Day 6 and 7 – “the long ride to Sacramento”
The riders are heading east. It’s interesting to follow the spots and the bulletins from the rally HQ. Day 6 is an intermediate day, time
to go for the big mile. Day 7 means getting to the checkpoint in time. In a couple of hours, the riders will arrive in Kingsport, Tennessee.
I started my night shift from St. Louis. I followed the I-70 to the west. The cone of my 22W LED headlight illuminated the highway. The traffic got more and more quiet and soon I was in a steady-state mode: the road, the dark night, the humming XBR and I. This monotonous rhythm was my companion for the next hours. Thanks to my Russell seat, I did not have any pain, it was like sitting on your sofa at home. I was going at 80 – 85 mph (130 – 138 km/h), that means at a speed that was over the speed limit, but would probably not cause the road police to act. At least this was the recommendation I got from the IBR veterans. I was not carrying the radar warner and at that speed, it did not seem to be necessary.
I noticed that another bike was catching up. It followed me for a while and I could feel the curious looks of the rider in my back. Then the bike passed me slowly, the rider greeted me and then he opened the throttle. Wroooooooom. The bike disappeared into the darkness. Whoa. I looked at my speedometer. 85 mph. How fast was this bike?? I had recognized the bike, it was one of the top riders (no name revealed here). OK, so this was how it worked.
I still was not tired so I continued my ride. I passed Kansas City and the big plains welcomed me again. After half an hour, I did note that I got tired. Well, I was in the middle of nowhere. The only chance was checking in the “Ironbutt Motel”, i.e. sleeping by the side of the road. But there was no rest area. I continued, slowly fighting against the upcoming sleep. I had slept only a couple of hours the previous night, fix the tyre problem and had ridden about 900 miles (1450 km). No wonder I was tired. On the other hand I had still at least 1800 mls (2900 km) ahead of me. And only about 40 hours left. On a little XBR 500.
It began to dawn on me that there was no time for a stop at a hotel. OK, the Ironbutt Motel then. Finally, at a quarter to 1 a.m., I stopped at the Topeka service area and looked for a quiet place. I found a dark spot under a tree. I set my “screaming meanie” 120 db alarm clock and laid down in the grass, leaving the helmet with my earplugs on. I was really tired, but I needed my time to come down. Approximately 30 min. After another 30 min of sleep, the infernal alarm clock went off. A powerful power nap. I felt refreshed. I continued my ride.
At 3:20, I needed to stop for petrol and had a light breakfast. I was still tired, but I had to push on. Finally darkness faded – but bad weather turned up. I stopped and put on my rain suit. I considered to stop at a motel but again, there was nothing out there. I was tired, but I had some distraction: I needed to fight against the rain and the wind. And where was a toilet when you needed one? Finally I tried my luck in the open desert – assessing the right wind direction is essential! The rain vanished slowly, the arid landscape got a little greener again. And the I-70 continues in a long line. At a quarter past eight, I stopped for another fuel stop. What, another 500 km have passed? I took another real breakfast. It was sunny, a lovely morning, but I felt very tired. Probably I needed another power nap.
At 10 a.m., I gave in and stopped at a parking area and looked for a spot in the shadow of a tree. The same story. 20 minutes to come to rest, 30 min of sleep. But again, the nap was refreshing. Soon I left the I-70 and took the Highway 24 towards Colorado Springs.
Around noon, I got to the first bonus point location since 18 hours ago. It was the airplane restaurant. I met Kurt Wolden there; he and his Kawasaki Ninja 250 were even more “hopeless class” then I was. Respect! I went north to Denver and I wondered why the XBR showed signs of lost power. Was there a problem? But then I had an idea…I checked the altitude on my GPS…I was riding at 1800 m (6000 ft)! Whoa! No wonder the XBR rode a bit sluggish. I t would have been the moment to opt for Pikes Peak, but this convinced me that this was no match for my 498 cc, one cylinder motor with carburetor.
In Denver I visited the Forney Museum of Transportation, i.e. I took a picture from the exterior. I was impressed by a rider who had a peli case as a top case wich a connected laptop inside. He opened the case and checked quickly his route. And I felt like a geek because I was simply carrying a laptop in my luggage…There was some bad weather approaching. I looked to Rocky Mountain range….bad weather! If I had chosen to go to Pikes Peak….oh dear! The next stop was not far away. The Colorado Railway Museum was a few miles to the west. When I got there, I met Giel Kerkhof exiting the site. He shouted the directions to me and was gone. I knew he was in true rally mode for he shouted in Dutch. No problem for me though…
I entered the site and followed Giel’s instructions. I could see building where I had to take a picture of. There was a family car in front of me that just stopped. I waited for a while, but then I passed him on the left and parked my bike to the right in front of him. I needed to be quick as the thunderstorm could break loose any second. I took out my camera and had a look the rally book.
“YOU FUCKING MORON!”
The driver of the car seemed to be particularly unhappy about the fact that I parked my bike on the last available parking space. He was foaming at me and kept yelling. Well, why was he hesitating so long? Under different circumstances, this would have been a good start for a fight. But sorry, I didn’t have time for that. So I chose a totally different strategy. Without even looking at him, I said in a relaxed voice:”You have not flashed your indicator”.
He gasped. He was not prepared for this. It took him totally by surprise.
“Well, um, OF COURSE I DID!!”
No, you tosser, you didn’t. Why would you?I didn’t speak out my thoughts but took my picture, checked its quality and put everything calmly in my tank bag, still not looking at that guy.
“Well, I couldn’t see any flashing light…”
He gasped again, this time he was speechless. I mounted my bike, left the irritated twat behind and within a couple of seconds I was gone.
Not a moment too early because now the heavy rain started. I went back to the main highway and continued north.
