Sunday, April 28, 2013

Heart of Texas 2013 Endurance Rally

Saturday 4/27: It was 12:30am, when I checked my email on the phone. I’d been laying in bed for the past 2 hours waiting to fall asleep. I was just too anxious to begin the rally. I found the extra bonuses in my inbox, James, the rally master had sent them out the morning of April 27 just as he said he would.

There were 3 additional bonuses available. The first was to find 5 firemen, get them to stand behind the bike while holding the rally flag and stand in the photo with them which meant I needed a 6th person to take the photo or figure out how to use the timer feature on my camera. This was worth 175 points. The second bonus was to get a photo of a uniformed motorcycle officer on his bike holding the rally flag which was worth 150 points. And the last one was to get a gas receipt in 4 different Texas towns starting with the letter “I” for 250 points.

Google was my friend and I quickly found the 17 cities starting with the letter “I”. I entered them all into Basecamp and realized only 2 were remotely close to my route. And the amount of re-routing I would have to do wasn’t worth the effort at this point. The largest concentration of “I” cities were up near Dallas. I decided that last minute bonus was given to help balance out the points for people starting above Dallas as they didn’t seem to have the chance at a high scoring route up there like we did from Texas City or South Padre Island.

With the new bonuses sorted out, I went back to bed to lay down. I think I caught a 30 minute nap at some point. Finally 3:30am arrived and I sprung out of bed and got myself out the door 40 minutes later. The GPS showed 4:14am as I left the driveway. I knew I had plenty of time so I wasn’t in a hurry. It was 5:10am when I rolled into Texas City and parked in front of the phoenix sculpture. I took a practice photo to see how things looked. Then I scouted around to make sure there wasn’t another phoenix sculpture anywhere. I made my way over to a gas station to top off the tanks. Went through the What-a-burger drive-thru for breakfast tacos and headed to the ATM just around the corner from the bonus. With 30 minutes to spare I watched as 4 other riders came into town, scoped out the bonus and headed for the gas station. I expected another rider to see what I was doing and start from the bank with me, but no one did. So I waited.

DSCN0087When both my GPS and cell phone clocks read 6:00am I completed an ATM transaction and retrieved my receipt. The time was 6:01am. I was on the clock! I recorded the mileage and stuffed the receipt into my receipt box and took off to the bonus. I worked quickly at the bonus and by 6:04 I was leaving the bonus. On my way out of town, I was surprised to see the 4 other riders standing around at the gas station. I honked at them and kept moving. I later found out they were waiting on the pumps which were 10 minutes off. Ouch!!! That’s why I like ATM receipts.

DSCN0089 The next bonus was in Angleton. I was supposed to get the Heart of Angleton sign at the corner of Miller and Loop 274. The ride over to the bonus felt excruciatingly slow. I just had to remind myself it was only the beginning of the rally and the pace would be slow until I got away from the coastal cities. The GPS seemed to take me the long way into town but it turned out to be a fortuitous thing since the bonus wasn’t exactly placed where the coordinates were but rather a half block up the street on Loop 274. I gave up a couple of minutes searching to make sure I wasn’t missing the sign at the given location and then snagged the sign around the corner. 

As I was leaving town I saw a few more Heart of Angleton signs but believed I had gotten the right one. So far the first 2 bonuses weren’t exactly where the GPS coordinates placed them. I either missed the first bonuses or the Rally master was being tricky. I accepted the fact that I would find out at the scoring table.

When I got to West Columbia I was pretty much in my back yard and hustled up Hwy 36, caught the back road up to Hwy 90a and scooted over to Shiner for the next bonus. The Spoetzl Brewery building, aka the home of Shiner beer. It was 8:50 when I pulled into the parking lot. Fortunately they weren’t open and no one was in my way. I took the photo, logged the time and mileage in my notebook and read the next bonus. Total stop time was 1 minute 21 seconds, it doesn’t take long to get a photo.

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From Shiner I headed north up to I-10 so I could cut over to Hwy 77 and get up to Ammansville. As I road into Flatonia I saw the firestation was open with all of the vehicles parked outside. I pulled up, walked inside and started asking for help with my fireman’s bonus. When I told them it was the highest scoring picture on my scavenger hunt and they were worth more than a motorcycle cop they were really interested in helping. The stop took 5 minutes but the 175 points were worth it. I thanked them all, recording things in my notebook and hustled out of town.

