Leg 1: Minneapolis, Minnesota to Allen, Texas
There were two rider meetings on Sunday – one in the afternoon and the other after our evening meal. The waypoints were distributed via email after the afternoon meeting but we didn’t bother looking at them then as without knowing how much each waypoint was worth they were just a series of points scattered all over North America. The theme of this year’s Iron Butt Rally was North American Safari and the lavish large-format rally book presented to each rider in the evening was divided into five sections – Air, Land, Mythical, Prehistoric and Water – with each section containing many different animal sculptures or landmarks to enjoy. There were many reminders during the meetings of what to do, what not to do and how to get help if required. Each rider has a name tag that has the Rally Master’s phone number for emergencies and must be worn at all times; every one of us hoped none of them would need to be used.
As the names were called out for us to collect our Packs, one name stuck out – Raven. I thought that was the name of the lady who’d met us on the 2013 rally at the Minuteman silo in Tucson, Arizona. Afterwards I caught up with her and it was. She’d been inspired by all the riders then and this year was taking part.
The all-important waypoint values were emailed to us after the evening meeting and on this leg the points value ranged from 1 to 2966; we’d have preferred to see fewer ones! Unlike many rallies all waypoints were available for all three legs so a waypoint could be visited up to three times – once in each leg – but the value of each waypoint changed for each leg.
If we collected three ‘like’ waypoints consecutively during leg one, e.g. three A’s (air), three M’s (mythical), etc., the third bonus points would be doubled. This certainly made working out a route more interesting as we obviously wanted that third bonus value to be high. Of course, once we started to look for a route it was obvious the rally master really knew how to mess up our plans! It certainly isn’t just a random set of points per waypoint, much thought had gone into making it as difficult as possible to get the maximum points.
By midnight we had a route that would work. It wasn’t the best and we really struggled to get any sort of half-decent plan as we were so out of practice – it’s been years since we planned a rally route. We’d intended to do some practice routing before getting here but…well you know how it is. A short sleep then up in time to be at our bikes by 08:00 for a final check. If we weren’t there on time and standing by our bike when the scrutineers arrived we would be held back until everyone had left. We had a quick breakfast then went out into the sunshine to await the start. Like everyone else we were making last-minute checks then wandering round chatting to other riders.
Soon it was 09:45 on Monday and we were all waiting by our bikes for the 10:00 start. We were lucky that the position of our bike meant we would be one of the first to leave. That saved a lot of nervous tension waiting for the others. It’s everyone’s worst nightmare that they would be the one to stall, fall over or make a spectacle of themselves when Warchild’s finger points and then indicates ‘GO!’. One poor unfortunate, and we won’t mention Mark Crane’s name, managed to topple his GSA on to Steve Bracken who was sitting on his FJR next to him; fortunately nothing was hurt except pride.
Unlike our previous IBR it was a glorious morning – no rain. The local police were on hand to smooth the way on to the highways so we didn’t have to be concerned about any immediate traffic. This year there were two firsts for the IBR – a family of three, the Boges, riding a Harley-powered combination and an all-male rally-experienced rider and pillion who became know as Team Almond Joy for some reason. After the Boges had done their lap of honour we were one of the first of the 107 bikes to leave the car park. The video shows what the start looked like from where I was sitting.
190 miles from the start point, in Rothsay, Minnesota, was the world’s largest prairie chicken (nope, we don’t know why either) next to which a group photo would be taken at 14:00. One second late and you’ve missed it, no points. We had time to pick up a photo of a giant crow on the way there.
As is often the case in the early stages, you see other riders on the way to the same waypoints, stopping, taking a quick photo, then carrying on.
Smiles all round. Everyone’s fresh at this point and full of the wonder of actually being here after two years of anticipation, or in our case, just over three months. We arrived at the photo point early which meant we had time to buy and consume the first of many hot-dogs.
There was a carnival atmosphere. We checked in then caught up with a few of our fellow riders. Finally at about 13:55 we were all rounded up and encouraged to make sure our flags and faces were showing. No visible flag = no points. At 14:00 on the dot the official photo was taken and we all dispersed to our various routes and waypoints. Back to our own little rally bubbles.
Our next stop was a giant buffalo and, again, we arrived at the same time as some other riders. This time it was up quite a long gravel road and we weren’t entirely sure where to go. We could see the buffalo from where the waypoint landed us but it wasn’t visible enough to take the required photo. One of the locals pointed us in the right direction and we found ourselves in a lovely old pioneer museum village. What a shame we didn’t have enough time to wander round.
For Leg 1 we had to make our way from Minneapolis to Allen (Dallas), Texas. The checkpoint in Allen was open from 17-20:00 on Wednesday. Penalty points accrued after that until 22:00 beyond which you were DNF (Did Not Finish). Our route had us travelling through North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. The smallest of these states has about 75% of the land mass of the UK; it’s quite mind-boggling when you think about how large this country really is. Nebraska was notable for the number and length of their coal trains. I’m not sure whether they are producers or consumers of the black rock, but they sure have enough for a good sized fire. North Dakota was quite interesting but our overriding memories of the other states was of long, featureless landscapes with constant gusting wind, dust and dirt punctuated with endless roadworks. As we travelled south the temperature was rising and rising and the wind was tiring for both of us.
