Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Void Rally

I want to take a few moments to record my thoughts after the third annual Void endurance rally.

First, these endurance rallies are a bit like a mini-Christmas in the way that they create excitement, involve weeks of anticipation and preparation, an in the way that they bring good people together. It is fair to say that the “bar” of Christmas itself, however, has been set fairly low. Rare is the family who actually employs a critical eye reviewing the merits of those who will be rewarded. While the endurance rally system of bonus points and how they are earned results in nothing of tangible value, the emotional and psychic value is a whole different story. Whether you end up with one point or thousands of points, you pretty much know that you’ve earned every one.

At the scoring table, after a hard day of riding in pursuit of bonus points (bonii) at various bonus point locations, there can be some real disappointments and sometimes some hard feelings. It appears to me that well organized rallies anticipate this. Both rallies I attended, organized their volunteer staff in a way that permitted appeals all the way up to the main organizer, an individual thick-skinned by necessity who is referred to, not always affectionately as the "Rally Bastard" or RB for short.

Scott LaShear was the RB for the Void 3, along with Gary Stipe. In the weeks leading up to the Rally, I frequently saw Scott's name in my mail and on the signature line of e-mails of the Void's listserver clarifying one point or another. I also saw others of his volunteers, particularly Jim Bain who I had met when he was the RB at the Cape Fear Rally, my first long distance (LD) rally. Although I came in too late to be counted a finisher at the Cape Fear Rally, it did get me interested enough in endurance rallies to try it again and I endeavored greatly to finish this one, learning a thing or two about myself in the process.

The Void was really four rallies in one. There was a ten-hour rally that began and ended in Lynchburg, and three 24-hour rallies that began from different locations in the Eastern part of the U.S. (Altoona, PA; Dothan, AL; and Owensboro, KY) and ended in Lynchburg, VA. All 24-hour riders had the same set of bonus locations, but obviously had to be scored separately. The 10-hour riders had another set. I had ridden the 10-hour version at Cape Fear. Starting from Altoona, this was my first 24-hour rally.

Soon after I registered, wondering whether I was being vain, stupid, foolish, or a bit of all three to presume to do this, the first packet arrived in the mail carrying my rally flag and some guidance that hinted at other mysteries. Why was the rally flag printed on paper that would dissolve if it got wet? Some of the old-timers chatted things up on the listserv, discussing various bonus locations, creating a variety of alarms in my mind as to why I had received nothing yet concerning bonus locations. It was in good humor. Kevin Craft clued me in quickly enough as to what the game was, when I took the bait. Later I learned that Kevin was the Rally Master for the new Rendez-vous Rally in Quebec, Canada. Hint: I now want to experience the added challenge that the French language and the metric system might present.

The first packet is kind of a teaser. Once you have your flag, you can't wait to get the book of bonus locations and begin planning your route. It arrived a couple weeks later, Monday night the week of the rally. Needless to say I was up late a few nights after that. I told myself that since the rally would not actually start until one in the afternoon that I would be able to use the hotel room that I had reserved for Thursday night to sleep in and catch-up on sleep right before the start. Sure.

My uninformed approach was to key in all the bonus locations that I might remotely want to consider into my Garmin's GPS's Mapsource software. This would prove useful, but in the future I will spend five bucks for a Rand McNally regional map and plot them so that I can more easily see the big picture. Color-coding them for high-value, medium-value and low-value also makes sense. I also printed a second copy of the rally book's bonus location then cut it up so that each bonus was on a separate 3 X 8.5 inch strip of paper. Later I would organize these according to my chosen route and staple them into a kind of booklet that I could keep on the top of my tank bag and use as a reference for each bonus stop. When I remembered to use them, they kept me out of trouble.

While waiting for the packet, I speculated about possible routes between Altoona and Lynchburg. Ordinarily it is a good plan to try to plan a series of loops that have good bail-out points if one runs into time trouble and needs to just get to the finish line. When the rally book arrived with the real locations, my reading of it led me to believe that this rally would not lend itself to such a plan. Anyway, I arrived at my hotel room in Altoona, on Thursday night and still did not know for sure what I was going to do the next day. At the same time, I wanted to meet some of the other riders, if possible. Should I order pizza and work on my route or should I socialize? I decided to compromise and do a bit of both. I might gain more from what I could learn from more experience riders than struggling on in my own ignorance. I figured that other riders probably would not want to make a late-night party of it. Working late then sleeping in the next day was a possibility.

This proved to be one of the first great decisions of my weekend. From the listserver, I knew some riders were staying at Motel 6. It was already a waypoint in my GPS and only a short ride from my room at the Econo Lodge. There I met two riders just arriving on bikes with Canadian plates. They turned out to be Cameron Sanders and Peter DeLean who I learned the following week had placed first and third, respectively, in the Rendez-vous Rally. They said that they would probably have dinner at Hooters. I told them that if they did they would find me there.

