A girl, a bike, and an open road

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
-- Henry David Thoreau

I snoozed for about 30 minutes on the picnic table before being woken up by children running around in the rain, shrieking and laughing. For a split second I thought “Oh no, I really overslept!” but it was 1am - still dark, and still raining; if anything, the rain had gotten a little heavier. I sighed and heaved myself upright, and sat, snacking on a protein bar, looking out at the sodium-lit parking lot. A little rain wasn’t stopping the Big Dogs, and while I wasn’t “Big Dogging” this rally, I still needed to get a move on if I was going to get to Tulsa in, what, 46-ish hours? Time to go..

Back on I-40, I finished the twisting slide eastward down out of the mountains to Asheville, NC, where I picked up I-26 towards Charlotte. There’s a bingo location, Biscuitville, on the western outskirts, and I could hit it right when it opened at 5am, and then find a place to sack out for a longer rest, hopefully someplace out of this dang rain! It was coming down strong and steady, and brought with it a chill that permeated everything, making me sleepy.

After about 45 minutes, I just had to stop, and slipped off the highway in Hendersonville, NC, looking for a motel, covered park bench, all night diner.. but the town was buttoned up tight. After riding through the length of the town, I spotted a car wash, and pulled into one of the bays, thinking it might be, as they often are, a convenient and discrete place to shelter for a bit, but as soon as I got off the bike I started shivering - not a good sign at all. If I was shivering, I needed to be off the bike, pronto, and warm up! I took a look at Google and spotted a Waffle House at the next highway exit, so I made that my next target.

The Waffle House was absolutely empty, which probably isn’t surprising for relatively rural North Carolina at 2am on a stormy Tuesday morning. I dragged my soaked, shivering carcass into a booth, and the waitress brought me coffee without even having to be asked. I let her know I was going to be an easy customer, that I just needed to get out of the storm for a bit, that I’d holler if I needed anything.

Too awake to rest, I instead took the opportunity to double-check my rally paperwork.

Of course, I was the most interesting thing that had happened in Flat Rock, NC in weeks, so instead of doing some paperwork quietly and then shutting my eyes slouched over in a sticky Waffle House booth, I spent the next 2 hours getting the life story of the waitress, Cathy, learning all about her multiple divorces, her special needs son who lives with a foster family across the street on account of her drug arrest, how she loves working the graveyard shift at Waffle House because it’s so quiet and restful, and ultimately her Testimony and salvation story when she accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. I was polite and friendly, and tried to disengage a number of times, but she just kept going.. finally a local overnight delivery driver stopped in for his lunch break, and I got a chance to look at the weather map; it was still absolutely cats-and-dogs out there, but it looked like there was a 15-minute gap where I could slip between 2 red and purple blobs of lightning and get out ahead, so I settled up and, mostly dry, ventured back out into the night.

(Of course, I’d realize about an hour later that I didn’t get the required “motorcycle outside the restaurant” photo… DOH! Not a real big deal, since Waffle Houses are everywhere, but it was a real head-shaker moment. I’m barely onto Day 2, and I’m already messing up bonuses? I know we’re not going hard on this rally, but seriously we’re going to go this SOFT? BAH!)

I was feeling tired, but a bit better, and at least the rain had stopped, and the lightning far, far off.. or so I thought. 5 minutes down I-25 and I ran into a veritable wall of water, a real frog-strangler of a storm. There was no place to stop, no exits, no hint of shelter. In a nice change of pace, this particular deluge was warm, and felt like I was standing in the shower. The seal on my helmet’s visor did an admirable job, but finally gave up, and water leaked in, and everything fogged up, forcing me to decided between “super-soaker of tepid water to the face” or “15 feet of visibility” – I chose “super soaker” and laughed every couple of minutes at how ridiculous a situation this was, every breath getting a snout full of lukewarm water, peering ahead at the taillights of the only other vehicle dumb enough to be out here at 4am in this weather.

I kept a good distance back from the small sedan, so as not to pressure them, and I’m glad I did. We came up upon a construction zone that diverted the eastbound lanes into a single lane of the westbound side. The crossover was paved, but dipped down as it crossed the median.. a median full of storm water! The rooster tails and fish-tailing brake lights of the car I was following gave me enough warning to slow down, but not enough to stop. All I could do was hope that Cathy’s promise to pray for me had convinced Jesus to ride pillion with me tonight. I popped up into the standard Adventure Rider pose, perched on the pegs, and just went for it. The bike hit the water and it felt like a jack-hammer on my feet and lower legs, the bike slowing and pitching me forward slightly; if I haven’t been ready for it, I would’ve surely crashed and had to make Lisa pull out her “red book” that she keeps for emergencies.

