Saturday, September 15, 2012

2012 Rendez-Vous Rally – the ride home

It was great to have a nice night’s sleep before saddling up again for a ride home. The bad weather of the previous day had cleared out, and we were all set for a nice riding day.

The Auberge Harris puts on a nice continental breakfast (there’s a hot breakfast available, as well, but we were both set for the lighter fare).

We chatted with the Rally Master and some of the other riders, before heading out about 0900.

We started out with partly cloudy skies, and temperatures in the low 50’s (deg F). We had both brought our heated jackets and controllers, and Connie ended up using hers for much of the day. I found that the jacket alone (without the rain liner) was just fine, and that my soaked gear from the previous evening was drying quite well. The ride home was uneventful weather-wise. The temperature started off cool (<60 deg F) and slowly warmed after about 1030 until the temperature got into the 80’s in New Jersey.

We had about 600 miles to cover on Sunday, so we elected to ride straight home. The border crossing wait was quite short (~12 minutes).

We did a fuel and snack stop in Lake George that was interesting – there was a car show that was wrapping up, so there were a lot of people and vehicles in town.

I always dread the boredom of I-287 and the New Jersey Turnpike, and wasn’t disappointed during the Sunday ride. The construction spiced up the ride a bit, but otherwise it was the old and familiar ride. Ugh.

We got back to Northern Virginia safe and sound a little after 2000. We’re looking forward to the 2013 edition of the Rendez-Vous Rally!


Lessons learned

Get a few Canadian dollars and some pocket change early.

It’s essential to have primary and backup GPS – my primary went stupid early in the morning of the rally – took some time to get it back on track. Several times I had to force recalculation on either the primary or the alternate to get the two to agree. Sometimes they disagreed by as much as two hours on the arrival times. Ugh.

Got foul weather gear on at just the right point on Saturday. Temperature management was reasonably good, as was hydration.

Goat trail routing. I had both the primary and secondary GPS receivers configured for motorcycling. That may have contributed to our being routed to two very rough roads. We took the first one, but the second one was a bit too long and too uncertain, so we went around. As it turns out, I should have stayed on the freeway for the second one, which would have saved a lot of time.

Know where the ferries run, when they run, and how much they cost. I didn’t know about one of the ferries on the St Lawrence River – knowing about that ferry might have caused me to drop a big bonus (and a LOT of riding) for several lower point bonii that would have yielded a larger total.

Get Connie a clear pinlock visor for rain.

Our stops are getting better and better. With a little advance reading and planning, we can get our bonus stops down to under five minutes (which is pretty good). We had one stop that involved a photograph and a purchase, and we were able to get both done in 12 minutes.

2012 Rendez-Vous Rally

Getting ready.

There were two options for breakfast available at Auberge Harris – a full breakfast, and a toast, coffee, and juice breakfast. I knew that my on-the-clock riding style favored the lighter fare – we agreed to skip the heavy breakfast and to go with something lighter and faster.

Connie and I had slightly different wake-up times in mind, so we set two alarms. The first alarm went off at 0345, and the phone alarm went off at 0400, signaling the start of a full day on the clock. I wanted to be at breakfast soon after the 0430 start, so we could get our meal before heading out. We’d heard discussion about Saturday weather during the Friday evening dinner, and I’d consulted to get an idea of what we might be facing. We made sure our weather gear was handy in packing the bike for Saturday’s ride.

After breakfast, we made sure everything we needed for the day was loaded on the bike. One of the nice things about a loop rally (same start and end location) is that you can leave stuff you don’t need at the hotel, leaving a little more room on the bike, relieving the need to pack everything extra tight. After making sure the bike was loaded and all the electronics were on, I moved it to the starting line.

The 0500 rider’s meeting provided the two wild-card bonii, and Connie set about getting one of them accomplished before we left the hotel (which was a great plan). That ensured that we had one less bonus that needed to be done “on the clock”.

The ride.

We had a staggered start, three bikes at a time. Our start time was 0537.

This map shows both the bonii locations in the vicinity of our planned route, and the track as recorded in the primary GPS receiver. The purple symbols are the highest value, then red, then green, then blue.


