Sunday, March 31, 2002

Palmetto Ramble

Commitment & Preparation

After getting back into motorcycling in late 2000 and spending the 2001 riding season putting on some serious miles on a few bikes and rounding out the stable, I wanted to make the 2002 riding season a little more competitive. I've always been intrigued with the Iron Butt Rally and hope to garner a spot in the biennial event in the future. However, before anything like that will happen I must prepare and hit some milestones that would indicate that I could physically and mentally endure in such an extreme event as the Iron Butt Rally. Preparation is key and must begin at some point. This will be an interesting year.

I first heard of the Palmetto Ramble from a posting on LDRider. It was billed as an 11-hour, entry-level rally that sounded like it would be a good opportunity to learn a lot before competing in some more serious, hard-core rallies that are on my ride schedule in 2002. Plus, it was a good excuse to ride out to South Carolina and ride around a state that I have never been in before. I didn't commit at the time. It wasn't until a few weeks later when we got around to discussing the rally on the Motorcycle Tourer's Forum that I decided to register and make it so. Before we knew it, there were quite a few of us from the forum that decided to enter the rally. It was shaping into something spectacular.

The bonus locations were published a week prior to the beginning of the rally. This allowed us rookies plenty of time to plan routes and confuse ourselves. My approach to the route planning process was:

  • I was in search of an aggressive and not-so-aggressive route.
  • Since there was a small number of locations, I decided to plot them all in MapSource.
  • Then I looked at the top ten locations. Five of them were located in the mountains of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. The other five were along the coast of South Carolina. OK, no light bulbs on yet.
  • After looking at the next ten locations in a similar fashion, it was apparent that the top twenty locations were to the north and northwest of Columbia. I decided that this was the area in which to plan the aggressive route.
  • After plotting about 15 different routes through this region, I found the aggressive route I was looking for.
  • For the other route I was looking for something slightly comparable, but away from the mountains and possibly along the coast. After around 10 different routes, I finally found the not-so-aggressive route I was looking for.

Here are the agressive route statistics and map:

Miles:     465
Time:     8:28 (Excludes time for stops)
Stops:     12
Points:     12175 (From riding the route only)

click to enlarge

Here are the not-so-agressive route statistics and map:

Miles:     460
Time:     8:36 (Excludes time for stops)
Stops:     13
Points:     10936 (From riding the route only)

click to enlarge

At this point, you may be asking yourself, "What the hell is he talking about? Aggressive? Both routes are almost statistically identical." Not too far from the truth, but what makes the first route more aggressive is the terrain of the Carolinas that must be traveled. The going would be much slower and, if the weather wasn't cooperating, this route could be much more treachorous. Of course having never been to South Carolina, this was all just one big assumption and until I get back there and have a chance to explore the rest of the state, it will remain that way.

So these are the two routes I loaded into the GPS and would eventually commit to one of them before taking the first turn out of the hotel on Saturday. That was the thinking anyway.

The Ride Out

The ride out from Dallas was uneventful, but only because I picked the right day to leave. Had I left a day later, I may not have been able to make it to South Carolina at all. Every March we get one last, healthy rush of cold air that sweeps through Texas. While I don't know exactly what I left behind, I'm thankful I wasn't around for it because I saw the remnants of the storm when I returned on Sunday.

So I left Thursday morning for Columbia. It's only 1025 miles and I thought it would take me approximately 16 hours to make the trip. The ride out was a little cold and uneventful. However, I did make an unplanned stop at a Waffle House in Augusta because I had a hankerin' for some breakfast and a cup of coffee. Plus, I like Waffle House. It's a straight-up and to the point kind of place with friendly folks taking care of you.

After the breakfast in Augusta I mounted the bike and made the final push into Columbia. All I can say is, "Thank God for Valentine One!" The cops in South Carolina were numerous. Jeez! At one point not too long after crossing the border, I had two cops sitting side by side in the median shooting radar at me. Well, the good ol' V1 caught them both. A few miles down the road, I saw 2 other cops who had people pulled over and writing them tickets. Obviously, these people do not understand the value of a V1. Some people you just can't help.

