Leg 2a: Friday to Sunday
04:00 is not a particularly good time to start doing anything that involves a lot of thinking but the rallyists are expected to, it’s part of the challenge. We’d already experienced snow and Kevin said there was no way he was going further north with me on the back. We looked at the other alternative to Kennewick but it involved an absolute minimum of 5600 miles and we weren’t prepared to risk it (braver participants did, including the winner who also came back to Kennewick which was very clever). Decision made then, we’d circle back to Kennewick before starting Leg 2b.
While Kevin was running the waypoints through ezBake and into Basecamp I started to review the book. There were two rest and call-in bonuses available, each on specific days, and it soon became apparent that the key to a good result was choosing (and riding) a great combination bonus. The main theme seemed to be rivers. Mississippi, Missouri, Columbia, California rivers etc. and we worked out whether we could/should do any of these. Most of them looked like they would be leg 2b and we had leg 2a to work on first.
A Bit of a Wobble
It took a long time for Kevin to work out a route he was happy with whilst I tidied our room and packed. He was trying to ensure we included the Lost Coast as we’d been there before on the recommendation of Tom Loftus, a friend we sadly lost earlier in the year to cancer. It seemed right and proper that we went there during this rally. After a lot of trying he eventually gave up on the Lost Coast idea as he couldn’t make a route work that had the number of points he was happy with; we were sure Tom would have understood. Quite a few of the supplied waypoints were some distance from where we actually needed to be take the photo so we added waypoints that were in the correct location.
When he finally shared the route with me I declared “I’m not doing that!”. The last section of the route, back to Kennewick, seemed to involve a long drag through the Nevada desert. Neither of us do very well in the heat and I just couldn’t face it. He tried several times to create another route that scored as highly as the one he’d presented before giving up and trying to convince me the original route was rideable. After a lot of discussion I was eventually persuaded when Kevin told me that even if it was desert we’d be riding it at night. Kevin has always said we both have to be happy with the route before we ride it but this was the first time he’d experienced a mutiny!
One of the biggest points on our route was a photo with Jerry White (who we met in 2017) at Alice’s Restaurant, in Woodside, CA. We’d been there before, with Don back in 2013, and really liked the roads around there so we were looking forward to it.
We’d been planning and discussing for so long we were quite convinced we’d be the last to leave and were pleasantly surprised to still see some bikes in the car park. The only good thing about leaving so late was that Target was now open which would allow us to resolve the second of our packing errors. When we’d opened the packet of AAA lithium batteries to replace those in the Spot unit we found we’d packed AAs by mistake and they wouldn’t fit. New batteries purchased we were finally on our way.
On the Road Again (at last!)
Our first bonus was at Smith Rocks State Park which is apparently the the birthplace of modern American sport climbing so you can imagine how breathtaking the scenery is. It was a low scoring waypoint but on the route so worth doing. We made a mistake on entering the park by stopping in the first car park we came to (the instructions were from the parking area walk northwest) then trying to find the Wall of Flame memorial we needed to photograph. No-one we asked knew where it was so we stopped in the next car park near to an information booth which proved to be closed. No-one there knew where it was either and we were ready to give up on this as we were spending lots of time in a chase for not many points. We then had a light bulb moment and went to the waypoint location. Sure enough, there it was. Quite why we didn’t do that in the first place we have no idea.
As we pulled up at the correct place there were several people standing by what I hoped was the correct memorial so I suggested to Kevin that he stay on the bike and I’d ask one of them to take the photo. The guy I asked tried three times to take the photo but failed on every occasion. I’m not at all sure why, all he had to do was push the shutter button. I was grateful when another rider appeared who I now know was Steve Gallant (the rally leader after Leg 1) and he was happy to take the photo for me. Thanks Steve!
Our next scheduled stop was Crater Lake, a timed bonus that needed to be taken before 17:00. Unfortunately it had taken so long to persuade me the route was OK we were going to be there too late to take the photo so we had to skip that one.
