2012 Utah 1088, Part 4: Results and Reflection

October 20, 2012

Sunday, June 24, 2012

(If you didn’t come here from Part 3, you might want to catch up by starting with 2012 Utah 1088, Part 1: What? Am I really doing this again?.)

Having survived my second 12-hour rally in as many years, next stop was …

The Awards Banquet

One of the first things the Rally Master did was address the Deer Crossing controversy. He proceeded to read the question out loud, at which point several people (myself included) said in unison, “Aw Shit”. You see, while the description talked a lot about the signs, the actual question was “How many deer crosswalks are there?” The right answer was 4. Deliberate misdirection? No doubt. I took a big gulp of my Uintah Cutthroat Pale Ale to toast the slipping away of my anticipated multi-way tie for 1st place. There was still a glimmer of hope, however, because the fellow at the bar the night before who had insisted it was 4 was in the couples class – maybe everybody in the single rider class missed it – a girl can dream.

Side Note: As I’m writing this a few months after the event, I feel compelled to insert a link to a hilarious and relevant video that went viral last week. Enjoy.


For the most part, the banquet followed its usual format – announce the 10th place finishers in all three rallies (12, 24 and 3-day), tell a story, announce 9th  place, tell a story, etc. I was relaxed because I already knew I was a finisher (made the CP, got the minimum miles, and made it back on time) and that was my primary goal. I also knew that I was almost certain to be the “butt” (so to speak) of one of the stories because of the ‘gun in the flaming saddlebag’ experience. There was really no hope of escaping that public ridicule – the story was worthy on its own merit, but more importantly, the Rally Master is a gun enthusiast. (Do you really think there would be a shooting bonus and a gun prize if he weren’t?) But it gets worse: when Rich was researching which gun to buy for me for Christmas a few years ago, it was none other than the Rally Master who made the final recommendation (Walther PPK/S .380 ACP with crimson grips, in case you care). So you see, he had a personal interest in the specific gun that I had so carelessly abused. Yeah, there was no hope of escape – and it came up more than once.

There were some other special moments during the banquet:

  • The entire room was served with gin & tonics for a group toast in honor of Ken Morton, aka Dread Pirate Kermit, who died in an accident during last year’s 3-day rally.
  • The announcement of the RPM award recipients: Bill Gillespie and John Langen. This award was started many years ago by the Rally Master in honor of Ron Major, a long-distance riding legend, and is awarded at his discretion during the 1088 banquet to the person (or people) who have best exemplified support of the endurance riding community over the years.
  • The astonishing reunion of Ken Meese and his missing GPS. Here’s the back story: Ken is an accomplished rallyist who crashed after hitting a coyote in the Nevada desert during a 10-day rally last summer. For the 3-day event this year, he submitted a bonus question (which all 3-day riders were invited to do), which involved going to the site of the crash and taking a photo of the elaborate memorial he had built for the coyote. In addition, he offered a cash reward for anybody who recovered his GPS from the site – he had been there several times himself to search for it and considered it hopeless. Not so much. The “finder” presented the tattered but intact GPS, and immediately turned over the reward to the Polio Plus fund, which was founded by another rally participant, Bob Mutchler. Love it.

But back to the results: as the Rally Master worked his way up the list to 5th, I was delighted NOT to have heard my name yet. He finally announced a tie for 4th place – me and Nancy L. I’m OK with that! Podium finishers were Brian R. (awarded 3rd ), and a tie for 1st Place – Larry H. and M. Johnson. Yes, the very same Larry of Kemmerer Karma fame. Nice job, my friend! Maybe now you can talk your wife Anne into entering next year on HER Ninjette.


I achieved all my goals for this year: I had a great time, I finished in the top half, I legitimately beat experienced rallyists, I represented! And I logged the 2nd highest number of miles on this year’s 12-hr rally … on a 250cc motorcycle! Some may consider that inefficient (in terms of points per mile), but it was planned and sets a personal record. Success!

And after I got home, I received further acknowledgment of my achievement in the form of a custom and personalized certificate from the Rally Master. Thanks, Steve!

I know this blog is all about me, but I do want to acknowledge the accomplishments of the riders in the 24-hour and 3-day rides. Full results will be posted at www.utah1088.com. Thanks for joining me on this adventure and I’ll see you next year for the FINAL running of the Utah 1088, sure to be a bittersweet event after 21 years.

2012 Utah 1088, Part 3: Rally Day!

October 20, 2012

Saturday, June 23, 2012

(If you didn’t come here from Part 2, you might want to catch up by starting with 2012 Utah 1088, Part 1: What? Am I really doing this again?.)

In 2011, the 12-hour rally was somewhat of a novelty and there were only 7 starters (and 3 finishers). This year was an altogether different story. Several veteran rallyists opted to enter this one for various reasons:

  • Experience a different time management challenge – some say that 12 hours is harder than 24 because you don’t have as much room to compensate for errors.
  • Avoid the critters – one veteran of several multi-day rallies has tangled with a deer and decided she didn’t want to deal with that on this rally. I agree.
  • Avoidance of night riding – bad eyes, lack of supplemental lighting, fear of critters – all valid reasons not to ride at night.
  • More relaxing – some veterans are warming up for the MERA 10-day rally later this summer and just wanted to relax on this year’s Utah 1088.

This year there were 12 entrants, 10 finishers, and most of my competitors had considerable rally experience, including multi-day rallies – a very different picture from 2011.

Last year, I showed up with the goal of finishing and ended up winning (sort of by default). This year, I obviously had some interest in defending my title, but with the added numbers and level of competition, I quickly went back to my original goal: Be A Finisher, not a DNF.

Let the Games Begin

At the start line, I had two options for my first bonus: head east to the BMW shop on the northeast edge of downtown to pick up a signed business card, or head west and south to the firing range for the shooting bonus. Strategically, the choice was pretty much a wash, so I decided to make the tactical choice as I left the parking lot after seeing which direction the other riders chose. You see, both had the potential for traffic jams and waiting in line. Most of the riders turned left out of the parking lot (toward the range) so I turned right.

I made a quick jaunt out to the Bavarian Motorcycle Workshop just north of the city. As I passed by the I-80/I-15 interchange, the cops and construction crews were just starting to shut down eastbound 80 at I-15 and divert everyone onto I-15. That worked out nicely, I’m guessing there might have been some traffic back-up had I hit this interchange later. Just a couple of other riders at the parking lot of the shop – got my signed business card and stowed it safely in my neck bag, noted my time and mileage, and bagged my first 1756 points. Then I committed my first illegal act of the ride – crossed over a gravel median without a moment’s hesitation so I could head back the way I came. Yep, not my first rodeo, I landed at the bottom of that slippery slope last year.

Next up, the shooting range. This bonus involves standing in line at a firing range, paying a fee, and taking three shots at a target. At the end of the rally, the best shot wins the gun. I skipped it last year because the duration was out of my control and it wasn’t worth enough points. This year, the Rally Master increased the points and boosted it to the must-do “red” category. I also learned that the actual shooting was optional if you were philosophically opposed or just didn’t care about winning the gun – the only requirement was to stand in line and pay the fee. My start line gamble paid off – by the time I arrived at the range, there were only 5 riders ahead of me in line and I was way ahead of schedule. I waited my turn, paid my money, declined to shoot, and was back on the road at 7:36am with 7806 additional points under my belt.

I headed west to Magna for a visit to the Pleasant Green Cemetery. My task was to take a photo of the POW/MIA rock, which was reported to be enclosed in a fence in the middle of the cemetery. Cemetery bonuses can be tricky (as I learned in my warm-up rides) because you can never be sure if you’ll be able to drive to the target of if you’ll have to park the bike and wander around to find it. For this reason, I had allowed 20 min in my S&T planning for this one. Lo and behold, I could see the fenced area when I crested the hill at the entrance and drove right to it. Park, place the towel, snap the shot, note the time and mileage (a recurring theme), and I’m back on the road.

Leaving the Greater SLC Valley

This is the point at which I diverged from the Rally Master’s directions. Rather than heading south (toward the wild fire and some known construction areas), I got onto USH-210 and headed east toward I-80. My next task was to preempt that second-half bonus I mentioned earlier. I was looking for a golf cart crossing bridge on USH-65 near I-80, and I had to report how high the clearance was. 15’ 3”, 569 points. BTW, I wasn’t the only one that decided this was the more efficient route – I encountered at least two rally bikes in the couples class while I was there.

Just past Park City, I turned south on US-40, looking for USH-248. On this road, the route instructions informed me that I would need to do some counting to get points. The state is doing an experiment on this stretch of road and has established deer crossings. The instructions mentioned the signs that I would see on this topic, and asked me to count how many signs I saw between MP6 and MP12. Or at least that’s what I thought the question said. I was all over it – I quickly ascertained that each crossing had 3 signs: the “Deer Crossing in 1000 ft” sign, the “Deer Crossing in 500 ft” sign, and the actual “Deer Crossing” sign. I also noticed that in the third set of these, the last one was missing – I shot a glance over my shoulder and noticed one knocked down on the ground (hopefully not by a deer). I pulled over after MP12 and smugly wrote down “11 standing, and 1 knocked down”. Nailed it – 1216 points! (Not so much, I’ll come back to this later.)