DSCN0095 I was so excited that I had bagged the extra bonus that I wanted to call Reagan. Well it wasn’t meant to be thanks to the Zumo and it’s messed up bluetooth stack. A call to Garmin is definitely in order. After multiple failed attempts at making a call, I found myself in Schulenburg and heading north on Hwy 77. It was a quick jaunt down a country road from Hwy 77 to get a photo of the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammansville. On my way into the community I met Jim Orr who was already leaving. I wondered how he had gotten ahead of me and then decide he must have passed me while I was in Flatonia. Another 90 second stop and I was leaving the bonus and headed for Elgin.

Getting through La Grange was mildly annoying as I encountered traffic which didn’t want to go the speed limit. But once I reached Hwy 71 things cleared out a bit and I was able to move along at my desired pace. In Bastrop I took a little detour which shaved a little time and got me headed up Hwy 95 toward Elgin. The fine folks at the roadway commission should really consider widening Hwy 95 between Bastrop and Elgin. Or at least put in more passing zones.

DSCN0096 When I got to Elgin, I followed the GPS right to the coordinates, jumped off the bike and got the picture of the sign. The trash cans provided a convenient location to hold my flag. Since the bonus description said to get a picture of the “City of Elgin” sign I looked around to make sure there wasn’t another sign that I was missing. After all, this was the Chamber of Commerce sign. No other sign found so I left for the next bonus in Florence.

Hwy 290 toward Austin, isn’t the quickest road. Despite the continued growth in the area, the state just hasn’t kept up with the roadways needed for the population. It’s been that way since I was a little kid. So getting from Elgin over to the Tx-130 tollway was a test of patience. So far I had managed to build a 60mph overall average. I needed 66mph if I was going to try for my big 2nd half.  I knew I was still increasing the average so I didn’t let the traffic bother me. By the time I reached the north end of the Tx-130 tollway I had increased my overall average to 61mph thanks to the liberal 80mph speed limit on the tollway.

DSCN0097 Getting to Florence once leaving Georgetown was a challenge. More people out for a Saturday drive and no one wanted to drive the speed limit. But I made it into Florence, found the church and got the photo of the historical marker. By now I was really hitting a stride with my stops, they were under 90 seconds. And things were going great. The only issue on my mind was finding a quick place for a bio-break. So far the bonuses had been in populated places and gas stations take too long.

DSCN0098 The ride over to Oatmeal was a quick one. I finally found myself on good country back roads with friendly speed limits and no traffic. I made good time and started to see my average climb to 62mph. I needed 66mph to pull off the big second half but felt I still had time to get those other 4mph before I had to make a decision on the route. The stop at Oatmeal provided the opportunity for a much needed bio-break as it was the first one since I’d left the house. This was also roughly the halfway mark in the route. So far I had ridden 357 miles and it was 11:52am.  While I had hoped to get there by 11:40 I was still OK on time. My total stop time for bonuses and traffic at this point was 24 minutes 40 seconds. The low fuel light was on so as I headed to Horseshoe Bay I started looking for gas. The GPS said Marble Falls would have what I needed.

As I rode into Marble Falls I spotted an Exxon for gas and then noticed Hwy 281 was bumper to bumper. I was concerned about the traffic so while I was refueling I searched on the GPS for an alternate way across the river. Nothing! No reasonable detour to get me across the water. When I pulled out of the gas stop I showed a total of 35 minutes 4 seconds stop time and my overall average was down to 59 mph. I remained as level headed and calm as possible. Jumping off onto one of the side streets would only get me delayed further so I waited in the traffic.

When I finally made it across the bridge my total stopped time had jumped to 50 minutes and 49 seconds. I was really hot under the collar when I discovered the whole reason for the lengthy delay was due to a Triathlon being held in the area. OK, anyone who follows my blog knows that I don’t really care for bicyclists on our roadways. But honestly bringing traffic to a complete halt and delaying travelers by 15 minutes or more across the ONLY bridge in the area is irresponsible on the city’s part and rude on the part of the organizers.