OK, on to the Lake Siskiyou Trail sign at the Sacramento River Headwater near Mt. Shasta then as all that required was daylight.
A Much Bigger Wobble
We’d been riding for what seemed like hours on a very straight and boring US-97 when the front of the bike started vibrating. “Look at this” Kevin said, showing me the handlebars and screen shaking “I hate the way these American roads are combed”. That was no sooner out of his mouth when the back-end started slaloming violently from side to side. We were using all of our lane and some of the opposing lane as Kevin tried to keep the bike upright. We were very lucky there was no traffic around us. Luckily he has some off-road training and I think it must have kicked in as I’ve idea how he stopped us being thrown down the road. I sat as still as I possibly could given how the bike was behaving as I didn’t want to make things worse. We’d slowed and were close to the edge on our side of the road when I said “Well done!” to which he replied “We’re not out of the woods until we’ve stopped”. Finally this was achieved and I sat on the back shaking. It had taken a long time to stop as we’d been doing just over 70mph when the incident started and while Kevin suspected it was a rear puncture he wasn’t sure and didn’t want to brake in case that made things worse, he was just gently closing the throttle. I hopped off and was aghast when I saw the back wheel – there was a large chunk missing out of the rim. We assumed the tyre had punctured and the deflation had damaged the wheel.
Somewhat ironically Kevin had removed the Garmin TPMS (Tyre Pressure Monitor System) valve tops in the hotel before the rally and replaced them with normal valve caps. Before taking them off the GPS was constantly saying it had lost the connection with the rear sensor and complaining the front sensor had a flat battery (it had just been replaced with a new one). Those warning messages were covering up other messages and he didn’t want the distraction. I don’t think it would have made a difference though as it all happened so quickly.
The edge of the road was sloping such that the bike wouldn’t stand on the side stand so we unloaded the panniers which raised the bike enough for it to be put on the stand. I pulled out my phone ready to call for assistance but we had no signal. When I told Kevin this we both started laughing. I suspect that was a combination of relief that we hadn’t crashed coupled with the ridiculous situation we now found ourselves in – miles from anywhere and no way of calling for help. Lorries were thundering down the two-lane road and taking last minute avoidance action to make sure they didn’t hit the bike which was on the side of the road. We took it in turns to stand upwind from the bike making signals to oncoming drivers to move over; it didn’t feel very safe.
Occasionally our phones would show a weak signal as a stray electron passed by and I’d tried several times to talk to the police but was cut off early in the conversation every time. Memo to self: Next time we buy SIMs for our phones when abroad get one from two different providers rather than two from the same company, AT&T on this occasion. In the absence of any other solution Kevin hit the ‘Need assistance’ button on our Spot device and composed a text to Lisa explaining we’d broken down in a dangerous position, gave details of exactly where we were and asked if she’d call the police for us. Texts will often get through in poor signal areas when calls won’t. Before he’d even finished composing the text we received one from Lisa asking if we needed help. She’d obviously seen the ‘Need assistance’ ping on Spotwalla and had responded. We were very impressed. The text Kevin sent shortly afterwards was a bit garbled because of an editing error but he couldn’t correct it because the signal then disappeared altogether.
A lovely guy stopped on his BMW and when he saw the wheel said “That Sucks!” which summed it up quite nicely. He too had no signal but was reasonably local and knew there was a ranger station further along the road. Promising to stop there and alert the police to our predicament he surprised us by coming back a short while later to tell us he had done so. That really was very good of him. Another kind stranger.
The garbled message to Lisa was obviously enough as when the next electron passed us by it carried a message from her saying the state police were on their way. Thank you Lisa. Kevin cancelled the Spot’s ‘Need assistance’ signal.
Danny Dossman stopped to check we were OK. We thanked him, told him we were fine then sent him on his way as he had a rally to run and there was nothing he could do to help us.
