Seriously??? Again with the early mornings???? Ugh.
It was 3.30am when the alarm went off. Will this torture never end? But we had to make it to Zion National Park before the last shuttle that night so it was up and at ’em in the dark. At least there was something resembling coffee and some foody sustenance available (I can’t recall what we ate but there was something provided downstairs and the beverage had some form of caffeine in it so I wasn’t complaining).
We packed the bike, checked out with Lisa (she had to dig my lanyard out of the front of my jacket, poor woman!) and hit the road about 4.15am. We weren’t the first to leave, but we were happy to be among a steady stream of bikes leaving the parking lot before the first rays of sun appeared on the horizon.
Not too far down the road we passed the Lahmans on their Africa Twins, I tried to get photos from the back of the bike but there just wasn’t enough light. Then we had to pull off for a Kiwi wee stop and they sped past us… Like everyone else! I swear we were overtaken by at least 5 IBR riders heading our way as the morning went on. But the sun was starting to show its face and it wasn’t toooooo cold so on we plodded down the interstate.
Our first bonus for the day was at the Shoshone Falls on Snake River in Idaho. As we were now used to, the waypoint was a little way from the actual bonus, but it was a relatively straightforward path to the falls themselves and we made it without a hitch. There were plenty of other tourists about taking in the falls and a few rogue RVs decided they’d brave the road down also. Thankfully all went according to plan and we were back on the road and out onto the interstate in less than 20 minutes.
The next 8 hours were boring as batshit for me. I kid you not we sat on I84 and then I15 for hours and hours and hours with the monotony only broken by the ‘look Ma, no hands’ antics of Michael Baker as he, too, passed us (love ya Michael!) and the occasional stop to refuel the bike and/or our tummies.
Finally we left the interstate headed for Zion! Woohoo! We came here together in 2016 and had a wonderful holiday hiking various trails and it was wonderful to be back in familiar surrounds, the rocks really are stunning!
There was plenty of traffic coming out of the park towards Springdale, and a few hold ups on the way in also as some wise soul had decided it was a great time of year to do roadworks and reduce the road to a single lane to be shared alternately by traffic going north and south. Thankfully the delay wasn’t too bad heading into the park, given it was now 7pm and most of the traffic was coming towards us and not too much later we were on a shuttle heading up the canyon in Zion! Our photo bonus was at the last stop: The Temple of Sinawava. Photo snapped, we hopped back on the bus and were back at the bike in half an hour.
Earlier in the day I’d booked accommodation for us at Kanab, which seemed like a good idea at the time: it was on the way to our next bonus and we’d get there about 10pm, which was our ‘off the road by’ time. It didn’t seem such a great choice when we got there as I clearly have a knack for picking hotels with slow check in. This time the desk was unattended, and when we phoned the number for service it clearly wasn’t connecting to the right place! 15 minutes later, with both of us getting frustrated, I figured I’d write off the $100 already paid and see if the place across the road had a room. Thankfully, just as I was setting off Kiwi called me back as the attendant had returned and all was well. By now our routine was down pat and 20 minutes later we were horizontal and sleeping, visors cleaned, helmets charging and food laid out ready for the morning.
Tuesday was day 9 and we were up again at sparrow’s fart to get to the north rim of the Grand Canyon at dawn for a daylight-only bonus. My notes for Tuesday say “Much better!”. Largely due to the fact we were on more interesting roads, with more interesting scenery and that I actually had something to do, I enjoyed the day rather more.
As planned, we made it to Bright Angel Point soon after dawn and while we could both have happily sat and watched the colours change on one of the most breathtaking sights, it was back on the bike and on up the road for us.
We had 3 more bonuses to hit that day: CREEF on a short gravel road in Capitol Reef NP, BFROG at “one of the least convenient places to ride to in order to reach the Colorado River” (I’m pretty sure Lisa Landry’s rather dry sense of humour is evident in the “You’re welcome” that comes after that sentence in the bonus listing!), and GVIEW at the tip of Canyonlands NP.
