Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Land of Enchantment Rally 2010

About three months ago, I asked Shelley (my wife) if she would be interested in going to New Mexico for a long distance rally. She was enthusiastic about New Mexico, less enthusiastic about the long distance. However, we signed up as a two-up couple, knowing that we were going to have fun and finishing was a secondary concern. We had just bought our Victory Vision back in April and have enjoyed riding it every since. We had ridden about 500 miles together maximum before this rally, so Shelley was nervous about the distance. She actually asked to withdraw as the passenger; but thanks to David Porter and his words of encouragement, she changed her mind and stayed in the rally. We talked about it and we said that we weren't in it for the competition. We just wanted to ride around, see some of New Mexico, and have fun. That outlook would change quickly.

When we got to the Western Skies hotel in Los Lunas, we met some great people. All of the rally volunteers were super friendly, especially Voni, and put us at ease about the ride. During the technical inspection, I put the Vision over on the tip over protectors so Steve could do a proper inspection of the tires. I think he and the other guys were pretty impressed with that. We were riding the only Victory in the field. Several guys came up and asked me questions about it. I showed off the tip over protection, the power windshield, and some of the other features. In the mass of BMW's and Gold Wings, the Vision really stood out.

It was cool to see some other non-comformists. There was one Moto-Guzzi, a Triumph Trophy, a Harley Electro-Glide, and a Vulcan 500. Two guys were on crotch rockets--a Hayabusa and a Honda CBR. I just couldn't see them riding 1000 miles on a sport bike, but they both finished. Hats off to those guys.

We milled around, talked to some of the other riders. I bumped into my personal hero, Jim Owen. He won the 2009 Iron Butt rally by riding over 12,000 miles in 11 days. Amazing. Shelley found her hero. I think she was surprised to find a few women riders in the rally. She met Wendy from California, who rides her own Yamaha FJR1000. There were several other solo women riders, one on a Harley Street Glide. Shelley made the comment that if these girls can make 1000 miles on their own bike, she would really feel like a wuss if she didn't finish by just riding on the back. Hmmm, I'm starting to see a little competitiveness coming out here.

At the riders' meeting, Ira stressed the importance of a safe ride. Shelley and I had already had a talk about this, that we were here to have fun and make it back safely. He said that there was a Hayabusa registered for the rally, and (not directed exclusively to the Hayabusa rider) anyone who was cited for excessive speed would be disqualified and banned from further rallies. There was no doubt that they were serious about the safety of the rally riders.

Ira then covered the point scheme, which was something totally different. Bonuses were going to have positive and negative numbers and the rider that rode at least 1000 miles, scored 9 bonuses--not 8, not 10, but 9 bonuses (this is how Ira put it)--and was closest to zero would be the winner. So this wasn't the normal get-all-the-bonuses-you-can rally. This was going to be a puzzle. Right before the meeting was adjourned, Shelley leaned over to me and said,"Don't talk to anybody, don't do anything, do not stop until we get to the room. We've got some planning to do." I looked over at what used to be my sweet little wife that said that we aren't competing, we are just here to have fun and see New Mexico. Instead, this woman that looked very similar to my wife, but with a fire in her eyes, a determined look, and a steady glare that said,"Just do what I tell you to and you won't get hurt." The meeting adjourned, we made a bee-line for the room, and started planning.

What a mess. We unfolded the paper map, started color coding and writing down bonus points. The positives were in the north part of the state and the negatives were in the south, or somewhat like that. I don't know what form of MIT calculus that these rally masters used to formulate the bonus totals, but it was really difficult. We had to balance out the negatives and positives to get close to zero. The first route had us down to 444 points, but it required between 18 and 20 hours of riding time. We planned to take at least a two hour rest bonus, plus stopping for bonuses and fuel would make this absolutely impossible. Finally after about 3 hours, we came up with a route that got us into the low 10,000's (some of the bonuses were in the high 100,000's). This would be conservative, but let us finish--IF we got all the bonuses. We went to bed to get about 6 hours of sleep. No worries.

The next morning we get out front and line up to get ready for leaving. Dave Hall comes over and does our pre-departure odometer check. We spend about 30 minutes checking the bike, checking our equipment, and warming up the bike. We turn on the Scala Riders, and get on the bike, and get ready to go. We're both excited and a little anxious. The guy who's lined up next to me is riding a Vulcan 500 with an external fuel tank. I bet he stopped for gas like once or twice.

