Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Waltz Across Texas Rally

Planning and Preparation

The good news is that Jack's giving us all of the potential bonus locations - or at least the nearest town - well before the rally even starts. The bad news is that the list of locations is contained within the lyrics of a country song. And the worst news of all is that we were forced to listen to the song because the written lyrics are slightly different than the spoken lyrics. Country music really blows, but I listened anyway and created a nice, neat, little MapSource file with all of locations. After enduring 3 minutes of acoustical torture, I didn't think the rally would get much worse than that.

That was back around the beginning of the year. A couple of weeks prior to the rally I decided to review the waypoints file, but I can't find the damn thing! I cannot find my original notes either and all that boils down to one thing - I have to torture myself again!! Jack put the 'turd' in 'rally bastard.'

Having the potential locations plotted on a map before a rally does help to some extent. I took the opportunity to become familiar with possible routes and rule out problematic areas. For instance, areas in the northwestern, western and southern regions of the state did not contain a significant number of bonuses to make all the miles seem worth it. Granted, we didn't know the point values or the specific locations yet, but the point values for locations in those regions would have to be significantly higher than those in other regions of the state before I would invest the miles. So without knowing the point values I envisioned a route with plenty of stops that traveled in a counter-clockwise direction from Marble Falls, east toward Houston, north toward Dallas and south back to Marble Falls. I felt comfortable with the number of stops and the regions of Texas this route covers, but it's too early to decide on a route because you gotta go where the points are - typically.

I met Doug Woodall just south of the metroplex in De Soto for the ride to Marble Falls. We wanted to get there in time to have lunch at the Blue Bonnet Cafe. After a spectacular lunch we decided to skip the pie. I understand the pie rocks so I didn't leave without an excuse to come back. After lunch we had time to kill so we rode east on FM-1431 along the north shore of Lake Travis. You don't see much of the lake itself, but the road is awesome.

We wandered back to the hotel around 1p in order to check in and complete the odometer check. When I checked in the rider sheet said, "See Jack." I was thinking, "Here we go... I'm already in trouble." Turns out I just needed to give Jack a copy of my insurance information. After officially checking in it was time for the odometer check. For those of you familiar with my difficulty completing my last odometer check, you'll be glad to know that this one went off without a hitch or a bumper. Phew!

After the odometer check I went to the hotel room, unpacked what I needed from the bike and put on some shorts and sandles. The rest of the afternoon was spent seeing old friends and making a few new friends. I finally met Jack Gustafson. I saw Jim Parish who gratiously witnessed last year's 48-Plus ride. John Langan came on down from the San Francisco bay area. I hadn't seen Russell Lane since the Post Falls checkpoint on last year's BL3. I didn't know if he was going to make an appearance or not, but it was good to see him. And there's a host of other folks I got the opportunity to shoot the shinola with. Life is good.

The pizza party/rider's meeting was held at the Masonic Lodge just a few blocks from the hotel. The pizza was hot, plentiful and good. I knew I'd be cutting some Z's before midnight regardless what the rally packet contained. After perusing the packet, I found it to be relatively straight forward. All locations appeared to have point values based solely on the distance from Marble Falls. Based on this fact, there was little need to consider a different route than the one I had envisioned because there was no incentive to travel more miles for fewer points.

To verify the route, I decided to go back to the hotel room and rename the waypoints in the areas under consideration. Since I already ruled out going to the south, west and northwest based purely on the small number of points and the mileage required to get there, I only renamed the waypoints that mattered most. When looking for optimal routes on a map, I first plot all the locations and name each waypoint so I know the point value and how to cross-reference the location to the rally packet. For the Waltz I used a "Point Value"-"Location Number" format. For instance, if location 20 had a point value of 100, the waypoint was named 100-20. Doing this allows me to take a high-level look at the map and easily spot an optimal and efficient route as well as cross-ref the location back to the rally packet. In the end, I was able to verify the route I had originally envisioned as optimal and worth executing. Obviously, there's no way to tell if it would be a winner yet, but it had potential if I could execute the plan.

Here are the stops I turned in on my route sheet:

click to enlarge
Round Rock
Round Top
Mill Creek
Cut N Shoot
Val Verde
Gun Barrel City
New Hope
Glen Rose
Center City

The route was relatively aggressive, but I felt comfortable with it because the tail end had bail out points at every bonus location from Cleburne to Brownwood. This would allow me to collect points until I either ran out of locations or I had to get to Marble Falls before the checkpoint opened. There were a couple of long stretches of highway between location pockets, but I still could maintain at least a 2:1 point:mile ratio which would yield an OK efficiency quotient.

The best part of all this is that I had my head on the pillow at 11p compliments of a good dose of pizza and feeling comfortable with the chosen route. All that's left to do now is sleep, ride and hope I don't suck.