When they did show up, they went through a couple of pitchers of beer -- they had been able to walk from Motel 6 -- while I stuck to diet cokes needing to ride several blocks back to the Econo Lodge. This worked to my advantage as they gave freely of their advice for the rally (not because of the beer, but because helping other riders and especially new riders is pretty much the spirit of the LD Rally sport and they the very personification) and I probably remembered much more of what they said.

The two of them instructed me to use color coding on the map so I could naturally see the highest value route, then to work backwards from the end how much time I would need to hit each stop and figure out my decision points. Following their advice, in my hotel room later, I was able to put my entire route plan on two diskette labels that I would temporarily stick to the top of my tank bag. This served me well. Despite a couple of mistakes and near mistakes, I would be able to get back before the DNF deadline because of the evaluation done for each bonus location.

We happened to meet again the next morning at Denny's. I woke up at 7, tried to get back to sleep, but gave up and got up twenty minutes later. By nine we were wondering what we might do with the remaining time until one o'clock. I put down a "lumberjack breakfast" knowing it would be my last good meal for a while. We ended up scouting out a laundromat and the Salvation Army before heading up to Home Depot, where we would each buy a 1/4" bolt. The time on the receipt would be our starting time once we called it into the Rally Masters.

I will leave the recounting of the rally for comments that I will add to the pictures as I add them. For now, I need to report that most of what I've just written was jotted into a notebook at my next good breakfast. Returning to home in Takoma Park, Maryland after the rally, I found myself riding up highway 29. I had a thought of stopping in Charlotsville, but on the way I passed through Lovingston, VA. Lovingston has a special place in my heart because of a wine that Mountain Cove Vineyard produced many years ago. I liked it enough to seek out the winery and buy more while traveling with my wife when we were married. We still travel together occasionally, but get along better together not being married. Anyway, I saw a sign directing me to a side rode and the Lovingston Cafe. It gave me time to collect a few of these thoughts.

It is also one of those funny things in life that when I arrived at the Econo Lodge, I saw that its office shared a building with a Chinese Buffet. This was the same restaurant a group of friends and I had eaten at in 2003 on our ride to Toronto. The leader of the ride, Norm, died last spring while getting ready to get on his bike one morning, in Nevada. Norm was a character who tried not care whether others liked him, but he stuck to his own principals, and he seemed to know all the roads and their numbers. It felt good to be walking again in a place he once brought me, although unlike him I had well forgotten that it was Altoona where we had stopped for lunch.

At the finish, I knew it was close. Still, I took a moment more to take a picture of my GPS's status screen. It showed an average speed overall of 61 mph and a top speed of 137 mph. Garmin's are known to get that last bit wrong. I can guarantee that my ride never reached triple digit speeds. I removed my helmet, pulled my ball cap (for the fashion bonus), grabbed my six-pack beverage bonus and headed inside the hotel. I was shocked that there was nobody to check me in in the lobby. Other riders pointed me to the arrows on the wall. Woops! I had to do some walking. How close would I be to DNF'ing again? Rats!

Down the hall... I started to trot. At the end a turn and there was Karla to log me in. Time? 2:47. I was four minutes from DNF'ing. Not bad, considering the wrong turn I had found for the last gas stop and a number of other "mistakes" I could think of. Later, at the scoring table, I met Verne Hauck who led me through my first experience at the scoring table. He went down the check list and I seemed to have everything needed.

"Proof of insurance?" he asked.

I put my hand in my left pants pocket where I had been sure to put it for scoring, but it was not there. Without proof of insurance, there would be no points. I would be disqualified. Talk about panic. Verne called Scott over and explained. I told them both that I had been careful to fold it up, like a letter, and put it in my pocket and that it just was not there. Scott was not happy. You can tell that he wants people to get it right and to have a good time.

"Stand up and take everything out of all your pockets," he instructs me.

I do so and there is not much in my pockets.

Nobody's fault but my own. No point in getting mad about it. I just should have been even more careful about that document. I put everything back into my pocket, back away from the table, push the chair back under the table, and there to the left of the chair is my insurance document lying on the floor.

From there on out I was a very happy individual. Yes, I lost points for not taking a couple of pictures with my rally flag showing in them, but I had finished and actually had a score. Hopefully I will live long enough to apply the lessons of this rally in future rallies and do better, but I had done well enough for the moment and would enjoy hearing the stories of others for the rest of the day.

At the next table, a rider is recounting... "I ran out of gas on the Blue Grass Parkway..."

That was a bind that I had been in, myself, but some road magic had saved me. More about that later.

Pictures here.

Link to the Void Web Page here.

Packing up

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