This is the story of my time riding in the Void Rally 11. For the uninitiated, an endurance rally is a timed event in which you must plan and execute a route to log stops at bonus locations to acquire points. Think of it as a scavenger hunt that covers many states. In the case of the Void Rally, the rally timeframe was 31 hours from start until turning in your complete paperwork. Please see the How it Works section of the Void Rally website for more detailed information.
As an extra special twist to the basic ride and collect bonus locations format, this year the Rallymasters instituted Monopoly rules. Not only did you have to ride to a location, you had to make sure that you had enough money in your bank account to collect the bonus. Money was accumulated by riding miles. Insufficient funds would mean you could not collect the bonus points.
Add a pinch of Hurricane Matthew and stir.
The Void Rally 11 – Monopoly Edition took place Friday October 7 through Saturday October 8.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…
On Your Marks. Get Set. Rally!
Friday morning dawned under a damp fog and the sound of a Jake brake brapping down a highway exit ramp. Sleep still weighing heavy on my eyelids I shambled towards the bathroom, remembering not to turn the light on. All things considered, it was best that I didn’t summon the demon that lived behind the overhead lamp on rally day.
With my wits starting to gather about me, the ache behind my eyeballs sent the clear signal that I was in for a long night. Knowing that I’d be riding for at least 24 hours was something it was best to not contemplate too deeply. I’d slept terribly as I always seem to do the night before rally lift-off. But when you’re already tired, you can only get so much more tired, right? That’s what I told myself as I readied myself to leave.
After a few wrong turns and bumbling around like a big dummy, I made my way to a WaWa gas station along with a dozen or so other Pennsylvania starters. Scanning across the group, it seemed like everyone else was calm, cool and obviously had confidence in their route. Meanwhile, inside my helmet swirled a whirling dervish of insecurity. The big dogs were all heading for Boston. Me? I was going to continue my trend of not going for glory. No, no – I would be steadfastly plucking off bonuses that would secure my place in mediocrity. Woohoo! Go middle!
Away We Go! …Eventually.
Peeling away from the gas station with my rally clock finally ticking, I missed my very first turn on to the highway sending me on a 6 mile detour to finally get going in the correct direction. I wish I could say that it was the first time that it’s happened but I did the very same thing on my first Void. Henceforth we shall be referring to this maneuver as a “tradition.”
With 60 miles until my first bonus location in Wilmington, Delaware I settled in, trying to relax and methodically do what I needed to do. That was to learn to accept that time will be wasted, traffic happens and if I just do one rally-stop step at a time in a methodical way, I won’t have to do it 3 times over to correct my mistakes. Write odometer, date and time in log sheet, take photograph, safely stow camera and zip that pocket, flip index card to next bonus location, don’t drop your motorcycle. If you’ve never ridden in a rally, you’d be surprised just how frazzled the feeling of being on the clock can make you. Having a “system” helps.
The southern east coast was pummeled by Hurricane Matthew on the same weekend as the Void 11. Though my route was north enough to be out of Matthew’s direct path, the Mid-Atlantic region was still being soaked by the outer rain bands of the storm. For me, the rain began at about 4pm on Friday and continued all through the night and in to Saturday long after the rally was over. The pouring rain was merciless and just plain rude.
The Night is Dark and Full of Terrors
As the night wore on, the rain compounded some of the already naturally challenging aspects of riding. When darkness came calling those challenges were tripled and quadrupled and highlighted the poor choices that I’d made when planning my route. The timing of my bonus locations did not allow for enough daylight cushion. With all the time I’d lost in traffic and to the weather, I was over an hour behind the schedule I’d set for myself.
There was no one to blame for my troubles but myself. I was foolish. That always stings when you have to face your own idiocy. Riding isolated, unlit mountain roads in West Virginia at night is its own sort of trouble. Adding in blinding rain, fog, the oncoming glare of headlights on a rainy visor with no other ambient light around? My stress-o-meter was pegged at 11. For the first time, I’d seriously considered dropping out of the ride. Tip-toeing around foggy corners and desperately trying to follow a painted line on the road had me saying, “why am I doing this? I can’t… I can’t do this!”
