My intended route
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Where I actually went
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This would be my first 'solo' rally. As such, it was going to be a bit of a different game plan.
The fun began a week earlier when we were provided a list of bonus locations. What we were not provided was the point value for each location nor the time restrictions for those locations. Another twist that would only be revealed at a later date was that some of those locations weren't actually bonus locations, but midway points for 'Route Bonuses'. Not only would we get points for visiting locations and properly documenting that visit, we would also get points for taking a specific route by documenting the beginning, the middle, and the end of that route.
The check in process began Friday morning with a odometer calibration run and a camera test:
Our cameras were checked to ensure they were taking pictures at the required resolution (640x480) and that the card was cleared of all pictures (except the test picture). The card was then marked by rally staff and we were ready to go.
Once we were all checked in there was nothing more to do until the rider meeting later that night.
By the time the riders' meeting was over it was starting to get pretty late. Not much time left for planning and getting a good night's sleep before the 0500 start time the next morning.
I knew the route I had planned was probably going to be too much, but I left myself a few 'outs' that would allow me to cut short the ride if needed and still not be left hanging too far from the finish.
Dark and early the next morning most of us were standing next to our bikes at the designated time of 0430 to have our final odometer reading. At 0500 Dale started rolling out the first bike. Somewhere along the way it was my turn to leave and I was off.
First stop along my route was the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center (GDC) in West Yellowstone for 101 points.
A quick in-and-out stop for the requisite photo (including my very own rally blanket in keeping with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly theme) and I was back on the road in short order.
This is where my 'local knowledge' helped out a little. The next stop on my route was to be in Ennis. At first glance the most obvious route would have been to head west out of West Yellowstone then north past Henry's Lake to avoid the twisty roads along Hebgen and Quake lakes. Only problem with that route is the many miles through Idaho with its reduced limits and the several miles of 45 mph limits past Henry's Lake. I knew the road past Hebgen and Quake, while a bit twisty, was very capable of supporting the 70 mph speed limits and the faster choice of getting to the junction of Highways 87 & 287.
The next bonus location along the way was the big fly fisherman (BFF) statue in Ennis at the junction of US-287 and MT-287. Again, local knowledge came in handy here. I was getting close to where I would need fuel and I knew there was a gas station near the statue. I also knew that at one of the pumps I would be able to get fuel and take a picture of the bonus location all with one stop. While I was fueling up and taking my picture I chuckled to myself at the guys rolling up to the statue while trying to find a solid place to park while not get run over by the big rigs making the tight turn. A couple of them made a lap or two around the oddly constructed intersection before finding a place to take their picture. Here's what I ended up snagging for another 158 points.
After leaving Ennis it was a quick hop over the hill to Nevada City to grab a picture of the Nevada City Museum (NCH) for another 212 points
Next on my planned route was Bannack State Historic Park (BNT) for another 218 points. Somewhere along the way I encountered a parade of Hardly Ablesons clogging the highway. Fortunately the highways in Montana are built for traveling and I was able to pass them in short order and grab the bonus with little effort.
As I was leaving Bannack I found myself rethinking my route. The night before I'd loaded all the waypoints on my GPS along with their point values. During my route planning I somehow missed the two bonuses out by Wisdom. By adding only 60 miles and less than an hour to my ride I could grab another 726 points. Not sure why I missed those the night before, but now that I saw them, I was on my way. Much to the chagrin of Gertrude, my GPS. Ignoring her insistence that I was off route I soon found myself at the Big Hole National Battlefield (BNB) for 373 points.
Followed shortly by Conover's Trading Post (WSD) and Fuel Stop combination for another 353 points.
As I recall from years ago, Conover's makes a mighty fine cheese burger. No time to stop to eat now. It was time to get back on the road and make my way through Evel Knievel Days in Butte to find a gravestone (EKG) for another 222 points.
Leaving Butte and all the star struck fools behind it was a quick run up the Interstate to find the Old Prison Museum (OMP) in Deer Lodge for another 286 points.
