A girl, a bike, and an open road

“Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called.
-- A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I spent 10 days at Gabby’s, camping out in her guest bedroom and working from her couch. I tried not to get flustered at last-minute pre-rally prep tasks, but I was still amped up and overthinking things. I went around and around on last minute ideas; it’s never a good idea to change things up before a rally, but it was really more an excuse to channel nervous energy into something, anything. Obsessing and then fiddling around with something on the edges of importance to my rally was better for me than pacing. I added a folding sleeping mat from REI to my gear, the kind backpackers often tote around, with the idea that it’d come in handy for bike-side naps.

I also spent an inordinate amount of time and energy assembling Ziploc bags of food and snacks, one for each day of the rally, containing around 1300 calories, a good mix of proteins and fats. I also snuck into each of them these glucose pouches and sucrose gummies that my triathlete friends turned me on to; people swear by sour candies as a pick-me-up, but really it’s the hit of sugar that perks up your brain in hour 17 or 18 of a long day.

I had done this for LDX in 2022, and found it was a great way to ensure I was eating enough; yes, I’m a fat kid, but also when I’m riding, I’ll forget to eat all day long and then wonder why I’m dopey and angry at the world. The see-through bags show me at a glance if I’ve eaten even a bare amount of calories for the day, and saves time over even the fastest of gas station hot dogs.

I also took the opportunity to get some maintenance done. I had a pair of tires and everything I needed for an oil change shipped out to Gabby a few weeks before, and after changing the oil in her parking garage, took the BMW over to Moto Union for the tire change and a fresh set of brakes. The guys there have always treated me well, and they’re my go-to in the Milwaukee-Chicago area for work as I’m passing through.

I'm getting pretty good at these parking garage oil changes...

I left the bike in their capable hands, and since it was a Friday, walked a couple blocks to a nearby pub that is renowned for its Friday Fish Frys. It’s a peculiar Milwaukee/midwest tradition that comes out of the strong Catholic culture that still flows under the surface, a sedimentary layer of the Wisconsinite culture laid down by the German and Polish immigrants who made their homes here.

I was the first customer of the day, but the place quickly filled up with regulars. I knew I was in a good place when a squad of retired ladies came in for their weekly fish fry and gab, fresh off the golf course across the street.

IBR Day -4 (Wednesday, 14 June)

572 miles

Finally, though, it was time to head out. I rolled out of Milwaukee at 8am, hoping to sneak through Chicago traffic after early rush hour had subsided. It wasn’t too bad, as mid-morning traffic goes, and today was an untimed travel day anyways. I had a few stops to make on the way to Pittsburgh, though, to collect some National Park stamps for yet another National Parks Tour.

First up was the Little Red School House Nature Center, just off the I-294 loop southeast of Chicago proper. There’s always a passel of kids running around, and today was no exception, with 2 school buses in the lot. I ended up having to wait quite a while for the lone docent to get the kids settled into the movie theater before she could help dig up the stamp for the I&M Canal National Historic Corridor. Heading back outside, the day had warmed up a bit, and I was heartened to see I’d accidentally parked under a large catalpa tree, an ornamental shade tree with huge leaves, dangling seed pods like vanilla beans, and perfumed orchid-like blossoms. I don’t see many of them in the PNW, but I grew up with one shading the southern face of our house, and they always stand out to me.

Not shown: the absolute MESS these suckers make in the fall!

Next stop was the Indiana Dunes National Park, its visitors center shortly before noon was as busy as ever. I got a little judgy at some of the folks coming and going, and realized it was time to eat, so I tore into a protein bar as I headed across extreme northern Indiana on I-80/90, clicking off miles and toll plazas. My next stop was the opposite of busy, the public library in Maumee, Ohio. I realized this was my fourth or fifth time stopping here for park stamps, as they are conveniently right off I-80/90, and have stamps for Fallen Timbers National Historic Site, Fort Miamis NHS, and the Fallen Timbers Battlefield NHS.. a lot of overlap, but a good stop and the librarians are always intrigued. Last time I was here, during my 2019 48/10 ride with Jo, we had our picture taken and the library posted it on their socials!

