*2019 Context: This was my first “other” endurance rally. My first rally ever was the 2009 Iron Butt Rally, which is kind of a bass-ackwards way to approach endurance competitions, but hey – I’m not really an fass-orwards kind of girl. During the Iron Butt Rally I’d identified some weaknesses in my route planning approach, decided to make a few changes to my bike, added a 4.5 gallon auxiliary fuel tank, upgraded some of my tech, etc. Apparently I decided to do all of this roughly 8 minutes before the start of the Cal24, which is always a solid plan. As expected, hilarity ensued. This was also originaly written as a ride report for the Cal24 forum, so it assumes some basic knowledge of the bonus locations and people involved, but it’s still a fun read if you like to bear witness to an absolute cavalcade of rally-related errors. Enjoy my suffering!
I set the tone for my inaugural Cal24 rally early. Thursday, to be precise – the night before I was to leave for San Jose. I’d been waiting for a new controller to arrive for my heated gear for over a month, and it finally made its appearance about 16 hours before kickstand-up. Conventional wisdom says that changing your bike in the weeks before a rally is ill advised, say nothing of hours before. But this was a straight-forward install: no cutting, no difficult mounting or routing. The controller was already fused with battery terminal eyelets already installed, so all I had to do was connect it to my battery. What could possibly go wrong?
Over the course of my evening, I installed my controller (yeah!) and found that my Tire Pressure Monitoring System no longer worked (crap). I found that while installing the controller I had accidentally disconnected a wire at the TPMS switch (yeah!) which didn’t fix the problem (crap). I found that the disconnected wire had caused a blown fuse (yeah!) and now my controller and my TPMS both worked (yeah!) but my amp didn’t (crap). A few different fuses serve different parts of my amp circuit, so after checking several wires I found that a wire had been pulled out of the fuse box when I swapped out the other fuse (yeah!) Now my amp switch would light up (yeah!) but still no audio (crap). I eventually tracked down the problem to one of the wires I had previously checked (yeah!); when I’d pulled it out to check the fuse, I managed to pull the wire out of a connector (crap). I didn’t have any more of the particular connector I needed (crap) but after some impressive MacGuyvering I managed to restore my bike to the same condition it had been in before my easy ten-minute controller installation began five hours earlier (yeah!).
Disaster averted, I set out for San Jose the next morning. My ride was relatively uneventful, although I was surprised that my husband Mike hadn’t called to confirm that my SPOT tracking page was working as we had discussed. With my fuel cell I was able to make the trip non-stop, and I arrived to find about 200 missed calls and texts from Mike. Apparently my SPOT hadn’t been tracking properly, and he began to worry when I didn’t answer my phone for hours. My Zumo showed that my phone was connected, so I couldn’t figure out why it hadn’t alerted me of any incoming calls. Of course, my old Zumo had failed the previous week and this new replacement Zumo might still need the Bluetooth settings fine-tuned. I set Mike on the task of figuring out what the problem might be so I could go check in and get through tech inspection without having to worry about it too much. I rolled into the hotel around 1pm and my inspection started right away. Everything went fine, but it seemed to me that one of my fuel cell fittings was a little shinier than it should be. It had never leaked before, and when I touched it my finger seemed to come away dry, so I didn’t worry too much about it. I went ahead and did my odo check, and by the time I came back the shiny spot had turned into a full fledged leak. Dagnabbit. I’d deliberately not packed a ton of tools, figuring that anything requiring major tools would be too much for me to recover from on a 24-hour rally anyhow. Luckily everyone around me chipped in some tools and Alex Harper had the fuel-rated thread tape I needed, so within about 45 minutes I had pulled the tank, re-taped the joint, reinstalled everything and was once again leak free. Thank goodness I got that out of the way!
While I was wrapping up my fuel cell install, Mike called and shed some light on my phone situation. He had discovered that our new phones were not compatible with the Zumo. It was sheer luck that they recognized each other at all, but there would be no way to get everything fully functional unless I got a new phone. That would have been nice to know before I was sitting at the starting line, but since the phone and Zumo both showed a good connection and I was able to make calls, it never occurred to me that I might be missing incoming calls. He had also called SPOT, who swore that sometimes the “tracking” and “on” lights would flash in unison as if tracking, when it was actually just sending out an “OK” message. For five straight hours. I wasn’t buying it, but hopefully SPOT would see fit to track properly the next day.
