Leg 3: Allen, Texas to Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Another 4 a.m. start and this time the multiplier was ‘full house’ – 3 of one kind plus 2 of another (e.g. 3 Air plus 2 Mythical). Once you had 5 in a string the last bonus had its points quadrupled. The string would be calculated by the software automatically so you had to be careful that you didn’t have an extra one that would mess things up. Once more the non-waypoint bonuses had increased, this time to 2000 each and 8 points per minute for the rest bonus.
Kevin quite quickly had a route that he was ‘happy’ with, sort of. Kevin’s never satisfied with his routes, however good they prove to be, and he felt this one, which gave us more than enough points on its own to achieve finisher status, had just come too easily and he kept looking for what he’d missed.
He’d created strings around 4 large scoring bonuses and the route would take us into New York – planned for early morning on the 4th July – then on to a timed appointment with a furry fish in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, some time on Thursday. We needed to factor in that we’d probably need to stop for new tyres and we’d spent the entire rally playing catch-up with our planned routes so we hoped to avoid that on this leg. Assuming we actually got to meet our fish, we expected to head for the hotel in Minneapolis by the quickest possible route straight afterwards.
We’d been quite pessimistic about finishing the rally, as mentioned in a previous post, but now, on day six, we were ‘over the hump’ and did feel a bit more positive. As we headed towards our first string we found ourselves retracing our steps East and this time the weather was much kinder. As we were riding along we noticed the traffic on the other side was very congested. A bit further on there was a terrible crash with several mangled vehicles being recovered. The tailback was huge and, somewhat selfishly, we were just glad we hadn’t got caught up in it.
At our first stop, where we had to photograph some jazz frogs playing on top of a Mexican cafe, a chap on a motorcycle rode past and waved as we were getting off the bike. Just as we were getting ready to leave he arrived again having ridden round the block for a chat. “Sorry Mate, we’ve got to go.” said Kevin. The rider gave us a bemused wave and off we went. I hope he didn’t take offence. I usually give people our card in these situations to help explain why we have no time but I didn’t even have a chance to do that.
The next stop was our only repeat visit to a waypoint – Frog Level from leg one. We followed Ian McPhee, the cheerful Australian we first met during the 2013 IBR, and John Cooper into the waypoint. Keen to get in and out as quickly as possible (not least because we both needed the loo!) we did our fastest stop ever – last in, first out. Kevin usually takes the bonus photos but this time I did it and I spent the next hour or so worrying that I’d messed it up. When we got to our fuel/loo stop (the bike had been running on fumes for quite a few miles) Kevin checked the photo and it was fine. It’s funny how little things like that prey on your mind when you’ve got nothing else to obsess over.
Talking about obsessing, one of my hobbies on the bike is trying to get a photo of us riding. Usually this is on the sides of tankers, or in shop windows. Occasionally I get lucky and manage a photo in the shiny wheel of one of the giant trucks.
Our mascot, well I guess that’s what it has become, is a small rubber skeleton – Henry – who’s been with us since the 80’s when we won him on a sideshow at the Le Mans 24-hour bike race one year. We have no recollection of why he ended up being called Henry, nor why we decided to take him on our travels but he’s a non-demanding companion who doesn’t complain and has a fine time dancing along with us (although he seems just a shadow of his former self…)
Heading for the Flying Catfish in Memphis (a model of a twin-engined catfish would you believe) we encountered more roadworks with our route firmly closed in front of us. At this point we entered the world of make-up-the-route-as-you-go-along territory as there were no clear detour signs. After finding our fish we headed out of town for a four-hour sleep break ready for an early start.
We cannot display this galleryThe weather was just right for riding and by 06:00 we were making our way up to our next waypoint, a dragon. Kevin hadn’t realised that the dragon we were to photograph was on that road – The Tail of the Dragon. He was dead chuffed once it clicked we were on the iconic, probably the most famous, US motorcycling road that he had wanted to ride when we were here in 2013 but didn’t have time. We had the road to ourselves which meant he could take the bends and hairpins at a pace he wanted rather than getting stuck behind someone else or having to get out of the way of someone faster. At the end we took our photos then, what a bummer, he realised we had to turn round and go back down it. On the way up the bike was scraping on both sides. It was the same on the way back down. At one point it made a particularly loud scrape and a small shriek escaped from me. All I could hear in my headset after that was Kevin roaring with laughter which at least made him slow down for a couple of minutes and then we were off again. (The photos in the sideshow above were taken by 129Photos and if you’re wondering what the blue thing is above the right-hand mirror in the face-on shot it’s my camera in my hand as I’m taking a photo)
So now we had our first ‘string’ in the bag. It was a good feeling.
Next came a string of Air and Mythical beings. We visited a very strange house that was built like ‘Mother Goose’ and then to finish the string we were looking at the mysterious Mothman of Point Pleasant. Since 1966 people have (apparently) been asking “What really happened? What did the people see?”. I’m not sure whether the statue is supposed to be accurate but who are we to question local folklore?
Another good night’s sleep and we were off to New York for the biggest bonus string on our route.
