My First Rally – The Inaugural Running of the Buckeye 1000!
July 27-29, 2001
By Ann Napoletan (riding as pillion on Russell Stephan’s Honda ST1100)
It all began so innocently.
It was Thursday evening, and I had just returned to Columbus after five days in Charlotte, NC. We were sitting at the kitchen table chatting…catching up on things…when Russell handed me some papers.
“Here’s the Buckeye 1000 Pre-Rally information, if you’d like to take a look.”
As I began to scan the first page of the packet, he asked if I’d like to attend the Liar’s Banquet the following night.
“Sure,” I answered without hesitation. My trip south had been cut short, and since I was home early, I was hoping be at the Lenox Inn on Sunday when Russell crossed the finish line. What better way to start the festivities than to attend the pre-rally banquet!
We mounted the ST around 6:00pm Friday and headed for Luray, Ohio, which was the starting point for the odometer test route. This whole rally “thing” was new to me, but Russell explained that when riders arrive, an odometer reading is taken. The test route must be followed without deviation, and upon arrival at the end, another reading is taken. These readings are then used to calibrate the odometer.
Well, two years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined myself discussing odometer readings, route deviation, or the fine art of calibration; however, here I was – ready to embark on the running of the *official* Buckeye 1000 Odometer Test Route!
Our starting odometer reading was taken, and Russell provided the Team Strange volunteer with his name. As the gentleman completed his paperwork, he asked if I’d be riding in the event. I smiled (innocently)…. “Oh no.”
Can you *imagine* me riding in the rally?? Russell and I together on the bike for 24 hours in who knows what kind of weather…under the constraint of a ticking clock, all the while trying to obtain bonuses along the way… We’re both very competitive, both have more than just a bit of anal-retentive perfectionist in our blood, and we both get cranky when we’re tired (Russell would argue that I’m a *touch* crankier than he is when sleep deprived). Me going along on the rally was unimaginable!
To my surprise, Russell handed me the route sheet and told me I was navigating. *Great!* I was just along for dinner and now all of a sudden I was the navigator. As I looked down at the sheet of paper, it screamed back at me in large bold letters:
“FOLLOW THE ROUTE EXACTLY!! ANY DEVIATIONS, MISSED TURNS, ETC., REQUIRE YOU TO RETURN TO THE START AND TAKE THE TEST ROUTE OVER. FAILURE TO DO THIS WILL RESULT IN YOUR RALLY ROUTE SHEETS BEING INACCURATE AND NOT ACCEPTED DURING SCORING.”
“Well, *now* the pressure is on,” I mumbled to myself…the girl who doesn’t know north from south, let alone east from west! I couldn’t make a mistake or I would *never* live it down!
Russell must have sensed my immediate apprehension as he turned and assured me that I could relax; we would take the route nice and slow.
I smiled outwardly, but inside, I was saying “Yeah, right….until we miss a turn!!”
Thankfully, we finished the test route without a bit of trouble and before long we were pulling into the AMA Museum – the location of the banquet. Our final odometer reading was taken and we found a parking spot among a string of other bikes.
Before heading to the registration table, we strolled along the rows of motorcycles. I realized instantly that I had entered another realm. I was no longer among Quaker Steak and Lube Bike Night posers or even your average visitor to Deal’s Gap. No, these were some hard core, serious long distance riders.
On display were a myriad of modifications including fuel cells, auxiliary lighting, map lights, and water supplies among others. GPS units, radar detectors, and mounted cell phones were commonplace. Iron Butt Association stickers and license plate frames adorned the bikes, but the mileage on their odometers told the real story!!
We made our way to the registration table, where Bubba walked Russell through completion of the requisite paperwork. After collecting his rally t-shirt, mug, and pin, we headed into the AMA Museum.
First stop – conference room to view a videotape synopsis of the Buckeye 1000 rules. As we walked toward the darkened room, I looked at Russell.
“Are you excited??!!” I asked.
