My rally started before the drive down, even, but I’d learned my lesson before, and don’t try to do too much to a bike before you go riding it pell mell through the woods. So I’d limited myself in the month before to only changing tires, and transmission fluid, complete with neutral safety switch, and oil pressure sensor and the wiring harness going up the left hand side of the frame. Ah, also, changing out the Wesco gel battery for an Odyssey PC680, on the advice of my friend Anton Largiader. Its supposed to be specific to starting and ignition, and knowing my past history with batteries and charging issues, this was supposed to be a pretty good upgrade. I made sure the bike would start, and thankfully, remembered to add transmission fluid back into it!
For once it was not a giant cluster getting all the gear and tools together for the weekend. Ordinarily I’m running around looking for all kinds of last minute things like Helmet, boots, forts aid kit and tubes, and tire patch kit and a hundred other things. This time I was actually somewhat calm and that was a welcome and odd relief. I got everything toolwise I thought I would need packed into the Zega bags, and my whole riding getup into a big duffle.
Michael picked me up at 9am the next morning. We loaded my PD in next to his 450, strapped em down and hit the road. Decided to take the route through DC, which is hit or miss, and mercifully we made it through in a straight run. A little too tired to seek out a sit down dinner, we grabbed some extremely local fast food and enjoyed the novelty of Television for a cartoon filled hour.
In the morning, Mike was supposed to go to the Novice Competitors Orientation, being that this was his first rally. One is required to attend an NCO for the first three events one competes in. We made a plan that we would meet up afterwards and head to registration and then tech inspection together. So we unloaded the bikes from his truck, and he took off while I suited up and headed to the local Rally Supply store (Walmart) to pick up a few things. Namely a raincoat, as that was on the list of things I decided for some unfathomable reason decided I wouldn’t need.
When I came back out to the bike in the parking lot, I noticed a healthy sheen of oil spreading from the bashplate. Hm. I thought. It was raining pretty heavily, and I had just recently been changing oils, so I thought to myself “huh. Washing off a lot of oil.” Head back to the ranch to meet up with Mike, and while trying to bolt up my mirror, I discover that the locknut is buggered . So while I’m puttering around with that I notice the oil sheen is still hanging around as well. I make a frowny face.
We suit up and head out—there is a hardware store essentially across the street, so we head over there, and I purchase a single locknut. I let the gentleman behind the counter know the cost is $1, and he looks at me like: “for a nut?!” and I find myself defending it.. :” but.. it’s a locknut.. and its metric.”
“Oh, METRIC” he says. Well that explains it. “Anyways I cant charge you a dollar, that’s crazy. “ so I gave him a dollar and he gave me back fifty cents. I make a happy face.
Back out at the bike and use a wrong size wrench to bodge to the mirror on, and take a little look at my dripping friend. Seems to be sortof the same amount of oil as before. That’s not really washing away. Following the oily black road, I notice its coming from the area of the oil pressure sensor, on the left hand side of the bike. Hmph. Maybe I didn’t tighten it down enough when I was putting it in… not quite having the right size socket will make that a distinct possibility, so applying a crescent wrench and a box end through its handle I got a another 1/8 of a turn out of it.
Start her up and now its DEFinitely leaking, worse than before I tightened it. Oh crap!
Mike looks at me like “:wtf mate can I do something for you? “
What I can’t make up my mind about is if it’s a problem with the sensor itself, leaking through the thing, or what (the what being that I perhaps boneheadedly forgot to put the crush washer on behind the thing) so We pretty much make the decision to try and get to an autoparts place and see if I can even find a replacement, because I have it somewhere in my head that this part is available at a chain store. I know I’m not quite right in the head. Regardless, as we start up again, Mikes bike refuses. Hello? Ok, wait, what? He tries to push start, while I push after him. We end up borrowing some jumper cables from a auto garage next door. HAha, things feel like they’re beginning to go kinda squareshaped and we’re not even to registration yet!@
Alright we got him started, and rode the ten blocks to the chain store. I tip the bike over on it side on the cylinder and remove the sensor. No crush washer. Hmm. I make a sheepish face.
Of course they don’t have a sensor like that, it was an act of purist optimism to have entertained the thought in the first place, to paraphrase, so I picked up a couple of crush washers in two sizes, in case one didn’t work.