In retrospect, maybe I should have run away when I was assigned rider number 13. I drew a kind of shamrock/snot puddle thing on my flag (I’ve been told that my artistic “ability” leaves something to be desired) hoping that might counteract any bad omens that might accompany my new number. No biggie. I’m not particularly superstitious, so I figured the combination of the shamrock, my lucky underwear, my two worry stones and my lucky necklace would work together to cancel out the 13 and leave me back on level ground. After getting everything sorted out downstairs, I finally checked into the hotel and made my way up to my room. I wanted to make sure my computer was charged and everything was ready to roll for the next morning. I saved a new Streets & Trips file with my custom pushpins, saved an Excel file with appropriately named tabs, and attempted to connect to the internet. After an hour of troubleshooting I still wasn’t connected and it was time to head down to the rider’s meeting. The meeting went fine, meaning I managed not to fall in the pool or break any bones, and when it was done I headed straight for my room and another hour or so of troubleshooting. I finally sorted out the problem and got my browser functioning properly, so around 9:30pm I went to bed knowing I had everything in order for efficient routing the next morning.
The 5:45am riders meeting was quick and to-the-point, so a few minutes later I was running back to my room clutching my bonus pack and a thumb drive harboring my electronic waypoints. I tried to process the text file like I’ve done in the past, but I couldn’t get it to load. It was in a different format than I was used to seeing, so I tried to modify the file a bit so S&T would recognize it, to no avail. I tried opening the other two file types provided on the drive, but neither of them would open either. Time was ticking by and I knew I was getting nowhere fast, but I’d already invested so much time in trying to get the text file right that I just couldn’t give up. I figured once I got that file sorted out it would be smooth sailing, and I knew I must be just a click or two away from getting it right. Twenty-five minutes into our hour of free routing time I finally gave up on the electronic waypoints and started inputting the bonii by hand. I tried to remember to save often, but I got on a roll for a while there and apparently I forgot. I was reminded when my f*%king computer froze up. I’d had about ¾ of the bonii programmed in at the time of the crash, and I lost all but ten. By that time it was about 7:15am, 15 minutes after we were officially allowed to leave, and I was still monkeying around trying to make the waypoints viewable on a map. I had no idea whatsoever what the overview of the base route looked like, let alone the Dog Bone or thread bonii options. I just couldn’t sit around any longer, so I decided to use the .gpx file to load the bonii into my GPSs as POIs. I had to return the thumb drive, so I copied the files to my desktop before wrapping things up and headed for the parking lot. I would aim towards the first bonus in the base route and try to formulate a plan on the way. If worse came to worse, I would get to the first checkpoint early enough to plan a strong second and third legs. It was almost 7:30am, but my rally was finally under way.
A few other guys were in the parking lot when I was gearing up, and they all seemed to have experienced problems similar to mine. Alex Harper was there, and he mentioned that he used MapSource to view the .gpx file. I had tried to open the .gpx file by double-clicking, but I hadn’t tried opening MapSource and then opening the file. He said, “No, I just double-clicked on the file and it opened right up.” Weird. (After the rally I checked out the files I had transferred to my desktop. The gpx file, which my computer had previously claimed could not be opened with any program known to mankind, popped up with a shiny new MapSource logo after it was copied to my desktop. Upon clicking, it happily opened the full bonii list without a moment’s hesitation. Dag. Nab. It. While making a route map for this story, I saved the .gpx file on a thumb drive. Even though I created the file in MapSource, it did not show the MapSource logo and would not open until I jumped through a bunch of hoops to convince it that MapSource was the program for the job. Interesting. Must investigate further.) Well, it was too late to do anything about it at that point. For now, it was off the Bonus One.
*2019 Addendum: Up until recently, most rallies limited the file size of the bonus pictures to nothing bigger than VGA. These pictures may be a little less than top notch, and that it’s not entirely due to my old school digital camera equipment or marginal skills as a photographer. It’s also entertaining to look back at pictures which, at 3am when I originally took them, I though were fantastic and did a great job of capturing the bonus, only to discover that they were barely discernible at the scoring table. I suspect that the entertainment factor of watching riders like me squirm at the scoring table was a big factor behind the VGA size limit.