In a monotone voice, he responded, “Not really. It’s just another ride…”
I couldn’t believe it! How could you *not* be excited?! This is really cool, I thought to myself. Without a thought, the words spilled from my lips.
“I wish I was going!!”
He looked down at me…..
….I looked up at him.
“Do you want to go?” he asked.
Uh-oh, I thought. Now what do I say? I really wanted to go, but part of me was afraid he was just being nice. After all, I knew he was hoping to do well, and the last thing I wanted to do was slow him down.
After watching the video, we talked about it and the decision was made. We were riding the Buckeye 1000…. We were doing it 2-up, and I couldn’t wait!!
We filled a couple of plates with delicious barbecue and joined the group inside for the rider meeting. Eddie and Bubba entertained the crowd with their banter, then reviewed last minute details, answered a few questions, and handed out envelopes containing bonus locations.
With little fanfare, the meeting ended and we were back at home poring over the list of bonus locations. As Russell made a few last minute adjustments to the bike, I began to plot bonus locations on the Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee maps.
After some discussion and careful consideration, we decided on a route that would take us south rather than north into Michigan, New York, and Canada. We compiled a list of 13 or 14 bonus locations that we felt should be obtainable and would yield us a fairly high point total. Of course, an additional list of bonuses would most likely be distributed in the morning, complicating things just a bit, but for now, we did the best we could with what we had.
Although I knew I had to be up by 6:00am, it was at least 2:00am before I went to sleep. I just couldn’t relax as I anxiously anticipated my first rally!
When the alarm sounded, I jumped up and showered. I gathered some fruit and granola bars along with my camera and fanny pack, then headed out the door for the 10-minute drive to Russell's place. He greeted me at the door with a big smile – oh, this was going to be fun!
By 7:30 or so, we were on the bike heading toward the starting line. We pulled into the Lenox Inn to find a handful of others already there milling around, chatting with other riders, studying maps, and checking out the other bikes. We walked around for awhile soaking up the atmosphere.
As the crowd grew, Eddie made his way around the lot jotting down starting odometer readings. The riders seemed pretty low key and jovial throughout the morning and during the rider meeting at 9:30am. However, once the list of additional bonus locations was distributed, it was time to get down to business. The mood changed almost instantly as the pilots scattered – each heading to their own bike to spend the final 30 minutes of pre-rally time analyzing maps and fine tuning routes.
We went over our route one last time adding a few bonus locations from the latest list, then it was time to gear up. The official time was 10:36am when we pulled out of the Lenox.
By 12:06pm, we were collecting our first bonus in Canaan, Ohio, not far from Akron. We were doing great – and making fantastic time!
We proceeded to rack up points in Morristown and Hebron while enjoying surprisingly pleasant weather. The forecast was calling for steady rain, but we had yet to feel a drop, and the temperatures were in the low to mid-80’s. Very comfortable.
At 4:27pm, we pulled into the parking lot of Re-Psycle BMW Parts in Lithopolis – our fourth bonus location. We had already covered 400 miles. To collect the 326 points for this bonus, we were required to purchase a quart of oil and turn it in along with the receipt at the end of the rally. Russell hopped off the bike and headed inside while I pulled the clipboard from the saddlebag and began to jot down our mileage and the time.
This is probably the first time that I felt the onset of fatigue. Although I didn’t feel particularly bad, I realized I was in somewhat of a “zone” when a young fellow came out of the parts store and made a comment to me about the rally. I suppose this feeling stemmed from the fact that we had been riding for six hours at this point with very little interaction. It was quiet, and we were focused on the task at hand….getting from point A to point B, collecting the points, and moving onto point C, et cetera.
By now, we were falling into some sort of a routine; however, it wasn’t going as smoothly as I had hoped. Generally, Russell would get us to the bonus location, and I would jump off and write down the information that was needed from the sign or historical marker. Russell would read the mileage and time to me and I would jot that information down on the route sheet.
