A girl, a bike, and an open road

Of the 56 riders (and teams) that started a week ago, 41 were finishers. To meet my goal of top third, I’d need to place better than 14th place. I was in 15th at the end of Leg A.. would I be able to improve on that?

Before I go any further, I want to make sure I thank the rally staff - Nancy Oswald and Jeff Konikek, our scorers and phone-a-friend buddies for 60-odd weirdos running around the country on motorcycles for more than a week. Tara Tong, senior staff and not-so-secret weapon who keeps everything humming along with an eye to the horizon. The Cheyenne, WY based staff, Tobie and Lisa Stevens, getting us checked in efficiently and looking our best (and most dramatic) in official event photos. Wayne Boyter, who certainly deserves his title of “Merriment Coordinator”. Tonatiuh Huitron, the fabulous Artistic Director whose efforts make the rally just that much extra and the rally materials themselves treasured keepsakes. The State College, PA staff, Andy Kirby and Sue Welham, for keeping all of us fed and making sure we all had safe, secure, and soft places to lay our weary heads.

..and, of course, Paul Tong, our Rallymaster, whose creativity and love for these events are both on display, who keeps this entire thing somehow on the rails perfectly every time.

After checkin I changed into street clothes and socialized for a while, getting caught up on who was in, who was running late, who was DNFing and why. I did some hotel room laundry, took a nap, did some general socializing, and just generally trying not to worry about the results; I knew what my score was, and was for sure a finisher, but no one goes around asking other people what they scored.. that would be rude! So instead we talked about where people went or who went for what combos and the like. I was feeling pretty good, all things considered. Since I still had enough in the tank to make the run back to Seattle tomorrow, I decided not to book a hotel for the following night, and just push through and see exactly how much I had left after 7 days.

We started gathering in the hotel lobby around 6:30pm, keeping an eye on the banquet room doors. 7pm, we tucked into piles of veggies, rapidly demolishing the healthy food options.. not that we didn’t also demolish the dessert bar, but after a week of riding and eating whatever our panniers carried or fast food we happened to be passing, a giant salad really hit the spot!

Just as at the first rider’s meeting, Paul made some on-point sartorial choices, dressing as Abraham Lincoln (complete with itchy beard!)

Photo: Tobie Stevens

He gave us 30-40 minutes to shove food into our faces before finally stepping up to the podium. After thanking all the staff who made the rally happen (to much applause!) Paul announced that since the rally was exactly 7 days long, they’d worked with the Iron Butt Association to produce a special 7 day/7,000 mile certificate for anyone who’d managed to cross that mark… of course, I had just missed it, with 6,809 miles. Curse my blasted ride efficiency!

I wasn’t actually too upset, but seeing the parade of rally notables stepping up for their awards, I really started to doubt if my score was going to be good enough for a top third finish; after all, if they were riding so many more miles than me, there certainly was more points I could’ve scored. I started mentally cataloguing every long gas stop, rest break, dilly-dallying with paperwork at a bonus, and wondering if I could’ve just eked out a few more miles…

Paul loves to give out awards for things besides finishing position, and LDX was no different. Lew Ballard was called back up to receive the “Corps of Discovery” award, for claiming the furthest east and west bonuses, James Epley was bestowed the “Spanish Conquest” award for the furthest north/south bonus pair, and Nick Byrnes took home the “Fountain of Youth” award for being the only person to visit the Ponce de Leon bonus in Leg A. Well done, gents!

Finally, we started working through finishers. We cheered as each person came up to collect their reward and have their photos taken, mentally calculating how close the announced point totals were to our own. We crossed 20th, and still the totals were in the 190,000s, so I started feeling pretty good. I expected to get called with each new position, given how point totals tend to clump together in “bands”, but I certainly never guessed that after 11th place was called, my name was still in the mix - I was in the top ten! Paul called the remaining ten of us up, and I couldn’t believe the company I was standing with! Finally, my name was called…

Photo: Tobie Stevens

Well done, me! I was pretty dumbfounded that I managed to place so well, after being so thoroughly convinced I was barely going to drag in as a finisher. It took a lot of luck to place as well as I did; a number of folks ahead of me in the standings DNF’d or had dramatic swings in their scoring. Any number of things can go wrong, and will – 27% of those who started the rally ended up not finishing for a variety of reasons, and I could easily have been one of them.

