Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Butt Lite VIII–My return

It’s been more than a year since I last rode in an endurance rally. I hadn’t completely gotten away from motorcycling, I just didn’t feel up to competing yet. Too much shit had hit the fan and I needed a break. Plus new aspects of my life caused me to re-evaluate the importance of such past times as motorcycle rallies in general.
But last October I participated in the Big-As-Texas party’s BBG and had a blast. Visiting sites, whipping out my flag and snapping a photo got the rally juices flowing again. By the time I was back at the hotel I knew I had to ride some big rallies, so I entered the Butt Lite VIII and the IBR 2017.
Once I was accepted into both it was time to take stock of my current rally rig and determine what needed to be changed and what could stay the same. Over the past year I had also heard about a guy who wrote a traveling salesman program using Google, it calculated the best route to visit 50 places around the USA. This seemed like something I should explore further.
Somewhere around January of this year I decided my trusty R1200 GS wasn’t going to cut the mustard for my return to rallying. I needed a stronger steed, but I didn’t want to plunk down the cash for a new BMW. So I turned to the tuning fork company and bought the defacto standard for IBR top 10 finishers, the FJR1300. By February I had found the bike, started ordering farkles and scheduled my seat build at Russel Day Long for the month of May. Meanwhile I started writing an application that I now call RallyMan. It’s a hybrid between Excel and Python which I learned along the way is a powerful combination used in the financial services world.
As July approached things were coming together nicely. After the seat build in May I stopped by Gerlach to visit Reagan’s rock and then rode non-stop to the house. About 2,000 miles and the seat performed perfectly. It was instantly broken in. The RallyMan program still needed some tweaks and it seemed every time I fixed one thing, I came up with 3 or 4 other “cool things” I wanted the program to do. The closer I got to July though, the busier work became and the less time I had to work on the program. It would have to be good enough.
The week before the rally was a scramble to finish up all sorts of personal things and for some overwhelming reason I was driven to “put my affairs in order.” Remember I had some bad shit happen back in December of 2014. I think that’s what drove me to obsess about the well being of my loved ones instead of if I have every last detail ready on my bike. But with a little determination I managed to get everything ready and I left early Friday morning, July  1st before the traffic started to build near my house.
The ride up to Denver was uneventful. Everything just worked and I sort of viewed it as getting to the end of the tank of gas. With the extra fuel and fantastic mileage I was going more than 400 miles between tanks. Around 2:40pm I crossed into Oklahoma and by 3:15 I was in Colorado. By 6:20pm, Denver time, I was walking into the hotel and saying “Hi” to friends I hadn’t seen in a while.
Saturday, started out as expected. I woke up rested and leisurely went down for breakfast then headed up to registration and out to tech inspection. Coming through the line a day later than most afforded me the luxury of learning there would not be an odometer check so I didn’t need to be geared up to ride. I just had to have my helmet available for inspection. The morning went by without a hitch. My paperwork was in order, my bike was in order and my helmet was fine. Things were rocking along nicely. I even went to WalMart with my riding buddy Lonnie “Cougar” McCoy to get some last minute things.
Upon my return to the hotel, I went up to my room and opened my laptop to watch some Hulu or Netflix while I took a nap. That’s when stuff started to hit the fan…. My laptop screen wouldn’t come on. I tried all sorts of reset options I found while searching the internet via my  phone and tablet. Hold this button, press that key, etc…. Nothing was helping the screen was just blank….
As the afternoon went on, I made another trip to WalMart to pickup something I had forgotten earlier and scope out their laptops. I was looking for something with 8GB of Ram, i3 processor or faster and something small. I didn’t need a 17 inch mammoth beast because I wasn’t going to do heavy duty route planning, I had the RallyMan software for that. It turned out WalMart didn’t have what I was looking for. So I went back to the hotel to give the laptop one more shot. Nothing. Zip. Nada!  CRAP!!!!! One of my rally nightmares were coming true.
