Co-VOID Day 1: Slow Between the Sheetz

Binghamton NY – Bridgeport WV
Fri Oct 9, 2020
(~846 miles)

No hot breakfast from the hotel, just a bag that was better than nothing (I guess). At least there was coffee. I ate the yogurt and a cereal bar while doing a last minute check of the weather and my procedure for the start of the rally.

Although most of the electronic bonus submissions for the rally are done using email, there are a few cases where you need to send text SMS messages as well to one of the rallymasters (depending on your rally number being even or odd). The Mason Dixon has always been a rally where reading comprehension is particularly tested, and this year’s combined electronic-only edition demanded more of a rider’s focus than ever before.

My carefully orchestrated “launch procedure” at the starting location needed to be executed in a specific order, and was to go something like this:

  1. Make store purchase to begin my rally.
  2. Purchase York Peppermint Patty (separate receipt) for the wildcard PATTY bonus.
  3. Text in my START receipt.
  4. Email my PATTY receipt.
  5. Fuel up and email BING receipt as part of the BASE combo.
  6. Take a selfie, helmet-off with my rally namecard and submit via email for SELF wildcard bonus (must not be first submitted bonus).
  7. Email CFHC bonus – the Fisher House donation receipt, which could only be submitted after a geographical bonus like BING.
START receipt

START

Shortly before 07:00, I arrived at the Mirabito station down the street to find the Arsenaults, Bob, and another rally rider already waiting and chatting. I pulled over to say hello, then parked my bike at one of the end pumps. The others followed suit and we went into the store to await the rally start window to open at 07:10.

I grabbed a V8 and a Peppermint Patty, as well as the first spot in line, standing away from the register in case any other customers came in, while the others lined up behind me. The cashier eyed us expectantly, so we explained about the rally. She found it interesting and was a good sport about it, giving us a countdown as the final minutes ticked down.

PATTY receipt

PATTY

I made my first purchase right at 07:10 and the second at 07:11, even though the credit card authorization seemed to take forever at the time. Wishing the others good luck I was out the door to my bike to continue my complicated pre-flight check. As I arrived at the bike, two large diesel utility trucks pulled into the lot and lined up behind me at the pump, even though there were probably four other pumps available to use at the station. As I sent in my START and PATTY bonuses, the truck immediately behind pulled up a couple feet closer, the deep rumbling engine making me lose focus and feel hurried.

I still had my helmet off, with several tasks to complete, and knew it would take another several minutes to get it all done. If they had been regular cars I would have waved them off, but I didn’t see how the big trucks would be able to easily maneuver to get around me to another pump.

BING receipt

BING

Feeling frazzled, with rally-start adrenaline flowing, I pushed my bike away from the pump to allow the trucks to have access, then realized that I hadn’t yet pumped gas for my BING bonus. Pissed, I jammed my helmet on, zipped up my tankbag and rode the bike over to another available pump, where I undid everything once again to pump fuel. It was an effort to re-gain focus and so it took me longer than it may have to finish out the rest of my tasks.

Somehow I forced a small grin for the selfie, despite valuable minutes already being lost. This is supposed to be fun after all, right? 🙂 And finally, I submitted the donation photos I had for CFHC, which we were allowed to take before the rally.

I quickly stowed and zipped, departing my start location at 07:28, a good 10+ minutes behind schedule already, though it felt like an hour. I rode a half mile back towards the hotel to capture my next wildcard bonus – a “Drive Thru” sign at a Starbucks I’d spotted last night.

SELF bonus

SELF

DRVT bonus

DRVT

After that flurry of activity, I now had some time to settle in to my ride for some 160 miles to the next bonus. I hopped onto I-81 for the long run south through northern Pennsylvania to Fort Indiantown Gap.

One of the wildcard bonii was to get a photo of a road gator somewhere along our way. I began spotting them as soon as I was on the interstate and saw dozens and dozens all the way to my next bonus. I had road gators on the brain. Every time I’d spot one, I was either in the wrong lane, or there wasn’t a safe shoulder area, or it was too small to make out in time to stop, etc etc. I should have just bitten the bullet and stopped at one of the early ones I spotted to be done with it, but I was still battling frustration from my messy start. It was almost two hours into this leg before I finally pulled over and got the picture I needed. Our duck had to be in this photo.

