The Big Sky Rally
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Big Sky Montana
So, once again I find myself at the computer looking at the long distance rally sites trying to find a rally I think might be do-able. Of course I had just returned from the Cal24 so I am not sure what do-able is at this point! I run across a link for a rally called The Good, The Bad and The Ugly being held in Big Sky Montana July 22nd thru the 24th. I click on the link and check it out. It says registration is open on the home page but on one of the other pages it says something about having to have your disclaimer/release form returned by May 22nd. Well I think I have probably missed this one, but you never know, so I fire off an e-mail to the Rally Master asking if it is too late to enter the rally. The next day I get an e-mail from Bob, the Rally Master. He tells me to fill out the entry form and get it in the mail! They just had someone pull out of the rally and they have one spot open. Cool!
Now the hard part; I need a kitchen pass for this one! A long kitchen pass. All the rally's I have done have been in California. I am only gone 2 maybe 3 days. I am doing the math in my head about how long I am going to be gone for this one. Smallest number I can come up with is 5. One day to get there. One day to rest. Two days for the rally and one day to get home.
"There is this rally in Montana I want to ride in. The Rally Master said there is one spot left. Would you mind if I went?"
"How long are you going to be gone?"
"ONLY 5 days."
"What ever! But you are taking me on vacation when you get back!"
My check, disclaimer/release and entry form where in the mail the next day!
Now we need to fast forward a few weeks and I finally get around to putting a route together to get to the host hotel. Ya, I just figured I could get to Montana in a day. Did not really know if I could. Map Source put it at 1098 miles. I guess I was right. I can get there in a day!
This is my route to get there. This picture is in Streets and Trips because it looks better than Map Source when saved to HTML.
Now most of you that are reading this know I ride a little bit. I know my bike. I work on it and I ride it. I know how it is supposed to handle and feel at just about any speed. That being said, I had the front tire replaced on the Tuesday before I left on this trip. I had it replaced with the same tires I run all the time. I had Dyna-Beads put in it for balancing. I did nothing different, and the best I can tell, the shop did nothing different. I just had a front tire replaced.
Thursday July 21, 2011 at 0400 hours I mount up and head to Montana. I have a light load on the bike. Some clothes, two computers and some riding gear. Nothing heavy. Nothing out of the ordinary for me. I notice when I hit the freeway that at 80 mph plus, the front end of the bike is bouncing. It is a weird bounce. It has a pattern. Almost a harmonic pattern. It is enough of a bounce that it is shaking my instrument panel to the point I can not read it. It is annoying and bothersome. Something is not right. I know that most of the roads I am going to be riding on are going to be high-speed and I need to be able to do 80 without my bike feeling like it is about to shake apart. I call my wife.
"Would you look up the address for the BMW shop in Las Vegas and text it to me?"
"Well, there is something wrong with my front tire and I want to go there and see if they can balance it."
"Oh, okay. I'll text it to you."
She texts the address to me and I plug it into the GPS. I am going to get there at 0835. I hope they are open then. I roll in to the shop area and find one of the emplyees standing outside the shop. I run down my problem to him and he says they can look at it. Cool! At 0845 they take my bike into the shop and close the door. 15 minutes later he comes out and tells me they can not find anything wrong. He proceeds to tell me that the tire I am running has a 1 in 8 chance of not being able to balance correctly and there is nothing they can do except replace the tire.
You're kidding me! I just spent $160 replacing this tire and you are telling me I need to replace it!? It has 300 miles on it! No way! Of course I was just thinking this to myself because I was at a BMW shop and did not want to offend anyone who was about to put the front wheel back on my bike. I told them to put it back on and I would see if it smoothed out with some miles on it. They did and charged me $50.00 to do it. Really? Four bolts and 15 minutes and that is $50.00!? Again, just thinking to myself here! I paid the $50.00 and 30 minutes later got my bike back. Really, 30 minutes! It's just the front rim. 5 minutes tops! Again, just thinking to myself! I guess they needed to justify the $50.00! So anyway, about an hour later I was back on the road. $50.00 lighter, but I was rolling again, or bouncing, depending on how fast I was going at the time!
