A girl, a bike, and an open road

No matter how bad things may seem, you can always make them worse.
-- Astronaut Robert “Hoot” Gibson

I slept well in a comfy bed up on the 7th floor, waking up at 3:30am – I wanted to try and beat the breakfast rush, helping myself to a breakfast sammich and a banana and found a seat at a table with some other rookies. Leg One behind us, we mused a bit on what Leg Two would bring, and a consensus emerged that this would be where the REAL rally would start; surely now we’d get really juicy combos, and that Gut Bomb Bingo would play out with a neat twist.. sure, Earls said that the bonuses for filling in the card wouldn’t change, but nothing was said about getting ADDITIONAL cards, right?!

While at breakfast, Leg One results were posted; I was 51st out of 106, so squarely in the middle. Not bad for not trying hard!

Lisa and Jeff brought us to attention at precisely at 4:00am with a quite stern lecture regarding the behavior of some riders. It’s Rally 101 that if you find someone else’s flag that they left behind at a bonus, you leave it there – you never know if they’re already realizing their mistake and heading back for it! Someone else got caught riding their motorcycle back and forth through a park, looking for a bonus they would’ve been scouting out on foot. The most heated scolding was saved for telling us exactly how the rally staff felt about someone posting details about the group photo bonus on social media. For once, I wasn’t the reason a rule was being made, but even I felt a bit sheepish and chastised by the tongue lashing we got!

Look, I’m a rebel and all, but I agreed to a certain set of rules and expected behavior, and don’t pretend that I’m special. If I break a rule, I expect to be punished, so it makes me angry when people break rules and flounce away without consequences.. why do I bother following the rules, if it ends up not mattering? It felt disrespectful to those of us who were playing by the rules, and really got my blood boiling.

There were a few other announcements, routine stuff around timing for the next checkpoint in Denver, and then we got our hands on the Leg Two rally books. I had an embarrassing moment here, as they had staff members arranged around the dining room with a small stack of the packs. Of course, each pack has our individual rider number on the outside, so we had to find the right staff member who had our number. “Where the heck is 107?” I thought I muttered to myself, but between being more tired than I thought, a bit upset about the misbehavior of others, and echo-y room, and a rather inopportune lull in the background chatter, and what came out of my mouth was a terrible and forceful bellow – “107!” – that reverberated like a thunderclap. The entire room went silent and 105 other riders turned to stare at me. Chris Sakala raised his hand and beckoned me over to him, and red-faced I scampered over, grabbed my packet, and skedaddled.

The view from my balcony at dawn.

I was back to my room by 4:30am, watching the sunrise while I waited for the digital version of the rally book to appear in my email. It took a few nervous minutes it to show up, and I flipped through the printed copy in my rally packet while waiting. During the day yesterday, I had been pulled into a Spotify playlist sharing group with some other riders, and our little chat thread was full of nervous “did you get it yet?!” messages.. ah, rookies!

The bonus listing for Leg Two was surprisingly thin; only 26 bonus locations. Surprisingly, no puzzles, no combos… and perhaps most worrying to me, no additional Gut Bomb Bingo cards, bonuses, or anything! A bad feeling started to form in the back of my head – did I over-think this entire rally?

My Gut Bomb Bingo card after Leg One

It didn’t take much work to run the data through my usual processing tools, and came up with this spread:

It quickly became clear that there were really only two routes - head to Wisconsin for the 12,334 point Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center bonus, or head through the southeast for 16,431 points at the Santa Monica Pier. I ran the numbers for both, and still holding on to the idea that the Gut Bomb Bingo just HAD to come back in Leg Three, a loop through the southwest now would secure me the local chains, and leave a “northern tier” ride back to scoop up the remaining regional chains (including a Tim Hortons, rare south of the Canadian border..) Running the numbers, for some reason that I couldn’t make the route to Santa Monica work, not without severely pushing myself.. and remember, I’m on a “rookie ride.”