As we head out, we get out on 25 and turn north. Our first bonus is to get a least 4 hot air balloons in a picture with our rally flag. We see some off in the distance. Shelley has a great camera, so we pull off the road. I hold up my rally flag so she can get a couple of shots. As we're standing there, several other riders get the same idea. When we get going again, she looks on the camera and says that she can't see them all that well. As we turn east on 40, I pull over again to get a couple more shots, just in case.

We head up to Sandia Peak to get the shot of Albuquerque from the top of the mountain. We had originally x'ed this bonus out because it said to walk up to the peak. We weren't sure how much walking was involved and was sure it would be a sucker bonus. But it was close by, so we went for it. The ride up there was awesome. Twisty roads and switchbacks, it was a great ride. With Shelley onboard, I had to let a few guys pass me, but no worries. The Vision handled great, even two up. I put some more air in the rear suspension before we started. That really helped out a lot. We make it to the top, the walk up to the peak is not far. We get off the bike, I take the camera and head up to the peak with several other riders. One was Nick Bull (riding with his wife Jeanette) who passed me heading up. I see him get off the bike as we're pulling up. As I'm walking up, he's already running back down to his bike. Man, that guy's fast.

So apparently the theory of us just having fun, we're not competing, blah blah blah, has fallen by the way side. As I get up to the top, my wife is babbling in my ear through the Scala rider, asking me what I'm doing, I need to hurry up, etc. I'm trying to lay my flag on a tree in the wind, and getting frustrated. A nice older gentleman asks me if I want him to take my picture holding the flag, and I say yes, please, and give him the camera. Shelley is still rambling in my ear, telling me all kinds of things that she will do to me if I don't hurry up, so I say, "Just hold your damn horses". The man with my camera says,"Hey, are you talking to me?", and I say, "NO! No, sorry, my wife is babbling in my ear." I really didn't feel like getting my butt kicked that early in the morning, especially by an elderly gentleman, especially in front of the other LD riders there. But he said, no problem, took my picture, then off we went. The ride back down was great as well.

Shelley has a great warning system about letting me know when she is scared. It starts with a knee squeeze, then progresses to fingers in the ribs, then finger nails with a hard knee squeeze. I haven't gotten any further than that but I don't want to know what the next step is. She's a massage therapist, so she has the hand and finger strength of a gorilla. I don't think I'll push it any further. But she did lighten up as we got into a rhythm going back down the mountain.

Our next bonus was the Penitentiary of New Mexico, where the latest Longest Yard was filmed. We got behind James (fellow non-conformist) on his Moto-Guzzi heading toward Madrid, so we rode with him to the penitentiary. We stopped there, got the picture, I found a small corner and watered the plants. It's good to be a guy.

We got back out to 25 and headed down to 40 west for Grants. This bonus was the ranger station at the El Malpais national monument. The directions said to go down NM 89 about 24.3 miles, take a picture of the sign in front of the ranger station. We went down about 9 miles and found the station, so we weren't sure if this was right. The visitor's center was about 25 miles down NM 81. I called Ira and asked him about it, and he said that if it is a picture of what is listed on the bonus sheet, then it is good. So we took the picture and hoped for the best.

We went further west on 40 and got the bonus at Red Rock State Park. The bonus pack said take a picture of the visitor's center. The only building there was the Convention Center and the Museum Office. We took several pictures of that, then ate our quick lunch.

We then went south to Quemado. The bonus here was just a question--what is the mascot of Quemado high school? This was obvious, there was a pole with an eagle on top of it and a sign saying home of the eagles. Or was it that obvious? I was just sure there was some sort of trick here, so we stopped for gas and asked some of the locals. They verified that the high school was there and their mascot was the eagles. Cool.

Shelley got some great shots of the New Mexico landscape as we were riding.

We cut back east toward Socorro and to pick up the VLA (Very Large Array--what an unoriginal name) bonus. This was our "extra" bonus in case we couldn't find one of the planned bonuses. We were glad that we picked this one up. We hit a thunderstorm so I had to pull over and put on some rain pants. Shelley's gear was waterproof, so she lucked out.

We headed back to Los Lunas for the rest bonus. By the time we get back to the hotel, It's about 6 pm and we have about 600 miles so far. We wanted to do the majority of the riding and bonus finding in the day time. So far, so good. The rest bonus could be scored as a large positive, large negative, small positive, or small negative and you had to tell the rally volunteer right then which one you wanted. We took the small positive, went and rested until about 8 pm.

