Sunday, August 31, 2014

Butt Lite 7 – Leg 1

With a route in mind (and loaded into two GPS receivers), I packed my bike on Sunday morning. I’d only unloaded what I absolutely needed to spend the night and plan the route, so I didn’t have a lot of stuff to carry back to the bike. It was raining very lightly, so I made sure that the rain cover was on the pillion bag. I checked the satellite weather on the bike, and it looked like there was only about an hour’s worth of riding to do before I was going to break free of the rain, so I had only my jacket rain liner in. I expected the temperatures to rise, and rain gear can be miserable in the heat (unless there’s a full-on monsoon), so I knew I had to stop and remove the liner at some point.

I managed to “catch” the common cold before leaving Virginia, so there was a bit of snuffling and coughing going on that morning (which continued through most of the next six days).

With the bike packed, the only thing left was a light breakfast and the rider’s meeting.

We met in front of the hotel about 0730 to get final instructions. There was a surprise [additional] bonus in Niobrara, NE – I was going to Niobrara, anyway, so the added bonus was really nice.

This map shows my track for Leg 1:

Our starting group photograph is here. My starting photograph is here.

We started shortly before 0800 Central Daylight Time (CDT). My GPS receiver predicted I’d be at the first bonus location about 1322; the timed surprise bonus opened at 1300 (and closed at 1430), so I wouldn’t be there too long after it opened (and would be long gone before it closed). I was sure I knew the location of the nearest freeway onramp going in the correct direction…and, as usual, I was wrong. I was nearly the first out of the parking lot, and saw many of my fellow riders as I doubled back to get to the right freeway. Oh, well…there went about five minutes.

I headed southwest, across Minnesota and South Dakota. It’s very flat in that part of our country, and I was able to make reasonably good time with very little traffic.

There were several riders on my route that morning. You have a lot of time to think about random things while you’re riding these rallies. One of the things that consumes my time is wondering what route the others riders are on. As I was riding through Chanhassan, Minnesota, several riders turned to head west. At the time, I thought they might have been heading to Smet, South Dakota to pick up the 125 point bonus there. That bonus added 40 miles and about 1.5 hours to the route to Niobrara, so I didn’t bother adding that one to my plan. As it turned out, their turn was a result of difference in routing decision in our GPS receivers (which is a very common cause of difference in routes). I met up with one of them at our first bonus location, and he confirmed that he was dealing with conflicting routing.

At one point in the ride that morning, my GPS receiver pleasantly urged me to “continue 146 miles on Johnson Memorial Drive”. I’m so rarely on any road for 146 miles.

As soon as the rain stopped, I stopped the bike to remove the pillion bag rain cover so it didn’t destroy itself. My helmet was already covered in dead bugs, after only a little more than an hour in the saddle. That would continue for the next week.

I try to keep fuel stops short, but the stop in Luverne, MN allowed me to refuel, drink a couple of protein shakes as a snack, do a little recycling, and shed the jacket liner.
It was 89°F as I was riding along I-29 south of Sioux Falls, SD. The terrain is quite flat through that part of the country – I was looking forward to reaching the Rocky Mountains (and a little cooler weather). As I rode along these straight, flat stretches of road in South Dakota, I wondered where folks who lived in these farms purchased their groceries and fuel. Because of the route I was taking, I missed seeing a lot of the small towns along the way.

Lewis and Clark Lake is formed by Gavins Point Dam on the Missouri River. As I approached Springfield, SD, I could see the trees on the north side of the lake. Everything else was corn – mile after mile of corn.
Just as I was about to cross the Missouri River, I saw what appeared to be a fellow rally rider traveling north. We exchanged waves, and I continued south to cross the Chief Standing Bear Memorial Bridge. In hindsight, I must have been wrong – it must have been another LD rider out for a hot summer ride into South Dakota. It did cause me to wonder, though….