The next stop was a GPS-only bonus. We were told to go to “N 40 42.974 W 111 17987” and take a picture of the unusual Diner that stood in that spot. As it turned out, this was right on my route and based on the description, I could have gotten the photo without a GPS. But remember I told you that we had to declare out GPS and submit the serial number during the check-in process? Something tells me that you wouldn’t be successful trying to claim the points for the GPS-only bonus if you hadn’t reported your GPS. I had, I took the photo, and I got 2917 points to show for it.

To the Checkpoint … and then some

After that, because I had decided to short-cut the suggested (and reportedly beautiful) base route on USH-150, all I had left to do was get to I-80 and complete the long boring 45 mile ride to the CP in Evanston WY. Along the way, my GPS said that I was going to get there an hour early, and I found myself wondering if I could pick up another second-half bonus during that “break”. My next bonus was at MP-19 on WSH-19, just east of Evanston heading toward Kemmerer. Not knowing where MP-19 was, I decided to head out there and hope that it was near the I-80 end. That would save me a little time after the CP.

What I didn’t take into consideration, however, was the fact that I was nearing the limit of my fuel capacity, and that the winds on I-80 weren’t going to help at all. And since I hadn’t yet activated my “Leg 2” route into the GPS, I didn’t actually have any idea how far it was to WSH-189. As I cranked my throttle to survive the uphill headwinds and watched my speed and my gas gauge drop at an alarming rate, I found myself wondering whether or not this was a good idea. Was I really going to run out of gas before the CP? NOT AN OPTION! But I did a few on-the-fly calculations based on last year’s fuel mileage (which I tracked very closely) and just as I decided I should probably turn around, there was WSH-189! I took the exit, headed north, and found the first marker: MP 0.75. Seriously? That wasn’t at all what I was hoping for – I needed MP-19. Oh well, nice try. I turned around, got back on westbound I-80, and cruised back to the CP, with the wind this time. Still got there 25 min early, plenty of time to go through my CP checklist “off-the-clock”:

  • refuel
  • drink a Boost and a Gatorade
  • replenish my hydration bladder (which I had already emptied while I was riding – yay me!)
  • sunscreen and chapstik
  • clean face shield
  • pee (TMI?)
  • reprogram the GPS for Leg 2 (CP to Finish)

When I was done with my housekeeping, I headed across the parking lot to where the rally staff was gathered and took out the laminated placard I had been given with my route instructions. The CP requirement was to have the Rally Master take a photo of me holding the placard. At 10:55am (the CP didn’t open until 11am), I sat there like an idiot holding my placard with my bike running and my helmet flipped up. He finally acquiesced and took my photo early, but reminded me that I couldn’t leave until 11am. Yep, I know that. My long-time friend and rally-staffer Bill Gillespie stood next to me holding his cell phone (which reflected “official rally time”) and counted down the minutes before I could leave. At promptly 11:00am, I popped the clutch and headed east. This time  I wasn’t the least bit surprised by the winds on I-80 because, after all, I had been there before and I was ready for it. I also knew that I had 19 miles on WSH-189 before I had to worry about my next bonus. Maybe that little detour paid off in reconnaissance data.

Onward to Idaho

MP-19, WSH-189 – What’s the name of the creek? I don’t even remember now – was it Arthur? Arnold? Regardless, I wrote it down (along with my time and mileage) and moved on toward Kemmerer with 635 more points.

Things got interesting in Kemmerer. We were looking for the original JC Penney store – I didn’t know that it was founded there and I’ll bet you didn’t either. That’s what makes this stuff fun. I found it easily because there were a bunch of motorcycles there – funny how that works. Now we get a lesson in Rally Karma:

  • As I pulled up at the store, a friend (let’s call him Larry) offered to take my picture with my rally towel and the store in background (meeting the bonus requirement). How nice! He then related this story: he had just found another rallyist’s paperwork that was left behind – this is a big deal, without paperwork, there are no points. He called the Rally Master for guidance and was told to leave it somewhere obvious and secure in case the rider came back. Good on Larry for sportsmanship points!
  • As I was getting ready to ride off, I discovered a rally towel sitting on my saddle bag. For a moment I chastised myself for not putting mine away (because without a rally towel, there are no points either), but then I discovered it wasn’t mine, it actually belonged to Larry – he had set it down while he was taking my picture. I chased him down across the parking lot and returned it.
  • As I was leaving town, I realized that Larry’s generous offer and subsequent towel mishap had thrown off my precious 3-part rhythm (bonus requirement, time, mileage – remember that?) and I had neglected to record the latter two data points. I pulled over and (yes, I’ll admit it) retrofitted the time and mileage. It was only a mile and a minute – honest, I was there when I said I was.
  • Later we learned that the original paperwork-loser showed up at the CP in Evanston (he was on the 24-hr ride, which came from the north and had a different CP window) and was prompted repeatedly by helpful rally staff “Where’s Your Paperwork?” He was doing his own CP routine so he balked and resisted and got annoyed, but they persisted. When he finally realized what they were trying to tell him, he was informed that he could find it in Kemmerer, so he went to retrieve it (about 90 miles round-trip) and still made it back to the CP in time.

When I showed up in Montpelier ID for the next bonus, another rally participant (this time a pillion rider in the couples class) beckoned me into a parking spot on the curb, gestured Vanna White-style toward the sign we were to photograph, and again offered to photograph me and my rally towel with the sign. This time, based on my near-mistake in Kemmerer, I was more vigilant and remembered to complete the rest of the requirements (time, mileage) before I rode off with 756 more points.

After a fuel stop in Montpelier (with a full checklist review), I was faced with a long boring ride up USH-30 from Montpelier through Soda Springs to I-15. Until this point, I had been encountering rallyists at various points along the way – those who had chosen the same shortcut, and then at the three bonus stops after the CP. But I knew that I would be diverging from the pack at Montpelier and would be on my own because most (in fact all) of the other riders would be heading south on USH-89 to Bear Lake.

In the interest of full disclosure, I also have to admit that I didn’t fully review the question in Montpelier and on the boring multi-mile stretch that followed, I found myself with these thoughts running through my mind: “Was that really the right sign? Why did I believe them? Did they just f@*# me up deliberately? Did they lead me down a garden path of rally FAIL? Nah, they’re in a different class (the couples class), they’re not competing against me. And besides, they’re Canadian – they aren’t that devious… right?” Yes, I shared my paranoid reflections at the bar after the event and the three of us had a good laugh.

I also had plenty of time on that boring leg to second-guess my round-about routing decision. But I remained confident because I had done so well to that point (or so I thought) and I knew that because of my earlier shortcuts, I needed the high-efficiency miles that I would get on I-15. I got to McCammon, took a quick potty-stop (yay, my hydration plan is working…) and took the I-15S on-ramp. At which point my life went to hell.

Hell on the Highway

In my head (and in my routing plan), I was expecting to average 80+ on I-15 as I traveled south gobbling up much-needed miles on the slab. How could I have been so wrong? In my warm-up rides and previous rallies, I have faced cross-winds, head-winds, combination winds, gusty winds, and the buffeting surprises that result from passing semis and motorhomes. But nothing in my experience prepared me for the evils that are the winds on I-15 in Idaho. What makes them special? They change direction on a whim! Just as I got settled into fighting the cross-wind from the west, I’d pass some invisible barrier and nearly get slammed over as it was suddenly coming from the other direction. I’d climb a hill against a headwind with the throttle pegged and my speedometer dropping, and suddenly find myself accelerating wildly while fighting to adjust for the new crosswind gust. I was facing 70 miles of this on a tiny little motorcycle and quite frankly, I was scared.

I went into this ride with a bad right shoulder and it had started to give me grief on the USH-30 stint between Montpelier and McCammon. I had planned to take an Advil or two during my potty stop there but forgot. As I fought the wind on I-15, the shoulder screamed and threatened to give up completely. I pulled over at a rest stop, dropped four Advil, and did some serious soul-searching as to my next move. Had I made any mistakes to this point (e.g. off-target at the CP or missing bonuses) I might well have bailed. But as far as I knew, I was riding a perfect rally (based on my plan) and I wasn’t willing to let it go. So for better or worse, right or wrong, I made the decision to press on. I had to get back somehow, and the thought of begging Rich to drive the van up to rescue me at the rest stop was not appealing.

