Over the years the IBA Germany Rally has developed into much more than a ride round Germany so we were looking forward to some exciting challenges ahead. We weren’t to be disappointed. This year was somewhat different as Gerhard and Frank, the usual IBA Germany Rallymasters, were to be joined by Homer Krout, an American living in Germany, who had organised the very first long distance European Roadrunner rallies in Germany in 2001-3.
After the ride down to Rally HQ and starting place, this year at Bertl’s Harley Davidson in Bamberg, we met the rally team for a rather different technical inspection. In addition to the normal documents, lights, brakes, tyres etc. checks we also had to show a plethora of other essential rally items such as a torch, first aid kit, sunglasses(!), tools, bottle of water. As there were two of us we had two of everything except the bonus points gained for having the items. Luckily we had everything required and didn’t lose any points. A quick dash up the motorway for the odometer check was soon completed then we queued to have our starting photo taken and to pick up the bonus book. There was a change in process this year – as soon as all the preliminary activities had been completed the rally book (and what a nicely presented rally book it was too) was made available which meant planning could commence; very civilised. Some riders were already feverishly planning on the benches outside Rally HQ. Rally locations were as far apart as the Czech Republic, Slovenia and the German coast.
We were given our rally flag and number, 43, which seemed familiar. Then we realised it was the same as our Iron Butt Rally number. Was that to be a good omen? Only time would tell.
We checked into the rally hotel which was about 10 minutes’ ride away at the Hotel Garni, set out the PCs ready for route planning and had a quick scan of the rally book which we annotated to denote things we wanted clarification of. The waypoints really were all over the place and included lots of mountain passes. Before we’d even started looking at the points distribution we knew where we wanted to go as we both love mountains and riding the tiny roads across them. The only thing that might have changed our minds was if the passes proved to be valueless and even then we might still have planned to ride them as we do this to have fun and what could be more fun that spending hours in the mountains?
We rode back to Rally HQ for the riders’ meeting where Gerhard and Frank went through some of the rules and any reminders. Most of the riders, as you might imagine, were German but there are increasingly more and more English speakers participating so Gerhard speaks in German then Frank translates for us. We always enjoy watching Gerhard who gets very animated at times and speaks very quickly with lots of gestures. “German blah blah blah blah blah blah….blah” sometimes for quite a long time. Then Frank will translate by saying something like “Watch out for animals”. It shows how much longer German is than English!!
Then we were off to start our route planning. Kevin found a good southern route that took in most of the passes. We were delighted to see that a combination bonus was available for them – if you managed to get photos of 7 passes an extra 1200 points per pass was added to your score. For us it was a no-brainer, all we needed to do was see what other bonuses were nearby.
Having the bonus book early was a great idea and I’m sure it adds to the safety of the riders. A lot of people had already finished their planning by about 20:30 as evidenced by their attendance at the Chinese restaurant next door to the hotel (we had take-away). Our plan was finished by about 22:30 but Kevin wanted to just double check whether one of the other routes had more points (it would have had to be a lot more to drag us away from the passes). Luckily by just after 23:00 he declared for the Passes route and we were able to get to bed for a relatively good night’s sleep.
Rally day always starts early and this was no exception. The hotel had gone the extra mile for us and set out a great continental breakfast at 06:00 for anyone wanting to eat and the dining room was full. Roland came down looking more asleep than awake and said his room mate (who shall remain nameless) had kept him awake all night snoring. Considering they are best mates and have known each other for 20 odd years, you’d think he’d have known by now!
At last we were outside Bertl’s with 42 other riders raring to go. A last minute minor rule change to prevent any hanky-panky with the very local bonuses followed by words of encouragement completed the preliminaries and we were ready. Well, most of us were ready. Dave had not noticed the combination bonus for a set of transformers on his route was, like the passes, also extra points per bonus and he was feverishly re-planning to take advantage of that.
Our first stop was about 3.5 hours away. That’s a long time to go without getting any points but we made the decision that in order to make the most of the mountain passes in daylight we needed to just get a move on and get down to them. Once down there the bonuses would come thick and fast. It was rather a fresh morning and I was pleased I had put my electric jacket on. I was also suffering from a cold and nasty cough and we very quickly took it as read that I’d said “Excuse me” and Kevin had said “Bless you”. I think this was the quietest rally I’ve ever been on as it was too painful to talk very much and when I did talk it was frustrating for Kevin as all he could hear was a low growl.
It was quite foggy on the autobahn and the volume of traffic surprised us considering how early it was on a Saturday.