By this time the temperature was starting to make its swing. Earlier, between West Yellowstone and Ennis, I was actually using my hand grip heaters and considering stopping to put the liner in my jacket. By now it was starting to warm up pretty good and the brief shot of cool air encountered going over Mullen Pass on the way to Helena was to be the last of the cool air I'd encounter again until after dark many hours later.
On the west edge of Helena was the next bonus location. The Archie Bray Foundation (ABF), an organization "dedicated to the enrichment of the ceramic arts", was worth 243 points and pretty much right along my route so I figured I stop in for a visit.
Leaving Helena and getting even hotter, I had to take my first non-bonus/fuel related stop. Going through the canyon near Wolf Creek I started getting over heated and needed a break. I stopped at a rest stop and found a little shade to hide under for a few minutes. Heat has always been an enemy of mine and today was no different. It was at this point that I made another route change. I was originally going to stop to grab the "World's Greatest Girls Basketball Team of 1904" bonus (WGG) in Ft. Shaw for 387 points. Looking at the timeline I'd set for myself I could see that I wasn't going to get into Havre until after 1700. There was a bonus in Havre that had a 0900-1700 time restriction. Getting that bonus at 1701 would result in not getting credit for that bonus. Seeing as how the Havre bonus was worth 903 points I decided to forgo the basketball team and head straight to Great Falls. Had I grabbed that bonus it would have made a difference of two positions in my placing and really wouldn't have added that much time to the ride. As it turned out, I probably would have been late getting to Havre so my decision was a sound one.
I did, however, continue along into Great Falls to grab two pretty easy bonuses there. This would be the last Interstate travel I'd be doing for quite a while. First was the Lewis and Clark statue (LCS) at Broadwater Overlook Park for 398 points
Followed quickly by Kid Russell with Monte (KRM) for 401 points.
My bike isn't in this picture because it is half way down the block parked in the shade in some ally (probably illegally). I approached this location from the wrong direction and ended up standing in the street to get the picture.
Next on the list was Fort Benton where two bonus locations hid. Both of them had something to do with "Old Shep".
As the story goes, in the summer of 1936, a sheep herder fell ill and headed to Ft. Benton for treatment. His dog, Shep, came along. When the herder died a few days later, his body was crated up and sent back east to relatives. Shep followed the box to the Ft. Benton train depot, and watched nervously as his master was put on board and taken away. For the next five and a half years, Shep maintained a vigil at the station, greeting the four trains that arrived each day, waiting for his master to return.
The first one I grabbed (FBF) was a statue of Old Shep and worth 477 points.
After that a quick ride to the bluff overlooking Fort Benton to locate the burial location for Old Shep (SBG) for 476 points
Next up was a double bonus in Havre. The first was available all day. It was a picture of the outside of the Havre Beneath the Streets and the Frank DeRosa Railroad Museum (HBS) to include the logo for 602 points.
I have to admit that I got lucky on this one. It was only quite by accident that I included the logo in my photo. The object of my attention in this photo was the sign above the bike. The fact that I got the logo off to the left was pure blind dumb luck.
The time restricted bonus was located inside this building. We were to take a picture of the 130+ year old piano. On this bonus we had explicit instructions, "NO FLAG REQUIRED - DO NOT TOUCH THE PIANO" This would be the only bonus along my route (and the only one I remember seeing in the packet) that we were not required to have our rally flag included.
Early on in my route planning I had both clockwise and counter-clockwise routes planned out. I ended up going with the direction I chose mostly in order to keep the sun out of my eyes. That plan worked out perfectly. There was only one brief period of time, when leaving the Fort Peck dam site, that I had to shade my eyes from the sun. The rest of the entire ride was spent with the sun mostly at my back. The ride along the Highline was no different. As I was leaving Havre the sun was beginning its decline and I chased my shadow all the way across the top of Montana and through lots of construction that did its best to slow me down.
Along the way I stopped in Saco to bag the Chet Huntley Schoolhouse (CHS) for 666 points...
...a historical marker at the spillway for Fort Peck (FPL) for 758 points...
...and the Pioneer Town museum (PTC) in Scobey for 892 points.