The on-ramp from the rest stop was uphill and I found myself fighting for position with a 40-ft motorhome. I was in the fast lane and desperate to pass it when suddenly my bike gave up. The throttle was pegged and the bike started surging. I couldn’t get by, swearing didn’t help, so I bailed and dropped into the windstorm behind the RV. While I struggled to figure out what was wrong with my bike, a giant semi passed me too. I finally realized that my only problem was that I had missed top gear. Result: I redlined the motor and triggered the rev limiter (hence the loss of power and the surge). What a surprise! On that bike, I spend a lot of time searching for the non-existent 7th gear (it’s hard to get used to 10K on the tach). But this time, I missed high gear, topped out in 5th, hit the rev limiter, and as a result, lost confidence in the bike for the first time ever since the day I bought it.

By the time I realized my mistake, I was stuck behind the semi, which creates a unique nasty buffeting wind eco-system in itself. I dropped back even farther to gain some stability, regain my confidence, and plot my next move. My opportunity came on a long uphill stretch where the wind had settled down a bit (relatively speaking), there was little traffic (competition for lane position), and both the truck and RV were suffering from a greater horsepower deficit than I (now that I had found top gear). I made my move and got past them both.

When I reached my next exit at Tremonton UT, I was so relieved to get off the Interstate and out of the wind that I didn’t really care what came next. I knew I had a gas decision at that point so when I saw the sign to my next bonus points (Golden Spike Natl Park – 27 miles), I turned around and pulled into the Chevron station to fill up. I didn’t care that it was 110 degrees, that was trivial compared to the 70 miles of treacherous wind I had just survived. I filled my gas tank, sucked down a Gatorade, refilled my hydration bladder, and wondered what poor trucker had lit his brakes on fire because the stench of burned something was terrible! (Remember this, it will be important later in the story …)

Back on Track in Utah

Now that I’m safe and sound and heading for the next bonus points at Golden Spike and the Thiokol Rocket Garden, let’s reflect for a moment where my head was at: I had opted for a route that I knew no one else was on; I had endured 70 miles of torture on I-15; the temperature was well over 110; and I hadn’t gotten any bonus points in over 3 hours. Things were looking pretty grim. Imagine how pleased I was when after I had picked up the 1028 points for the Rocket Garden and was headed out to the middle of nowhere to Promontory, I passed several of my cohorts coming the other way! I was back on track! When I got to Golden Spike, there was Larry (of Kemmerer Karma fame). I answered the question (the final spike was set at 12:47pm, in case you care), and headed east toward the freeway with another 1697 points for my efforts. Things were looking up. Or so I thought.

I had been extremely careful with my paperwork during the rally, especially after the Kemmerer reminder. Each time I completed all of the questions on a page, I’d remove that page from the carabiner binding and stuff it safely into my tank bag. After I left Golden Spike, I only had one page (and one bonus, for that matter) remaining. But as I headed east out of the park, with the wind coming from the south (my right side), I fell victim to a serious flaw in my tank bag/paperwork securing design. You see, my carabiners were on the left side with the stack of sheet protectors secure under my map flap. And all of my previous rally cross-wind had come from the left side, which had no impact. But on this leg, I found myself heading east with the wind blowing from the right side; the flap of my tank bag lifted, the plastic sheet protector got pulled out the other side, and <gasp> my last sheet of paperwork vanished – sucked right out of the sheet protector!

I slammed on the brakes, made another of many illegal U-turns, and headed back west toward the Spike. Greater rallyists than I have gone searching for flying paperwork over the years, so I didn’t hold out much hope. But about 100 yds back up the road, I spied the missing sheet, stuck up against a thatch of weeds next to the road. I parked the bike and approached carefully, as though it were a stray dog and I might scare it away if I startled it. I managed to grab it (with enormous relief) and stuff it back in the sheet protector.

At that point, I discovered the real issue: during one of my stops when I had removed completed sheets, I had managed to disconnect the middle carabiner from the tank bag. The result was a “bleb” in the attachment, not a fundamental design flaw. No matter, I wasn’t taking any chances and spent the next 30 miles lying with my chest on the tank bag to avoid any repeat performances. I only had one more bonus, then I could stuff all the paperwork away and relax.

My last challenge before heading to the hotel was to bag a photo of the blue buffalo at the entrance to Antelope Island State Park. I’ve never been there so I didn’t know exactly where the “entrance” was, but I knew there was a multi-mile causeway out to the island. I made sure the round-trip length of the causeway was included in my routing plans, just in case the gate was on the island side, so that it wouldn’t come as a surprise and hose up my time. After my harrowing experience on I-15 and my near paperwork disaster outside Golden Spike, imagine my thrill at finding the blue buffalo on the mainland side of the causeway. Got the photo (2601 points) and headed back east for the cruise home. My GPS, which had expected an extra several miles of riding to the island, recalculated and provided a new projected arrival time at the Hotel/Finish of 6:10pm (due at 7pm). I double-checked my mileage (was already well over the 520 minimum required) and decided to cruise home in “no mistake” mode.

The Home Stretch

As I approached SLC on I-15, I noticed an electronic sign that indicated the following:

Time to I-80W:
Via 215-18 min
Via Legacy Parkway-20 min

I had never heard of Legacy Parkway, but I tucked away the information in my brain. The next sign I saw said “Legacy Parkway Exit – 55MPH – No Trucks”. No Trucks? YAY!!! I was so tired of trucks after my experience on I-15 that I would have done almost anything to avoid them. I had plenty of time to spare and I was in “no-mistake” mode so the speed limit was actually a relief. It didn’t matter that my GPS would fight me to avoid this road it didn’t even know existed because I knew exactly where I was headed. Legacy Parkway, here I come!

The Ninjette and I rolled into the parking lot of the hotel at 6:18pm with 570 miles on the odometer and 42 minutes to spare. Rich was there to greet me with a Utah 1088 water bottle in his hand (one of the SWAG items, remember?). I already suspected what was in it – a bunch of ice, a bunch of Rose’s lime juice, and a bunch of vodka. But I wasn’t quite ready to partake – first I had to shed some gear, finish my scoring process and drink some more water.


We headed inside to the scoring area to gather everything together, review my paperwork, and turn in my required stuff. The scoring To-Do list:

  • Review the bonus paperwork to confirm that all my entries are legible – answers to questions, check marks for photos, mileage/time for each bonus.
  • Review the camera to be sure the photos are all there and my towel is visible. Not that it matters, of course, because I can’t fix it at this point, but just for my own peace of mind and no surprises at the awards banquet.
  • Retrieve the signed business card out of its safe place in my neck pouch
  • Mark up my official scoring sheet
  • Turn in my official envelope with the paperwork and bonus tokens (the business card was the only one I had to deliver – other common examples are receipts and keno tickets)
  • Get my score sheet and photo card scanned for the Rally Master to review
  • And finally, take a sip of that ice cold vodka gimlet.

I’m Melting!

When I headed back out to the bike to unload my luggage and GPS, I was shocked to discover that my right saddle bag was resting on the exhaust pipe. I disconnected it and peeled it away from the pipe (where it had melted and stuck) so I could assess the damage. At first glance, it didn’t appear too bad – a patchable hole in the bottom. And then I opened it and dumped out the contents on the grass. Holy cow, the devastation was astonishing. The heat turned the zipped-up bag into an oven and toasted nearly everything in its path. Remember back in Tremonton when I wondered about the trucker with the over-heated brakes? That wasn’t a trucker at all, it was ME! I was practically on fire and didn’t even know it.

A few things survived somehow, notably the electric vest, Aerostich rain gloves, and glove and helmet liners – as it turns out, the expensive stuff! But my winter gloves were melted into an unrecognizable ball, my leather summer gloves looked like the hands of a CSI fire victim, and the nylon liner and inside straps had evaporated. And everything was infiltrated with an unbelievable stench. By far the scariest find was my handgun, which was stored safely in a nylon case with the clip and bullets separate in an outside zipper pocket. The bike had been parked in the shade for at least 30 minutes by this time, yet both the gun and the clip were still so hot that I could barely hold them in my bare hand. The bullets had gotten so hot the casings were discolored, as was the stainless-steel barrel of the gun. Wow, that could have gone very differently. I guess I literally dodged a bullet..

After discarding the ruined items and breathing a sigh of relief, it was time for a quick shower, dinner in the restaurant, then over to the bar for the post-rally story-telling.

De-briefing in the bar

I found the Rally Master holding court in the bar with some of the other 12-hour rallyists. There had apparently already been some discussion about the deer crossing question. When I walked up, he asked me what the answer was. I responded smugly, “that depends whether you count all the signs or just the ones that were standing – I say 12.” He turned to another rider and said, “See? Everybody is giving the same answer – I’ll accept 11 or 12, not 4.”

Little did I know (though I shouldn’t have been surprised) that he was yanking all of our chains. I had a drink or two, shared a story or two (including the whole ‘almost caught fire’ thing), then retired for the evening, confident in the knowledge that unless someone had somehow made it to Jackson, I was probably going to finish in a multi-way tie for 1st Place. But as you’ll see, pride definitely goeth before the fall.