Patrick, a State Trooper, appeared a short while later. He parked upwind of us with his blue lights on so traffic now had better warning of the bike on the roadside. We were very pleased to see him and he told us several people had called in to tell them we were on the side of the road. He asked if we had breakdown cover and we had but when we last called them, in 2017 when broken down on an interstate, they’d refused to come out as our position was too dangerous. This would definitely count as a dangerous position so we suggested Patrick called someone local instead. He did so and while we waited we discovered he too was a motorcyclist, as was his wife, so we found lots to chat about. A truck from Chi Town Towing eventually appeared and the bike was loaded.
Another rally rider appeared just after the bike had been loaded and came over to check we were OK. At the end of the rally his wife said she’d been watching the spots and had seen ours go red. As her husband was on the same road she contacted him to warn him to look out for us. We don’t know your names but thank you, we really appreciated that. Even though everyone has their own rally to ride people are always willing to help if they can, this really is a great community.
The tow truck took us to the local casino hotel in nearby Chiloquin, OR, which was rather expensive at $200 a night but we were just grateful to be in one piece and to have a bed to sleep in. We checked in for two nights as we knew we couldn’t move before midday tomorrow at the earliest and that was just to the local dealer in Klammath Falls, about 30 miles away. The bike spent the night on the back of the truck in the tow company’s yard and we were told they would be available at midday the next day to take us to the dealer.
We suspected we were now out of the rally as it was a Friday night and we needed a new wheel before we could continue. We didn’t see any way we could get back to Kennewick by Sunday evening. Nevertheless, the following day was the day the rest bonus could be claimed so we got a receipt in the casino ready to claim that bonus starting at 00:01.
The casino culture in the US is quite prevalent and you see them all over the place. One time we stopped for petrol in an out-of-the-way services and there was a casino in the back of the garage! They are not the glamorous places you see in the movies with roulette wheels and posh frocks, more like sea-side arcades full of slot machines. We really don’t like them, not because we have anything against gambling but they just seem to be such tacky, sad places. Kevin remembers being in one near New London, CT, where an old lady was sitting in front of a slot machine with her oxygen bottle on an adjacent chair just feeding the machine coin after coin like an automaton. The company he worked for had arranged a meeting there as some sort of ‘treat’.
I went back into the casino just after 08:00 to get a receipt to close off the rest bonus and there were already, or still, people sitting there working the machines. After closing our rest bonus I made the call-in to pick up some more points.
OK, How Do We Fix This?
We started working the phone and the net to see if there was any way we could get going again. Kevin contacted Eric Vaillancourt to see if he’d mind putting a message on the US Super Ténéré forum to see if there was anyone nearby who would let us buy/borrow or steal a wheel (OK, not steal!). On the assumption we could get rolling again we were still under the IBR’s social networking embargo so couldn’t post that message ourselves. Eric had been very helpful in 2017 when we’d broken down on leg two and was instrumental in getting us going again then (what is it about leg 2?!). John Harrison was also putting out feelers and we saw his message being propagated by Raven on a couple of forums and maybe others did that too. Thank you all.
Eric said the wheel was extruded aluminium and there was a possibility it could be welded. It wouldn’t be pretty but we weren’t bothered by how it looked as long as it worked. Kevin suspected the wheel was too badly damaged for that but any avenue was worth exploring so we started calling local welders.
At 09:00 when they were due to open I contacted the local dealer, Tread & Track Motorsports, explained the problem to Taylor in spares and Brian and arranged for them to look at the bike. Brian knew a welder so we gave the welder a call as well, arranging to meet him in Klammath Falls. We then called the tow company and asked them to pick us up on the way to the dealer. Phew! Time for some breakfast.