Of course, I survived, but the next 10 minutes I was a lot less entertained by the ridiculous weather, and gritted my teeth, praying for an exit off this road. Finally one appeared, and I gratefully took the exit. Of course, just as I signaled my turn, BAM! The rain stopped, as sudden as if I’d emerged from a waterfall. The rain was just.. gone, and the air felt warm and muggy.. damndest bit of weather I’ve experienced in a long time!

It was 4:35am, and luckily there was a convenient gas station at the exit to refuel and check the weather. The radar map was just a jumbled mess, seeming to show the storm was dissolving and/or sliding north, and my route was taking me due east on US-74. It had only been about 30 minutes since I left the Waffle House, but it felt like hours, my heart was racing so. The parking lot was calm, I could hear crickets and frogs start up as they sensed the change in weather as well. There was nothing else to do but pull up my big girl pants and get back onto the bike.

The sky was starting to lighten, and the rain failed to rematerialize, a boon to me and the morning commuters who started to appear. Shortly after 5am, the inevitable adrenaline crash hit, body and brain shrieking “get off the bike, NOW!” I spotted what looked like a small bank with a covered drive through, which turned out to be a North Carolina Farm Bureau Insurance office (complete with signage for farm vehicle parking!) The ground was dry, so I parked in a far corner, rolled out the sleeping pad, and set my watch for 20 minutes before dropping into a bone-deep sleep.

Right on time, my watch buzzed, and I awoke refreshed and feeling ready to tackle the road. It had been a rough night, but the sun was coming up, the skies were clearing, and while in retrospect I coulda/shoulda just taken a 4-hour motel nap somewhere and made just as much headway, I was quietly tickled at hobo’ing it.. now to get some breakfast, and FINALLY some points!

13) B4 - Biscuitville - Kings Mountain, NC - 398 pts

05:54 EDT

Get a receipt from any approved Biscuitville location and take a photo of the same restaurant with your motorcycle in the photo.

I was officially in The South now, as I got “ma’am”‘d and “Miss Kerri”‘d by the woman running the register this morning. I ordered a breakfast biscuit and a sweet tea, and watched the kitchen crew making biscuits from scratch, working away in a glassed-in area where you could see them folding the dough over and over in large sheets before cutting out biscuit rounds by hand.

This segment: 128 miles, 5h44m
Total: 808 miles, 19h58m
Time Remaining: 41h02m
Points scored: 5,115

I felt incredibly refreshed by my nap and now a tasty meal; never underestimate the restorative powers of 20 minutes of sleeps and a few hundred calories!

14) SCGA - Peachoid Water Tank - Gaffney, SC - 1,545 pts

06:29 EDT

Take a photo of the Peachoid Water Tank with your motorcycle in the photo. Photos taken from the shoulder of I-85 will NOT be accepted.

I’d wanted to stop and see this one for years, and wasn’t disappointed at all.

This segment: 23 miles, 0h28m
Total: 831 miles, 20h26m
Time Remaining: 40h34m
Points scored: 6,660

Peachoid claimed, I topped off the fuel tanks and got back on I-85 south towards my next bonus at the convention center in downtown Atlanta. It never even occurring to me that my ETA was ~10:00.. it’s funny to me, in retrospect, that Atlanta’s infamous traffic hardly fazes me, let alone Houston or Chicago.. heck, even Los Angeles barely ripples my calm – I can lane split on the big chubby GSA with the best of ‘em! …but tell me I have to go into NYC… oof.

Traffic was the usual sort of Atlanta nightmare, a combination of drivers raised on NASCAR and Southern Manners that results in a dangerous mix of insane speeding and sudden bouts of politeness; it’s common to be hurtling along at 80, getting passed left and right only to have the person in front of you slam on their brakes, slowing almost to a stop to let someone merge in front of them while that person also slows, not wanting to take advantage, both waving at each other on the highway you-go-no-you-go-no-you-go-I-insist. I float as best I can like a cork in a rain-swollen gutter.. except the rain is 4,000 pound SUVs, and I’m not a bouncy cork but a fleshy sack of bones and liquid that really doesn’t want to bump into anyone or anything.

