Yesterday was spent in Wilmington NC mostly off the bike. I did get the BMW over to the Yamaha dealer, where they were very friendly, helpful, courteous and got my bike on its center stand, the front wheel off and into the shop within minutes. A spin balance confirmed that it was out of balance by about 1 ounce. They corrected that problem and had me on my way in less than 30 minutes, hardly enough time to drink the cup of coffee and eat the pastry that they offered me.
I stopped across the street at a gas station to top off the tank before the rally and buy a six-pack of coke - my first bonus points of the rally: bring a cold 6-pack of your favorite beverage to the rider meeting.
Back at the hotel, I got comfortable in my room and got busy working on my route. I had my curtain and door open, and I could see riders starting to arrive. But I couldn't let that distract me. I called it quits at lunchtime, and went to get something to eat and then socialized the rest of the day with the other riders.
So this morning my alarm went off at 5:15 and I jumped out of bed, splashed some water on my face, brushed my teeth, and got outside to start prepping the bike. I had what I thought was a pretty good route planned...not a winning route, but hopefully one that would put me in the top ten this year. Last year I finished 11th and didn't feel like I'd done as well as I could have, losing one bonus location at the scoring table, not bagging one location because I couldn't find it, and not going for a big bonus in the center of Wilmington because I didn't want to deal with the traffic.
I was signed out at 6:02 AM and was on the road heading north toward New Bern and my first bonus location. This would be a log house in the historic district and I didn't know what to expect. Certainly not what I found, which was a two-story white colonial home sitting on a street amid other equally gorgeous old homes! I took the photo then headed back out to the main street and turned right. I traveled a few blocks then turned right at the waterfront and immediately saw a problem. The drawbridge that would take me back to 17 was closed. A new fixed bridge was being built and the detour sign directed me to turn right, but after that I was on my own. No more detour signs. So I found myself back on George St admiring those same beautiful homes and had no choice but to back track a few miles to 17 and losing about 15 minutes.
Next bonus stop would be the fossil museum in the tiny town of Aurora. I was struggling to find a way to affix my rally flag to a pole to get the required photo when someone drove up, got out of his car and headed toward one of the buildings. He kindly agreed to take my photo and, after a few lessons on how to use a camera, he got a good photo of me. I thanked him profusely and was on my way. He's probably still scratching his head over what exactly I was up to.
My next two rally stops would be bonus locations I'd gotten in last year's rally. They happened to be on my route and I knew where they were so it was easier to get them this year. The first of these two was in Washington - the Estuarium. Only problem was there seemed to be some sort of bicycling event and there were just hundreds of bicycles running along the waterfront road. I had no choice but to fall in among them, keeping the same 5 mph speed that they were. At the Estuarium I pulled up and double-parked alongside an SUV, jumped off the bike and ran over to get the required photo with rally flag. Now I had to get back into the steady stream of bicyclists to work my way back out onto the highway that would take me toward Bath.
The bicyclists were apparently going to Bath because I came up behind many large groups running down the middle of the eastbound lane. I patiently waited for breaks in oncoming traffic to pass them. But I was definitely losing time. At Bath, I got the Bonner House photo and about that time I saw my first fellow rally rider, who pulled up behind my bike just as I was finishing up entering the data on my rider log. I got back on the road toward Swan Quarter and it was about halfway there that the bicyclists turned off, so I now had an unobstructed road the rest of the way.
About 10 miles out of Swan Quarter that same rally rider caught up with and passed me. When I got to Swan he was at the little old-timey gas station getting gas and I parked and walked over to get the required receipt from this town. This town hasn't much of anything except the Swan Quarter ferry to Ocracoke. And the gas station hadn't much of anything to buy to get a receipt, either. I finally settled on a hose clamp and the fellow hand-wrote the receipt using one of those really old-fashioned receipt pads with the carbon sheet slipped between two sheets. Did I mention this was an old-timey gas station?!
