, Jay Bolinger.  He graciously accepted his finishers plaque with a smile but I knew that he had to have been crushed inside.

Now we've reached the Top 10 and my buddies Rick and Steve still haven't been called.  There was also an unfamiliar face sitting at our table that hadn't been called either.  Places 10-6 are called and all three are still sitting.

Steve is called for 5th place.  He had ridden all the way up to Maine and the VT/Canadian border in the 2nd leg including ridding up Mt Washington.  For an enjoyable read, check out Steve's blog at Swerve Northeast.

Rick is called for 4th place.  Rick had ridden a similar plan to mine for the 2nd leg but in the opposite direction.  Rick and Steve were 9th and 10th respectively at the end of the first leg and both moved up with their epic rides on the second leg.

3rd place went to Eric Bray.  Eric was the first IBR finisher that I had ever met so it was great to see him do so well again.

The unfamiliar gentleman sitting at my table still hadn't been called.  He and Jim Owen were the only riders left.  When 2nd place was announced, it fell to Billy Connacher.  This meant that the victory had gone to Jim Owen.

Credit: Rick Corwine

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Butt Lite IX Recap - Day 6 - Revenge of the Time Suck Bonus

After maximizing my rest bonus, I was eager to get started for the last day of the rally.  I hadn't planned for an all out max effort today but rather to just finish safely.  My goal was to roll into the finish around midnight into the waiting arms of my bride. Getting all my gear together and my riding clothes on, I headed out to load the bike only to be greeted by the nice couple from last night and several others who had encircled my bike.  Trying to chat while loading up finally gave me some perspective on the whole 'spectator at the bonus' thing I see posted occasionally.  I headed back in for some breakfast and walked into a room packed with all the Women's Rally group.  I felt really self-conscious because my riding gear was on its 6th day of funk accrual but I had no choice.  I'm pretty sure that I looked like meat on a stick by then. Probably smelled like it, too.  After securing my check-out receipt and confirming the timestamp, it was time to make haste and get on the road.

First up was the Roan Mountain bonus (RON) located at the Carvers Gap turn out located on the TN/NC border.  The Gap is at 5512 ft so this was going to be highest climb of the rally.  On the way I encountered the only respite of rain during the entire week.  Nice to have the windshield cleaned a bit.  Turning off of US19E onto TN143, the area was what I dream about for retirement.  Moderate valleys surrounded by mountains, bliss.  I must have been lost in my thoughts of retirement as I blindly made a turn that the Garmins had indicated.  Horse farms and pastures lined the road as I made my way up the mountain.  The little magenta lines squiggling their way forward as the roadways became narrower and narrower.  I'm snapped out of my dreamland as I ride up to a near vertical gravel goat path and stop.  I look down at the Garmins and they insist that I continue straight ahead up the near sheer wall in front of me.  Damn.  I pull out the rally book and it says the bonus is on NC261/TN143 at the border. Key phrase "on NC261/TN143". Why did I not stay on the highway?  The blue line shows the Garmin route through the valley as it thinks all the roads are 55 mph.  The red line is the highway route which is signed at 40 mph so Garmin thinks the blue line is the fastest.  So my wasted 10 minutes of daydreaming up the valley.  Another 10 to get back to the highway. And another 10 to get back up to the previous point. Yeah, that was a 30+ minute time suck.  It is my understanding that a lot of riders got bit by this bonus, including the most dominant rider in our sport.

A short distance away was the Wilson Creek National Wild and Scenic River bonus. The ride in to the Visitors Center included a trek up a 3 mile hard packed but potholed gravel road (Garmin thinks it is a 55 mph road, btw).  The river gorge was certainly beautiful and I could have stayed right there for the rest of the day.  As I was having to keep my speed down on the way in and again on the way out, I lost another 20+ minutes as compared to what Garmin expected.  Making the checkpoint by midnight was looking more and more less likely.

The next bonus was probably less than 3 miles away as the crow flies but required a 15 miles trek down, over and back up to reach it, again along a slow gravel road.  The Collettsville Cup House, aka The Mug House, is just one of those Americana things you just have to see to believe. It is a small house and a camper sitting beside it with all of the exterior surfaces (excluding the roof) covered in coffee mugs.  Even the low split rail fence surrounding the property is covered in mugs.  Our requirement here caused a lot of riders to be sad.  When we registered at the beginning of the rally the previous Friday, we were handed a swag bag that included shirts, stickers and a coffee mug.  After countless questions and evasions, the Rallymasters relented and said that we would not need our swag bag contents on Leg 1.  This prompted a lot of riders to leave their bags at the rally hotel storage only to learn that on Leg 2, this bonus would require the mug to be in the photo.  Many didn't find this out until they were sitting here in front of the house with their mugs in Lexington, KY.  Luckily I had brought my bag with me including my mug.  The mug had to be intact and also presented at scoring.

So now that I've ventured up my 3rd significant time suck of the rally, I'm running nearly 2 hours behind schedule. It's time to turn for the barn and pick up bonuses along the way.  I'm starting to feel the tug of going straight to the finish but resist and continue collecting bonus points.  Next up is the Buffalo Mountain (BUF) bonus up on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Floyd, VA.  I'm somewhat familiar with the area as one of our favorite winery stops, Chateau Morrisette, is nearby.

