Big As Texas Party (BAT SS1K)

Big As Texas Party (BAT SS1K)

I’ve driven across Texas a few times in the past. In 1966 with the parents on a family vacation we crossed on the way home from California. Then again in 1974 when I was moving to California, and finally again in 1980 when I moved back to the Midwest. So It’s been 37-1/2 years since I’ve set foot, or tires, in the lone star state. My daughter would probably be happy to tell you that my recollection of Texas was blowing dirt. I admit that I’ve told her that on many occasions. Well – I Stand Corrected.

It was early Friday morning.  Approximately 29 hours after I finished my SS1K Ride In.  I had been to the IBA conference area in the hotel and retrieved my rally flag.  I was rider # 56.  My first task for this, the BAT SS1K and the 2nd SS1K of my hat-trick, was to take a photo of my flag and the odometer on my motorcycle.  This was an establishing shot.  It provided proof that our motorcycles had a specific mileage when the rally began.  The photo had to be emailed to the rally organizers before we left the hotel.  It quickly became evident to all involved that this simple task would likely turn out to be our biggest challenge of the day.  Rally flags are wafer thin and light passes through them easily.  Since it was still dark, the light from our motorcycle displays shown right through the flag making it nearly impossible to see the logo graphic and number printed on them.  Everyone was struggling to get the shot.  In the end, this task which should have taken mere seconds, required about 30 minutes and riders working together to make it happen.  –  (Just a note here.  The beginning flag/odometer photo I included in the gallery below was taken with my Nikon D50.  You can’t email with a Nikon.  Well, not with mine anyway.  The phones we were all using for the official shots were not so good.) –

Once everyone had emailed in their starting photo, a brief rider meeting was held, during which last minute information about bonus locations in hurricane ravaged areas of Texas was provided.  Since I was doing the predefined SS1K these locations were not part of my route.  Once the meeting concluded, the rally was officially started.  Regardless of which ride each person had chosen to do, everyone had to be back in 24 hours or receive a DNF (Did Not Finish).

As I stood next to my bike, putting on gear and starting up all of the navigation and tracking equipment, the older gentleman parked next to me asked if he could follow me.  I had some concerns about that idea.  My wife does contract work in Ft Worth and talks about how easy it is to end up on the wrong ramp due to construction and the rat maze of access and frontage roads.  I had quickly seen her point on my ride into the city.  So I told him that he could follow me – but – it was very possible that I could get us both lost.  So he needed to understand that.  Frankly I didn’t want to feel responsible for someone else’s success when I wasn’t confident that I would succeed myself.  He said he’d take that chance, so off we went. 

Fortunately we had gotten off to an early start despite the photo issues.  Our first 2 bonus locations were in Dallas and I didn’t want to have to deal with morning rush hour traffic.  Our first stop, The Tango Frogs, was essentially a 22 mile run, straight south from our hotel on 75, into the center of Dallas.  My GPS ran us around a few extra blocks getting there but we arrived without issue.  In 10 minutes or so we both had our photos, had logged the bonus and we were getting ready to go the 6 miles to the second location.  The Giraffe Statue at the Dallas Zoo. 

Sure enough, both of my GPSs died.  I mean nothing.  No display whatsoever.  Literally both of them went blank within seconds of each other.  They both have internal batteries so I knew it wasn’t an issue with the bike providing power.  I tried to get them going again without success.  As I was trying to determine what could cause the issue, Jim, the rider who had asked to follow me, mentioned that his GPS was still working so we could use that.  Good idea,  it wasn’t ideal but it would get us out of the city before rush hour.  So off we went with me now following Jim.

As we rode along, I was continuing to work on my GPSs.  About 20 wrong turns later, it was becoming obvious that Jim was struggling to follow his GPS.  He didn’t have Bluetooth so he was trying to ride a motorcycle in the Dallas maze and navigate by watching a 4 inch screen.  If you have ever driven in Dallas you know that being in the correct lane is crucial and 10 lanes take up about 1/4 of an inch on a GPS screen.  Jim finally gave up and pulled over.  He suggested that I take his GPS in the hopes I would be able to see it better.  Fortunately, by this time, I had been able to bring one of mine back to life.  We were actually only about a mile away from the second bonus.  Unfortunately, the one I got going again wasn’t the one I had paired to my headset.  So, like Jim, I found myself trying to be in the correct lane while watching a tiny screen.  I did a little better but not much.  I ended up taking a couple of turns that wouldn’t have been necessary.  But we finally arrived.