Taking a short (4-hour) rest around El Paso/Las Cruces would put me at the Kitt Peak Observatory south of Tucson, AZ right about when they opened tomorrow morning (9am local time) and then a full 8-hour rest on Day 5, and get me to the checkpoint in Denver on Day 6 right on time. It also would keep me from having to cross the Mojave Desert in the heat wave being predicted for the next couple days; it would be hot in the Tucson/Phoenix area, but if I climbed out of the valley and into northern Arizona by noon I should miss the worst of it. It wasn’t a GREAT route, but it was safe and easy… a “rookie ride.” We only needed to score a total of 36,000 points between Leg One and Two to stay on pace for finishing, so this would keep me in the safe zone as far as that was concerned.

The route I settled for.. I mean, on.

Now I just had to schlep all my gear back down and across the hotel; it took 2 trips, which I was a little annoyed by, since I’m usually able to live with one bag and the case with my laptop, but having to also juggle GPS, digital camera, helmet, scoring paperwork, etc, and I needed an extra hand to cart things around at checkpoints.

A good number of bikes were already out the gate; unsurprising, given there really were only 2 basic routes worth anything this leg. I chatted a tiny bit with Herakles, whose aux fuel tank mount had broken during Leg One. He was off to find a welder to tack the cracked aluminum plate back together. Some riders were just standing around the parking garage chatting, I left the parking garage at 6:30am local, heading back down I-44 towards OKC where I picked up I-35 south into Texas.

“Rookie ride”… “Rookie ride”…

I couldn’t stop turning the pebble over in my mind about the lack of any sort of logistical challenge on this leg.. or really so far in the rally. I really thought the Gut Bomb Bingo was going to get more complicated in Leg Two - why else invest so much time into it? Did I fall for a “sucker bonus” (that is, a bonus or combo that teases the rider into committing to a plan that would cost them more then it would benefit them)?

This leg, especially, just seemed so simple- pound out a ton of miles, and you’ll score well. There seemed to be no benefit for riding smart.. but clearly there is, since so many people tell me constantly what an amazing puzzle the IBR is, what a pretzel it will wrap you into mentally, trying to sort out the devious tricks and traps planted in the bonus listing for the unwary. I excel at figuring out the routing optimizations and quirks to get the highest score, but all I was seeing was 2 routes that needed tight timing and big mile days.. there wasn’t anything “clever” in this. What wasn’t I seeing?

The pebble turned over and over, gaining a few edges and enlarging, irritating the back of my mind, bouncing forward into the front of my grey matter over and over again. I’d tuck it away behind a memory of t-ball in 3rd grade or that time I crashed a dirt bike I wasn’t supposed to be riding when I was 10, but it would slip forward every few minutes, and soon I was noodling away on the GPS and Google Maps, trying to find what I was missing.. is this really just a marathon event, where pounding out stupid amount of miles is the only way to score points? It simply can’t be.. it just can’t. What am I missing?

27) OKD - Arbuckle Mountain Fried Pies - Davis, OK - 884 pts

09:58 EDT

Take a photo of the “Arbuckle Mountain Fried Pies” sign in the parking lot and collect a receipt for purchase of a fried pie from this location. You must also retain and bring the paper sleeve for the fried pie to scoring.

I wasn’t the first to arrive here, pulling in behind Wolfe Bonham. I bought a pie and ate a few bites, finding it delicious but far too large and too sweet for me to finish, so I had to leave an uneaten half behind. I made sure to stow the wrapper in my folder for receipts and paperwork; my top case would smell like fried dough for the next 2 weeks.

This segment: 183 miles, 2h25m
Total: 183 miles, 2h25m
Time Remaining: 60h02m
Points scored: 19,130

As I was getting ready to leave, a 2-up couple pulled in, and hopped off all smiles. “How’s your rally?!” they excitedly asked.. and friends, I’m a bit ashamed to admit, I told them. “Pretty awful,” I blurted out, honest for the first time. “I’m really frustrated!” They made “aww that sucks I’m sorry” noises and I realized I was just standing there feeling like a total heel. They were clearly having fun on their Iron Butt adventure, and here I am, a grumbling jerk in the parking lot. I laughed it off and said something about the heat (which was getting a little toasty already this morning) and they went inside. Wolfe, who was still hanging about, raised an eyebrow and I shrugged. “Just not feeling like this is a rally designed for me to do well in,” I explained. What else needed to be said?