Our recovery driver was a lovely young man with a passion for fishing. He loved his job and he loved where he lives as there are lakes a-plenty. He was about to undertake a weekend trip to Las Vegas with his mates. First time he’d flown and he was looking forward to it, if there was any place he could fish. He had an ambition to visit Hawaii and Kevin asked him what he’d do if he got there. “Fish” he replied. It’s a rare and really pleasurable experience to talk to someone who is so content with their life and the simple pleasures that nature can offer.
It wasn’t good news at the dealer. The wheel couldn’t be welded because it was so badly damaged and it needed a new rim. Once Brian had checked the spares situation he told us there were none in the country and arranging for one to be shipped in from Japan would mean being off the road until Tuesday at the earliest.
We explained we were in the IBR and were desperate to get moving again, was there anything else he could think of? They didn’t have a Ténéré in stock we could try to persuade them to let us buy the wheel from and had only ever sold one of them. Perhaps another dealer would have an S10? Brian had never heard of the Iron Butt Rally but he could see it was really important to us so he started to see what he could do.
According to their web site, Water World Boat & Powersport in nearby Medford had a Ténéré in stock so Brian called them and explained the situation to see if they’d sell us the rear wheel. The guy he spoke to was pretty sure they wouldn’t but he said he’d check with the manager and get back to us. I may be maligning him but as far as I know he didn’t. To be fair, it’s a big ask to request they take a wheel off a brand new bike and sell it to someone who is just passing through.
Brian searched eBay but drew a blank. He then clarified with us how much we wanted to get going again. If he could find someone who would be willing to let us have his rear wheel would we be happy to replace it which would be very expensive? He told us how much it would be and we said absolutely we would. It was very expensive but this was the IBR! He then called someone who brought his S10 in for servicing and the guy they’d sold the S10 to. Both were out so he left messages.
Whilst we were sitting there Kevin received a text from Eric James (remember we met him at the start?) checking to see what our situation was. He then posted about our predicament on a Facebook page designed for motorcyclists in North America who needed assistance in case anyone there could help. He also mentioned an IBR-ready Goldwing the owner might be able to lend us so we could finish the rally. We later got another text in from him saying ‘call this number’. There was no explanation why but I did. The guy at the other end of the phone, Larry, said “Put me onto the dealer and I’ll pay for a rim for you”. What a lovely kind gesture. I had to decline his offer because there was no availability and that was what was causing the hold up. This is a typical example of the wonderful community spirit the IBR invokes. I came off the phone and there were literally tears running down my face, I was so overwhelmed with the kindness from this stranger. You know who you are, thank you and thank you to Eric J and Eric V for trying to help.
One of the S10 owners called back. He was 60 miles away but was willing to let us have his wheel. Result! Whilst I was on the phone to him discussing arrangements the other phone rang and it was the local S10 owner. He was also happy to let us have his wheel. Suddenly we’d gone from no wheel to two. Thank you other S10 owner, but your bike is safe today.
Matt Balkwell, the local S10 owner (who had heard of the IBR) rode in on a 2 wheel Super Ténéré and got a lift home from his wife having left his one-wheeled bike in the service area. Thanks Matt! And thanks to Brian in Tread and Track for making it happen, you went above and beyond anything we could have asked of you. We were sure we were DNF so the three of you really did save our rally.
Kevin looked at the Tourance tyre on the replacement wheel and was a bit concerned that it wouldn’t last the 5k or so miles we had left to do so checked with Brian who thought it would be OK. Brian must have had second thoughts as he said to me later that we should keep an eye on it. Kevin said he’d have asked for the tyre to be replaced if he’d known that but we have no idea if they had a tyre of the correct size in stock.
Just before leaving Kevin asked Brian if they could have a look at the rear tyre on our wheel to see what had caused the puncture. He was shocked when the only damage to the tyre proved to be where the rim had disintegrated. It wasn’t the puncture that caused the rim to fail, it was the rim failing that had caused the sudden deflation and subsequent damage to the tyre.
Thanks to Sheena for letting our Facebook contacts know what was going on.