Seven dollars and forty seven cents later I was leaving a small environmental problem in their driveway as a sort of passive aggressive move while I figured out that it was the second size I had chosen that was the right one. Crisis averted for now.
After the first crush washer didnt work I got a little wound up but managed to avoid panic while Mike did circles in the lot to top off his battery. We got her buttoned up, and we are on our rainy way to registration. It goes very smoothly and we take our paperwork and head to technical inspection, which has recently changed its location, so we go a few miles out of our way looking for it. It was actually just about but not quite 40 degrees out and has been raining all day, so cold and miserable would be a pretty fair description of the riding.
Tech inspection is found, thankfully and we pull inside. Among the things I have not brought is a pen, which I also need right now, to fill out my paperwork. Mike comes to my rescue and we each receive our respective “passed” stickers. It’s here that we first meet several of the bikes and riders we’ll end up getting to know much better in the next 36 hours.
The biggest issue is that Dave S’s G450 has become very obstinate since it arrived. All suddenlike it has refused to accept commands from the handlebar switches. Luckily he had already passed tech, so now it was just a case of getting back to where he was, rather than having to fix it before he could pass. I don’t know if that’s better, but it’s possible to get away with more after the fact than before, as these things go…
Anyway- we decide to forgo shakedown. Its several miles away, and we feel like we’ve done quite enough riding in the rain already, thanks. And once you've ridden shakedown, youre obligated to hang around in Parc Ferme for an hour or two whilst locals ogle the machinery, parade style. Its too wet and dark for that kind of thing So home we head, and there’s enough time to casually go grab food with the guys. The Max BMW guys invite us to tag along with them, they’ve heard about a BBQ buffet place just up the road that’s supposed to be pretty good. So Mike, Keegan, Ivan and I jump in to truck and head up there. The place is charming and all of the Max crowd are there. The food was indeed BBQ, although we joked the emphasis was probably more on Buffet. Actually it ended up being delicious: Max bought everybodies dinner that night. Go MAX! Not the first and not the last of many fine gestures.
After that, back at the hotel I roll the bike up under a staircase and plug it into the magic charger to make sure the battery is 100% or better in the morning. We put together our roll charts, and watched a little more of the magic tube before falling out.
That night I dreamed that I was rooming with Cyril Despres instead of Mike. In my dream when I woke up, he was there, and we both started gearing up. He was smiling and saying “wont this be fun?” When I did wake up, I decided he would indeed be riding with me today. Yeah he’d probably be annoyed I was so slow, but hey I’m riding with Cyril!
Well I finally get everything on. Here’s a list: Socks, tights, tech under shirt. Padded shorts, and padded pressure suit. Boots, Rally2 pants, fleece jacket, and rally2 jacket. Leatt brace, and gloves, and a nylon raincoat and pants shell. Finally a neckwarmer, and a helmet and goggles. Its still a very chilly fifteen miles to the ceremonial start.
Turns out I am fifteenth off the line. I get to know the two guys ahead of me, as I’ll be looking to start behind them throughout the rest of the day. Right before me is Richard on a Honda CRF450, and just ahead of him is Seth on a KTM something. The first turn out of the start line is supposed to be a right hander at 0.01 miles. I completely miss it and turn around .1 miles later. Haha, a good start. I see Richard waiting at the light, and I pull up next to him. We see Dave coming down the road from our right, and he turns right, joining our path. The light takes a long time and Richard gets impatient, blowing through it. I wait, and I go through when the light turns and thats when i see Richard making a wrong turn almost immediately. I honk my horn at him, but he’s out of earshot. I’m reluctant to chase him down, and figure that he’s close enough that he’ll see another bike on route and figure it out.
Heading to the start of stage one is a transit of about 5 miles, and we actually get launched into stage one pretty quickly. I remember this. It’s good to be free again, to ride as fast as I dare. Conditions are sloppy and mucky, and I can’t go very fast, but I’m not nearly as scared of being tossed from the bike as I have been in the past. I figure I’m so calm internally because Cyril is riding with me! Also because the steering damper is giving me major confidence. It is a giant sloppy wet mess, though, and sometimes the clay has come up through the sand and made it very greasy in those spots, plus the other bike bikes, namely those giant HP2’s that have gone before me have created some pretty bike swallowing ruts.
At the finish time control I end up waiting for Dave S who launched behind me, (apparently got the majority of his switch issues flaked out) and he’s not far behind. Unfortunately it makes me arrive at the next start a bit late, so I decide I cant afford that sort of thing again. Sorry Dave.
It takes quite a bit of time to start Stage 2, so while we wait we shoot the shit, and I begin to seriously wonder where Mike is. He was supposed to start 3 behind me, so in theory he’s arriving where I am just a few minutes behind me at any given point. It’s been more than a few and he’s not here, so I text him. “Hi Are you ok?”
I get one back: “I’m lost,” right before I get a phone call.
“cracklecrackle lost crackle made a left crackle”
It seemed like we ended up agreed upon a mutual landmark, and I gave him sort directions from there, but it was touch and go, and too soon my turn to leave, so we had to hang up. I was bummed I couldn’t hang around to make sure he got in, but was glad he wasn’t out of it, or hurt or something.
Stage two takes off, and halfway through the course I see my friend Dave Jansen parked on the kickstand in the middle of the road. WTF, man! He started several bikes ahead of me. He is hunched behind it, looking at his rear axle area. He sees me and gives a forlorn kindof look over his shoulder, but halfheartedly gives a thumbs up, so I veer around him. Ugh, that’s not good. He’s really quite fast on that mutant Transalp thing he’s riding.
I take one of two spills of the day on this run- right in front of a few course marshalls, on a corner I’ve blown in the past. Didn’t lose much time, but did leave a whole bunch of dignity lying there. Thats ok, I wasnt really using it anyway and its certainly not crucial to a finish, lol. The center of the road is usually scary and torn up, so I spend most of my time riding where the white line would be, where the sand is clear.
Stage two comes and goes . On to stage three, another fast rutty one, and at the finish time control is Bill Conger, looking very down. He has won this event before, and was on track to do so again, so for me to me eyeballing him all parked and dejected here at the end of three does not bode well…
“Oh no, what are YOU doing here?” I ask… With his hands in his pockets he says “head gasket.” And I know his Aprilia has already finished this rally. I remember seeing the pics of the bike just three weeks earlier with its guts spread out all over a shop, so I can only guess. Gutted for him, but he stays on and goes to all the spectator places to cheer us on. Later on I actually hear him cheering me at the final stage, in the dark. A true sportsman and class act is Bill.
Heading from the end of Stage Three to Service, I hear a strange sound, look down and discover that my bashplate, which was bolted to the oil pan with two bolts when I began, is now dangling by only one! I make a decision to remove it entirely, as the roads around here are devoid of rocks, and I’m without any wire. Just then Mike pulls up, and boy am I glad to see him! Getting lost cost him some time, and also, out of some confusion he thought that the ceremonial start was the start of a special stage, and has basically been given a firsthand education is rally timing
Well, one of the great things about rally is that you often don’t make the same mistakes twice, so its nice to get them out of the way, early
Fourth stage and the rain has finally stopped, but I’m beginning to feel the cold, and my hands begin to cramp in to claws again, so I spend a lot of concentration trying ot relax, and stretch them out, as wel as scarf a few bananas and drink more. That seems to help. My left hand grip has come loose from the glue that was holding it. More zip ties to the rescue. Also my heated grips have been coming in very handy, no pun intended. I keep toggling them on and off to save battery, which I must say, has been performing really well all day.
I ride my pants off the rest of the day. Stage four is my fastest.. The course is the driest and least torn up. I feel like I’ve just remembered how to ride after a month of sitting frozen solid in the barn back home. I know its because Cyril is riding with me.
On stage five, we hear the hero of the race, one Dave P, whose valiant attempt to be the first to finish the Sandblast rally on a stock Oilhead GS has come to an end. Bummed entirely, he was riding his heart out, and had it been dryer he would have certainly had a better chance. Lots of things are broken on his bike. The front shock blew out completely, and the bars and everything up front were bent, and he limped into the service shifting with his thumb.
After stage six, we spend a lot of time waiting to begin again, and while we wile the time away, the sun sets and soon its full dark. Night Stages! Now, someone jokes, its officially a real rallye!
