A girl, a bike, and an open road

We got our rally packs (flag, rally book containing all the bonus locations, and some swag) at 4:30pm, and we all walked through it together with the Rally Masters (Paul and Nancy), dressed for the occasion as Jake and Elwood; the theme of the rally being “Holy Rollin’” with lots of Blues Brothers references. The theme continued, with our having to visit historic churches across Texas, ostensibly to collect donations to help Jake and Elwood save the orphanage.

They gamely answered all our questions about the rally book, the rules around the combos and rest bonuses, how to use the app to submit our bonuses to our scorer back at the hotel, and then we were released to go plan our ride.

The bonuses, unsorted.. I usually mark the highest value ones in red, the lowest in green, but the combo bonuses were the key to scoring in this rally.

I pretty quickly spotted that the JAKE, ELWOOD, BLUES, and BROTHERS bonuses were the most point efficient, as opposed to the combos for the books of the Bible, and that ELWOOD and JAKE could be set up pretty nicely with TIMOTHY and ACTS – remember that each bonus location had a letter associated with it, and we could collect these letters Scrabble-like to spell these bonus words for big bonuses. You didn’t have to collect the letters in sequence, but once you used ANY letters to score a word, your “letter bank” was cleared and you had to start over collecting letters for the next bonus.. a twist that would lead to some interesting routing. You might have to ride PAST a bonus to collect another one, first, due to needing to complete a different word combo first.

I had what I thought was a “good enough” route planned; I wanted to earn enough points (or dollars, since the conceit was we were visiting all these c) to qualify as a finisher ($35,000). We all started with $30,000 - bonus points awarded for pre-rally homework like signing waivers, participating in the raffle, agreeing to use the app to score bonuses.. but with have to “pay” $8/mile we rode, we were somewhat limited; we had to be VERY efficient with out mileage, to the point that later in the rally I would pass up low point value bonuses that were too far out of my way, such as a 45-point bonus that was only 3 miles off the highway - that would have actually LOST me points, since the mileage penalty would’ve worked out as 6 miles * $8 = -$48 just to GET to the bonus…

I guessed that I’d score a bit over 50k all told, which seemed like a decent amount.. but who really knows, since you don’t know what routes other people might be seeing in the data. My ride plan also had me back at the barn 3 hours early, but I didn’t see any combos I could assemble with that time, so I left it for emergencies and for any bonuses I saw along the way; since they’re all loaded into my GPS, I can reroute the plan as I ride.

In bed by 8:30pm, I was just about to fall asleep when I realized that one of the bonuses I was going to grab at the end of day 1 was actually a national park site, and maybe I should check the hours… sure enough, it would be closed by the time I got there… so I reversed my route, which took some doing, but I was asleep by 10pm.

My final route plan.

Up at 4am, ready to go by the bikes at 4:30am for a last-minute rider meeting and safety exhortation. 5am, and somehow I get to… leave first? Well that’s just fine. 2 of us turn right, the rest turn left, and we’re off!

L08: First Baptist Church - Bastrop, TX - $68

When I reversed my route, I had planned on getting to this first bonus 20 minutes before it’s daylight bonus period began, and thought I’d sit around or something.. but ended up here 45 min early instead! I thought about eating a penalty for the first 2 bonuses being taking before dawn; not only did we get a smaller bonus for nighttime photos, but also -10% for any combos that used letters from them. This was part of the plan to keep us safe and not running around the countryside after dark.. However, part of our rally pack was a pair of sunglasses, and a la Jake and Elwood’s infamous line about wearing sunglasses at night, we could score up to 2 bonuses during their nighttime window as daylight bonuses IF we took a picture with the sunglass in the shot. I elected to wear mine and mug for the camera a little.

O12: Calvary Episcopal Church - Bastrop, TX - $68

I budget 10 minutes for each stop, which gives me plenty of time to find the bonus, double check everything in the book, take the photo, upload it, stretch, have a snack, drink something… it turns out I don’t really need ALL that extra time, as I’m pretty fast and efficient with my stops. I’m usually done at a stop in 5 minutes or less, and since this one was basically a block away from the previous one, I left Bastrop 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

O07: Annunciation Church - St Hedwig, TX - $139

I felt really good, made great time down some empty, fast Texan highways until I hit farm traffic.. but even that wasn’t too bad this early in the day, and the farms here aren’t the giant spreads you see elsewhere in the west.. just smaller, family-scale fields.

E04: Mission Espada - San Antonio, TX - $155

I arrived early, around 8:30am, expecting the doors to be locked.. but there were no gates or fences around this old Spanish mission, in a quiet, rural neighborhood on the south side of San Antonio, so I wandered in and took my photo. It’s “daylight” bonus hours were 9am-5pm, the official hours of the park, so I couldn’t submit it for scoring until 9am, so I kicked around for a bit, chatting with the rangers showing up to unlock the small on-site office, until I could hit the SUBMIT button.

