A girl, a bike, and an open road

🎵 Flatter than a table top
Makes you wonder why they stopped here
Wagon must have lost a wheel
Or they lacked ambition one

So they sunk some roots down in this dirt
To keep from blowin' off the earth
Built a town right here
When the dust had all but cleared
They called it Levelland 🎵

-- "Levelland" - James McMurtry

“Levelland” was playing through my mind all the way out here across the Llano Estacado, the vast mesa that makes up the majority of northwestern Texas. Almost literally “flatter than a table top”, its farms and fields and endless flatness run to a horizon unblemished by hills, forests, mountains, or cities, and all that is between you and the north pole is barbed wire and circle irrigators. Beautiful, bountiful emptiness… but not much to stop the wind.

The Planet bonuses are the only ones available to us today, from noon until 2am. After 2am, we can claim any bonus from any day.. provided we include a selfie of ourselves wearing the fake ZZ Top beard and sunglasses! This gives us a great window of opportunity to hoover up points and complete tours in the final hours of the rally as we spiral back towards College Station.

Oh, the things rally riders will do for points…

The scoring for Planets is a little interesting. Each individual Planet counts as a complete tour by itself, offering an opportunity to make up for any lost ground. The bonus for completing a Planet tour is scaled, and increases as you gather them. For instance, the first Planet tour you complete earns you an additional 1,000 points. For each additional Planet, the bonus for every Planet tour is retroactively increased by an additional 750 points.

Chart of Planet values from the rally book

This bonus is, of course, in addition to the value of each individual Planet as its own location, just like all other locations. Of course, they’re scattered enough that gathering all of them will take some doing.

Was starting in the upper left hand corner of the 2nd largest state in the union a smart idea? 🤷🏼‍♀️

I gave some initial thought to trying to grab all of them, but ultimately decided for a less ambitious approach of only scoring 6. In the woulda-coulda-shoulda land, I could see a path towards scoring 7 without much effort, but I had made a personal decision before the rally started that after 2 rallies last year that had me slog from Houston to San Antonio by way of Galveston, I was going to avoid that part of Texas unless it was an absolute necessity… and besides, I’m not competing, I’m having fun, and Houston traffic ain’t fun.

38) P78A - Welcome to Earth - Earth, TX - 6,912 pts

Take a picture of the roadside sign reading “Welcome to Earth.”

The wind was fierce as a dozen of us gathered around the Welcome To Earth sign, taking turns taking each other’s photos. I got mine taken more or less first, but ran into something fiddly getting my gear on, and ended up following Bryan & Marissa and Ken Andrews south towards Lubbock and the next location on our respective plans.

This segment: 0 miles, 00h00m
Total: 0 miles, 00h00m
Time Remaining: 24h00m
Tours complete: 11
Rest bonus exponent: 7
Planet bonus: 1,000
Points scored: 20,306

Ken set a spirited pace and we trailed behind him all the way down to Lubbock, leaving other riders trailing out behind us. Waze prompted me to turn and skim across the northern edge of Lubbock, while Ken and Bryan & Marissa continued on straight through the cities. As I turned to the east, the full force of the northern wind made itself known, pushing now on me from the left, and would be my continual companion for the next 8 or 9 hours. Believe me, it got old in a hurry having an invisible force trying to shove you off the road, twisting your head like a giant cracking open a beer.

Luckily the ride itself made up for it, coming down off the plateau through the caliche canyons of the Caprock Escarpment that rise a thousand feet above the high plains, the gateway to the rolling hills of ranch country, an escarpment dramatic and tall enough to create thunderstorms to the east as air rushes into them and is forced high into the sky. The road passes long stretches of working horse and cattle ranches, big empty canyons carved into the hard stone that slopes down towards hill country. At one point US-82 passed through Guthrie, TX, and right through the middle of the 6666 Ranch, which even this west coast girl has heard of!

39) X03A - Hole in the Wall Cafe- Rochester, TX - Exponent: 2

There were a few rally bikes out front, but only a couple riders from Earth (the bonus, that is.. I’m sure most of us were actually from Earth!) There might not be much happening in Rochester, but The Hole in the Wall Cafe was hopping today, 5 of us rally riders taking up the single large family table in this small, rustic cafe. The woman working the front of house was the very soul of “Texan hospitality” and took great care of us, super friendly and cheerful, and I have to say after several hours of fighting the north wind. I got excited by the grilled cheese on the menu, and scarfed it down with a sweet tea. More ralliers trickled in as we shook our heads at the wind and watched the clock tick down; at least it wasn’t raining, right?