By the time I took this picture is was well past sunset and quite dark. My fuel tank was also quite empty. The fuel pump was making its classic FEED ME!! scream and my choices for fuel were few. All I could find was an unattended station with the credit card machine located between the pumps. This was the kind that served all the pumps and required more time and motion to get a receipt than your typical pay-at-the-pump station. Fortunately for me there was no fuel receipt requirement in this rally because the receipt printer was on the fritz and didn't produce a receipt. That would happen to me twice during this rally, both at unattended stations in the middle of nowhere. At least I was able to get fuel.
After leaving Scobey I had to make another routing decision. Was I going to ride the 80 mile round trip to Plentywood (ORD) to bag a bonus worth 972 points or was I going to play it safer and skip that hour-plus section and head back to the barn? I looked at my options... By this time it was around 2130, it was very dark, there were deer everywhere, I'd been on the road since 0500, I had over 500 miles to go to get back to the finish line before 1300 the next day if I went straight back, and I knew I was going to have to stop for a real rest break along the way.
I saw the choice as pretty damn obvious. I didn't come to this rally to just finish. I was going to Plentywood.
Several miles east of Scobey I saw something that almost made me turn around and head back. A sign alongside the highway that said, "ROAD CONSTRUCTION NEXT 14 MILES - MOTORCYCLISTS CONSIDER ALTERNATE ROUTE". As there were no alternate routes that made any sense, I plundered on. As it turns out, the road wasn't that bad but I wouldn't want it to be part of my daily commute.
I got to Plentywood quite a bit later than I figured I would and ran into my first bonus problem of the rally. The instructions were to take a picture of the "Plentywood" sign on the west end of the old train station . Problem was there was no sign on the west end:
I snagged a picture of the east end...
...and called the rally staff to report my dilemma. Terry told me that so long as I had a picture of the depot with the word, "Plentywood" in it I would be fine. He even went so far as to remind me to make sure my rally flag was included. That was mighty nice of him.
After I left Plentywood I made my way back to Wolf Point to pick up the beginning of what would be my only Route Bonus. The route I chose was the "Big Sky Back Country Byway" route worth 1,472 points. Its northern most point was a statue of an unnamed horse and rider:
Next along my route (not part of the route bonus, but I couldn't let it go) was to grab a picture of an old Conoco gas truck (OCT) in the middle of somebody's yard in Circle. This was one of the more challenging pictures of the entire rally. Not only was it quite dark, it was 0100 and there wasn't a real good place to park off the road to get the bike's headlight on the truck. Fortunately this particular street in Circle wasn't heavily traveled at 0100 (are there any?) and I managed to get a good enough shot to get the 716 points for the bonus.
The next stop was the mid-point for the route bonus. The instructions were to "Take a photo of your motorcycle in front of the historic information sign 'Brockway, Montana.'" Luck for me I has the presence of mind to include my rally flag in the picture as well.
The southern end of my Route Bonus was a picture of the "Big Sky National Back Country Byway" sign in Terry. Here's where I ran into the next of my problems that delayed me for quite a bit of time. It seems the railroad decided that would be the most perfect time to park a row of coal cars in the middle of town. They had both crossings blocked for the longest time. Finally, after what seemed like several hours but was more like 30 minutes, they moved far enough to clear one of the crossings and I finally reached the end of my route bonus:
I was planning on getting fuel here but it was yet another unattended station and the highest octane they offered was 87. As well as the bike was running I wasn't going to tempt fate by pumping swill water into its tank so I pressed on and got fuel in Miles City instead.
I made an attempt to get the bonus at the graveyard in Rosebud (RCR) but had trouble finding the graveyard its self. I knew I was in the right area but I was riding through what looked like a combination of a junk yard and someone's front yard. Tamara's family is from this part of the world so I knew that front yards like that were not at all uncommon but I also knew that I didn't want to be riding around through someone's front yard at 0400 uninvited. Good way to ensure a new resident in the graveyard for which I was looking. Had I bagged that bonus (757 points) it would have gained me yet another two places in the final standing. After reading through the bonus description again I see where I made my mistake. I missed the "take a left at the fork" and kept going up the hill.