Our night plan was to go to the ICE station Otto just north of Moriarty, then to Fort Sumner for Billy the Kid's grave, and back to Los Lunas. As we turn east on I-40, the roads start looking wet and what looks like snow is on the side of the road. Apparently, we had missed a major hail storm. The hail had accumulated on the sides of the road, making it look like we were riding in snow. Shelley was freaking out from this and all the big trucks we had to pass, but there wasn't anything to do except ride on. I just shut off my Scala rider so I could concentrate. We made it through with no problems. The Vision rode and handled great, even on the slick, wet pavement. No worries.

We get to Moriarty, ride about 6 miles per the bonus listing, and look for something with antennae and a sign. We are expecting some fancy looking building with lights. Nothing. Pitch black except for our lights and some on the horizon. So between cars, I weave back and forth, shining my light into the fields on either side of the road. Still nothing. Shelley uses her GPS (mine is mounted to my handle bar, hers is velcroed to my back) and finds an OTTO training station about 2 miles down this dirt rode. So we take off. Bad idea.

This road is a serious washboard. The Vision takes the bumps pretty well. Shelley even says the vibration makes her back feel better. Now I'm REALLY glad I put more air in the suspension. The washboard is not so bad, but then it turns into mud. We start slipping and sliding, but power through it until I can get turned around. On the way back, the rear tire fish tails, and I almost lose it, but recover and make it back to the main road. I'm frustrated and tense so we take a rest and drink some water. We see another rider on a BMW ride by slowly, looking for the same thing. We silently wished him luck, then rode on, leaving that bonus behind. Later, we found that guy and he said that he found that bonus about 100 yards from where we were. It was a small shack with some freaky looking antennae and an old wooden sign. Figures.

As we rode east on 40, we were both thinking about our point totals. The extra bonus that we picked up was a huge negative. If we went to Fort Sumner, Billy the Kid's grave was also a huge negative. We stopped in Santa Rosa for gas and pulled out the rally book. The Route 66 monument in Tucumcari was a large positive and was only 5o miles up the road. We could grab that bonus, divert south from Moriarty, and pick up the miles we needed to get our 1000. There is also a bonus on the way that we might can pick up as well. We decide to go that route. We rode further east, got the Route 66 memorial and headed back to Moriarty to head south. I think Shelley dozed a couple of times.

We turned off of I-40 and headed south from Moriarty. I could have taken a nap, that road was so straight. It eventually turned foggy, then we started seeing patches of hail again on the road. We slow way down, but we hit a huge water puddle at about 30 mph. Again, the Vision stays straight and true as I roll on the throttle and power through it. I'm scared that Shelley got drenched, but she tells me that she's ok, she didn't hardly get wet at all. Whew!

We get to Mountainair, find the Salinas Pueblo National Monument and take a picture.
Then we read it some more and see that the real bonus is 25 miles south on a small road. It's about 4:30 at this time. We have all of our bonuses we need to finish, we'll have our 1000 miles and we are both tired. The competitive fire has drained from Shelley and we decide to head back to Los Lunas. We get back to the hotel about 6 am and check in. When we get to the scoring table, we got all of our bonuses and 1051 miles, per our odometer.

The route on the left is our day route, and the one of the right the route we ended up taking at night.

Our final score was 11555 points, which got us to 34th place out of 54 riders, 9 of whom were DNF. The banquet was held at the Luna Mansion and was very nice with good food. We sat with Bill Norris and his wife. Bill rode the 500 Vulcan with the extra gas tank. Hats off to him. The final scores were very tight, much tighter than I would have thought. The winner was Jim Owen (no surprise) with 58 points. He rode almost 1200 miles and picked up 15 bonuses. Amazing job. The second place prize went to 2 two-up couples on Gold Wings. Out of 5 two-up couples, we were 4th.

Here's the link to the standings:
Here's the link to the LOE Rally site:

The Vision is a great bike to ride on, gave us no problems whatsoever. Both of us were comfortable the entire trip, at least as far as seat comfort. The wind deflectors kept my legs nice and warm from the engine heat. The heated seats worked great for both of us. The electric wind screen was nice; I could adjust it higher for the interstate, lower for the back roads. The floor boards gave me an infinite number of foot positions, which helped on those long intervals on the interstate. I can't say enough about the performance of this bike and our comfort on it.

I came away feeling like we did great for our first rally. I was delightfully surprised at how well Shelley did and even more surprised that she has caught LD rally fever. We are looking ahead to other rallies and hopefully being able to make it back for the LOE rally next year. What a great experience. Thanks to all the folks who gave us tips and tricks.