Preparation (or lack thereof)
They say the third time’s ‘a charm’ and that was what we’d hoped for this time. Before both our previous IBRs (2013 and 2017) Kevin had been in and out of hospital which meant we were totally unprepared. This one was supposed to be different. Unfortunately he’d been ill again – a couple more times in hospital and the rheumatoid arthritis drugs were really taking a toll on him – but the drugs regime had been changed late in 2018 and the surgeries were mid that year so we should have been better prepared for this one. Were we? Nope!
There were two issues – life and work were getting in the way of riding the bike and we were struggling to get North American bike insurance. Just before the final rally payment had to be made we were sent an email from a company saying they would be able to provide insurance for both the US and Canada. By the time we’d made the rally payment and sorted out the dates for travelling that company’s web site said they could provide insurance for the US but were still trying to resolve the issue of insurance for Canada.
Insurance for Canada was vital as we intended to fly our bike into Toronto via Air Canada, which is an excellent and very cost effective service, and there were bound to be rally waypoints available in Canada.
We waited and we waited.
We eventually became resigned to the fact we weren’t going. Life was still very busy, there was little time for us to get bike fit and no pressure on us to do so. We considered hiring a bike in the US but Kevin is carrying quite a few old injuries which our bike is set up to help with so we came to the conclusion it was on our bike or not at all. He sent Lisa Landry (the IBR Rally Master) an email saying we’d need to drop out of the rally because of lack of insurance.
Shortly afterwards the company we’d been talking to announced they would not be able to provide insurance for Canada at all but Fernet Insurance could. To cut some of this long story short, with the assistance of Fernet, Lisa, Mike Kneebone (IBA President), Ed Otto (IBA Insurance expert) and Bill Watt (IBA rider and Canadian resident), we finally resolved the insurance issue on Friday 24th May.
The rally was due to start on Monday June 17th, just three and a half weeks later. I had no time booked off work (Kevin’s contract had finished a short while ago so he didn’t have a work issue), we hadn’t booked any flights for us or the bike and the bike wasn’t rally prepped.
Fortunately my managers were very understanding, we booked the flights and Kevin got the bike ready. In the two years since returning from the 2017 IBR rally we’d ridden a grand total of less than 500 miles but there wasn’t anything we could do about that now.
On Monday 10th June Kevin dropped the bike off at Heathrow then checked in to a local hotel whilst I did my last day at work in the office for a while. It was torrential rain in London and by the time I reached the hotel I was soaked. I was hoping this wasn’t going to be an omen for the ‘holiday’.
After an uneventful flight we picked up the bike from Pearson International Airport, Toronto. Our early arrival meant we had time to pick up the Dangerous Goods Certificate needed for the return journey. We’d booked ourselves into a local hotel for the night and had a good sleep prior to our 800 mile trip to the Rally start hotel in Greenville.
We crossed from Canada to the US at the Buffalo crossing just south of Niagara. Having been across the Canadian/US border several times with no problems we were somewhat surprised to meet Mr Angry.
We always approach border crossings in the same way – flip front of the helmet up so our faces are clearly visible, coast to a stop, switch off engine, say “Hello” to border guard, give him or her our passports.
“Take your helmets off” he barked (no “please”). “Here we go…” I thought.
“Why were you in Canada?” (It’s the cheapest way to get a bike to North America), “Where are you going?” (Greenville) “Today?” (Yes). “Where are you staying?” (<Hotel name>) “Where are you going after that?” (We’re not sure, we don’t have a plan we’re just touring), several iterations of “I don’t understand ‘touring’. What is touring?” (several variations of “Unplanned road trip”), “Who are you meeting” (You won’t know them but we’ll be meeting <some names>). “I don’t care whether I know them or not, just answer my questions”, “How much money do you have?” (Kevin didn’t have a clue so I answered) and on it went.
We didn’t have an issue with what he was asking, it was how he was asking it – constantly glaring at us and speaking in an angry voice. Kevin just sat there calmly answering him which may have irritated him even more as he then started throwing stuff around his booth while effing and blinding; we assume he was looking for some sort of form. He seemed to be getting more angry by the minute and we had absolutely no idea why but if he always carries on like that he’s going to have a heart attack at some point.