After missing that bonus and feeling pretty crappy about my overall performance so far, I needed a break. The sky was beginning to get light and that is my worst time of day for getting the droops. It seems that no matter what time I start during any travel, it's sunrise that puts me to sleep. I can start two hours before sunrise or two hours after. It always makes me sleepy to see the sky get lighter. A few miles west of Custer is a rest area that looked way too inviting to pass up. Unlike your typical pass-through rest areas, this one had the entrance/exit co-located at the east end. In other words, I was able to find a place way back in the back away from traffic and nosey people. I found an area with some pea gravel. I parked the bike in the middle of the gravel, used my tank bag as a pillow and set my alarm for thirty minutes. I figured that if anyone tried approaching I'd hear them in the gravel and wake up pretty easily.
Thirty minutes later the alarm went off and I was up and at it in no time at all. It's amazing what twenty minutes of sleep can do for a person.
Next stop along the way was the Canyon Creek Battle monument north of Laurel (CCB) worth 327 points.
After that I headed south to Red Lodge and picked up the Twenty Foot Tall Cowboy (TFT) (formally a Muffler Man) in front of the Rockvale Casino for 334 points...
...the Ooga Booga Man Ski God (OBG) outside the Charles Ringer Studio for 343 points...
...and the Snow Creek Saloon (RLB) sign in Red Lodge for 393 points.
By this time in the rally day I had planned on being on the way back from the Beartooth bonuses. I planned on timing it so that I hit the "Tooth" bonus just it started to get light. That was where I was going to take my rest break then bag the bonus. That bonus was worth 613 points but was only available during daylight hours. Between the construction on the Highline and the train in Terry I didn't make it far enough along to get down there before day break. The other bonus in the area was worth "only" 258 points but by this time in my ride, was out of reach. Due to how long it would add to the ride I'd never make it there and still get back to the finish line on time.
All I could do at this point was head back to the barn and sweep up any bonuses along the way that I could.
The next bonus I had planned was to get a picture of the albino deer in the New Atlas Bar in Columbus. This was a time restricted bonus that was only available between 1000 and 0200. It was 0900 when I went through. I saw another rider trying to bag the bonus through the window (hopefully he did the right thing or got caught at the scoring table) but I wasn't going to wait another hour for them to open. If I had waited that would have left only three hours to get back to the Lodge at Big Sky. Gathering bonuses along the way and ending up behind some asshole doing 40 mph in Gallatin canyon refusing to use the turn outs would have been the end of my rally.
I carried on to the next stop on my route. A historical marker in a rest stop along I-90 talking about the Tamara^H^H^H^H^H^HCrazy Mountains (CMM) worth 234 points
Next stop was a marker at Sacagawea Park in Livingston (SPS) worth 137 points...
...and finally a shot of the Heard of Elk (HOE) in Bozeman worth 87 points
That was it... My rally was all but over. I'd bagged all the bonuses I could and all that was left was a quick ride down the canyon on a road that I've been on hundreds of times in the past. I rolled in to the finish line to a cheering audience (that was really nice) at 1152. I'd left one hours and eight minutes on the clock.
Going back over it all, I feel I did the best I could. First and foremost I got back safe, I didn't DNF and even if I didn't get all the bonus points I shot for, I still ended up doing pretty well considering the level of competition I was facing.
I ended up in 10th place overall with 12,754 points. Had I not passed up the basketball team in Fort Shaw, encountered the construction on the Highline, and the train in Terry (and been able to follow directions for the Rosebud bonus) I would have picked up 5th place overall with a total of 15,192 points.
All-in-all, considering this was the first time I've competed 'solo' in a rally, I am pretty pleased with my performance. I did learn a few things that I will probably do different next time around. One thing is for certain, I've got to find a way to add auxiliary fuel to the bike in such a manner that I can take it off easily for 2-up riding. Less than five gallons of usable fuel on a ride this big is definitely a hindrance.
I think I'll keep my stock seat, however.