“Where are you going for your holiday, Lyn?”, “Europe”, “Whereabouts?”, “er…Europe!”. Apart from knowing the start of the IBA European Tour was in Stuttgart we had no idea where we might end up so I’m sorry for being vague.
Our ‘holiday’ was going to be spent participating in the first European-wide Iron Butt Rally – the IBA European Tour 2014 – which would last for five days. Because of problems with Kevin’s arm we didn’t yet know whether we’d actually be able to participate. Our plan was to ride to the start in Stuttgart, assess how his arm was then make a decision about the rally. That was the plan but anyone who knows Kevin will understand that if we made it to Stuttgart there’s no way we wouldn’t start.
The start and finish checkpoints were at the same hotel in Stuttgart with a checkpoint at a yet-to-be-disclosed location on day two. We were looking forward to some cracking riding to pursue bonus points set by Gerhard (from IBA Germany) and Chris (from IBA Ireland). With these two in charge you never know what to expect other than something interesting!
Kevin and I left home early on Friday morning arriving at the start hotel that evening which gave us all day Saturday to relax, catch up with our friends and perform the necessary rally activities such as the odometer check, starting photo etc.
As usual Gerhard and his team were the epitome of efficiency and we were starting to work out our routes late in the afternoon – a much better way of starting a rally in our opinion than receiving the books in the evening then working into the early hours.
We had 102 waypoints from which to work out a route and by around 22:30 we had one planned. Kevin had tried to plot a route based around all the mountain passes that were available as we love riding passes but the points gap to a more varied route was too large so we’d settled on a compromise, a route based on visiting the Dolomites and Rome as we’d never been to either place before. We’d had a bit of a hiccup around 21:00 when Kevin thought he’d finished then realised he’d lost about 30 waypoints when transferring them between two software packages; start again.
We had 36 hours of riding time and were allowed to start between 06:00 and 08:00 with our first leg finish time being adjusted accordingly. Our first stop was Linderhof Castle where we had to take two photos – one each of building no 9 (the Moroccan house) and building no 27 (Hundings Hut) – it didn’t open until 09.00 so we didn’t have to start bang on 06.00 but got off the start line at about 06.20.
The ride to the castle took us through Austria where we were treated to the beautiful sight of the world waking up. Some motorway was followed by glorious sweeping bends round a misty lake which felt rather familiar. We remembered we’d come this way in a previous German Butt Rally – obviously one of Gerhard’s favourite roads.
Knowing how Chris’ mind works we just knew there would be a long walk between the two buildings and when we arrived and saw the map that was confirmed.
Most of the walk felt like it was uphill although I know that’s not possible. We bumped into Robert on his way back who’d obviously had a quicker ride there than we did. By the time we’d finished we were about thirty minutes behind our schedule. Hopefully we’d be able to pick some of that back up on the passes.
As usual in Germany/Austria we managed to find a couple of road signs that had us sniggering but on the whole we were just impressed by the wonderful mountains.
The Brenner pass was an absolute nightmare – how can they allow such a strategic road to get so congested? To add insult to injury Austria charged us an 8.50 Euro toll to negotiate the miles-long traffic jam despite the fact we’d already paid for a motorway vignette (this obviously also occurred to the German guy in his car in front of us as he seemed to be having ‘words’ with the girl in the toll booth while pointing to the vignette on his windscreen). We filtered as much as we could but it still took a while to get through the pass.
We were impressed by the grandeur of the Dolomites. The roads were satisfyingly bendy and the weather kind. We were less impressed by the volume of traffic there; it’s obviously a very popular place for people to visit at the weekend.
At the Falzarego Pass I was accosted by this gentleman who was trying to get money from me, ostensibly for a drug rehabilitation program. I’m afraid he was out of luck despite telling me he lived near Valentino Rossi in Spain! The weather was starting to be a bit iffy and we got rather wet but nothing that a bit of warmth and wind later on didn’t dry off.
It doesn’t matter how good the satnav is we always manage to get lost in towns and even small villages. At this point we ended up on a dirt track going nowhere and Kevin had to do a multi-point turn to get us back on track. We were running two satnavs – a Zumo 590 that had absolutely no idea where we were and a 660 that thought it did until it eventually gave up with the message ‘Cannot calculate route’. Helpful.We eventually realised we were on a tiny road running almost parallel to the road we should have been on.
Our next waypoint was a rather interesting sculpture outside the Imola race track.
At this stage of the rally it’s easy to make mistakes and we were careful to make sure the photos contained all the right elements – Kevin needed to be in this one as well which means fiddling with the camera to use the bike as a platform. The rally team had cleverly come up with a series of icons to represent Any time, Timed, Bike in Photo, Rider in Photo etc. This made the book more manageable and, once you had the hang of the icons which took no time at all, made it much easier to see at a glance what was required. In fact the rally book was a work of art, very well presented.
Just before setting up the shot we remembered to gather another 2500 points by sending Gerhard an SMS text with our rally number plus the numbers of the last bonus visited and the next one. This was a timed bonus which had to be sent between 22.00 and 22.30. Always a bit of a challenge, especially if you are out in the sticks somewhere. We were lucky as the ‘phone signal was strong and within seconds we had received an ‘OK’ back. Sorted!