Finally he told us to “Start your bike, turn right, park next to the two patrol cars over there and go into the office.”. The office and patrol cars were obscured from our view by the booth next to us so Kevin tried to clarify where they were. “Do what I told you to do”.
OMG! He must have been having a really bad day. Welcome to America!
The large office was full of people. Everyone looked bored (no electronic devices allowed) and hot. We thought we’d be there for days but luckily we were called within 10 minutes by an official who could not have been nicer or more polite. When we said we didn’t know what we’d done to upset the guy at the booth he told us not to worry as we hadn’t done anything. We were soon on our way via another very friendly person who took $6 each off us for a paper I-94 that should ensure smooth crossings later on.
As we have done very little riding we decided to take it easy on our journey down. Just as we felt we were nearing the hotel, we had a sudden thought – was it North or South Carolina we were headed for? A quick check of the hotel details showed we were heading to the wrong hotel as we’d selected the wrong Carolina. This might have been because I used to travel to Greenville, NC for work. Oh well, we needed the riding miles so once we stopped laughing we got back on the bike and did an about-turn in the direction of South Carolina. The detour added over 200 miles to our journey but took us through some nice scenery in Virginia so there was a bonus.
And So It Begins
At the hotel we soon fell into pre-rally prep, catching up with friends from previous rallies, and ensuring that we would get enough sleep to last us through the 11 days of deprivation. The European contingent this time was much reduced, comprising our old friends IBR vet Giel Kierkof, IBR Rookies Benny Watt from Sweden and Joe Fisher from Ireland, and us. Benny was on a hired Harley and Joe was on a bike that he part-owns with Chris McGaffin which is stored in the US for just this sort of occasion.
We’d arranged for new Anakee 3s (Kevin’s favourite tyres for this type of bike) and brake pads to be fitted at the local Yamaha dealer, PowerSports, who were very helpful and we had an interesting conversation with the service manager re. Donald Trump (there’s no sarcasm in that statement, it was an interesting conversation). They were doing a roaring trade as rally participants turned up for various bits and pieces. We were in such a hurry when packing to leave that when Kevin grabbed two pairs of summer-weight gloves to bring with us he grabbed the wrong ones. One pair was falling apart and the other, brand new and of exactly the same type, was the wrong size and were bruising the base of his thumbs. Powersports didn’t have a huge selection but there was a nice pair of Icon gloves that he found very comfortable. Sold. We hadn’t seen any of our European friends yet but who should be sitting in the waiting area but Joe so we had a chance to catch-up.
The hotel is next door to a large Michelin office and they’d put up a special supporter to cheer us on. They also put on a tyre talk on Friday but we missed that as we were having some of their tyres fitted at the time. Come Monday morning a lot of the staff also turned out to wave us on.
Saturday is the pre-rally checks day and this was quite relaxed for us as we’d been through it twice before so didn’t feel the need to get into long queues first thing in the morning. As we entered the hotel lobby we saw the rally poster in a prominent position. It looked interesting – mountains, we like mountains! And Alice’s Restaurant in California which we’d visited before.
I can’t remember on which day it was but we met Eric James in the car park. Eric knew Ziggy, an IBA UK rider, had seen we had UK plates and wandered over to talk to us. We had a pleasant chat then needed to get on with things so said goodbye. Eric will reappear in our story later.
The odometer check ride was straight forward and we only had to run it once this time! Helmets OK, paperwork OK, waivers signed, no problem with our Frankentank (an enlarged tank giving us 30l of fuel) and the after-market exhaust passed the electronic listening test. Finally we could relax and enjoy the last few hours of peace and quiet.
Amongst the things we hadn’t practised during the last two years was any sort of route planning. Since the 2013 IBR we’ve used ezType-ezBake to convert raw rally waypoints into something that graphically indicates availability and value. ezBake is a complex Excel workbook originally developed by Curt Gran, who is sadly no longer with us, then slightly modified by Tim Masterson to allow easier data entry. Kevin had added a modification to highlight night-time only waypoints. He refreshed his memory of how to use the tool by by watching some of Tim’s excellent videos (links here). We don’t use the same waypoint system as Tim – different symbols and colours – but the videos were good enough to ensure that when doing the planning for real the ezBake conversion went very smoothly. Thanks Tim.
