“What is it with you Minnesota guys anyway?” I heard this question asked a few times. Four of the top five finishers were, in fact, one of us. Coincidence? A Jamesian conspiracy? A hunger bred of winter’s deprivations??
The rally started in Columbus, Ohio, where I arrived Saturday night around 11 p.m., finding most of the beer already gone. A friend immediately pointed to a certain Ducati ST4. Great, they let Gary Eagan in at the last minute. So much for any hope of actually winning, I thought. Nervous pre-rally BS and psyche jobs commenced.
Sunday was filled with tech inspection, odometer check and the interminable riders meeting. Mainly one appreciated a chance to visit Wal-Mart for last minute items, and for time spent off the bike - enough of that to come. I had to make the rally even more difficult by dropping my bike in the parking lot and, trying to pick it up alone, tore my right bicep muscle in the process. It swelled up like a grapefruit, black and yellow from wrist to shoulder. Of course I had no throttle lock either, so I had to use the arm constantly. At the pre-rally banquet, a route sheet was handed out. Not the only one, just something to think about, a tease. We planned the route as if we were really going to pursue it.
We? Myself and one Jed Duncan, an East Coast transplant but we’ll consider him one of us now. He was riding in his first rally, on a silver 1998 Triumph Sprint Executive, a last minute replacement for another friend who was forced to drop out. Jed and I agreed to ride the first leg together and see what came of it, as our fuel capacity and consumption rates were nearly identical. My red 1998 Triumph Tiger was stock, with a Corbin, Givi top case and Bagster, my only gadget being a recently purchased Valentine One radar/laser detector. (Expensive, yes, but it more than paid for itself by rally’s end.) No extra fuel capacity, no GPS, the bike is essentially a naked, faux enduro with long travel suspension and perfect (for me) ergos. It’s a pleasure to sit upright and tweak the throttle of that big Triple all day long. No center stand, though, and tube-type tires - potentially scary.
Monday morning saw three additional route sheets, leading to a predictable disagreement. Jed wanted to stick with the original plan, while I was inclined to others. We agreed to stick with the original, though I knew it was “conservative” and wouldn’t put us near the top. Oh well, last year I came out charging hard and led after the first leg, only to fall apart soon after. Perhaps a more modest start would be wiser. (In retrospect, the 1,000 points I fell behind Mark Kiecker in this leg were never to be made up.)
We departed for Hamilton, OH, visiting the Symmes Monument, then headed southwest for Rome, IN. En route via Nebraska (IN) we had a splendid ride on two lane twisties along the Ohio River. The shorter geared, torquey Tiger proved more than a match for the more powerful Sprint in the corners. Crossing the Ohio, we rode Kentucky parkways to Metropolis, IL, home of Superman, then on to Memphis. The Graceland bonus was only worth 24 points, and we should have known better, but it seemed so easy…an hour later and getting tired, we finally extricated ourselves from hot and humid Memphis. Quito, Mississippi, was next, as we searched for the grave of blues legend Robert Johnson, finding it around 1:30 a.m. Still needing to take our rest bonus, we rode south to Jackson and slept on the ground beside the bikes for three hours at a gas station. Hot Coffee, MS was our last bonus before the Baton Rouge checkpoint opened at 11 a.m. We purchased a coffee mug from the general store, a cup also worth 250 points on each successive leg of the rally, provided one kept it intact.
First leg results left us in 19th place, not bad but lower than I’d hoped. Now we had to choose from three routes on leg two. Disagreement again, with Jed’s argument prevailing, and correctly, too. Not the first time the “rookie” proved to make the better decision, though by debating so long we had endangered our ability to get to our first bonus in Washington, TX, at the Live Oak Nudist Resort. I’d been there last year and knew about how long it would take to get there. At this point, we’d really have to hammer, which we did all along I-20 to Beaumont, where I made the brilliant choice of FM 1505 from US 287, which led us north of Houston traffic and had me thinking we were going to make it easily. So we stopped for gas and relaxed, until… further calculations showed that, after riding so hard, we were gonna be screwed anyway. No way, I thought, counting on the Valentine, as we screamed toward Navasota. Fortunately I had ridden the gravel out to the resort before and was familiar with the turns. We made it with four minutes to spare! Several riders were only minutes late and were denied a huge bonus. Now we had only to relax for at least one hour and plan our next moves.
