Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cape Fear Rally

When I got wind of this rally and its location, I immediately jumped on it and registered for the mini-rally portion of this event. When most people hear the words "motorcycle rally" they think loud pipes, do rags, beer, and naked women. But there's another kind of rally out there with a much older pedigree, started soon after man figured out how to attach a combustion engine to a set of wheels. These are what I call "skill rallies" involving use of strategy, efficiency, and good sense. They involve such activities and calculating coordinates or solving puzzles to the next checkpoint, or driving checkpoint to checkpoint in perfect time, or collecting scavenger items or answers to clues or questions. And all are done against the clock.

The Cape Fear Rally is what's called a scavenger hunt rally, requiring all of the above attributes to accumulate the most number of points in the allotted time. The start and end point for the min-rally version would be Wilmington NC. I could ride to Wilmington, do the rally, then continue on to Norfolk afterward to visit my son's family. So...I sent in my application and my payment and enrolled in the message board which, we were promised, would provide a wealth of information from the experienced rally folks for us neopytes and rally virgins. Well, I can't say that any nuggets of wisdom came out of that message board, but it sure did provide for some good laughs over morning coffee! What a brutal bunch!

One week before the rally, we received our list of bonus locations. This was a list of all the towns in which the bonus locations would be located (but not information about the actual bonuses themselves) and the point values for each bonus location. So I immediately got busy with Microsoft Streets & Trips (MST) and plotted each of the towns with a pushpin and color-coded each one based on point value. This gave me a good bird's eye view of the distribution of the bonus locations and allowed me to identify 5 routes with the highest point values, each route heading off into a different direction. I'd have 10 hours to accumulate as many bonus points as possible. I entered each of these routes into to Garmin GPS before leaving home.

My ride to Wilimington included a number of stops along the way to collect some AMA Grand Tour points and some national park stamps. The first of these stops was the Selma to Montgomery National Memorial visitor center, located halfway between these two cities, at the location where the tent city sprang up. I certainly did not expect this to be more than a quick stamping stop. But two hours later I was still walking through the museum after having watched the excellent movie. Well worth my time to see it!

So now I'm way behind schedule and had to pick up the pace. I wanted to stop by the Tuskeegee Airmen national park to see how they were progressing on the restoration of the old hangars and flight tower. I was here last year and was quite taken by the location. The restoration is nearly complete, and they're re-paving the original road down to the flight line. The ribbon-cutting ceremony will be in October 2008 and they've invited all remaining living men from the Tuskeegee units to come as their guests.

Boogeying back to the interstate I continued east toward Atlanta, stopping to collect AMA points for Turin (GA) then stopping for the night east of Augusta. I had a few AMA points and national park stamps to collect the next day, including Carolina Heritage, Camden Historical, and the town of Florence. I missed Augusta Canal by arriving too late, and opted to skip Congaree because of the lengthy detour to get there. Another time.

The Greentree Inn was now in my sights, but I had to work my way through the center of a very busy Wilmington and then pick up a cold six-pack of "my favorite beverage" before arriving at the rally hotel. The cold six-pack (in my case, Diet Coke) would be worth 1000 points if turned in at time of registration check-in. We were fed (Hooters wings) and the rally master held the rally pre-meeting. We were given our bonus packets and everyone immediately disappeared back to the motel rooms to start working on their routes in earnest. Because I'd already loaded five possible routes into my GPS, it was a simple matter of going back and editing the routes to add the exact GPS coordinates of the rally bonus items. I prepared a cheat sheet for my tank bag, which listed the bonus items with exact instructions for each bonus. I settled on the final route and added a couple of additional POI's for bonus locations that could be added on the fly if I was making good time.

My friend Claye and her roommate Sylvia arrived late and missed the pre-rally meeting, but she knocked on my door a little later and we got caught up. Then I shooed her away so that I could finish my routing and she could finish hers.

I was the last one out the chute in the morning. Riders were already starting to line up as I was leaving the meeting room, where a light breakfast was provided for everyone. Riders were all released at 6:00 AM, but I was still getting my ride gear on, and had made another trip up to the room to retrieve a forgotten item, so all the rally volunteers were standing there waiting for me to start up the bike and ride over to their location to get signed out. My official start time, then, was 6:07 AM. What's the hurry? I had determined that, since this was my first timed rally, I would enjoy it. I would use it as a learning experience, find out how the bonus point locations worked, how the scoring worked, and what the pitfalls might be. I'd heard so many stories of rally-goers losing points at the scoring table and so forth, so I wanted to experience the whole event first hand.

I rode the route I'd planned out. It was very simple. Got my first bonus photograph at a post office in a tiny little town, then turned around and headed north to collect the next bonus photo of a pickle factory in Mount Olive. As I was setting up my shot, a pair of riders zoomed up, crammed their bikes into position, and got their photos as I was leaving. They passed me going at least 20 mph over the posted limit as I left town continuing north. I was to pass them later in the day, as they were headed toward a bonus location as I was headed back. Brought to mind the story of the tortoise and the hare, since they didn't finish that much higher in the standings than I did.

By the time I'd collected my fourth bonus photograph, I realized that I was well ahead of schedule, based on MST routing times recorded on a cheat sheet that I slipped into my tankbag map pocket. I'd collected 4 of the 10 original bonus locations on my route and it was only 9:30 AM. Thankfully I'd entered a couple of POI's that I was able to add to the route. I got the whirlygigs near Lucama, the odd little brewery in Farmville, and the gas station bonus in Greenville. Then it was on to get the sign in front of the Estuarium in Washington, and Blackbeard's Bonner House in Bath. While at the Estuarium I asked the gift shop clerk if he knew of a place I could buy an authentic pirate flag (worth more bonus points). He suggested the visitor center in Bath, so after getting my Bath bonus points I easily found the visitor center and - sure enough! - they had a replica Blackbeard flag for sale. Excellent! This quick stop netted me an additional 600 bonus points!

I back-tracked to Greenville and headed south to continue collecting rally bonus points. The statue in the parking lot at the CSS Neuse gunboat historical site had been removed, so a photo of the plaque within the park would have to do. The large replica of the Hatteras Lighthouse was easy to find in Pink Hill, as was the world's largest frying pan in Rose Hill. Heading south, the next bonus location was a memorial plaque in a park, which I could not find. I pulled over and debated whether to double-back but this was my last bonus location and I was ready to quit for the day. So I headed back to the hotel, stopping a few blocks before arriving, so that I could attach my pirate flag and the rally decal (worth additional points) to the bike before arriving at the check-in point. I was 50 minutes ahead of the penalty period, 110 minutes ahead of the cut-off. I probably should have spent some more time looking for that last bonus site!

I got my paperwork in order and waited in line for the next available scorer. Here's where points are lost! Gas and mileage log - check! Pirate flag - check! Rally decal - check! Gas bonus - check! Photo bonuses - where's the sign on the pavilion that says World's Largest Frying Pan? Whoops! No argument would convince the scorer and rally master that I followed the bonus instructions as they were written. A misplaced prepositional phrase in the instructions left it open to interpretation, in my opinion but, as they say, the rally master is always right. So I lost those bonus points (about 450 points). Plus, since I couldn't find the last bonus, I didn't get those points either (about 435 points). I arrived too early, and should have used that time to go into town and get the high-point bonus in wilmington (worth 1250 points).

How did I finish? I came in 11th out of 23 entries in the mini-rally. Had I not lost the points and had I found the bonus location that I missed, I would have come in 9th. This was a load of fun to do, and I saw parts of North Carolina I would not have seen otherwise. I definitely need to get back to Washington and Bath!