My first stop was the Two Rivers Saloon, Steakhouse, & Hotel in Niobrara, NE. Niobrara bills itself as “a small, progressive town, located in the far northeastern corner of Nebraska at the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri rivers.” Hmmm…well, it certainly was small, and seemed quite nice, and was located in the northeastern corner of Nebraska. And, there were two rivers: the Missouri and the Niobrara.
I arrived in Niobrara about 1317…just about exactly when my GPS receiver predicted I would, when I left Minnetonka a little over five hours earlier. It’s uncanny how accurate those estimates can be, given the length of the ride, and the construction zones I went through enroute.


Arlene Liska is a famous long-distance motorcyclist. Our task was to take a photograph with Arlene (and our flag) in the frame for 500 points. A picture of my bike, flag, and the main entrance/front of the Two Rivers Saloon, Steakhouse, & Hotel was worth another 500 points. Niobrara was a long (10 minute) stop…not anywhere near the pace I’d have to be on for the next few days. Arlene was keeping track of the riders who visited – I was the 11th rider to arrive.

From Niobrara, I was off on a four hour ride to find the site of Hecla, NE.

I took a brief stop for fuel and recycling in O’Neill, Nebraska. I’d wanted to check out the facilities at the Two Rivers Saloon, but it seemed closed at that hour. I knew I had to get fuel soon, so the wait wasn’t bad.
When I started in the morning, the ETA at the end of the first segment of Leg 1 was 11 minutes after midnight (MDT). After two long fuel stops and one bonus stop, the ETA was 27 minutes past midnight (MDT). 16 minutes, over a period of 6.5 hours. Not bad, but not stellar.

By 1450 CDT, is was 90°F. Ugh. I was giving some serious thought about how hot it would be as I rode south. It was nice to have that hydration system installed and debugged.

This map shows the Hecla, Nebraska bonus (blue dot) and the Arthur, Nebraska bonus (green dot). More on both, ahead. This area is the Sandhills of Nebraska. The nature of the hills reminded me a lot of northern Canada and Alaska tundra.


This was my five minute stop at Hecla, Nebraska for 251 points.


The scenery through this part of the country included unrelenting hills, watering holes, windmills, free-range cattle. I turned south on Nebraska 61, and briefly pondered refueling at the Sinclair station, but convinced myself that there would be all kinds of fuel available in metropolitan Arthur, Nebraska: my next stop.
Now, we’d been warned at the rider’s meeting that the last block of the road leading to the Arthur, Nebraska bonus was a bit “loose”, and we were reminded that this is, after all, the sandhills of Nebraska.

Well, the last block of the “road” is, indeed, somewhat sandy. Ugh. I negotiated the sand okay, and picked out a place to put my bike so I could run over and get the photograph of the Pilgrim Holiness Church for 549 points. There was another rider already there, so we snapped each other’s photographs. This would not be the last stretch of bad road on this rally – not at all. This was another five minute (or so) stop – not bad, considering the sand.


It’s been a long, long time since I’ve ridden in the west (Ronald Reagan was president). I’ve become accustomed to having fuel stations more or less (West Virginia, you’re in the “less” category) where I need them. A common admonition in the long distance riding community is to never pass up a known gas station for a hoped-for gas station. Well, since I knew there would be fuel in Arthur, Nebraska, I didn’t stop for fuel until I got there. There is no gas station in Arthur, Nebraska…at least not any more. I stopped and asked a couple of fellows where the nearest station was, and learned that it was about 25 miles away. My bike was complaining that it had about 29 miles left in the tank. Ugh. One of the gents read my face quickly and correctly and headed home to get a big fuel container, which he delivered bike-side in just a few minutes. After buying some gas, and thanking him profusely, I was on my way. I didn’t make the same fuel mistake again (though I made PLENTY of other mistakes). This “fuel stop” was an astonishingly short eight minutes – not far off what I would have done if there was a real station.

My new friend mentioned that if I had time, I ought to stop by to see a steer with nine-foot horns at one of the ranches south of Arthur. The name of the ranch he mentioned was enormous – there were large holdings on both sides of the road as I rode south.

Leaving Arthur, Nebraska, my ETA at the end of this segment was 0026 (MDT), so I was on a good pace (in spite of my self).