Now I could backtrack west and make some good time, as I rode to Farmville for my next bonus, the Rabbit Duck brewery. This was to be my gas/bathroom/snack break, as well. It was a small gas station, no c-store, no pay-at-pump, key-from-the-attendant drill to use the bathroom, so a lot of time was lost at this stop. Yikes! I kept checking the arrival time on my GPS and watching it rapidly march toward penalty points territory. I took a swig of water and ate a couple of mini donuts, then jumped on the bike and boogied.
The next bonus location wasn't too far away, in Lucama, and I knew exactly where that was, having gotten this bonus location last year. I also knew how to route myself the most efficiently off the state highway, as well, and grabbed this one really quickly. It was satisfying to watch the arrival time start to improve again as I rode these 5 or 6 miles toward this bonus location. A woman and her two small children happened to be there taking pictures so I handed her my camera and asked her to take mine, as well. Fortunately she knew how to use a camera and even took two photos, just in case.
Now, just one more bonus location left, the Ava Gardner museum in Smithfield. My route put me onto I-95 where I knew I'd be able to make good time to Smithfield. The museum was just 1.5 miles off the interstate and I could park right in front, get the photo, do a u-turn, and then get back onto I-95 to a state highway that would cut diagonally down to I-40.
Well, so I thought. Big orange detour signs spelled major trouble. The road was closed for construction and traffic was being routed down some very local roads for several miles and I watched my arrival time immediately jump into penalty point territory as the GPS recalculated the route. Ack!! It now said arrival time 3:48 PM!
I was sweating bullets as our long line of cars and trucks ever-so-slowly negotiated the detour route with all its stop signs and turns. I was starting to get hot with all the gear on, too. I was desperate to find a safe place to pull over, remove some layers, and get a drink of water.
We were finally routed back to the state highway and got up to posted speeds again, and I was relieved to see the arrival time rapidly drop back down to 3:32 PM. Then....Finally! I got to the I-40 on-ramp, so I pulled over under the overpass in the shade and got off the bike. I had to take my helmet off to remove the neck buff and get a drink of water. I removed my Gerbing jacket liner, too. Ah!! It felt so good! But now that added minutes to the estimated arrival time. I went ahead and attached my pirate flag to the bike and affixed the Cape Fear decal to the back of my sidecase.
Once up on I-40, the time started improving again. I had 84 miles to cover and over the course of that distance I gained 5 or 6 minutes and was now within reach of being an on-time finisher, provided nothing happened that delayed me again.
I was so happy to see the exit for 17 in Wilmington. Only 1 mile to the hotel, and 5 minutes to spare. Whew!
I finished! Finish time was 3:26 PM! To the rally room to get checked in and get a score sheet then to my room to organize my rally paperwork and then go back to get scored. I was very pleased with my results, lost no points at the scoring table and rode my route with no alterations.
This year the Rally Master did something totally different: The winner would have the lowest score! Special bonuses had negative point values, and goof-ups added positive points to the score.
At the banquet that evening, the rally master had a few excellent stories from other rallier's adventures to share with us, and then he began announcing the top ten riders and winners in each category. The Mini Rally results were announced last and I held my breath as I waited for him to announce tenth place names and their scores. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized my score was going to put me in the top ten, but where in the top ten remained to be seen. As he moved up through 9th, 8th, 7th, 6th, my score was still lower. Then he announced a tie for 5th and I thought surely this would be me. But those scores were still higher than mine. Then, inexplicably, the rally master started announcing 3rd place, and that score was lower than mine. Oh no! My heart began to race and I start to worry that somehow I'd been disqualified. He finished announcing the top three and awarded them their plaques and I was so disappointed! I raised my hand to get the rally master's attention and when he acknowledged me I asked him where my name was on that list. He realized, then, that he'd skipped my name! I was 4th on that list. I'll take that! I was thrilled!
Well, after all awards were given and all door prizes given out, we all stood up to leave and one of the Rally Krewe came over to me and to the gal who came in 3rd and said there'd been a change in the scoring and that she and I were now 2nd and 3rd. Third place!!! Wow! Nearly half the mini rally field had DNF'd or incurred huge late penalties. My route was ambitious, really pushing the mileage envelope, and probably wasn't as efficient as other routes would have been, but I was very pleased with my execution of that route.
Tomorrow: heading north to MD to visit my mom.