Day 1 started waaaaay too early. We weren’t due to ride out of the car park until 10am, but that didn’t mean we could rock up down in the parking lot at 9.30. We had to be at the bikes to have them impounded and our tags punched at 8am, plus we had to pack and drop off anything we were leaving at the hotel. Not to mention the nervous energy…
We’d both slept on our route and decided a better option was to go up via Chicago which gave us more points.
So I was anxious but otherwise feeling ok. I wanted to get away from the craziness of the hotel but felt like things would be better once we were on the road and away from the mass of riders all feeding off each other and comparing vague route plans and just waiting around. Then we had the final rider meeting at 9.45am and I went to pieces. Suddenly I was struggling to hold it together and I was really wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into.
Nonetheless, on the bike I got and we were farewelled out of the Marriott by friends, family and the entire Greenville office of Michelin! We were off. I was still stressing but surely it would get better as we rode.
Our first bonus at Chimney Rock went OK. It was hot and there were lots of tourists around but we got our photo without losing more than the 30 minutes we’d allowed for. With time up our sleeves I needed to take a few minutes in the shade to have a snack and just take some time to settle myself. Then it was back on the bike and on to Whitewater Falls.
Unfortunately at this point I made a fatal error with our route calculations – I reset the ‘start’ location to Chimney Rock, but didn’t reset the start time, which I had set in inRoute as being 10am… It wasn’t until after we were nearly at Whitewater Falls that I realised my mistake and then we suddenly had no time up our sleeves to get to the photo bonus in time. Even though we’d allowed 10 minutes to do the walk at Whitewater, we hadn’t allowed the 40 minutes required to get from the waypoint to the bonus and back to the main route and suddenly it was going to be very tight. Kiwi pulled off some masterful riding, and despite a fender bender occurring right in front of us as someone turned left in front of oncoming traffic, we looked like we had 3 minutes to spare…
And then I directed us left and not right across the dam. The directions were to ride 1.6 miles past the waypoint… Which we did before realising we’d gone the wrong way and now didn’t have enough time to recover. By now I was really struggling. Was this seriously going to be what the rest of the rally would be like? We paused for some food and to regroup, watching waves of riders who’d made it to the bonus in time ride past, before setting off again.
It was hard not to blame myself for the mistakes made to date. It was nearly 1000 points we’d just lost and Kiwi had done everything in his power to get us there and I’d screwed up twice already! With more than a few tears in my helmet, we continued on to INGAP to make the best of what hadn’t been a great day.
While we got to INGAP and took our photo, it was apparent that yet again we hadn’t allowed enough time. We knew there would be some gravel and the going would be slow, but we hadn’t appreciated that we’d be on a one-way loop on the paved section with people on summer holidays going 15 miles an hour watching the wildlife emerge at dusk! We had places to go! We were on the clock! And here we were chewing through time while they snapped photos of horses!
Finally done we headed back out to Kentucky and the interstates. We figured we’d get as far north as we could by 10pm and then start again tomorrow. But as we rode it became ever clearer that our original route wasn’t going to be possible. We were a long way behind schedule and going through Chicago on a Monday morning didn’t seem like a plan for future success. Sure, it would get us some points, but at this stage we needed to focus on a few very high point bonuses and then getting to the checkpoint. We could only hope we’d have opportunities for redemption. So we agreed instead of going north from Lexington we’d head west and I booked a second hotel room for the night (on our new and revised route). We would be up at 3.30am and on the road by 4 with the aim of getting to Mt Rushmore before dark. If we had to get it at dawn the following morning, that would be fine also, but at least we’d be on the right side of the country and have some decent point scoring opportunities available.
Dinner was a banana and some trail mix and after a shower I crashed hard. OMG!
The start of Day 2 didn’t hold a lot of joy. It was dark, it was very early, and it was pouring with rain. I still have this vivid image in my head looking out the motel windows and seeing the rain coming down through the lights of the motel and splashing on the blacktop. But there was not a lot of choice but to get back on the bike. I donned my raincoat (if you ever need some, Frog Togs are the go) and zipped up the vents in my trousers and off we went. With very little to look at and the sound of raindrops on my helmet lulling me to sleep, I nodded off. I was at least dry with waterproof gear on and it was time to suck it up and get on with things.
I woke up at dawn with my gloves saturated and my hands drenched… But otherwise doing fine. The rest of the day was uneventful but still involved occasional bursts of crying in my helmet, usually without good reason. We stopped infrequently for gas, restrooms and sustenance with a ‘longer break’ totalling about 12 minutes. We got wet a couple more times but otherwise made good time across the country. It was exhausting and I didn’t have much to do but read out the daily reports from the website, provide occasional updates on what the orange dots were doing on the group page and then read some Australian news stories aloud to Kiwi.
There was rain, tears, more riding, roadworks, more tears and then finally, late in the afternoon, cruising across South Dakota and watching the sky do its thing in the evening light and with passing storms I felt like I could relax. I’d done more than 2,000kms (1300 miles) in a day, and we were going to take a full 8 hours off the bike. Finally things were going to plan.
Day 3 (Wednesday) was a ‘good day’ (or so I noted in my notebook). Our morning routine worked better and was more efficient, we were at Mt Rushmore when the gates opened and it was lovely to watch the sunrise over the hills. There was a not-so-great navigational incident mid-morning when Kiwi needed coffee.