I think we were both feeling tense and hurried; we both wanted to do well. Russell was all business, and as time wore on and my weariness increased, I began to take his terse tone and curt orders personally. I was doing everything I could to anticipate what would be needed next, but I didn’t feel like I could read his mind quickly enough.
At the outset, my goal was to provide some level of help and/or support without being a hindrance or a detriment to our performance in the rally. If I wanted to accomplish one thing, it was to *not* slow us down. For that reason, I made only three restroom visits in our 24-hours on the bike; all were during already planned gas stops.
When we arrived in Marietta to collect a gas bonus at 6:30pm, Russell suggested an “extended” break. After fueling up, I visited the little girl’s room inside the mini-mart then we gathered $19 worth of sandwiches, fruit, chips, crackers, candy bars, and water. My pilot asked me to grab two sandwiches for him, which I would have been happy to do. However, as I was trying to decide on a candy bar, he reminded me that this wasn’t the time to be picky. I tried to bite my tongue, but couldn’t resist the urge and reminded him that rather than hover over me – he could walk over to the deli area and get his own sandwiches to save some time.
Yes, we were both getting tired. I was probably trying *too* hard, which only added to my frustration. And, the differences in our personalities were definitely showing.
As we stood by the bike eating, the sky began to darken and the heavens opened up. We geared up for cold weather and slipped on the Totes boots to keep our feet dry. I donned the rainsuit for the first time, and Russell laughed as he compared my appearance to that of a Tele-Tubby! That may have been funny under different circumstances, however, in this case, I made a mental note to deduct a few points from his running total which he maintains stays steady at zero regardless of his behavior! Not so, I argue! He gets plenty of points on the “plus” side.
By 7:15, we were back on the road again and heading toward Sam Black Church, West Virginia. This was a fairly simple bonus. We had to write down the last sentence from the “Greenbriar Ghost” historical marker. Although it was dark by now (nearly 10:00pm), the marker was situated just 100 yards from the I64 exit ramp and was relatively easy to find.
A short while later, we found ourselves winding up Potts Mountain in New Castle, Virginia. The requirement here: obtain the elevation level from the sign atop the mountain. As I recall, it was somewhere around 3,500 feet. The road was dark, wet, twisty, and foggy, but Russell had no problem finding the sign.
We were doing well…. Seemed to be on target to make all of our planned stops with time to spare. It was still raining, and although the rainsuit kept me dry, I was beginning to get very cold. At freeway speeds, the wind was frosty – it certainly didn’t feel like the end of July! I had the electric jacket on, but there was no convenient way to access the plug through the rainsuit, and rather than spend a lot of time on it, I had opted to go without the electrics up to this point.
We had a bit of trouble finding our next exit at Max Meadows, Virginia, and finally stopped for gas and directions. I must have looked horrendous… By now, I was freezing, so when Russell offered to slit a hole in the rainsuit to accommodate the wire for the electric jacket’s controller, I didn’t argue. As he worked on this, a young blond woman – barefoot and reeking of liquor – stepped out of a car and walked up to us. She looked at me then looked up at Russell and in the most serious voice she could muster (with a bit of a twangy Virginia accent), “Shame on you for making her ride like this!!”
Initially, I thought she was joking, but soon realized she was dead serious. I had to tell her – as crazy as it sounds, I *asked* for this!!!!
Once again, I must sing the praises of the electric jacket. Once I was plugged in, I was comfortable; in fact, I was toasty warm. I knew it was going to be okay – I could do this.
We finally found our way to the correct exit and began looking for the bonus – a stone marker bearing two bronze plaques. When we reached the top of the exit ramp, Russell snapped “Which way???!!” During the ride up the exit ramp, I had been shining the flashlight on our route sheet, reading and re-reading the directions. They weren’t particularly clear. But, there was no time to think….. “Right,” I said. In actuality, we were supposed to turn right off the exit ramp and immediately right again. After proceeding down the road a bit, we realized this and turned around.