Lonnie’s wife had brought the car up for the start, so I called Lonnie to see if he’d take me over to the Best Buy and of course, he was happy to help out. I don’t think I was in Best Buy more than 10 minutes before I was walking out with a laptop under my arm and a $600+ dent in my credit card. In regards to travel, Reagan used to always say, “No worries, if something goes wrong I have a credit card.” Well that philosophy has resulted in the purchase of a CanAm Spyder in the past and now a laptop.
The challenge would be to see if I could get the new laptop “rally ready” before the Start Banquet or if I was going to still be loading data and programs while everyone else was planning their epic ride to win the thing. It took about 5 hours to get everything installed and the necessary files downloaded from Dropbox but I did it. I had EVERYTHING I needed to process the rally pack after dinner. The only catch was that I had to leave it syncing during dinner so I didn’t have it at the banquet and I didn’t know if it was downloading the last bits OK…..
The Rally Masters really surprised me and gave us lots of perks up front. The Rally Pack was in digital format so I didn’t have to scan in the pages. And when I got back to the room I discovered there was a CSV file which had the points, time/daylight restrictions and rally pack position information.  It was just a matter of sorting and a few find/replaces, then I was copying it into RallyMan. I was thinking things were going along really well. I’d be “sawing logs” in less than an hour after getting the rally pack.
Well, that’s how I had planned it. But I had never tested RallyMan with a rally pack containing 163 bonuses. I had written the code to take up to 300 bonuses but never tested with more than 100. One of the key things RallyMan does is calculate the time and distance from each and every point to each and every other point plus the start and finish. So in this case, imagine a matrix of 165 points by 165 points. That’s over 26,000 records. After 5 or 6,000 records though Excel would time out. I fought this for several hours until I realized it was the same OLE32 error I had solved months before when I first integrated Excel with the Python calculator code. Before I figured out the root of the problem however, I hit the 100,000 query limit with Google and had to then wait until midnight pacific time for my daily limit to reset. So I twiddled my thumbs for an hour, packed what I could pack and waited.
Finally I was able to get all 26,000+ combinations completed and I thought I was in the clear. Well…. 2 hours later I finally had a 47,000+ point route. I loaded things into the GPS, POI Pocket and my tablet. Then I set RallyMan to run a 2 hour calculation and I got some sleep. It was after 3am when my head hit the pillow. So much for being asleep an hour after I got the rally pack. Best laid plans and all….
I awoke Sunday morning just after 5am. Dang, it felt like I had just fallen asleep, oh wait. I had…. 2 hours earlier. I checked RallyMan and it found a slightly better route with more points. The same basic route just a few hundred points higher, so I updated the tablet with the new route sheet. Here’s what it looked like:
First Schedule
Perfect, I had a route planned for the entire rally, it told me when to sleep,ride and gas up. (Click on the image to get the full route list). Now the challenge was to just ride it. Easy!
I strolled downstairs to get a bite to eat and register my odometer with a rally official. Because I hadn’t gotten much sleep I wasn’t in the best of moods and the food tasted awful. But I had my route planned and I felt confident that it was a decent one. Maybe not a winning route but definitely something to put me in the Top 10.
Finally 7am came and we were released!
[ Are you still awake? You wanted a ride report and so far I’ve written a small book before the rally ever started.  Someone once accused me of writing a “booklet” when I had actually set out to write a book. So keep reading ]
At the first of any rally, I’m always reminded of the words of my friend Steve Bracken, “You can’t win the rally in the first few minutes but you can certainly screw it up!” I zipped up I-25 north, moving along at a fair pace for the flow of traffic. Before long I found myself at the first bonus,