Rally Day

The 6a rider's meeting didn't present us with any enticing new locations or any other reason to modify the route at all. However, there was an Amarillo bonus worth 2700 points, but to successfully collect the bonus you have to ride to The Big Texan restaurant, eat a 72oz (that's 4.5 pounds in case you were wondering) steak, salid, shrimp cocktail, baked potato... all in less than an hour and then ride back to Marble Falls with all of that fermenting in your bowels. I thought about splurging and purging, but why go all the way to Amarillo to choke and puke for 2700 points when I have a perfectly good route to run?

After the meeting, 7a and the start of the rally are just around the dial. As usual, Jack has one or two bonuses that prevent everyone from leaving the starting gate at the same time. Last year it was a fat, stinky pussy. This year it's the lovely and talented Lisa Rohlf - Round Rick's magnificent other half. So after getting my picture taken with a real babe I was ready to stick around and flirt some more, but I needed to giddyup.

First stop, Pflugerville and a pic of a restaurant. You know I really don't like the auto-routing algorithm used by the SP3 at times. Marble Falls is pretty much due west of Pflugerville yet the SP3 route wants me to zigzag through northern Austin and come into Pflugerville from the east!! WTF? Any fool with eyes can see the issue. That's good too because I spotted it straight away and took a much quicker route. I do like all of the information, detailed and base, the SP3 has stored. I was able to find the restaurant and ride right to it.

Next stop, Bastrop. The rally book indicated the location was south of Bastrop on 304 and while riding to the south side of town I spotted a sign that told me exactly where it was located. Cool. After Bastrop came Smithville, Round Top and Mill Creek where someone left a rally towel. I think I read where it was Ben Askew's, but I'd hate to mention that here and embarrass him even further.

Somerville and Navasota came next. On last year's Butt-Lite 3 I was able to get familiar with the Navasota area. One of the places I accidently wandered into was Washington, TX and the back entrance to the Washington on the Brazos Park. We had to take a picture of a monument which is just the other side of the fence at the back entrance. Sweet. When I got back home, I mailed a $5 donation to the park.

Next stops were Conroe and Cut N Shoot. I almost blew off these two locations because I was thinking too much and not focusing on maintaining a steady, deliberate execution of the chosen route and only bailing out on locations when absolutely necessary and in the last quarter segment of the route.

After Cut N Shoot I had a nice, long, relaxing stretch of I-45 to cover before arriving in Groesbeck and Old Fort Parker. The road into Old Fort Parker is a narrow, tree-covered and twisty road that, unfortunately, isn't long enough. When I arrived at the Visitor's Center I didn't see the wagon we were supposed to take a picture of. According to the rally packet the wagon was supposed to be at the entrance to the fort itself. I decided to walk in and ask questions and the person behind the desk said the wagon had recently been relocated just out back. I asked him if he would mind if I took a picture of it and he kindly escorted me out the rear door, pointed out the wagon and told me to take my time. Easy enough. I walked back in, made a $5 donation and thanked the man for his courteous help.

The Val Verde Cannon, used in multiple southern battles during the mid 1800s, is now sitting in front of the Freestone County courthouse in Fairfield, Texas. This was a 'ya gotta read the rally book' location. I found two Val Verde towns in Texas, but if you didn't read the information for the location, you'd never know it was in Fairfield. For me, I would have blown off the Val Verde locations, but since the location was in Fairfield that just meant it was in my intended path of travel. Cha-Ching.

Unlike most towns, Corsicana's courthouse is not located in the city center. It's just a little off the beaten path a few blocks from the city center. As I was working my way through the downtown area I spotted another rider. It turned out to be a good friend and fellow lunatic, Doug Woodall. He followed me, I followed him, we talked it over, I followed him and, bada-bing, there was the courthouse. Doug chose a clockwise route whereas mine was counter-clockwise. This was just a chance meeting between rally riders. It was over quickly and I bid Doug a farewell and regards for a safe journey.

Next stop? One of my favorite town names - Gun Barrel City. From Corsicana this stretch of the route would take me as far north and west as I would go. From Gun Barrel City, I visited Mineola and Winnsboro. In Mineola we had to take a picture of the Ima Hogg historical marker. No. I'm not saying anything further. You'll just have to check it out yourself. The Winnsboro location was just another one of Jack's specialties - Cabooses.

After Winnsboro I had another long stretch of I-30 to cover before reaching Greenville. While I had the opportunity to ride for a spell, my brain reminded me that I haven't had a substantial meal all day. I reckon it was around 6p at the time. I always have a hankerin' for BBQ and told myself that I'll stop at the first BBQ joint I spot. Well, I missed the first one and since there are no points involved in turning around, I figured I'd catch the next one. Woops. Son-of-a... Now I'm thinking I'll stop at the next BBQ joint or hamburger shack, but by this time I was in Greenville and a picture of Audie Murphy was just around the bend.

After Greenville I was starving and as luck would have it there's a Soul Man's BBQ in Rowlett. Good, honest BBQ. Nothing more. I felt I could easily spend 20-30 minutes to eat without impacting the remainder of the route. So I ordered the rib plate and it hit the spot nicely.

