Notes from my first experience at the 2015 Mason-Dixon 2020 Rally.
::cue harps for flashback to a Pennsylvanian gas station:::
“Wow, I like that bike! What is that? Do you go far on it?”
“It’s a Triumph Tiger. I go as far as I can,” I smiled and said lightheartedly.
“Very nice. Where are you going? Are you doing that thing with the bikers in Washington?”
“No, I’m doing a road rally that’s like a big scavenger hunt. You get a list of places to visit, ride there and take a picture and get points for it. It goes on for 24 hours so I’ve still got a ways to go tonight.”
“WOW! That is AWESOME!”
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool. I’m enjoying it.”
“So…? What do you win?”
“Nothing. It’s just for fun.”
The Mason-Dixon 2020 Rally
The MD2020 is 24-hour bonus hunting rally that hails out of Martinsburg, WV. Riders are provided a list of coordinates and their corresponding point value several days prior to the start of the event. Using the coordinates, participants must plan a route to ride during the rally while trying to achieve as many points as possible.
On rally day, riders are given a rally book that provides additional information about each of the bonus stops. The book will include the photo/stop requirements, informational notes about the location and space to write your date and time of visit, odometer reading and any additional answers required to claim the bonus.
The rally book may also include surprise wildcard bonii to incorporate into your route as well as some bonus combination options to earn additional points.
The rally is not a race. It is a test of reading comprehension, routing and executing a plan.
A rainbow over the rally starting location. A sign of good things to come?
Rallying for Medium Distance Riders
I don’t think that anyone would argue that by and large, you will have to be capable of putting down some miles to achieve a large number of points. Point values increase the further away you go from the rally epicenter in Martinsburg. Long distance riders will have a leg up because of their conditioning. But – there are other factors in play that can trip anyone up at any time. Being able to ride a long way is only one arrow in your quiver.
Bonus list day – the day when the Rally Master send the route waypoints – is always exciting. But that’s also then when my anxiety starts. I’m not a long distance rider. I don’t have any IBA ride certificates, bunburners or saddlesores under my belt. How can a medium distance rider grab the big points that are flung out into the dusty corners of the map? So far, it appears to me that the answer is: they can’t.
So, you have to ask yourself:
Do you want to WIN? Or is going out, having a good ride and doing the best you’re capable of enough? Because if you’re going for the win, I don’t think you can be casual. You’re going to have to work for it.
During the days prior to the rally when I’m trying to zero in on a route I’m capable of riding, my task is to try to find a way to hoover up points in the midlands and work to keep every point I go after while I’m sitting at the scoring table. This strategy will never put me towards the top of the scorecard unless the big dogs makes mistakes or DNF. But in some ways, knowing that going out of the gate relieves some of the pressure. I’m fighting for the middle.
Tragically average, that’s me.
My Limited Experience
The ’15 MD2020 Rally was the fourth 24-hour rally that I’ve ridden. I say that not as a boast but rather just the opposite. It means that I’m still a noob. But each time out, I’ve tried to learn something from the previous experiences that will help me along the way. This is what I know so far:
- I’m terribly inefficient at stops
- Using my topbox as a mobile office adds to my inefficiency
- I will eat horrible shit from a gas station mart (I’m lookin’ at you Gobbz from Sheetz.)
- Taking my mandatory rest bonus closest to my body’s natural sleep rhythm helps a lot
- Even though I feel like I will be mocked mercilessly by the rally master, ask the question anyway
- Thinking about a full route is mentally crippling for me
- Distances between bonus stop effect my mood
Though I plan a full route and have it in my GPS, I navigate point to point using favorites. When I create the favorites, I name them with their stop number and then the bonus name and try to include any special instructions (such as available 9a-5p) if it’s important.
For example: *1_GIANTCHICKEN_8am-5pm, *2_MONUMENT-TO-HOT-MONKEY-LOVE_24hrs, etc.
When I complete a bonus stop, I then navigate to the next favorite in the number sequence. That makes it easier for me to drop things when I need to or to see something that is close by that isn’t on my planned route.
Navigating point to point also relieves the mental pressure of having to do the WHOLE route, too. For someone who isn’t a long distance rider, thinking about riding 1,000+ miles in 24 hours can be a daunting task. I realize this is a game that I’m playing with myself but it keeps me from having a wobbler. It’s easier for me to contemplate eating an elephant one bite at a time rather than considering the whole thing at once.
