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Void 4, aka "Rally For Par 2008"

by Wes "Chiba" Fleming, rider #87 (last in your program, first in your heart)

What's a Rally?

Think scavenger hunt on two wheels. It's a bunch of folks on motorcycles roaming around the countryside answering questions, taking photos, and trying to accumulate more points than any other rider.

The Void has a "full" 24-hr rally (with 3 varied start points) and a 10-hr "mini" rally; this was my 2nd year in the mini. Last year I did a pretty good job and I was confident I would do the same this year.

I planned to run the Rendez-Vous in September, but the unexpected death and subsequent funeral of my friend & neighbor Mike Moser got in the way of that trip. I was still able to place in the top 10, however, with 1 point. Rally Masters repeatedly say "reading comprehension is critical" and I'm living proof of that - because that's where I got my lonely point for the Rendez-Vous!

PREP

In the week before the rally, I went over my bike carefully, making sure there weren't any weird leaks, loose bolts, or frayed wires. Based on the weather reports for the weekend, I wasn't planning on taking my electric jacket liner, so I left the pigtail for that tucked away.

Fresh oil in the engine, transmission, and final drive finished the prep begun a week before with a valve adjustment and throttle body synch. Mechanically I was ready.

FRIDAY

I packed my cases Thursday night and loaded them on the bike at 0-dark-30 Friday morning, then went to work as usual. I noticed the bike handled funny during the commute, so I decided to repack once I got to work.

Instead of parking in the garage, since I'd be leaving before 11 (less than 2 hrs after parking restrictions around the building kick in), I just parked on the street. That way Nancy would be able to find my bike and I wouldn't have to deal with grazing the gate if nobody was in the booth in the parking garage. Then again, with all that stuff on it, maybe my bike would finally have been heavy enough to trigger the gate.

I repacked everything about 9, distributing the weight lower (out of the top case) and more evenly between the two side cases. The computer I have this year (borrowed from my mom) is much more substantial in size & weight than the one I used last year. I shifted all the liquids except one small bottle of juice out of the top case.

After weeks of chatter and smack-talk on the Void's mailing list, everything got quiet this morning as the 24-hr riders finished their preparations and hit the road.

Nancy called me about 10.30 to tell me she was here; of course, since my phone was packed in the top case, I didn't hear it ring. I went downstairs a few minutes later anyway. We chatted a bit, settled on a gas/food stop, and hit the road at 10.38.

Found out later Big Dave got his tire installed in plenty of time and hit my building at 11, waited a few minutes, then headed down the highway.

I led Nancy (on her FZ6) to US 1, then onto I-495, and thusly onto I-95 South. We hit a backup almost immediately at the base of the Springfield Mixing Bowl, so I bailed out onto Fairfax County Parkway, caught Telegraph to US 1 and picked up I-95 S again just north of the Occoquan/Lake Ridge exit. Smooth sailing from that point. My bike handled much better with the load redistributed and thanks to my maintenance efforts in the last couple weeks, it just ran flawlessly. I did, however, discover that I need to start doing my throttle body sync at about 4500 rpm instead of 3500 if I want a smoother ride at high rpms.

We blasted down 95 to VA 3 at Fredericksburg, got gas and eventually found a Subway for lunch. We eat the same thing (veggie patty, yum!). VA 3 to VA 20 (reminders of last year - that's where Stonewall Jackson's Arm's Gravesite is!) to Louisa CR 231 to I-64 West and thusly onto US 29 South for the last blast into Lynchburg.

We stopped once more at a gas-n-go on 29 to take a leak and give Nancy's wrist a rest. Just across from the B&B where I had my honeymoon back in 1995. A big day for nostalgia I guess.

We got to the hotel in Lynchburg about 15.00 and quickly found Don (Sonar) and Mike (Blaster). They ride nearly-matching R12GS bikes, they're very cute together. OK just kidding guys. Nancy & I got checked in, then the 3 of us guys went off to fuel up.