This segment: 194 miles, 03h40m
Total: 194 miles, 03h40m
Time Remaining: 20h20m
Tours complete: 11
Rest bonus exponent: 9
Planet bonus: 1,000
Points scored: 20,306

Waze sent me off from The Hole in the Wall Cafe through a maze of random farm roads, and I’m sure I saved 30 seconds somewhere along the way.. but I’m also dubious. Rain finally caught up to the wind, light sprinkles now and then, just enough to make the broken pavement that usually only sees traffic from from heavy farm machinery slick. At least the wind was dying down, now a steady 25-30mph, and would diminish even more as the day wore on.. but never quite entirely still, either.

40) P81A - Moon Cemetery - Breckenridge, TX - 3,296 pts

Take a picture of the granite marker located next to the entrance for the Moon Cemetery.

Turning off to an access road of freshly-laid, slushy gravel was a nice “treat” but the big BMW ate it right up. You just stand up, bend your knees, arms loose, keep the front end pointed where you want to go, and do your best to ignore the odd sensation of the rear tire of the bike trying to pass the front one! I didn’t hear of anyone wiping out, but the haunted look in the eyes of the cruiser riders who pulled up while I was there told a story.

On the way out I passed more riders coming in behind me, slowly paddling their way through the gravel, and a couple pickup trucks surprised me in the corners, roaring up the opposite direction, kicking up dust and stones in their wake.

This segment: 94 miles, 01h39m
Total: 288 miles, 05h19m
Time Remaining: 18h41m
Tours complete: 12
Rest bonus exponent: 9
Planet bonus: 3,500
Points scored: 23,602

41) P83A - Rising Star City Hall - Rising Star, TX - 2,690 pts

Take a picture of the Rising Star City Hall sign.

Zip zip zip… quick run down US-183. The sign was weirdly behind the building, and there was a couple… ahem… “renewing their vows” in a parked car off to the side. Luckily the angle for photographing the bonus had them out of frame, but they didn’t seem to notice, so intent they were on declaring their love for each other.

This segment: 56 miles, 0h57m
Total: 344 miles, 06h16m
Time Remaining: 17h44m
Tours complete: 13
Rest bonus exponent: 9
Planet bonus: 7,500
Points scored: 26,292

42) P80A - Mercury Community Center - Rochelle, TX - 2,800 pts

Take a picture of the sign for the Mercury Community Center.

In addition to a couple other ralliers at this stop, there were a pair of very happy dogs running around, who were content to pace motorcycles and we pulled in or left. I petted them for a minute and made friends, and while doing paperwork before leaving shared my last pieces of beef jerky with them to strengthen our bond.

This segment: 53 miles, 0h50m
Total: 397 miles, 07h06m
Time Remaining: 16h54m
Tours complete: 13
Rest bonus exponent: 9
Planet bonus: 13,000
Points scored: 29,092

Leaving Mercury a couple minutes past 7pm, I headed back north. I passed one rider of ours who was parked by the side of the road, talking to folks in a truck.. I slowed and got the thumbs up, so pushed on. Waze routed me around the small town of Brownwood, TX, to US-377 past Dublin to Stephenville, and then US-67 east towards the southern outskirts of DFW.

43) P85A - Venus Veteran Memorial - Venus, TX - 2,128 pts

Take a picture of the memorial to Corporal Thomas Hilbert, USA.

It was just past 10pm when I parked on the town square to claim this location, and wow, is Venus, TX a happening place on a Friday night! 2 police SUVs were circling this rather small park, and 4 or 5 groups of young folks were stumbling around having a good time (and enjoying some liquid refreshment as well.) For once, no one wanted to ask me about the bike or tell me about their relative who rides, so I was able to get in and get out quickly.

This segment: 162 miles, 2h58m
Total: 559 miles, 10h04m
Time Remaining: 13h56m
Tours complete: 14
Rest bonus exponent: 9
Planet bonus: 20,000
Points scored: 31,220

Leaving Venus and pushing into the Friday night traffic of DFW, I noticed some flickering lightning to the east. Radar showed a slow moving line of storms ahead of me as I hopped onto I-20 heading east. At first it seemed like I’d be able to follow along right behind the storm front, but eventually I found myself caught up with the rain and wind on the back edge of the storm, and the rapid lightning ahead started appearing around me, so I pulled off into a truck stop and under the gas pump awning. That’s where I found Robert Long similarly taking refuge. We chatted a bit and he said he was going to wait it out here, let it get ahead, before continuing. I decided that even though I wasn’t yet tired, if I was going to be stopped waiting anyways, I might as well earn some points and start my rest bonus now. I mean, it was 11pm already, and I had 4 hours of rest break time left to earn. I booked a room nearby and took off.