I now have a chance to use my aux lights, the PIAAs which have so far recused themselves from being broken, mounted up high on the roo-bar of the PD over the stock headlight. They shine better down the road the higher up they’re mounted, I discovered as well. I am not altogether totally happy with how they light up the road, and am completely blue-white with envy looking at my fellow competitors HID’s strike up.
Right as we’re about to take off, Seth, the guy two spots ahead of me loses his timecard. Holy crap, we’ve been sitting here for a little over an hour, and at your minute, the card is lost? Ha haha, wait a minute- are you ME? I take off before him and can barely get moving in a straight line. Cant see a thing and even with the steering damper at full blast I can barely hang on. Its slow, somewhat blind going despite 110 watts of PIAAS and another 70 from the regular headlights. In the middle of a 500 foot long watery ditch the front wheel catches and we, the bike and I, sploosh down together. I get the bike back up only to be passed shortly thereafter by Seth doing about 80.. I guess he found his time card!
The end finally appears, and since I cant really read my rollchart to see which way to go back to the ceremonial finish, I just set the GPS for Cheraw and head out with extra lights and heated grip blazing. Its about 12 miles or so, and I realize after seeing no one else for the whole time I am not on the route sheet, even though I am heading back to the same place everyone else is.
Just as I enter Cheraw, approximately a mile or so from where I think I should be, the bike goes “bwwaaaaaaaaabllurrrrrrrp” and completely konks out. No lights, no sounds, no starter button, not a sausage. I stare at it wide eyed for a minute, then get off and stare a little more. I think loudly at it “OH NO YOU DID NOT!”
And I shut off every extra on it that I can. Some little bit of dashboard light putters up, and I look around for somebody who might have a jumper cable. There’s no one about, and I ponder the possibility of A) DNFing because I cant make it the last mile, and B) DNFing by accepting assistance from someone other than a competitor. Well, B isn’t looking like its even possible, and A is not an allowable option, ever, and especially not with Cyril watching. So in a fit I give the bike a real good push, and thankfully remembered to turn the key on! Nothing worse than blowing your only chance at a push start by forgetting to light the ignition. By some providence the bike starts up so I don’t even give it a chance to reconsider, hop on and blast towards the finish.
Even with lights and GPS, the bike gives up again about five residential blocks from the finish. My god, I can See it from here! So I begin pushing, there is NO WAY I’m going to get through this whole day and not finish, even if I have to carry individual pieces one by one the last 500 yards.
It seems that the many many starts that the battery took, today, as well as the lack of generous recharge time, compounded with the draw of lights and grips at the bitter end, conspired to kill the battery. Even still I’m amazed it made it that far… the previous gel batteries couldn’t even make past the first service without needing extra charging.
Ivan, a newcomer this year to Rally racing, but one who has so far stopped and helped every single person in need whom he came across today, helps to push me the last 200 hundred feet, from the finish to the Parc Expose where Max BMW has once again graciously bought pizza and beer for everyone. They then helped me load the bike in to the back of the Sprintervan, and hauled me back to the Hotel.
Mike and I wrang out all our wet clothes, found some dry ones, and catch a ride with Ivan over to the Awards ceremony. A beer or two later and we found out I had taken thirteenth place overall, and Mike 15th out of 22 starters. There were 4 DNF’s that day, and Mike and I both took third place in our respective classes, myself in the Heavy Class for bikes over 800cc, and he in the Adventure class, for new guys. There were 69 race miles that were timed, and the whole day was worth about 200 miles, with the transits. Looking back, I received one penalty of 30seconds for showing up a few minutes late to a check in, and while I hate even getting one penalty, it wouldn’t have changed my standing. The fellow ahead of me was more than two minutes faster. I finished the timed portion in 1 hour and 53 minutes, averaging somewhere between 30 and 35 miles an hour. The winning speeds were up around 60miles an hour average. Ah the joys of a modern bike. Back at the ranch and somehow we found the energy to hang with a bunch of friends sipping good scotch for another two hours before finally winding down all the energy we’d been running on all day.
The next day is a repeat in reverse of the first day- a long haul back home, drowsily sleeping if we weren’t driving, and reminiscing about our respective experiences throughout the day yesterday.
A week later, and I still have not washed the bike off.