Arrival time: 8:10
Schedule time:  8:17

It seemed like I remembered what to do still, so I turned around and headed back to I-25N. When I left the bonus, there was no cell coverage so I opted to follow the Garmin 590. But as soon as I was able to, I popped up Waze and let it get me to the next point. And this is when I had to make my first decision about which routing engine I’d follow on the trip. Waze wanted me to cut north through a neighborhood and then catch 287 north. Garmin wanted to route me back through miles and miles of small town traffic to catch I-25N. Even though I-25 offered higher speeds, I think I did better following Waze.

AMESArrival time: 9:47
Schedule time: 9:42
“Dang it, I’m behind”
I probably would have made it to this bonus quicker except I found myself on a gravel road for miles and miles with no way to pass the Toyota Forerunner poking along in front of me. The funniest part was when we came to a cattle guard and two horses were standing there. The guy in the Toyota just stopped. He didn’t honk his horn, inch forward or anything. I finally had to get off my bike and walk up to the horses and move them out of the way. The whole time the guy in the Toyota was staring at the horses as if they were some sort of Holy sign from God or something. Weird!
Now the pressure was on. I had only been to two bonuses and I was already behind my schedule, that simply would not do. I adjusted my velocity accordingly and worked to keep the bike moving and the attitude positive.

Arrival time: 11:32
Schedule time: 11:41

When I entered the park for this bonus the cute little ranger girl at the gate reminded me to keep the speed at 25mph as she didn’t want to see me get into trouble. ‘Yes Ma’am!”
Now I understood what it took to keep my schedule and more importantly I realized that when I left each bonus I would be “behind” according to my GPS units because with the settings in my schedule I had actually said I would “outride” the calculated GPS times. It’s key to understand this, otherwise you start going through an emotional rollercoaster of being ahead and behind the schedule.
As I approached the next bonus I was starting to wonder about fuel. I wasn’t in the most populated area of Nebraska. And I certainly didn’t think I could make my own ethanol if I ran out of gas Smile

Arrival time: 11:59
Schedule time: 12:04

I was still ahead after this stop, but I hadn’t gained on the previous stop. In fact I gave up 5 minutes of “ahead”-ness. No worries, keep moving!
I stopped for fuel in Alliance, NE and entertained a family that appeared to be traveling in 3 or 4 vehicles. The Dad was really interested in what I was doing but didn’t get to talk to me as the kids and grandkids all needed something from him. My Gas stop was scheduled for 5 minutes and that’s what it took according to my GPS logs!
By now I was starting to develop a rhythm and a process again. I felt good, things were going good and I had pretty much forgotten about the little sleep I got the night before. As I was looking for my next bonus, I found it when I saw another rally rider finishing up his photo. Perfect!

Arrival time: 13:35
Schedule time: 13:29


Arrival time: 14:53
Schedule time: 14:58


Arrival time: 16:27
Schedule time: 16:33


Arrival time: 18:00
Schedule time: 17:47

At this point in the day I was starting to get tired. I had pushed myself pretty hard all day and kept the bike moving. Prior to this stop, which required a few miles of gravel road, I had stopped in Belle Fouche, SD to get some gas. I wasn’t scheduled for fuel until after CENTER but I knew I was going into an area that didn’t have regular fuel opportunities and I didn’t want to take a chance. The stop ran longer than expected because I was slow.
[ *** The astute rally rider / rally master has probably already found a problem that will haunt me at the scoring table. If not look back at the picture time stamps vs. the times I have listed. We were supposed to put our camera into MDT which was rally time. That’s the time I’m using for Arrival/Schedule times listed DSCN0814]