For this rally, I made myself a set of cheat sheet index cards. I found them to be helpful so that I didn’t have to flip through the rally book to re-read the bonus before taking a picture. I scribbled notes on what I needed to do at the stop and what had to be present in the bonus photo. When I completed a bonus, I would flip to the next stop’s index card in my tankbag window so it would be ready to glance at when I arrived there.
Sweet Sixteen – Grab Your Partner and Dance
The theme of the MD2020 rally this year was Sweet Sixteen. As such, we had dates. This introduced the use of a partner which was a 24+inch stuffed animal or a live person. Sadly, everyone hates me so finding a person to be my partner wasn’t happening. Instead, I took my dude Jorge Pepperenzo.
For a specific set of combo-bonuses called the Dance Card, special criteria had to be met in the bonus photos to receive points for them. A good photo had to have:
- The rider
- The rider’s motorcycle
- Their partner
- Their rally flag
- and finally, the actual bonus location item
On the surface, it sounds easy enough, right? However the logistics of taking your own photo (when you don’t have a tripod) out in the wild can be… challenging. If you were lucky, you might have another person around to take the photo. If not, finding something at the bonus location to prop your camera up on and use a self timer was your only option.
To snap my photos when no one was around I used a traffic cone, my helmet on the ground with the camera propped on top, a pole in a parking lot, the guard rail and so on.
In hindsight, I probably could’ve earned more points skipping the partner bonuses and riding a little further to snag bonuses that had comparable point values that didn’t require the partner. It’s just one more thing to be mindful about next time. Instead of being dazzled by the first shiny bonus that comes along, think carefully about what I’m doing. But where’s the fun in that?
Release the Kraken!
At 8:30 on Saturday morning, 46 riders were released into the wild in search of bonus points. At go time, there seemed to be a buzzing mania as motorcycles peeled out of the parking lot. While other riders left in a fierce whoosh, I seemed to roll away in a trickle, going over a mental checklist. Did I have everything I needed? Did I have a pen? My rally book? Did I leave the coffee pot on?
One day I hope to shake the feeling that everyone seems to know exactly what they’re doing… except me.
My first few bonuses were a mere few miles from the rally host hotel. Snapping them up took about a half an hour. With that task completed, I began my first of several highway legs. Under a bright blue sky, I left Martinsburg, WV and hopped on to I-81 towards Hershey, Pa and Indiantown Gap National Cemetery.
Being that the rally took place during Memorial Day weekend, Indiantown Gap was receiving many visitors honoring their loved ones. As I slowly rolled through the entrance in a line of traffic, I got choked up at the sight of rows of flags lining the grounds. Each one representing a person no longer with us. It was very moving. I wasn’t prepared for how arresting the sight of so many silent, proud flags would be.
For me, one of the benefits of a rally is something like “forced” sightseeing. You will find yourself in places you might not have visited otherwise. On more than one occasion during the event I thought to myself, wow, I’m glad I got a chance to see that.
After wrapping up my stop at Indiantown Gap, my route carried me northwest towards Driftwood, Pennsylvania. In the late afternoon sun, I had route 120 all to myself. Dancing along the twists and turns, sun dappling the roadway through the trees, I headed east. The air was filled with the most intoxicating smell of flowers. As I rode along I felt a contentedness wash over me. Those perfect moments are the nirvana of riding.
Doh! A Bungled Bonus
My ride motored on smoothly. As a matter of fact, I was patting myself on the back for being at least an hour ahead of the time I had written on my index cards as estimated arrival. Look at me being all sorts of awesome! And then as the sun set around 8:30, I bagged a bonus and I turned to my next index card… there it was. My next stop, 70 miles away – was only available until 9pm. I would miss it. SONOFA! That would be over 3,000 points down the drain.
I quickly looked through the rally book to see if there was something else I could pick up to offset the loss of points. There was nothing “easy” based on my stamina level. In the end, I figured – screw it. I would spend the time I would have ridden to and from the bonus as extra time on my mandatory rest stop instead. With that, my mandatory 3-hour rest turned in to a luxurious 5 hour stop. Five, yes five glorious hours in the middle of a rally. Not too shabby.