44) Z04F - Rest Bonus 4 - Wichita Falls, TX - 4h00m (240 minutes)

I’m glad I decided to rest; on the short ride over, I almost got into a wreck when the road did a slight (20’) dogleg left and I completely didn’t notice! There was zero shoulder, and I was riding the fog line, tensing and pulling left as hard as I was able, trying not to target fixate on the ditch full of storm water to my right! Yikes! Time to close my eyes..

Checked in and lights off by 11:15pm, I set an alarm for 3:15am and was back on the road by 3:30am. It was slightly longer than I had bonus time left, but only by a few minutes. Maxing out my rest bonus this way earned me a whopping 170,676 points; compare that to the points I’m earning from tours and individual locations!

This segment: 57 miles, 5h30m
Total: 616 miles, 15h34m
Time Remaining: 8h26m
Tours complete: 14
Rest bonus exponent: 9
Rest bonus: 170,767
Planet bonus: 20,000
Points scored: 31,220

Back out on the road, radar showed nothing but clear skies ahead to the east; the timing worked perfectly. The roads were a bit wet, but all the Friday night traffic had cleared out and stumbled home, so no one was out but me, state troopers, and truckers. I took US-80 east back to I-20, making good time. Exiting in Canton, I plunged into the darkness of tree-lined roads around 4am, and was glad to have solved the fuse issue which had rendered the high beam setting of my aux lights inoperable. I didn’t see any deer, but that didn’t mean they weren’t out there..

45) P79A - Mars Community - Murchison, TX - 2,000 pts

Take a picture of the Texas historical marker for the Mars community.

There wasn’t really a good spot to park here, just a sunken, muddy pull off, but it’s barely 4:30am, so I pulled as far right as I dared and threw on my hazards, timing my photo to avoid the glare of flashing amber.

This segment: 60 miles, 1h00m
Total: 676 miles, 16h34m
Time Remaining: 7h26m
Tours complete: 15
Rest bonus exponent: 9
Rest bonus: 170,767
Planet bonus: 28,500
Points scored: 33,220

Now that we were past 2am, any and all bonuses were fair game, as long as we wore the ZZ Top beard and sunglasses (the sole exception being Planets, due to some minor confusion in the rider’s meeting..) I took a look at the spread of locations, adding a couple along the way as I saw that I had more time available than I thought!

46) S21A - Reynolds New York Feed Store - New York, TX - 854 pts

Take a picture of one of the Reynold’s New York Store signs.

What do you think of my new look?!

(Note that we are allowed to use the sticker with our rider number on it in lieu of the flag, an option which I found MUCH easier to manage than trying to take a selfie and hold a flag..)

This segment: 18 miles, 0h26m
Total: 694 miles, 17h00m
Time Remaining: 7h00m
Tours complete: 15
Rest bonus exponent: 9
Rest bonus: 170,767
Planet bonus: 28,500
Points scored: 34,074

A little ways down the road, my tummy started complaining about the lack of breakfast, and since I needed to pee anyways, I stopped at a McDonalds in Crockett, TX around 6:15am. I tapped in my order using their app in the parking lot, went into the ladies room, and my food was waiting for me when I emerged. Scarfing down a sausage-egg McMuffin by the bike and fiddling with the GPS, I saw had plenty of time left, and there was a fairly high-value bonus right next door…

47) C46A - Germany Cemetery - New York, TX - 1,866 pts

Take a picture of the entrance to Germany Cemetery.

Of course, a high-value bonus usually means there’s some amount of difficulty to get to it. That can mean far away, or it can mean the road itself makes for some difficulty. In this case, it was a mile and a half of wet clay and pea sized gravel on a 2-track dirt “road” with grass and wildflowers growing up in the middle in the spots where the lazy grader operator lifted the blade too high! Not really a huge problem, but some amount of extra stress, multiplied by it being in some Bermuda Triangle of cell service, such that I had to wait until I got back out to Crockett itself to get the rally app to submit the bonus.