Arrival time: 19:52
Schedule time: 19:43

Despite my best efforts I couldn’t make up the 13 minutes that I got behind at the gas stop in Bell Fouche. But I was going to keep trying. At the time, I didn’t realize this would be my last bonus for the day but it was. The schedule was about to get blasted to hell!
In Baker, MT I turned south on to Hwy 7. I was talking to my LD buddy, Tyler who had absolutely no idea where the bonuses were but he was having fun guessing. I would of course refer to them as the code which meant nothing to him and of course, I didn’t even know what city some of them were in. LOL!!!!
Our conversation was cut short when I drove out of cell coverage and then off the paved road a few minutes later! Relax! I didn’t crash or anything, nope. It seems the fine folks of Montana just decided to rip the road up complete and leave a small dirt trail with orange cones. Thankfully it was still daylight but the “road” was so rough I had to slow down considerably. At the time it seemed like it went on forever, but hindsight (and GPS tracks) shows that it was only 4.5 miles and I was able to maintain an average speed of 40mph. I certainly wasn’t going to make up the 9 minutes I was behind after the last stop.
In Ekalaka, MT, the road changed to Hwy 323 but my direction of travel remained the same, SOUTH. By now the sun was setting and an amazing light show started to play in the sky in front of me. The lightning danced to it’s own beat and for a moment I marveled at it, then I realized I was one of the tallest things out there and if it got bad I had no shelter. I don’t even think there were ditches to crawl into.
Just 27 miles south of Ekalaka, things got even more challenging. I rode past a large mule deer just standing in the road. I passed so close to him that I could have grabbed his antler. The worst part was that I didn’t even see him until I was on top of him. Just a foot further into the road and this ride report would have ended very differently. To say it “scared the shit out of me” would be an understatement. I had all my lights on, but it didn’t matter. Their eyes don’t seem to reflect like the white tails of Texas and their butts aren’t white so you don’t see them as easily from the rear or side.
At this point I made a very personal decision that I probably would have made differently 2 or 3 years ago. Having recently become a step-dad and grandpa (g-paw) I realized that getting back home in one piece to see those kids and my lovely future wife was way way way more important than some top ranking in an amateur motorcycle endurance rally. So I slowed down. WAY DOWN! In fact for the next 75 miles my average speed was 44mph with a MAX of 55mph. Toward the end of the stretch I had finally caught the storm that danced so elegantly in the sky just a few hours earlier.
My nerves were shot, I was exhausted and I was looking for some shelter so I could rest a little and regroup. When I rolled into  Hulett, WY I was to the point that I would have paid whatever rate the innkeeper asked. The only problem was the single motel in town didn’t have an vacancy. Little towns like that close up early so it’s possible they just turned on the “NO VACANCY” so as to not be disturbed. But their parking lot looked full. So I rode around for a moment looking for a bank, church or other building with an awning or other outdoor cover.  I found the “Corner Market” and as luck would have it they were going to be closed the next day for “July 4th” and there was a Coke machine there along with a bench.  Here’s what it looks like from Google Maps.
After a few hours of sleep on the make shift bench (2x10 and cinder blocks) I got up and tried to figure out what I was going to do next. This is one of those points where I view my preparations and my RallyMan program as lacking. I had not yet programmed a “re-route” or DIY feature into the program. It would have been nice to tell the program where I was in the route AND what time it was. Then it would be able to reroute and get me to the check point on time with the least damage to my score. However, I didn’t have that so I did it the old fashioned way. I calculated that I was 5 hours behind, so I looked at my route in BaseCamp and cut out 5 hours worth.   That also cut 2,371 points out of the route. At the time I didn’t know how many I’d cut, I just knew I dropped points
With an adjusted plan and a little rest I hit the road, heading for my next bonus. Shortly into the ride I ended up taking a call from one of my clients. He of course, paid significantly for the call but it was for a worthy cause and it helped to keep me going through the early morning hours before the sun rose.

SPOTHArrival time: 5:18 (Day 2)
Schedule time: 23:03 (Day 1)

I arrived at the bonus 6 hours and 15 minutes later than planned. However, the program had planned a 3 hour rest break for me after the next bonus. So in reality I was only 3 hours and 15 minutes behind schedule. Remember, I took out 5 hours of the route though. Hmmmmm

Arrival time: 7:34
Schedule time: 1:17

I wasn’t feeling good when I left this bonus and as luck (un-luck) would have it, the route to the next bonus was through twisty mountainous roads. I was OK on the straights but in the steep twisties I opted to slow down which annoyed at least one other rally rider on a GS. But we both made it to the finish eventually, so what!
It’s funny when I’m riding in these events. Most of the time I really don’t know where I am, I just go where the GPS tells me. The next bonus code was JOSEPH, and I kept wondering if this was the large carving of the Chief Joseph [ correction - Crazy Horse ] that was being done over near Mt. Rushmore. But of course I was a long way away from there. LOL!