I made it to the hotel around midnight local time - approximately 16 hours after leaving Dallas. The man at the desk was polite and had a nice, carolina drawl that made you want to strike up a conversation about anything. Since I wasn't in a big rush, we talked about the rally and about all of the people that would show up over the next day and all of the fun we were going to have. He took his time behind the desk. I took my time in front of it.

When I got to the room, I unloaded all the gear, put the cover on the bike, unpacked a few things, flipped on the tube and fell asleep almost immediately.

Around Columbia

I woke up Friday morning refreshed and ready to hop on the bike and see a little bit of South Carolina. Originally, I had planned on scouting a portion of each route, but prior to leaving for Columbia I had been talking to some friends and they thought it would be cheating. I kind of felt that way too, but I'm always looking for an edge. In the end, I rode around some of the backroads and highways and had a nice liesurely stroll through South Carolina away from either of the intended routes.

When I arrived back at the hotel, people were starting to arrive. The first person I met was Ron McNary. I saw him riding his ST1100 to the hotel and pulled in right behind him. We exchange pleasantries. Then I saw Coop and Andy and Mike. Then Bob and Alan. Then the flood gates opened. Seeing all of the bikes fill the parking lot spurred on a wonderful feeling of excitement in my gut. And meeting everyone was pure pleasure.

After registering we had a pizza party and the rider's meeting. I thought that additional bonus locations would be published at that time, but to my surprise, none were. Phew! I don't have to stay up all night making route changes!

After the party, Herbie Saint imparted his wisdom upon those that stayed. It amazes me that everyone I talk to about rallies or LD touring say to keep within your limits and stay on your usual schedule as much as possible. Pushing your mind and body to extremes doesn't mean that you forgo rational thought and screw up your body clock to great extremes. Thanks to Herbie for taking the time. Oh yea, he parked his ride out front. What a beeeeeee-utiful ride. He's lucky he took the key with him!

Rally Day

I woke up early Saturday morning. We had a good breakfast and got some last minute instructions and updates on the weather. I thought the weather would be the deciding factor in which route I would choose, but in retrospect it didn't matter at all. I wanted to be aggressive. Nothing would stop me.

It started raining when we left the hotel on our way to Gaston for the mandatory odometer check. It didn't stop raining until after I arrived back at the hotel 11 hours later.

After leaving Gaston I went east on I-26 instead of west!!! I was riding along thinking about my first stop and was excited about reaching the first location and picking up some points. Then I scan the GPS to see what's up and to my chagrin, I notice the direction arrow is pointed in the wrong direction! Did I mount this thing upside down, or what!?!? Son-of-a-bitch!! I'm heading in the wrong damn direction. What an ignoramus. I let my excitement overpower rational thought and paid a price.

I took the next exit and stopped to decide what the next move would be. I had traveled 17 miles east on I-26 before waking up to reality. I thought this might be a sign telling me that I should run the alternate route. Hell, I was already 17 miles into it! But I thought, "No, to hell with that. I wanted to be aggressive and that's exactly what I'm gonna do." So I turned around and headed the other direction - the right direction. Idiot.

Now that the GPS confirmed I was riding in the correct direction, I set course for Honea Path and points beyond. Before lunch I had stopped in Anderson, Cross Roads, Walhalla, Stumphouse and Highlands where I called back into rally headquarters with about 10 minutes to spare.

The weather was wet and cold - especially prior to getting into Walhalla. North of Walhalla the roads were twisty and hilly. It was a gorgeous ride despite the elements. When it comes to rain and cold and twisty roads, I become somewhat of a wuss. The stretch from Walhalla to Highlands and then to Caesar's Head took a long time to navigate. There was ice on the side of the road around Highlands, ice falls coming out of the rocks in places, gravel on the road... I pushed it when I could, but held it in check most of the time.

I made a huge mistake in Highlands. The gas station I stopped at for gas and a receipt did not have a public restroom. The clerk indicated it was across the street at town hall. So I briskly walked through the cold rain to the town hall building where I find a sign that says the public restrooms are up the driveway. So I walk around the building and see the restrooms are another 100 feet up the driveway. I get to the bathroom and my head is relatively wet. Damn! I was dry as Mojave sand until then. I should have ridden.

After walking back to the bike and mounting up, I began to feel some aches in the neck and started to get the sniffles. The slow road to Caesar's Head didn't help matters. By the time I got to Caesar's Head I was cold, wet, sniffing and ready to forgo the remaining stops and get back to the hotel. Time was running a little short and I was ready to get back. I pointed the bike toward Greenville leaving behind 3405 unclaimed points.