It was 1:00am and exhaustion was setting in. Thinking back, it was almost like an out of body experience. By this time, I think I was starting to feel numb – and, as the clock continued to tick, my mental sharpness diminished.
I would have to say this bonus was the height of my frustration. Try as we might, we just couldn’t seem to make sense of the directions. I felt like Russell was getting impatient with me, and I was ready to hand him the flashlight, map, and clipboard, and tell him to handle the rest of the bonuses on his own. I thought I was contributing to our common goal, but maybe I was more of a hindrance than a help!! I knew I shouldn’t have come along!
Can’t quit now, I told myself. I swallowed my pride and continued to scour the area for the marker. Although we were following the directions to the letter, the stone marker was nowhere to be seen.
“East Lee Highway, right .8 mile to the stone marker”. After several trips down East Lee Highway in both directions, we agreed to measure the exact distance - .8 mile, then get off the bike and search. The marker just had to be there. Russell shined the ST’s brilliant lights across every inch of the grass surrounding the road – nothing!
Finally, we stopped at a gas station and I ran inside to ask. The male and female attendants behind the counter agreed that it had to be the stone marker right down the road – they pointed in the direction we had just come from. “You can’t miss it. It’s huge and sits right off the road!”
At this point, we had spent over an hour looking for this thing. After a couple of more passes, Russell returned to a gravel drive we had already visited once. It was nearly 2:00am. Sure enough, off to the left, my eagle-eyed pilot spotted a huge stone pyramid-shaped marker. It sat up on a hill, and was most certainly visible from the road during daylight hours. However, the shroud of darkness kept it hidden nicely at night. I hopped off the bike and trudged through the high, wet grass to get the titles from the two bronze plaques. The bike provided ample light to get the information from the first one; however, the flashlight had to be employed for the second plaque.
Thank goodness we found that marker. What a waste it would have been to have spent all this time and left without collecting the bonus! It certainly would be interesting to see what the marker looks like during the day without the added haze of physical and mental exhaustion.
With Max Meadows crossed off the list, it was time to head to Man, West Virginia. This is where the fun really began. In two years of riding, I have never been frightened…. until now. There were points during the ride to Man where I honestly didn’t think we were going to make it. I sat quietly on the back of the bike praying.
It was after 2:00am and I had been up since 6:00am the previous day; however, I was wide awake.
I alternated between watching the road and surrounding area intently for deer or other obstacles to closing my eyes so that I would only feel, but not see, the impact of whatever might be coming at us.
A steady rain was falling as we traveled this dark, intensely twisty road – a road that would be challenging in the daylight. To further add to the drama, our path was now obscured by incredibly dense fog, and we had been on the road for over 16 hours.
Every now and then, before coming upon the thick haze, I spotted a deer not far from the road, so I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were there – just waiting to dart out in front of the bike. And, from time to time, we would see a small critter scurry into the ST’s headlights. It was a surreal experience.
Russell could no doubt sense my fear and tried to reassure me. However, there was one particularly tense, yet funny, moment I can now look back upon fondly. It felt like we had been maneuvering through this twisty, rain-soaked, fog-encrusted road for hours, and as I clung to Russell, I allowed myself to admit it. Out loud, so that he could hear me, I said, “I’m scared!!”
His response? “I’m scared, too!”
Not exactly the reassurance I was looking for, but it sure did provide some comic relief!
In all seriousness, after this rally, and particularly the arduous, laborious trip to Man, I have a whole new respect for Russell’s riding talents as well as his ability to maintain focus and concentration under the most difficult of conditions. Despite our differences and frustrations, which I found out later were more apparent to me than to him, my admiration for his bike-handling abilities remained steady and even grew throughout our 24-hour expedition.
People have asked me if I plan to get my own bike. Although I have never had a burning desire to be more than a pillion, I must admit that the thought of having a bike of my own has more than crossed my mind over the past month or so. However, I don’t know that I have the concentration or the endurance to stay focused enough to safely pilot such a machine for more than 30 minutes at a time!