Our first stop was off the motorway up a very narrow track for the Schaustadel Nature park and its unusual sign. We pulled up in front of the sign blocking a tiny road momentarily. Quick jump off to hold the flag and get the photo. Oops! There’s a car stopped behind, presumably wanting to come up the lane. Kevin moved the bike and I waved at the driver who just drove on along the regular road. I think he’d stopped to see if we were OK which was nice of him.
Our next waypoint was about an hour and a half away but at least we’d got our first one. The next set of points were for a receipt from the Tauerntunnel which meant I didn’t have to get off the bike – excellent.
The weather was a bit up-and-down, sometimes quite foggy and at other times brilliant sunshine. At least as the day woke up it got a bit warmer. As we approached the mountains we were treated to some lovely sights; some of the mountains were bathed in low-lying clouds and we only got glimpses of the summits.
By 13:44 we were in Austria (remembering to buy the vignette for the motorway; I ended up buying a car one as the petrol station had run out of the bike version) and our first pass – the Katschberghöhe pass at 1641m. This beautiful alpine area was clearly a ski resort in the winter but was relatively empty and peaceful now. We soon found the sign and prepared to have our picture taken. As a pillion the rule is that I have to be in every photograph together with the flag. At the passes the rider, Kevin, had to be in the picture as well to get the bonus points. Luckily there was a handy pole in front of the sign and Kevin was able to plant the camera with the Gorillapod, set the timer and run round. Click! 1050 points in the bag – or 2250 if we get another 6 passes. About an hour later and pass number 2, the Wurzenpass, also in Austria, was successfully in the camera.
When we plan our routes we like to have bail-out options where we can miss out bonuses if we’re running late. We also have ‘bail-in’ options in case we have extra time. We very rarely manage these but today we were lucky – we had another couple of extra bonuses, the first was a beautiful little Russian chapel in Slovenia. Unfortunately you had to have the flag over the railings for the photograph which meant a steep climb up lots of steps. I was puffing like a steam train when I got there. (I blame the cold!). I tried to have a look inside but it was locked.
We then carried on up the road to the Vršič Pass, through the Julian Alps. The road was built to carry supplies in the first World War and was renamed in 2006 to Ruska Cesta (‘Russia’s Path’) to honour the Russian prisoners of war who were forced to build it. What a fantastic road. It weaves its way up through a series of 24 hair pin bends. Some bright spark has replaced the original road surface with cobbles on each of the hair pins, presumably to slow people down. Luckily for us it was a dry day but nevertheless the cobbles proved an interesting addition to the already challenging road. Once at the top we took the obligatory photo and then turned round and retraced our steps through all 24 bends. The scenery was just as spectacular on the way down, so I wasn’t complaining.
Our European tour continued with a short hop into Italy to photograph a cannon which was pointing out over a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. I wondered why it had been positioned there. As we rode round the lake we realised – we’d just passed into Slovenia again. What must it have been like years ago to live on the Slovenian side of the lake knowing that a large gun was pointed at you, or wondering what it was like ‘in the free world’.
We found the Predel pass sign but it didn’t look the same as the photo in the rally book. We snapped it anyway in case it had replaced the ‘right’ one. Just over the pass, through a deserted border post, we found the sign we were looking for. One had been on the Italian side, the other the Slovenian.
Our next waypoint was for a whopping 5,000 points. It was timed – we had to be there by 18:00 to gain entry to the road and had been warned to get there by 17:00 as the man on the gate often doesn’t let people go up if he thinks it’s too late. We were there just before 17:00 and had no problems with the gatekeeper. The instructions were to get a receipt (done), then ride to the top and take two photos of signposts. The road is very narrow and worn out and as we got higher the weather turned from lovely sunshine to cold mist. We spotted the sign and Kevin turned the bike round to park. It nearly blew over it was so windy! I managed to keep hold of the flag for the first photo, then had to climb up a small hill to get the next photo. Kevin tells me I just had to wander up a short grassy slope but it felt quite challenging to me, especially when I tried to hold the rally flag in the wind so the number was visible. Once that was done we had to retrace our steps down the road again. I think the road was originally there for a lead mine but can’t be sure as everything in the leaflet was in Slovenian and we weren’t really sure why we had to pay to ride it; presumably it is privately owned.
Slovenia was really lovely. We had been there before in 2008 but it was only a flying visit. Definitely somewhere to come back to, especially now we know there are some lovely mountain passes to ride.