D01: St Louis Church - Castroville, TX - $175

35 minutes west of San Antonio, I’m picking up morning traffic finally as it’s after 9am and the whole world seems to be waking up. This was the first of the churches I’d visit that was founded by Texas’s German settlers, which is a demographic I honestly had no idea settled the state.. so much about Texan history I don’t know. This tiny stone building was down a muddy side street, and merging back onto the main road through town was tricky. I was really feeling like I was hitting a good grove by this point in the day.

W02: St. Paul United Methodist Church - San Antonio, TX - $152

Dipping into downtown San Antonio now to pick up this W for my ELWOOD bonus ($10,500). Because of the rules where once you submit a combo bonus, you lose all the letters you’ve picked up so far, I have to visit the San Antonio stops in a weird order – despite The Alamo being just a few blocks away, I’ll head back to the southern suburbs to pick up a couple Spanish Missions before coming BACK to downtown…

San Antonio reminded me a lot of Milwaukee - tiny, empty, a place that has seen better days, but isn’t run down per se, just.. quiet.

Y01: Mission San Jose - San Antonio, TX - $155

Another National Parks site, I ducked into the visitors center to pick up stamps for my 2021 National Parks Tour, scoring 4 in total. Had a nice conversation with one of the rangers about the new NPS app, and her son who lives in Seattle was coming into town later that day for a visit. Good chat, as always.. I get the feeling that not enough people stop and talk with the rangers and park personnel, so I make an effort.. helps that I have an annual parks pass and a NPS Passport - shows them I’m a real “park nerd”!

To get a photo, I had to walk a ways into the surprisingly large and intact mission compound, and as always I wish I had more time to tour. There was an $18k bonus available for visiting all the Spanish Mission sites, but one was way out in El Paso and while I could have made it, the math just didn’t make it worth my time. I dodged a number of school field trips, and had a quick meal in the parking lot.. I travel always with a few cans of various things - spaghettios, tuna fish, etc - and tortillas, which are shelf stable and last a week or so in the panniers before getting stale, and combining the two things makes for a decent snack. Had a couple kids smile and wave at the sight of me – well, really it’s all the girly stickers on the bike, I’m sure that was it, right?

H02: Mission San Juan Capistrano - San Antonio, TX - $155

GPS sent me on some really small side streets, but pretty ones, past a small airport, through a winding green space along the river. For 4 or 5 miles, I was stuck being a very slow moving pickup truck that slowed to almost a crawl at every side street.. frustrating, but there was no good passing, lots of roundabouts and speed bumps.. and turns out they were going where I was going.. and the rangers who I’d chatted with at Mission Espada earlier in the morning were here as well, doing the glamorous work of emptying the trash barrels. Otherwise, no one here at this tiny mission.

O04: The Alamo (Mission San Antonio de Valero)
San Antonio, TX - $153

Back into downtown San Antonio for 2 more bonuses. The Alamo is smack dab in the middle of downtown, full of tourists, surrounded by hotels… GPS tried to send me down a “guests and buses only” road, and by god I listened! There was a small parking area in the middle of the street in front of one hotel with a trike and another motorcycle already parked. I figured I would be in and out before they could tow me, but asked the doorman at the hotel if I could park the bike for just 2 minutes - he didn’t seem to care at all. The Alamo itself was swarming with tourists, but I only needed to walk about 50 feet from where I parked to get a good photo. The building itself was closed, so I can’t report on what the basement is like..

T03: San Fernando Cathedral - San Antonio, TX - $153

Just a few blocks away, but one way streets and no place to park, so I pulled up onto a sidewalk between some bollards and hopped off to take my photo. While I was finalizing the submission, a Tiger 1200 rolled up, one of the 4-day riders. One of the few times I’d see any other rally riders, I said hello and he just sort of stared at me like I was a Martian. (To be far, I’m generally what is refered to as “a lot” and can be overly outgoing sometimes! 🤣)

I10: St. Barnabas Episcopal Church - Fredericksburg, TX - $153

Finally got out of San Antonio and headed north an hour or so to Fredericksburg, a town that was positively PACKED with tourists. Traffic and parking was wild, but I had not only this bonus to score, but also I needed to eat at a diner here in order to score one of the 2 meal bonuses. I had to order something real and sit there for 45 minutes.. by the time I was done, I was sick of the hustle and bustle, paid my bill, bagged the bonus and got out of town!

…of course, in my rush to just get away from the madness, I missed that there were 2 other high-value bonuses only a couple blocks away.. I left 612 points behind. Can’t be leaving points on the table like that if I want to win!

S18: St John Lutheran Church - Crabapple, TX - $447

I had been toying with picking this one up early in my planning - the point value was just too good to really pass up, and it looked like a fun ride.. and it was, until it wasn’t. It should’ve only added 20 minutes to add this to my route, and I got there just fine. After taking photos, it really started to drizzle, so I put on the rain gear and headed out.. I expected the GPS to route me back the way I came, but the “No U-Turns” setting bit me again, and somehow overrode the “No Unpaved Roads” setting. I was about 6 miles out when I noticed that the next turn was an unpaved, unnamed road and I nope’d out of that, fiddling with the GPS until it agreed that I could turn around.. then it took me on some really goaty roads that I can only called “paved” if I’m being generous.. but I did get to the next church, only losing 12 miles ($96) and 20 minutes all told.. and I have plenty of extra time to burn at this point.