GATOR bonus

GATOR

I made decent time on the highway, despite the gator distraction, and more importantly made up some of the time I’d lost by the time I arrived at the Fort Indiantown National Cemetery. MD 2020 tradition dictates a visit to the gravesite of rider Jim Young to pay our respects. Though the entranceway didn’t have the overabundance of American flags like each Memorial Day weekend, it was still a familiar and beautiful sight rolling into and through the cemetery lanes to Jim’s spot. One rider was there finishing up, and a few more had pulled in after I had gotten my photo and was emailing it off.

JIM bonus

JIM

Sheetz receipt

Sheetz #1

One of the wildcard bonuses was a short sequential combo in which we needed to visit two Sheetz stores for receipts, with exactly one regular bonus in between. In other words “between the Sheetz“. As was the case with most of the bonuses in this year’s final rally edition, rallymaster Rick was paying homage to popular ideas and locations from previous iterations of the Mason-Dixon event.

So my next stop was at a Sheetz convenience store in nearby Lebanon PA. I’d routed to it using what I hoped would be deserted rural roads south of Fort Indiantown Gap, to avoid the center of Lebanon. I moved along OK, but there was still a bit more traffic than I’d hoped and it didn’t improve as the morning wore on through the Amish-settled area surrounding Lancaster. There was plenty of empty space, but only so many roads leading through it.

My regular bonus, to be sandwiched “between the Sheetz”, was a few miles away at the ERB Mennonite Church sign on the outskirts of Manheim PA. It was a bit breezy.

ERB bonus

ERB

Sheetz bonus

Sheetz #2

The concluding Sheetz stop was in the unfortunately named town of Lititz (giggling allowed).

The silliness must continue when one emerges from “between the Sheetz” in Lititz only to move straight to Intercourse… Intercourse PA, that is. It’s a lovely village in the heart of Amish country, I suppose proving that some things will never go out of style.

Co-VOID Day 1

INTR

Even on a Friday morning, there was enough tourist and truck traffic on these rural Amish country roads to keep average speeds way down below what I usually calculate for rally speeds. Time continued to leak away from my bonus ETAs, lending more frustration as there were 1-2 daylight-only bonuses planned in my route for early this evening. Despite the scenery and culture of the area, I was glad to finally turn onto the divided four-lane US 30. If I wasn’t able to actually gain much time, at least I began to stem the bleeding a bit.

I picked up I-76 in King of Prussia through Philadelphia, where traffic slowdowns continued to vex me. I cut over to I-676, and did what I could to keep moving through/around a couple standstill jams. After crossing the Delaware River into New Jersey, I picked up NJ 70 for several miles of strip-mall hell.

In Evesham, I veered off onto nicer rural wooded roads, which got more rural and more wooded, and the road narrower and rougher, as I followed the magenta GPS line deeper into a large area of pine barrens. Rough road is never pleasant when you need to use the bathroom, but from the looks of my surroundings I’d have access to plenty of convenient trees at the bonus, which I finally reached in the middle of nowhere, in Shamong Township.

Reaching the waypoint, there was a small clearing close to the road, with the large Emilio Carranza Crash Monument placed prominently in the center. Interesting and sad story about a brave pilot who was forced by his government into dangerous risk, paying the ultimate price.

Emilio Carranza monument

CARR

The final list of “rider’s meeting” bonuses had included a worthwhile combo called DUCK which requires the rider to claim any five from a specific subset of 10 regular bonuses, with their duck shown in the photo. See what I mean about reading comprehension? Luckily, my route already included exactly five of them and CARR was the first one along my way.

Rocketing back out of the woods as quickly as I dared, I took US 206 south for a few miles into the town of Hammonton. The bonus was a bronze plaque in the center of town memorializing a speech given here by president Ronald Reagan. As I was setting up the photo, who should ride up to the nearby curbside but a good buddy and former northeasterner Billy Connacher. I greeted Billy and we bumped elbows in Covid-fashion. But I was still half an hour behind schedule and didn’t stop for additional chit chat.

Ronald Reagan plaque

ROCK

DEL bonus

DEL

I continued south to the Atlantic City Expressway, then out to the NJ Turnpike south. Crossing back into Delaware, there was heavy traffic before and through the Wilmington area and the merge onto I-95. More minutes leaked away from my ETA. The Delaware Welcome Center is a big rest stop in the median of I-95 in Newark. This is where I pulled in for the wildcard DEL bonus, which required a fuel purchase of one gallon from anywhere in the state of Delaware.