It was a day of extreme temperatures on the bike. We started the day with temps in the mid-30s heading into the Grand Canyon and even with my new wind proof gloves on, my fingers were freezing. When Kiwi asked me if he could have some mints I said ‘sure’ but quickly realised it was easier said than done! While I could get the lid of the tic tacs open, I couldn’t grip the individual mints! It was a bizarre experience and I think it took me a good 3 or 4 minutes to do what usually took 30 seconds.
It was about 450kms to our next bonus, roughly 6 hours away including fuel stops and slower roads. My helmet was paired to my phone, but Kiwi hadn’t updated his pairing for his new phone and trying to do that on-the-run didn’t seem like a recipe for a relaxing morning. If he couldn’t listen to music, maybe I could read out more than the daily rally reports which, while very entertaining, were only enough to keep us occupied for about an hour. So I suggested I could become a human audiobook – reading aloud from my phone while we rode along? We agreed to give it a try and I started in on Lee Child’s book ’61 Hours’.
Time passed relatively quickly this way, with me reading when the roads didn’t require Kiwi’s full concentration and when I didn’t need to be more active with our navigation. Before too long, we arrived in Capitol Reef NP, prepared to do battle with 2.3 miles of unpaved road.
The scenery in the national park was spectacular but the short section of gravel was not fantastic, especially with other drivers playing fast and loose with which side of the road they should be on. We were both happy to get to the required point, take our photo and be back on bitumen!
Having been so cold first thing in the morning, it was a bit of a shock to the system to now be riding in temperatures up in the high-90s. Between Capitol Reef NP and our next bonus in Bullfrog, UT, there wasn’t much respite from the heat. Bullfrog is about as isolated and barren as anywhere I’ve been in the US and the description about it being an inconvenient place to reach the Colorado River wasn’t a joke. It’s at the end of a road full of nothingness! Definitely a road less travelled.
As we left Bullfrog heading back to civilisation, we happened on a family in a camper (RV), towing their boat. They had a flat tyre they couldn’t change themselves and didn’t have phone reception. We promised we’d call highway patrol for them as soon as we had service ourselves and headed on our way.
Turns out it would be over an hour before we got reception again and when I called highway patrol they indicated the road wasn’t their jurisdiction and transferred me to the county offices. Between my accent, the acoustics of the microphone in my helmet and the various other language difficulties that occur when Australians and Americans try to converse in what both countries insist is English, it took a while to explain the situation. Probably someone had already been able to help the stranded family by then, but at least we knew our consciences were clear and that we’d done what we could to help!
On to Canyonlands and the scenery improved a lot. As we climbed up the peninsular to reach the bonus location, I realised we could see the monoliths in Monument Valley on the border with Arizona at least 100kms from where we were! The view was gorgeous and once again it was a shame to have to just snap and run. Thankfully there were more opportunities to enjoy the view as we rode out again and I made the most of the opportunity to ogle the sights as Kiwi rode.
Kiwi had clearly had enough of the dubious accommodations I was booking online and decided it was ‘his shout’ for the hotel in Moab that night. We had only two or perhaps 3 bonuses planned for Wednesday and after an early morning we were happy to call it a night around 8.30pm where we knew we could get somewhere to stay. Clearly Kiwi had a better nose for hotels that I did because we were checked in and into our room in less than 10 minutes. We had salads from the place across the road while we considered our route for the following day (things seemed to be going to plan, could we fit any more bonuses in? Didn’t look like it) and then it was lights out.
So Day 10… So close and yet so far, right!?
It was a late start by IBR standards and that should have been a good thing, but unfortunately it didn’t start that well. Discussing options for bonuses last night, Kiwi and I had clearly misunderstood each other about the locations of the TELL and MESAV bonuses. While the waypoints look close on the map, TELL is actually in Telluride, about 70 miles north of the waypoint and therefore not at all close to MESAV. I was struggling to make Kiwi understand that to add MESAV and its 512 points to our route would add at least an hour, and probably more to our route, while he wanted to know why we didn’t try to get it the night before.
