Leg 1: Monday to Thursday
Amongst the pre-rally questions we were asked “What do you think you will be most concerned about on Day 1 of the 2019 IBR?” to which we replied “Not falling off at the start”. The start is motorcycle ballet well-orchestrated by Dale ‘Warchild’ Wilson (he who must be obeyed) and one hundred bikes are usually cleared in around five minutes. It’s also live streamed so the entire world can see if anything goes wrong. Each rider is pointed at in turn then instructed to go. As you are pointed at you prepare then release the clutch and ride off when indicated. Not this time. Oops! The bike stalled. Bugger! Stop. Regroup and hope this doesn’t mean the wait of shame to the end. No. Dale took pity on us and after letting the rest of our section out pointed at us once again. GO! and off we went. Warning: There’s some ‘colourful’ language in the video below.
As I was writing this I asked Kevin what makes the bike stall, thinking maybe it got too hot while we were waiting. “An inept rider” he replied. Oh!
As in previous years the local police had been engaged to smooth the start and traffic had been stopped on the junctions around the hotel, including the entrances to the interstate, to allow all the riders to make a quick get-away. Their assistance makes a real difference and I just cannot imagine that happening in the UK.
Inevitably when we take off there are several bikes around us as we clear the start. Some sit behind, others zoom ahead eager to be first to their chosen bonus. We were in a small group of bikes all heading along I-26W. Our first planned bonus stop was PATCH, a daylight-only bonus worth 584 points about 117 miles away, which marked a trail to the Max Patch Bald Mountain. As we turned off the interstate all the other riders around us continued. Hmm, wonder what they know that we don’t.
The two placards say “Have you seen my Dad? He ran away to join a motorcycle gang”, and “Have you seen this guy? He ran away from home to join a motorcycle gang. I think we’re still married”. He is the guilty party. That was funny.
In the rally book it said: Note the roads leading to Max Patch are narrow, twisty and unpaved. That’s gravel to you and me and we weren’t ‘disappointed’. After about 9 miles of riding on the unpaved road we came to the spot where a sign was supposed to be. Unfortunately it wasn’t there. There were two other riders at the stop and we all decided that it must have been removed in favour of the much more informative sign that we photographed. (On return to base we learned that someone had stolen the sign a few weeks earlier).
It’s always good to get the first bonus in the bag and we hoped we’d done enough to say that. Having retraced our route back to the Interstate we were then on tarmac for the short hop to Indian Gap, which was described as being on an unpaved single-lane road. Yep, you’ve guessed it, more gravel.
It was raining and we were approaching a T junction on a slight upwards incline. Whilst it wasn’t busy, there were a couple of vehicles coming along the T piece and as we slowed down preparing to stop then turn right the bike started to wander off to the edge of the road which was sloping down to a grass verge. By the time we stopped the edge of the road had completely disappeared and, needless to say, that was the way the bike was leaning. Kevin’s legs not being a foot longer than they are meant he couldn’t reach the ground and we ended up in an ungainly heap on the grass! It must have looked really funny to anyone who was watching.
There’s something rather sad looking about a motorbike on its side. As we were righting ourselves and about to remove the panniers a young man stopped to offer assistance. Kevin said we’d need to remove the boxes as they were so heavy and the guy said “Let’s give it a go first”. Kevin was manhandling the front of the bike but he said he was pretty much a passenger as the guy lifted it on his own; we were both rather impressed. Thank you kind stranger.
Kevin had already noticed he was struggling a bit with slow riding and put it down to lack of practice. On trying to steady the bike and put it on the side stand it became apparent that the right side was much heavier than the left; even though the bike was leaning to the left on the stand it was still trying to topple to the right. This hadn’t helped with the slow riding or the off-camber slope at the junction. We’d obviously packed it badly so before riding away we moved tools from the top box to the left-hand pannier which made the bike feel much more stable.