BOK BOK Chicken
With each rally that I’ve done so far, riding into the night and during the wee hours of the morning is a hurdle for me. It is usually the point of my ride when I go off the rails into some ridiculous fantasy that I’m going to be dragged off in to the woods by Bigfoot or some crazed hillbilly, never to be seen again. This ride was no different. That familiar feeling of dread about being out in the dark on some lonely road came calling. I hate that I allow myself to be scared – absolutely hate it.
It seems that wearing earplugs heightens the feeling of sensory deprivation in those circumstances and that makes me feel vulnerable.
But, I will probably continue to do rallies and I’ll probably continue to be scared. I just have to be smarter about where I put myself after dark when I’m planning my route.
Bringing it all Home
I finished my rest bonus at around 3am and set off to finish my route. The rules stated that we had to be back at rally HQ by 2pm or be disqualified. As I looked through my estimated arrival times as each remaining bonus stop, I had plenty of time.
That was – until I dropped and broke my camera. In my infinite wisdom, I left my spare camera back at the hotel, so I would have to buy another one.
Finding a place to buy a camera at 7am on a Sunday morning put me into deer in the headlights mode. As it turns out, apparently Walmart (hate!) is open all the time. While I was able to buy myself a new camera, I ended up eating about an hour worth of time futzing around like a moron.
The camera delay had a cascading effect. It meant that the bonuses that I was going to pick up around Baltimore and the Washington DC area would have more traffic as the morning wore on. As I watched my GPS arrival time at rally HQ pick up a minute here, a minute there – it became clear I would have to drop two more bonuses if I was going to make it.
I arrived back at the rally HQ at 1:30pm, 3 bonuses and several thousand points lighter than I’d hoped. But, I had a good, safe ride and I didn’t DNF. At that point I felt like I could put a nice little tick mark in the “hell yeah!” column.
My score was “fine,” good enough for a mid-pack finish. Overall I’m happy with that because I didn’t lose any points that I went after due to clerical of photo errors. I wish I had a better ability to visualize a route without becoming overwhelmed by things that don’t really matter. But I suspect that comes with experience. I need to loosen up and not be such a neurotic freak.
- My Rally Lasted for 29 Hours on the Clock
- 1,000-ish Miles Ridden
- Took a 5 Hour Rest Bonus
- 1 Dropped Bonus Due to Failure to Properly Read the Rally Book
- 2 Dropped Bonuses Due to Time Constraints
- 65,xxx Points Earned
- Middle of the Pack Finish
- I *think* I claimed 29 Bonuses
- 0 Points Left on Scoring Table
- 1 Camera Broken, 1 New Camera Bought
- 0 Bigfoot Sightings
Thank You, Rally Master and Volunteer Staff
A big thanks to the Rally Master and staff for hosting, scouting, answering dumb questions and feeding us. Long hours, blood, sweat and tears go in to planning and putting on a rally. Your hard work and dedication are much appreciated.
These thoughts are not specific to the MD2020 itself but rather are simply based on my rally experiences so far.
Because I am entirely in charge of my own route, I am completely in charge of whether or not I have fun doing a rally.
I’ve come to realize that the bonus stops represent a payoff or prize for for riding each segment of my route. When the stop is fun, silly or interesting – jackpot! It’s a shot in the arm to keep me feeling upbeat. Now with Google streetview just about everywhere, it can be easier to “see” what’s at the coordinates before selecting them for a visit.
When I plug in too much time between my bonus stops, my fun meter starts to dip. When the fun meter dips I start asking “why bother?” Droning along on the highway isn’t my cup of tea, it’s more of a necessity. I need to be more cognizant of the balance of trying to earn points, picking fun or interesting stuff to see, not spending too much drone-time and still having a viable route. Is it doable? Maybe.
The Emotional Roller Coaster
The mental peaks and valleys of riding in a rally are interesting for me. When the ride kicks off I’m full of excitement, wondering what I’ll be seeing along the way. As the day wears on, if I’m riding twisties I get the feeling that life is grand, THIS is what it’s all about. Then when the sun starts to set I begin to think about deer and critters …and Bigfoot. Middle of the night? I immediately go in to whaaaaat the fuck am I doing-mode. It is in those dark hours that I just try to hang on until the sun comes up. Once the sun is out, everything will be okay, I tell myself.
And finally when it becomes clear that the end of the rally is in sight, there is a distinct feeling of relief and accomplishment. I’ve made it.
After scoring and dinner as I saunter to my hotel room I realize this thing I’d been excited about… is over. That is always bittersweet.