From Las Vegas to Salt Lake City, Utah is 400 miles. After another 200 miles of the shaking bouncing thing I have going on I cannot take it anymore. The tire has got to come off. I call my wife, who is now at work.
"I can't take this bouncing anymore. Start making phone calls in the Salt Lake area and see if you can find someone with a tire for my bike. Tell them I will be there in about 3 hours."
"Well, okay. I will see what I can do."
A few texts and phone calls later, she has located a tire at a BMW shop in Sandy, Utah. It is right on the freeway and they have the tire and are expecting me. I roll in, and park. The mechanic, Z, walks up to me and ask if I am there for the front tire. I tell him I am. 30 minutes and $160 bucks later I am back on the road. First thing I do is jump on the freeway and twist it up to 80. Smooth, just like she should be! I am happy again. Big thanks to my wife for finding the tire and big thanks to the guys at BMW Motorcycles of Utah for getting me back on the road again and lowering my stress factor by a million!
Most of the time ,in my ride reports, I have a bunch of pictures. I thought I took a few. I guess I did not take that many. Well, not that many that turned out. Most of the pictures I took where on the move so they are not the best. Plus I was kinda stressed out over the front tire thing and taking pictures was not really on my mind at the time. So, here are two pictures for you to feast your eyes upon. The first one is rolling into Prim, Nevada and the second one is 13 miles into Utah. Enjoy!
I know, that is some pretty breath taking photography right there! It might get better. No, it won't!
After leaving Sandy, Utah I was a little more relaxed. I only had 400 miles to go and I was feeling good again about the bike! Maybe I took some more pictures? I am pretty sure this is Brigham City, Utah. All I remember is you could see this church over everything else.
Now I do know this! Prior to changing the front tire these next two pictures would have been nothing but a blur. The first picture is taken off of the left mirror with my hand on the handlebar. The second picture is taken off of the right mirror with nothing touching the handlebar. I can guarantee you I was doing well over 80 when I took both of these pictures.
These next four pictures I have no idea where they were taken, but I can say they were taken in either Utah or Idaho!
Now, as you can tell by the above picture, the sun was going down and this was the last picture taken of the day. I figured I probably needed to start watching out for critters crossing the road so I put the camera down and turned on the high beams!
This one-way trip was only supposed to take 15 hours. That is of course if you don't stop for anything. I had a couple of stops for the tire issue, and at some point I had to eat. I stopped just north of Salt Lake City at a Taco Bell for dinner. Throw a couple of gas stops in there and you are adding time to the clock. The trip up to Big Sky took me 20 hours. By the time I arrived at the "Big Sky" resort area I was spent, and apparently my GPS was also. Ms. Garmin decided I had not ridden enough for the day so she decided it was time for a little side trip! The thing with long distance riding, at least with me, is that I tend to follow Ms. Garmin a little too much towards the end of the day. You know she is telling you to do something wrong. I have studied the route. I know this is not were I turn! What do I do? Ya, I turned! After winding through a neighborhood or two and making a few U-turns I finally took control of my life again and headed back out to Hwy 191. I knew I needed to be there. I stopped the route, re-started it and began to follow Ms. Garmin again. The problem is the roads are so close together she can not tell you which one to follow for sure. I guess, hell I was tired! I ended up in a parking lot with 4 resorts around me. None of them the one I needed to be at.
I went into survival mode at this time. Believe it or not, I stopped and went to paper. Just to get the address of the resort I was supposed to be at. However, I went to the iPhone to route me from here. Ya, AT&T had five bars in BFE Montana. I put the info into the iPhone and it told me I was 0.6 miles away from where I needed to be. Cool! Follow the phone! I did! 10 minutes and two dirt roads later I found "The Lodge at Big Sky"! It was about 100 yards from where I started using the iPhone! Hey, it was dark and I was tired. I got there! Shut up!
So now it is around 0030 hours Friday morning. I am at the resort and I walk into the lobby. The night clerk is some kid who's first language is not English. I tell him I have a reservation and give him my name. He looks at me with panic in his eyes. He asked me if I have a confirmation number. I do and I give it to him. Now he is shuffling papers and looking at his computer, with more panic in his eyes. After a couple of minutes of this he informs me my reservation had been canceled. Really? Look at me dude! Do you really think this is something I want to hear right now!? Of course I said all of this to myself because I really did want a room. I needed to get to sleep!