Back On the Road
The bike was now in a rideable condition. Kevin had said to me that if we got going again we were definitely going to the Lost Coast. We got back to the hotel, quickly planned a route and left as soon as we could, just over 24 hours after we broke down. We went back to where the breakdown occurred as per rally rules, turned round and headed off to our next waypoint.
Before the rally we were asked: “What do you think you will be most concerned about on Day 7 of the 2019 IBR?”. Getting some sleep and getting back to the checkpoint hotel in time was our answer. Little did we know that our biggest concern on day seven would be whether we’d get enough points to qualify as finishers having lost so much time.
We had a couple of hours ride to the Sacramento River Headwater bonus which wasn’t worth a lot of points but it was on our way and got us started again. The scenery was breathtaking in its sheer size. We were flanked either side by snow-clad mountains which never seemed to get any bigger. Mother Earth had certainly had fun creating this place. By the time we got to the bonus it was getting towards evening so we had the usual concern to ensure the photo showed it was still daylight.
We continued and found ourselves in some very small, back-water roads on our way to the Forks of Salmon Post office, perhaps one of the most remote post offices in the US. The only focus you have is the white light in front hoping that you don’t see deer, or other creatures. At one point a very slow animal wandered across in front of us, we’re not sure what it was. To either side it is pitch black. It could be forest, water, cliffs, anything. Only your imagination can fill in the space. Above is the clearest black sky I have seen with pin point stars and the moon, which over the course of the rally transitioned from a bright full one to a tiny crescent.
A Bit of a Fuel Crisis
Suddenly Kevin said “I don’t think we have enough petrol to make it. We’re going to have to turn round as the nearest petrol station is about 20 miles behind us.”. “Really?!” I replied. As we became more and more remote he’d checked to see where we could get fuel as we were going to be pretty much empty by the time we arrived at the waypoint; we hadn’t passed a petrol station for a very long time. Anything that was reachable was behind us, way off the route we’d come in on. He checked again once we’d stopped and it really was the case so turn around we did. The next question was whether that petrol station would be open.
At the junction with CA-3 was the small community of Callahan. None of the shops were open at that time of night so we resolved to knock on someone’s door and ask about the nearest available fuel. We pulled up at a gate and a dog was barking. I got off and walked towards the gate where I saw a little boy running towards me quickly followed by a couple of adults. It’s always me who does this sort of thing as we think I will be seen as less of a threat. Kevin has the bike on its stand so he can get off it quickly if necessary. Conscious that many Americans have guns I lift my helmet front and engage my biggest smile. Perhaps we’re over-reacting but better safe than sorry. I apologised for disturbing them, said that we needed fuel and wanted to check where the nearest open gas station was. They explained where it was, the same one as our GPS was telling us about, and said it should be open until 22:00. They had some petrol which they offered us but it was only about a gallon. We weren’t desperate yet so declined their offer but it was a kind gesture.
It was always going to be tight getting there by 22:00 and the petrol station had just closed when we arrived. As we find in most places, the automated pumps would not take our cards as we don’t have a US zip code. Fortunately the ladies were still on-site and opened up so again we could fill up. I’m not sure how many times I’m going to say this but once again we had someone to be thankful to.
The Long and Winding Roads
Back on a different route to the post office we wiggled and jiggled for about 40 miles along Sawyers Bar Road to bag those points. The road was tiny, pitch black, very narrow and steep in places with long drop-offs to the side. Kevin loved it but then he’s a bit weird! I wasn’t at all sure. Like Yaak, I’d have enjoyed it in daylight but not so much at night. We passed a couple of large holes where the road had been washed out down the steep gully and a couple of bikes coming in the opposite direction as we got nearer the post office. We don’t know who they were but they must have been other rally riders as no-one else in their right minds would have been down there on bikes at that time of night.
Photo taken we exited in the opposite direction where we went through the Forks of Salmon village and the road got a bit wider, a kinder road to finish with.
