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Jul 01 2013

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Are We Ready to Dance?

B130630 Map

26 June 2013, 338 Miles

There was an email message from Vodafone waiting for us when we woke up telling us our mobiles had finally been unlocked. Yesterday’s complaints via ‘phone and email obviously had the desired result so we can now use our mobiles without breaking the bank.

Despite having a relaxed morning and a bit of a lie in we managed to catch the Washington rush hour again but we were soon on the open road enjoying the scenery.
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We don’t have a photo to illustrate what I’m saying but many of the houses in the countryside here are detached single storey properties which are in open plots. Sometimes it looks like a series of scout huts that have been dropped in the middle of a field.

We were continuing to visit National Park sites (we’ll use the term ‘National Park’ as a generic term to denote National Parks, Monuments, Battlefield sites, etc.) and around here many of them are Civil War related battlefields. This one is at Monocacy which is remembered as the battle that saved Washington DC.

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Brunswick is a small town that used to have a canal running near it – the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal – which actually spanned several different states. Unfortunately the canal system went the same way as the one in England as the railways became more popular and the canals fell into disuse. This is rather like the canal visitor centre which no-one we asked in the town had any idea even existed. Eventually we decided to ask at the Railway Museum and discovered they are one and the same. Unfortunately it’s only open for about one and a half days a week and needless to say this was not one of them.

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After a quick visit to Harpers Ferry (which I confess we saw none of apart from the visitor centre) we arrived at the battlefield site at Antietam in Maryland (also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg). This was the site of the first major incursion into the North by the Confederate army during the American Civil War and remains the bloodiest single-day battle in US history; 27,717 people were killed, wounded or went missing. Seeing the lovely countryside it was difficult to imagine the bloodshed that occurred. There’s a lot of history here and we really regretted not being able to stay for longer but we had an appointment in Pittsburgh so reluctantly moved on.

We did see some interesting sights by the side of the road.
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Some of the roads over here seem to go on for miles and miles completely straight, as if someone used a ruler to mark them out. It’s a bit difficult to see in the photo, but there is a gap all the way to the horizon.

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We stopped at the very peaceful Flight 93 Memorial. It looks like it would have been in a completely out-of-the-way place originally in the middle of a quiet rural community. There is now a well-paved road leading to the crash-site and memorial. Seeing the photos of the victims really brings home the atrocity and puts it on a personal level.

As we rode round I noticed quite a few houses have a single star attached to them and a lot have flags that aren’t the Stars and Stripes. We’re not sure what they are all about.

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We finally found our way to the Pittsburgh Marriott which is to be our home for the next five days in preparation for the Rally and just had time to drop the bike off at the dealer ready for tomorrow’s service. There are a few things that we need to get, such as some extra long-sleeved tee shirts for Kevin as he prefers using them to the short-sleeved ones I had packed. The heat is such that having everything covered up saves our jacket and trousers from sticking to us.

The mounts fabricated by Chris from CT Motorcycle Services for our Zumos and water jug are working well, as is the wiring tidy-up he did for us. In fact the Zumo mounts have drawn several questions and comments from people who like the set-up. Moving the XM antenna has improved radio reception. The new Airhawk for Kevin arrived at the hotel on Friday morning. It’s a much better fit on the GSA’s seat and seems to be more comfortable although he’s only used it for a few miles.

Kevin managed to trap the Autocom to rider audio cable in the seat mechanism on Friday which has broken the outer protective covering of the cable. We realised there was a problem when we started getting some loud feedback in our monitors. Once the cable had been moved it seemed to be working properly so we hoped just taping it up will do the trick as we don’t have a good spare (we’ve used one spare and didn’t realise the other spare also has a nick in it). Kevin’s attempt to order some replacements the other day failed as these cables aren’t listed on the USA Autocom importer’s web site.

Customer service at European Motorcycles in Pittsburgh was warm, friendly and helpful. They did a really good job of the service and the tyres and pads were changed. The bike feels much nicer to ride now and is ready to go. Whether we’re ready or not only time will tell.

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Making friends waiting for the Technical Check

Saturday was a blur of queuing as we joined the various lines for technical inspection of the bike and paperwork, video recording of a statement that we understood the risks of the rally and the liability issues, picked up a t-shirt, had our camera and storage cards checked and rode a 37 mile odometer check route. We also sat through a very good one hour mandatory ‘Rookie’ presentation by Jeff Earls, a man who has ridden many IBRs, as he spelled out what we are likely to face over the next 11 days with emphasis on safety and personal responsibility.

We sat down for what the Americans call a ‘no host reception’ which we discovered means everyone sits down for dinner, we pick from a limited menu and then we pay for our own meals. Our table was mostly made up of the European contingent; there are six of us – Michiel from Belgium, Gerhard and Robert from Germany, Phil and us from the UK. We were joined by Tom Loftus who we rode with on the Isle of Man and Iceland, and Nam (sp?) from Canada who we’d chatted to for a couple of hours earlier in the day while standing in line for our final set of signatures. It was a pleasant evening finished off in the bar where Phil bought us some ‘home made’ ice cream and a drink (thanks Phil).

Sunday dawned and we decided to swap the audio lead for the one that hasn’t been quite so badly nicked by the seat, pick up a few things from the shop then relax until the Riders’ meeting at 16:00. After that there’s an evening buffet and we’ll be given the first set of waypoints with which to work out a route for the next three days or so.

There are three checkpoints for the rally: checkpoint one is back at Rally HQ on 4th July, two is at a Marriott in Sacramento on the 7th then the finishing point in Pittsburgh once again on the 12th. It’s good to have the start and finish points at the same place as it means we can leave stuff here that we don’t need for the rally.

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Dan and Kevin enjoying some last minute repairs. Lots of thanks to Dan for helping us arrange a new Zumo and the radio receiver.

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Phil making some last minute adjustments

We have just three goals for this rally and they are (in order):

  1. Get back safely
  2. Be finishers (i.e. not ‘DNF’)
  3. Have some fun although we suspect the latter half may be more of a slog than fun.

Iron Butt Rally (also colloquially known as ‘The Big Dance’) rules prevent us from showing our Spot track publicly during the rally and we will not have time to blog. We should have 11 days of riding, sleeping, riding, eating and yet more riding in our future so there will hopefully be no more updates from us until after the rally.

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This is most of the people in the rally, and here is ‘Team Europe’ without Roberto who was having a shower!

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The IBA publishes Official IBR Reports on a daily basis. These often mention people making mistakes like calling in at the wrong time or missing something obvious so we hope not to appear in these. There is also the IBR Public Spot Location Page. This doesn’t show routes nor are individual Spots identifiable but it does give you a good overall feel for where IBR participants who have chosen to join it are. Our Spot signal will be buried in there somewhere.

As an aside, we’ve now checked the distance from our start point in San Diego to the final receipt of the BB1500 Gold attempt during our Coast to Coast ride and we think it’s going to be OK.

So, we’re signing off now for the duration of the rally. Keep your fingers crossed for us and we’ll let you know how we got on when next we post.

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