I slept great that night. I got up late, had a long, relaxed breakfast and hit the road at 9:30 a.m. I went east on the same I-80 I rode west two days earlier. I entered Wyoming, but this time I crossed it under blue skies. In Cheyenne, I kept on straight and crossed the border to Nebraska. Nevada was arid, Wisconsin was hilly, but Nebraska was grassy. Only grass, grass, grass. And the road went straight forever. I basically stopped only for petrol every five hours and combined it with some food uptake so I could keep changing gears to a minimum. It was still a mess to get back in fifth gear, but I had regained confidence that I could make it back to the rally finish. I wanted to be there when all the riders would return. It’s a special atmosphere; no wonder the event attracts so many spectators. I estimated that I could arrive on the evening of the eleventh day; I had already my booking and I would be able to watch the arrival before the dead line of 8 a.m. the morning after. That meant two days of straight riding…..riding….riding….riding…..OMMMMmmmmmm……..
You think you would get bored a lot; you’d have a lot of time to think, to cuss and lament your past decisions. Or to drown yourself in self-pity.
None of all this. My mind was blank as I rode through these endless plains. Before the rally, I had set up the electronics so I could hear music while riding, but so far I hadn’t made use of it. And even now, I didn’t need, I didn’t want it. Just riding…..riding…..riding…..ommmmmmmm……
On day 9 of the rally, weird things start to happen to the riders. I had read all kinds of stories about this. I heard veterans talk of the weirdest things that happened to them. Apart from the physical effects that are mainly caused by sleep deprivation, it’s the mental effects that haunt the riders. Taking wrong decisions, confusion, unawareness and the like. Your internal battery is simply running out of energy.
But this was not a problem for me any more, wasn’t it? I was basically out of the rally and I could stop any time. Around 7 p.m., I got hungry and decided to stop in the next town. I was a bit exhausted, it had been a hot day and I felt like toast. Let’s enjoy the shelter of an air-cooled McDonalds and its delicious products. When I was sitting there, I looked at a counter opposite of me.
Hm, I thought, they installed it badly, it’s not vertical, but a bit tilted. Hm, actually, the whole wall is tilted. Wow, what a crap work. But how can a whole ceiling be lower at the right end than at the left end? I looked to the right. There it’s the same. And the left side? As well. Was the whole building tilted?
Wait. Again. Look straight: (skewed lines), look right (skewed lines), look behind (skewed lines), look left (skewed lines)…that didn’t make sense! All right corners were lower than the left corners!
I looked at the semi-transparent cup with Coke in front of me. The liquid surface level on the left wall of the cup was higher than the one next to the right wall….
I tried not to freak out. Let’s be logic. Unless the laws of Newtonian physics had ceased to exist inside this building (and I had no reason to assume this), there must be a proper explanation. Let’s see…in the past 9 days, I had ridden way more than 11000 km (6830 mls) with minimum sleep on a small bike, had barely had time to eat or rest, was roasted by the sun during the last three days, felt physically and mentally tired…what could possibly go wrong????
By stepwise exclusion of the more unlikely explanations (I skipped the assumption of a crack in the space-time-continuum very quickly), I came to the conclusion that something must be wrong with me. Hmmm. Assess yourself! What’s your name? Where do you live? What’s your birthday? Why are you here? Etc etc. The answers I gave to myself seemed quite reasonable so it must have something to do with my perception or vision. For the rest, I felt quite OK, it was just that I had the impression that everything leaned a bit to one side. Like on a ship that rolls to the right. OK, maybe it was a good idea to call it a day soon.
I mounted the bike and went back on the I-80. The next hotel stopover is the only hotel of the whole three-week stay in the US and Canada that I can’t remember any more. According to my spot, I must have stopped in Ogallala one hour later. I remember that I noticed on the road that all posts were leaning 2 to 3 degrees to the right and all bridges over the highway were higher at the left side than at the right side. I had concluded it was time for a rest.
The next morning, after a long, refreshing sleep, I woke up and I studied the ceiling of the hotel room. Hm, it seemed to be vertical. A good sign. I had a relaxed breakfast and left again at 9 a.m. There is little to report from day 10. The only change in the landscape was the arrival to Iowa: suddenly it turned into green farmland with occasional trees. I hardly remember anything of that day apart riding on a straight highway.. After a while, the optical illusion came back. As it was better in the morning, I concluded that it must be a stress symptom or a bad posture on the bike. The effect wore off after the rally so I guess it was a matter of brain overload. After the rally I had dinner with two other riders and told them this story. They confirmed both that they had observed similar effects.
I passed Omaha, Des Moines, Davenport…at 8 p.m. I entered Illinois and one hour later, I stopped at the Hampton Inn in Peru. No, not in South America. Peru, Illinois. I had a relaxed dinner and I knew I could make it back to the rally finish the next day: only 810 km (520 mls) left.
The next morning I got up even later than the other days. At 10 a.m. I left the hotel. As I knew that I would pass Chicago, I finally switched on the iPad and my head set and listened to The Blues Brothers when I passed Joliet and Chicago. This was the first time I listened to music. But the landscape was not monotonous any more and I had only a few hours to go. However, a well-known effect occurred: if you are not under pressure and you know you’ll arrive in time, the final stretch gets eeeendless. I stopped for lunch at a rest area and found this interesting place cover on the table:
At 4 p.m. I crossed the border to Ohio, 440 km (275 mls) to the finish. The remaining miles seemed endless….Hello Pennsylvania, only 77 km (48 mls) to go….So in the end I would make it back to the finish! Bravo, little XBR! I had done it! I rode the toughest motorcycle rally in the world! I would not be a finisher, but I knew that without the transmission problem, I would have made it. Of course there remains always a certain bitterness about the bad luck, but this is part of LD rallying. Failure doesn’t bring you down, but it teaches you a lesson about modesty. It draws your attention back to what your priorities are, in life and in rallying.
When I exited the I-76 with only one mile to go, I thought that the shuffle mode on the iPad had selected the most appropriate song for the finish: “nada de esto fue un error” (none of this was a mistake). Laughing and giggling, I sang the song full-throated. At 8:29 p.m., I arrived back at the Marriott in Cranberry Township, after 10.5 days and 8596 miles (13830 km). Nobody was there to cheer and welcome me. But this was no surprise, I was almost 12 hours too early. When I parked my bike on the parking, I saw the little green Ninja 250 standing there. Poor bugger, I thought, so we share the same fate in the hopeless class. While I write this, Kurt Wolden is still going in Leg 3 of the IBR2015 with 24 h to the finish – let’s hope he makes it this time!
I checked in, had a shower and went to the restaurant where I had an entertaining dinner with the rally’s daily poet Bob Higdon who could not believe it when he saw me there eating my large chunk of steak accompanied by a glass of nice red wine:
“Robert went missing a few days ago after he began to experience gear
box problems with his Honda XBR. Imagine our surprise last night when we went
into the hotel’s dining room and found one of our favorite German riders
contentedly eating dinner and having a glass of wine. Excuse me? Where did
you come from? He explained that he had never been able to get the bike
repaired, so he just learned how to jiggle the shift lever around enough to keep
rolling toward Cranberry Township. He’s a non-finisher, but he’s here and that’s
all that matters to us.”
A whole paragraph in the final concluding report of the rally. For the wrong reason, though…LOL.
From there on, I was able to blog again, so I don’t want to repeat myself, but I just want to refer to my posts from that time:
So, no IBR for me this year, but as I still have some unfinished business there….what about 2017? 😉
I hope you enjoyed the reports over the last days. I surely have forgotten a lot of the details in the last two years, but the great moments did not fade.