Check In & Rider's Meeting

I was only the 2nd or 3rd 10-hr rider to check in, so it went very quickly. After running back to my room to get my driver's license, I handed over my 6-pack (Guy From Canada bonus), Fisher House donation (Safeway gift card), insurance documentation, emergency contact info, and signed my waiver in front of the checker-inner. Got my swag pack - bright orange long-sleeve t-shirt with a massive golf ball on the back along with the rally logo. Name tag. All good to go.

The Friday Rider's Meeting started with a make-you-own-sandwish supper at 6.30, then got underway at 7. Pretty much the same as last year - admonishments to pay attention to the directions, read the bonus information, and follow instructions. We got our rally packs - rally book and my first real rally "flag" (towel). My number - #87 - dead last on the list.

Anyway, the rally book had the specific locations, so after the meeting broke up, everybody disappeared to move waypoints, complete their route planning, and figure out the Front 9/Back 9 thing.

I didn't change my route at all - the same 9 core stops plus 3 extras if I had time. I'd be heading east into the sunrise come morning. I got my top case squared away, hooked my GPS back up to my bike, got my mini-rally-book paper filled in, and covered my bike. I finished up a little before 10, watched Life on TV, turned off the light, and tried to sleep.

I kept thinking that I should get up and put Gary & Scott's phone numbers into my phone, but then I thought "Nah, I'll remember to do it tomorrow."

I didn't, and I didn't.

SATURDAY

Wake Up

0430 comes pretty early, even when you're excited.

Staging & Rider's Meeting

Staging started at 0500 at the bottom of that big hill; I was one of the first 6 or 8 bikes down there. I decided to ditch my side cases and had to carry those back up to my room and on one of the trips back & forth got my official odometer reading so I was ready to go.

I had a couple bagels and some orange juice while Scott went over last-minute instructions. Turned in my route declaration sheet and got a beat-up, scuffed golf ball marked 87 in bright red in exchange - need that for the Wild Card bonus of having the ball in 4 photos. Right then I planned to put it in as many as I could just to be sure.

We collectively headed back down the hill. Everybody geared up, started their bikes, and Scott let us go at 0550 - 10 minutes early. Unlike last year, I left with the bulk of the group instead of lingering until last.

Boni

Marshall's Crossroads
As I headed out of Lynchburg, east on US 460 and then US 501, one of the two-up teams blazed past me like I was standing still. No idea who it was though.

Riding through the chilly, dark morning led me to the realization that I really need to do something about my forward lighting situation. The fogs are good (especially in the copious fog I encountered) but they don't throw light 200' down range - and neither does my headlight. My high beam is too scattered to do much good, so instead of blazing down the road, I found myself sticking pretty much to the speed limit or just barely over and slowing at the tops of hills. Don't want to DNF from a deer strike, after all.

This next bit deals with a bit of unattractive, if not unpleasant, bodily function, so if you're easily squicked out, don't click this link.

Back on the road, I rode into a brightening sunrise that was just beautiful. The fog was behind me now, and my GPS and hand-written (and green-LED-lit) mini-rallybook directions sent me to the same place - Marshall's Crossroads. A tandem team was there too getting their pictures, one on an R bike and the other on an F650. One of them offered to take my picture, so I handed over my camera and got a pretty blurry but still identifiable photo. Forgot my golf ball though.

This, plus other observations during the day, convinced me that my DSLR rig is really not right for rallying. I'm getting one of those waterproof/shockproof Olympus point-and-shoots before Cape Fear in April and hanging it around my neck.

Newville Country Store
The sun kept rising higher (as it usually does) and the day got more and more beautiful. For some reason though, the temperature dropped. Maybe it was an elevation change or something, but I was glad I was well layered.