We rode to nearby Warrenton, TX to visit yet another of the “world’s smallest churches,” then started slogging our way north toward Austin and through the Metroplex, hopefully before morning rush hour. Fitful sleep along I-35 north of Waco led to a long, tough Wednesday morning on US 287 north toward Wichita Falls, en route to the world’s largest cross in Groom, TX, on I-40 east of Amarillo. We crossed the panhandle into New Mexico, passed the Capulin Monument to I-25, where we turned towards a big bonus in Canon City, CO, at Royal Gorge, before sunset. Crossing the world’s highest suspension bridge just before sundown, we’d had enough for the day and got our first motel of the rally in town. 6 ½ hours of much needed sleep followed, as our next bonuses were near Denver and required daylight.
After realizing the folly of trying to procure a Denver gas receipt during Thursday morning rush hour, we visited Mother Cabrini, and yes, we swore at the hike. Then we took the difficult, “oh my God” road into Central City, wasting time deciding where exactly the photo should be taken, after a serious off-road jaunt. By the time we returned to I-70, we were suddenly in danger of being late for the Salt Lake checkpoint. Leaving Grand Junction after 2:30 p.m., we needed to cover 290 miles, plus find a last bonus near downtown, before getting to the checkpoint by 7 p.m. Here’s where the Valentine really saved us, especially on US 6/191. We made it with 7 minutes to spare, and recorded the second highest point total for the leg, moving up big to 6th place. This was more like it!
News of Pauline Ralston’s death crushed the mood at the checkpoint. I had met her at a couple of rallies previous, and had found her to be a real joy to be around. I thought of my wife and nine year old son at home, wondering (again) why I was subjecting my family to this risk.
The route choice was clear this leg, I thought. With little debate, we headed east on I-80, after first picking up our Hire’s Fry Sauce. We needed a gas receipt from Little America, WY, where we also slept briefly in an empty restaurant booth. From there we rode through overnight rain on to Medicine Bow, where we greeted sunrise while taking a photo of some wind turbines, a very picturesque moment. The Fossil House, an Eagan sighting and then the Ames pyramid near Laramie followed, where I injured my arm further by stumbling over a rock. Now it was really bad. We gassed up in Cheyenne and headed for Lusk and the Featherlegs Monument.
Eddie described this as the only known monument to a prostitute in the US. Cool. Getting to the SOB was a different matter, as we soon discovered why it was worth so many points. Ten miles of gravel one way, the first ½ mile very washboard, not promising, with open range as well. I stood on the pegs of the Tiger and played enduro rider, waving at the touring bikes and showing off. The road did knock my ScottOiler out of service (served me right) and a rock put a hole in the oil pan of Nels Gebbens’ K bike, another shining example of Eddie’s fine choice in roads for his weary riders to enjoy.
Heading north to the Aladdin, WY general store, we encountered Norm Grills and Bill Thweatt making good time and joined in. From Aladdin, we faced tough miles along US 212 to Ben Ash, then north to Bison for a hard won gas receipt from one of those evil, small town 24 hour gas pumps. After the 13th try…it was after 9 p.m. already, and Salem Sue was still a along way off, let alone Fargo. Team Triumph was getting a little frazzled on both ends, and I began thinking I should start riding alone. I bumped into Kiecker about 45 miles from the big cow and hung with him all the way in. It was a wake up call to ride like that again. My spirit was broken, however, by the gale force wind and rain we found on that hill in New Salem, ND, trying to take a Polaroid photo under the giant cow’s udder. In the teeth of that wind and rain, I reached my only point of despair during the rally. I had to get off the road and sleep, clocked out at a gas station and paid $43 to sleep 2 ½ hours Saturday morning in a Bismarck motel.
I left Bismarck at 6:15 a.m., and the checkpoint opened at 8:00 a.m. in Fargo, 189 miles away. As long as I made it by 9:00, the sleep bonus would make up for all the penalty. As it was, I was only 41 minutes late, so still gained a few points from the needed rest. My mood improved as I saw many friends, and found we had climbed to third (Jed) and fourth for me. I had left my Hot Coffee mug in my tank bag, on the bike, which was now getting a much needed new Michelin Macadam 50 rear tire at Ma’s, putting Jed ahead of me. Such stupidity!
Thankfully there was only one route sheet for the last leg,
but what an overwhelming array of choices it offered. I quickly fell in with the idea of going to Lone Rock, Iowa, to
have supper with Lori Schmidt’s parents, a huge point bonus.
After following Nels and I to Roger Maris’ nearby grave, Jed had to return to Ma’s, his bike running badly. As it turned out, the mechanic had left one of Jed’s coil wires disconnected. Nels and I soon split up in heavy fog on I-29, and at last I was alone.