Onward into Texas, my next stop was a BBQ place in Frisco, TX.. but first, I stopped in Denton, TX to snag a couple Gut Bomb Bingo locations.

28) I5 - El Pollo Loco - Denton, TX - 206 pts

11:38 EDT

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

I pulled into the parking lot at 11:15, and was quickly shoo’d out of the dining room; apparently they didn’t technically open until 11:30.. if you’re not open, then don’t turn on the OPEN sign and unlock your door! I sat in the shade, watching the heat shimmering off the pavement for 15 minutes, then went back in to order a tea. “Oh.. we could’ve sold you a beverage if that’s all you wanted…”

..and to top it all off, they wouldn’t give me a timestamped receipt until they gave me an empty cup, and they took literally 6 minutes to disappear into the back and fetch me a cup.


This segment: 87 miles, 1h40m
Total: 270 miles, 4h05m
Time Remaining: 58h22m
Points scored: 19,336

Luckily, in the next shopping center over, there was another Gut Bomb Bingo location…

29) B1 - Taco Cabana - Denton, TX - 371 pts

11:49 EDT

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

They weren’t as slow, but I did have to wiggle through a crowded Walmart parking lot.

I was again wasting time on the Gut Bomb Bingo bonuses.. they better pay off!

This segment: 1 miles, 0h11m
Total: 271 miles, 4h16m
Time Remaining: 58h11m
Points scored: 19,707

30) 1ROW - 562 pts

Successfully Claim Bonuses B1, I1, N1, G1, O1.

Points scored: 20,269

Time to get moving again.. the day was really warming up now, touching above 90F as I merged over to I-35E and then east over the Lewisville Lake Toll Bridge. Somewhere along the way, I fell in behind KSolo and let him set a quick pace through town, until we got to the home of the Hutchins BBQ, birthplace of the Texas Twinkie.

31) TXFR - Hutchins BBQ - Frisco, TX - 1,544 pts

12:33 EDT

Take a photo of Hutchins BBQ with your motorcycle in the photo.

What’s a Texas Twinkie? It’s a jalapeño pepper stuffed with cream cheese and brisket, then wrapped in bacon and deep fried, of course! I wish I had time for a take-out order…

This segment: 29 miles, 0h44m
Total: 300 miles, 5h00m
Time Remaining: 57h27m
Points scored: 21,813

I beelined up to US-380W to avoid going back through Dallas traffic as best I could, heading back through Denton before heading northeast towards the Texas Panhandle. Coming down to Texas every year for the Heart of Texas Rally, this is my usual route home; US-81 to to US-287 to I-40W. The sun was beating down as I ticked past familiar small towns – Decatur, Bowie, Wichita Falls slid past, the thermometer on the bike hovering in the upper 90s, flirting with 100F.

While not the most memorable of sections for me, one notable moment happened right as I left the town of Vernon, TX - my odometer ticked over 100,000 miles! I had to pull over and capture the moment.

Not bad for a 3-year old bike!

I stopped at an Allsups for gas and grabbed a cold 2L water out of the cooler to try and recharge my sweat reserves; it was seeping out of my pores and dissipating as fast as I could generate it. I soaked my LD Comfort base layer, and used some eyedrops on my sore eyeballs. I thought I was avoiding the the desert on this route?!

32) TXTU - Turkey Statue - Turkey, TX - 2,469 pts

16:56 EDT

Take a photo of the Turkey statue showing the Texas state outline statue in the background.

Rolling into town, I kept thinking “I’ve been here before” and sure enough, I had been here just a few months ago during the Heart of Texas Rally, where the rally master, Paul Tong, had us visiting locations in Texas named for places OUTSIDE Texas.