Arrival time: 10:32
Schedule time: 11:34

Definitely not the mountain carving I was thinking it was. LOL!!! But I had managed to get ahead of schedule again. Mainly because I cut out so many miles and points. But I was once again on a schedule.

Arrival time: 12:41
Schedule time: 12:43


Arrival time: 13:00
Schedule time: 13:45

On my way into Ft Benton, MT I was really struggling with exhaustion. I decided that I would look for a quiet park bench or shady place I could take a quick nap. The park at the SHEPM bonus looked good except for ALL THE PEOPLE! I quickly realized I wouldn’t get a decent nap. So I pressed on for the SHEPG bonus at the top of the hill. After getting the bonus I found a nice sloped area near the bike and laid down. I didn’t think I went to sleep but my alarm went off 30 minutes later and I felt 10 times better than I had before. I was ready to go!

Arrival time: 14:55
Schedule time: 15:09


TENCArrival time: 17:24
Schedule time: 17:20

TENC was worth 998 points and I didn’t really understand why. All I knew was that as I got closer to it I was encountering more and more law enforcement and they were actively pulling people over. Plus the wind, OMG!!!! The WIND was bad, even for me. It definitely contributed to my schedule slipping.  Of course, after grabbing TENC, I found myself riding THROUGH Glacier National Park. Oooops!  But it was beautiful.

Arrival time: 19:21
Schedule time: 19:06

My schedule was slipping for no apparent reason, other than the time I lost around GNP, but I had a blast riding along Lake Koocanusa. I highly recommend it as a fun road. I definitely spent some time leaned over and working on those chicken strips of the back tire Winking smile

Arrival time: 20:37
Schedule time: 20:17

This stop was just south of Bonners Ferry, ID and home to my buddy Tyler. He met me at the bonus with some snacks and that huge smile of his. I didn’t stay long, but it gave me time to put on my electric liner and enjoy a coconut water. Then I was back on the road! While underway I enjoy a bit of barbequed chicken he pulled off the grill just before meeting me. Normally, I’m not a dark meat guy, but there was nothing left of that leg and thigh! Yum!!!!

Arrival time: 22:26
Schedule time: 3:07 (Day3)

In the original plan, I was supposed to rest BEFORE getting the THOMPW bonus in Oregon but after the reroute I found myself ahead enough that I picked it up before I stopped for the night in Kettle Falls. I like to find mom & pop type hotels for my short breaks but this one was a disappointment. The Innkeeper was just plain slow and annoyed me. He thought he was renting out a 5 star Marriot room in Manhattan or something. It was a modest flea dump, no ice machine on premise, no in room fridge or microwave, just 1 towel, and no soap or shampoo. But the door locked and the bed had decent pillows, I slept!
Almost 4 hours later I was again moving. Getting out of that bed was hard! But this was Day 3 and I had a check point to get to! By 4am wheels were turning again and I was winding through a forest road to the first bonus just a few miles outside of town.

Arrival time: 4:17 (Day 3)
Schedule time: 4:18
Right on time!!!!


Arrival time: 6:22
Schedule time: 6:00

Following Waze took me on some crazy back twisty roads in the dark but I made it to the Grand Cooley Dam just 22 minutes behind schedule. Even though I was behind schedule at this point I thought I might be able to pick up something to make up for yesterday’s route butchering. I found 2 extra bonuses I could pick up and still be to the hotel by 00:00 MDT to get my full 8 hour rest bonus! It would be tight, so I needed to move!

Arrival time: 7:37
Schedule time: 6:33


Arrival time: 8:44
Schedule time: 7:43


BOOTArrival time: 13:53
Schedule time: 12:33

OK, so at this point I’m 1 hour and 20 minutes LATE and yet I knew I could make it. Go back and look at the schedule and you’ll see (calculate it) that it had me getting to the check point at 18:46 which meant I had more than 5 hours of wiggle in the schedule.  I consider that to be a BUG by the way…..
After leaving BOOT, I knew one thing, I had to keep the wheels turning and turning quickly! I didn’t have time to be tired, but I did have time to stop to refuel and add water. Dehydration was a very big concern to me.