I also cannot help but wonder if the need to remain so attentive and alert might detract from my experience. To me, so much of the beauty of the ride is the ability to let go – to take in the lovely surroundings and relax so completely.
After the rally, several riders (including Russell) have said they don’t think they could ride as a passenger for 24 hours. When I hear that, I have to smile because to me, the act of actually *piloting* a bike for that length of time is an absolutely astonishing feat! Riding on the back is nothing!
Well, it seems I have strayed from the story at hand…our ride.
We finally did reach Man, West Virginia, at 5:30am on Sunday. We were welcomed by a small car occupied by a cranky middle-aged woman, who looked like she had more than a few miles on her, blocking the road; a blessing in disguise. The closure of the road forced us in the opposite direction, which ironically ran us right into the school we needed to find to collect our bonus.
We pulled into Man High School and up to the sign in front so that we could get the name of the school’s mascot (Hillbillies). The rain was falling harder and due to increasing fatigue, Russell had suggested a nap once we reached the school. He pulled the bike up to the school and I took down the mileage and time while he set the alarm for just over one hour.
He wasted no time finding a spot to lie down on the cement sidewalk, using his gloves as a pillow. Thinking I would be unable to get comfortable on the hard surface, I opted to sit leaning against the glass doors. An overhang provided shelter from the rain, but I just couldn’t sleep sitting up. I glanced over at Russell, and he looked so content despite his rigid resting place. I was so exhausted – I gave in and laid my head down on my rain-drenched gloves. To my utter amazement, that concrete was as comfortable as my bed. I must have drifted off almost immediately because the next thing I knew, I opened my eyes and darkness had turned to daylight.
Russell was standing by the bike snacking and smiled when he saw that I was awake. “Good morning!” he said cheerfully, no doubt tickled to death that this stressed out, Holiday Inn-loving, city girl had now added sleeping (quite peacefully, I might add) on a concrete sidewalk to her long list of “new and unique experiences”.
Of course, before we left this spot, my hero managed to lose a few more points by suggesting very nonchalantly that I answer nature’s call right there in the schoolyard. Being a typical male, he obviously didn’t realize that getting out of my rainsuit, riding pants, and shorts was more effort than it was worth despite my strong desire for an empty bladder. I had already made up my mind that I would refrain from additional bathroom visits until we reached the finish line. I didn’t want to waste the time.
His point total continued to dwindle with the comment “Boy, I *hope* I look better than you do right now.”
All of these things would have probably been funnier had I not been so tired!
It was nearing 7:00am on Sunday and with just five hours to go, we realized we were running out of time. It was apparent that we wouldn’t make the Kentucky bonuses and would most likely not make Cincinnati either. After a glance at the map, Russell decided we had just enough time to pick up the gas bonus in Portsmouth, Ohio, before heading back to Columbus.
Realizing that we would be penalized five points for every minute if we arrived past 11:59:59am, the revised plan made sense.
Things are a bit hazy at this point, but I remember us stopping at the side of the road – maybe to change maps. By now, it was beginning to warm up and Russell asked if I wanted to remove the rainsuit. I declined. It was just too much effort and would take too much time. He later told me how forlorn I looked at this stop.
A short time before or after that stop, I had drifted off to sleep – one of the few times during the past 24 hours. I klunked his helmet and instantly flashed back to the scolding I received during our June trip!
He turned and made eye contact, then held up three fingers. “Just three more hours; hang in there for three more hours. It’s almost over.”
I started to cry, which he didn’t realize until I told him later. I had reached the point of complete exhaustion – physical and mental. My reserves were totally depleted. In 24 hours’ time, I had been through a sweeping spectrum of emotions – from excitement, total unadulterated joy, and a feeling of “I can do anything” to profound frustration and intense fear. All I really wanted was a hug now, and as tough as I try to be *most* of the time, I must admit that feeling Russell’s hand on my leg – just that simple touch – provided the comfort I yearned for.