I passed Lake McConaughy as I rode south…the lake is a reservoir on the North Platte River. It is enormous. As I pass Kingsley Dam, my ETA was 0020 (MDT).

I stopped, briefly, at Sidney, Nebraska for gas, ice, a drink, visor change (I was riding into the setting sun), and recycling. I stopped adjacent to Fat Dogs, where I learned “YOU ARE NOWHERE”. There was another rally rider at the fuel station (which was nice to see). There’s a Cabela’s in Sidney, Nebraska – that was nice to see, as well! My ETA was 0029 (MD), 18 minutes off the original plan, spread over 12 hours of riding.

I had last been on this stretch of I-80 on 6 June 1978, as I was driving from Corvallis, Oregon to Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. It was a lot less windy this time (and a lot more fun, since I wasn’t in a cage).
My next stop was the Our Lady of Peace Shrine in Pine Bluffs, Wyoming. I was to photograph Sculpture X, “Jesus is stripped of his garments”. The driveway in to the shrine is gravel, but it was in pretty good shape (assuming you can see where the deep gravel is located). There were several other riders there with me, as we hunted for the correct statue (you can see two shadows in this photograph – me, and another rider). With the hiking and the gravel, this was a seven minute stop.


Next stop: [Grand] Encampment, WY. My mission was to photograph the sign in front of the two-story outhouse at the Grand Encampment Museum.

I took a four minute fuel stop in Laramie, Wyoming, just before turning west on Wyoming 130. My GPS receiver said there wasn’t much fuel up ahead, so it was time to top off. There was a beautiful sunset as I was riding west out of Laramie.

As I rode west on Wyoming 130, I crossed over a mountain pass near Ryan Park. I could see the snow alongside the road; it would have been really nice to ride through that area in the daylight.
There’s a nice gravel road in front of the Grand Encampment Museum. As you can see from the photograph, I arrived after sundown, so was unable to determine, easily, the depth or quality of the gravel. Ugh. I brought a very bright rechargeable light for just the kind of search I had to do at this bonus (which you can see in my right hand in the photo). There was another rider there with me, and we took quite a few minutes to get to the right place, using our flashlights to check out the many buildings at the museum. We took each other’s photographs, and we were off to the next bonus.


My nice fine-point ink pen decided that the lower air pressure at this altitude was a great reason to let some of the ink out. Ugh. I got as much of the ink off my hand as I could, then got back on the road again.
I stopped at the Walden, Colorado Conoco (closed for the night) to get my heated jacket on. The temperature had dropped enough that I was getting chilled, and I know that I get stiff and clumsy when I’m that chilled for that long. As quickly as I always think I can get the outer jacket off, I spent 13 minutes wrestling with gear (heated jacket and rain liner) and stamping my feet. My new ETA was 0109 MDT, which meant I soaked up an hour riding through the entire day. I tend to go through margin a little more at night, as I’m watching for critters. I knew I had a lot of margin available, though, because of my route, so I didn’t worry about it.

As I was turning right onto U.S. 40 from Colorado 14, I saw two bikes and two riders on the left side of the road, with one of the bikes on its side (NEVER a good sign). I slowed down and pulled a u-turn, to park near the two so I could run over to see what was up. It was cold, and one of the riders had accidentally dropped his bike while parking it on a slope. By the time I got to them, the bike was again upright, and the two were getting ready to get moving.

As soon as I got on U.S. 40, I learned it was severely chewed up. I was hoping that the road wasn’t going to turn into deep gravel. Ugh. In the voice recording I made through that patch, I’m a very unhappy camper.
The temperature was very sporty on the way to Oak Creek. I was up almost 2700 meters, so it was of little surprise that it would be brisk over this night.

The next bonus was written on a plaque adjacent to a museum. I needed to find out how many years of service Otto L. “Punch” George had put in at the Edna Mine in Oak Creek, CO. While I was there, two of my fellow riders made the stop.

As I headed back to the bike after taking this photograph, an intensely inebriated woman came by to chat. I wrapped up the paperwork quickly, so she wandered over to chat with my colleagues. I headed off to the next bonus, leaving the three of them to enjoy Oak Creek.


I considered spending the night in Oak Creek, but decided to put a few more miles on that evening. I was about an hour north of I-70, and figured that I could get a room once I got on the freeway. The main concern was heading south on this road without encountering the local charismatic megafauna.

I grabbed a room at Eagle Lodge & Suites in Eagle, Colorado. It was nice to get a good sleep, get my helmet recharged, and get the bike ready for another day’s ride. The desk clerk was certain that I was crazy.
I was on the road at 0717 MDT after a great sleep and a hot breakfast (packaged egg “omelets”).

I stopped to take my jacket liner out in Grand Junction, Colorado, and had a bit to drink. It was somewhat cool when I left Eagle, and the day was getting warmer.

By 0945, it was 89° F. I stopped at a rest area in Utah a little after 1000 to remove the trouser liner and put my LD Comfort sleeves on.

As I was approaching Green River, Utah I was going through the mental arithmetic regarding my fuel state. I punched up the nearest fuel station, and tucked away the fact that I needed to stop, lest I run out of fuel somewhere alongside the road.

Well, I was making good time on I-70, and forgot to stop at the last fuel in Green River. Just after the sign for the turn for U.S. 191 headed north, I see this sign, and thought, “well, I’m not in the city anymore.”

image© 2014 Google

Then, at about mile marker 156, along comes this sign, and I knew there was a u-turn in my future.

image© 2014 Google


image© 2014 Google

“[NO U-TURN] EXCEPT AUTHORIZED VEHICLES” (and motorcyclists who are guaranteed to run out of fuel before reaching the next station). So, back to Green River I went.

My next stop was the Fruita, UT schoolhouse. There were twisties on the way to Fruita (along with some tough “paving”). There’s a gravel parking lot in front of the building (gravel and sand are persistent themes in this rally). I’m pretty sure that I visited this place in 1990, while driving from California to Virginia during a PCS (Permanent Change of Station) move. I remember the fruit tree orchards that are still tended within Capitol Reef National Park. It’s always strange for me to visit a place on a rally that I’ve visited before in another context.


I got fuel at a place called Hollow Mountain in Hanksville, Utah (I, obviously, didn’t have time to make a longer stop on this trip). In addition to Hollow Mountain, Hanksville is home to the Mars Desert Research Station, if that tells you anything about the terrain.

The “tar snakes” out west are bad, and especially bad when it is hot. The tar takes on the coefficient of friction of ice, which makes motorcycle handling dangerous (a simple search for the phrase “tar snake” produces many pages of results (including this report), with riders discussion the hazards). I had fun with tar snakes this entire day – in some areas, tar snakes covered the road from side to side, and were present on curves (which is particularly bad).

My next stop was a roadside rest stop overlooking Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. I was to find a name on a plaque discussing the founding of Hite, Utah (which is now beneath the waters of Lake Powell).

We’re only allowed two photographs for each bonus location. I took a few extras, knowing that I could delete them from the camera card before scoring.


There were fellow motorcycle enthusiasts at the overlook – I was surprised at the lack of sun and wind protection, especially given the intensity of the sun that day.

I rode across the Hite Crossing Bridge on Utah State Route 95, on my way to southern Utah.

My GPS receivers have a feature that allows me to route around unpaved roads (whenever that routing is possible). For reasons that aren’t clear now, I didn’t have that option enabled. So, I took the more direct route from Natural Bridges National Monument south to the San Juan River crossing.


As you can see, there’s a somewhat longer (and paved) route around the “shortcut”. It’s difficult to see the exciting part of the road on a map of this scale, so I’ll change the scale.


This was a 3 mile, 5 MPH, 10% grade dirt road that led from the top of a mesa to the bottom – I was very happy that I wasn’t trying to navigate this road going uphill. The traffic was almost non-existent, and the switchbacks were paved, so the whole experience was manageable (and beautiful, on the times I was able to look around). If you do a Google Maps Street View search at 37.274544, -109.939343, you can see the whole thing.

The long way around would have been 70 miles, and taken about an hour, given the speed limits on those roads. The “shortcut” took 41 minutes.

My next stop was at Goulding’s Trading Post in Monument Valley, Utah.


Based on my re-kindled appreciation of gravel, I elected to park on pavement in the hotel parking lot, and hoof it up to the museum, where I took a picture of John Wayne at the museum.

My next stop was Spider Rock, in Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona. The photo location was a short hike from the parking area, and well worth the walk.


The riders who had the “avoid off-road travel” switch set, rode south on U.S. 191 through Burnside, Arizona. I, on the other hand, headed southeast on another “shortcut”. This road, through the Navajo Nation, was quite an experience. A very nice Navajo gentleman helped me when I got my bike stuck on a heavily rutted and wash-boarded road. What an experience!


My next stop was Window Rock, Arizona. I made it there with minutes to spare.


I treated myself to a Taco Bell feast while I recharged my ice and water supply and updated my route to account for the time spent on the bad roads earlier in the day. Based on progress (and the fact that I had planned a light route on the third day), I actually added two bonus locations – one in La Cueva, New Mexico, and one on I-40. I spent about an hour at Window Rock, but it was a nice way to top off my Navajo Nation experience.

It started to rain as I entered New Mexico (and 82° F). I made it to La Cueva just fine, but it was far too dark to see anything other than the sign.

The lights going into Albuquerque are really nice on a clear evening, as I-40 heads downhill into town.


I overnighted at the Best Western Plus Montezuma Inn & Suites in Las Vegas, New Mexico. After a nice sleep, I got moving south.

My next stop was Lisa’s Truck Center on the old U.S. 66 (Route 66). The stop was worth only 66 points, but is was on the way to Austin, so it was worth the stop. There was another rider there when I pulled up.


My next stop was the Abo unit of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, where I collected an NPS stamp.

This is the Whispering Giant in Las Cruces, NM. There was no way to know at the time, but Whispering Giants featured prominently in Leg 2, where there was a combo bonus available for bagging between 4 and 22 of them on that leg. There was another rider at the stop when I arrived. We spent a few minutes chatting before heading downrange.


It was a hot ride, as I headed east on I-10. I hadn’t been through El Paso in years, but didn’t slow down to see the sights.

The next stop was the Alley Oop Museum and Fantasy Land Park in Iraan, TX, a tourist destination along the Texas Pecos Trail. This stop was worth 600 points. There was another rider here, as well.


My next stop was Fort McKavett, Texas, a military post used by the Buffalo Soldiers during the Texas Indian Wars.


Oatmeal, Texas offered this cylindrical bonus, worth 115 points. Wow, was it dark there!


Giant Bats feature prominently in Team Strange Airheads events. There is a large bat colony (currently the world’s largest urban colony) under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, TX.
This is a photograph of the giant bat in Austin, Texas, worth 125 points.


After the giant bat photograph, I was looking for a place to get a few hours of sleep before heading to Lone Star BMW to finish Leg 1, get scored, and plan a route for Leg 2. I got a room at the Motel 6 Austin North, near Lone Star BMW – several other riders had exactly the same plan, and were getting rooms at the same time. After riding for long periods of time without seeing other riders, it was nice to see a few.

The Motel 6 is in an interesting neighborhood.

This is me, sitting next to Ardys Kellerman’s 1999 IBR flag, at Lone Star BMW. That was the last bonus for Leg 1.


It was nice to be well-rested before scoring. The scoring table is a great location at which to lose points, so the better rested you are when you show up, the better.

There was real food available while we were at Lone Star BMW, and there was time for a little shopping (a cable and a set of nice bungee straps for my pillion bag) and rest while waiting for the rally books to be distributed at 0900. There were quite a few riders sleeping among the bikes and display racks in the showroom. I rested a bit after I ate, but didn’t really get any shut-eye.

After scoring, I was in 12th place out of 53 riders. I was very pleased with the results, and considering that I was well-rested, I thought I was ready for the second leg.

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