Speaking of which, here's the breakdown on the gear:

I did not need nor wish I had my electrics. I did use the grip heaters until this stop, as it finally warmed up a little. This was a quick photo stop, I got my golf ball in no problem, and headed off where my GPS told me to go. It was a weird trip through the countryside though - this is a very rural area with almost no traffic, but I went through a neighborhood with what I can only describe as palatial suburbia houses. These things were friggin' huge. Nobody was outside though except for a random lawn-mower-pusher or rider. Very bizarre.
Virginia Diner
At this stop is where I started dodging the 2-up/tandem team of Mike & Amanda Allen (married since Void 3) and Mike's father James. They're a bunch of R12GS riding fools and I came across them (or them across me) several times during the day. I held James' flag & golf ball (after dropping/bouncing/catching it once) and got my photo as they left. I passed them at their gas stop, they passed me at my gas stop, and then I lost them.

 

Totem Pole (VA/NC Line)
My original route had me picking up the Dismal Town bonus before the Totem Pole, but it didn't work out that way.

One of the things I found on the road to the next to boni was a juicy, bloated, hellaciously stinky dead skunk. Fortunately it was on the other side of the road so I easily bypassed it and held my breath for a ways, but as you know gentle reader, nothing comes into these stories without a purpose.

Despite specific instructions in the rally book, which I dutifully copied down onto my scroll in the mini-rally book, I couldn't find the Washington's Ditch Entrance to the Great Dismal Swamp State Park so I could get the Dismal Town location. In retrospect, it was pretty simple - the road called "642" in our rally books had a real name (something something road) but no sign posted that said "642" so I had no idea if I passed 642 or not. I tried following the signs to the Park, but that took me to the wrong entrance. I asked a guy talking on his cell phone in the street if he knew where it was, but he only said "Sorry, man, I ain't from around here" and went back to his conversation.

In an attempt to get something for the location, I got a pic of a generic Dismal Swamp sign, knowing that it would fail at the scoring table. I kept going after that, hoping to find the right spot, and as fortune would have it, soon the Allens (all of them) overtook me and raced off into the distance. I tried to keep up with them, knowing another location was nearby, but they rode far faster than my comfort zone. I came upon a dead fox being devoured by a small flock of turkey vultures and had to slow, honking my horn repeatedly to get them to clear the road.

I finally caught up to the other riders at the Totem Pole and as Amanda and James got their photos, I asked Mike if they had found the right entrance. He gave me directions, I verified them, and then I split back up the road.

After about 2 minutes I thought "Well it was stupid to skip the Totem Pole, now wasn't it?" I knew I was closer to that bonus than the other one, so I turned around and went back.

The turkey vultures ignored both my bike (after all it was the third time I'd been past and the Allens had gone by as well) and my horn. Despite my slowing down, I collided forcefully with one of the big birds, tearing its wing off as it vainly attempted to achieve flight before I got to it. It made a horrible noise, feathers sprayed, and it limped off into the woods. I turned around to see if there was anything I could do, but the other birds were already eating the dismembered wing; I turned back around and went on to bag the Totem Pole bonus.

Dismal Town
After turning around once again, I passed the dead fox, big bird wing, and other big birds yet again (this time with no incident) and headed back up the road as directed by Mike.

Turned out I was ON 642, which was the road I needed to pass to find the Washington Ditch Entrance. Naturally, I found it (thanks to Mike) and at the end of a mile or so long gravel road (good fun), I found the detailed barricade and the Dismal Town sign. I parked at the edge of the gravel parking lot, pulling up and dismounting as one of the 2-up teams (Earl & Melanie Smith, I think - they had matching yellow flip-front helmets) was mounting up & pulling away.

I went around the vehicle barricade and got my photo. Back at my bike, I decided to ditch the rest of my under layers - jacket & pants liners; I had already ditched my glove liners and balaclava when I stopped to ask the dude with the cell phone for help. With my gear off, I decided to step into the woods and take a piss.

I geared back up, somewhat in a hurry, and approached my bike to remount and get on down the road.

I grabbed the left grip with my left hand, raised my right leg, and leaned to run it up & over, and that's when my left foot slid in the gravel. My right leg dropped, I grabbed the seat with my right hand, and pulled my bike off the kickstand, dropping it right on top of me.