Just after 02:00, with some trepidation, we entered Rome. London had cost us a lot of time in the early hours of the morning during this year’s Brit Butt Rally and we anticipated Rome would be similarly congested; it was empty.
We’d never seen the Colosseum before and were looking forward to arriving there. We weren’t disappointed, it’s enormous (I guess the name should have been a clue!). Then on to St Peter’s Basilica. We misunderstood what the picture in the rally book was showing us so rode round the area a couple of times until we realised our first approach had been the correct place. Fortunately the policeman sleeping in his car near St Peters ignored us we accidentally went through a red light.
We took our rest bonus north of Rome in some motorway services on the A1. At this stage (over a week later) neither one of us can remember anything about the services but we got some shut-eye and were up again bright and early for the next day’s delights. We woke pleased to see the weather continued to be dry and we were looking forward to another day’s great riding.
We managed to take a wrong turn once again in the town depicted above but who cares, it was a beautiful spot. We got some odd looks in places from the passers-by and wonder whether they just aren’t used to bikes being in there or we’d strayed into a pedestrian-only area but everyone looked cheerful.
One of the bonus opportunities was to capture a slope sign then multiply the degrees by 100 to get the points. We were rather pleased with this 17% sign spotted just after our first bonus of the day.
I was a bit concerned about the Luca Cava bonus as it was worth 2,500 points and I was convinced it would only have that many points if it was one of Chris’ marathons. I was pleasantly surprised when we spotted the rather cheeky fountain just at the side of the road.
By now we were nearly back to the no-longer-secret location but the Rallymasters had one final trick up their sleeves. For 3,009 points we had to take a picture: ‘you and your bike in front of the statue of Jesus, the lake and mountains must be visible in the background’. In addition a member of the rally staff had to be in the picture. We still had plenty of time as we approached the waypoint but our two satnavs were disagreeing on its location and the route to it. We decided to go with the 590 as that had proved to be more reliable than the 660 on several occasions during the leg.
We turned down the road and headed in the direction given. The road got smaller and smaller as we worked our way up the side of the mountain. About half-way up it started to rain. Heavily. Oh joy! A couple of bikes came down the other way, surely we must be on the right road. The higher we got the more narrow the road became and it really felt like it was going to peter out into a goat-track. Had we made a mistake by following the 590?
Kevin was becoming more and more despondent. He was all for turning round and seeing where the 660 said we should go. It didn’t help that he was having real problems negotiating right-hand hairpins because of his elbow and there were lots of those. I, being me, was ever optimistic and said that I was sure the stop was at the top, just round the next bend, or the next one maybe. Finally! We came to a motel (or some other such building). Was that it? Kevin said no, and his tone said ‘I told you so’. I had a quick glance at the satnav. The waypoint was still ahead about .2 of a mile so we carried on.
What’s that? Looked like bikes and sure enough two rather wet members of the rally team, Chris and Dave, were there to welcome us and to get in the photo. Phew!
Now all we needed to do was crawl our way back down (it’s always worse going down these narrow tracks than up, especially when they’re wet) and get back to the rather nice Miramonti Hotel on the Passo del Tonale, which is an excellent riding road, to dry out.
We arrived well within our time and got our photo with Frank to prove we’d returned. After a bit of drying out we put in our bonus claim form and received the next leg’s points.
While we’d really enjoyed riding the passes they’d played havoc with Kevin’s elbow and we’d had to stop several times so he could rest it. We weren’t at all sure he would be able to continue the next day but decided to sleep first then make the decision in the morning. We had a quick look at the Leg 2 rally book trying to decipher all the Combination bonuses. The biggest combo was the Aegean Sea bonus – a whopping 26,500 points if you visited four bonuses at the bottom of Greece. Clearly the one to go for except it was a long way to go and Kevin said there was no way he could ride that far with the problems he was having with his elbow.
He was so tired we decided it would make sense for him to get a good night’s sleep and sort out the route in the morning. It would also give us a chance to assess his arm after a rest. Kevin was lying on the bed and I was mid-sentence when I noticed that someone had switched off his switch. One minute he was talking to me the next he was asleep. Lucky man!
I don’t usually get involved in sorting out our rally routes but decided to spend a couple of hours looking through the bonus book to see if I could find a good route that didn’t involve huge distances; I didn’t find anything suitable. Kevin was up around 05:00 and woke me around 07:30 with “Are you feeling adventurous?”. He’d found a route that had reasonable points and involved a fair bit of motorway on which he could engage the cruise control and rest his arm. Even better, it took us to places we’d never been to before. We were off to…Greece! A good night’s sleep and some hours off the bike had helped change his mind and there were some high-value bonus points down there as well as the combination bonus we’d already seen.
We weren’t in a rush as Kevin’s elbow problems meant we were unlikely to be highly placed so we were riding for fun. We had a leisurely breakfast chatting to Gerhard and the team. Gerhard seemed surprised that we were going to Greece but it didn’t occur to us to find out why…was it a ‘sucker bonus’? We didn’t really care if it was, we’d not been to Athens and looked forward to seeing it.
The sheet of paper taped to the wall told us we were fourth after leg one which was quite a pleasant surprise. Perhaps there was an opportunity for a reasonable placing after all. Leg two would be ‘sh!t or bust’…
We left the hotel just after 10:00, some five hours after the top three riders had departed.