As we found our way to a couple of sad little war memorials in the middle of nowhere it was turning to dusk. They were not worth a lot of points individually but a lot more as a combination.
The first one was at a site which had been devastated by an earthquake in 1976 and was just at the edge of the tiny road. It was obviously not forgotten though as attested by fresh flowers, a burning oil lamp and a car parked in front of it. The second was in the middle of a tiny village on top of a mountain. Regardless of the points, we were glad we made the effort to visit them.
Gerhard had warned us about the next two bonuses – Garmin mapping will take an 80km route to get between them when there is a more direct route of 15km. We soon discovered why when we we followed the narrow, very rocky, road that was apparently closed. There was a sign and a barrier at the start of the road. The barrier was only halfway across the road so it obviously didn’t apply to bikes and the sign was in Italian which we can’t read so it obviously didn’t apply to us! The bike was keen so we found ourselves riding through a very dark and foggy, narrow, slippery and gravelly road to find a memorial for a gentleman called Guido Franz who had perished on the road. Having photographed that we continued to the Sella Carnizza Pass for more points.
The next place we were looking for was a plaque depicting a scissor grinder on a bicycle. We’re not sure who or what it was commemorating. It was in a small Italian village and was so big we rode straight past it! The man outside the bar looked a bit bemused at us and I wondered how many other lunatics on bikes had been there today already.
We now only had three more passes to do and I was glad that we had nearly finished them as I was concerned about what they would be like in the dark. As it turned out the roads were well-defined with reflectors on both sides and good white lines so it was easy to spot the hairpins. At Mauria pass we arrived just as another rider – Michiel – was about to leave. We always seem to bump into Michiel at least once during a rally and we have a standing joke that neither of us has any original route ideas. He was the only rider we saw during our rally and we didn’t see him again until the finish.
The last two passes, San Antonio and the Monte Croce (or Kreuzbergpass) were both deserted and by the time we’d finished them we were looking forward to getting back to more normal roads so we could make up some time. The next stop was to photograph a bizarre sculpture of a painter called Paul Troger that was in the middle of a roundabout. By now we were beginning to get low on fuel and wanted to make sure we had a full tank to go through the night with. Unfortunately the closed garages with their automated petrol pumps didn’t seem to like foreign credit cards (it was just like being in the USA!) and eventually we had to resort to putting my emergency cash into a machine to get some petrol.
To complete the rally you must take at least a one hour rest break. This will earn you 10000 points and has to start between 23:00 and 02:00. We spotted a service station that looked open and stopped for something to eat, drink and if possible 40 winks. We weren’t really sure which country we were in. We had spent the last few hours in the Italian Dolomites but the next stop we were heading for sounded like it was in Germany – Brenner – and the signs looked more German than Italian. The lady in the services told me we were still in Italy and Brenner, which was just up the road, was in Austria. So that was sorted! Neither of us managed to get to sleep – Kevin was more bone weary than sleepy and I couldn’t breathe properly, so we just sat and rested. I think having a really good night’s sleep the previous night instead of being up half the night planning helped.
We were now on page two of our plan and the end was in sight.
Brenner was indeed the next town along and we had to photograph a landmark. Just as we turned off the roundabout into what looked like a pedestrian precinct I spotted it out of the corner of my eye. It was right on the roundabout so we didn’t waste any time walking round. We then headed for Innsbruck and a statue of a really thin Olympic swimmer. The town was lively (unlike all of the towns in Italy we’d been through where we hadn’t seen anyone wandering about) and looked like it had some lovely old buildings. We quickly found the statue and snapped it. One more statue to go. This was in the little Bavarian town of Rottach-Egern and we parked next to a small park with several statues hidden amongst the trees. We had to wander around a bit before finding the correct one and it was a bit of a challenge to get both of us in the picture as it was so dark and we couldn’t use the bike’s lights. It was soon done and we were on our way to Munich and an appointment with a pub.
Regular readers will know our navigation in towns can be a bit suspect but we did find the Hofbrauhaus we had to photograph – ‘the logo HB must be clearly seen in the picture’. There it was. Except it was the back of the building but we took a picture anyway just in case. A bit further along the front had a much more impressive HB logo which we also captured. Unfortunately we were unable to get the 2nd bonus which was to be a photo inside as it was now closed and the cleaners were in. If the inside was anything like the mess outside I didn’t envy them that job. The streets were filthy. Broken bottles, cigarette ends by the hundreds and lots and lots of litter. Not at all what you’d expect in Germany. There was a small army of people sweeping it all up and I’ve no doubt that by the time daylight came it would be pristine again and the large number of very ‘happy’ people, many of the males in lederhosen, would be feeling a bit worse for wear.