It was one of the first signs of cumulative sleep deprivation (for both of us) that would only increase over the next two days. I interpreted Kiwi’s questions as a personal attack on my planning and routing abilities and struggled to hold back the tears while doing my best to explain that the bonus was not where the waypoint was. And I’d been doing so well with my emotional regulation!!! I think we were both a bit cross with each other as we left Moab, but I used my best ‘self talk’ to rationalise the issue as fatigue and get over it. 512 points was not going to be a game changer for us at this stage and if I really had been wrong about our ability to get the points, then I’d just have to wear it.
First up was TELL, Galloping Goose #4 which was a bus converted to a railway engine now parked in the vicinity of the Telluride Court House. Kiwi’s mood was not improved by the traffic or the tourists and I was pleased when we got the photo out of the way and headed out of town. Our next bonus was SILVR, which we couldn’t collect until 11.30am when a train was due to arrive in town for its lunch break. It looked like we’d be there soon after 10am which would give us time for some food and our last ‘rest’ before we had to hightail it back across the country to the finish.
As we headed out of Telluride, both Garmins were trying to send us back the way we’d come, taking 2 hours to get to Silverton. I’d been using inRoute to do our planning which had been faultless so far, and it showed this really short route that would only take a bit over an hour and a half. So I directed us left rather than straight ahead. Usually with Garmin moments, after 3 or 4 minutes, one or both GPSs will decide that actually, this road isn’t too bad after all and I suppose continuing should be fine, but not this time. 10 minutes later they were both adamantly telling us to do a U-turn, and more and more traffic seemed to be disappearing up side roads, which was starting to worry me.
So I asked Kiwi to pull over when he got a chance please. I knew he was already pretty cranky with the day and this wasn’t going to help, but when I searched ‘Ophir’ in Google and one of the top results was ‘mostdangerousroads.com’ or something similar, I had to admit Garmin was right and we should turn around. Unfortunately this was now a 20 minute detour from where we needed to be, and the route would be 30 minutes longer, reducing our rest time in Silverton from about an hour and a half to just over half an hour. So be it. At least I’d figured it out before we got to the gravel.
In the end, we made pretty good time and the correct route took us along the ‘million dollar highway’ through some gorgeous Colorado scenery. We arrived in Silverton with time to get a coffee and some food into us before the train was due to arrive. It was nice to be able to take some time off the bike, regroup and reset from what hadn’t been a great morning. It was just what we both needed, and by 11.30 I think we were both feeling a lot better about life in general. Since the train still hadn’t arrived in town, we followed the instructions in the rally book to get a timed receipt from a local business and take a photo of our bike looking towards where the train should have been. We also took the opportunity to do our final call-in bonus for the rally.
Job done, we were on the road again. After accounting for time zone changes as we headed east, we had roughly 40 hours to get from Colorado to South Carolina. Somewhere in there we were hoping to get a full 8 hours for our final rest bonus, which left about 32 hours to cover 2500kms. We didn’t really want to be riding right up to the time the penalty window opened at 8am, but we knew we’d have to ride past our 10pm curfew. There was one more bonus we had on our ‘maybe’ list for today: SANDI. It was a bit over 1100 points and didn’t look like it was too far off route, but it was also at the top of a hill/mountain which meant a twisty road and lower speeds… We decided to make a final call on it when we got closer.
A few hours later the Spot stopped spotting again! Kiwi had replaced the batteries only the previous morning but thankfully he’d kept the old ones since we’d already used our ‘spare’ set. We were due for a fuel stop so 10 minutes later we pulled into a gas station and he put the old batteries back in. Inside, I spent $36 on the last 8 AAA Lithium batteries they had – four new ones and four spares ‘just in case’. Before we started the rally I scoffed at Kiwi wanting to buy 4 sets of batteries… Now we’d been through 4 sets I fully understood the desire for redundancy on a rally. Better to have more of something that takes up no space than lose points or your ability to finish a rally because you didn’t have what you needed.
Late afternoon we were approaching Albuquerque, NM when the wind picked up and the weather looked to be closing in. Even closing the helmet visor couldn’t keep the dust out and it was fairly unpleasant all round. We made the decision that SANDI wasn’t worth it – it would add at least 2 hours to our route and we really didn’t want to be riding up a hill in gale force winds. As it was, we spent a good 4 hours on I40 being blown sideways, with 871kms to go before our next turnoff. It felt like a pure cross-wind, hitting us from the right and blowing us around in our lane and at times into the lane next to us! I was very pleased when we stopped for fuel and some food and I could regroup and regather my strength. With a warm steak sub inside us, we headed back out to brave the elements. Only a few more hours and we’d stop for the night and take our rest.