I got back to the hotel around 4:45 where Andy greeted me and signed me in. I went to the room to change into something dry, but the hot shower beckoned me to get in. So I did. Before going to the scorer's table I took the time to list all of my stops and other bonuses on a separate sheet of paper. I didn't want to miss any! When I was told my final score was 9523 I thought it was a little low, but the euphoric state I was in totally discounted the fact that there could have been any errors. I was pleased. I had learned a lot. I knew I left some considerable points out there and so I signed my rally book.

It wasn't until a couple of weeks later when I saw a friend in Baton Rouge for lunch and he told me he thought his score was low and found out that a mistake had indeed been made. As it turned out, we had similar routes and the exact same mistake was made in calculating my score as well. I contacted Coop and told him that I'm not writing him to change the results of the rally, but to make him aware of the issues so we could improve the process on both sides of the table. I feel that I'm 100% responsible for ensuring that every point I'm entitled to is tallied properly. For whatever reason it wasn't, it's still my fault for not catching it at the time. Wow! What a lesson learned. It won't happen again.

We all sat around and lied to each other about our routes, circumstances, mishaps and misdeeds while eating some of the best BBQ around. I'd go back to South Carolina for the BBQ alone!

The Ride Home

After the banquet, I went back to the room and packed up what could be packed in anticipation of the ride back home. I wanted to get an early start so I could get back home at a respectable time. I wound up leaving Columbia at 4:15 Sunday morning. The weather called for rain until Atlanta and severe cold the rest of the way home. They were pretty much right too! I ran into some good rain from Augusta to Atlanta and after that it got cold. REALLY cold for this ol' boy from Texas. Temperatures ranged from 45-50 outside of Atlanta, but hovered between 35 and 20 the rest of the way home.

When I got back into the Dallas area, I noticed some minor buildup of sleet and ice along the sides of the roads as well as some ice underneath a few of the overpasses. I got a little jiggy with it under one of them. Just what I needed to keep me extremely attentive for the remaining 15 miles home. I arrived home around 7p local time - approximately 17 hours after leaving Columbia. It felt good to be home.

Side Notes and Lessons Learned

First and foremost I would like to thank everyone involved in organizing the first annual Palmetto Ramble. Everyone did a fine job and I thoroughly enjoyed myself despite the lack of cooperation from the weather gods. I will be back next year for sure!

Secondly, I'd like to thank all of the participants. I know I didn't get a chance to meet and chat with everyone, but the folks I did meet and speak to are proof that good people come from all around - even the east coast! :)

Lastly, thank you for getting this far! I bet you thought it would never end. Almost. Almost.

The lessons learned were numerous. The problem with writing this report several weeks after the event is that my recall has diminished a bit. I will make additions to this list as the lessons come back to me. Here's what I have so far:

  1. Get the right gear! The elements (cold and rain) really put all of our equipment to the test. I found out that my rain gear will eventually leak a little after 11 hours in a constant rain. I will augment my gear with some kind of plastic rain gear for these occassions.
  2. Satin glove liners really work! Enough said.
  3. My ME880s held up really well in the cold and rain and provided adequate grip even in the twisties. I was a little concerned about this, but my concerns were not justified on this trip.
  4. Get a waterproof folder for the rally book. I had a difficult time keeping my rally book dry. I will purchase a large folder with plastic sheet covers and use a Sharpie over the plastic to write in the rally book. This should remedy this issue.
  5. South Carolina cops are numerous, but especially near borders. Bring your V1!!
  6. The GPS held up really well with the exception of the battery compartment. It was totally filled with water. I'm considering using some silicone gel to seal the compartment the night before the rally.
  7. The electronic enclosure for the V1 worked superbly. No leaks of any kind. However, I need to locate the power plug in a different position to ensure it stays dry. Perhaps inside the enclosure?
  8. When you bring multiple gloves on a trip, make sure at least one pair stays dry for the cold ride home.
  9. Do whatever you have to do to stay dry - especially when it's cold and whether or not you're on or off your bike.
  10. Before going to the scorer's table, be sure you know what score you should get. Don't learn this one the hard way.

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