I’d been thinking for some time of riding the last leg alone, as Jed and I were spending a lot time “having fun”, one of my goals, yes, but now it was time for business. In fourth, I felt I still had a shot and knew I’d regret it if I didn’t take my best one. It’d be easier for me to hammer on alone. Continuing south, I suddenly saw a bike, then a rider. It was Jed, and he’d run out of gas. Team Strange rules say this does not constitute an emergency, that I can keep going. Of course I could not, and drove 14 miles one way, making two stops to buy a suitable gas can and fuel, and returned to Mr. Duncan, only to find he’d already found fuel from someone at the rest area. I’ll admit I was unhappy, though I had no one to blame but myself for all the now wasted time. By the time I reached Lone Rock, with an extra fuel stop required, I was over an hour behind schedule.
I met Dan Stephans II at the Schmidt’s, working on his lap top to come up with the route that nearly propelled him past me into second at the end. At first I planned to head east to McGregor, IA, but 15 miles down the road stopped in Algona and changed my mind, deciding to haul ass for the Two Rivers Saloon and Hotel in Niobrara, Nebraska. Only 240 miles WEST, I had four hours and 15 minutes, manageable, I thought. I made excellent time until, unable to see due to bugs on my windscreen, I passed an Iowa State Trooper. He was amused at my maneuver and gave me a warning only, though he followed for another 15 miles or so. Any chance of making it on time ended about 25 miles northeast of Yankton, SD, when fog hit. Within moments I had zero visibility, soon riding with my glasses off (nearsighted though I am), screen up and four way flashers on, going maybe 30 mph at best. Reaching Yankton at midnight, I had no chance of making it to Niobrara in time, and even if I did, I’d be stuck there. All the motels were full, but I stopped at one anyway. The woman was very kind, and after a few words asked, “Are you in the Butt Lite?” I was dumbfounded – how did she know? Seems Rob Nye had checked in hours earlier. She found me a room, bless her heart, and I had nothing else to do for 9 or 10 hours other than SLEEP.
However pleasant the sleep, I felt my chances for doing well were now gone, having spent 10 hours doing nothing but resting. Surprises continued at Two Rivers, as I pulled in Sunday morning to find Jed’s Sprint sitting out front, windshield broken. He’d had an even worse evening than I, never finding Lori’s and eventually spending the night in the camper of the sheriff of nearby Crofton, NE (Eagan had also spent the night in Niobrara). I assured Jed that the gas incident was forgotten and we each departed at our own pace, later meeting again in Audobon, IA at Albert the Bull. That was to be our last encounter until the finish.
My ride across southeast Iowa on US 34 Sunday evening was quite enjoyable. A stop in Albia, then on through Ottumwa to Snake Alley in Burlington, I continued to Galesburg, IL to the Carl Sandburg birthplace. Since I’d had all that rest in Yankton, I was ready to ride all night and stopped at a McDonald’s to plot the remaining route. A gas receipt in Springfield, then east through Decatur to IL 1 south to the bridge at St. Francesville, crossing to Vincennes, IN, I then headed for Franklin, IN for the Kerlin Barnett grave. It went well, until I started getting tired on my way into Franklin. Plans for a trip to Brock, OH had to be dropped and I headed for Idaho, OH, my last bonus (and a needed IBET bonus, too).
I could have really used GPS in Cincinnati, as that mess of a freeway system cost me time getting to OH Route 32. The law enforcement feeding frenzy didn’t help, and as it started to rain down there in the Appalachian foothills, memories of last year’s crash loomed large. So close to the very same spot, near Locust Grove, there I was, tired and late, running on wet roads, in danger of doing it all over again. Vowing to finish, even if with penalty minutes, I cautiously finished the ride, taking about a big 285 point penalty hit at the end.
I didn’t know what to expect. I hoped to at least beat the big dog (Mr. Eagan), but figured that Mark was out of reach. Second was the best I could do, and I was honored to receive it - at least I came in ahead of all the BMWs. Jed finished in 13th place, and learned a lot from his very first rally, I’m sure.
Mark and I rode our very first rally together, the 1998 Minnesota 1000. I got a first place, he a second. In this year’s MN 2000, he took first in Expert, I got second (on my BMW). Congratulations, friend, you deserved this victory. Second place was exciting enough to keep me awake on the long ride back to Minnesota. Thanks to Eddie, Adam, Keith and all the Team Strange volunteers. After a year of obsessing over this thing, I can now relax and enjoy more normal motorcycling pleasures.
Yeah, right. You’re a Minnesotan, remember?
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