Due to my error in capturing our track, I don’t have the track for the beginning of the rally. Ugh. I’m going to buy a separate GPS tracker so I don’t have to remember this little bit of housekeeping every 800 km or so.

The Spotwalla track is driven by Spot, which has a low data rate (1 update / 10 minutes), so it’s difficult to see what happened at the beginning of the rally.


I managed to make the first two turns out of the hotel correctly, but missed a turn onto the freeway. As a result, we ended up starting the rally going east, instead of west. You’d think that after all of these years riding a motorcycle, I’d be able to get the turns right, but this rally was plagued with missed turns. We made two trips across Rivière Richelieu, one to the east, and one back to the west, before getting on track.

We headed west, before turning north. Somewhere southeast of Montreal, the weather started to turn nasty, then it got a little worse. Adding to the weather fun, there’s a lot of construction around the southern extent of Montreal.

In the middle of the impending thunderstorm, the construction zones, and my apparent lack of fluency in the French language, the primary GPS (Garmin zūmo 665) decided it just had to freak out. At one point, the 665’s display was covered with routes, all of which were nonsense. The backup GPS (BMW Navigator IV, which is a rebranded 665 – without the SiriusXM receiver) was behaving just fine.

Navigating unfamiliar freeways and roads, and dealing with Garmin navigation quirks, led me to make a few navigation mistakes that cost crucial minutes. At one point, we were headed west on Autoroute 40 (one of the routes of the Transcanadienne, or Trans-Canada Highway), when we were supposed to be heading northwest on Autoroute 13. We got that straightened out (eventually), and got on the right highway.

With all of my navigation errors, that initial conservative route was going to be realized, one missed turn after another!

Once we cleared Montreal, we stopped long enough to get our rain gear on (in a freeway service area, just south of Prévost), and top off the fuel tank. We got our gear on just in time, as the rain really cut loose as we got back on to the freeway. We rode through hard rain nearly to the next bonus.

Our first bonus was in the lovely town of Sainte-Agathe-Des-Monts. As specified in the rules, the pillion needs to be in the photograph for every photo bonus (not every bonus in this rally was a photo bonus – for several, we needed to answer some kind of question, just like a virtual geocache).


The theme of this rally was “the cheque is in the mail”, so we visited more than a few post offices….

The rain stopped, and the skies ever-so-slowly cleared over the next few bonii.

We headed north to the southern-most shore of Lac Tremblant, to find a specific Canada Post box. This area is definitely on the “do-‘gain” list! On first impression, the area is largely targeted at the skiing crowd (with the bottom of a lift just a few meters from where I initially parked the bike), but with a large national park nearby, I imagine that people visit year-round.


The route out of the Parc Du Mont-Tremblant area was awesome. The roads were dry, and marvelously twisty (and well-paved). I surmised, during the ride, that the bonii were selected to entice some of the riders to try this road – that was confirmed by rally staff conversations on Saturday evening and Sunday morning.

Our next stop was St-Donat-de-Montcalm.


From there, we headed to Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci to visit a motorcycle-related site.


I just loved the ride through the Laurentides, with its forests and great roads. Next time, I want to check out the vegetation a bit more, to compare it with what we would find in the Pacific Northwest.

From there, we were on to Sainte-Émélie-de-L'Énergie to get a photograph of the sign in front of the Canada Post office.


Just after Sainte-Émélie-de-L'Énergie, in the vicinity of Lac Maskinongé, we wound up routed on what can be best (and charitably) described as a goat trail. I suspect that since I have the GPS routing set up for “motorcycle”, it thought that saving a few seconds by running us on a rough gravel road would be a good idea. Well, what’s a motorcycle trip without a few miles of rough, loose gravel and downward sloping, uncambered turns?


Imagine my surprise, and delight, when we popped out on the road that we should have been on before!