Now running over 40 minutes behind schedule, I started doing some re-calculations as I continued south into Maryland amidst more speed-limit traffic on I-95. I considered skipping my next bonus in Bel Air MD, as well as the optional POST bonus near Winchester, in order to try making it to the daylight-only W207 bonus in West Virginia. That was a special one that I really wanted to visit – a replica historical marker that many of us riders pitched in to buy for rallymasters Rick and his wife Jean, located at their retirement “estate” in the West Virginia woods.

After running scenarios on my second GPS, it didn’t look like I could make it to Rick’s house by the official rally sunset designation of 19:30. I’d be 15 minutes late even if I had no further delays, which didn’t seem likely based on how the day had been going, especially with Baltimore still ahead of me. So, I stuck with my current plan and took the exit on MD 155 after crossing the Susquehanna River.

On the map, this looks like a nice quiet rural road, but it was an interminable traffic death march! With a few poorly timed crossroads traffic lights creating long lines of vehicles and minimal passing opportunities, time continued to leak away, especially in the jammed up areas through Churchville and the Hartford Community College areas. Just so much traffic and I couldn’t imagine where they were all going or coming from!

Finally, I reached the historical marker for Tudor Hall, childhood home of John Wilkes Booth. With little shoulder to work with, I managed the shot from the saddle using my trusty Hammy-stick.

Tudor Hall historical marker

TUD

MD 543 brought me back down to I-95, where the heavy traffic continued to keep me at or around the speed limit on the run into Baltimore. Upon reaching the city, I took US 40 (Orleans Street) straight in to John Hopkins Hospital, which has been the annual charity recipient from the Mason Dixon rally.

As I neared the hospital I got over to the left lane, as directed by the GPS. However, I could clearly see the hospital on the right and only a parking garage to the left, with no valet stand visible. When I spotted the cubic rhinoceros sculptures, I changed my blinker and picked my way across three lanes to make a right turn into the hospital entrance.

rhino sculptures at John Hopkins

RHINO

I pulled up to the curb and got the bonus shot quickly from the bike at about 16:40. Yikes, I’d better get moving to have a chance of missing the worst of city rush hour! I had pre-scouted the shortest route back onto interstate rather than trusting Garmin and I made it quickly through the fairly empty downtown streets to take I-395 to I-95 to I-695 up to I-70 westbound. There was traffic, but it kept moving and my entire run through Baltimore had been surprisingly easy and unimpeded. I’d lost more time in Amish country and on I-95 than I had in city traffic, for some reason (Covid slowdown, perhaps?).

classic Sinclair stationHowever, leaving the interstate in Frederick on US 340 towards Harper’s Ferry, I continued to deal with thick Friday afternoon traffic the entire way, losing more time. I arrived in the village of White Post VA just past sunset for my photo of the post that a young Col. George Washington had erected to point the way to the residence of Lord Fairfax, a prominent local landowner. There was a cool retro Sinclair gas station at the intersection as well – a picturesque little crossroads.

White Post VA

POST

Winchester fuel receipt

WIN

I retraced my path a couple miles to US 17 and headed west to Winchester, pulling in to a station by I-81 to secure a fuel receipt for WIN, my second BASE combo location bonus.

I looped around Winchester to the north and took US 522 northeast to WV 127 through Slanesville. Traffic now died off significantly. I knew I still had a long night ahead before my rest and had chugged a five hour energy, so I was feeling pretty good and enjoying the curvy roads with my high-beams blasting a significant hole into the darkening evening.

I turned onto some local roads and pulled into the hilltop community of Three Churches to capture another historical marker photo for Mount Bethel Church, one of two churches in town. 🙂

Mount Bethel Church marker

BETH

After emailing that off and checking the time, I also submitted the TEXT wildcard bonus, which required an SMS message be sent between 6-9pm to the rallymaster providing my current location and next bonus. My next would have been W207 at Rick’s house, but I had clearly missed the window, so I now had a 2+ hour leg ahead of me to reach my next destination.

I followed Jersey Mountain Road south to pick up US 50, for a long ways west. I had a great time on this highway, the minimal traffic allowing me to get full value from my aux lights and enjoy the fast sweepers and tight curves through West Virginia, while remaining on sharp lookout for deer.