When you’re planning the route you expect to average a certain number of miles per hour. This can be affected positively, e.g. by riding the interstates, or negatively by falling off, getting caught in traffic at rush hours, roadworks or just sheer volume of traffic through towns. One such place was Gatlinburg, a tourist attraction town where we spent ages crawling through the town – being stopped at pedestrian crossings, traffic lights and just about anything else that could slow us down. It was a good opportunity to see what a holiday town was like and we determined that we would not return, much preferring the more natural attractions of the National Parks to man-made entertainment.
As we approached the waypoint for Indian Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains it was raining heavily. We got stuck behind several vehicles who were going very slowly and didn’t offer any opportunity to pass. There didn’t seem to be anything around to look at, apart from fields, which would give them reason to be going so slowly but crawl they did. One really slow pickup truck a few cars in front of us was very annoying and we looked forward to the turn off which we could see coming up. Damn! He turned up there too. Luckily though the vibes must have got to him and he pulled over to let us pass. As we were riding up this slippery gravel ‘road’ I was actually quite reassured that at some point he would pass us if we’d had the misfortune to fall off. Fortunately we didn’t and we found the right sign to photograph just in time as it was a daylight bonus.
The light was fading fast in the gloom of the thunderstorm which had developed from the heavy rain. We were now surrounded by lightning and loud thunder claps. As we were taking the photo a car came by containing a couple who stopped to check that we were OK. It’s always nice to have people looking out for you – they probably thought we’d had to stop due to the rough conditions. I commented to Kevin that I wasn’t sure how sensible it was to be in the middle of a forest in a thunder storm but there really wasn’t any alternative so we slipped and slid our way back to the road more travelled and on to further adventures.
This rally was definitely taking us on some interesting roads and we were really enjoying it. Lots of the roads reminded me of riding in Europe which was a very fine thing.
We now had a long dry (no points) period of about 1500 miles while we headed over to the west. Filtering (lane splitting) isn’t allowed in most of North America but undertaking is. On the way through St Louis in the morning rush hour Kevin was switching between lanes as the opportunity arose so we could make progress. A big gap appeared on the right and he pulled into it but the driver of the large truck that had left the gap seemed to take offence at the manoeuvre. There was plenty of room but he zoomed up behind us revving the engine loudly.
When I looked behind all I could see was the massive grille that filled my view. I’ve never been so scared. Then he nudged us which gave the bike quite a jolt! What an a***hole. There was nothing wrong with what Kevin was doing, we’d seen lots of cars doing the same thing, but if the truck driver was unhappy a loud hoot would have been sufficient. Luckily Kevin was able to keep the bike upright and he said once the bike was stable he glanced in the mirror to try to understand what had happened and saw the driver waving his arms about and obviously shouting, having a little hissy-fit in the cab. There didn’t seem a lot of point in stopping to remonstrate with a lunatic so we carried on. I wanted to report the driver to the policeman in his car who was parked a short way down the road but Kevin said there wasn’t a lot of point, it would just be our word against his, so we carried on. The only damage was to our water jug carrier and I think Henry (our extra pillion) had broken a couple of bones.
Although we were travelling the less travelled roads there were, inevitably, some Interstates to be traversed. As we moved towards Montana we were going to be using I29 to cut diagonally across but it was closed. The detour took us north rather than the north-west direction we wanted to be travelling in so we checked in a petrol station. Sure enough, we needed to basically do two sides of a triangle to get to where we wanted to be. It wasn’t a massive detour, only adding about 35 miles to our journey, but the speed limits on those 179 miles were a lot lower. Much of the I29 has an 80mph limit but the roads we were on had limits of 55mph or less and there were many small towns which added quite a bit of time Still, first world problems and all that, at least we weren’t amongst the unfortunates who had been flooded. We were reminded of the flooding on more than one occasion during the rally.
Mount Rushmore is an iconic place and we were privileged that it was our next bonus location. We’d been close by on a previous rally but this time were able to ride the extra 30 miles or so to take us to see the presidents. It was a daylight only bonus and the delay caused by the detour meant we were behind schedule. As it was late there weren’t too many people there and just by chance we managed to park in the closest car park to where we needed to be. Photo taken, Kevin turned away to walk back to the bike when a lady asked me to take her photo. I obliged and she obviously wanted to have a conversation afterwards but I had to explain we were in a hurry. I hope the photo turned out OK and that she understood; even though I was polite I still felt rather rude. We passed Nancy Lefcourt, another rally rider, as we were leaving and were to meet her at other locations later in the rally as she appeared to be on a similar route.