Our plan had been to get to New York by about 8.30 when we thought that the traffic would probably not be too bad. There was a bonus just on the outskirts (Morris Frank and Buddy – pioneers of the ‘seeing eye’ dogs) which was worth 959 points. It would get in the way of our string but Kevin was so convinced something would go wrong with the New York bonuses that we decided to do that stop on the way in. If the NY bonuses went wrong Morris and Buddy could form part of the string; If they went right we would retrace our steps and revisit them afterwards as a ‘one-off’. In that case we would not claim the first stop. This was allowed for in the rules due to the complications of getting the 5-in-a-row strings right.
As it happened we got to New York at about 11:30. The satnav was trying to take us through a tunnel that was closed and there was a large diversion in place. We just went with the flow hoping that we would eventually get to the right place. Our first stop was the Charging Bull sculpture near Battery Park. The place was heaving and the photo shows more tourists than bull but it was clearly the correct place so allowed. Next we had to find the boar statue at the end of E57th Street. We rode alongside the river and the satnav told us that our waypoint was ‘here’. Unfortunately, ‘here’ was actually on a street above us (we were in an underpass) and we had to try to fathom out where it was at street level. It was baking hot and I was not looking forward to the 1/4 mile hike. A couple came strolling past with their dog; they looked like locals so I asked if they knew the statue. They did and were happy to explain how to get there by bike. Result!
At the boar statue I was asked by a guy sitting on a park bench whether we were on a treasure hunt. I said sort-of and asked if there had been others. Of course there had. It was a popular destination and I think we were providing the 4th July entertainment for the residents. He was able to help me identify where to go for the Central Park Alice in Wonderland statue that was our next stop and that saved a long fruitless wander through the park.
Alice in Wonderland successfully photographed followed by one of a pair of Library Lions and we were heading out of the city ready to re-do the Seeing Dog. Under the river into New York and back out again in 95 minutes. What had we worried about? There was another large bonus on Long Island but we’d been that way before in 2013 and decided to give it a miss this time.
We had quite a long ride to our next stop, a daylight only bonus, and we were sweating on getting there on time. It was fine though and we made it with time to spare.
No peace for the wicked, our next stop was to be our last before a sleep break and it was the unusual Shark Girl statue in Buffalo.We were feeling OK until we got to within 100 yards of the statue only to be thwarted by road closures and police diversions. It was still 4th July and we had got caught up in the tail-end of a huge fireworks display; the streets were full of thousands of people and all roads to the statue were blocked by police cars. After confirming we couldn’t get in we stopped in a hotel car park to assess the situation. There was still a carnival atmosphere and loads of police wandering around. I asked a couple if they knew where Shark Girl was and explained we needed a photo of it for the rally. “How long are you here for?” asked the policewoman, “As long as it takes to get that photo” I replied. They were great, they knew where it was but, unfortunately it was ‘over there’, the other side of the canal and a tram line. Kevin explained that we’d already been there but couldn’t get through because of the road closure. “OK. Here’s what we’ll do…I’ll go and explain to the hotel that you’re here for a few minutes and not to clamp you. Then I’ll take you over there so you can get your photo”. True to his word, the policeman did all of that, for which we were very grateful, and we got the photo. What a weird statue that is!
Whilst we were there we decided to use booking.com to find us a room. There was one a few miles away. Booked! As we were on our way there we realised it was in Canada. Another “How long will you be here?” question, this time from the Canadian border guard. “Long enough to have a sleep and be on our way back.” replied Kevin. Oh well, at least the border was empty and we had a quick crossing.
The next day was a lot of miles with only a few bonus stops.
Before jumping back into the US we decided we wanted some half-decent food. We’d been quite disappointed at a Wendy’s earlier in the rally which had dry and uninteresting food and dirty and untidy toilets so were pleased to see a Denny’s near London, Ontario, We knew we could get a good breakfast there. We don’t generally take pictures of food but imagine how the spread in the photo below looked to us after quite a few days of hot dogs and burgers. Whilst we were there a guy came up to us and said “Hello, I’m a three times finisher. I saw your Spot and thought I’d just pop in and say hello and see if there’s anything you need”. Thanks, Thane Siliker, it was great meeting you. We didn’t need anything but it’s good to meet a friendly face on the road who really does understand why you look how you look.
The last bonus of the day was a timed one as it was in a restaurant and we were against the clock all day to make sure we didn’t miss it. As I walked in hoping that I would find it easily one of the waiters turned to me and said “You want the furry fish, follow me.” and took me straight to it. Thanks to previous riders for setting that up for me. This stop was on the US side of Sault Ste. Marie, the other side to where we stayed with our friends Neil and Grace on our way from Toronto to Minneapolis. It was tempting to give them a call then pop over the border to a comfy bed but it’s difficult enough to get ourselves up when there are no distractions, imagine what it would have been like with friends to chat to and Neil’s cooked breakfast to resist!