Heck of a lineup to be part of!
Photo: Tobie Stevens

In addition to an LDX Rally Finisher award, each rider in the Top Ten received a special plaque with the figure of the Nth President of the United States corresponding to their finish; William Henry Harrison was the 9th president!

My 2022 LDX Rally

Awards given out and with full bellies, we all soon drifted off to our hotel rooms to sleep and recover. Many of us were heading home the very next day, and I was no different. I was up and awake around 6:30am, packed the bike and went in to have breakfast with the last of the stragglers. I headed out of Cheyenne shortly after 8am, intending only to ride as far as I could. I slow-poked a bit, enjoying not having a clock for the first time in a while. I stopped at Tree Rock, where a lone pine grows out from a crevice in a large boulder, and dragged my feet at rest areas and gas stops and getting chit-chatty with people.

A couple hours east of Cheyenne, I spotted a huge thunder storm on the horizon, barreling towards I-90 from the southwest.

Ultimately not that large, but given all the lightning and the furious downdrafts, getting off the road and waiting it out for 15-20 minutes seemed the smarter play.

I spotted a rest area up ahead just as the wind started picking up, and pulled off. A group of Harleys that I’d been playing hop-scotch had already taken up the entirety of the enclosed bathroom/visitors map building, so I sat under a picnic shelter watching lightning strikes while the sun shone down all around.

Soon enough, though, the storm hit. The wind was furious as the fat drops of chillingly cold rain turned to hail, and soon I discovered that my shelter wasn’t really all that much better than being outside!

The shelter was in a low spot, so it soon flooded with a few inches of freezing and muddy storm runoff, and the wind whipped furiously through the shelter, lightning striking again and again the radio antenna on the rest area building and light posts. I was safe enough, but drenched and chilled, laughing as the only response to such a display of nature’s wrath. Of course, as soon as it struck, it passed, the sun beating down, runoff soaking into the muddy earth.

10 minutes later, like nothing ever happened!

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. I stopped at Little America for the first time, getting gas and a penny for the Pressed Penny Insanity ride. By the time I crossed back into Utah, I felt like I was back home on familiar roads, skirting SLC north on I-84 through South Ogden. Dinner was a veggie sub in Twin Falls, ID, and I was in Baker City, OR just before 10pm. I was still feeling fine, the weather continued to be pleasant, so I pushed on, and before I knew it I was in Washington state at a familiar Love’s truck stop in Prosser, WA only 3.5 hours from home… might as well keep pushing on! I arrived home in Seattle a few minutes past 5am, 22 hours and 1250 miles from Cheyenne. Hardly a blistering pace, but ripping out another 1,000 mile day, putting me at >8000 for 8 days felt really darn good, and a heck of a way to cap off my 2022 LDX Rally.

What follows is some retrospective thoughts about LDX after talking to other riders, considering my decisions and process, and jotting down thoughts as they come to me.

Leg A

I was pretty happy with the results for my Leg A. My goals going into LDX were

  • finish safely
  • finish strong
  • finish in the top third

I awoke at the start of Leg B feeling physically fresh but emotionally a little drained. I knew I had the physical strength and the mental stamina to get back on the bike and keep going; my 48/10 (48 states in 10 days) in 2021 proved to me personally that I’ve got the grit to wake up every day and keep riding, and I had the physical stamina for more, so goals 1 and 2 down. I felt very confident in being able to meet these goals in Leg B as well.

Coming in 15th out of 49 was perfectly fine, and I wasn’t too upset about it. Missing the points for that one bonus in Leg A due to my being lazy stung a little, but it only cost me one place in the standings — a lesson learned, and I’ll never make that kind of mistake again.