By now it was about 05:00 and we had three hours to get back to Rally HQ; one minute late and we were DNF. We had one more bonus to locate and that was ‘a little way’ off the motorway. Actually it was probably about 50 miles of unlit regular road (instead of Autobahn) and definitely slowed us down. Just as we were nearly there Kevin said if he’d realised how far away from the autobahn it was he’d he’d have dropped this bonus worth 2830 points in favour of the combination bonus in Bamberg for 5510 points. We’d planned to do that if we had time at the end. We wouldn’t now have the time but it was a bit late to be having that thought so we carried on to what would be our last but one bonus, the Wülzburg fortress. We approached it up a quiet, open, street and as the instructions were to take a photo of one of the entrances Kevin rode right up to one. As he was planning the photo a ginger and white cat came nosing round, presumably the watch-cat.
We then had about 50 miles to go to get back to Rally HQ, which we did in quite a leisurely manner as the traffic was light and the day had just woken up with a lovely pink sky. Our final bonus was going to be a photo of the bike with the flag and rally book in front of Bertl’s HD shop.
Photo taken, 23.5 hours after we had left and with half an hour to spare we parked alongside another 20 bikes or so that had already finished. Homer came over to congratulate us and take our final odometer reading.
All that was required now was to get the paperwork in. The usual transcribing what we’d planned against what we’d done, making sure the times, odo readings and points claimed were correct. Any errors on one of these lines would result in a penalty or, if the error was severe enough, all points for that bonus lost. If we omitted to claim for anything that would also be lost as there are no second chances once you are in front of the adjudicators and no nipping out to get something you forgot.
It was cold as the main work area was one of Bertl’s workshops, with a large garage-door opening, and we were already freezing from the ride back as the alternator on the bike is not able to provide enough power for the auxiliary lights and heat. On the dark small roads we obviously needed the lights but we were able to have some heat once back on the Autobahn. Gerhard had laid on a lovely breakfast for us all and we gratefully sat down to have something to eat and drink, catching up with our friends as they arrived. Everyone had a story to tell but they had to wait until we’d all finished the score sheets.
We had an anxious few minutes as two of Gerhard’s team looked over our photos. Was that the same as their control photo? Yes. Are the receipts for the rest bonus correct? Yes. Was that really the receipt from the private road ? Yes, that’s all they gave us. Finally we were were through and had lost no points. Result!
Then the wait while everyone’s scores are verified then collated and the certificates prepared. Finally, as promised, before 12 Gerhard called us all together to announce the scores.
Had our ‘lucky’ 43 been lucky this time?
Several riders had ridden as teams and there had been three DNFs so the first person called was 33rd. Gradually the position numbers came down. Most of what Gerhard was saying went over our heads as it was in German. We caught the odd word and numbers. We knew what our score had been but couldn’t tell what the scores were as they were announced. Several of our English friends were called. Roland was delighted to have improved his position from last year by 5 places. Ray was happy to have beaten Roland by 100 points. Phil was glad that his bike, which hadn’t wanted to start yesterday because of a flat battery, had pulled him through. Michiel had lost a lot of points by not including himself in some of his photos at the passes but still managed 11th…Top 10…Dave was very happy with his re-planning at the start as he came 8th…Now, top 5.
I should explain here that this is our 4th German rally and on each of the previous occasions we’ve come 4th. It’s become a bit of a tradition, so much so that one of the German lads asked me “Are you here for 4th place again?”.
So Gerhard was calling 4th place. He said something about English…was that us? AGAIN?!!
No, it was John, this time on his Triumph Explorer rather than an old bike.
We were called up, the top three places…
Third went to….
Johannes, a German on a Honda XBR500 which he’d obviously ridden very well.
We were now standing there with Robert, our friend on the European ‘team’ in the Iron Butt Rally. If his bike keeps going he’s very difficult to beat. Gerhard said “There’s 7,000 points difference between 2nd and 1st.”. We immediately knew Robert had won as we didn’t have that many points.
We were delighted with our second place. It was a good consolation after our disastrous 2nd leg in the IBR and we were very pleased for Robert whose bike had let him down in America. All round a great result!
So that was it for another year. We were tired but very happy and looking forward to some sleep and then some good company back at the Chinese that evening. No take-away for us tonight. As usual, many thanks to Gerhard, Frank, Homer and the rest of the team for a great rally.
Click here for our rally photos in the order we took them.