I crossed the border to Wyoming visited an old train in Cheyenne. It was 5 p.m. and I needed to arrive in 27 h in Sacramento that was 1100 mls (1760 km) away. This seemed feasible; I had made some good progress. I check my maps. It seemed wise to plan a stopover in Salt Lake City, this would be the perfect timing. Only 440 mls (710 km) to go. Not bad, for an “evening ride”…
The land got hilly now, after all I was crossing the Rockies. It turned also more dry and arid. Many times during Leg 2, I had to think of that particular episode of the iconic old Bavarian TV series “Münchner Gschichten”. The episode was called “Der lange Ritt nach Sacramento” (The long ride to Sacramento): “only two days to Sacramento”
(best scenes: 1:53 – 3:20; 27:54 – 29:30).
Slowly, some clouds came up. It was indeed a long way to Sacramento, but for this evening, I had no more bonus point to collect and the only stop would be at a petrol station. I rode on the I-80…Laramie, Rawlins, Red Desert, Rock Springs….I had to stop for fuel and it was right on time, a strong wind blew a massive thunderstorm right in my direction. When I wanted to fill petrol at the pump, I had to grab the bike with one hand. The wind was so strong that the bike would have toppled over! I was hungry, but under this circumstances I wanted to move on, it would get dark soon and it was still far away from Salt Lake City. I returned on the I-80 and then hell broke lose. The wind and rain made me slow down a lot. Sometimes I had the sensation that my front wheel was lifted in the air. But also this massive thunderstorm passed by.
I entered Utah and got to a lower altitude again when it got dark. I was really looking forward to staying in a hotel again. I had covered 3400 km (2125 mls) in 36 hours since my tyre change – this was a true BBG (Bun Burner Gold) pace – on a XBR 500! I checked in at a Hampton Inn hotel for I had made a very good experience with them: they provide check-in and check-out tickets, both of them carry a time stamp. That means I needed not to look for electronic tickets to document my rest stop.
The lady at the desk asked where I came from. Why didn’t she believe me when I said “Pittsburgh”? The restaurant was closed, but I purchased some snacks, I didn’t want to leave the hotel so I had a rather simple meal in my room. I planned to have a long 8 hour rest break, it would even give me some extra points. I slept very well that night.
The next morning was a sunny one. I had a real breakfast at the hotel and left at 7:30 a.m. What a luxury! But I had more than 12 hours and 1050 km (650 mls) to go. The next bonus point was easy: it was just around the corner. Piece of cake. I joined the I-80 again and two hours later I reached the Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway. A small point in the salt desert. Actually it was not completely dry at the moment, but a salt lake was still present. The next location was about two hours away, an old hut of the Pony Express. The Pony Express combo definitely a must for the top ten riders, they had to visit more than 30 location for this huge combo. Before the stop, I had been overtaken by Kevin and Lyn, but after it I was off first – I was working well that day. Of course, I was overtaken by them after that. Nevada is a very dry place – hardly any green around. And not very populated: there came a moment when I was running out of petrol! An enormous range, but almost no fuel left in the tank! I rolled slowly towards Battle Mountain and luckily, I made it to the petrol station, pffffffff. At 1 p.m., I stopped in a town called Winnemucca, a generous 30 min rest break at a Jack-in-the-box. This was OK, I had 300 mls (480 km) ahead of me and more than 9 hours left. This meant I was a bit ahead of my plan. Great! This meant I could collect some smaller bonus around Sacramento before arriving at the checkpoint hotel. It was hot now and the hot air from the motor was directly deflected on my legs.
Three hours later I passed Reno and soon I crossed the border to California. The road climbed up the Cascade Range Mountains and soon the Nevada desert changed into some very lush, green pine forest. After a bonus point stop near the Donner Lake, the long descent to the Pacific began. This was a good feeling, I had four hours left and only 45 mls (70 km) to go.
In the next three hours, I visited nine (nine!) bonus point locations around Sacramento. Finally some small bends again and as I’m quite quick at the bonus point locations, this was quite some fun. I even passed the checkpoint hotel before making another loop around and through Sacramento. At the last location, I met Matt Watkins who had left first at the start of the rally as he had won the “haircut contest” – he had ridden a hell of a leg 2 and had done the complete Pony Express and Pikes Peak – impressive! With 20 minutes to spare, I arrived at the checkpoint. The parking was already full of people. I grabbed my stuff and my arrival time was registered. I was lead to a large where also other riders were already preparing their scoring. I got me something to eat from the buffet and filled in the my scoring sheet. I forgot to include a stop in the right order and corrected it. Finally I was ready and after some waiting time I could enter the scoring room. This time, I was scored by veteran Jeff Earls who gave rookie meeting. This was a different atmosphere now than in the first meeting: everything was taken with a grain of salt. The corrected bonus point? Minus ten percent penalty. But then he wanted to strip me off a huge bonus – I can’t remember what it was exactly, I guess it was a general bonus like fuel log or something similar that did not have a particular time. However, he stated that without a claiming time, the bonus would be lost. I protested. This did not make sense. But Jeff acted so self-assured that I started to hesitate. Then he asked how this was handled in the first leg and we looked it up….it was done in the same way as I proposed it….he mumbled that there would be a problem. Finally I insisted in a clarification. We called co-rally master Tom Austin and explained the situation. Without any doubts, he confirmed my opinion. Phew! Losing these point would have made it very difficult to become a finisher.
I didn’t have to fix anything at the bike, so I could spend my time preparing my stuff for the next morning. I had made it to Sacramento! In the hopeless class! I had hoped for that, but Leg 2 was really the test for me and my small bike. If it could do this, I could also survive the next and final leg. I had already achieved quite a lot and I was on a good way to become a finisher. The only thing that was worrying me was the heat of the deserts in the south-west. Would the bike survive it?