We passed lots of lakes with dead trees in them. I’m not sure whether this is due to some sort of global warming effect or road building disrupting the natural scheme of things but whatever caused it they do look rather surreal.
Early on Tuesday morning we rode through the town nearest to Mount Rushmore to get petrol where I was asked the usual questions about where we were coming from and going to. The guy in the petrol station warned me about a storm coming through. We missed it but one of our fellow rallyists wasn’t so lucky. He was blown off his feet and taken pity on by a traveller in an SUV who gave him shelter. His bike suffered minor damage as it was blown over. We had a lucky escape.
All legs have at least one call-in bonus where a call has to be made to Rally HQ during set periods. Each call must contain the name and number of the rider(s), the current location, the previous waypoint visited and the next waypoint to be visited. Get any of those pieces of information wrong and the points for the call-in are lost. Sounds easy doesn’t it but many riders, including us, have lost those points by omitting required information when tired. The leg one call-in was between 09:00 and 21:00 on Tuesday, Central time. Coming from a one-time-zone country we were very aware that it is easy to get the times wrong (we missed breakfast in Bulgaria once because we hadn’t realised we’d crossed a time zone) so we made sure the clock on the bike was on Central time. Our call in was from a tiny watering hole in Nebraska called Alliance where we had a good breakfast of hot dogs and yogurt drink/coffee. I was chatting to a lady in the queue and asked her if it was always this windy here. She laughed and said it was. She moved out of Nebraska to Florida to escape but found the humidity there too much and returned despite the wind.
We either have music playing or my brain is singing to itself. For some reason the song ‘Hazard’ by Richard Marx kept ‘playing’ in my brain throughout Nebraska.
Everything here is on a huge scale: roads that go on for ever, bridges that cross great expanses and the biggest grain stores ever.
As usual I spent some of my time cloud watching. I can’t imagine why Kevin can’t see all the creatures-in-the-clouds I do!
We’d been concerned that Kevin’s rheumatoid arthritis (RA)-associated fatigue would be an issue and that did appear to be happening. He was suffering from two types of fatigue – the normal tiredness that can build up on a rally and has to be controlled by proper breaks and another type that would hit him instantly with no warning, once mid-corner, when he’d find himself rapidly blinking while struggling to keep his eyes open. Sometimes he could fight his way through it, sometimes a short break was all that was required and sometimes he needed a longer break. We’re not sure whether this was RA fatigue or not but it’s not something Kevin has ever experienced before and was quite demoralising. He talked about pulling out of the rally several times but we kept going.
One time we were on a long road with no services – there can be gaps of 50 – 100 miles between them – and Kevin said “Talk to me”. We had a very long chat and he said it did wake him up. I wonder how the guys/girls on their own manage?
The Rally gives points for sleep breaks where points are scored for every minute of proven rest; in leg one one 4 – 8 hour rest break could be scored in this way. We knew Kevin needed regular breaks and our plan was to have a four-hour break on day one and a six-hour break on day two. Unfortunately we were running late on day one so our break wasn’t as long as we’d have liked but we did manage to find a motel after photographing a small green dinosaur on the street in Pierre, South Dakota, and both slept really well.
On the way out of Pierre early next morning, on a very dark US14 where Kevin was busily scanning for deer having been warned of their presence by a local, he suddenly saw a large lump in the road. Late avoiding action could have had us off so we went over it with quite a jolt. We’ve no idea what it was but the porcupine quills we later spotted in the rear tyre may have been a clue; we don’t know where else they could have come from.
One of my favourite sculptures was the life-sized Columbian Mammoth and baby, the sizes being based on the measurements of bones found in the locale.
Our second break was in a motel in Alva. The large sign at the front of the motel proudly claimed Clean rooms are a specialty [sic]. Maybe it’s just us but we’d have thought clean rooms were a given. Unfortunately the room proved to be not very clean at all.
The constant breaks and roadworks meant we were behind schedule so, during the course of the leg, we made decisions to dump three waypoints although looking back at the track vs. route we couldn’t have realised how close we were to two of them otherwise we’d have gone there. Hindsight is 20-20 as they say.
Dallas was manic. There are so many roads overlapping and sweeping round, it was quite easy to get on the wrong one (Who, us?) It’s a very large conurbation and it’s not easy to see where one ‘town’/’city’ starts/finishes. Nevertheless, we made our way to the Checkpoint with time to spare.
We went in to be scored and were not surprised to see ourselves in the lower half of the field – 77th with 12,720 points from 2,710 miles; 2,720 points more than the suggested minimum for anyone who wanted to qualify as a finisher (which, of course, we all wanted). Two and a half years of not rallying was showing. Still, we were here in one piece which is what matters. We had a good night’s sleep and were up before 04:00 ready for the leg 2 points and any new ‘twists’.