Next up: 2012 Utah 1088, Part 4: Results and Reflection

2012 Utah 1088, Part 2: Yep, we’re back in Utah

October 20, 2012

Friday, June 22, 2012

We’ve arrived in Utah for the 2012 Utah 1088. If you’ve landed on this page and don’t know how we got here, you should probably back up to 2012 Utah 1088, Part 1: What? Am I really doing this again?. And if you don’t know what a rally is, check back to 2011 Utah 1088, Part I: Final Preparations.


Check-in day was Friday and I had several chores to perform:

Step 1: Odometer check. This is standard at every rally. The riders are all given a carefully-prescribed route of about 20 miles to ride. At the end, you submit the mileage shown on the odometer, which is compared to the Rally Master’s result for the same route. The result is an adjustment factor that gets applied to your mileage for the rally to determine whether or not you traveled the minimum required miles to be a finisher. As with last year, my mileage was exactly the same as his so I didn’t have to worry about corrections – what I saw was what I got, one less source of stress on the road.

Step 2: Self-inspection. We were asked to sign a statement that we were carrying the required equipment – first-aid kit, tool kit, tire repair and inflation kit, flashlight, hydration. If we were using GPS, we stated such and submitted the Unit #. You’ll understand the relevance of this in Part 3 when I get to the GPS-only bonus. And finally, we noted the color of our riding jacket/suit and helmet. This is important to assist in search efforts in case one of us goes missing.

Step 3: Photo record. We were then required to have a self-portrait taken on our own cameras. This would be used to help validate which card belonged to whom in case there was a mix-up at the end when the photos were scanned.

Not bad, for a last-minute effort.

Step 4: Rally towel design. This was new for me this year. Typical of this type of rally is that photos taken for bonus points must include a specific item. Last year it was the rally hat, this year the rally towel. But we were first required to “personalize” it to make it recognizable and individual. We were warned about this in advance, but I hadn’t put any thought into it. So I had to wing it with limited creativity and the tools I had at hand, which amounted to several colors of Sharpies. I decided to replicate the logo for my bike since I knew it was the only one on the rally. Oh yeah, I also added a paw print in honor of Billy, our canine traveling companion.

Step 5: SWAG. Great assortment this year – long sleeve t-shirt (in black this year rather than white – Yay!); Utah 1088 license plate frame, metal water bottle, and an LDComfort helmet liner (nice!)

Once we finished up with Check-In, it was back to the room to chill for a while before the Riders’ Meeting. This gave me plenty of TV time, which exposed not only the weather report (HOT!), but a new challenge – Wildfire! You see, a wildfire had broken out just south of Salt Lake City and there was no sign of imminent containment. Last year’s rally route went south, right through the fire area. Would this year’s route do the same? What sort of variables would that introduce in terms of road closures, traffic, air quality concerns, etc.? Could the legendary deviousness of the Rally Master really have extended to this sort of natural disaster?

Riders’ Meeting

We were asked to bring our finished rally towels and driver’s licenses to the mandatory riders’ meeting. I was unprepared for the level of planning and effort that others had put into their towels – there were bedazzled towels, puff-painted towels, towels with banners and fancy fabric attached, quite an assortment. Oh well, mine met the requirement of being recognizable – this wasn’t the time for towel-envy.

After the Rally Master gave some final reminders of rules and answered a few questions, we presented our driver’s licenses and had them sealed in an envelope. More on that later. We then had another portrait session – this time on his camera holding our rally towels. This photo served two purposes – validating the rally towel in subsequent bonus photos, and further assistance in search efforts if one of us went missing.  At that point, the route instructions were distributed and we all scurried up to our hotel rooms to begin routing and plotting. This is where the fun really begins.


There are as many ways to plan, route, map and transfer to GPS as there are rally riders. But this is what I have come up with after years of helping Rich route for his rallies, along with testing and honing during my warm-up rides and last year’s rally. It goes something like this:

Initial Review

  1. Read through the turn-by-turn instructions (ignoring all bonus questions) and highlight the base route on the map. This gives me an idea of where the Rally Master wants me to go. I was very relieved that the route was sending us north and east, away from the wild fire, which was south.
  2. Highlight the mandatory Checkpoint (CP) on the map and note the time window with a black Sharpie – this gives me an idea how much leeway I have on the first leg of the rally. BTW, the CP is worth 3000 points.
  3. Enter each bonus question in a spreadsheet with the following information: question #, description, location, requirements (photo, answer question, etc.) and point value.
  4. Identify the “no action required” or “no option” bonus opportunities and move them to a different sheet to reduce the clutter. These were the same as last year:
    • Use the SPOT tracking device – 5000 points. No-brainer, Rich and I always use it when traveling alone, even in the car.
    • Return with your driver’s license envelope intact – 5000 points. No action or decision required, so it gets moved to the other page. The related one, “Return with your driver’s license envelope torn – Minus 6500 points”, also got moved. Have you noticed how important it is to the Rally Master that we avoid interactions with the po-po? Net difference is a whopping 11,500 points!
    • Checkpoint (CP), Evanston WY, 11:00am-12:30pm – 3000 points. This is required, so it goes in the “no option” list. The only role it plays in my routing process is as a Finish spot in Leg 1, and a Start point in Leg 2.
  5. Identify the alternate route option (or as I call it, the red herring) and test it with the goal of embracing it or eliminating it. This year’s option was to go to Blanding and back for 9021 points. If you chose this option, you were exempt from the CP requirement. Not a chance. The 620-mile round trip was enough to nix it for me, but add to that heading south into the fire area and the heat of the desert? No thanks. And 9021 points (in the scheme of things) wasn’t nearly enough to be tempting, especially when you also considered the 3000 points you would NOT get for the checkpoint.
  6. That left me with 13 bonus opportunities to consider in my routing. Next step is to sort by point value, then divide into four color-coded groups by value – red, orange, yellow, and green. This color-coding carries through on labels I put on the map and route instructions and serves as a quick reference on whether or not I should blow off a bonus if I get behind in time. The green ones are the first to get sacrificed, the yellow and orange ones require more thought, and the red ones are non-negotiable.

Routing (Microsoft Streets and Trips)

  1. Next, enter the bonus opportunities and the CP as “pushpins”. I use the same color-coding for visual reference, and I have developed the following naming convention to assist when I’m riding and the waypoint comes up on my GPS:
    Bonus # – Point value – Identifier (e.g. 5–1276–Pleasant Green Cemetery)
  2. I save this file off as the master bonus list and then run an Optimize and Get Directions. This gives me several important bits of information to use as a starting point:
    • How many miles and how long it will take if I try to do everything on the list (I need 520 miles and I only have 12 hours)
    • Arrival time at the CP if I take the optimized route (probably doesn’t coincide with the required time window)
    • If (and how) the optimized route differs from the base route that the Rally Master has presented (which is only a suggestion)
    • Accepting the assumption that my first pass will be too long, I have an easy color-coded visual representation from which to start whittling away the options.
  3. From this exercise, I found that the “everything” route was calculated at 739 miles and 12:50 hours – way too long. And the obvious bonus to sacrifice was a out-and-back side trip to Jackson WY, which was represented by a yellow pushpin and was worth just 1108 points. Re-running the optimization without Jackson left me with what appeared to be a doable route of 530 miles and 9:17 hours, AND got me to the CP in plenty of time for the scheduled opening. Time to save the master and start honing down my route.
  4. Now I split the file into two chunks: Leg 1 (Hotel -> CP) and Leg 2 (CP -> Hotel). The primary benefit of this strategy is this: once you activate a route in the GPS, it always displays the projected time to the end of the route. Since the only times that mattered to me were the CP window and the Finish time, that is what I always want to see represented on the GPS. When I leave the hotel I activate the Leg 1 route, and when I leave the CP, I activate the Leg 2 route.
  5. For each Leg, I make the following changes:
    • Remove the bonuses that don’t apply to that leg
    • Enter a “duration” time of 10 minutes for each simple bonus and 20 minutes for each complex bonus. This makes the projection more accurate by allowing time for for the work I have to do at each bonus (photo, walk somewhere, etc.), and also builds in some padding for activities that aren’t otherwise represented (gas, bathroom stops, hydration and sustenance, traffic, etc.)
    • Set the departure time for the Start (7:00am for Leg 1, 11:00am for Leg 2) and the arrival time for the Finish (11:00am for Leg 1, 7:00pm for Leg 2). I also had to enter an arrival time for one of the afternoon bonuses because it wasn’t available after 5:00pm. This results in a warning from the program if the projections have me arriving late. Two of the morning bonuses also had time constraints, but I wasn’t worried about them because I knew I was doing them first and time wouldn’t be an issue.
    • Optimize and Get Directions again. Confirm that I can still do everything as planned and that I’m getting to where I need to be with plenty of time to spare.
    • Export both legs to GPX format, open in Garmin MapSource, transfer to the StreetPilot 2610. That’s that.