Alone. In a gravel parking lot. In a place called the Great Dismal Swamp. At 0930 on a Saturday morning in an incredibly rural area. The chances of somebody coming along to help me, given that 3 riders had already collected this bonus in the last 30 minutes, was slim. I briefly thought about taking some photos of my situation, but the thought of not having time to get non-bonus-related photos off the card and suffering a 4-points-per-unnecessary-photo penalty, I quickly pushed that thought aside and set about righting my bike.

Of course, the left cylinder of my GS was on top of my foot and it was pretty uncomfortable. I struggled and grunted and wiggled enough to get my foot out from underneath the engine and got out from under the bike. I've picked heavy bikes up before and know the technique, so that wasn't too tough - at least I only had a half a tank of gas or so instead of a full tank. I sat on the fence for a few minutes to collect myself and let the adrenaline dissipate, then carefully mounted my bike and motored off.

Gray, VA
Since I swapped Dismal Town & the Totem Pole, I was off my route. To pick up my next two boni, I would have had to backtrack back to the Totem Pole - past the unhelpful non-local cell phone user, the dead fox, the now one-winged bird, and the other birds again and I just didn't have that in me. Those two boni were not part of my core 9 though, so I decided to just skip them and get back on my planned route.

That meant backtracking to US 58, which I'd turned off to get to these two locations. I remembered the dead skunk and reminded myself to avoid it. However, when I came upon it on this road on which I had yet to see another car moving in either direction, suddenly there was a 10- or 12-car convoy coming at me on the other side of the road. I slowed, then realized there was no way to avoid the massive, bloated chunk of dead critter; I dropped a gear and sped up, hoping to minimize any damage.

I minimized damage, sure, but the splatter was rather ... disgusting. The skunk kind of exploded, spraying chunks up and out. One such chunk got hung up on my bike somehow and bounced off my foot about 10 minutes later.

I stopped at the first 7-11 I found after that, got some ice from the soda machine, and filled my sock with ice. At the time my ankle ached pretty good, but later my ankle was fine but my foot hurt. I took a few minutes to get a drink and have a snack. I asked the clerk to turn on her outside hose and sprayed the remaining chunks of skunk off my bike. I thanked her and got back on the road.

Before getting back underway, I briefly pondered giving up and just heading back to the hotel. I was relatively close to a couple of major highways that would quickly take me back to US 460 and thusly to Lynchburg.

It was then, during my ritual preparation for quitting, that I realized I'd have to put in a call to Gary and/or Scott and explain to them what happened. While I could hardly believe the string of events myself, I imagined what it would sound like to them and just had to laugh. "Oh well," I thought to myself, "at least it makes a great story."

I pulled out my phone and realized that thinking about putting the Rally Master's phone numbers into your cell phone's memory isn't the same as actually doing it. Discovering I couldn't call the RMs, I decided to just finish out my planned route. With some trepidation and reduced speed, I got back on the road and continued on.

I got off the main roads and picked up an easy bonus at Gray, VA. A passing driver stopped to ask me if I was OK, which I thought was very nice of him. "Just fine," I lied, "just fine thanks."

Red Caboose
I rode west on US 58 past I-85 to South Hill VA and wound my way through town to collect the next bonus. Eyeing the clock and the miles back to the hotel, I started thinking I could add in the very last non-planned-route bonus and get 10 total instead of 9. I got a little turned around in town and rode right past the big red caboose before turning around and realizing what I'd done.

You can see the difference in rally photos here; one includes the entire caboose and the other just enough of the caboose to prove I was there. I figured that if I needed more golf ball photos, I'd use the close-up, as long as my scorer would accept the Norfolk & Western logo as proof of the caboose. I figured some would, some wouldn't, so I got pics both ways.

I had my golf ball in 4 photos at this point, I thought, but decided to continue putting it in the photos just in case the number wasn't legible in any of the other photos. By this point I was taping everything to something, usually the lid of my top case. The towel became a mixed blessing - very cool looking and sturdy, but much harder to tape to things than the piece of paper was last year.

I knocked the rest of the ice out of my sock and discovered my foot was sore while my ankle was just more numb than usual.