I have one other vivid memory of Wednesday evening. As dark was closing in, we rode past some massive cattle feedlots. The smell was awful, even with the wind blowing, and the conditions for the animals were clearly not great. It didn’t make me feel great about being an omnivorous human.
We pulled stumps for the night at Shamrock, TX. I can’t remember much about it but I know Kiwi was disappointed that he couldn’t get a burger because we were late getting in and also that there was an RV in the parking lot that looked big enough to fit two hotel rooms in it… Which made me wonder why they were staying at a hotel?!?! Whatever. I was tired. Sleep called. I answered.
My only other non-riding notes from Wednesday read “Not sure hair will ever recover”. I had started ‘washing’ my hair in the shower each night (without any actual shampoo or conditioner because time) and then pulling it back into a plait for sleeping, which would then hold until it went into my helmet each morning and generally stayed neat enough for the following day. This was more efficient than my day 1 through 4 method of re-doing my pony tail every time I took my helmet off, but it meant that I now had what seemed to be permanent helmet hair and my fringe (bangs) had a very definite part in the middle which looked ridiculous. For rally purposes, it wasn’t a big deal, but I truly was starting to wonder if my hair would ever be the same again. [note: hair finally looks almost normal again after 2 weeks of TLC and some professional assistance]
Day 11 arrived with far less fanfare than seemed appropriate. We wanted to get our finish receipt as close to 6.45am as possible to maximise our rest bonus points, which meant another “IBR sleep in” until 6am and even cereal for breakfast at the hotel! By now sitting down to an actual breakfast felt like pure luxury but to be honest it was also 100% necessary for us in order to survive the nearly 2000kms we were going to cover in the next 20+ hours.
Mid-morning (9.30ish) we decided we’d brave a short detour off I40 to collect a relatively small bonus in Oklahoma City: OKC. It was a lighthouse on a small lake and only worth 332 points, but at the same time it would only take us 30 minutes to collect it and we had that time available. It was fairly straightforward and we got our photo before heading back to the interstate to keep pounding through the miles.
At some point during the day we finished the first Lee Childs book and moved onto a second. The day droned on with not much to break things up except the occasional crossing of a state line. Mid-afternoon we had to make a call about whether to go north east after Memphis, via Nashville and back through the Smokey Mountains to Greenville, or south east via Atlanta. inRoute was saying that the Atlanta route was significantly quicker (I think maybe 45 minutes) so that got my vote. I don’t think Kiwi was that keen on the southern route, but it was hard to argue with almost an hour less riding time.
So south we headed, cutting the corner of Tennessee into Mississippi, then Alabama and Georgia. Things were going fine until about 10.30pm when the traffic came to a standstill somewhere west of Atlanta. Google was indicating a 10 minute delay that was then rapidly extending behind us, but for no apparent reason. Slowly we started moving again and it appeared that roadworks had been the reason for the congestion. The lane markings were close to impossible to see and various vehicles had flashing blue ‘warning’ lights going which seemed to serve no purpose other than to make it even harder to see the road (we encountered these vehicles multiple times and I can only describe them as creating visual noise, especially in the dark). The delay was probably no more than 15 minutes but it was enough to get the bike running hot and Kiwi’s stress and fatigue levels increasing. Not ideal with another 3 or 4 hours of riding still ahead.
It only got worse. Up until then I’d been reading out loud most of the day. After that the roadworks continued on and off and Kiwi needed every ounce of concentration to deal with staying in our lane and aware of other vehicles. For nearly midnight there was a lot of traffic on the road. Then we hit Atlanta and there was a huge number of cars on the road, but not quite enough to slow them down – so Kiwi was dealing with about 6 lanes of traffic going roughly 80 miles per hour and moving around between exits and entries both from the left and the right. All I could offer was ‘we’re on the right road, just don’t exit, stay on this interstate’.