This segment: 280 miles, 4h23m
Total: 580 miles, 9h23m
Time Remaining: 53h04m
Points scored: 24,282

Setting my sights now on El Paso, TX, I had several hours of riding across west Texas to get through. The temps were hovering in the low- to mid-90s as I headed southwest towards Lubbock. Meanwhile, I was getting messages from riders who were also venturing across west Texas and Arizona about the blistering heat they were facing, claiming over 105F and a punishing sun. It was 95F as I rolled through Lubbock, and needing a break, I pulled off when I spotted another Gut Bomb Bingo bonus just off a downtown exit.

33) B3 - Wienerschnitzel - Lubbock, TX - 231 pts

18:57 EDT

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

The AC was a blessing, and I lingered for a good long while with a hot dog and a milkshake, reading the latest daily reports from rally staff and exchanging messages with other riders.

This segment: 102 miles, 2h01m
Total: 682 miles, 11h24m
Time Remaining: 51h03m
Points scored: 24,513

It was hot out, but not bad; the temp had dropped back down to a tepid 90F. Rolling past endless farmland, tractor supply shops, gas fields, and small, nameless towns clustered around grain silos and train sidings, I thought “I don’t know what those guys were complaining about…”

I was about to find out.

Cresting a small rise and descending an unremarkable, shallow slope, I was slammed by a wall of heat. Heavy, scorching air pressed through every vent, unzipped seam, up my pant legs, drilling through my pores and squeezing my eyeballs dry. The sudden shift made me blink and shake my head, disoriented, like a dog trying to get away from the flea meds on her neck, my skin simply exploding with sweat that was quickly sucked away, leaving me furiously sucking water from my water jug, vainly seeking some equilibrium of intake and loss. Relief was impossible, each breath a scorching inhalation, like standing impatiently over an open oven door, but without the sweet smell of baked goods promising a tasty prize.

The next two hours were some of the longest I’ve endured on a bike. The temp gauge topped out at 112F, and I bitterly cursed every thing, muttering in my helmet, inventing new phrases worthy of my immediate drafting into the Navy. No one, and nothing, was immune to my wrath, as my brain attempt to squirm and distract me from the misery of baking under the solar anvil of the West Texas/Eastern New Mexican sun. I laughed at my own misery, that I signed up for this, this stupid event which was nothing more than a machine for turning gasoline and rubber into pain. The fact that no one twisted my arm, that I applied for this torture… who is the real fool?

Clearly, the fool whose water ran out 30 minutes before arriving in Carlsbad, NM.

The temp dropped a few degrees as I slid into town, shakily stopping at a gas station for fuel and water. I bought 2 gallons, one for the hydration jug and the other I sipped, refilled empty sports drink bottles along with electrolyte mix, and soaked my swollen, dry skin. Retreating to some late evening shade of the pump awning, I sat next to the bike, back against the cool metal of the pump, and closed my eyes briefly, basking in the comfort of 102F.

I actually dozed off for maybe 5 minutes, a passerby detouring from getting back in his truck to come ask me about the map of the United States on my pannier. “You been to all them states?” he drawled, clearly not believing I was at all sane for having done so. I can’t say I blame him for not believing me, I was such a wreck. He shook his head and soon departed, and I was again reminded of how foolish all this was, but rather than the tortured anger I felt before, I now felt bemused - I did, actually, sign up for this. I’m doing this for fun… yikes!

Before continuing onwards, I did a quick check of the map. Realizing I was in a Big Town, I took the opportunity to scan for additional Gut Bomb Bingo locations, and noticed a Blake’s Lotaburger on the north side of town. It would take me at least a half hour to go fetch it, but what else was I out here for? Clearly not my sanity…

34) I3 - Blake’s Lotaburger - Carlsbad, NM - 281 pts

22:13 EDT

Get a receipt from any approved Blake’s Lotaburger location and take a photo of the same restaurant with your motorcycle in the photo.