There were twenty or so very low scoring receipt-only bonuses available where the receipt had to show the name of specific towns. We were a bit puzzled by these and wondered whether leg two would reveal some sort of multiplier which made them worthwhile. We weren’t going to go out of our way to collect any of these but resolved that if any of these towns was on or very close to our route we’d stop and collect the receipt. The first of these was Buffalo, WY. As it turned out there was no multiplier, they were there simply as tie-breakers if required.
A Bear and an Elderly Geezer
We had a good rest bonus not far from Billings and woke up early the next morning ready to undertake Beartooth Pass. This is a famous route described by a CBS correspondent as “The most beautiful drive in America”. We’d been there before in 2013 and have to agree the scenery is stunning. This time there was still a lot of snow on the edges and it was very cold. So cold that Kevin, in just an unlined riding suit, short-sleeved T-shirt and summer gloves, found himself shivering (Mrs Smug had her electric jacket on). We got to the top, admired the view, took our photo and descended to Yellowstone Park. On subsequent days it snowed on the pass and several riders dropped their bikes, some multiple times, because of the icy conditions. Lady Luck was with us in our timing.
Our next stop was another American icon – Old Faithful. We had to get a photo with it erupting, something that happens every ninety minutes or so, if you’re lucky. We’d just missed an eruption so had a bit of a wait and sat down in the empty viewing area. By the time it was due to perform again the seating area was packed. I have to admit to being a bit disappointed as the geysers we saw in Iceland were more spectacular and the flush in the ladies loo made more noise but don’t tell anyone I said so! Nancy pulled in as we were leaving and we had a short conversation. I tried to make the call-in bonus while we were here but there was no signal. I managed to make the call from a different area later in the day.
On a normal day, in tourist mode, the ride through the National Park with other people constantly stopping in front of us blocking the road because there was a bear in the woods, a buffalo or three on the edge of the road, or someone thought they might just have seen something on the dim and distant horizon would have been delightful. On the rally it was just very frustrating. Actually that’s a lie! We’d come through here in 2013 when we were touring and found people stopping to admire a blade of grass just as frustrating as we found it during the rally. The roads have double solid lines throughout most of the park so overtaking is not allowed. We had over 40 miles of road to get through in the park so the constant stopping was really delaying us. We determined that in the next leg we would avoid Yellowstone unless the points were very special.
The Dirty Shame Saloon is in a place called Yaak which the rally book described as one of the most remote and seldom visited corners of the contiguous 48 states. It was our next waypoint and was an anytime bonus so could be grabbed at night, which was just as well as it was around midnight when we finally got there.
Just for a change it was absolutely tipping it down with rain. We stopped in Libby for fuel and to don our heated jackets then headed north up Pipe Creek Road to the saloon. As we turned off US-2 there was a sign suggesting motorcycles found an alternative route because of construction (roadworks). We looked at it, shrugged, then carried on. There was no shelter and getting a map out in all that rain would have been an exercise in frustration.
We have good lights on the bike – HID headlights, a pair of Clearwater Glendas to make us more visible and a pair of Kristas that come on with main beam. When we bought them several years ago these lights were state of the art and they are still very good lights for normal riding. On this type of winding road in the pitch black and pouring rain we found them lacking. The problem with the Kristas is they don’t give us the ‘throw’ we’d like. Within the extent of the headlights the combination of lights ensures the road is lit up like daylight. We’d like our auxiliary lighting to show us what’s beyond the reach of the headlights. Several times we had to brake hard as a deer suddenly appeared, one standing directly in our path. It’s probably time for us to upgrade.
We eventually reached the roadworks which were several miles of ‘combed’ road (deep grooves which make the bike track peculiarly), deep holes and gravel. They’d basically dismantled the road and not put it back together again. Lovely! Still, we were warned.