I could tell he was stressed, he kept asking me where to go and all I could say was ‘stay straight’. And then his Sena told him it had low battery. This was partly my fault. Earlier in the day we’d done a booster charge of about 40 minutes and I thought this would be enough to get us through our extra long day. When he’d suggested boosting again around 6pm I’d said I didn’t think they needed it. I was wrong. So now he’s basically on his own dealing with the traffic, more roadworks and trying to find a rest area to pull over. He saw signs to one but then took the wrong turning and I didn’t need the Senas to know he was swearing and really angry inside his helmet.
When he finally found a gas station to stop we were both very relieved. It was the first time I’ve ever felt unsafe on the bike since I knew he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be in charge of a vehicle. He told me that was the most miserable experience he’d ever had on a motorcycle and I can only believe him. In hindsight we could/should have either gone via Nashville and just accepted it would have been more time on the bike, or taken a rest stop and perhaps a nap before we hit Atlanta. We were now both emotionally exhausted, I was crying again, and the 15 minutes off the bike to snack and just reset were much needed. The good news was we were now past Atlanta (though there would still be some roadworks to come) and that the storm with lightning we could see up ahead was moving west and away from I85 as we headed north east.
Neither of us felt much like reading after that. We had a couple of hours left to go and we passed the time just chatting away and trying to keep each other sane. Kiwi insisted he didn’t need a nap, and I was just itching to get to the finish line.
Finally around 2am we pulled off the interstate and took the 3 familiar turns back to the Greenville Marriott! We’d finished! Perhaps not ‘officially’ but just crossing that line back into the car park felt like a major achievement. We were welcomed in by some very hardy souls who were cheering each bike as we came in and we both very much appreciated the enthusiasm. A couple of IBA volunteers took our odo reading and told us we needed to check in with Bill Thweat after 5am and with that we agreed we’d get a couple of hours’ sleep then prepare for scoring.
We write up our bonus claim form as we go, so there wasn’t too much to do at 4.30am but download the photos so we had a copy for ourselves, check that we had the dates and times correct on our bonuses and confirm we had the receipts we needed. Then, camera and flag in hand, we headed down to officially stop the clock and commence scoring.
It was wonderful to talk and share with other riders as we waited to start the formal process, though I’m not sure I was all that chatty given my lack of sleep. We had our camera card checked and then headed over to complete scoring. It was very thorough and methodical and we were processed through scoring in about 30 minutes. Once again we didn’t lose any points at the table and could now be confident that we were officially “Finishers” with a final score of 84,607. You can check out our final scorecard, including the bonuses we claimed, here.
I ate some food and while Kiwi went to watch the other riders return, I went back to bed. After another 4 or 5 hours of sleep we figured it was time to show our faces and also sit down for a proper meal at a table – we also caught up with Janet Edwards and her news that Bruce had also finished despite some not insignificant set-backs which was excellent news!
Then it was time to think about tomorrow! Kiwi was going to do a certified ride back to the Twin Cities on Saturday, but I would be cheating and catching a plane back. I was on a 6.30am flight which apparently meant leaving for the airport at 4.30. Gah! When will I ever get a sleep in?
There wasn’t enough space on the bike to fit all my motorcycling gear and we didn’t have a bag big enough for me to take it on the plane without wearing it, so we joined a few other riders who were similarly space constrained in a trip to the local FedEx office to ship a box back to Minnesota. Again, in hindsight, we could have just bought the box from FedEx and I could have taken it with me as luggage on the plane… but neither of us were operating at full mental capacity by this time.
Final packing and it was time to head down for the banquet. The rest, as they say, is history. We finished 63rd, and I will now have a 3 digit IBA number (615). More than that, I have two weeks of shared experiences with my life partner which we will both treasure. That experience pushed my boundaries far beyond where I was comfortable, and with the support of Kiwi, friends, family and the community of other riders, I managed to do it anyway. Thank you all for that support.
Overall, we travelled more than 8,500 miles (13,600km) in the 11 days of the rally, plus an additional 1100 miles before the rally started, which looked something like this:
Please stay tuned for one final post… and I’ll update this one with Kiwi’s equivalent once he’d done.