He continues shuffling papers and looking at his computer. I am standing there tapping my credit card on the counter. I finally ask him if I am going to be able to stay at the hotel. He looks at me and in a not too convincing voice says, "Yes." After what seemed like forever I had the key in my hand to the last room at the resort. I unloaded and parked my bike. Went to my room, took a shower and passed out! End of day one!
My plan was to do nothing but rest on Friday. I knew I had an ODO check, riders dinner and riders meeting. I also needed to get gas at some point. About 0830 I woke up in a panic because I could not remember what the times were for the ODO check. Turns out I had until 1600 hours but I am up and awake now. Might as well see what is going on top side. Oh ya, my room was in the basement!
I get up to the lobby area of the hotel and it is a flurry of activity. Registration tables going, camera check table is busy and a lot of folks walking around in riding gear. I go outside to check on my bike. Really I was going out to make sure it was still on it's center stand and not on it side. I was not sure how good of a parking job I did upon my arrival. It was still in an upright position with the cover on so I guess I did alright!
The ODO check was going hot and heavy. The temperature was warm and there were a few clouds in the sky. I figured I might as well get this show started, so I headed back down to my room and geared up. I put on my summer gear because I figured it to be close to 80 degrees or so. I went back up and checked in. I walk up to the check-in table and Linda is at the table. She asks me my name and I tell her. She looks up from the table and says, "Hey, you're the guy with the stickers! Were are they? Cletha has been wanting her stickers." I hand Linda 75 of the FYBYFF stickers and continue with my check in. If you have to ask what FYBYFF means you can do so by sending me an e-mail.
I go outside to do my ODO check. It is now cold and starting to rain. Really? I don't know how long the ODO check is but I figure it is going to be about 20 miles or so. I don't want to be cold and wet so I go and put my heavy jacket on. Go back out side, get on the bike and get the ODO check done. 21 miles. I then go back into town, get gas and some snacks. I go back up the mountain, park the bike, cover her up and relax for the rest of the day.
I went back top-side around 1730 hours and visited with friends I have met at other rally's. A great dinner was served at 1800 hours. I sat with a couple of riders I did not know and enjoyed talking with them over dinner. One of the guys, Matthew, lives in Montana and rode the rally on a Honda NX250. That is hard-core!
The riders meeting got started a little late and there were a few questions regarding the bonus locations after the rally packs were handed out. I think we ended up getting cut loose to go do routing about 2130 hours. That is 6 whole hours before I had to be up and ready to roll again. I was tired and really wanted to get a route planned out so I could go to bed. To qualify as a finisher in the Unlimited Class you had to ride a minimum of 1300 miles, gather at least 6000 bonus points and you had 32 hours to do it.
Not being familiar with Montana at all I took the "Good" route put together by the Rally Master and then added more bonus locations to it. I knew this was not going to be a winning route, but I wanted to stay out of the National Parks on a Saturday/Sunday. I figured traffic would be moving pretty slow. My route was just a big loop around the state with the mileage being around 1400 and the points over 6000. Middle of the pack finish with a nice long ride around the state. At 2300 I went to bed and tried to get some sleep.
0330 came very fast! I had everything already packed up so all I needed to do was put it on the bike. I took a shower, got dressed loaded up the bike and ate some breakfast. All at a relaxed pace. We had to be next to our bikes at 0430 for the final ODO reading. At 0430 the pace started to pick up a little bit. You could tell the start time was getting near. The Rally Crew was going to each bike reading ODO's. Bikes were started and getting warmed up. This was the biggest rally I have ever participated in. The excitement of a big start was in the air.