When I arrived at the first bonus at Petaluma Adobe State Park, I found half a dozen bikes parked in a small cul-de-sac next to a locked fence. It looked like I was in for a little walk, so I decided to go ahead and plan out the rest of my leg before I got off the bike. I wanted to see how much extra time I’d have to stray off the base route, so I started by compiling the base bonii waypoints into a route file. That lasted all of about 12 seconds, until I realized that only around half of the waypoints had survived the transfer into the GPS. How the hell did I screw that up?!? It’s not as if I had to transfer them one at a time; you select an entire file, and the POI Loader moves the contents of the file, in its entirety, to the GPS. I’ve always thought it was an all-or-nothing type of affair, but clearly I stood corrected. I had to manually enter many of the first leg waypoints, and by the time I was done I was looking at a route that would take me just about to the opening of the first checkpoint. Hmmm. Not a lot of wiggle room there, I’m afraid. I decided I would just stick it out on the base route, knock out some miles, and pull up the MapSource file for some strategizing at the checkpoint.
As I was finishing up my route, a white jeep pulled up next to me. The driver, smartly dressed in his little park ranger get-up, gave me a bit of the stink eye and told me I would have to move out of his way so he could get into the park. I smiled sweetly and rolled off to the side of the drive. He let himself through the fence, chatting with Matt Pflugh for a minute on the way in. When I got off the bike to start my walk, I noticed that the gate had been left open. Matt saw me eyeballing the open road and said, “He told me he wouldn’t let anyone in until 10am.” More than an hour from now. “And to make things worse,” he continued, “I walked all the way in there before I realized I’d forgotten my flag.” Ooh, that hurts. I looked from Matt to the gate and back to Matt. “So he told you not to go in until 10am, right? I didn’t hear him say that. I’m going for it.” I hopped on my bike and drove into the park as if I belonged there. There were a few guys walking back out from the park who seemed amused by my attempt to circumvent the ranger, and they pointed me in the direction of the marker I needed to photograph. I quickly found the marker and ran over to grab my picture. The ranger came speeding by as I hot-footed it back to my bike and he slowed down just enough for me to hear that vein throbbing in his forehead before speeding off, presumably to lock the front gate. Matt was making his way back into the park on foot as I made my exit, so I wished him well and hurried to get back on public roads before I found myself trapped in the park for the next hour.
My second bonus at the General Store (established in 1881) was a breeze, so I headed to Stewart’s Point Road and began winding my way to the third bonii of the morning. This road is a bit on the twisty side, and I just couldn’t seem to find my groove. After I’d repaired my fuel cell leak I’d left the tank about half full, just in case the fix didn’t hold. My tank is well baffled, so it was quite possibly just psychosomatic, but all my corners felt just a hair off from fully controlled. And that was before taking the gravel, run-off, and oncoming traffic into consideration. Matt caught up with me, then passed me, but I just couldn’t get in the zone. By the time I reached the Stewart’s Point General Store, Matt had already obtained the requisite receipt and was getting ready to split. The PCH is familiar territory, so after snagging my receipt I was able to make up a little time. I pulled into the bonus at the Druid’s Hall just behind Matt.
Back on the road, we were both eyeballing the coast for a place to pick up the Super Mega Secret Bonus. Before long we came across Van Damme State Park and spied all of the necessary elements we would need to pocket a cool 1,000 points. I jogged down to some kind-looking folks in swimming attire and pled my case. The required composition of the picture was fairly specific, so I yanked my boots off and tossed my camera to Matt. He captured me holding my flag, standing knee-deep in the water next to a stranger, with people (and, in my case, two dogs) dressed in such a way as to indicate the intent to swim. Piece of cake. I returned the favor for Matt, and before long we were dryish, virtually sand-free, and back on the road.
