The Route Not Taken
I get my starting mileage signed out, and roll away. Very quickly I hit the 101 South (scoping those freeway access roads does help). The first Muffler Man is actually in south San Jose, so it's an easy grab. I pass a couple of other riders along the way, and wonder briefly if they're doing the whole thread, too.
I reach the bonus location to find that it's a working muffler shop, and the large fiberglass man is holding an actual muffler.
Or, a slightly different point of view:
(pic taken by Terry Neale, another talented Rally rider)
I wonder briefly if this is the true "Muffler" man referred to in the Thread bonus question, but I figure once I have all the pics I'll compare them and make my choice then. Being the first in my Thread this bonus is only worth 60 points, but it is the basis for my entire ride. I get back to the freeway and head towards the second Muffler Man in Hayward. As I ride past the host hotel again, I note that it is now almost 7:30. My delayed start and this first bonus location took longer than I wanted, in the wrong direction, and that initial 1/2 hour would dog me the whole Rally.
The Hayward Muffler Man is gotten without incident for 120 points this time, although once again there are too many city streets and stoplights for my taste.
But soon enough I'm back on the mostly-empty freeways and heading north. I come across a toll bridge, and have to fumble a bit for cash. $4? Really? I suppose it's a whole lot better than riding the long way around the Bay. I tuck in the lane that everyone's avoiding behind two big rigs and as I'd guessed, they get through quickly and it's my turn. I pay and stuff the change into my handlebar bag, figuring I may well encounter more tolls this day.
After that, it's smooth sailing up the 101 while Led Zeppelin keeps me company. I'm heading to Willits and another Muffler Man. This is the one that's effectively daylight only, and the bonus list says it's down an artery street, across from a museum, and inside the Rodeo Grounds. I skip the main 101 drag through town by taking side-streets and find the location, but don't see the Muffler Man. Up and down the street a couple times and no Muffler Man. Forget nighttime, this one's damn near impossible to find in broad daylight. But finally I spot it, tucked behind a large and imposing fence. I hang my Rally Flag, get my pic, and then it's back to the bike.
As I've said before, every spare minute is crucial once the clock starts. A 24-hour Rally is a sprint race, where you're trying to fit as much smart riding as you can into a very small time frame. Bite off too much, and you'll miss checkpoints and possibly get time-barred. Choose too little, and you'll end up throwing away good points that I guarantee someone else will have gathered along the way. Efficiency rules here, and is the difference between placing well, and merely having a fun ride around the state.
And safety and personal responsibility is paramount here as well. Another LD maxim is that you can't win a Rally from a jail cell. And the trophy plaques, while impressive, simply aren't worth completely thrashing your bike, or risking a possible hospital stay. But it's our naturally competitive nature that keeps drawing us back to this insanity and so we strive to do better, ride further, collect more points, and eke out another small bonus in the hopes that it's enough to move you up a place. Or three.
While the Rally is on you're competing against yourself to do the very best that you can, and you have to recognize your own strengths and be honest about your own limitations. It's only after the Rally is done and all the scores are tallied and compared that you find out how well you did against all the other riders. All of whom have their own strengths and weaknesses to contend with.
So your major focus is the ride itself, and safely navigating the road, traffic, and weather hazards as presented to you. There is a lot of luck involved here as there are simply too many things well out of your control, but a skilled rider can read and anticipate the situation and make smart choices based on whatever gets thrown his or her way.
So all the way up the 101 to Willits, I kept running the numbers in my head. I had a good, solid plan, based on a very valuable thread, with enough time to add in some small-to-medium bonuses, and hopefully enough time to catch that final mystery bonus thread. It was a good plan, and if all went well it would give me a respectable score.
But Portland kept nagging at me. Now I've ridden between L.A. and Portland literally dozens of times over the past few years while visiting a client up that way. I've been up and down the 1, the 101, and the 5 so many times than I pretty much know every gas stop, every tiny town along the way, and everywhere the local constabulary likes to lie in wait. That kind of "local knowledge" can be invaluable on a ride like this.