DSCN0099 By the time I got over to Horseshoe bay, I was cooling off again and focusing on the task at hand. I rode into the resort and pulled up to the fountain. I reminded myself that getting hit while crossing the road in a turn around would be a bad story for the blog. I crossed the street and framed the picture. A friendly motorist waited for me to get the picture and get safely back to the bike before entering the turn around. That single minute pause on their part really lifted my spirits as I recorded the bonus and left the resort. Enchanted Rock was next.

I made my way over to Hwy 71 toward Llano, wishing I could find a county road going west over to Hwy 16 and Enchanted Rock. Then I hit my second delay caused by that ridiculous triathlon. The sheriff’s department closed Hwy 71 for bicyclists riding up to the intersection of 2233 and Hwy 71. The backup was at least a mile long. This only cemented my belief that bicycles don’t deserve to be on our roadways. When they require special police intervention of traffic flow that is WRONG!@!@!@!@! This delay cost me more stopped time as the number increased 55 minutes and 22 seconds and my overall average had fallen to 54mph.

DSCN0100 Being the optimist I thought when I got onto Hwy 16 out of Llano I would be able to pick up the pace and dash down to Enchanted Rock. Well…. every Stoner in the area must have been out for their flower sniffing drive because every car I passed was going at least 10 under the posted speed limit. And it continued along RM 965 to the Enchanted Rock entrance. I recorded the bonus and started to figure out what I was going to do. The delays caused by the triathlon had put my whole rally in jeopardy of a DNF or a dismal finish without completing the progressive bonus.

It was 1:53pm when I left Enchanted Rock. That was far too early to call it quits and head to the barn but my GPS was telling me I’d be late to the finish even following my base route and dropping the difficult bonus at Rio Frio. The only thing that gave me hope was the fact that below Kerrville I knew the roads and knew what was possible.

After clearing Frederickburg and heading south on Hwy 16 my GPS told me I would arrive at the finish by 6:07pm. That was 7 minutes late and meant that I would DNF. But if I cut any more bonuses I would lose the 500 points of the progressive bonus and any chance of a decent finish was gone. I knew I had to be smart and efficient for the next 4 hours. No mistakes, no delays.

The first opportunity for efficiency was in Kerrville, the GPS wanted to drag me through town but I knew better and took Loop 534 around town down to Hwy 173. This simple adjustment allowed the arrival time to drop to 6:06pm and I didn’t have to speed to gain the time. Once on Hwy 173 it took every bit of restraint not to crank up the speed to a comfortable 75mph. The speed limit was 55 leaving town and my cruise control helped control my speed. When the limit did rise to 70mph my choice of speed followed.

DSCN0101 I reached Bandera and left while managing to gain another minute on the arrival clock. It now showed 6:05. Still late, still a DNF. But there was hope. Once on FM 470 I was in my element and had the road to myself. I enjoyed the twists and turns and the wide open spaces. This was not an area for cruise control. As I road into Tarpley I went straight through town and stopped on the west side to get the “west Tarpley town limits” sign. For once my reading comprehension had paid off. This stop was under 60 seconds.

From Tarpley my original route had me dropping down through Utopia and over to Rio Frio for a 75 point bonus. However I knew about the road construction between Utopia and Rio Frio so I dropped the bonus and headed north on FM 187 through Vanderpool. FM 187 to Hwy 39 to Hwy 83 was a nice long ride to get into the grove of things. And with no traffic to speak of the time slipped off the GPS. The arrival time showed 5.59pm when I reached the intersection of Hwy 41 over to Rocksprings. Things were looking up.

When Hwy 41 reached US 377, I turned south to Rocksprings. As I rode into town I saw a historical marker on the left but my GPS said my waypoint was another 300 ft ahead on the right. Sure enough it was in front of a historical marker. I snapped the photo, recorded things and turned around. The next bonus in Telegraph was on the road I was on so there was no way to miss it.

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The stretch of road from Rocksprings to Telegraph was fun. I mean really fun. Lots of twists, turns and even some elevation changes. Plus a complete lack of traffic. I pulled off the road in Telegraph, snapped the photo and took off. I was feeling pleased with myself as I had completed the progressive bonus so now all I had to do was get to Brady on time and the GPS indicated I could do just that.