Next stops Frisco, New Hope and Freddy Krugerville. I wasn't familiar with any of the locations even though they're in my neck of the woods. Thankfully, the rally book, combined with a few signs, guided me right to Collin County Community College and the velodrome we needed to find. After Frisco, there were two locations that were identical - New Hope and Krugerville. Both locations required identical pictures and it was a little nugget because it's basically one stop worth twice the points. Definitely worth the ride.

Onward to Fort Worth for a picture of the Justin boot dude and on southward to Cleburne for a nut-check. While devising the route the night before I decided that Cleburne would be a good place to nut-check everything. Am I on time or better? Yes. There was plenty of time left and I knew I needed to carry on through the night collecting points. Is the GS running optimally? I looked over the bike, examined the tires... Yes. No mechanical issues whatsoever. Plenty of gas and ready to roll. After taking my own mental inventory I didn't see anything that would prevent from carrying on through the evening. I was as alert as I was earlier in the day and ready to giddyup.

There was a nice little line of bonuses that stretched to the southwest from Cleburne along highways US-67 and US-377 all the way to Brownwood. The plan was to ride to each one and determine if there was enough time to make the next bonus before having to bail out to make the 7a checkpoint in Marble Falls. In Glen Rose I had plenty of time to make Stephenville. In Stephenville there was enough time to make Cottonwood, then Comanche and then Brownwood. But after Brownwood I still had loads of time to pick up another and Center City was in the way. In Center City I still had time to pick up more bonuses, but for some reason I was totally content and satisfied with the previous 21 hours. And there was only one bonus that looked worth the effort, but the miles required to obtain it made it a near wash. I decided to head for Marble Falls.

The first deer I saw along US-84 was an eye-opener. It just looked up and looked down. Then the second and third deer appear just the other side of the hill and then the herd appears shortly thereafter. Gotta love night-riding in Texas. Surprisingly and thankfully, none of the deer along the way to Marble Falls wanted to commit Bambicide so the ride in was a good one. However, that didn't keep me from thinking about crashing, laying in my hospital bed and trying to find a way to figure out my score for comparison's sake. What can I say? You ride all that way and you want to know how well you did.

I got to Marble Falls with an hour and a half to spare. It was a wierd feeling because I left very little out there yet I had plenty of time on the clock. I thought about going to the store for some of the 'buy this and get some points' locations, but blew it off after filling up with gas.

My goal in rallies is to have a good time and not suck at the end. I was content with the effort and the ride. All that was left was filling out the score sheet properly and getting credit for everything. Thankfully, the scoring process went off without a hitch thanks to Joel and everyone else involved with ensuring a reliable and expeditious scoring process. As I exited the scoring room, I was chastised by my fellow lunatics for taking too damn long. Hopefully, they got over it. I did. ;) I walked out of the scoring room with ~2450 points after traveling roughly ~1080 miles which equated to roughly ~5550 points. Note that these are approximate figures and may or may not reflect the official rally data.

By this time I was getting tired. The ride was over, I got scored and I had little reason to stay awake. I didn't have a hotel room and I was ready for a lay-down by the pool. I wasn't smelling too ripe at the time so there wasn't a need to go for a swim, but those nice lawn-chairs looked inviting to a weary head. But before I knew it, Doug offered me a key to his room and the spare bed. I needed that. I was out like a baby a couple minutes after laying my head on the pillow. Thanks a lot, Doug. That was most gracious of you.

When Doug woke me up I was a little less than bright-eyed and a far cry from bushy-tailed. The couple hours of sleep were awesome though and just what I needed to make it through the rest of the day.

The banquet was held just around the corner at, of all places, an italian restaurant. Jack had issues with the BBQ caterer and the italian placed stepped right in, welcomed us one and all and provided some excellent food.

When Jack began announcing the top five finishers I was nervous. After finishing 5th in last year's Waltz I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well this year. I thought I heard Jack say the 5th place finisher accumulated around 4500 points. At that moment I thought, "Hmmm... Cool. I hope I heard what I think I heard." I didn't hear any other scores after that. After Jack announced the second place finishers my mind raced this way and that way trying to figure out what the hell all of this meant. If I heard Jack correctly when he announced 5th place, there was only one possibility, but it just can't be. Then Jack brings out the 1st place trophy and I knew these damn things had my name written all over 'em. A big ol' rack of Texas longhorns.

one size fits all

Courtesy of Doug Woodall

The first one is always the best and winning the Waltz was not only a magnificent feeling, but an honor as well. Many thanks go to Jack and everyone involved with making the Waltz a wonderful show. After all, if it's not any fun, then it's not worth doing.

The question now is, "How the hell am I going to get these horns home?" Hmmm... A little bungy cord and voila!

click to enlarge

Needless to say, I got a lot of interesting looks on the way home to Dallas. There was the ocassional UT fan giving me the the hook 'em horns sign. There was the ocassional laugh and a wave, the ocassional head shake, head nod and double-take. Life is good.

click to enlarge

some friends i picked up along the way

No comments: