After months of preparing my bike (Farkles for the Ninjette), my gear (Body Farkles: Damn, 12 Hours is a Long Time), and my body (Shakedown Rides: Training for a 12 Hour Rally), I finally arrived in Salt Lake City on Thursday June 23. I’m entered in the 20th Anniversary of the MERA Utah 1088 endurance rally, 12-hour version, which starts on Saturday morning at 7am. Time to get serious.
Key Rally Concepts – a Primer
Rally Master (RM): The Rally Master designs the rally, and in many cases, plans and promotes the entire event. The MERA Utah 1088 is Steve Chalmers’ baby and has been since its inception in 1992. He does it all: offers up a wide variety of interesting Bonus opportunities and routing options, organizes the post-rally awards banquet and bar-fest, and laser-etches all of the awards. He is known for his clear instructions (no gimmicks), fair scoring, and devious and sometimes twisted sense of humor about bonus selection. For the latter, he has been affectionately dubbed the “Rally-Bastard”.
All The Gear, All The Time (ATGATT): This is the slogan of all the serious motorcyclists I know – own the right gear and wear it whenever you’re on the bike. In other words, there is never a good reason or excuse for riding in tank tops, shorts, sandals, or <shudder> without a helmet. On this rally, failure to wear helmet, boots and gloves at any time during the rally results in Disqualification. Most riders also wear full riding suits with armor/padding.
Did Not Finish (DNF): The basic goal of all rallyists is to Finish. Finishing criteria varies from rally to rally, but nobody wants a DNF next to their name.
Checkpoint (CP): In this rally, there was a single checkpoint with a narrow window of time. Missing it results in a DNF. The only exemption was for riders who opted for the Alternate Route (described later).
Bonus opportunities (“Boni”): Finishing position is determined by total points, which are accumulated by collecting Boni – sort of a two-wheeled scavenger hunt. Descriptions and requirements for these bonus opportunities are scattered amongst the Main Route instructions. Bonus opportunities fall into two basic categories:
- Those available along the route. Some are right on the Main Route and easily obtainable; others require some extra effort or miles. Point values for each roughly correspond to the degree of difficulty. Often the highest point bonuses are red herrings, doable perhaps, but more likely to result in a DNF for greedy rallyists. In this rally, the bonus values along the Main Route route ranged from 865 to 3625 with additional options up to 4697 points.
- Those available regardless of the route. The points for these are tied to the importance to the Rally Master. There were two on this rally:
- 5000 points were awarded for avoiding an encounter with law enforcement (and 7500 deducted if you did not) – this incentive helps maintain the reputation of the rally. The concept is simple: our driver’s licenses are sealed in an envelope before the rally. Return with the envelope intact = earn 5000 points; return with a torn envelope = deduct 7500 points. This rally has been running in Utah for so long that veteran troopers have been known to pull a rider over, ask for the envelope, tear off the corner, and send the rider on his/her way without a ticket – knowing that they had already inflicted enough pain. There are lots of stories of creative avoidance tactics to avoid the dreaded “envelope tear” – begging, lying, whatever, some successful, some not – in my book, this is legit. Some experienced rallyists carry duplicate licenses – that just feels like cheating to me. My plan, if faced with the problem, was to point out that a 250cc “not much more than a scooter” motorcycle couldn’t POSSIBLY have been going that fast.
- 7500 points were awarded for carrying a SPOT satellite tracker – this gives the Rally Master peace of mind because he can keep track of his “ducklings” while they are out. We were informed prior to the rally that use of the SPOT was “strongly suggested” and that we would be highly rewarded with points for compliance. No brainer there, Rich and I embraced the SPOT years ago and had already acquired a second one for my solo travels with the RV and the dogs.
Going into this rally, I had two simple goals: (1) stay upright and healthy, and (2) finish. Most rallyists list “have fun” at the top of their goals, but I figured the other two were more important and having fun would be the natural result of accomplishing my goals. I did not want to be listed in the results as a DNF. The requirements for finishing are deceptively simple:
- Leave the hotel no earlier than 7:00am
- Make the mandatory Checkpoint within the prescribed time window
- Ride at least 544 miles
- Return to the hotel by 7:00pm (there is NO slack – 7:01pm is a DNF)
My shakedown rides had taught me that maintaining the 45.33 mph average to meet these criteria was not an easy task. That average has to account for all downtime, including fuel and potty stops, checkpoint and bonus administration, sustenance and hydration, clothing changes and gear adjustment, etc. And it also has to be sustained in the face of unanticipated delays like construction, traffic and weather.
Since maintaining that average was key to my goal, I showed up at the rally with the following fundamentals firmly embedded in my brain:
- Minimize non-riding time while ON the clock. The adage amongst experienced and successful rallyists is that every minute off the bike is a mile lost on the road.
- Maximize the use of time while OFF the clock. Arriving at the checkpoint before it opens gives you “free” time to take care of all that business that otherwise detracts from #1.
- Minimize high-risk routing and bonus choices. Examples:
- Bonuses that require extra miles may seem doable on paper if all goes well, but also have high potential to result in a DNF due to unforeseen factors like construction and local traffic.
- You don’t have to follow the route instructions exactly, and in fact, except for making the CP, you don’t have to follow the route instructions at all. Alternate roads may get you to the same place with less time and less work, thereby less risk.
- Organize my gear to optimize access to the things that impact downtime. This may be the most important thing and the most often overlooked by rookies. The common theme here is “attached to (or easily-accessible in) the tank bag”.
- Paperwork (e.g. route instructions) – 3-hole sheet protectors attached to tank bag with mini-carabiners.