Sgt. Earle D. Gregory
On the same road out of South Hill, without any turns and only having to pass a few cars (legally, mind you), I found my next-to-last bonus. The rally book directions hadn't entirely applied to me since the Washington Ditch Entrance, so the turns and landmarks weren't totally helpful unless I got turned around like I did in South Hill.

The wind was blowing pretty good in the little town of Chase City, and I taped my towel and ball farther up on the HHM than I normally would, but I wanted it to be legible. Before setting off again, I took off my long-sleeved shirt as it was nice & warm outdoors at that point. Wonderful weather, truly wonderful. Everywhere the leaves were starting to change colors and it was just beautiful outside.

American Bridge Co. of New York
My last scheduled stop found me once again coming into town from a direction other than what the rally book alluded to. I couldn't continue on CR 92, as it was closed, so I had to detour around.

I followed Gertrude, my trusty Garmin Streetpilot 2610, and she faithfully led me right into some kind of massive industrial/factory complex. I'm pretty sure I saw a sign that said something about "danger: potash" but I'm not 100% sure. These were real, albeit little traveled, roads and I crossed a multitude of train tracks.

Gertrude couldn't get me through the factory complex though, so I started to both panic (a little) and wander aimlessly (a lot). After a few minutes, I saw three white pickup trucks with flashing yellow lights on top of their cabs and "SECURITY" painted on their doors coming towards me. As they got closer, I saw them motioning for me to stop.

I had no intention of stopping immediately and turned down a road marked "Contractor Parking Only". A few more train tracks and a big fence and the security trucks stopped and started to shrink in my mirrors.

At that point I came across Black Walnut Road - the road off which Staunton River Battlefield State Park is located. However, not knowing which direction to turn, I figured I had a 50/50 chance and turned left.

A few minutes later, the Allens blazed past me in the other direction. I quickly checked Gertrude and saw that a town lay ahead in my direction, and the directions specified to go a few miles out of town to find the entrance to the park; at that point I deduced that the Allens were headed towards the park rather than away from it. I made a quick u-turn (hey! cool! my ABS works!) and sped off after them.

Though my initial choice in direction was wrong, following the Allens was right and I caught up to them as they were just setting off on foot down the path to the bridge. I hurried after them (ow! achy foot!) and got there in time to have Amanda hold my flag & golf ball too.

I walked back much slower than they did, and as I was approaching my bike Don & Nancy showed up. The Allens were off to nab one more bonus, and Don & Nancy were going to get that one too.

I had hoped to, but frankly, after the day I had and with my achy foot, which really hurt during upshifts, I decided to dump the last bonus and just head back. I punched up the hotel waypoint in my GPS, chose "fastest", and followed the directions.

It was the most fun riding of the day. Gertrude led me to Spring Hill Rd, which I am going to go back and ride again some day. Just amazing. Gently rolling hills, nicely banked turns, almost no traffic, beautiful countryside scenery, pungent farm smells (beat the stench of the dead skunk!), and even the occasional hay truck. Just a wonderful ride, and basically all back roads like that all the way back to Lynchburg.

The last 11 miles or so was on US 460, overlapping slightly the start of my route. My back, butt, and foot were all pretty sore, and though I knew I wouldn't win, I was really just done for the day and didn't regret my decision to abandon the last "extra" stop.

I stopped my rally clock at 15.15, 45 minutes before penalty time started. I was the first 10-hour rider to return to base. I parked my bike, got my scoring envelope, and set off to do my paperwork.

Completion

Just over 442 miles in almost 9.5 hours of riding. The GPS shows 9h 21m, but add in the 9-10 minutes for my poop break in Farmville or the snack break later on, so we'll figure it at 9.5 - I left 10 minutes early (0550) and got back 45 minutes (1515) before penalties started (1600) so that's ... um... let's see... 10 hours plus 10 minutes minus 45 minutes means 10 hours minus 35 minutes so 9.5 hrs is close enough.

This year I boosted my rally mph to 46.9, just under 8 mph better than last year. However, there was only one "walk to" bonus on my list this year, and the walk was only about 100 yards or so - and on level ground. No sprinting up hills this time around!