North Americans have a funny attitude to roadworks. It’s apparently perfectly reasonable to leave the road in a dangerous state, especially for motorcyclists, and just put up signs saying so. These include removal of the road as above and ‘abrupt edges’ or ‘uneven lanes’ which means the lanes are at different heights ranging from a small bump to ‘Whoah!’ as the bike starts following the edge. If the signs are there the edge can be tackled at a less acute angle which resolves the issue but if they’re not you can find yourself unexpectedly tracking a high unseen edge in the dark and rain as we did on the run back to the final checkpoint. There seemed to be a lot more sections of roadworks than we’d seen on previous trips, many of which have signs saying ‘Motorcyclists take care’. The length of the roadworks also seemed much longer than we’d experienced before. We think the longest was 29 miles which was on our way into Greenville for the first time.
We’ve also noticed that a lot of the solid barriers which separate the opposing streams of traffic are being replaced by the lethal (to motorcyclists) wire barriers. Imagine coming off and hitting one of those wires at speed. I’m sorry to say those wires are also becoming more common in the UK. I assume they are cheaper to install and cost seems to be king for pretty much everything nowadays.
Once past the roadworks the road narrowed to a single track where we hoped nothing large would come in the opposite direction as we would have to move over and the edges looked very steep. At the stop we met Nancy and Jim Owen who had both come from the opposite direction. We went out the way they came in and it was definitely a much faster route than the one we arrived on. Still, ‘our’ road had been much more interesting and is the sort of road we love to ride when not in a hurry (and preferably in the daylight!).
At the saloon we made ourselves look like complete newbies. The photo needed to show the saloon, the bike and one of us holding the rally flag. This was the first time on the rally we’d needed to use our torches and we found they’d fallen apart in the tank bag – they have magnetic feet and they’d managed to pull the batteries out of each other. Trying to reassemble them in the dark then use their feeble light to illuminate both the saloon sign and the bike was an experience. I just couldn’t get the photo we needed and took ten photos, none of which we were happy with. In the end Kevin took the photo which showed enough of the bike to identify it, me with the flag in front of the bike’s headlights and the saloon sign which was just visible in the dim light from one of the torches. We’ve used these torches for years without issue but it looks like they’re overdue for an upgrade too.
Kevin was tired and we tried to find a hotel/motel in Spokane but everywhere was full. In the end he suggested we ride a further 30 miles along our route so we’d be clear of the town then try again. This we did and we found the Sprague Motel which, oddly enough, was in Sprague. Despite the heated jacket Kevin was shivering so much that when he was trying to eat a bag of crisps (chips) in the room he said they were like jumping beans and he had to catch them first! We think he hadn’t properly warmed up since Beartooth Pass and the pouring rain for the last few hours hadn’t helped.
One Last Bonus
The two zumos (GPS units) sat on the bike overnight, turned off and under our cover. The next morning when Kevin tried to turn them back on again neither would start. Without them it would be the end of our rally as we rely on them 100% to find the various waypoints. No combination of buttons seemed to do anything so he eventually pulled the battery on our 595. What actually came out was not just the battery plug but the socket that plug goes into. Strike one Zumo. Somewhat perturbed by this he tried another reset on the 590 which this time burst into life. We were back in business.
There’s an old diving adage – One is none and two is one – which we always follow when diving and try to apply it when riding as well, especially during rallies. What it’s saying is if you have one of a vital piece of equipment and if fails, you’re screwed. If you have two you can fall back to the spare. We now only had one GPS. Kevin sent a message to John Harrison asking if he knew of anyone who had a Zumo 590/5 we could borrow for the rest of the rally once we reached the checkpoint.
Our last bonus – Hurricane Ridge – was uneventful. The photo location was quite a long way from the provided waypoint but we’d adjusted the waypoint accordingly. Luckily the ridge didn’t live up to its name and it was a calm day.