But Portland means missing both checkpoints, and I know I can get just as many points on the Thread by adding just a couple more easy bonuses. I'd planned my ride, and was riding my plan.
Unless you could get to Portland and back in time to make the second checkpoint at Napa and add that 1,000 points to the Portland points. Then it becomes much more valuable than chasing fiberglass men all over the state.
I don't want
to go to Portland. I want to ride all over California on some old favorite roads, maybe discover a few new roads, get lots of points, and have a blast.
But I am competitive, and I want to do the very best that I can. And preferably just a bit better than the next guy. Or a lot better, if that's possible. And Portland is where the big points are, so Portland is where I have to go. Damn.
This thought process played out all the way up the 101 to Willits, and by the time I'd found the hidden Muffler Man, I knew what I had to do. Riders attempting the Portland bonus were required to call in and report that. So I called Mark and said "Well, it looks like I'm going to Portland." He wished me luck, and let me get back to my Rally. I grabbed a quick sandwich-ette and quickly considered my options.
The problem now was that I had to get all the way up to Portland and back to Napa, and I'd already spent a considerable amount of time gathering Thread bonuses. That now became small points, since I wasn't going to get the entire thread anymore. And I was halfway up the 101, when I-5 is the obvious choice for making time heading north.
So I could either backtrack to CA-20 and cut across to I-5 which added 70 miles, or I could stay on 101 and hope the motor homes were all at home dreaming of better days with cheaper fuel. Either route should
take the same amount of time according to my GPS but I-5 can be quite fast through northern California. Still, my GPS often over-estimates time taken on "smaller" roads, at least compared to the time I can usually make.
Besides, I'm already on 101 and it's a much more scenic route. Even though there are a few single-lane no-passing areas through the Redwoods, there are enough dual-lane 65-mph stretches that I figure it's worth the small risk. So I point the GT north and take my chances. I vaguely remember some sort of large Harley run up 101 from a previous Cal24 and I wonder if it's an annual thing, or even the same weekend. As I get further north, I start running into clumps of shiny bikes and I realize that it is happening again, right in front of me.
But I'm barely
exaggerating when I say that most of the bikes either saw me coming and pulled towards the right lane, or stayed defiantly clumped in the left lane while I slide by on the right. I try and wave to say "it's cool" but I'm more focused on clicking off the miles. And fortunately the motor homes are very light, and it seems that every time I get behind a particularly lumbering beast, a passing lane magically opens up. Now I do see my fair share of locals out patrolling, but it seems that most of them have either already nabbed some speeding hooligan, or are simply asleep at the side of the road. Honest.
I decide that I have enough fuel to make it past Eureka to Arcata, where I stop and fill up and quickly grab another sandwich-ette to tide me over. Then it's up the 199 where again traffic is unseasonably light and the temps start to climb as I move inland. Soon enough I've entered Oregon and reached Grants Pass and I-5. A quick stop there rids me of my heated jacket and allows another 4Ē of sandwich sustenance then I'm making good time up a road that I know all too well.
Remember that 1/2 hour I spent getting the San Jose Muffler Man first thing in the morning? The one that was now only worth 60 points because I'd given up the massive Thread bonuses? My best guess, if everything else went perfectly, was getting to the Portland bonus at 6:00 p.m., a good 1/2 hour after it opened. Which was okay since it was open for an hour total but still, I could really use that time on the way back down to Napa.
So I maintained my pace and noticed that I would need to get gas either just before or just after Portland. Elevated interstate speeds are great for putting the miles down, but play havoc with your fuel mileage. I decide to get gas on the way up, and grab a station at Lake Oswego that I know is a quick on/off. Besides, I can use the break from the freeway drone, even if itís only for a few precious minutes.