At 0455 I put my helmet on and put the beast on her side stand. I got on her and the first thing I noticed was that I could not see a damn thing! My glasses had fogged up! I did not think about this prior to the start. I had no plan for fogged up glasses. I pushed them up on my head as far as I could get them. Then I noticed my wind screen had fogged up! This was not going well at all! I plugged my helmet into my music and a nice peaceful song was playing. It calmed me down right away and I started thinking again. It's going to be okay! Just get moving and things will clear up. Warchild pointed at me and it was my turn to leave. Nice and smooth on the clutch and throttle, don't want to drop this pig at the start, and away I went! The fog started to clear off of my windscreen and glasses. The start turned out alright!
This is the route I had planned to ride.
My first bonus location was the "Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center" located at the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The ride down was interesting. Fog and large animals on the road. I don't know the difference between an Elk and a Moose; however, I do know the two horse size animals in the road where much bigger than me. I slowed way down and they decided they would share the road with me. They ran off into the trees and I kept riding south. I arrived at the bonus just after daylight.
It seems like fly fishing is a pretty big deal in Western Montana. My next bonus location was called "Big Fly Fisherman. This picture is not really good because I just pulled up, hung my flag on my bike and took a picture. It scored points, so it worked.
My next stop was the "Nevada City Museum" located in Virginia City. I had to take a picture of the sign above the building that said "Nevada City Museum Enterance".
I was pretty excited to get to the next bonus location. I grew up watching Evel Knievel jump and crash. I always thought, as a kid, it would be cool to be able to ride a motorcycle like he did. My next bonus location was the grave of Evel Knievel located in Butte Montana. The pictures are not the best, but you get the idea.
The next town I am headed to is Deer Lodge. Things are going along well for me at this point. I am not having any problems finding bonus locations. I am feeling good and the weather is wonderful! In Deer Lodge I had to get a picture of a sign at the Old Montana Prison. The Montana Prison opened its doors for business July 2, 1871. It is now a museum. The prison is behind the "Old Prison Museums" sign.
This is what the prison looks like. It is pretty cool I think!
One of the "Threads" for this rally was Scenic Byway Routes or routes that have a beggining, middle and end point. I was able to incorporate two of these routes into my route. This is the first one. It was called the "Kings Hill Scenic Byway Route. I ran the route south to north so my starting point was in White Sulpher Springs. I had to get a picture of the "Fort Logan" sign. There was an additional bonus in White Sulpher Springs called the "Castle". The Castle is a very impressive building. It is now a museum.
My next bonus location is in Helena and it is called the "Arches Sculpture". There was a picture of the bonus in the rally pack just to make sure everyone took a picture of the right arch.
After getting both of my pictures in White Sulfer Springs it was time to head up the Kings Hill Scenic Byway and find my mid-point of the route. I had to get a picture of the "Showdown Montana" sign.
If you take a close look at the above picture you can see a white paper looking thing sticking out of my tank bag. That is my rally pack. I guess I did not put it all the way back into my tank bag after writing down all the required information. I guess I did not put it all the way back in after getting back on the bike either. After leaving this location and cresting out at the top of the hill I start down hill on a right hand sweeper. I feel something hit me in the chest and I saw something white passing under my right arm. First thought, "What the hell was that?" Second thought, "Oh, shit that was my rally pack!" Quick U-turn and a little bit of a hike and rally pack was back in hand. That was a close one! Lesson learned!
I am now headed towards Belt, Montana and the northern end of the route. In Belt I have to get a picture of the city limit sign and the Historic District sign.
The next two bonus locations are located in Great Falls. The first bonus I head to is the "Lewis and Clark Statue". It is located at the confluence of the "Sun" and "Missouri" rivers. The second bonus is the "Kid Russle and Monte" statue. Kid Russle was an artist known for his sunset and western theme paintings.
After grabbing the two bonus locations in Great Falls I could tell I needed to power down a little bit so I grabbed a bite to eat and took a 30 minute break. Feeling better and focused, I headed off to my next bonus in Fort Benton. I needed to take a picture of the "Old Shep" staute. Old Shep worked for a sheep hearder who fell ill and came into town for treatment. A few days later the sheep hearder died. The sheep hearders body was boxed up and put on a train headed east. Old Shep was left behind. As you know dogs are loyal to good owners. For the next five and a half years Old Shep met four trains a day coming into Fort Benton waiting for his master to come home.