That was on my mind as news from Day One started filtering down through chats and short phone calls with friends who tried to summarize posts on the IBR website and Facebook. Details were sparse, but I got the general gist of things - rain rain rain, rumors of a crash, a deer strike somewhere, a missing flag… I felt so removed from the rally, not having seen anyone or been in contact with any other riders, I started to feel a little lonely.

Loneliness is an unusual emotion for me, usually something I feel only during the best moments on the road - a particular sunset, a ridiculous pun on a sign, the flash of a badger scurrying across the road between fields.. I feel lonely in moments that I’ll never get to share with someone else, moments that will, as the replicant in Blade Runner said, “be lost in time, like tears in rain.” Sure, I’ll capture them as best I’m able in a blog post, or a funny story over coffee, but if you’re not an LD rider, can you really understand? Will you be able to really grasp how weird it is to blink and have a hundred miles roll past? The dislocation of standing on the beach in Jacksonville, FL and pondering the fact that you woke up yesterday morning in San Diego? Only travelers and LD riders really get the madness of rallying, of scurrying into a museum to snap a photo of some random object, of sleeping on a grassy patch you hope isn’t a dog park or watered by automatic sprinklers, the spiraling anger at the indignity of having to SEE CLERK FOR RECEIPT, or the giddy feeling of slipping free of traffic and taking that one weird little shortcut.

No, only other long-distance and rally riders know the highs and lows out here. Not even other motorcycle riders get it.. “You don’t see anything if you travel that far!” they often say to us, without stopping to realize just how silly that is. We see far, far more riding 800, 1,000, 1,500 miles a day, moving through a vast and grand landscape, seeing so much and on a scale that opens us to to comprehending and contemplating the wash of people and regions butting against each other, the movement of weather across a slowly morphing and grinding earth, constantly reforming and reshaping itself. We see different borders than most people readily conceive of - some sharper, some softer, but all more keenly, in moments of clarity and stillness despite the buzz and hum. We travel outside the normal confines of who we might be at home, skip across jurisdictions and polities. We play the role of traveling Wise Men, of tinkers and navigators and voyageurs. We might be the most interesting thing that happened in whatever small town we stop in. We play a role, the outsider-other-stranger, the trickster, beggar-Odin. Those odd borders and divisions we see in the landscape of both land and people make us citizens of a different country, the rally book our passport, our motorcycle faithful companion.. We bought the ticket - time to take the ride.

15) GAAT - Georgia Peach - Atlanta, GA - 984 pts

10:03 EDT

Take a photo of the stainless-steel “Modern Peach” sculpture outside the Georgia World Congress Center.

GPS directed me through the convention center neighborhood/campus, around the Olympic Centennial Park and behind the College Football Hall of Fame to a loading dock/parking garage. “You have arrived at your destination” well no I haven’t, because this is the “Red Circle” Diamond Parking Lot and it’s for “Employees and Deliveries Only”.. GPS sent me under the convention center instead of onto surface streets above. Frustratingly silly, but I can’t blame Garmin since both it and Waze agreed that I was 100% in the correct location…

I finally managed to get back up to the upper street level, a one-way loop around the State Farm Arena and the CNN Center, which was holding some kind of big convention today. I spotted the statue that was my bonus, only there was no place to park, “No Parking” signs and hundreds of people everywhere, so I circled the huge block again, looking for a place to park that wasn’t going to charge me $30. By the time I came back around to the bonus, I said to heck with it, and parked in the 3-minute pickup/drop-off zone. The convention was some kind of youth-world-council-forum-something-something, so while I was very out of place, no one paid me any mind, and I was able to snap the photo and get the heck out of here.

This segment: 189 miles, 3h35m
Total: 1,020 miles, 24h03m
Time Remaining: 36h57m
Points scored: 7,644

I got the heck out of downtown Atlanta, heading north on I-75 about 30 minutes to my next stop, another bingo bonus - The Varsity, which until a few years ago held the record for “largest drive-in restaurant”.. I assume by square footage. Located in a shopping development/office park, I arrived a good 30 minutes before they were open for business, so I got a good parking spot for my bonus photo, took off my gear and found a shady spot to lay down for a few minutes and nap.

16) N4 - The Varsity - Atlanta, GA - 466 pts

11:02 EDT

Get a receipt from any approved The Varsity location and take a photo of the same restaurant with your motorcycle in the photo.

There was one customer already in line waiting for the doors to open, and I took his advice on what to get.

Kind of reminded me of the "chili dog" I had in New Zealand..

Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten the whole thing.. but I did. I ended up not leaving this location until about 11:15, between paperwork and stuffing this monstrosity into my face.

This segment: 23 miles, 0h59m
Total: 1,043 miles, 25h02m
Time Remaining: 35h58m
Points scored: 8,110

Talk about a gut bomb.. the chili dog just sat in my stomach the next few hours as I headed north on I-75 out of Georgia and into Tennessee. At least the sun was shining! Just past Chattanooga, TN I spotted signs for both Waffle House and Sonic, so I pulled off to score 2 more Gut Bomb Bingo bonuses.

17) N2 - Waffle House - Tiftonia, TN - 275 pts

18) I1 - Sonic Drive-In - 163 pts

13:10 EDT

Believe it or not, I’ve never been to a Sonic before. I see them all over as I travel, but we don’t have (m)any in the PNW. Besides, drive-ins like this are sketchy on a motorcycle, and this one proved no different; I went up to the counter, but they made me go back and sit on the bike until one of the teens felt motivated to wander over and take my order, then took 10 minutes to deliver me a small tea. Of course, they didn’t bring me a receipt, and my request was met with a blank stare, and another 5 minute delay…

This segment: 100 miles, 2h08m
Total: 1,143 miles, 27h10m
Time Remaining: 33h50m
Points scored: 8,548

As much as I’ve traveled through bits of Tennessee the past few years, I’ve never been here in the south-central part of the state. Beautiful country, and the weather was vacillating between cloudy and sunny, perfectly warm with the occasional pocket of cool, moist valley air. Nothing to do but ride ride ride..

19) TNBB - RC Cola & Moon Pie - Bell Buckle, TN - 857 pts

14:58 EDT

Take a photo of the Historic Bell Buckle Tn mural on the west wall of the Chamber of Commerce Building. Your photo must show the RC Cola bottle and Moon Pie package on the lower right side of the mural.

A cute little town, I had to check the name a couple times because I kept wanting to call it “Belt Buckle”… I’d love to come back when they’re having the RC Cola & Moon Pie Festival they have here every year.

Of note, I finally had a bonus stop with other riders! 3 other bikes (including one 2-up team) were there, and we took turns with regular tourists taking photos.

This segment: 87 miles, 1h48m
Total: 1,230 miles, 28h58m
Time Remaining: 32h02m
Points scored: 9,405

I took advantage of the stop and made my call-in, claiming another 1,000 points. I tried to think of something witty or funny or on-brand to leave as a message, but kept it crisp and to the point. “Just the facts, ma’am.”

20) CALL1 - Leg 1 Call-In Bonus - 1,000 pts

15:02 EDT

11:00AM-11:00PM CENTRAL DAYLIGHT TIME, June 20, 2023 Call xxx-xxx-xxxx and leave the following information:
(1) Your name
(2) Your rider number
(3) Your location (city/town and state/province)
(4) The last bonus you scored
(5) The next bonus you are heading for

Points scored: 10,405

As I was pulling out of this tiny village, another pair of rally bikes were coming in. Apparently there were lots of us on more or less the same loop through the south, and looking later at the Leg One tracking animation it becomes even more obvious about how the distribution of the bonuses encouraged some pretty linear thinking, and scoring would later prove that out, with similarly tight grouping or tiers of points based on which basic route you took. The Big Dogs headed to New England… as I suspected. While I’m still conflicted about my flower-sniffin’, I see it still as a good confirmation that my seeing that as the better-best route was indeed correct. All I can do is trust that a less-than-stellar finish won’t be seen as confirmation that I don’t belong here, and that I’ll be able to come back in 2025 and really give it my all. “Stick to your plan. Anticipate, don’t improvise.”

Back to the highway, I-24 then cutting over to I-840 to loop around Nashville to the south. My weather app, always a bit flaky with geolocation where I am at any given moment, starting pinging severe thunderstorm warnings. Out of curiosity I flipped over to the app to see if it knew I was no longer in Pittsburgh, and yup - another line of thunderstorms stretching across the entire width of Tennessee north to south was ahead of me. I did a quick check of my bingo cheatsheet, and with a little googling found a Shake Shack not too far out of my way, so I figured I might as well earn some points while I sheltered from the storm would at least keep me making “progress”.

21) O4 - Shake Shack - Bell Buckle, TN - 240 pts

15:59 EDT

Get a receipt from any approved Shake Shack location and take a photo of the same restaurant with your motorcycle in the photo.