Soon enough we were on the road again.  This time heading farther south to Waco where we would find the Waco Mammoth National Monument.  I still only had one GPS running but being out of Dallas meant that navigation was going to be far less complex.  This leg of the trip was a little over 90 miles so we had some time to relax and regroup after the rough start.

 It was a pleasant ride down to Waco.  Still fairly early in the morning, we would arrive around 9am, the temperature was still cool and being out of the major cities traffic was light.  Much to my surprise, when we pulled up to the bonus location there were about 20 bikes lined up at the gate.  After our technical difficulties, and the time delay that resulted, I figured that anyone coming to this bonus would have come and gone a while ago.  If you were doing the basic SS1K, as Jim and I were, you could simply take a photo of the sign out front and move on.  However, if you were doing the SS1K with points, you would need to take the tour.  The photo you needed to be awarded the point was of a display inside the facility.  Jim and I took a photo of the sign out front a headed off to the 4th bonus. 

As we were getting on our bikes, the gates were being opened.  So I thought to myself, all of these bikes are going to be passing us before long.  Rally riders don’t waste much time getting from A to B, and I’m riding a bike with a small 650cc engine.  We only ever saw a couple of them, however, so I guess most of them were doing the mini-rally.  Participants in the mini-rally built their own routes in an effort to get the most points.  So they wouldn’t necessarily visit all, or any, of the locations we did.

Continuing south another 106 miles, we were on our way to our 4th bonus, a 23 foot tall steel spider in Austin.  This would be our last short run between locations.  With only 2 more locations after the spider, but still having 800 miles to ride, there was going to be far more gas stops than bonus locations after Austin.  We caught a bit of traffic as we came into the city.  Nothing terrible, but since the temperatures were beginning to rise it could have gotten uncomfortable in a hurry. 

By this point in the trip Jim and I had had several opportunities to talk.  As we were walking to where we could get the needed photos of the spider, I learned that he is approaching 82 years old and he is an airport manager and flight instructor from Oklahoma.  As the day progressed, I would become ever more impressed by Jim.  He has accomplished many things in his life and before the day was over, he would be riding his street glide 80+ MPH, in the dark, with gusting cross-winds, on I-20, with all the big trucks and heavy oil equipment.  When I would express concern, during our occasional gas stops, he would say “I’d never solo anyone who couldn’t handle 20 knot cross-winds”.  I remember when I got my pilot license, the maximum cross-wind component for a 152/172 Cessna was 12 knots.  But then Jim is from Oklahoma where 20 MPH winds is considered a calm day.

With the spider logged and photos taken and emailed, we set off on the longest leg of the day.  342 miles to the west we would come to know Paisano Pete.  Previously know as the largest road runner in the world, he has since lost that distinction.  On our way west, we would pass through Johnson City.  One of the pieces of information we were give during the riders meeting was a warning to make sure you filled up with gas in Johnson City.  Good advice.  When the gas gauge has been blinking at you for 30 minutes or so you start to worry.

Those of you who read my posting about US-501, in the Void Rally Series, know that each long distance ride provides a moment that stays with you long after the ride is over.  On this ride, that moment happened on the leg to Paisano Pete.  It lasted about 4 hours.  This is Texas after all.  It was the revelation of the beauty and diversity that is West Texas.  My thoughts quickly turned to my daughter who has commented hundreds of times about driving up and down the east coast being a ride through a pine tree tunnel.  I didn’t realize how accustom I had become to that until I was riding along TX-290 being struck by the fact that I could see as far to the horizon as I can on the ocean.  As we continued west on 290, where the speed limit is 80 mph, the road turned into high speed sweeping turns.  It is sort of like a high speed blue ridge parkway with smaller and fewer trees.  Farther still, we merge onto I-10 and we were riding through a scene that is reminiscent of all of the western movies you’ve ever seen.  It is very easy to imagine the great horse culture and the western migration taking place right there.  The mesas in the distance were beautiful, even with the thousands of windmills.  Anybody who thinks coal jobs are coming back should take a quick ride on I-10 through west Texas.  The oil industry seems to think renewables are the future.   Unfortunately, I had powered down the video cameras early in this leg.  Frankly, I didn’t expect to see much worth videoing.  WRONG AGAIN!!!  The video below is just a tiny glimpse of the beginning of this amazing section of Texas.  It doesn’t begin to do it justice.  But I will be back out there again and next time I’ll be ready to capture it all.    