With a little sleuth work I found the correct visitor’s center at Point Cabrillo Historic Park and grabbed my picture. I’d been without cell reception most of the morning, so I gave Mike a call as soon as I picked up some bars outside of Fort Bragg. Luckily my SPOT was seeing fit to track properly, so as long as he could see me moving he wasn’t too worried. We chatted for a few minutes while I fueled up, then I let him go when I pulled back out on the highway. I hadn’t been listening to music or anything on the trip so far, so it took me a while to realize I had lost audio. It happens from time to time, so I flipped my amp off and on, and when that didn’t work I restarted the Zumo. That fixed the problem, so I figured it was just a hiccup. When I lost audio again after my next phone call, I realized that the problem was related to my phone connectivity issue. It seems that my phone wasn’t completely disconnecting when the other person hung up, and since the phone wasn’t properly connected to the Zumo I didn’t have any of the control buttons I needed to end a call from my side. What I had to do to maintain audio for the rest of the trip was navigate through to the Zumo’s Bluetooth controls, drop the phone, then reconnect again.
My slow progress across Stewart’s Point Road, plus my swim break, together with the normal time spent procuring bonii, had steadily chipped away at my time cushion around the first checkpoint. I’d been keeping a faster pace through the redwoods until I got stuck in the slow parade of rental RVs. My original plan had me arriving at the checkpoint shortly before it opened, but by the time I photographed my bike in the Chandelier Drive-Through Tree it was evident that I was going to have to drop some bonii if I was going to make it to the checkpoint before it closed. The points for this drive-through tree were linked to a second tree, so I had to pick up the Meyer’s Flat tree or this stop would just be wasted time.
On the way to Meyer’s I made a quick stop at the Benbow Inn to count windows. Hundreds of windows. Even considering we only had to count the panes on the second and third stories, it was still a daunting task. Minutes were ticking away. Matt pulled up around the same time and we tried hard to stay focused, but we both kept going cross-eyed after a few hundred. My brain just wouldn’t cooperate, and I had to keep moving or I was seriously risking missing the checkpoint window. I gave it my best guess at 316 panes (which incidentally was under the actual total by more than 100) and hit the road. I picked up the Hobbit Trail bonus and made quick work of the Meyer’s Tree, then gritted my teeth and passed right by several more bonii on my beeline to the checkpoint. Somewhere along the way it occurred to me that I should have taken a picture of the Inn so I could count the panes later when I wasn’t under such time constraints. Oh, well. Live and learn.
I tried to make a quick phone call on my way into Eureka, but I got their voicemail. I went through the steps to disconnect the Bluetooth, but when I reconnected my phone a minute later it was still connected to the voicemail message. I tried every trick in the book, but I could not get the phone to disconnect. I ended up having to find my way into the checkpoint without any audio instructions. I reached the checkpoint with about 10 minutes to spare, and was finally able to restore audio by restarting my phone. That was a bit more of a pain in the butt than I wanted to deal with, so I kept my phone calls to a minimum for the rest of the rally.
I no longer had time to bring my big Leg Two Rebound Plan to fruition, so I settled for choking down a nutrition bar while I programmed in the basic bonii through the second checkpoint. I was increasingly disappointed in my performance in the rally, but considering how close I’d just come to being time barred I was happy to still be in the game. There were a few bonii in rapid succession – the fishermen’s memorial and the Friend of the Dunes building – and the World’s Tallest Totem Pole was just a short hop to the north.
On my way to the totem pole I hit reserve, so I opened up my fuel cell to transfer gas to my main tank. I had a little trouble locating the totem pole (it looked more like a telephone pole with a hat on), so by the time I arrived my fuel gauge should have been showing about half a tank of gas. It wasn’t. I looked in my fuel cell – yep, still full. I opened and closed the transfer valve a few times – yep, I’d had it in the open position. Then I grabbed my flashlight and peered into my main tank. Gas was happily bubbling up into the tank. Huh. Maybe I was just being impatient. I’d give it some more time before I got too worried.
The road to the next bonus was a fun ride, but I started getting concerned when I was showing 45 miles on reserve and the fuel gauge still had not come up. This is officially way, way longer than the transfer should take, so I decided I’d better investigate further before I flat ran out of gas. This time I looked into my main tank first. Just as I suspected, no fuel was transferring. Then I took the cap off the fuel cell and gas started happily bubbling into the main tank. Ah-ha – I had a venting problem. A quick inspection uncovered an occluded vent hose, probably pinched when I was in a hurry to reinstall my tank the previous day. My first load of aux fuel had probably transferred better because the tank had only been half full to begin with. Pleased that this was an easy fix, I pushed on to the old bridge bonus. It took me a few tries to find the right pull-out from which to view the bridge, then it took me a few more minutes to come up with a way to get my flag in the picture, but ultimately I got a good picture and pushed on to Weaverville.