This segment: 84 miles, 1h43m
Total: 778 miles, 18h43m
Time Remaining: 5h17m
Tours complete: 15
Rest bonus exponent: 9
Rest bonus: 170,767
Planet bonus: 28,500
Points scored: 35,940

Heading south, the sun was up, but the sky overcast. I missed the turn for this next bonus, and had to come in to it from the south side of the village. The small granite marker was embedded in a stone wall, beyond which was the empty field, a couple small bits of stonework, perhaps old hearths, marking where the school once stood. It was still fairly quiet at 7:50am when this grubby rider parked her bike, put on a fake beard, and posed with an old historical marker.

What do you think the neighbors thought of me?

48) F66B - Moscow School Park - Moscow, TX - 192 pts

Take a picture of the Texas Centennial marker for the Moscow Academy.

I once heard someone loudly say “I don’t put my kickstand down for less than 200 points” and man, I dunno.. isn’t every point worth something?

This segment: 64 miles, 1h05m
Total: 842 miles, 19h50m
Time Remaining: 4h10m
Tours complete: 15
Rest bonus exponent: 9
Rest bonus: 170,767
Planet bonus: 28,500
Points scored: 36,132

The world was waking up now, and the road was fast; it was only a few miles to the turn off for this next bonus, and wouldn’t you know it? Another gravel road… Did Texas buy a surplus shipment of gravel and decide to just sloppily redo all it’s unpaved road with it? This road started as dry and sandy, but coming around a corner next to a large, logged out section, an 8” deep bed of fresh gravel awaited, and Baloo felt like he was sinking into a crunching, churning trough, fishtailing slowly side to side as the gravel spun out. Treating it like sand, I applied more throttle to the problem, and floated up to the top, moving faster than I might normally, but staying upright through a few tight 90-degree turns before the GPS declared that I’d arrived…

Except, there was no cemetery here! I poked at the GPS and my phone for a minute, parked at the end of someone’s driveway. It soon became clear; the cemetery was up the wooded slope above the road.. but did I need to trek up the hill, or was there an alternate route? Neither GPS device was showing these private dirt roads, so I hopped off to check the rally book to see if there were additional details.

As I did so, I saw a man on a riding mower come to a stop by the fence along the road. He’d been cutting down the tall grass in his half-acre lot, and seeing me appear in the middle of the woods looking lost, came over to see if he could lend a hand. Once I explained what I was looking for, he gave me directions – apparently if I kept going another third of a mile, there was a side road that doubles back and led up to the cemetery itself.

“How’s that road? Is it passable what with all this rain we’ve had?” I asked.

He just grinned, replying “If you’re damn fool enough to have come the way you did, you can get up that road!”

As promised, a side road did in fact climb up the ridge through the woods, and it wasn’t any worse than the way I’d come.. in fact, it looked to have been covered by the same gravel company contract, but with the addition of random stretches of potholed hard-pack clay, just for a little variety. Exciting and a little spicy in spots, but I didn’t have any real problem in the end, just a good story.

49) C53A - Peebles Cemetery Israel Community - Israel, TX - 1,947 pts

At the end of the drive in Israel is a cemetery where you will take a picture of the small sign stating it’s the Peebles Cemetery Association.

I should’ve known this location would’ve been a bit of a trick to get to, given the the high point value!

This segment: 15 miles, 0h29m
Total: 857 miles, 20h19m
Time Remaining: 3h41m
Tours complete: 15
Rest bonus exponent: 9
Rest bonus: 170,767
Planet bonus: 28,500
Points scored: 38,070

We’re getting close to the wire now, but I kept an eye on my speed as traffic picked up, and there were a surprising number of local law enforcement out and about this morning. I rolled slowly past the police station in Onalaska and snapped a number of photos with the bell, working on my best ZZ Top impression.. because bells are heavy… metal… music.

Your groans, they feed my soul!

50) S02A - Church Bell - Onalaska, TX - 547 pts

Take a picture of the old church bell.

This segment: 19 miles, 0h29m
Total: 876 miles, 20h48m
Time Remaining: 3h12m
Tours complete: 15
Rest bonus exponent: 9
Rest bonus: 170,767
Planet bonus: 28,500
Points scored: 38,617

I crossed over Lake Livingston and found myself speeding through an odd sort of cul-de-sac, but instead of tightly packed houses it was hobby farms and ranches, split-level homes on 5-acre lots with unkept lines of trees marking property boundaries. It took me a bit to find one of the Arizona Ln signs, and I got some side-eye from a guy in a pickup truck who slowed to a crawl when he rolled by me. He didn’t say anything, just glared, wondering what in tarnation I was doing.

…or he was jealous of my beard.

51) S03A - Arizona Ln - Huntsville, TX - 53 pts

(+53 pts - Arizona Tour Complete)

Take a picture of the Arizona Ln road sign. There’s several signs in the neighborhood and we’ll take any of them, just be sure to get close like the reference photo.