Final Mapping and Paperwork

The first thing I had to come to grips with was the discrepancy between the Rally Master’s suggested route and the one that I had come up with on the computer. I doubt that this has anything to do with his deviousness – he honestly endeavors to show us the beautiful roads in Utah. But he doesn’t always give us adequate motivation (i.e. bonus points) to make it worth the risk of losing time, especially for less experienced riders like me. Last year, I made a strategic decision (at the software’s suggestion) to avoid a windy mountain road (the Alpine Loop) in the second half of the rally. It turned out to be a wise one, since 4 riders DNF’d due to time and I suspect that road was a contributor to their delay. This year, the software had thrown me three significant routing variations:

  1. Go directly east from Salt Lake City to Park City rather than taking a detour south (toward the fire) and coming up from a different direction. There were no bonus points on his suggested route, and I was also able to pick up one of the bonuses that was intended for the second-half of the rally along the way. This was a huge benefit because it would cut out a risky loop at the end of the rally when I might be struggling to make time.
  2. Go north after the Oakley bonus and take 80 directly to the CP at Evanston instead of taking the scenic route up Hwy 150, the Mirror Lake highway. In hindsight, I regret making this choice because I had plenty of time and I hear it’s a beautiful road.
  3. Go northeast from Montpelier ID and hit I-15 south rather than going down through Bear Lake and Logan Canyon. This was a tougher choice because I know that area is beautiful. But I also know that Bear Lake is a huge summer recreation area, has very restrictive speed limits along the lake, and was likely to be riddled with boat-towing traffic and pedestrians. Not only that, but because of my decision to take the short-cuts on the first half of the rally, I would need extra miles to make the minimum (520) and I wasn’t sure that the Bear Lake route would be enough. I didn’t want to get stuck doing the ride of shame to Saltair and back at the end of the rally just to gather miles, and furthermore, I was concerned that the Bear Lake route would burn up too much time to even have that option. Nope, I-15 was the most time-efficient way to gather miles (or so I thought at the time) so that’s what I decided to do.

Last year, I made a list of the turn-by-turn instructions and inserted the bonus instructions, then carried this reference in the map pocket of my tank bag. Sort of a Cliff Notes version of the rally, very much like a roll chart (for those of you familiar with enduro dirt bike events). This was quite effective for my first time, but it hid my map and so I didn’t have the visual overview of where I was and what was coming when.

This year, I decided to do things differently and rely solely on the map and GPS. Same as last year, I highlighted my route and then added numbered dots to represent the bonus stops. But then I added labels on which I wrote the pertinent information about the bonus: what it was, what I was required to do. Naturally, the dots and labels were color-coded to match the point value, which gave me an instant visual guidance for making sacrificial decisions if I got behind.

Detail of the Greater SLC area.

State-wide view of my route – the RM’s suggested route is in pink.

The final step was to place the route instructions / bonus questions into sheet protectors and clip them together, binder style, with three small carabiners. These carabiners attach to my tank bag under the map flap and give me easy access to the paperwork when I have to note my bonus information. I write my answers directly on the plastic with a Sharpie and turn the whole thing in at the end – this minimizes the risk of the paperwork tearing, blowing away, or becoming a soggy mess.

I was in bed by 11pm, ready for the 5:45am wake-up call and the 7:00am start. I’ll admit that I did wake up at 2:00am re-obsessing over the Jackson WY decision – could I make it if I skipped something else?. I got up and refreshed my numbers (no, it’s worth fewer points than what I’d have to skip), got over it and went back to sleep.

Next up: 2012 Utah 1088, Part 3: Rally Day!

2012 Utah 1088, Part 1: What? Am I really doing this again?

October 20, 2012

May and June, 2012

I don’t ride much during the year – I get no joy from commuting on the bike and on the weekends, I’m usually doing something that involves a dog or two. And most significantly, I don’t have the passion to go out riding just ‘cuz. That’s why the Utah 1088 12-hour rally is such a challenge for me. I’ve been friends with the organizers and many of the riders for years through Rich’s participation, and since it was my off-hand suggestion that led the Rally Master to add the 12-hour version to the mix in 2011, I felt compelled to give it a shot last year. I actually had fun and I promised that I would continue to enter as long as he continued to offer it. Oh yeah, it didn’t hurt that I won and had a title to defend. (If you haven’t seen my report from last year, you can catch up here – 2011 Utah 1088, Part I: Final Preparations.)

But in May of this year as I absorbed that fact that the event was quickly approaching, I also realized that I hadn’t done any preparation to get in shape. That’s not the way to go into a 12-hour ride – you’ve got to get both your body and mind ready for the grind. And more importantly, I was at risk of suffering the unprecedented humiliation of having my starting odometer for this event read exactly the same as it did at the end of last year’s rally. The Rally Master loves to call people out at the awards banquet and I knew that this fact would be fair game. I simply couldn’t allow that to happen.

Equipment Scramble

Clearwater LED driving lights

Rich and I had done so much bike preparation for last year’s event (Farkles for the Ninjette) that there wasn’t much to change. On our last trip to the San Mateo bike show, we discovered Clearwater fork-mounted LED driving lights. He needed new lights for his ST1300, but we saw that they also had a kit for the Ninjette. This had nothing to do with the rally since I only run during the daytime, but they’ll light up the night on the rare occasions that I find myself out after dark.

Ninjette loaded on the Rage hitch rack.

And just a couple of weeks before the rally, when it was clear that he wasn’t going to be able to ride his own bike (strabismus, a vision problem requiring surgery), a friend mentioned a very cool hitch rack she had seen that would eliminate having to tow a trailer. Avoid the ridiculous California speed and lane restrictions and hassles backing up? Done! We added the Rage Powersports SMC-600R to our arsenal.

Pre-rally Warm-ups

With the rally date looming, I asked Rich to whip me up a couple of warm-up rallies. He actually loves doing this because deep in his heart, he has always wondered how he would do as a rally master. The first request was a 3-hour ride ending in Calistoga, where he and Billy (our young Border Collie) would meet me for dinner. The second was a 6-hour ride ending at the Yolo County Fairgrounds in Woodland, so I could attend a membership meeting of my dog agility club. This one had an additional incentive – Rich was going to a bike show in nearby Dixon so he met me in Woodland with the van. We’d load the bike on the new hitch rack for the drive home, which allowed me to also enjoy a cocktail to celebrate a friend’s birthday. This would give us the opportunity to fully road test the new hitch rack before he left for Utah.

He put a lot of effort into these training rides and threw all sorts of challenges at me to get me ready for whatever deviousness the Rally Master might deliver. He sent me searching for headstones in cemeteries (time waster of uncertain duration); he reinforced that easy small point bonuses aren’t necessarily worth the effort if the wasted time puts larger bonus gathering at risk; he taught me that things aren’t always as they appear; and he reminded me that if you can’t do what the bonus question asks (there is no place at the Aetna Springs Golf Course from which to get a receipt), you need to do something to at least prove you were there and that you tried (take a photo of the club house – I passed that test).

Both warm-up rallies were successful and through them, I accomplished several goals:

  • Refreshed my routing and planning decision skills
  • Gathered my gear and organized what I would and wouldn’t need for the Utah trip
  • Got my brain in gear and my rhythm going for the bonus-gathering requirements – photo/question, mileage, time. Always all three. Miss one, no points.
  • Abandoned my plan to break in my new deerskin gloves – a seam was digging into my knuckle, so we followed the instructions for softening them up and the seam blew out! The new gloves went back to the manufacturer (and have since been repaired and returned), and I pulled out my old gloves that I wore comfortably in last year’s rally.
  • Broke in my body – hand, wrist, shoulders, butt, knees, neck. They all take a hit on a ride of any duration, but the warm-ups reminded me that I could survive it and the discomfort would pass.
  • Perhaps most importantly, I learned that I can survive in the heat. During the second ride, I spent most of the ride in official temperatures in the low 100s, but registering on my thermometer in the 110s. I learned to respond to how I feel and not get freaked out by what the dial says. And to stay hydrated.

I also exposed some gaps in my gear – things that had been misplaced or weren’t on my checklist. The warm-up rides gave me time to mitigate these deficiencies before I left for Utah.

I was left with much more confidence about the upcoming rally and a few hundred more miles under my belt, thus side-stepping the threat of public odometer humiliation. All that was left to do was change the oil, load it up on the rack, and send Rich and the Ninjette off for Utah. He also took Billy, one of our dogs – we have a long-standing tradition of bringing a dog to MERA events.

Next up: 2012 Utah 1088, Part 2: Yep, back in Utah

Life is Good – Rimadyl Toxicity Part 3

October 10, 2012

Today marks the one year anniversary of the day we nearly lost Billy to an accidental mega-overdose of Rimadyl. I was out of town when it happened, but thanks to Rich’s early detection and immediate response, and the skill and dedication of the doctors and staff at PetCare in Santa Rosa, he is alive and well today. And competing in agility (!), despite the gloom-and-doom kidney damage warnings we received when he was discharged. I summarized the 8 days of hell and the journey back in two previous posts: Rimadyl Toxicity – I wish I weren’t an expert, and The Journey from Hell to Healthy.