Here’s the thing about “I can’t do this.” Actually, you probably can. You are infinitely more capable of carrying on than you may initially believe. That’s one of the things that this Void in particular taught me. When I was at a mighty-low low, by avoiding the thought of the bigger picture I was able to move forward. That and calling home to my rock, my biggest cheerleader, my husband Kenny. I cannot stress how much of a positive shot in the arm a familiar voice, a kind word, hell – even another pair of motorcycle headlights in the distance can be.
Kenny gently reminded me I didn’t have to finish the rally at 1:00am. I just had to make it to my rest break. Just a few more miles… that was all I had to do. From my rest stop I would no doubt be feeling better and all I would have to do is make it to the next stop. And from there, the next stop. I just had to baby-step my way to the finish line.
When I pulled in to Beckley, West Virginia, where I’d planned to take my rest bonus, I was knackered. According to my route, I was an hour and a half behind schedule. But at that point, I didn’t care. I was soaked, tired, hungry, cold and mentally spent. The rally book designated extra bank account dollars for taking more rest time above the 3-hour requirement. You didn’t have to twist my arm to take it. I knew that my next bonus after the break was in a little out-of-the-way place and I was hoping that by the time I’d woken up from my nap that the rain would have subsided or the sun would be up. Preferably both! True to rally fashion – neither of those things happened.
Many times over the course of the night I found myself trying to bargain with the universe. “Please, please, if it’s going to rain just let it stay like this – just a mist.” To which the universe laughed and opened the flood gates sending sheeting rain instead.
Sometimes I think the universe is a sadistic bastard or perhaps a really special kind of asshole. But the truth is much more dastardly. The universe is indifferent. If it were sadistic, you’d know what to expect and would plan accordingly. But when the sun shines on you one moment and unleashes a hurricane the next, the unpredictability takes you from your highest highs to your lowest lows. It’s up to you to sail your own ship towards happiness.
To recap, I made a few critical mistakes in my planning. Some of which were things that I knew to avoid and yet, I disregarded my own previous experience.
- Avoid mountain roads at night
- Plan extra-extra time at EVERY bonus when routing
- Eat something
- Watch your timing around cities to avoid rush hour
- Meditate, take a pill, drink a beer – do something to get some sleep the night before the rally
- If you think the mileage between bonus stops *might* be too long when routing? It’s sure to be too long when you’re riding
- Negativity will spiral out of control – AVOID
Bonus ID: GAPO – The Abraham Post Office
It’s no secret that I’m scared to be out on lonely roads in the dark. That’s why I wished with all my might that the sun would come up by the time I had to exit the highway for the Abraham post office. When I got off at the exit for the town of Bragg, WV I couldn’t see a thing. The fog was thick. “Greeeeaaaaat…” I sarcastically said to who I’d hoped was no one. What followed was a little goat trail that was sure to lead me to where a cannibal cult would put me in a big black cauldron, boil me up and serve my chubby rump to the village.
Over and over as I trundled along at a snail’s pace I repeated to myself, “I am brave, I am fearless.” My thinking was that if I could just concentrate on those words I wouldn’t have enough room in the ole noggin to think about how scared I was.
Abraham Post Office in the 1970’s:
The Abraham post office marked a milestone in my mind. It was the thing I was least looking forward to. Once I’d conquered it, I felt a lightness that everything else following would be “easy.” And while it was still a challenge to persevere through the awful weather, the mental hurdle of a dragon to slay had evaporated. Baby-stepping to the finish line didn’t seem nearly as bad in the daylight.
Through wind and rain and dark of night, I finished my rounds and turned in my paperwork in about 30 hours. I’d made it.
Rallying – What’s It Really About?
Whenever I sit down to write about my experience in riding a rally, I struggle with a preconceived idea of what a rally ride report is supposed to be about. My first inclination is to follow the standard nuts and bolts approach of saying “I went here, here and here. This is what it looked like. These were the points.” But, you know? Eh. ::shrug:: Clearly, I’ve not done exactly that.
It occurred to me that the story of a rally is larger than its stops. They are but a blip on a timeline; a period on the last sentence of a larger paragraph. The bigger story is the one that occurs in between. And while the bonus stop is the beacon that guides you along and may in fact be as cool as all get-out, it marks the end of the line. Or if you prefer, the beginning of the next mini-adventure.