MO1: Christ Lutheran Church - Cherry Spring, TX - $474

Pretty little church, but see that driveway? That’s not mud.. that’s slippery hill country clay mixed with jagged pea gravel.. and those tire tracks? That’s where the rear tire of the bike tried to pass the front tire, and I almost ate it.

I03: St. Joseph Catholic Church - Mason, TX - $172

I stopped in Mason for gas and a snack, taking a break from the rain, and noticed this bonus which wasn’t on my plan, but was literally across the street from the gas station. Sweet!

Mason as the extreme northwest corner of my original plan; now I turn east and head directly towards Austin.

T02: Art Methodist Church - Art, TX - $172

You’ll notice I’m taking this photo from a little farther away… well, remember that slippery clay? Well, this is where it finally caught me, tossing me and the bike to the ground. Bent up the pannier on one side as well as the crash bars a tiny bit.. took some doing to get it back upright, and just as I did Mr Max Jordan, a retired rancher, came up in his pickup to offer me a hand. We chatted for a bit, and it turns out he’s on the board of trustees for this church, and he offered me a tour not only of the church, but he drove me out on some backroads to see the old schoolhouse and the spot the church USED to be in. I didn’t feel like I could say no, and it was a pleasant conversation.. but did eat up 45 minutes.. at least the rain stopped!

This was also the final bonus I needed for the TIMOTHY combo ($10.5k)

S04: Trinity United Methodist Church - Castell, TX - $156

By this point, I realized that I was going to have plenty of time, so I relaxed a bit. Castell is a tiny little hamlet about 5 miles off the main highway, full of fishing lodges and guide services. I braved the dirt/clay/sandpaper gravel road in, as it seemed less muddy, but still was pretty timid after my get-off at the last stop. A guy came out of the church and sat in his truck, watching me, while I duck-walked the bike turning it around. Not a huge point score here, but I needed an “S” and it was nice to get right back onto a little bit of dirt to shake that fall off.

A14/T11 - AKA "Oops"

The rain started just POURING down, and I made it under the covered eating area of an out-of-business BBQ joint to plan the last few hours. Once the storm cell passed, I was in clear riding all through Austin, and began to work my way down it’s eastern suburbs. I spotted a park with bathrooms so I stopped to pee, and… see, when you deviate too far from the GPS’s route, it asks if you want to skip the next location. I swore I hit the “NO DON’T SKIP!” button, but apprently I didn’t, so I accidentally submitted this stop as T11 instead of stop A14.. and then skipped the actual T11 stop entirely.. I was working on the ACTS combo, so this means I didn’t have either the T or the A, since my scorer would have to deny the bonus (you can correct mistakes up until you score another bonus, at which point you’re locked in.)

Entirely on me, and I could’ve/should’ve caught it when I double-checked it in the book, but I instead misread the bonus location code from the GPS turn-by-turn listing instead, focusing on the wrong information entirely.. typic how a cascade of individuaklly tiny mistakes combine into a big one. This mistake cost me $4,077.

C03: St. John Colony - Lockhart, TX - $255

I got to this location about 7:40pm, and I knew there was a town and motel nearby, but I had zero cell service, an a huge thunderstorm was moving in, so I skeddadled, electing to head towards the next bonus and getting a room at the next hotel I saw. Of course my GPS sent me on another goat track (I really need to learn to zoom out and confirm the route…) and the heavens opened up and just DUMPED on me. The goat track got goatier, then it got unpaved for 2-3 miles of sharp railroad gravel and a couple inches of flowing water. My glasses fogged, my helmet fogged, there was no place to stop anywhere as every road and drive way was mud or ditches full of rushing water. I had to ride with the face shield open, cold rain pelting my face, and I thought “This is hands down the dumbest thing I’ve ever done” but there really wasn’t anyplace to stop for shelter. Surely there’s a gas station or picnic area or SOMETHING, but for the next 20 minutes there was only rain and cold and lightning. I finally got back to Bastrop, TX, and took shelter under a bank’s drive thru, scoring an ATM receipt to start my rest bonus ($10/min for up to 10 hours between 8pm and 6am) and booked a really overpriced room next door. I took almost my full rest bonus here, losing 32 minutes (8:32pm on my ATM receipt) due to the weather and navigation snafu.

I still hadn’t noticed my mistake from the previous stop; I’d only notice tomorrow that I was missing an “A” and think it strange, but I found an extra one.. I need to zoom out more with the GPS to see where the hell it’s taking me and to confirm it looks ok. I could’ve stopped after the previous stop (A14/T11) and still have had plenty of time instead of pushing like I did. If I had, I could’ve corrected the $4,077 mistake, AND not lost $320 of rest bonus.

Continued in Part 3!

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