I turned south at Mountaineer on WV 92 and wound my way down to a remote road south of Phillipi that crosses through a small airfield runway. I pulled over around 22:30 and shut the bike off in gear to keep me steady on the slight uphill while I photographed and documented the Yield sign.

Yield sign for runway crossing

SIMP

While I was there, two separate cars stopped to make sure I was OK and I just pointed to my ears and gave the thumbs up. Nice folks in West Virginia! There was another rally rider on a cruiser nearby also working to get his photo, but I didn’t see who it was in the darkness. I completed my business, banged a uey atop the hill (on the runway?) and rode back out to the “main” road to continue south.

The next bonus in Pickens WV is far out in the woods, literally in the middle of the middle of nowhere. There is only one paved road in and out, but plenty of intertwining unpaved roads of varying quality which the GPS companies still seem to consider valid travel routes. Because Rick has included bonuses in Pickens, it has become somewhat infamous for leading riders down paths waaaay less traveled than they would have liked.

I had left Pickens off my route for this reason on most of my initial routes, but then did a bit of extra online research and scouting to nail down exactly where the pavement was. Because of the higher point value, I realized it was really a can’t-miss bonus, even though I knew I’d be headed there in the middle of the night. I added several shaping points to my GPS route to ensure I stayed on pavement on the way in AND out from Pickens.

I rode down through Belington and Elkins, picking up US 219 for several miles to Mill Creek, where I turned onto Adoph Road. This is a great road, twisty and fun through the West Virginia woods. I had a blast, despite the darkness and watching for deer and critters, of which I spotted many over the several miles in to the Swiss-founded village of Helvetia. Here, I turned on Pickens Rd (CR-45) for another few miles even deeper into the woods.

Pickens WV

Downtown Pickens at midnight

Slowly rounding a final sharp hairpin with lots of gravel, I suddenly came out onto a single village street lined with a few houses, a general store, and even a small post office. The Pickens Museum building (which looks like a large shed) was my goal, and I simply parked in the middle of the deserted intersection with my lights illuminating the building to get my bonus photo at three minutes past midnight. This was my second bonus counting toward the DUCK combo.

Pickens Museum

PICK

A couple other riders came in from a different direction, and I waved as I finished up my documentation. I hadn’t seen any motorcycles on the paved roads and shuddered to think of the interesting adventures the others were having on miles of dirt paths through these woods. Mission accomplished, I turned around and headed right back out to Helvetia the way I’d come, then turned west on paved Alexander Road for several more miles of exciting curves in the dark before getting spit out onto WV route 20.

REST 1 receipt

REST START

The long day and intense nighttime focus was wearing on me, and I could think of nothing but reaching my rest hotel an hour away in Bridgeport. I was now running 1:13 behind schedule and would have to reconsider my route for tomorrow.

In Buckhannon, it was a relief to be on larger well-lit roads once again, as I took US 119 west to I-79. I exited in Bridgeport on US 50 once again and found a gas station a mile down from the hotel to start my REST bonus clock. The rest was a mandatory three hours, but we could earn bonus points for up to six hours, and it was worth taking the full rest based on the rally point values this year.

I grabbed some gas station food to eat in my room and got myself checked in back at the hotel. I ate while reviewing tomorrows route. Having skipped the daylight-only W207 and barely-possible ESSO bonuses from my original plan, I’d actually clocked into my rest bonus about 11 minutes ahead of the original ETA.

At the time, tired from the road, it felt like I was still behind, and I actually was, since the rest of my route had almost counted on taking even more time off the ETA. Despite the great riding this evening after clearing Winchester, I was a bit frustrated with how the earlier part of the day had gone. My original route had proven a bit too aggressive for the roads and traffic levels, especially throwing in the many wildcard stops to eat up any gains.

I fully updated my rider log sheet with today’s bonuses. Then I developed a Plan A, B and C for tomorrow, based on how well things unfolded in the morning before hitting the sack for a solid 4+ hours of shuteye.

map of day 1 route

4 comments on Co-VOID Day 1: Slow Between the Sheetz

  1. I have some very, very fond memories of Buckhannopn WV, though I’ve only there for a day or two. Great story!

  2. Diesel pumps are often only available on the end pumps and big trucks can get rather testy when there are open gas pumps available but a gas vehicle pulls up to the diesel pumps.

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