He saw a sign for Maccas saying ‘Exit 281’ or something similar. I looked at Google and sure enough found Maccas, but also a Starbucks (his favourite)… except it was a different Maccas… and the exit was actually Exit 279. So when I looked up and our exit was on the right and I said so, all hell broke loose! Kiwi screeched the bike to a halt, we bumped over the gravel strip between the exit and the interstate and we made it to Starbucks… But not perhaps in the most relaxing way possible. Thankfully Kiwi was very patient and understanding and didn’t yell at me at all (though I have a strong suspicion he very much wanted to) and thankfully after coffee and food things felt mostly ok again.
I did our call in bonus (twice, just to make sure) and we made it to Beartooth Pass largely without incident. Again, the bonus was a way away from the waypoint but by now I’d started searching for the actual locations in the maps (inRoute and Google), rather than relying on the waypoints. The wind at the top of the pass made me very uncomfortable and I was quite happy to keep our speed low and while there was a tense moment wondering whether the impromptu ski resort was where we needed to stop, we happily kept climbing and found the correct summit a few minutes further on.
The way down heading into Yellowstone provided some of the most magnificent sights I have ever seen from the back of the bike. Ever since 2017 when Kiwi went to Yellowstone for 3 bonuses and then phoned me just to let me know he was there I’ve wanted to go there. So Old Faithful was a non-negotiable bonus as far as I was concerned. The fact it was 4321 points didn’t hurt either.
Unfortunately everyone else in their ‘RV’, caravan or other vehicle on holidays also thought it was a great idea and traffic was insane. The first time it was for bison. The second time it was for a juvenile black bear which was somewhat more understandable but we were pleased when a ranger turned up to help with traffic management. The third time was for more bison and this time the traffic went for miles. We ‘lane split’, probably illegally but seriously, whatever. We were done.
Passing yet more bison we headed further into the park and passed some riders on their way out of Old Faithful which meant we had somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half to wait for the next eruption (a condition of the bonus photo). So we had some time to relax, get some food in, and chat to other riders who were also at the bonus. We kept bumping into Danny Dossman which was starting to make me freak out (yeah, I know, what a surprise) that we would be considered a ‘team’ but we figured there was only so much we could do about that and no doubt things would change in coming hours.
With the Old Faithful bonus under our belts, it was time to find some accommodation for the night. We had agreed that there was little to no chance we’d be able to get back north for the SHAME bonus so we settled on GRANITE in Oregon instead. But it turned out there was no accommodation for love nor money in Rexburgh (our town of choice) for the night. So it was the Motel 6 in Rigby for us. We got our receipt at the gas station and headed on over to check in…. With everyone else in town.
Faaaaaar out. There was a family in front of us, and then a couple, and then me. Mostly that was ok. Until the girl at the counter needed ID. I gave her my driver’s licence… but that didn’t work with the system… So I gave her my passport… And then she spent a good 7 minutes looking for a barcode that I was pretty sure didn’t exist. Kiwi was waiting outside with the bike and this was valuable eating/sleeping time here. Finally we were sorted but 25 minutes into our sleeping/rest time! Ugh. Kiwi did the hard yards and walked over to the Dairy Queen while I cleaned visors and plugged chargers in and sleep came very easily that night. Bring on 6.5 hours of shut eye!
My notes for Thursday read “Good. Mind under control… mostly.”
We made good decisions. After freezing our fingers off between Rigby and Idaho Falls, we stopped somewhere to warm up with something vaguely resembling coffee and a couple of boiled eggs. I was not expecting it to be this cold and I was happy to accept the Kiwi’s ‘I told you so’ on the recommendation to bring heated gear. He was 100% right and we weren’t even into Oregon yet.
We collected just the one bonus that day (at Granite in Oregon) but there was snow falling as we headed up there from Baker City around midday and I getting off and on the bike was proving tough in the cold.
On our way into Kennewick we had a rear tyre change booked and I phoned the dealer to let them know we were running behind schedule. Happily while they said that was the same story with everyone doing the IBR coming in, they promised they’d get us done as quickly as possible and we headed on out there. True to their word, they had us out in under 2 hours and we used the time wisely to download our bonus photos, check our bonus claim form and ensure it was all in order. We picked up an error on the Old Faithful bonus which made the time spent well worthwhile, Kiwi bought me some new waterproof gloves and we chatted to Robert and Eric who arrived after us with the same errand.
So on we went into Kennewick. We were I think #11 in line for scoring and I was far less stressed than I expected. We didn’t leave any points at the table and we rounded out leg 1 with 13,320 points. OK, so it wasn’t in medal contention and not even close to finisher requirements, but we made it and we had some good ‘lessons learnt’ under our belts.
I was intrigued by the notice in the lobby of the hotel:
But dinner was in order and then sleep. Tomorrow was another day.
I know I promised a joint ride report but we’ve been struggling to make that work… The Kiwi version is now online at https://forum.ironbutt.org/index.php?threads/ibr-2019-ride-report_part-1-leg-1-the-road-less-traveled.3208/ and provides a far less anxiety-ridden account of our ride. Please check it out for a different perspective on exactly the same ride!