Some folks saw maximizing George Washington bonuses as a “trap” and to a certain extent that was true; they were a great addition to late-leg bonuses, but missing any individual one wasn’t a deal breaker. Many of them weren’t worth a ton of points themselves, and even if you hoovered up a ton of them, you’d still need to claim a large number of bonus locations to really maximize their value. I think they were a nice “pot sweetener” and they were completely worth scoring, but they weren’t a strategy to build around per se. I didn’t really go out of my way to collect them, but there were one or two I could’ve skipped and moved up a spot or two in the standings. That said, I’m not upset about my approach here, of picking up the ones obviously along my route.

The 2 bonus combos I went for had good locational synergy, and their score made up around a third of my total score for the leg. I’m not sure if any of the other combos were claimed by anyone in the rally, but I did see that a number of us went for these 2.

Scheduling, I was really pleased with my time management until Day 3. I had a plan and I stuck to it, and that plan wasn’t aggressive. Day 3, though, I dragged my feet and wasted time, and still got to the checkpoint 90 minutes before penalty. If I hadn’t spent 45 minutes at the Women’s Rights National Historic Park, or 40 minutes dinking around waiting for a train and accident in Ithaca.. well there’s 3 hours right there. What if I’d ridden 5mph faster? Been crisper on my bonus stops? Less bio breaks? I’m not sure I could’ve made a Top 10, but I certainly was one of the 3 most efficient riders in the top 20.

More time means more miles - there was ~6,000 points in the UP I would’ve had time to have gotten, or ~2,000 in Morristown, NJ that I would’ve been able to snag.. would that have made much of a difference? Would riding harder make up for not seeing a higher scoring route back in Cheyenne? Maybe more time would’ve been better, but given my plan, I’m not sure I could’ve made a jump higher than 12th.. but knowing what I can ride gives me more data to have confidence in making ride plans that stretch the limits of what I think I can do. At the end of the day, the only direct competitor I have is myself, so I’m constantly optimizing against what I believe my own best effort might be.

Leg B

Day 5 was rough; I don’t think the run down into DC was a mistake, but the heat and the traffic had a huge impact on my mental and emotional resources. Talking with friends later, it seems this day stuck out to them as the one day when my phone calls to them sounded on the edge of not making it through the rally.

One of my signals for needing to eat and drink and rest is when I get spitefully angry at other people on the road.. and I spent a most of the day between Gettysburg, DC, and Williamsburg, VA wanting to kick every car that got near me. I tried to shove more calories and fluids in at stops, but I really needed 15 minutes to just sit in some A/C and pause. I didn’t do that, because I felt like I was lagging behind, since I’d gotten such a late start from the checkpoint. Combined with not having a lot of faith in the plan, I was at an emotional and physical low-point.

Throwing out my plan at the start of Day 6 was a move born out of that low place, that sense of being short on time. Luckily, it ended up scoring me enough extra points to squeak into the Top 10. That isn’t to say that it was the right move, only that it worked out. I’ve made course corrections mid-rally before, but those tended to be less dramatic micro-optimizations.

If I’d been willing to just sit and work the problem with the laptop at a meal stop, I might have seen that I wasn’t making a huge mistake with the route change, which would’ve lifted so much stress and worry from me. It might also have helped me see the mistake I was making — missing that Lincoln bonus in Indianapolis (and then the jog north to Gary, Indiana) cost me 16k-20k points and 1 position. The GPS unit and POI tools on my phone are great for general what-ifs, but they’re not great at zoomed out, big picture planning. Surely I could’ve found 10-15 minutes to sit inside a McDonalds and be proactive about the plan instead of reactive to the clock.

I guess I should talk a little about Waffle House. I don’t really want to, though. Literally any other fast food option would’ve been a better choice.. and while I love me a good greasy spoon, I’ve never gone into a Waffle House and not regretted it. No disrespect, it just ain’t for me.

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