Are the roads around Seattle always like a car park? Last time we were here they were and this time was no different. The traffic link-up with the Zumo from our phone paid off and the GPS rerouted us. The last 100 or so miles to the hotel were through land that I assume was originally desert. There were lots of the scrub-like plants that seem to be able to grow anywhere and plenty of tumbleweed. Any time a vehicle drove down the tracks either side of the paved road a huge cloud of dust rose up behind them and blew across our path. Despite the inclement climate and conditions there were thousands and thousands of cherry trees in vast orchards. You can only imagine how much water is required to keep these going. As we rode along the roads there was nothing much to stop the wind and on occasions I could feel the bike being pushed sideways. It was hard work for Kevin to keep us upright at times.
At some point during this leg we pulled off the interstate into a large petrol station and stopped opposite a car that was parked at the adjacent pump facing us. I got off the bike and went in to prepay. The female passenger came up to Kevin and asked him to move as their pump wasn’t working and they wanted some fuel. He explained that I was already inside prepaying and he needed fuel himself; he’d move afterwards. She was very persistent and in the end he was just telling her “No”. The car pulled forward and the front was now next to the bike. Another car pulled in to the ‘problem’ pump and the driver of that seemed to have no difficulty using it. Kevin filled the bike and I came out and remounted. After Kevin pointed out to the driver of the car that he wouldn’t be able to ride away from the pump unless he moved, the driver asked the woman, who was now standing in front of him, to move out of the way. She refused and gestured to us that we should back up. Kevin told her we had no reverse. She still refused to move and the driver was becoming more agitated with her. Kevin had had enough by now. He switched off the bike, crossed his arms and told her he had all !******! day to play games, it was up to her (we obviously didn’t but she didn’t know that). She moved shortly afterwards, the car pulled forward and we headed back to the interstate. If I may borrow an appropriate quote attributed to Mark Twain: “When angry, count to four; when very angry, swear”.
We made the Kennewick checkpoint with time to spare and looked forward to a nice shower and some food. One of the tests during the rally is to see if you can be precise with the bonus claim form. The waypoint names have to be spelled absolutely correctly and if you forget to claim a bonus you don’t score it. My 100% rally scoring record was blemished when I put R-nn for the receipt bonuses rather than Rnn. We scored 19 points for the two receipts and lost 20 for ‘admin errors’! Ah well, it could have been a lot worse. Lesson learned for next time.
We dropped gratefully into bed having set an alarm as we had to be up for the rider meeting at 04:00 to receive the second leg bonus book.
At 03:30 we woke up ready for some breakfast and the next set of waypoints for leg 2 which we expected to be a three-day leg then back to the same hotel ready for leg three. At the riders’ meeting Jeff announced the unexpected. There was no longer another checkpoint at this hotel. Instead we were given a set of waypoints which would take us back to the starting point in Greenville.
The Kennewick hotel became an optional high scoring bonus location. If we chose to come back here we had to check in with rally staff before 20:00 on Sunday. We could leave the hotel, having checked out with rally staff, after 04:00 on Monday. If we chose not to come back to Kennewick we had the choice of either picking up a waypoint north of 60° latitude or visiting two specified waypoints, one on the west coast of Washington State and the other in the west at Gaspé in Quebec, Canada. Normally if the path to a waypoint is blocked by snow, flood, etc we’re able to take a photo of the blockage and claim the points. If you chose to go to the far north and found your path blocked by snow you couldn’t get through it was tough, no points. We were also told that the points for McKenzie pass in Oregon had been zeroed as the pass was closed due to snow and rally staff didn’t want us going there (several riders obviously weren’t paying attention during that bit as they still did!). The next round of scoring would be at the finish back in Greenville.
A call had gone out in the night for a GPS for us to use and we were very happy when Matt Watkins approached us with a z590 we could borrow. It had up to date maps and lots of music on just ready for us to use. Thanks Matt, you really helped with our rally.
At this stage we got the results for leg 1 and were delighted to see we were in 25th position with 20,947 points. We’d ridden 3780 miles according to our GPS and had kept to the plan. That’s the best position after the first leg of an IBR we’d been in and it was particularly pleasing given our lack of bike fitness.
Now all we have to do was get a good route we could ride for the extended second leg.