I took a few minutes to cool off, as the afternoon weather was getting muggy and hot, and standing in the shade of a tree at the edge of the parking lot, I realized that I had made a small scheduling mistake; my reservation at the rally hotel didn’t start until tomorrow night, and I was making great time, and would be on track to arrive there around 6:00pm. I had left Milwaukee with a vague plan of stopping in Cleveland for the night, so I could visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park, but it looked like I’d be rolling right past the visitors center around 4:30pm, plenty of time, so I called the rally hotel and managed to get a room for tonight added AND at the block rate - thanks, Marriott!

Of course, best laid plans and all that.. lallygagging and stopping for some extended rest breaks, I ended up rolling up the to Cuyahoga Valley NP visitors center a few minutes after they closed at 5pm.. drat! I knew, thought, that I’d be heading back this way on my way home, so it wasn’t much of a heartbreak. Onward to Pittsburgh!

I got safely checked in, and was a little confused by all the young women in fancy dresses and party outfits. I asked the desk clerk if they were hosting a wedding or some other event, and I found out that Taylor Swift was performing the Pittsburgh stop of her tour the next few nights, making for an interesting juxtaposition between them and us grungy long-distance riders in our bug-encrusted space suits! I found a quiet corner of the bar at the hotel restaurant and had a salad and a glass of wine, said hello to a couple other early arrivers (apologies, I forgot who!) and headed up to my room and into bed before 10pm.

The next few days were a bit of a blur, lots of socializing, running last-minute errands, and nervous twiddling of thumbs. I should take more selfies with people, so I can remember who I talked to.. but I’ll try to capture some highlights below. For the most part, the run up to the start was more boring than anything, but I suppose in part that’s because despite the improvisational nature of how I move through the world, that care-free, lackwit gadabout persona is only possible because I generally have “all my shit in one sock” so there was almost no last-minute surprises of note or any scrambling around for me to do. There were a few things different from or in addition to the regular pre-rally things, but spread over 4 days, it felt like a relaxed, lazy weekend lounging around a hotel lobby with a bunch of friends, all of us waiting. Of course, under the surface we’re all simmering, slowly winding up towards launch.

IBR Day -4 (Thursday, 15 June)

I got up a bit early and not seeing anyone I recognized in the lobby, headed across the hotel parking lot, through the bike paddock to the south end of the property, where a Dunkin’ Donuts outpost rises like some kind of orange-purple beacon. I know it’s not good coffee, and its certainly blossomed past the regional chain it was when I was a kid, but dunks is still in my heart one of those signs that you’re no longer in “the West” and have officially arrived somewhere “back East.”

Coffee and breakfast donut acquired, I walking back along the east edge of the parking lot, defined by the tumbling water of McClarens Run. The hotel was tucked into a bit of a holler, Allegheny hills soft with a blanket of heavy deciduous greenery. The run itself is chock-a-block with the large, dark bones of Appalachian bedrock, dark grey and almost black slate and schist, daubed with large bits of rusting machinery, oxidized lumps of “Industry” too big to move and not too dirty to care. Across the creek and up a sumac- and maple-choked slope, the tightly-packed width of I-376 buzzes past, made soft, swishy rumble by the foliage. The west edge of the property, sandwiched between the hotel and an access road clinging to the hillside, a natural gas well burbles away, occasionally blessing us with a whiff of hydrocarbons from deep underground.

Nothing to do until Saturday!

A few folks are outside and in the the lobby now, and socializing picks up. I chit chat a bit with the people I know, and eventually wandered back upstairs to finish writing my Heart of Texas write-up. As I was posting the first draft, Nick Byrnes texted me. Nick was my Junior Butt Rally partner in 2022, and wanted to grab lunch and catch up. Some quick googling found a pub nearby, so I suited up and met Nick downstairs and we rode to the nearby retail zone, finding easy and convenient parking in front of the Industry Public House. Decent pub food, and as one of my rules of dining out is to “Always order the thing you’ve never seen before” so a burger with sweet pickled red peppers and candied jalapeños would be my meal. Nick and I sat on the patio and chatted for a couple hours, then he headed back to the hotel and I rode to a nearby Amazon warehouse to pickup an order I’d placed before leaving Milwaukee.

Back at the hotel, it seemed nearly everyone had arrived and were in the bar, so I grabbed a beer and caught up with people in person, eating dinner again in the hotel restaurant before heading back upstairs early, to read and bank some sleep before the rally really got started.

IBR Day -3 (Friday, 16 June)

Another early morning started with a trek across the parking lot for Dunkies. A large iced coffee in hand, I wandered back through the bike paddock, now containing a few more steeds than yesterday. Back inside the hotel, I wandered into the ballroom set aside for our breakfast and made a plate, finding a seat at one of the standard round hotel/convention center tables. Eventually breakfast broke up, and the pattern I’d follow the next couple days while waiting for the 1 or 2 things on the official schedule would emerge - wander around the lobby to chat with people I know, wander back up to my room to nap or read for 30 minutes, head out to the bike to fiddle with something.. wash, rinse, repeat.

The only official event was on my schedule was having the option to get Brian Roberts to inspect the my auxiliary fuel tank and confirm it’s capacity. There was a bit of stress around these, because despite getting an informal thumbs-up at the Big As Texas event last year, and extensive testing and measuring by the builder, myself, and the other 4 or 5 people with this particular design, Brian had some inaccurate measurements and was calculating the volume at nearly twice as much (5.8 gallons) as it actually holds (3.2 gallons.) This was critical for me, because the IBR rules state we’re allowed a maximum of 11.4 gallons, and with the main fuel tank on the 1250 GSA holding 7.9 gallons, the tank was designed to very specifically comfortably slot in under that amount. A quick check and we figured out the source of the discrepancy, and my tank “went in the book” as approved.


It was time for lunch, and a coworker who used to live in the area pointed me towards a hole in the wall Polish deli. I talked Cory Ure into coming with, and we had a nice lunch sitting outside the storefront eating pierogis and kielbasa.

The woman running the counter was clearly the daughter or niece of the old woman in the back, who would occasionally yell at each other in Polish

Yum! Definitely had leftovers for dinner!

Of course, while at lunch we missed a birthday party for Steven Rufo, so I made a point when I got back to the hotel of tracking him down to wish him well. After that, all that was left today was kickin’ tires and tellin’ lies. Markedly less Swifties in the hotel, but the bar is packed and the energy is starting to pick up now. Tomorrow is the start of the official-official business of registration, so no beers in the hotel bar for me, instead heading up to my room early to do one last check to make sure I had all my paperwork in order for tomorrow.

IBR Day -2 (Saturday, 17 June)

35 miles

Usually I stay pretty even and don’t get too anxious with anticipation, but the energy of Friday must have infected me as well. I woke up around 3:30am, brain abuzz and spinning. Long years of having this particular model of brain has taught me that the only real solution is to sigh and get started with my day, so I took a quick shower and did some low-stress YouTube watching until 5:30am, then trudged over for my morning coffee, then back to the hotel breakfast for some fruit and conversation.

By this time, the official rally poster was set up on an easel in the hotel lobby, which gave us many clues to what the theme might be and where we might be going. It quickly became obvious that “food” was going to be a big part of this year’s theme, but what did that mean and how would it play out? A small group of us rookies started speculating on implied combos and destinations, spinning some really fun ideas for what puzzles we might be tasked with solving. Of course, no one but Jeff Earls and the rally staff actually know what lies in store for us riders, and even if we guessed correctly, there’s no advantage to doing so.. but what else is there to talk about at this point?

Better pack an appetite for this rally!

Sign-in and verification went perfectly smoothly for me, and compared to the horror stories of last-minute emergencies and confusion, I found it to be well-organized and hummed along. There were several different steps to the registration process, each of them handled by a different group of volunteers and in separate meeting rooms next to each other in the hotel’s conference center. We were given a checklist of who we had to see, and we could complete them in any order:

  • Insurance, license, and registration verification
  • Swag & banquet ticket pickup
  • Sworn-statement of “this is a bad idea” on video
  • Camera and SD Card check
  • Tech inspection
  • Odometer check

Once done, you would then proceed to the final check-in step and then and only then were you officially “in the rally.” I sailed through perfectly smoothly with everyone else, and the choose-your-own-adventure method, where you were free to go stand in whatever line was shortest, seemed to move people through relatively quickly.

Once finished with the “indoor” paperwork, I grabbed my gear and headed out for the odometer check, a quick little 34.5 mile up the highway and back - no surprises or really any way to mess it up, and I didn’t hear about anyone needed to ride it more than once.

The only ding I encountered was in tech inspection. My aux tank already cleared and my muffler being OEM and thus not needing a sound check, the only thing was the general “kick the tires” to make sure the bike at least looked road-worthy, which included a glance at stickers to see if we were touting any sponsorships or hawking services. I was given the all clear, when my chatty-ass had to mention that there was only one sticker I was worried about, from Thompson’s Eagle’s Claw moto campground which the inspector immediately zero’d in on and had me cover with painters tape, which I had to acquire via a quick run over to the Walmart… last time I open my mouth!

At some point, doesn't _every_ sticker from a company promote or advertise their product or brand?

At that point, there wasn’t anything left to do today. I had picked up a pack of a new to me Oreo flavor, and I had some fun sharing them with people; it was nice in that “weird food flavors” is on-brand for me, and a nice ice breaker/excuse to check in with people I hadn’t yet had the chance to say hello to. Still, there wasn’t much to do the rest of the day, so I puttered around, looking at bikes and pacing the cage a bit.

I also coordinated with Lisa Rufo to be one of the riders who would take on a passenger for this rally. Chris Rasmussen, from North Carolina, had passed away earlier in the year. He’d always been a great supporter and been a friendly face at events I attended in the east. He’d been applying for the IBR for a while, and had finally been accepted to this year’s event, only to have a health crisis, passing away just a few short months before the start. Several of us volunteered to carry a small portion of Chris’ ashes along with us on this ride, and I was glad to, in some small way, help him to take one last big ride.

Around 10pm, tired of sitting around, I wandered down to the bike to put it to bed, make sure nothing was leaking, and do one last check of what was packed where, making a list of what had been moved up to the room, and what would stay behind in the storage room here at the hotel. We’d be back in 11 days, so anything we didn’t absolutely need on the road, might as well leave here..

Photo courtesy Steve Gallant

The parking lot was quiet, with most folks inside at the bar or in their rooms. I ran into Dale Wilson (Warchild) who gently prodded me to get to bed and get some sleep. I smiled and assured him that was on the agenda, and as we chatted in the relative stillness of the parking lot, he let me know that I was going to be one of the first three riders to leave, specifically second. I blinked and gulped - there’s always the slight pressure that when Warchild points at you to go, you’ll drop the bike, or stall it out, or some other mishap may occur that will earn you a nickname or a spot in rally history. It’s bad enough to do that when you’re 89th to leave, but when you’re second?! Yikes! Still, it’s a huge honor, and hearing a few words on why I was chosen for that meant enough to me to keep those reasons to myself for now.

Saying goodnight, burdened for the moment with the additional responsibility added to my rally, I wandered the lot for the umpteenth time, looking at license plates from all over the world, stickers for every rally, point of interest, and bit of silliness imaginable. All of this swirling in my mind, I threw a leg over my bike and just sat for a few minutes, enjoying the comfortable and familiar feel of the saddle. After so many hours and tens of thousands of miles, the uncanny stillness of the machine at rest was loud, a noise audible only by its absence. I watched a plane come in low overhead, on final approach to the Pittsburgh airport, and finally found a place to put the worry and anticipation aside, and just breathe the moment of not knowing where the road would go, what I would encounter, what would challenge me.

Sitting there in the dull glow of street lights and the occasional glittery splash of headlights on the highway, the rumbling-whine of cars speeding past softened by green hills and thick, humid air, my eyes spotted along the hedges and edges of the lot the sparkling bodies of fireflies dancing, and I remembered the fireflies that guided me through the first night of LDX. This must be a good sign, and if I paid attention to the world around me instead of only listening to the frantic, pressured song of the rally, surely I’d see my way through this.

IBR Day -1 (Sunday, 18 June)

Last full day of pre-rally shenanigans, one last sleep before the start, less than 12 hours until the start banquet, and only 10 minutes until Dunkies and a donut for breakfast. I’d slept in, but still managed to catch some conversation at the breakfast buffet before heading to the mandatory rookie meeting at 10am. Arriving late carried the penalty of having to attend your own special, private version of the meeting AFTER everyone else started their ride at 10am tomorrow, so we all nervously filed in 10 minutes early. What’s said at these meetings is a matter for the participants, suffice to say that we were given specific advice as to rally procedure, process, and rally safety. Most of us are rally veterans with multiple long-distance riding achievements to our name, but the mystique of the Iron Butt Rally is such that even the most experienced veterans can let it get into their head. Better to take an hour and think deliberately about what we’re doing than assume and hope for the best.

Meeting over at 11am, followed by another hotel lunch, and then at 2pm ALL riders gathered for for another mandatory meeting (with the same penalty for tardiness as the rookie meeting!) where we got some very serious words from Jeff Earls, Lisa Landry, Dale Wilson, and Bill Thweat. It was at this point that the riders leading the pack at the start were announced, and anytime anyone asked me why I was chosen to depart 2nd, I’d say “Warchild wants to keep an eye on me, because I’m trouble!” We were then herded over to the hotel courtyard for a group photo before being released until dinner.

Amazed how they managed to corral us so efficiently!

Left to my own devices until dinner at 5pm, I went up to my room to make sure I was set up for rally planning. We would get our rally packs after the banquet, and while I really wanted to go get another coffee, I knew I was already going to have trouble sleeping tonight. I then wandered back down and checked on the bikes, chatting with folks per usual. At one point, another rider mentioned having a problem with their bike, some kind of crack in their engine that was seeping oil or something. The combined wisdom of the small clot of riders hanging around was that the best possible solution would be slapping J-B Weld, a 2-part cold weld epoxy, into the gap and hoping for the best. I dug through my kit and handed over the J-B Weld I’ve carried with me since my first run up the AlCan to Alaska. Always happy to help a fellow rider!

We formed up in the hallway for the banquet buffet shortly before 5, a boisterous coil of nerves and excitement. Rookies and vets alike were ready, anticipation fueling plates stacked nervously high with food as the last guaranteed sit-down meal we’d have for the next 11 days was attacked. I noticed a lot of leftovers on plates later on, a sure sign of our excitement being greater than our appetites.

We chatted and circulated, keeping an eye sideways on the small stage and lectern, waiting for a throat-clearing beginning to the main event - the distributing of the rally books! We aimlessly pushed food around the plate, nibbling at desserts and sipping coffee (decaf for myself) until around 5:45, Lisa Landry took to the microphone to welcome us officially to the 2023 Iron Butt Rally!

One by one, by order of our IBA member number, we were called up to receive our rally books, which would reveal at last the theme of the events, and info we’d need to begin planning our rides. Up until this point, there was no official roster of who would be participating in this year’s event, but as each name was called, the field began to take shape. Finally, at long last, my name was called - Iron Butt Rally Rider #107!

We were each given a hand shake and a “good luck” from Jeff Earls, and handed a black pouch filled with all the details. Warned not to open them until given the OK, we all sat nervously, waiting for the last rider to be called.


We didn’t have long to wait. Jeff Earls stepped to the microphone, donned a white chef’s hat, and informed us that yes, indeed, the theme for this year’s Iron Butt Rally was to be FOOD! We were given permission to open our packets, and walked through some important steps, first confirming that we had all the expected items included inside. Next step, place the lanyard with the emergency contact information around our necks, where it will live for the duration of the rally (and woe to anyone who loses it or takes it off..)

One has to wonder if Jeff has a little rat under that hat.. or if he'll be the rat pulling our strings the next 11 days!

Also inside were 2 books listing the various locations we could potentially claim. The bonus book for Leg One was itself fairly thin - ~40 bonus locations, no combos or weirdness, just straightforward food-related locations to visit, such as the original Ben & Jerry’s location, Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, or the location where “slushee” drinks were invented. Simple and easy, and not at all what I was expecting after years of being told how complicated a puzzle the IBR was, how devious the tricks hidden for the unwary, opportunities for the attentive.

The one item that did strike me as interesting, however, was the separate book of rally-wide bonuses (that is, bonuses we could claim for the duration of the rally, regardless of which leg.) Titled “Gut Bomb Bingo,” we were given a bingo card to fill out, each square representing a different regional fast-food chain. Individually they weren’t worth many points, but completing rows and columns would start to stack up a respectable but not overwhelming number of points. While we were told that point values for the bonuses listed here would not increase, surely with such a basic listing of bonuses for the leg, this would turn out to be the real puzzle; why else go through all the ceremony of bingo cards, bingo marking daubs at scoring tables, etc?

Surely this means something...

As we crowded the elevators back to our rooms, a fellow rider leaned over and asked, “Hey, are you the only solo woman riding this year?” Someone else turned and agreed, so we ran down the list of women who were entered in the rally, realizing that all of them were part of 2-up teams - 7 as pillions, and 2 as pilots; I was in fact the only female setting out alone! “Well, now we know why Warchild picked you to leave second” someone in the elevator joked, no doubt intending it as a bit of light humor. I chuckled politely and shrugged, but in my heart I felt the weight of personal expectations, already growing.

Having had no small amount of success in the rally scene the past 2-3 years – a Top 10 finish in LDX, 2 2nd places finishes in Heart of Texas, and a clean win of the West Coast 66 rally – people had been half-seriously asking me for months what my goals for this rally were.. was I shooting for a medal finish? A top 20? Heck, why not a top 10? I always laugh at those, because there are a few different answers to this question, none of which are 100% correct.

There’s the official answer, of course, which is always “My goal is to arrive at the finish safely” - a safe response that will earn nods from veterans and rookies alike, and is the official party line. If I’m admitting to being competitive at all, I might cop to “I want to finish in the top half”. When I’m speaking 1-to-1 with top riders, I’ll be most honest and admit that I will almost always want to finish at least one spot higher than I did. In this rally, though, with so many people asking what my goal was, I had no idea how to respond. Between the constant inquiries, being asked to lead the pack by starting 2nd, and being the only solo female rider in the field, I felt a ton of internal and external pressure to perform, and as I got back to my room to begin planning my next 3 days, I remained committed to a set of criteria for planning my route that would potentially cost me points, but make sure I was riding MY rally.

Kerri’s 2023 IBR Rules

  • Don’t Fuck Up - get back safely, don’t lose points stupidly… and did I mention get back safely?
  • Finish Strong - I want to sleep and eat sustainably, and at the end feel like I rode a hard rally but that I still had the reserves for a Day 12
  • Ride a Rookie Rally - we often hear the IBR Rookie advice of “just finish, don’t compete” and while I can’t NOT compete, I was definitely going to pull back from doing any heroics, and plan in plenty of buffer time for each leg. I should never find myself stymied by weather, mechanical issues, or other excitement along the way.
  • Don’t ride through New York City - I chose to plow through DC last summer on LDX, and I know that often in the IBR, the highest scores are attached to the cheekily-placed bonuses found usually on Manhattan or out on Long Island. I can lane split in LA and dodge pot holes in Chicago, the thought of hitting the Big Apple during a rally felt like something I didn’t need to do. If I’m not in it to win it, but just have a good, stress-free rally, I probably can do so without NYC, and I need some rules here to guide me through the experience, to give me some semblance of control.

With that in mind, what are we dealing with for Leg One?

🟢/🔵/🔴/🟣 -- Low/Med/High/Extra High value
🟩/🟦/🟥/🟪 -- Same, but Daylight only
🔺 -- Group photo (1500, Weds 21 June)
🏠 -- Checkpoints

The checkpoint ending Leg One is the Doubletree in Tulsa, OK, and I have to arrive there between 2000-2200 on Wednesday, 21 June, giving me at most 61 hours, and our target for finisher was 12,000 points. Given that, a quick scan of the scatter immediately popped 3 main options:

  • Northeast Loop: loop counter-clockwise through New England via NYC, Maine, and Vermont before high-tailing it to Tulsa
  • Southern Sweep: head south before turning west along the Gulf Coast
  • Western Run: Wiggle through the Rust Belt and Iowa, tagging a high-value bonus in Denver before turning back east

I ran the points for 3 different “big rock” routes (making the high-value purple bonus the must-get for the route, picking up smaller bonuses along the way) and the Northeast Loop looked like the highest net score, but would require NYC riding and some late nights across New England 2-lane. I tried flipping the loop to see if I hit NYC at a better time of day, but honestly I just didn’t want to ride there. Despite that, I built a route I could ride, and it came out around 21,500 points. I also played with a route that avoided NYC, instead hitting the Ben & Jerry’s location in Burlington, VT then cutting west across Ontario, Michigan, Chicago, and Iowa, but then you also had to contend with 2 border crossings, and the points penciled out to around 15,800 - you really needed the NYC and Maine bonuses to make it worthwhile.

The Western Run looked fairly simple, but it didn’t present as many points, and since the second checkpoint was in Denver, it would possibly sabotage any points you might hope for from Gut Bomb Bingo, as you’d be setting yourself up to need to head to the southeast in future legs. It also just seemed like the obvious “ride from Point A to Point B” route, and while those will get you a finish, they didn’t seem… fun. The points also weren’t there, topping out around 14,900.

The Southern Sweep.. forecast was for rain rain rain, but what am I, made of spun sugar? The Gut Bomb Bingo had a ton of southern and Mid-Atlantic chains, which would let me tick those off, giving me more options in later legs.

I should take a moment here to underscore the big assumption I was making about the rally here. Years of hearing about the “puzzle” and all the “twists” that had historically been revealed in later legs, I couldn’t help but look at the bingo card and imagine it would have to be important. It didn’t score a ton of points on it’s own, but it was the only thing that smacked of “puzzle”, with no combos in Leg One at all, so a strong push on the bingo card might set me up nicely if/when that twist dropped. Now, Earls did say that the point value of the bingo locations wouldn’t change in future legs, but he pointedly DIDN’T say that the combo bonuses for the rows wouldn’t increase, or that there wouldn’t be additional bingo cards (just like you might play multiple cards at a real bingo hall!)

With that suspicion in mind, I found a route that felt moderate with lots of extra time mixed in, maximized bingo locations, and would score me around 18,000 points.

It also had me at the group photo bonus, which was, per usual, at an awkward distance and time from the checkpoint which made including it a point-suck.. but you got to have the experience of it, which is what finally tipped me in favor of this route.

I loaded up the GPS, got everything packed, and loaded up my phone’s web browser with the websites for the various restaurants, along with a cheatsheet/checklist, so I could keep my eyes open for marquees along the way. I wasn’t thrilled with my route, and I knew it wouldn’t be a winning route, but it seemed like it would keep me in striking distance of a top-half finish for Leg One, while leaving me plenty of cushion for unforeseen time sucks and adventures along the way.

Onward to the starting line! ➡️

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