Alex Ciurczak and I pulled into Weaverville at the same time and got to work tracking down the town’s four spiral staircases. We found three right off the bat, and I agreed to model both flags while Alex manned both cameras. Now to find that fourth staircase… We walked up and down the street a little ways, with no luck. A lady had been sitting outside a nearby bar and she appeared to be laughing at us so, speculating that she may know something we didn’t, I headed toward the bar. I poked my head in the swinging doors and asked if anyone knew of a fourth staircase in town. There was quite a bit of laughter and discussion before someone confirmed that we were not the first to be inquiring after the mysterious missing staircase that day. The spokesman for the bunch stepped forward and said that for as long as he’d lived there, more than three decades and counting, \ there had only been two spiral staircases in town. Uh, two? “No, I’ve already found three staircases. One right next to us here, and two straight across the street.” Blank stare. “Huh. OK, three staircases, I guess. But yeah, there aren’t four. For sure.” That did not instill in me a great sense of confidence, so rather than blow this bonii by not turning in the four required pictures Alex and I decided to split up and scope out the town. A few laps later we were still empty handed. I’d even looked for anything sneaky like a sign with a spiral staircase on it, but without success. I wasn’t getting any younger so I decided it was time to move on, fourth staircase or no.
While I chugged towards Redding I took a closer look at rest of the second leg. Zumo was still showing my estimated arrival to be within the checkpoint window, but it was getting dark fast and I knew the deer would be out in force as I began climbing into the Eastern California mountains. I decided the wise choice would be to cut out a couple of the bonii that didn’t offer a very good point-to-mile ratio. They were way up in the twisties and not worth very much, so if I limited myself to the closest two mountain bonii I could book back to the interstate and hopefully hit the checkpoint with enough time to salvage my Leg Three. I quickly found the Sundial Bridge in Redding and snapped my picture with the little bit of remaining daylight. From there it was off to Lassen Volcanic Park.
When I reached the front gate I found Alex there pondering the specifics of the bonus. We needed to get a picture at the Visitor’s Center, but the only one shown on the park map was on the complete opposite side of the park. Not a big deal, except the road was closed just ten miles into the park. We poured over maps and newspapers, but we couldn’t find anything definitive. The written bonus directions had been pretty accurate so far, so I found it hard to believe that they would send us this way if we couldn’t reach the intended bonus. We decided to go for it, and our leap of faith took us all of about a half mile down the road to a large and well-marked visitors station. After all the hemming and hawing, it took mere moments to get a picture of the seismograph building and get back on the road.
After Lassen I had planned on grabbing one more bonus up the road before heading for the checkpoint. After chatting for a minute, Alex decided he would be heading that way as well and we set off into the dark night. Alex got a bit ahead of me, so I was a little concerned when I came around a corner and saw him stopped in the road. He said he was OK, but he was second guessing his plan to head this way. We compared notes again, and we both decided to turn around and make a beeline for the checkpoint. It seemed like there were deer around every turn, and the best case scenario if we continued through the mountains would put us at the checkpoint around 1:30am, not including time for bonii procurement or venison related delays. With a bit of backtracking and some good, deer-free, high speed roads, I rolled into the checkpoint in Oroville about half way into the window. I had a Clif Bar and some water while I programmed my last leg. It was once again looking like a solid run at the base route was all I had time for, so I focused on getting as many points out of it as I could. I had to cut out a few stops in order to make it to the finish line in time, but at least now I could figure out which ones I wanted to scrap ahead of time rather than just dropping the last bonii on the leg as time ran out. I felt good and alert and had come to terms with my lackluster routing, so after throwing a couple handfuls of trail mix in my pocket I cranked up some tunes and got myself back on the road.
My next bonus was the Colusa Casino, where the bonus listing instructed us to score a chip from inside the casino. At the end of the listing it also said that if we had a gambling problem or just didn’t feel like going into the casino you could opt to pick up the points by taking a picture of your bike in front of the casino entrance. I took full advantage of that option and was in and out of there in under two minutes.