I have to mention the hotel here which was a Marriott. It must be a bit of a worry for hotels hosting such a large number of motorcyclists – about 100 starters this time – but the staff were all brilliant. The bell-hops were only too pleased to ferry us around to various places – laundry, chemist, Walmart etc. – and were looking forward to following us all on our spots.
The Road Less Travelled
On Sunday afternoon we all had to attend the Riders’ meeting where we were reminded of some of the rally must do’s and must not do’s then we were sent an email to check we were receiving them as we’d receive the waypoints that way later on.
After the meeting we were scheduled to attend a photo session of all the riders on the steps leading to the Michelin offices. “Someone didn’t get the T-shirt memo” I heard a gruff voice say. That would be us and one other rider, everyone else was wearing their 2019 rally T’s. So let’s just explain our position here – we never wear our rally T-shirts until we’ve earned them by completing the rally. That’s a rule we’ve had in place since we started rallying. The rally finished we’ve now worn them several times and very nice T-shirts they are too.
After dinner Mike, Lisa and Jeff Earles (the Routemaster) all spoke and the rally theme, The Road Less Travelled, was introduced. John Harrison (the rally’s excellent scribe) read the inspirational poem by Robert Frost.
The Road Not TakenTwo roads diverged in a yellow wood,And sorry I could not travel bothAnd be one traveller, long I stoodAnd looked down one as far as I couldTo where it bent in the undergrowth;Then took the other, as just as fair,And having perhaps the better claim,Because it was grassy and wanted wear;Though as for that the passing thereHad worn them really about the same,And both that morning equally layIn leaves no step had trodden black.Oh, I kept the first for another day!Yet knowing how way leads on to way,I doubted if I should ever come back.I shall be telling this with a sighSomewhere ages and ages hence:Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less travelled by,And that has made all the difference.
The poem is very apt for the rallies as there is always more than one route that will work. You have to chose the one you will take and there will always be an element of regret for the route you didn’t. We were really looking forward to the opportunity to ride ‘less travelled’ roads.
The Leg 1 waypoints received, we were released to our own devices (pun intended!) to get our routes planned and to try to get some sleep ready for the final checks by rally staff at 08:00 the next morning.
Checkpoint One was in Kennewick, WA, about 2600 miles away by the most direct route and was open from 17:00-20:00 on Thursday. After 20:00 penalty points would accrue at 10 per minute and if we arrived after 22:00 we’d be DNF (Did Not Finish).
Many of the waypoints were near the required photo location rather than exactly where the photo needed to be taken. ‘Near’ being defined as ‘within 100 miles’…or so. This necessitated careful reading of the instructions for each waypoint which was the general idea. A rest bonus, where we could earn points by not moving for between four and eight hours, was available on Wednesday; a call-in bonus, where we needed to call-in leaving a message with our rider number, previous waypoint visited, current location and next waypoint, was available on the same day. The call-in bonus was not available while we were claiming the rest bonus on the very reasonable grounds we were supposed to be resting.
There was a very high scoring waypoint in in the Everglades at the tip of Florida which we dismissed immediately. We’ve never been that far south in Florida but we’d heard lots of horror stories about the traffic down there and just didn’t fancy it. The next temptations were a pair of lighthouses to the east, one in Ocracoke and the other on Long Island. Kevin kept coming back to them as a route including those would yield a high scoring leg 1. On the other hand we knew how slow the traffic could be on Long Island having been there during the 2013 IBR, it was a real time sink. There was also the question of how ride fit we were and going to the lighthouses would make for quite a long leg 1. Points tend to go increase as the rally progresses and we didn’t want to burn ourselves out on the first leg.
Four hours or so later we’d settled on heading west pretty much from the start, pick up a couple of local medium level bonuses that were on the route, go past the Kennewick checkpoint and pick up a high scoring waypoint west of Seattle at Hurricane Ridge. Still thinking about those eastern lighthouses Kevin got up again very early to check the route ‘just in case’ but decided to keep it as it was.