What am I feeding him now?

Our Internist has cleared him to return to adult food, but I have chosen to keep feeding him the Innova Senior food for two reasons: first, he had a mild weight problem when this whole thing started so I want to keep him from getting chunky; and second, that’s what my senior Border Collie eats so it’s just easier. I have, however, loosened up a little on the treat restrictions. I still keep the Phosphorus guidelines in mind so I avoid organ meat and bone meal, and with the exception of low-fat string cheese (because it’s so convenient), I opt for higher-fat versions of proteins when possible.

Update 10/28/13: My trust in Innova began to wane when they were bought by P&G, and following the recent salmonella scares and resultant recalls, I decided to switch. I repeated my Phosphorus research and landed on Wellness Super5 Chicken – 1.97 g/kcal of P. And our other dogs, a senior Border Collie and a tends-to-plump-up Rat-ihuahua, are now eating Wellness Senior.

Back to Agility

We began his conditioning and returned to training classes as soon as he got cleared by the Internist (about 6 weeks post illness) and he ran in competition 6 weeks later. He was fit and happy and showed no signs of any weakness or illness. Here’s a video from last weekend – happy, healthy, and fast! When he runs like this, it’s hard to remember that just a year ago we weren’t at all sure that he’d ever be able to compete again even if he survived.

What Will The Future Bring?

The damage is there and we may face chronic problems down the road. Since old dogs have kidney problems anyway, it will be hard to tell what is normal aging and what is accelerated by this injury. Nobody knows for sure. So we’ll continue to use good sense in feeding him, monitor his bloodwork every 6-12 months, ensure he always has access to fresh water, and enjoy every day that he’s alive.

Please, Protect Your Dogs

I’m using this milestone to remind my friends to take adequate steps (and after you read the original story, you might want to rethink what that means) to protect their dogs from ALL toxic threats. There is a frightening amount of stuff in our human world that is horribly toxic for dogs. Sadly, I know first-hand of  dogs who have died following ingestion of human medication and hops from a home-brewing supply. Most of us know about the “bad” food items like grapes/raisins, dark chocolate, onions, and macadamia nuts. But how many know that a common (and frequently unlabeled) artificial sweetener can kill them? Yep, Billy lived through that too – please read Xylitol Toxicity – Chewing gum IS bad for dogs. I can think of at least two friends whose dogs ingested toxic doses of Rimadyl AFTER Billy’s nightmare. So lock it up, put it up, or give it up – please don’t trust them to make good decisions.

The Journey from Hell to Healthy – Rimadyl Toxicity Part 2

October 9, 2012

Last fall when I first posted on this topic (Rimadyl Toxicity – I wish I weren’t an expert), I had just brought Billy home from an 8-day hospitalization for a mega-toxic overdose of Rimadyl. We were sure we were going to lose him and went to hell and back during those 8 days. Somehow he survived, but the discharge instructions were very discouraging and included the following quotes from the doctor (my comments and thoughts in italics):

  • “The overdose has injured his liver and kidneys. He will need to be managed as a chronic renal failure patient for the rest of his life. His level of kidney disease is currently Stage 2 (out of 4).” This was accompanied by a verbal warning that he had to have sustained damage to at least 70% of his kidneys to show these findings.
  • “Resume normal activity.” Really? He’s not just a pet, he’s a 4-year-old Border Collie that just started his competitive agility career. Not sure we have the same interpretation of “normal”…
  • “Part of managing Billy’s chronic kidney disease will be feeding a low protein diet … [examples] … Hill’s k/d or Royal Canin LP… ” For this dog, low protein = not compatible with “normal” activity. And furthermore, both of those foods are grain-based (especially corn), which I concluded years ago was not the healthiest option for my dogs.

As I absorbed these paragraphs of doom and gloom, I was confronted with a happy hungry energetic young Border Collie who was thrilled to be home and more than willing to work (i.e. weave) for his breakfast. And who, after sleeping through the night zipped in a crate, showed no desperation to drink or pee when released. In other words, this dog didn’t display any classic “kidney dog” symptoms (lethargy, anorexia, polyuria, polydypsia).

Where was the disconnect between the diagnosis and the dog? Whereas some might blindly follow the discharge instructions and ignore the dog, and others might look only at the dog and ignore the history and evidence, anybody who knows ME knows what happened next – an intense flurry of activity involving hours and hours of web crawling, review of anecdotal evidence, personal conclusions and changes, and follow-up labs and appointments with specialists. I believe that I chose the informed and responsible route, and what follows is what I learned during the weeks and months following his crisis.

Web Crawling

If you have a dog with kidney issues, whether acute or chronic, let me save you a lot of trouble.  Here’s where you need to go:

DogAware.com. Read it all, click on all the links. In fact, I printed out most of the pages and have them organized in a binder.

K9KidneyDiet Yahoo group. Join it, follow the instructions to post your introduction, review the files and links, then decide what you want to get out of it.

RainGoddess. Phosphorus content of prescription and commercial dog foods. It’s a little dated, but it’s a starting point.

NutritionData. Nutritional content (including phosphorus) of human food. The FDA does not require phosphorus to be reported on labeling. This site overcomes that, though it’s a little tedious because you have to look up each individual item and make a note of what you find.

Anecdotal Evidence

I’m fortunate to be very connected with the dog agility community, which includes many regular folks who have faced extreme acute kidney crises, as well as veterinarians who have experience that they’re willing to share. Here is some of what I learned through that network:

Case study #1: 10-wk old Border Collie puppy with suspected mushroom ingestion in 2001. Extreme liver and kidney toxicity, not expected to live. 10 days in ICU. Discharged with ALT level of 414, creatinine 2.74, dietary restrictions TBD. 4 days later, ALT 134, creatinine 1.57, no dietary restrictions. Dog went on to have an extremely successful agility career culminating with an 8th place finish at Nationals in 2007. Retired from competition at the age of 10 due to unrelated neurological issues and is happy and healthy today at age 11-1/2.

Case study #2: Young adult PyrShep with a similarly extreme Rimadyl ingestion. Parallel treatment, equally grim findings and prognosis. Dog was treated with only moderate dietary restrictions, kidney values improved over a period of months, and the dog continued to compete until retired due to unrelated neurological issues.

Personal Conclusions

Phosphorus/Protein: Everything I read suggests that the issue for kidneys isn’t protein as much as it is Phosphorus (the elemental symbol is “P” – in the interest of space, that’s how I’ll refer to it). As one vet friend put it, “The P is the Key”. Since protein is a primary source of P, that explains the automatic “low-protein k/d diet” recommendation. But as it turns out, the equation is far more complex than that. Proteins vary widely in two important measures: Biological Value (BV), which is amount of absorbed protein that is actually used by the body (loosely, “efficiency”), and P content. Here is a summary of what I have gleaned so far:

  1. Animal protein has a higher BV than plant protein. And eggs and milk are even higher. But that’s not the whole story because of the role that P plays.
  2. Within a food category, medium-to-high fat versions have a lower P level than low-fat foods. This seems to be true for both meat and dairy.
  3. The exception to #2 is oily fishes (mackerel, sardines), which are relatively high in P. But the Omega-3 oils in salmon offset this to some extent because they are supportive to the kidneys.
  4. Whole eggs have one of the highest BV values. The yolks are much higher in P than the whites, but the balance is still pretty good for low-level kidney dogs.
  5. Green Tripe is one of the lowest P proteins, as long as it doesn’t have additives.
  6. Bones have off-the-charts high P levels. So bone meal is an ingredient I’ll be avoiding when I look at dog foods in the future.
  7. Processed white grains are lower in P than whole grains.

Water quality: I have lived in the country for 10 years and have never thought twice about giving my dogs untested well water out of the tap (which I won’t even drink). No more. My dogs now get purified water from the Glacier vending machines or the water store – it may not be perfect, but it has to be a hell of a lot better than what’s coming up from my well.


Before: Innova Adult (239 mgP/kcal)

Now: Innova Senior (186mgP/kcal).

Update 10/28/13: My trust in Innova began to wane when they were bought by P&G, and following the recent salmonella scares and resultant recalls, I decided to switch. I repeated my Phosphorus research and landed on Wellness Super5 Chicken – 197mgP/kcal.

Update 2/11/15: Wellness went through a rebranding about a year ago. I have confirmed with the company that the changes are in name and packaging only, the formulas didn’t change. The new name for Super5 Chicken is Complete Health Chicken and Oatmeal.

Training treats:

Before: Turkey hearts, green tripe K9 Delight (which has additives), string cheese

Now: green tripe K9 Krackle (no additives), Bravo Turkey Bites (all thigh meat), Natural Balance Duck & Potato Treat Roll, and limited string cheese for variety

Labs – What Do The Numbers Mean and Which Ones Matter?