Arrival time: 15:23
Schedule time: NOT!


Arrival time: 18:09
Schedule time: NOT!

At this point in the rally, I had added 1,390 points back into the route. In hindsight I think I could have added an extra 414 points too but I didn’t catch it in time. However, I attempted one more bonus after leaving MITCH and well….
The bonus code was TULE and it was worth 293 points. When I pulled out onto Hwy 140 after the MITCH bonus, my Garmin said I’d be on time, but the Waze was screaming NO!!!!!!! I’d be late by at least 20 minutes.  I decided to follow the Garmin. At first both GPS units were in agreement to continue on Hwy 140 into the Freemont National Forest. Then there was a divergent in the routes and the Garmin wanted me to take the Bly Mount Cutoff Rd. OK, it was gravel at first, then it turned into 2 dirt trails. Then suddenly it turned into a Goat trail!!! I found myself in a place with the wrong kind of motorcycle. I started to bottom out with the limited suspension and dropped the bike twice in just 15 feet. The second time I had to remove the side cases, top case and aux tank in order to lighten the bike enough to get it back up. The second fall also broke the front fairing sub-frame where the mirrors mount. Aaaargh!!!!!!!!
Here’s the Google Map position.
Apparently I was more than halfway down the trail, but at that point I didn’t know that. And I wasn’t willing to risk any further tip overs. So I rode the bike back up the trail to better ground. Then hauled all the parts I had taken off the bike up the hill and put things back together. In the process of the event, I managed to rip my hydration hose off the bike, but luckily retrieved it before leaving the area.
Once back on the road I stopped to check things and the bike checked out OK. I was more shaken up than the bike. But I collected myself and got moving. I was now 1 hour late to the check point. I could still check in but I would lose 60 minutes of the rest bonus. F***!!!!!!!!!
In my mind I really wicked up the throttle getting to the check point. But reviewing the GPS logs tells a different a tale. Yes, I was moving but no where near a level of wreckless speeding. I guess I actually settled into my normal rally riding pace once I got moving. I had right at 5 hours to make it to the check point and as the miles disappeared so did the minutes that I would be late. In the end I made it to the checkpoint at 00:18, just 18 minutes late. All things considered, that was good.
The check point was …. well I was tired,  but it seemed like a bad place to have a mid-way checkpoint and better suited for a finish location. There was quite a bit of walking from the bikes to the check-in and scoring. And registration took way too long with just one person to work the desk at the time. The lady even apologized for the delay saying Tuesday nights were usually really slow. Apparently the event people hadn’t coordinated with the hotel front desk on the matter of check-ins.
By the time I got to my room, I was worn out, annoyed, frustrated and HUNGRY. I tried to prepare my score sheet and get ready for scoring. Then I went down stairs with everything I needed to score. The process was remarkably quick and I give the rally staff kudos for a great job.
Unfortunately I didn’t do so well at scoring and lost points for the DRYFAL bonus because I wrote it on the score sheet as DRYFALL. 540 points tossed out! I left the table with 20,448 points. Since I didn’t really know what I was supposed to have on leg 1 (my program calculated the whole rally) I went to bed disappointed with the 540 point loss and angry with myself for the debacle in Oregon that missed up my bike and cost me 180 points in rest.
I needed things to get better on Leg 2.


ChrisW said...

Hi Brian

Looking forward to the rest of the story!


Troy Martin said...

Good report Brian. Looking forward to the leg 2 report.

Troy Martin said...

Good report Brian. Looking forward to the leg 2 report.

Owsley said...

Great write up Brian

Missionplatinum said...

Great detail Brian. Can't wait for part 2.

DrMalcolm said...

Thanks Brian - great writing, great story!

Steve B said...

Excellent write up, hoping for more!

solor said...

great read!

Steve said...

Nice ride my friend. You are my kind of rally rider.

As a minor aside, it really pisses me off when you lose points for typos. It's not a freakin' grammar test and rallies need to pay some attention to that aspect of scoring.

Off to read Part Deux.