I went inside and had to wait about 5 minutes for one of the high schoolers working the kitchen to wander over. Taking my order for a bottle of water, he rang it into the register, but instead of taking my payment, he said “I’ll be right back” and disappeared for another 5 minutes, returning with a quite warm bottle of water. I never wanted to reach over a counter and hit the “ENTER SALE” key more. 🤬

This segment: 181 miles, 3h16m
Total: 863 miles, 14h40m
Time Remaining: 47h47m
Points scored: 24,794

35) 3ROW - 615 pts

Successfully Claim Bonuses B3, I3, N3, G3, O3.

Points scored: 25,409

Clearly, I wasn’t having a great time, but back on US-62 heading south the road was fast, and as the sun dropped behind the peaks of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the temp dipped below 100F and I felt refreshed by my extended delay. Darkness fell along with the temperature, and I settled in for a few hours of empty night, uneventful except for one moment of excitement. In one particularly dark, long straight stretch of dark, aux lights blazing away, no one else on the road at all, I spotted a car pulled off the side of the highway, its lights off. Radar wasn’t pinging, but I slowed all the same. Lucky thing I did, because when I was about 2 seconds from passing them, the car suddenly lurched onto the road in front of me, lights off in the darkness! I braked, slowing hard and coming up hot on them, getting as close as 35-40 feet before dropping back to a VERY cautious follow distance.

They proceeded to crawl ~10mph under the speed limit for the next 15 miles - lights off the entire time! I could see there were 3 or 4 people in the car, but whatever they were up to I wanted no part of it. Once I spotted an area where there wasn’t much of any ditch on either side of the road (in case I needed an escape route) I blipped past them and continued on my way. I kept an eye open for them in my mirrors, but they didn’t do anything but continue slowly onwards… fine with me!

Soon enough I spotted the lights of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez on the horizon, and slipped through late evening traffic to the next bonus, L & J Cafe.

36) TXEP - L & J Café - El Paso, TX - 3,041 pts

00:57 EDT

Take a photo of the L & J Inc. Café sign on the corner of E Missouri Ave and N Stevens St.

Allegedly this place was the USA Today’s 2018 Reader’s Choice winner for Tex-Mex. It sure was hopping when I pulled up, parking on the sidewalk to get a shot as I needed my headlights to illuminate the signs. One of the worst bonus photos I ever took; I’m grateful it was accepted.

This segment: 163 miles, 2h44m
Total: 1,025 miles, 17h24m
Time Remaining: 45h03m
Points scored: 28,450

I was feeling a bit tired and needed to put my head down for a proper snooze. I was about an hour behind my most optimistic schedule, and luckily I had included a 5-hour layover somewhere tonight, so I looked for a room in Las Cruces. Usually it’s a snap to find a cheap motel, but everything between El Paso and Hatch, NM was booked solid! I finally found a Super 8 that had an over-priced room available, so I burned a couple points of my credit rating and headed west on I-10. El Paso at 1am was quiet except for a herd of super cars that zipped past me. I paced behind them for a couple miles, getting an eyeful of an orange McLaren and a green Lotus, but I let them go after a bit; I was tired and just wanted to get my head on a pillow for a bit.

The Super 8 was like every other Super 8, although the parking lot was full of busses and vans; clearly some kind of sporting or school event was happening, which would explain the lack of rooms. Pulling in at 01:45, I made sure to park in an extra well-lit area and secured it a bit more than I usually do, not wanting some drunk student to mess with it. Glad I did, too, as I almost literally ran into 3 of them running up and down the stairwell as I hiked up to my 4th floor room (because of COURSE the elevator was out…) I showered and was lights out by 02:15.

Day 4: 10,204 points -- 1,077 miles

Onward to Day 5 ➡️

all tags:
2o18_alaska_womens_tour 50cc Baja California Coddiwomple FS25 Mexico alaska bro6 butt_lite_gt canada colorado d2d2019 florida heart heart_of_texas hot23 housekeeping ibr23 interview iron_butt_rally ldx new_zealand north_by_northwest preview rally rants southwest tour_of_honor travel trip_report washington west_coast_66 wrenching