Next, we were on to St-Édouard-de-Maskinongé to visit a location and answer a question. From there, we headed northeast to Val-Alain to visit a covered bridge. At the bridge, we were to locate and record a graffiti message. The route to the bridge was another great example of poor routing. I followed the bad GPS route, only to find us heading past a sign that said (in French), Cul-de-Sac (what do I care about the bottom of a sack, I thought). Well, it turns out that it’s not a Cul-de-Sac, really…it’s the start of a seriously long goat trail. As soon as I saw the trail, I turned the RT around, and figured that we’d find an alternate route.


As my two youngest kids are fond of saying about our geocaching trips, Connie and I took the hard way in, and the easy way out. The goat trail is Ligne la Petite on this map, and is impassable for two-up riding on an RT. Yes, I might have taken it if we weren’t on the clock, but not when we’re running a rally. When we looked back up Ligne la Petite, it looked pretty impassable (very narrow, and lots and lots of gravel) at its eastern end.


We then headed southwest to Drummondville.


From Drummondville, there were two bonii that combined would take about an hour. We had enough time on the clock to visit both, so we were off to Roxton Falls to visit six mailboxes. From Roxton Falls, we headed to a mailbox near Granby. I think the rally book location on this one was about 600 m off, so we took two tries to find it.

Our next stop was a former Canada Post office in St-Hyacinthe to answer a question.

We picked up some very gusty wind between Drummondville and the end of the rally. At some points, we were buffeted pretty hard.

Our last bonus of the day was this Canada Post kiosk in  Ste-Marie-Madeleine.


By this time, we’re getting to the point where we have VERY little margin to make it back before the penalty window opens. We have a short discussion about dropping our last bonus, and heading for the barn. The last bonus is right on our way back, but the few minutes taken to get the photograph, or question answered, would cut into our margin. As it turned out, the weather ensured that we (a) didn’t stop at the bonus, (b) got soaked, and (c) wound up seriously in the penalty window. As we rode west, the rain and lightning began – the more we rode west, the more the rain was “falling” sideways, and the slower the traffic got. It was raining so hard (and the wind gusting so bad), that we rode with the hazard flashers for a while. We rode for about the last 45 minutes of the rally getting completely, totally, and utterly soaked.

We were nearly at Auberge Harris, when I made the last bad turn of the day, at the same intersection as my first bad turn. How ironic. Anyway, we finished safely, if not remotely dry.


I got about preparing our scoring package, which Connie got a hot shower to warm up after the drenching we got on the way back to Auberge Harris. We didn’t have a fuel log, and we hadn’t made a lot of stops on this rally, so preparing the scoring package was pretty easy. I got our package into the scoring queue, then headed back to the room for a shower.

Scoring was really uneventful – we left the two wildcard bonii on the table because we hadn’t recorded the bonus code and odometer reading on the receipts, but other than those two, we did really well.

Finisher’s Banquet and our score.

We had a nice buffet dinner, swapped a lot of stories, each received door prizes, and got our score (we finished 16th in a field of 31 finishers). The father and son team who took #1 and #2 each made 29(!) bonus stops.

Post Script.


Now that it’s all done, I realize that the covered bridge bonus just wasn’t worth the time. At least one other rider took a ferry across the St Lawrence, avoided the covered bridge bonus, and picked up more points. The trip out to the covered bridge and back was straight slab, not my favorite kind of trip on a bike.

We would have scored much higher if we’d headed back to the U.S. for the day, but as one of the other riders said, “if we wanted to ride a rally in the U.S., we would have signed up for another rally” (like the Minuteman 1000, which I rode in June).

Weather gear.

The zip-in liner of my riding clothes works great. The gore tex / kevlar shell gets soaked (and weighs a ton when wet), but I remain nice a dry inside.

Connie’s zip-in liner of her jacket works great, and she wears rain pants over her armored pants.

We both wore heated jackets for most or all of the day, though I didn’t energize mine. I brought heated gloves, but didn’t wear them because even when completely soaked, it wasn’t cold enough to warrant the extra bulk.

