Southeast MA – Binghamton NY
Thur Oct 8, 2020
Covid ruined everything. We all know it by now. In terms of LD motorcycle rallies, it made 2020 all but a bust as event after event was first postponed and then (mostly) cancelled. There was a scramble by rallymasters to re-organize and partially virtualize the events, but even September proved too aggressive a timeline, given all the confusion about pandemic mitigation practices and extended quarantine restrictions put in place across the different states. Luckily for some of us in the eastern US, we were finally able to get our rally fix in October.
The final and 20th running of the Mason Dixon 20-20 rally was originally scheduled (as usual) for Memorial Day weekend. Char and I had signed up to run it as a two-up team for the first time. However, as the pandemic ramped up into spring, rallymaster Rick pulled the plug on the traditional event.
In late April, we were given the (very generous) choice of a full refund or of running a combined event with the annual Void Rally on Columbus Day weekend in October. The hopes at the time were that pandemic restrictions would be eased by that time. This exclusive one-time-only event would be dubbed the CO-VOID 2020 Rally. Staying registered was a no brainer for us, since we’d intended to compete in the Void again anyway.
In late July, however, with the Covid situation still up in arms, we received another email announcing the rally would now be a socially-distanced event. The big changes included:
- There would be no starting or ending banquets, to respect social distancing.
- We could start and end our rally “anywhere”.
- Electronic bonus submission (via email), which has been a popular option for the past few years, would now be mandatory.
After all the social isolation and days/weeks/months spent mostly in the house, we still looked forward to a weekend away on the bike, even if we wouldn’t get to gather and socialize with all our rallying friends at the start/finish. By the time mid-September rolled around, however, we were still unable to secure overnight boarding for our pup, so I would end up riding solo for the rally (right on the heels of my 48-10 ride), while Char rooted me on from home.
The rally packet was sent out in three (actually four) parts, starting in mid-September with details about the START procedures. Not much new there. Part 2 was sent out at midnight on Saturday morning a week prior to the rally, and contained the GPS data files and listings for all the bonus locations (without descriptions). This allows us to formulate our basic routes in our mapping software, based on point values.
This year, Rick included a combo called BASE which required obtaining a fuel receipt from four cities: Binghamton NY, Erie PA, St. Marys WV, and Winchester VA. This was apparently hearkening back to the very first Mason Dixon rally’s base route. The points increased exponentially for the combo depending on how many of these four location you claimed. It was clear from the huge point value that the entire combo would be necessary to be competitive in the rally.
There were only about 49 bonuses and most of them had fairly low, tightly grouped point values. The visit to Jim Young’s grave was high points and always a mandatory stop during the MD2020. Another bonus in downtown Baltimore also stood out above the rest, so that was a given as well. I knew this rally was going to be a very close finish among the riders trying to secure the top spots. Over the next few days, I came up with a few routing options, all very close in point values, before provisionally deciding to kick off my rally in the original starting location in Binghamton, New York.
Part 3 of the rally packet contained the actual rally book and was emailed out Wednesday morning by 07:00, some 48 hours before we would normally receive them in this rally (Rick usually waits until the morning rider’s meeting, day of the rally!). I went through the rally book printout, making notes, but nothing changed my current plan. We were also told to expect an additional email the following morning that would substitute as a “rider’s meeting”. I planned to depart Thursday morning once I’d had a chance to go through that final information.
Thursday morning, we received three additional pages to the rally book (Part 4). There were a couple new geographic bonuses, but most were wildcard-type bonuses – i.e. things to look out for while riding, etc. After reviewing the PDF for anything critical, I determined there were no obvious surprises worth changing my start location. I made my online donation to the Jason Fisher House (official charity of the Void Rally and worth bonus points), printed the receipt, then packed away my rally paperwork and laptop on the already-loaded bike. I hit the road around 09:00, figuring to get to the hotel early and spend more time reading the rally book and working on my route.
I took the Mass Pike straight out across Massachusetts past Albany, and turned southwest on I-88. It was a partly cloudy day and pretty comfortable. There is about 40 miles of I-88, near the town of Worcester NY, that is surfaced using older-style concrete slabs with uncomfortably jarring seams. Otherwise, a nice ride. The autumn color filling the hillsides along 88 was a beautiful backdrop for an otherwise uneventful (and fairly short) trip.
Not only was I staying in Binghamton, but I’d also chosen the former host hotel for the event, thinking perhaps other riders might do the same and result in some impromptu rally socializing. I checked in early afternoon, set up my laptop in the room and continued combing through the rally book and my route options. I did a little extra research on a couple of the more rural bonuses, inserting some shaping points into my route to help avoid any unexpected unpaved unpleasantness.
I had my improved route ready to go and was transferring to GPS, when I get a photo text from my northeast rally pals, the Arsenaults and Bob, outside my hotel pretending to mess with my tire pressure. Guess BMWs need every advantage, Bob…
Unfortunately, the hotel had booked full over the course of the afternoon with a bunch of utility workers so my three friends had to seek lodging elsewhere. I was glad to know I wasn’t the only rider starting in Binghamton, and especially relieved that I’d chosen the same start as Jeff and Erin, who usually place high in the standings.
We made plans to grab dinner together in a little bit, after they found lodging. In the meantime, I partially geared up and went for a quick ride to scout a good gas station for tomorrow morning’s start, finding one about a mile up the road. Back in the room, I searched for local restaurants and a place called Spiedie & Rib Pit caught my eye.
I had to look up what “spiedie” (pronounced “speedy”) means, and turns out it is a type of cubed meat preparation/dish that is highly localized to Binghamton. Sounded interesting so I texted the details to my friends and we agreed to try it out.