My next bonus location was the only bonus on my route that had a time limit on it. The museum was only open from 0900-1700 and this was a double bonus location. If I could get both I would collect 1505 points at one place. Ms. Garmin said I would get there at 1650 hours. Plenty of time! Off to Havre I went.
Inside the "Frank DeRosa Railroad Museum" is an old piano. I needed to get a picture of the piano for one bonus. The second bonus was to get a picture of the front of the building including the "Havre Beneath Streets Logo". I took the picture of the piano at 1642 hours. Guess I might have made up some time.
After gathering this bonus location I am off to Saco to collect the "Chet Huntley Schoolhouse bonus. The fun and excitement of US 2 is overwhelming at this point! I thought Nevada had some straight do nothing roads! US 2 will suck the life out of you!
I keep traveling to the east to find my next bonus location. The "Lewis and Clark Overlook". This overlook is on Fort Peck Lake and the Fort Peck Dam. This was a truly amazing sight. I rode over the dam which is 21,026 feet long and 250 feet high. Fort Peck Lake is the 5th largest man made lake in the United States. It is 130 miles long, 200 feet deep and has 1520 miles of shore line. That is more shore line than the State of California has! It was really something to see. I am glad the Rally Master picked this as a bonus location. Here are a couple of the pictures I took.
If I had to pick a point in this rally where I made a mistake, this would be where I made it. Somewhere between here and my next bonus location I get to playing around with the GPS looking at my route. How many miles do I have to go? How much time I have to get the miles in? I am leaving Fort Peck Lake at 2000 hours or so. I have been riding for 15 hours at this point. This is where my lack of rally experience in other states comes into play. I know it is going to be getting dark at some point and as a result of the darkness I know my speeds are going to drop. I am not sure how much, but I know I am going to have to slow down because of the Montana wildlife.
My route had me going to Scobey for the "Pioneer Town Bonus", 892 points, and then to Plentywood for the "Old Railroad Depot", 972 points. That is 1,864 points. It was an out and back so I would be traveling the same roads twice. 194.6 miles round trip, 3 hours or so of riding. According to Ms. Garmin this was going to put me back at the finish line at 1230. The finish line closes at 1300 hours. For not knowing the state, the roads and the animals I thought that might be cutting it a little close. I dropped those two bonus locations from my route. Those points cost me 5 finishing positions. Should have, could have, but I did not! This is the second rally this year where worrying about the clock too much has cost me a top 10 finish. I hope I am learning from this!
Enough about mistakes. Let's get on with the ride. My next bonus location was going to be the North end of the "Big Sky Back Country Byway". This was the second Byway route. In Wolf Point there is a statue of a horse and rider in the town center. No plaque or anything. Just the statue. I needed a picture of it. This picture was taken at 2100 hours. The sun is still up!
Now the story I am about to tell here is a mistake story. It is a minor one, but you will see why I was so worried about that 30 minutes I was talking about during the big mistake.
The next two bonus locations are fairly close to each other. I don't know how I did it but I rode right past the "Old Conoco Truck" bonus in Circle on my way to the midpoint of the Byway route which was the "Brockway" information sign. I get to the information sign, pull into the parking area and point my headlights at the sign. I have all my lights on so it is pretty bright. I looks like it is raining, and raining hard! I realize my lights are attracting thousands of bugs. I have never seen so many bugs in one place in my life. It was unreal! I kill all the lights and the bugs went away just as fast as they showed up. I push my bike over to where the sign is because the bike has to be in this picture. I get the shot set up and take my picture. The second picture is the beak on my bike with all the bugs that killed themselves slamming into my bike in the 30 seconds it took me to get parked and the lights off.
Sticking to my routine I start checking my GPS route against my handwritten route and rally pack. I realize I missed the "Old Conoco Truck" bonus. It is 12.2 miles north of me and worth 716 points. I need those points. So, lets do a little math. 12.2 miles X 2 = 24.4 miles at 60 mph that is 24 minutes. Have to add in the time to find the Truck, get the picture of the truck and get back on the road. That equals 30 minutes! Not to mention I now have to stop back at the Brockway bonus and document a second stop there.