Friday, September 14, 2012

2012 Rendez-Vous Rally – prelude and the ride north

The rally staff sent the bonii list via email on Saturday (9/1/2012) evening – I downloaded the list as soon as Connie and I got back from Parris Island / Charleston, and started to look for a good route. While I’ve driven thousands of miles in Canada (Yukon, Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland), and a few motorcycle miles in British Columbia in my youth, those miles have mostly been in a cage -- this was to be my first long motorcycle ride in Canada. I didn’t know exactly what to expect in Quebec or Ontario, either from the roads or the likely bonus locations, so I wanted to be a bit more conservative in my route planning. I plotted out several likely candidates, trying to avoid border crossings “on the clock”.

I fussed around with routes a bit more between Saturday and Thursday, looking at alternatives, knowing that I’d likely replot everything once the rally book was provided on Friday evening.

Connie and I got underway from Alexandria around 0900 on Thursday. The weather was very pleasant. We had anticipated rain over the weekend, so we had rain gear with us, and both of us brought our heated jackets and gloves.

I had planned a route that would keep us off the slab as much as possible (and offer scenery and geocaching).

We rode north, up the Baltimore Washington Parkway to I-695. I wanted to grab a few geocaches on the way north, which was an incentive to get off the slab and visit some places that we wouldn’t have otherwise visited.

Our first cache was pretty routine, but it did involve getting off the slab. We started off with Tall Cold One!

From there, we continued north to Still Framed….. This one was pretty interesting, and well worth the stop. On the way to this one, we saw the Shoe House again.

Connie and I had a great lunch at McCleary’s Public House in Marietta, PA -- what an interesting river town.

After lunch, we continued north to A LIFE GIVEN FOR FREEDOM to take a picture. 

We stopped in Pottsville, PA to snag a really interesting virtual cache, Standing Tall. This one was really tough  to navigate to on a motorcycle. After the cache, it was time to refuel, where we had some interesting conversations with one of the locals. While there, we also learned that Pottsville in the headquarters for Yuengling (and got to see a very little of the facility itself). As interesting as Pottsville is, it won’t be on our “gotta see again” list.

We were running a bit behind as we crossed into NY, so we skipped the virtual geocaches in Binghamton.

Connie and I overnighted in Norwich, NY (staying at the Howard Johnson’s, which is just about the only place in town, other than a Super 8 – we’d had a discussion about the suitability of any place whose name included a numeral, and so we wound up selecting HoJo’s). Dinner at Nina’s Pizzeria & Restaurant, a local Italian place, was great (and wow, was there a lot of it). We got up reasonably early in the morning, had a quick bite to eat and a coffee at Garf’s Deli, and hit the road heading north.

Our first cache of the day, Harvey the Troll, was in a beautiful creek-through-a-park setting.

We stopped in Utica to visit Through the Eyes of an Eagle, on our way through the Adirondacks.
Our last cache of the day was Walkin’ Fourth on Water, in Inlet, NY. Continuing through the Adirondacks, we got to see Old Forge, Saranac, and loads of other places.

We learned a bit about administrative divisions in New York – counties, cities, towns, villages, and hamlets.

The leaves were already turning in the Adirondacks – the ride was very nice. The roads were reasonably well-maintained.

We got back on the slab in Plattsburgh, NY and rode north to the border crossing, where the wait was minimal. From the border, we headed north to the rally hotel, Auberge Harris in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. This was a great rally hotel – any place that welcomes about 40 long distance motorcycle riders for a weekend is GREAT.

We arrived at Auberge Harris about 1700 – the middle of the check-in window. We didn’t have an odometer check, so all we needed to do was get our paperwork in order and have our camera checked (i.e., is the resolution set correctly, is the time set, does the camera actually WORK). After check-in, we got ready for the 1900 rider’s dinner, which was a great opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones. After dinner was over, the rally book was distributed, and the next round of fun began.

I went back to our room, and checked the rally book for bonii time restrictions and to see what combo bonii were identified. The rally book didn’t have details on wild card bonii – we had to wait for the 0500 Saturday rider’s meeting for those.

I took a hard look at the bonii again, and plotted a northern loop that I thought we could get through okay, and one that I hoped would provide some really nice scenery. After fussing around, programming the primary and backup GPS receivers, I turned in for about six hours of really solid sleep, and managed to second-guess myself on the route only once.