We were short of time but Kevin needed a break so we stopped at the Bigfoot Motel in the charmingly named Willow Creek. As we rode round the car park looking for the entrance a man approached us (bearing in mind this is now 01:30) and said “He won’t open up at this time of night”. Not one to be put off I saw the ‘ring the bell after hours’ sign and did as instructed. In less than a minute a light was on and the motel manager appeared. He was a bit grumpy to start with, trying to see what the other guy was up to. Apparently it’s not the first time he’s tried to put people off. He did have a room and offered me cookies – it didn’t faze him that two dishevelled foreign motorcyclists had disturbed him in the middle of the night. Two and a half hours after pulling into the car park we were back on the road heading for the Lost Coast.
The road to the Lost Coast was pretty much as we remembered, a bit of a bumpy old track. The six years since we’d been there have not been kind to it and there are various places where temporary fixes now have gravel sections right across the road which can be quite hazardous, especially on steep inclines. The scenery though was just as stunning as I remembered. Once we reached the shore the road was much improved.
As we started out Kevin was delighted to spot what he thinks was a large stag with a full complement of antlers. It was on the side of the road but melted back into the trees when he saw us and before I was able to see or photograph it. The one that got away.
Anyone who knows me will confirm that I am not a morning person. I don’t like rising early but during the rally I have to be up at all sorts of ungodly hours. It’s usually dark when we get moving again after a sleep break and we are treated to witnessing the day waking up. People often ask why we do this and, apart from the challenge, it is moments like experiencing the early mornings which can’t be bought that make it all worthwhile – seeing the sun emerging over stunning scenery, whether it’s mountains, plains or water is just special. We’re quite often the only vehicle on the roads and we both cherish the peace. It’s lovely rallying as a 2-up couple; what could be better than sharing these moments with the person you love?
Passing through the community of Petrolia we turned right into what became a gravel road full of pot holes that would take us to the Mattole Point sign we needed to photograph. We hadn’t been down this bit before.
When we arrived I was dying for a wee (all those bumps). There was a handy JCB parked by the side of the road I could hide behind and I’d just got there when I heard Kevin beeping the horn. He’d done a quick recce on the bike, found some public toilets and hoped I’d get the message. I was relieved in more ways than one!
We took a few minutes in the peace and quiet of Mattole Point to think about family and friends we’d lost then we were on our way. Funny how it always seems quicker to get out of a place than it does to get in. Perhaps it’s because we’re familiar with the road having just ridden it.
Back to Kennewick
We’d planned one more bonus before returning to the Kennewick hotel, a fish hatchery in the Cascades Lock Area, but hadn’t had much sleep since getting back on the move and Kevin was struggling a bit so we decided to give that one a miss. We’d take a steady ride straight back to the hotel with frequent stops for resting. Safety first.
We arrived at the Kennewick hotel with plenty of time to spare. The checkpoint was full of feverish activity as people were changing tyres and doing other maintenance. Matt Watkins (who had lent us the GPS) and crew were busy helping rally participants. We’d run a pair of Anakee 3s through the entire rally in 2017 which still had tread to spare at the end (and some porcupine quills!) so hadn’t planned any tyre changes. John Harrison popped over to say hello and reiterated Brian’s advice to watch the tyre. We’d never ridden Tourances before but John had and he said once they start to go they go very quickly. Kevin had a quick word with Matt to see if anything had come off someone else’s bike that would fit and might be better but there was nothing available. We grabbed some food, completed our planned route for the rest of the rally (a plan we’d started while waiting for the tow truck to take us to Klammath Falls) and went to sleep ready for an early start the following morning.
We’d ridden 1524 miles which was a long way short of the roughly 2.5k miles we’d planned but were happy just to have made it back to Kennewick in time. We had no way to check our position because there was no scoring until the end of the rally but we knew we’d have dropped a long way down the ratings.