Scoring

I left no points "on the table" (that's rally-speak for forgetting to claim a bonus, screwing up your paperwork, or messing up a bonus requirement) and walked away with 1453 points, good for 9th place overall. My friend Chaz, whom I bested by 1 point last year, beat me by 5 points this year; however, he definitely left points on the table and should have placed higher.

The Front 9/Back 9 aspect of the rally helped me out quite a bit - as it did for everybody, I suppose. Due to my switching around of the Totem Pole & Dismal Town locations though, I noticed that if I played the Back 9, then my biggest bonus (Totem Pole, 57 points) lined up with a par 5 hole - lucky break for me despite everything that went wrong around those 2 locations. That bumped my bonus location points up to just over 1000, leaving the rest of my points to come from the Fisher House donation, Guy From Canada 6-pack, fuel bonus, the wild card bonus (my numbered golf ball in 4 photos, which was actually easy for me since ALL of my boni were photo boni), and the mulligan (all you had to do was claim it to get it).

Rick Miller, RM of the MD 20/20 rally, scored me and everything went exactly as I wrote it down and photographed it. Very smooth scoring process, too. Everything was in a spreadsheet, so the scorer could actually focus on verifying that the rider attained the proper bonus rather than worry about numbers on a roll of paper.

Nancy & Don should have taken first place in the 10-hr, but like Chaz, they left points on the table and as a result showed in 4th instead of 1st. Don has since sworn to switch to digital when the rally rules allow it, as it was a dark, fuzzy polaroid photo that did them in.

The other two BMWBMW folks that ran the 10-hr, Big Dave and Blaster, both DNF'd out on time. They both got stuck behind a truck accident on US 501 west of Lynchburg - the same road that nearly put me into penalty time last year. I even warned Blaster not to take that road! He, like me, stuck to his planned route though, so I gotta give him props for that.

Dinner

The dinner party after scoring was more subdued than last year but just as much fun. My table was taken up by the BMWBMW crew plus Jim Bain (RM of the Cape Fear rally) and Walt, Nancy's husband (who is also in BMWBMW but did not run the rally).

The food was pretty good, but again not terribly vegetarian-friendly. The green beans and corn were once again cooked in meat broth and the beans had floaty chunks of ham. I still ate them anyway, because otherwise it would have just been cole slaw and iceberg-lettuce green salad for me. No deleterious after-effects, luckily for me.

I left the party pretty early, got cleaned up more than just washing my hands, organized my gear and cases for departure, and watched several episodes of Law & Order SVU until I realized I was sleeping through most of them, gave up, turned off the lights, and crashed.

SUNDAY

I arose late, about 0830, and went outside to glimpse Blaster, Walt, and Nancy riding off. I chatted with Don for a while, then finished loading my bike. I had a waffle for breakfast and talked with Wally, Art, and another guy for the better part of an hour.

I talked to Wally some more in the parking lot - he rides an 1150GS very much like my 1100 - and then set off for home at about 1000.

I stopped in Charlottesville to gas up and ended up talking with another Void rider, a guy from New Jersey on a white '99 R11GS. I gave him some directions to get from there to I-95 and we both left. Chaz and Pam rode by as we were talking, but I never saw them again after that so they must have taken I-64.

I decided that instead of hurrying home, I would just take US 29 all the way to northern Virginia, which I did. A ways on I-66 took me to the Fairfax County Parkway and then home.

I'd been riding with a thick, pounding headache all day, so after I took my cases inside and ditched my heavy outer gear, I took 4 aspirin, drank a glass of water, and said down for a 2-hr nap. When I woke, my headache was gone.

At that point, I got back on my bike and went over to Urgent Care in Fairfax. The docs there x-rayed my foot and pronounced it "deeply bruised" instead of broken. They told me to stay off it for a couple of weeks and avoid riding my motorcycle for a month.

Not that I'm ignoring them, but as long as I wear my boots, it only hurts when I walk or upshift, so I'm trying to minimize those two activities. The weather's too nice to not ride!!

 

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