It was about a 3 hour run to the bonus. With the temperatures rising again, it was nice to get up on the ridgeline for a while and enjoy the cooler temps.  This was another question/answer bonus asking about what activity was done on the mountain for more than 50 years.

Just a few miles up the BRP at Tuggle Gap is a small inn, restaurant and gas station (very expensive I might add).  I needed some gas so I decided while stopped I would go ahead and grab a burger.  Lots of motorcycles stop here so service was a bit slow which cost me more time than I had wanted but the nourishment was welcomed.

The next bonus was at the Booker T Washington National Monument up near Smith Mountain Lake.  I had passed it a few times on other rides so I sort of knew the general direction.  My better judgement said to get off the BRP on SH8 east to connect with SH40 north.  Buuutttt, the Garmins said go north on the BRP. I did as the magenta line said and watched the clock tick away. I finally made the call to exit near Ferrum down a county road and that was another major time suck.  I even caught up with a State Police Trooper trying to make his way hastily down the mountain as well. Tick. Tick. Tick.  Frustrating.  The country roads making my way up to the lake were somewhat crowded and it just seemed like everything was conspiring to slow me down.  Grrrr....  Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I pulled up to the BTW bonus and captured it.

Heading out for the Appomattox bonus, it just didn't feel like I was going in the right direction.  I stopped and checked my iPad and yes this was the right way.  Pulling into the outskirts of Roanoke, VA, I turned east on US460.  This is weird.  I know Appomattox is another 60 miles east of here but is there something here associated with it?  Pulling off the road and following the magenta line through a single lane RR underpass, dodging rock hauling trucks, I finally pull up to a gated gravel road right where the gps marker is located.  Hmmm...doesn't seem like the right place.  I pull out the rally book and punch the printed coordinates into the iPad and, sure enough, it comes up in the right place 60 miles to the east of me.  I was about to call the Rallymasters when I checked the electronic files and noticed that the coordinates were not the same as those printed in the rally book.  Since I knew that I was not going to waste 3 hours to bounce over for the APP bonus, I didn't bother calling the Rallymasters.  Another chunk of time suck added.

A bit miffed I turn my attention to heading west back into West Virginia.  The Garmins had me heading out to I-81 and heading south to Blacksburg. Being a Friday afternoon, I-81 was packed with semis going about their way.  Thankful to exit off on US460 I make my way through some beautiful landscapes over into West By God Virginia.  I arrive in Talcott mid-afternoon as some sort of town carnival/festival is about to kick off.  The band is warming up.  Booths are just wrapping their set up.  And here goes a funky smelling fat bumblebee trotting across the grounds over to the bonus location.  As I approach 2 other riders are there taking a water break. I highly recommend taking a few minutes to read about the legend of John Henry (Wiki John Henry Folkore). I chat for a few minutes, take my photo and start my trek back across the grounds to where I was forced to park.  By now I definitely have that meat-on-a-stick look going as a local firefighter walks up and checks on me, offers me some water, and invites me into their cool tent.  I thank him for the water but decline the stay as I need to get going.  I have a time restricted bonus to capture and it's getting late.

Heading for the Hawk's Nest Tunnel Disaster (HWK) bonus, I finall overrule the Garmins as I know the route that they are suggesting will absolutely wear me out with the twisties.  I hop on I-64 to Beckley before turning north on US19.  I arrive at HWK as the sun is touching the horizon.  A short trek down the path is the interpretive marker that is the bonus.  This area overlooks the New River Gorge and is so inviting to just spend a while but, alas, I need to move on.

Getting back to the bike a quick check of the Garmins reveal about a 3.5 hour (218 miles) ride back to the finish.  Satisfied with what I accomplished, I made the call to head straight for the barn. With the pressure off of collecting bonus, I enjoyed the 40 or so mile riverside ride on US60 before joining back up on the I-64 slab heading to Lexington.  As darkness set in the traffic thinned out, the temps lowered, and I could really relax and reflect over the course of the rally.  Remembering that this was a learning experience and that is the takeaway that I need to focus on.  Mistakes were made but learning from them was the most important thing.

I've ridden through Huntington, WV several times at night heading westbound.  It is truly a spectacular site when you pass through a small gap in the mountains at the Kentucky border and are dazzled by the lights coming from the large Marathon Oil Refinery complex across the river.  It's beautiful in its own way.

Watching the Garmins count down as I neared the finish, it was satisfying to take the exit and pull up behind a couple who were finishing their ride as well.  Pulling into the parking lot I spot Karen waiting for me and it brings tears to my eyes. I've accomplished my #1 goal of the rally, making it back to her.

I park the bike in our reserved area and take a deep breath.  I've done it.  Not the way that I had envisioned but I was done with my first major multi-day rally.  That was satisfying.  The Dezl GPS tells the tale of the tape.  4765 total miles with 2061 on the second leg.  That would have 2704 on the first leg.  My Trophy's ODO reads somewhat slow so my official mileage is lower at 4707 miles.

Fat Boy Done Rollin'
Karen helps me unload and we head up to the room.  A nice loooong shower is welcomed and I sit down for a while to prep my scoring sheet.  Scoring opens at 4:30 am and I'd like to not have to wait too terribly long.  Being my first rally, I have no idea how many folks are going to be in line.  Time for some rest.

Of the planned 4161 points for today, I settled for collecting only 2562.  That's OK.  I have my Lessons Learned to be satisfied with.

Final Scoring and Wrap-up continued...