We arrived back at the Lenox with a few minutes to spare. We made it!! A Team Strange volunteer greeted us at the finish line to take down our final mileage.
I climbed off the bike, wanting to collapse, but I grabbed the clipboard and began to tally our points in preparation for a visit to the scoring table. We quickly flipped through the receipts to be sure everything was in order, then proceeded to the line.
Russell urged me to sit with the scorer since I had done most of the paperwork. He really seemed to want to include me in all of this, from start to finish, which was very sweet. Of course, despite my effort to be organized, I did not have the first piece of paper the scorer asked for – the pre-scoring sheet! I knew right where it was -- back in the clipboard by the bike. Not wanting to make the others wait, we got out of line and went back to get the missing paper. I kicked myself all the way back to the bike for forgetting this piece of paper … I was emotionally drained and didn’t feel like dealing with any of this, so I begged Russell to take care of the scoring himself.
He asked if I was alright and when I assured him that I was, he agreed to go wait in the line, which by now had grown exponentially. I began to get out of the rainsuit, electrics, and other gear. I wanted a few minutes alone to relax, reflect, and pull myself together.
A friendly Gold Wing pilot struck up a conversation with me as I set about getting things organized and packed up. We chatted about the rally, our chosen routes, and Deal’s Gap. Russell returned shortly to tell me there were only two people ahead of him and he wanted me to join him at the scorer’s table. This visit went much smoother, and I’m pleased to say that we received credit for all of our bonuses – no errors.
We milled around for awhile chatting and reliving our experience, talking about where we fell short, the weather, our route, what went well and what didn’t, and of course, laughing at the goofy stuff. Katherine Becker had ridden down from Michigan to be at the finish, so we talked with her for a bit, too, before heading inside for the banquet.
According to the ST’s odometer, we had covered 1,300 miles in 24 hours, qualifying us for the Iron Butt Association’s Saddlesore award. Although our point total wasn’t as high as we had hoped, I was proud of what we had accomplished. Russell’s performance was nothing short of incredible, and I was pretty pleased with myself, too.
Surprisingly enough, after over 24 hours in the saddle, I wasn’t feeling much physical discomfort. I had taken Ibuprofen several times along the way, so I imagine that helped diminish muscle and joint aches. And, actually, once I splashed some water on my face and got some food in my body, I felt much more alert and almost normal.
We arrived home shortly after 4:30pm, and I was asleep by 5:00pm. Both pilot and pillion were ready for a longgggggggg nap. Thirteen hours later, I woke up and it was time to get ready for work…
Almost immediately following our finish, Russell asked me if I would do it again. At that time, I said I didn’t know, but the following day, when I asked myself the same question, the answer was a resounding YES!
It isn’t something I would want to do on a regular basis, but I would certainly love to do it again next year now that I’ve been through it once and know what to expect, particularly from an emotional standpoint.
In hindsight, I do hope that my going along didn’t have an extremely adverse affect on Russell’s overall rally performance and final score. Although two move slower than one at stops, my goal was to be as helpful as I could - from handling tolls and slicing apples for my pilot while the bike was in motion, to holding the flashlight, reading directions, and tracking the bonuses on the route sheets.
The Buckeye 1000 was an experience I wouldn’t trade, and like so many other rides, it provided lasting impressions and memories that will remain etched in my mind forever. From the excitement of the start to the relief and feeling of accomplishment at the finish. The friendly faces of drivers as we passed them at speed and the helpful (sometimes *too* helpful) folks ready to offer directions to the next bonus location. The sweet smells of fresh corn and Queen Anne’s Lace. Clouds wafting through the mountains, rain dancing across the asphalt, and tiny creatures scampering along the side of the road.
And, last but certainly not least, the skill and focus of my pilot and the generous hospitality of the members of Team Strange, particularly Eddie and Bubba!