The next stop was an historical marker in Suisun City. As I gathered my camera and flag, a cop drove by. As I put my stuff away and splashed a little water on my face out of my hydration system, he drove by again. Not wanting to invite trouble, I decided I’d better get moving. I pulled out of the parking lot and the cop appeared from around a corner. I was behaving myself, but I still wasn’t surprised to see his lights flash in my mirror. I pulled over immediately and came to a stop. The cop slowed down, crept past me, then sped around another corner and killed his lights. I’m pretty sure he was just testing to see how I reacted since I was skulking about downtown in the wee, wee hours of the morning. Fine by me – that was about the best kind of LEO interaction one could hope for.
By the time I reached the next bonus at the Livermore fountain, the sun was starting to come up. From there I nabbed the post office in Sunol, then wrapped things up with one last stop at Corrie Glass. I wasn’t in great shape to be doing complex mental mathematical calculations at this point, but as near as I could tell my corrected mileage would be coming in at 20 30 miles under the 1,000 mark. I strongly considered doing a lap around town so I could hit 1k, but it was evident that I wasn’t going to be able to do that and still make it to the finish before penalty points started accruing 7am. If I’d had any intention of putting in for a Saddlesore I would have done it, but in the end I decided that it really wasn’t something I cared about too much.
For better or worse, I rolled across the finish line with time to spare. I gathered up my fuel log, my pictures and my meager bonus submissions and dragged myself to the scoring line. Mark was pretty gentle, probably because I didn’t work him too hard and I was only about the third person to make their way to the scoring table. My laughable attempt at counting the windows at the Benbow Inn was a confirmed failure, but I was pleased to learn that there were actually only three spiral staircases in Weaverville so I would be receiving those points after all. I was disappointed in myself, to say the least, so I didn’t even bother to pay much attention to the value of the bonii I’d visited or my final score or anything. All I wanted was to go up to my room and go to bed, which was probably my first and only good routing decision of the entire rally. What’s done is done; I’d find out how awful I did at the banquet a few hours later.
My husband showed up at some point while I was sleeping, and later that afternoon we headed down to the banquet together. I’d forgotten our banquet tickets, and after retrieving those I realized I’d forgotten my raffle ticket as well. I only remembered that when they started giving away raffle prizes, so it was too late to run up and get it. I do remember my number being called, probably for something totally awesome. Figures. When Tom started awarding plaques, I was honestly surprised that I wasn’t last. I had a loose idea of what my third leg bonii were worth, I knew how much the Super Secret Bonus was worth, and I knew the value of the bonii I had bypassed on the second leg. Basically, I didn’t have any concept of what my score might be. Every time Tom called a name that wasn’t mine, I was happier. Then he got to the top ten and I started thinking I must have been disqualified. I was floored to hear that I had finished in 6th place with 985 corrected miles and 4,562 points.
A lot of people have made comments about triumphing in the face of adversity and inspirational gook like that; I think of it more like, even a broken clock is right twice a day. I didn’t do anything right, at all. I made about every mistake in the book and I somehow finished in 6th in spite of my efforts, not because of them. This was a great rally for me because virtually every one of my previously unrealized rallying fears came to pass and I still made it through to the finish. I think my rally experience would have been more actively enjoyable if I had felt like I was giving it my best effort, even if I’d finished way down the ranks. I spent the entire day feeling like I was tripping over my own feet and the fact that I probably couldn’t have planned a much more successful route was total, unadulterated, dumb luck. But you know, sometimes you’ve got to take it where you can get it. I’ve learned some valuable lessons for next time, starting with not changing anything on my bike in the weeks before the rally. The only thing I installed in the last month that didn’t give me any trouble were my new Kevlar shoe laces. (And incidentally, I never did end up using my heated gear.) The Zumo replacement was unavoidable, but I should have given it a more thorough run-through before I declared it rally-ready. The fuel cell leak was kind of a random occurrence after it had been leak free for weeks, but I should have updated my basic tool kit with the right size tools to work on the cell should the need arise.
On that note, I think it’s time to wrap things up and get ready for the Utah 1088 next weekend. All I have to do is install a couple new tires. What? Aw, come on – they’re just tires. What could possibly go wrong?