Disclaimer: I am not an expert. This section is intended as a lay introduction to understanding lab values in acute liver and kidney toxicity. Reference values (aka Normal Limits or NL) vary by lab/machine and are here only for illustration.


Urine Specific Gravity (USG): represents the degree to which the kidneys are able to concentrate urine. The USG has high variability even in healthy animals because it is influenced throughout the day by exercise and hydration. To ensure the most meaningful results, you need to always test consistently, which we were advised is first catch in the morning. NL=1.015 – 1.045.

Creatinine (CRE): creatinine phosphate is a natural breakdown product of protein which is normally filtered out of the blood by the kidneys. If the filtering capacity of the kidney is compromised, creatinine levels in the blood rise. NL = 0.4 – 1.8.

Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN): Urea is a by-product from metabolism of proteins by the liver and is removed from the blood by the kidneys. The BUN test is a measure of the amount of nitrogen in the blood in the form of urea, and is thus a measurement of renal function. NL = 7 – 27.


Alanine Transaminase (ALT ): Elevated ALT levels often suggest liver health problems, but this value is highly variable and cannot be used alone – other values need to be considered to narrow down the significance. NL = 5 – 107.

Total Bilirubin (TBIL): Bilirubin is a breakdown product from red blood cells which is normally excreted by the liver (bile) and kidneys (urine). Elevated bilirubin levels indicate liver cell damage, which causes the bilirubin to “spill” into the blood. NL = 0.0 – 0.4

What about Billy?

We have done regular follow-up lab work since Billy’s hospitalization. The initial results were encouraging, but the results at 3 months post-insult were nothing short of miraculous: ALL of his numbers have recovered to WNL (Within Normal Limits), suggesting that his liver has recovered and his kidneys are compensating.

Advice from the Specialist

Six weeks after discharge and the questionable “resume normal activity” recommendation, we consulted with a Board-Certified Internist who is also an avid agility competitor. We knew that she would understand our concept of normal activity and offer a much clearer perspective on what that meant in terms of Billy’s prognosis and dietary recommendations.

After reviewing the numbers and examining Billy, she was much more encouraging. She had no concerns about competing him as long as we watched out for his hydration and conditioned him to get his fitness level back. She went on to say that she thought he could even return to a regular adult diet at some point. She reminded me that even if he does have 50% kidney damage (which is likely), mammals do quite well at that level, as evidenced by the humans who donate one of their kidneys for transplant. Kidney function is aggregated, so it doesn’t matter if the 50% comes from a well-functioning single kidney or from the remaining nephrons in two damaged kidneys.

I have always accepted the common wisdom that kidneys don’t repair themselves (in contrast to the liver), so I asked about the discrepancy between the recovering lab values and the likely extent of damage. She explained that acute kidney injury is different from chronic kidney disease, and when the former happens in young healthy animals, they can often compensate. The toxicity causes nephrons to die and slough off, leaving gaps. There is evidence that the neighboring healthy nephrons grow and expand into the gaps and become super-nephrons. There is even some evidence suggesting that stem cells may come into play and develop new nephrons.

We walked away from that consult with renewed optimism, a prescription for several months of medication for kidney support (Ursodiol and Vitamin E) and liver support (Denamarin), and no unusual dietary restrictions.

Where are we now?

I’ve written up the one year status report in a separate post: Life Is Good – Rimadyl Toxicity Part 3

Important Disclaimer:

I want to reiterate that my discovery and decisions are specific to my dog, with his history and clinical findings. I don’t want anyone to walk away from this article thinking that what I did for Billy translates to another dog, especially a dog who truly does have chronic kidney disease. That said, the web resources are outstanding for those dogs, and I plan to follow up with a reference post on some of the data I gathered on Phosporus guidelines.

Epic FB Posts, Part 2 – Rody and the Chicken

March 10, 2012

As I mentioned in my last entry, Epic FB Posts, Part 1 – The Astroglide Post, two of my gauges of Facebook post quality are (a) the construction of the initial post (which must be based in truth) and (b) the resultant Comment thread – which can be measured in quality, quantity, and most importantly, the beverage-through-the-nose factor. It is a noteworthy event when a post exceeds expectations by all of the aforementioned measures. But to have two in one 24-hour period is a feat that will not soon be surpassed. And so I bring you Part 2, Rody and the Chicken – with 49 Comments (a record that holds to this day). For those of you who don’t know Rody, I need to give you some perspective – that’s her on the right.

Epic FB Posts, Part 1 – The AstroGlide Post

March 10, 2012

In my mind, the quality of a Facebook post rests in (a) the construction of the initial post (which must be based in truth) and (b) the resultant Comment thread – which can be measured in quality, quantity, and most importantly, the beverage-through-the-nose factor. It is a noteworthy event when a post exceeds expectations by all of the aforementioned measures. But to have two in one 24-hour period is a feat that will not soon be surpassed. And so I bring you Part 1, The Astroglide Post – with 36 Comments:

Next up: Epic FB Posts, Part 2 – Rody and the Chicken

Rimadyl Toxicity – I wish I weren’t an expert…

October 19, 2011

… but I am.

Billy’s first exposure to Rimadyl was just over a year ago and was my fault – I left a bottle with about 10 of Jasmine’s chewable tablets on the counter after feeding time. Billy exploited the opportunity and as a result, he spent 3 days in the hospital for preventative diuresis. We were lucky and he walked away unscathed. After that, we made significant changes to the way we store the Rimadyl to avoid another accidental exposure.

We starting storing the dog food and medications on top of the fridge, with confidence that they were out of Billy’s reach. The meds we keep up there are in stainless steel water bottles with heavy screw tops. We thought that was safe – who wouldn’t? That strategy has worked fine for over a year, but it turns out that Billy’s determination far exceeds anything we could have imagined.

Day Zero: The Disaster Unfolds (Mon, 10/10/11)

At 6:00am on Monday morning, I flew to Salt Lake City for a 5-day conference, leaving Rich at home with the dogs. Sometime around noon, Billy managed to get access to the top of the fridge (there’s no counter or stool nearby, he must have just scaled the front somehow) and knocked nearly everything off onto the floor. He then took the stainless steel container of Rimadyl outside, unscrewed the top, and ate them all. I had recently refilled Jasmine’s prescription so there were around 150 tablets, an unimaginable overdose by any standards.

I chose to avoid the actual calculations until I was sure he was going to survive, but I have now determined that his exposure was ~425mg/kg. Therapeutic dosage is 4.4mg/kg, and the literature talks about renal concerns beginning at 40mg/kg. In other words, his overdose was massive – 100x therapeutic and 10x toxic.

Rich discovered the disaster around 1:30pm and had Billy at PetCare by 2pm. They began aggressive treatment immediately, which involves vomiting, activated charcoal, IV fluids for the kidneys, and meds to protect the liver and the GI tract. He somehow managed to survive the night and I flew home from Utah first thing Tuesday morning.

Days 1 to 5: To Hell and Back (Tues 10/11/11 – Sat, 10/15/11)

The vomiting subsided within a couple of days but he remained nauseous and had very little appetite. His kidneys had paid a price but appeared to have to have stabilized. Because of the massive amount he got, they opted to keep him on the fluids for an extra couple of days as a precaution. Our new concern at this point was the liver, which started to go south on Wednesday. His ALT (liver enzyme) rose dramatically from 62 on Tuesday (which is WNL) to 126 on Wed (way above NL), then 400 on Thurs. If the ALT had continued to rise at that rate into the 1000 range, we would expect acute (and potentially irreversible) liver failure to not be far behind. But it seemed to stabilize in the 400-450 range. His bilirubin (which causes jaundice) remained elevated, but was also unchanged between Wed and Thurs, which suggested it may have plateaued as well. He was definitely yellow, but his eyes seemed a little better on Thursday – I thought it might be my imagination, but the nurse said the same thing.

His clinical presentation has also improved. He began eating Thursday morning, and shows more and more real interest in food (rather than just humoring me by taking something out of my hand). By Friday morning he was seeking out the morsels that I tossed on the floor, that night he was catching them in mid-air, and on Saturday morning he actually offered simple behaviors, like sit and close. He will engage with a toy when I toss it and find the squeaker, but only once or twice. We go on short walks in the parking lot and he trots with his tail wagging, at least for a few steps at a time – he obviously fatigues very quickly and we’re keeping our visits short so he can rest.

Our schedule this week has been simple: visit at noon because that’s when they run the blood tests, stress all afternoon and evening, visit before bedtime, then try to sleep at night. The 24-hour wait between blood draws is excruciating, but we’re encouraged by the small clinical improvements we’re starting to see each time we visit. In fact, today for the first time, he tried to follow us out of the visiting room rather than going back to his cage with the nurse.