You know you've reached Oregon when the gas station attendant comes out to start up the pump for you. As if someone could be competent enough to drive a 5,000-lb SUV or a 160-mph motorcycle, but can't be trusted to operate a simple gas pump? At least they let bikes fill up their own tanks, as I really didn't have the time or inclination to explain to the attendant that yes, there are two gas tanks on this bike. But I suppose it keeps folks employed which is a good thing, especially in these times.
While the tank is filling, I grab my cell phone to call in and tell them I'm not going to make the first official checkpoint. We were allowed to skip it, but we had
to call in during the checkpoint window or risk a 1,000-point penalty. A thousand points is tough to come by, so losing them is a Very Bad Thing.
I notice a message from Ernie, a good friend who lives on the outskirts of Portland who has been following my SPOT GPS tracker. I don't have time to return messages but Rallying is a lonely sport so I give him a call anyway. He chides me about a California-based Rally taking me up to Portland, and asks if he should fire up the grill for me. A steak and some fine company sounds really good about now as I'm already tired of soggy Subway-ettes, but there's no time for all that nonsense. So I chuckle, briefly explain about the Portland bonus and get back on my way.
Those of you who have been following the Cal24 Rally know that the past three years have all been won by Jeff Earls. I've rallied with him before, and he is an extremely competent rider and an incredibly efficient Rallyist. He simply finds the best of all possible routes, then digs in and gets it done. I've learned a lot just watching him as he tackles whatever challenges are thrown at him without fuss or fanfare. And his results speak for themselves.
Hey, the Rally instructions for this bonus actually said that you'd be joining the Jeff Earls Fan Club. I guess the fact that I was already a member helped . . .
But Jeff was unable to run this year's Cal24, so he and Mark cooked up a bonus where he would be hanging out at a bar in Portland, and we would ride up to meet him and get a picture and an autograph. Well, at least those of us who were crazy enough to ride to Portland for nothing more than a pic and a signature.
On the way up I had passed another Rally rider whom I recognized and I waved, but I was on a tight schedule. Dave passed me right back when I stopped for fuel, so he reached Jeff before I did. And was apparently a little confused as to where I had disappeared to. But I made it up just a few minutes past 6:00 and found Jeff, who looked up and merely said "Hi Ken," as if we had run into each other at the grocery store.
Jeff mentioned that he was in Medford at 1:00 p.m. that afternoon, and had to hustle himself to get to his bonus location on time. In fact, he said that when he arrived right at 5:30 p.m. there were already 5 riders waiting for him. So I knew then that I did in fact have some Serious Competition, and that they were already 1/2 hour ahead of me.
Heck, we could have just had the bonus location somewhere in Medford, and saved all of us 550 miles or so.
But we donít want to make all this too easy, now do we?
I got my pic and signature, and chatted briefly with Jeff about bike maintenance (he also rides a GT). Jeff mentioned that there were five riders there when his bonus opened at 5:30, and again I cursed that first 1/2 hour. He then said something about all the other riders putting themselves in the pic with him, but I had read the instructions as merely needing Jeff and my Rally Flag in the pic.
I took the opportunity to avail myself of the local facilities (no, not beer, although Portland has some great micro-brews) and got back on the bike. But the pic still nagged at me, so I re-read the bonus instructions. Then I called Tom and asked for a clarification. Better to find out now than at the scoring table when the points are denied. It wouldn't be the first time a heroic ride was rendered impotent by a simple misunderstanding of the directions. And not even my
first time for that scenario, either.
But the pic was good, and I needed to get moving if I was going to make it down to Napa in time for that critical 1,000-point bonus. I knew that bagging Portland would put me in the top-10 at the least, but I wanted to do better than that. I had managed a 3rd-place finish in the '07 Cal24 (beaten by Jeff, of course) and I was really pushing for another podium finish. I knew that the top riders would almost certainly be separated from the rest of the pack by the Portland/Napa combo, and that they would be separated from each other by whatever else they could gather up along the way.