I proceeded up 377 through Junction and followed my base route toward the end. As time passed I continued to see time slip off the GPS arrival time so I decided to collect the Hext Post Office bonus if I could. I gave myself 2 minutes for the bonus attempt. When I got to Hext the GPS turned me left toward the town center. I couldn’t find the right building and almost gave up until a gentleman was waving at me. I pulled up next to him and asked where the post office was. He pointed up the hill and said he was sorry but there wouldn’t be anyone there this late. I thanked him and told him I only needed a picture. I found the bonus easily with his help and collected the last bonus of the day for 60 points.

Now all I had to do was ride the last 24 miles to the finish without getting stopped for any reason. When I reached Hwy 190 I depended on my cruise control to curtail my overwhelming desire to twist up the throttle. As I rode into town I spotted a side street next to the school which would take me right to the hotel and avoid a couple of stop lights. I rolled into the hotel parking lot at 5:56pm with 4 minutes to spare. I was the last rider to make it in and the Rally master was there to greet me.

After a few brief greetings to fellow riders, I made my way inside to pickup my scoring pack and fill out my trip log which needed to be turned in by 6:30. Using the new system with the little notepad and receipt box, it was quick and easy to neatly fill out my rally sheet and turn things in for scoring. I didn’t even look at my pictures on the SD card because I knew there was nothing I could if they were wrong. I turned in my paperwork and then relaxed and enjoyed the after ride social. I had ridden my butt off and knew I had given it my all. Now I had to wait to see how scoring went and whether 3 other LD riders I respect had figured out the puzzle better than myself.

Sunday 4/28: Breakfast and the awards ceremony was held down the street in the fellowship hall of the First United Methodist church. I thought it was a fitting end since for me personally God has been with me along the way to save my bacon more than a few times. Breakfast was great and it gave us a little more time to socialize. Awards were given out for the riders who rode 500, 1000 or 1,500 miles to collect the Unique Bonus earlier in the month. My certificate was for 1,000 miles in the 24 hour period. Steve and Rex had both ridden 1,500 mile routes for their certificates.

Then it was time for the finishers announcements. My friend Steve Bracken had shown me his score sheet which was 1,155 points. He hadn’t realized there was a 500 point progressive bonus for collecting all of the towns to spell “Heart of Texas 2013”. When James announced Steve had 3rd place with a score of 1,655 I realized a couple of things. First that he had been given the 500 points for the progressive bonus even though he didn’t know about it. Second, I knew my score was higher. Who’s name would James announce next.

Thankfully James didn’t drag it out very long and I learned I had indeed rode to a 2nd place finish with 1,820 points having ridden 720 miles. I was really happy with the result. It wasn’t so much that I had placed 2nd but more that I had planned a strong route and executed it while only dropping one bonus. Plus dragging myself from a DNF to a finisher in the last 4 hours of the ride made me feel like the biggest winner of all.

My good friend Rex LeGalley clinched  first place with a points total of 1,875. He also rode 720 miles. Afterwards he mentioned he wasn’t really sure which one of us were going to pull it off since we both had done the miles and seemed to have collected about the same number of bonuses. I was just happy that we both came up with such great routes and both had to handle the situation in Marble Falls and adjust our routes accordingly.

There were a few friends who didn’t make it to this year’s rally because of illness or scheduling conflicts. I look forward to seeing them in July for the big ride. It certainly would have been fun to see what sort of routes they would have executed given the challenge of the rally.

This rally threw a twist in how I had to plan the route. It also was the first time I’ve ever really found myself in a position of a DNF and I learned that indeed I have the skills and mental determination to control myself in such a situation. Planning a 720 mile route was also the most aggressive route  I’ve ever planned in a rally to date. But at least for next year, for this rally, in this part of Texas I think something a little more aggressive is even possible, but I will have a better contingency plan incase delays throw a kink in things.

Next month I’m heading to the North East to ride in the Mason Dixon 20-20. That will also give me more challenges in routing, riding and bonus collecting as it’s not a photo bonus rally. Plus I’ll see Rex again….


Brian said...

For a really great ride report, read Steve's report

Brian said...

Here's a ride report from sixth place finisher Richard Swim

James Krueger said...

Nerve racking how close you were to a DNF! Very cool that you pulled it all off!