We were now ready for an eight-hour rest break but we had to make a call-in to HQ first. I couldn’t get my phone to work, nor Kevin’s. Vodafone in their wisdom had noticed that our spend had gone up a lot (which is not at all surprising when it’s £5 a day to use the phones in the US) and ‘to help us manage our spend’ had temporarily stopped our service. I managed to borrow someone’s mobile to make the call then got my service reinstated. It took another day to get Kevin’s working and then they cut me off again later. We’re now looking for another mobile provider and if we go back to the US for another rally we’ll get burner phones instead.
Safely ensconced in a comfortable Super 8 we had a bit of a problem to resolve. We hadn’t expected to get here until some time on Thursday but here we were on Wednesday evening. The route had pretty much gone to plan and Kevin was learning to manage his fatigue which meant fewer stops. Under normal circumstances this would have been a nice problem to have – an entire day in which to add more bonus waypoints – but the sad truth was we had painted ourselves into a corner and there wasn’t really anywhere we could go from here in the time we had available that would gain us lots of points. There were some possibilities but no strings worth risking a DNF for. Oh well, let’s go for the scenic option then. The route round the top of Lake Superior looked rather nice and there were a couple of waypoints on the way with reasonable points so that’s what we decided to do.
What we didn’t realise was this was a route Neil had told us about before the rally, one of the top ten rides in Canada, and what a road it was. Fabulous scenery accompanied by long looping bends and, mostly, a good road surface with only the odd rough bit of roadworks to contend with. There was lots of time so we dropped into tourist mode and had a ball!
At one point we saw a bike on the side of the road and stopped to check if the rider was OK as he really was in the middle of nowhere. John had a flat rear tyre which he’d already pumped up once but it wouldn’t hold air. Did we have a phone he could borrow as his had no service? Other people had apparently stopped and none of them had service either so it was quite a surprise to find my UK phone worked. He made a couple of calls to his recovery people and we winced when they put him on hold for quite a while as UK mobile calls to the US are somewhat expensive. Our good deed done he sent us on our way happy in the knowledge that he would soon be picked up. I have to say he couldn’t have chosen a nicer spot to break down in as he was opposite a beautiful lake at the bottom of a valley. It was certainly a much more scenic location than we’d broken down in but I suspect his recovery time was longer.
Although we saw a lot of very black clouds and evidence of rain we were really lucky on this leg and didn’t really get wet at all. Just a few drops here and there. Perhaps our drenching from Leg 2 had used up our rain allocation.
The US and Canada, unlike the UK, seem to only have one season of construction and it always coincides with our trips there. We were stopped numerous times to wait for the convoy to be in our favour. Not being able to filter to the front of the queue was frustrating but we resisted the temptation. One time we had to wait for blasting to stop before carrying on. They seem to have blasted away hundreds of tons of rock to make the roads go straight through the hills. Often it looks like the rocks are ground into smaller chunks and used to shore up the new road.
We saw many businesses that had closed down but eventually found a nice little, empty, restaurant. More people came in as we were eating but I can’t imagine how they manage to keep afloat. The waitress said they get busy during the Summer (I thought this was Summer, I certainly wouldn’t want it any hotter) and the business had been there since the sixties so the owner must be doing something right.
We didn’t want to arrive at the final checkpoint in the middle of the night so we had another four-hour rest in a motel then a short hop to the Minneapolis hotel via a pink Triceratops. We got into the checkpoint at around 05:35; it’s unheard of for us to finish a rally with so much time to spare, we usually rush in with a few minutes to go to penalties. I’d already prepared all the paperwork, just the last one to add, so we were able to check-in and score quite quickly.
107 motorcycles started the rally and 89 finished. After leg three we went from 83rd to 39th place with 84,121 points from 9,123 miles. Kevin’s fears over our leg three route being “too easy to find so there must be something wrong with it” were groundless, he’d obviously just found his routing mojo again. Our mistake was thinking it wouldn’t go to plan so not stretching ourselves.
The tyres were feeling horrible although they still had plenty of tread left and were still sporting the porcupine quills. We’d had our part-worn tyres changed in Minneapolis just before the rally started and, luckily, the shop still had them so we were able to get them refitted for our journey home. They said it’s the first time they’ve ever seen porcupine quills in a tyre.
All Kevin wanted to prove to himself was that he could still ride the IBR with his RA and I am so proud of him for not only managing that but achieving a finish that was way above our expectations. It was definitely a struggle at times and there were moments when we both thought “Sod it, let’s just go sight-seeing” but we kept each other going and I guess in the end that’s what it’s really all about (it certainly is ? – Kevin). We firmly believe that if we’re not having fun it’s not worth spending our leisure time doing something and while there were certainly some hard times during the rally they were more than balanced by the fun we had.
Before I finish I’d like to say a big Thank You to: Neil and Grace for their hospitality either side of the rally; Dave Clarke for the loan of the bike cover – it worked a treat; Richard and Sheena for being our Spot Watchers and emergency contacts; Eric and the other team members who came to our rescue when we broke down on the first day of leg two and last, but definitely not least, to the army of volunteers and Rally Team members without whom this rally could not happen.
So that, you may be thinking, is that. Well not quite (I seem to remember saying that once before!). Having proved we can still ride long distance at the moment we’re definitely up for more challenges and Kevin is already suggesting we ought to attempt the IBR again.
See you on the road.