- Pens – mini-sharpies with built-in key rings attached with carabiners to tank bag
- Camera and hat – hat attached to camera strap attached to tank bag with carabiner
- Hydration – my tank bag has a pocket for a bladder and a hole for the hose. But thanks to a tip from a fellow competitor, I made a key last-minute modification – a $1 “badge reel”. When properly affixed to the bite valve tubing and the tank bag, the reel caused the tube to retract to a reliably-accessible position for on-the-road hydration.
- Sustenance – simple, effective, efficient. In other words, Gatorade, Boost and beef jerky in the tank bag.
- Personal care – sunscreen and chapstick, easily accessible in the tank bag.
The first official event of the rally is the odometer check. We were sent on a ~20-mile ride with very strict directions, including which driveways to exit and enter the parking lot. The purpose of this is to determine a correction factor for each participant’s mileage readings. For example, if the “official” distance of the odometer check was 20.0 miles, but my odometer showed 21.0, I would have to adjust my total mileage reading for the rally by a factor of 1.05. That is critical information because to meet the 544 mile finishing requirement, my odometer would actually have to read 571.2 (in this example). In my experience with Rich, most bikes are about 10% optimistic. I was prepared for this and had designed an hourly mileage landmark cheat sheet if necessary. As it turned out, my odometer was spot on – whew, one less thing to worry about.
In all of the pre-rally announcements, the RM had stated that we would be receiving our route instructions just 15 minutes before the start. That’s not much time to come up with a plan and I was more than a little concerned. I had already decided that I would use that 15 minutes to find a way to get to the Checkpoint at least 30 minutes before it opened, with or without bonus points, and use that off-the-clock 30 minutes to route the remainder of the ride. To my enormous relief, he distributed the instructions on Friday night immediately following the rider’s meeting.
I went upstairs, fired up the laptop, and began the routing process. Our instructions were actually quite simple, and in a nutshell, my process went something like this:
- Highlight the Main Route on the map. The Main Route is clearly defined in the instructions by a series of simple commands like “80 West to 196; 196 South to 199; etc.” This gave me a baseline on where the RM wanted us to go. I knew from previous exposure that the route instructions are a suggestion, not a requirement.
- Enter and evaluate the Bonus List in Excel. This went quickly because there were only 16 offered and of those, only 13 were discretionary. The others were either gimme’s (enable SPOT tracking) or not relevant to routing (is my driver’s license envelope intact). I entered the basics – number, brief description, requirement (photo, receipt, answer question) and points. Then I sorted by point value, divided the list into thirds to determine cut-off points, and used Conditional Formatting to assign a color to each of the groups based on value (red=high, yellow=medium, green=low).
- Eliminate the Boni that didn’t fit my criteria. Referring back to my pre-rally planning, I was avoiding Boni that (a) took me off the bike, (b) went the wrong way, (c) added unnecessary mileage, or (d) added variables beyond my control. Staying true to this plan, I eliminated the following:
#1, the “alternate route”. Ride to St. George and get a receipt. Seriously? That’s a 600-mile round trip. This one provided an exemption for the CP requirement, but still, I’m stressed about getting 544 miles, let alone 600.
#2, which involved going east into SLC (the wrong direction) to get a signed business card from a bike shop (off the bike).
#5, the ever-popular shooting bonus, which involves going south of town (the wrong direction) and standing in line to shoot a gun (off the bike and variables beyond my control).
#12, the red-herring. Ride to Little America WY and get a gas receipt, with no exemption for the CP requirement. I didn’t enter this rally to spend my whole day on the Interstates (I-15 and I-80).
- Plot the remaining Boni on the computer and download routes to the GPS. There are as many opinions about the best way to do this as there are software options. I use Microsoft Streets & Trips because it’s fairly intuitive and pretty good at finding landmarks. Then I export the data to a format that Garmin’s Mapsource can use to download the data to my GPS (a trusty Garmin StreetPilot 2610 dubbed “Carmen”). I entered the 9 Boni that remained after the two previous elimination steps and found myself with a route that seemed to meet the time/mileage requirements. I further broke this down into two separate routes (“Start to CP” and “CP to Finish”) so I could accurately track my progress to the Checkpoint and ensure an early enough arrival to do my required maintenance off the clock (hydration, sustenance, fuel, sunscreen, potty, faceshield clean, etc.). I was prepared to blow off early Boni if necessary to do that.
- Prepare my working documents. This is the paperwork I would actually use on the road and involved three separate steps:
- Update the map. I had already highlighted the Main Route, so I added labeled dots that corresponded to the bonus locations and color-coded values from the spreadsheet.
- Create the cheat-sheets. Two simple lists of instructions to myself (Start-CP and CP-Finish), written with a Sharpie in large enough print to read on the fly as I was moving. Here is the 2nd list (CP-Finish).
- Protect and ‘bind’ the route instructions. The route instructions might as well be made of gold. They have blanks that need to be filled in for each bonus and checkpoint, and if you show up at the finish line without them, you’re toast. To avoid the risk of water damage or wind abduction, and also to simplify the process of recording the required information, I inserted each page in a plastic sheet protector, bound the pages together with tiny carabiners, and attached the bound set to my tank bag under the map flap. All I had to do to record my progress was open the Sharpie (which was also lashed to the tank bag), lift the map flap, and write the info on the sheet protector. I had already verified with the RM that I could record my information on the outside of the sheet protectors and turn them in that way.
Even with a few last-minute tweaks, I was done with all of the preparation by 11:00pm so I turned on the TV to check the weather, set both my alarm and wake-up call to 5:45am, checked Rich’s SPOT to be sure he was still moving (did I mention that he was half-way into his 3-day rally at this point?) and hit the sack.
Next up: 2011 Utah 1088, Part II: Rally Day!