Day 7: More Signs of Hope (Mon, 10/17/11)

Saturday night’s visit was quite uplifting. His attitude had improved even from the morning and we got a glimpse of the Border Collie we know and love – catching his toy in mid-air, snatching it off the ground and shaking it, even a little light tugging, and bringing it back for more. His appetite is obviously improving, as is his willingness to “work” for food. On Sunday, the nurse was pleased to report that he was eating rice and chicken out of a bowl (“like a dog”) instead of only out of her hand. And the fact that he was interested in that sort of bland-ish food was also an improvement because we had previously only been able to entice him with “junk food” (the Dr’s term) like hot dogs, string cheese, and green tripe treats.

This afternoon, we got good news from his first urinalysis – no urinary casts. These casts, if present, are positive indicators of kidney tubular damage. Absence doesn’t necessarily mean no damage, but it’s still very encouraging. He’s also not spilling protein into his urine. Plus his bilirubin level has dropped significantly and he’s noticeably less jaundiced today. Liver and kidney blood values still not what we’d like them to be, but he continues to eat and play and his stamina is improving. And my friend Sarah is quick to remind me (after her first-hand experience with Rav’s acute failure of both liver and kidneys as a puppy), “look at the dog, not the numbers”.

Following the good results from the urinalysis, they started tapering his fluids in anticipation of sending him home soon.

Day 8: Homecoming! (Tues, 10/18/11)

I’m beyond thrilled to report that 8 days after admission, Billy is home from the hospital! I picked him up on my way home from work and here we are.

Clinically, he’s getting better every day. Today when I visited him at lunchtime, he ran full-speed across the parking lot to chase a squirrel on top of the fence. He obviously has some reconditioning to do after 8 days of lying around in a cage (and more recently a 5’x5′ “room”), but I’m sure that will come back quickly once he’s released to run freely on the back hill. I’m keeping him confined for a day or two while we re-introduce him and Zack, and also I’m going to be a lot more compulsive about daily mushroom checks. It’s that time of year, and even a small insult that wouldn’t normally be a problem could be real trouble now.

Long-Term Prognosis

Chemically and medically, we definitely have some fallout. His liver numbers are far from perfect, but the Dr. is optimistic that those will recover over time – the liver is very resilient and can regenerate. However, his kidneys have almost certainly sustained some level of permanent damage and we’ll probably have to manage chronic kidney disease throughout his lifetime. Based on his current chemistry, he’s labeled as Stage 2 (out of 4).

Next steps include nutritional research and consultation, guidance from an internist (preferably one who understands what it is that we do), and careful monitoring of blood work and hydration.

How do we protect him in the future?

We may not be able to. Dietary indiscretion is no joke, and neither is his drive to exploit vulnerabilities. We can’t put him in a bubble, so all we can do is continue to make adjustments and hope for the best.

We started by buying a new storage cabinet, which now houses all of the food, medications, and garbage containers. It includes a shelf at about the right height that now serves as our food and medication prep center (instead of the kitchen counter).  The cabinet doors have hasp loops that will always be secured with a carabiner, and we have fabricated a nylon crossbar that inserts into the door handles for further security when we’re not here. And finally, the cabinet will be secured to the wall so he can’t pull it over.

I am sticking with the metal stainless steel water bottles, but I have purchased smaller 12-oz ones and will only store a limited number of meds (i.e. less toxic overdose potential) in the cabinet. The remainder will be stored safely somewhere else.

The other significant change is that Jasmine no longer gets tasty chewable Rimadyl tablets. I replenished her prescription with boring caplets. She won’t mind because she still likes Pill Pockets, which I buy by the case anyway, and which are also now secured in the new cabinet.

Soap Box: Don’t buy chewable Rimadyl

On the day Billy went to the hospital, there were three other dogs admitted for Rimadyl toxicity. One of them got it from its owner’s purse after having just been prescribed it therapeutically that day. Four dogs in one day in one hospital? Something is definitely wrong with this picture, and what’s wrong is packaging a toxic medication as a tasty treat.

Finally, I can breathe again

Last Monday night when I was alone in my hotel in Utah, I was certain I was going to lose my boy and I grieved. And my mood on Thursday night, after his liver went south, was equally dark or maybe even worse because I had let my guard down. But now he’s home, he’s hungry, he’s back to his happy playful joyful self, and he has no activity restrictions. I fully expect him to return to his agility training soon and hopefully he’ll lead a relatively normal life.

Life is good!

Please read the two updates – The Journey from Hell to Healthy, and Life is Good.

DUH, of course we should pay state sales tax on internet purchases

September 20, 2011

I am 100% opposed to any effort to continue our ridiculous exemption from CA Sales Tax on internet purchases. There, I’ve said it out loud. Our state and local municipalities are on the verge of financial collapse, and nobody seems to be dealing with the impact of sales tax revenue losses on that trend. There are only two solutions: decrease spending or increase revenue. We’ve cut about as much as we can cut. We’re already 47th in the nation in per-student education spending – do we really want to hit bottom?

Am I part of the problem?

You bet. Yes, I buy from Amazon (and others). And yes, I have enjoyed the absurd windfall of an ongoing 8+% discount by doing so. And yes, I have ignored the stern admonishment from my CPA that I am obligated to declare all of those purchases as “Use Tax” on my CA Income Tax return. Here is the link that describes my obligation – what a convoluted piece of crap: http://www.boe.ca.gov/ads/news06.htm

Why do I think I/we should pay?

I shop from my couch – in California. My purchases are delivered to my doorstep – in California. I enjoy the use of most of these items – in California. I don’t know or care where the orders are processed or where the items come from. How are these NOT sales-taxable events? How does this activity differ from driving 1/2-mile to (insert local store name here) and buying something to bring home and use? It doesn’t, and any attempt to differentiate the two is pure rationalization.

Why do I not declare these purchases on my 540?

The legislature should have seen this coming at least a decade ago and gotten on top of it. It’s not my job to help them sort out their lack of vision. If their “solution” is to put the onus on me and the Franchise Tax Board through my 540 return, then I would assert that the merchants in CA should no longer be required to collect sales tax either. We should all be equally bound by the honor system. But since the law requires brick-and-mortar merchants in CA to deal with this collection burden on behalf of the State Board of Equalization, the legislature should require nothing less of the internet merchants who do business in CA. I repeat, not my job.

What about Amazon’s threat to abandon California buyers if we implement an internet sales tax?

Seriously? According to the 2010 census, California represents 12% of the nation’s population. Do you really think that Amazon is going to give up that market? Sure, they’ll lose some of their competitive edge (against local businesses) if they have to collect sales tax. But realistically, all we’re really talking about is a little programmer time to adjust their software and a slight adjustment to the FTE count in their accounting department to file the returns with the FTB. Their threat is as much crap as the current CA sales tax law.

What about the local merchants?

I would hope that a fair sales tax will help local merchants to some extent, as compared to the current ridiculous state of affairs. But to keep my business, the local merchants will still have to stay on their toes to be competitive. I’m unapologetically lazy and unless I have an immediate need, shopping from my couch and having the product show up at my door will usually win.

 Do you really want to avoid Sales Tax?

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you don’t want to pay so much sales tax, then you ought to do one of three things:

1. Move to a state that doesn’t have it.

2. Stop complaining about the condition of our infrastructure and educational system.

3. Actively promote legislative alternatives for either increased revenues (which I would argue includes fair sales tax) or reduced expenses.

If you’re not willing to do one of those three things, then you need to SHUT UP about the current internet sales tax proposals and stop harrassing me when I show up at the County Fair or Wal-Mart or wherever you are lobbying that day when your unrealistic and pathetic life happens to converge with mine.

 The Real Scam: Use Tax

Here’s the dirty little secret about Sales Tax – it’s actually called “Sales and Use Tax”. Which, IMHO, is a total load of crap. Here’s how it affects you:

1. If you buy a used washing machine from Craig’s List, you are legally required to pay “Use” tax on that purchase by reporting it on your state Income Tax return. Really? Has anybody ever actually done that? Why not? Because either you don’t even know that you’re supposed to (because it’s so illogical and absurd), or you know in your heart that it’s double taxation and a load of crap. BUT:

2. If you buy a used car, the DMV charges you “Use” tax when you register it. Why? Because they are a government agency and have been empowered and entitled to do so. How many of you have colluded to defraud the state of this bullshit revenue, either as a buyer or a seller, by “agreeing” on a false selling price that you know you can get away with? I know I have, on both sides of that equation. Why is it such a scam? Because it’s so capricious. If I buy a new car and keep it until it dies, I pay the Sales & Use Tax once – through the dealer. But if I sell it after a year and the next buyer does the same (and so on and so on), the state could collect multiple “Use” taxes in that same car’s lifetime. And the only way the state gets away with it is that they have their own agency (the DMV) that is empowered with collecting.

 My Naive Conclusion

If we all paid our fair share of the Sales Tax, regardless of the “source” of our purchases, perhaps we could (a) avoid the financial collapse of our state and our education system and (b) repeal the DMV-enabled scam called “Use” tax on vehicles.