Over time my understanding of what it is to ride in a rally has changed. Sure, you’re still influenced by the undercurrent of the game but what you’re doing, at least in my case, is something different from attempting to win. For me, it isn’t possible to win. I’ll say it again: it isn’t possible for me to win. Not against other competitors, anyway. With a few go-rounds on this event I have a clear understanding of the effort required to win and I am more sure than ever that I don’t have that type of drive or determination. Or perhaps desire. Because I don’t know that I would enjoy the experience exponentially more than I already do if I came home with a trophy. Besides, there’s never any room in my topbox for one. 😉
With that in mind the next logical question would be “why do it then?” Well? Because. Like other physical endurance events, their value is in their doing. You are ultimately competing against yourself – the you who planned a route, fat and happy at your computer. When push comes to shove, it is cold, wet, tired, scared, hungry you that is hurtling through space trying to compete with that comfortable version of yourself. Can you do what you set out to do? Can you achieve your goal? Can you arrive safely, make good decisions, re-route on the fly, overcome fears that you’re presented with along the way? Could you have a good time in spite of it all or if you earned zero points for your effort?
I’ve learned that in many ways the points become something of a psychological trap that you willingly fall in to. But even knowing this, knowing that I could simply disregard them and just ride my ride and see things I want to see – I still cannot remove the achievement of points (however few) as something to strive for.
Riding in a rally is taking a huge gulp of life and gluttonously swallowing it down in a very short time. It is extreme and frustrating, scary and exhausting, and in the end regardless of points or placement or anything else – when you turn in your paperwork and stop the ticking clock – it is triumphant. The internal war you fought with yourself was won.
Bonuses Not in the Rally Book
What the rally book could never tell you is that over the course of your 24+hour stint on the road, you will see things out there in the world that will leave an indelible mark on your mind. I think part of the reason for that is because they are unknown entities. As you plan your route, bonus locations become “known” because you’ll probably use Google streetview in the routing process. But these unknown things, things you happen across along the way? Well, I like to think of them as extra-special bonuses. You saw them all because you decided to take part in a rally. That oughta be reason enough to try one if you’re on the fence.
Here are a few:
After being jammed up in traffic and bleeding time around the Pittsburgh area, I was treated to a short but hellacious rainstorm just to round out the stress experience. Perhaps it is was the powers that be telling me to positively refocus, maybe the Rallymaster ordered it special-like, I don’t know. But when I needed to see one, the rain stopped and something I’ve never seen in my 40+ years bowed resplendently across the sky above the Pittsburgh airport – a quadruple rainbow. Yes, four. It was startling. There are moments in your life that will stop you in your tracks because what you are witnessing is so unbelievable. A quad rainbow will do that to you.
Unfortunately, my iPhone photo on the highway could never do justice to what took place there in the sky. I can only suggest that you see one for yourself 😉
The apocalyptic backlit cooling towers of a nuke plant rising out of the silvery fog. Their black, hulking shapes looming and intimidating everything around them – including me.
Creeping along in the Pittsburgh traffic gave me an opportunity to look at the city and some of its bridges in a way that I never have before. At the time, it was a most unwelcome delay. But with the gift of hindsight, the yellow trellis of the Fort Pitt Bridge is burned in my memory.
I didn’t even know that the Governor Harry Nice bridge existed! It was a curious sight to approach with its high arcing roadway over the Potomac. Something about it felt very wrong and perhaps slightly unsafe, which made it exciting.
As always, I have to thank the Rally Masters who host the Void Rally. Their seemingly tireless enthusiasm and dedication to showing their participants a good time is nothing short of awesome. While their intent might be to have to rider play a “game” of sorts, whether they know it or not, they do something greater. They get you off of your couch and out experiencing the world. They deliver you to its dusty corners and secret tucked away places. Places you would probably have never visited otherwise. That for me, is the greatness of a rally.
Over the course of the weekend I made some new friends and got to hug a few old ones. Thank you all for sharing your wisdom, laughter, foibles – all of it. You’re wonderful.