I feel like this photo might be my peak ZZ Top look!

This segment: 28 miles, 0h37m
Total: 904 miles, 21h25m
Time Remaining: 2h35m
Tours complete: 16
Rest bonus exponent: 9
Rest bonus: 170,767
Planet bonus: 28,500
Points scored: 38,723

In the home stretch now! I had completed my 16th tour, so barring any weirdnesses at the scoring table, I had fulfilled the minimum requirement to be a finisher. I still had time, and set my sights on at least one of the two remaining high-value locations vaguely on the way to the checkpoint.

Traffic was really starting to pick up as Saturday morning moved from breakfast to brunch. Farmers markets, car washes, people running errands, slow moving convertibles, minivans stuffed to the runnels with kids and topped with inflatables, presumably heading to a lake for the day.. all were out in force, getting between me and my goal. I got stuck waiting along with 50 or 60 cars for a train to clear a crossing in downtown Navasota. It only took 7-8 minutes, but it felt like the train was loaded full of the sands of time, hauling them far away from me.

Texas Independence Hall itself is on the grounds of the Washington-on-the-Bravos State Historical Site, and Waze and my GPS were routing me around to the public entrance on the southwest side as I approached from the north, and that the Hall was in the northwestern part of the park, meaning I’d need to ride in on slow, looping roads past families, find parking, hoof it across fields to the building… then I spotted a small access road with a single-bar metal gate swung across it, with a rally bike parked there. A glance at the map showed the hall was only 100 feet or so past this gate, and there were no signs saying this road wasn’t for public use, so I made a decision to quickly pull over and park. A closer examination, and I still didn’t spot any signs warning me off, so I parked, ducked under the gate, and trotted over to grab my photo.

52) F32A - Texas Independence Hall - Washington, TX - 1,836 pts

(+23 pts - Washington DC Tour Complete)

Take a picture of the monument which reads “On this spot was made the Declaration of Independence”.

The birthplace of a (short-lived) nation..

This segment: 60 miles, 1h17m
Total: 964 miles, 22h32m
Time Remaining: 1h18m
Tours complete: 17
Rest bonus exponent: 9
Rest bonus: 170,767
Planet bonus: 28,500
Points scored: 40,582

Back on the bike, I moved briskly, and tried to decide if I had time for one more bonus before penalty time; it was 10:44am, and the penalties started at 11:45am. Paul has a very harsh penalty system that uses exponents to make sure you arrive on time; you’re charged 3^N, where N is the number of minutes you’re late. 1 minute late is no big deal, costs you 3 points. 5 minutes late is 243 points. 10 minutes late? -59,049 points!

GPS was optimistic, while Waze was dubious; I called Shawn Kitchen and Bill Kartis, already back at the finish line, to ask if there were any special events, football games, parades, etc happening back in College Station that might be impacting traffic, but neither had seen anything. I hung up, and decided that I’d done enough; as much as I’d felt revitalized today and had really pushed harder than I had on any other day, this still wasn’t a rally I was going to be competitive in, and I felt like I’d ridden a good rally. Why stress myself out and risk a huge penalty? Does that sound like fun?

I headed back to the barn, mindful that I didn’t blow it in the home stretch with a traffic violation or minor mishap, and rolled across the finish line at 11:24am, 21 minutes before penalty time. Chris Hopper checked me in and directed me where to park; it seemed like most everyone else was in, and a glance at the group tracking page showed all but a few stragglers were in and safe.

Photo thanks to Richard Swim!

I bounced inside and started to relax. I got called in to scoring and sat with Lisa Landry, going over my paperwork when I noticed my last bonus hadn’t been scored! I opened up the app to confirm and DING! when the “uploaded” confirmation sound - crap! Bad data connection at the last bonus meant it hadn’t been sent yet! I checked in with Nancy and Paul next door, who had already noticed the issue. They confirmed I’d been to the location via the tracker, and saw that the photo itself was good and was claimed in the app, and so it was accepted and my score recalculated.

There was some issue with rooms at the hotel not being ready in a timely manner, so I hung around the hotel bar and shared a beer with Ken Andrews, chatted with a few folks who had gotten in much earlier and already looked showered and relaxed. Finally I managed to get a room, took a shower, ate some snacks from the snack bar, and took a nap until dinner time.

Day 4: 996 miles

So how’d I do? To find out, I guess you’ll have to wait for the band to do an encore…

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