The storm broke overhead while I was inside, and when even the locals stop and go to the windows to watch the light show, you know it’s a pretty big storm! This building, like most cheap modern retail construction, had giant windows and a thin metal roof, both reverberating and echoing the rain, hail, and thunder crashes like pebbles on a steel drum.

This segment: 57 miles, 1h01m
Total: 1,287 miles, 29h59m
Time Remaining: 31h01m
Points scored: 10,645

While sitting there, waiting for Mother Nature to move on, I started to feel the first hints of frustration. These bingo bonuses were stacking up to score me some not-bad points, but they also were a huge time sink. Not quite a sucker bonus, but surely my suspicion that these would be a bigger deal would have to come to fruition.. right? Again, in a leg with no puzzles or twists other than “how hard can you ride?”, this one little bit of quirky-fun had to lead to something bigger later on. I sure hope so; yes, I’m riding an easy Leg One and taking the usual advice of “just finish your rookie IBR” to heart, and I knew I wasn’t going to make even a medal finish if I was guessing incorrectly, but I didn’t want to turn in a rally performance that was embarrassing. Too many people looking to me already with too many expectations as not only the only solo woman in the rally, but a rookie being picked to be one of the lead riders? I sure hope Leg Two has more opportunities for making the bingo bonuses competitive. 🤞🏼

The storm only took ~40 minutes to pass, but it felt like hours.

Back on I-840, I picked up I-40W on the western side of Nashville and continued on towards my next bonus stop in Memphis. The storm cleared the skies and offered a brief respite from humidity, but soon enough the hammering sun and the anvil of thick, heavy air returned to it’s normal practice of squeezing sweat and patience from me. I had a couple long stops to cool down, one at a truck stop and another at a rest area, where despite the humidity making it inefficient, I soaked my base layer in a sink, thankful for even the smallest amount of relief from evaporative cooling.

As I was closing in on the Memphis metro area, I got my first little bit of rally magic; someone had set themselves up on an overpass bridge with a big sign cheering on IBR riders! They must have been following the public tracking page and realized a ton of us were heading down I-40. Sir, I don’t know who you were, but you made my day!

Memphis was Memphis; broken streets, boarded up storefronts closed so long the plywood is stained with rust from nails and screws holding them in place, trash just floating in the middle of the streets, any nearly no one about. I easily made my way to the next bonus while dodging potholes and half-decomposed cardboard boxes flattened by traffic.. but I also could’ve just followed my nose, as the one good smell I got to experience while in Memphis was coming from the kitchen at Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous.

22) TNME - Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous - Memphis, TN - 1,149 pts

19:58 EDT

Take a photo of the Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous sign above their entrance in the alley behind the building.

I arrived right at 8pm, and quite a crowd was in the alley, so I parked about halfway down the alley and ran to get my photo. Apparently I wasn’t fast enough, because as I was sauntering the 100 feet back to the bike, a VERY angry valet was emerging from the underground parking garage entrance that I had parked in front of. I apologized profusely for having missed the signage that it was an active garage; I’d been distracted by the crowd of people coming and going from the restaurant who were clogging up the alley and my not wanting to plow through them. He gruffly accepted my explanation, and I hustled out of there as soon as I could, wishing I had time to stop for a meal or a to-go box.

This segment: 220 miles, 2h59m
Total: 1,507 miles, 32h58m
Time Remaining: 28h02m
Points scored: 11,794

I-40 crossed over the Mississippi River, always a moment for me, and through the fields and fertile soil of eastern Arkansas, sugar and wheat and rice and who knows what else, just intensely green, riding right into the setting sun. I managed for a while, blinking back the orange glare, and started calculating when I should take my rest break - 6 points/min for a maximum of 8 hours would net me nearly 3,000 points, and sitting at ~11,700 a full rest would likely be the most efficient use of my ample time left this leg, both in terms of points and in making sure I was ready for route planning and then riding Leg 2.. I was already close to enough points for a bare minimum “finisher” status, as our target for this leg was 12,000 points, so any other bonuses would be about climbing in position rather than staying ahead of the DNF thresher.

I stopped at a truck stop for gas and to top off my 1-gallon thermos, booked a room at a nearby hotel, and soon found myself showered, pajama’d, and by 9:30pm I was in bed for the night.

Day 2: 6,077 points -- 935 miles
Total: 11,794 points -- 1,615 miles

Onward to Day 3 ➡️

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