Somewhere along the leg to Fort Stockton, Paisano Pete’s home, 2 things happened.  First, I got my second GPS to come back to life, and second, we pick up another rider in our group.  Bob Hall, who it turns out had also experienced GPS failure along the way.  So now we were three.  Bob rides a 2005 Honda ST1300.  A very popular rally bike, which Honda, in their infinite wisdom, decided to stop producing.  Bob is yet another of the many wonderful people who make up the IBA.  Like Jim, an impressive individual, who is very warm, friendly and supportive.  He had Jim’s back through what I think of as the oil industry portion of the ride.  Lots of truck, heavy equipment and the smell of sulphur and oil.  All traversed at high speed in the dark.  That would be the leg after Pete.  The 255 miles from Fort Stockton, north to Monahans, then I-20 east to Abilene and our final bonus stop.  Dr Seuss’ Lorax.

By the time we got to Abilene it was dark.  So the ride had reduced to covering miles as quickly as possible while staying alert to all of the heavy vehicle traffic.  We couldn’t really see much but we needed to stay focused on the road anyway.  Once we had all gathered our final bonus photos of the Lorax, it was pretty much like a horse heading to the barn.  Not thinking about much other than getting to that final gas receipt, which would stop our individual rally clocks, and then a shower and bed.  Of course, in the back of my mind, I knew that I still had one very large challenge ahead.  Actually finding the hotel.  I know that seems like a ridiculous statement.  2 GPSs and an iPhone.  But this is Dallas we are talking about.

As we approached Fort Worth from the west, all was going smoothly.  We kept riding deeper into the city without incident.  But eventually it came.  As we knew it would.  Suddenly there were cones to our right.  We were entering a construction zone.  Once our access to the lanes on the right had been cut off the GPS said “be in any of the right 3 lanes”.  We were screwed.  It all went down hill from there.  I won’t give you all of the gory details.  Suffice it to say that on that night, it took 3 iron butt rally riders to find a gas station.  Well, the right gas station that is.  Fortunately, one of us was actually from Texas.  That would be Bob.  Unfortunately, he is NOT from Dallas.  But after I led everyone around for 30 minutes or so, blindly searching for the way home, 2 GPSs, each one telling me to do something different, I finally passed a road Bob recognized.  Then he took over and got us to the hotel.  From there, I knew how to get to the gas station that would print the receipts we all needed.

As a note of interest, every single exit that Bob led us past, and that was a lot of exits, my GPS told me to take.  When Bob finally did take an exit to 75, even I knew we needed to go north at that point.  My GPS, not so much, it said go south.  So before I left the hotel to go home I memorized the sequence of roads.  On the way out of town.  My 2 GPSs were telling me different things again.  This time I knew what to do.  At first my left GPS was correct, then suddenly it was wrong but the right one was correct.  Dallas driving is an experience.  That’s for sure.

Well, in the end, everyone completed the ride successfully.  The three of us began a friendship which I think will last for years to come. (Bob actually works in Jax on occasion)  Bob figured out the issue with his GPS so he doesn’t have to replace that, and everyone got home safe.  That’s a success in anyone’s book.

The route we took for this SS1K ride can be seen in the banner image at the top of the page.  Obviously, it is the green line.

That’s 2 SS1Ks in the books.  One more on the way home and my hat-trick is a done deal.

Below is the image gallery containing photos of the pre-rally rider meeting, the bonus location and one image of a fraction of the many wind-mills we passed.  Clicking on an image will display a larger version with a caption which provides more details about the bonus location.  Once a larger image is open, you can navigate from image-to-image using the arrow that appear on the left and right edges when you move you mouse to those areas.