The Tucson desert air was like a steam-oven when I emerged from the hotel, despite being the middle of the night. It was worse than it had been this afternoon! Man, if it’s this hot now… geez. I was still groggy from the short sleep, so it took me a bit longer than usual to get my act together to pack the bike and then get fuel at the station next door. I
I calculated later that my total stop time for the rest in Tucson was around 3.5 hours, including fueling up. A full 1.5 hours more than my Waffle House plan. I didn’t waste any of that time and don’t regret getting the rest. My adjusted schedule should still get me to the MUIR bonus before closing at 5 pm today, which was my primary concern. I just hadn’t thoroughly considered yet what this delay did for my timing on the final day, though I knew my original plan was definitely at risk. Unfortunately, I’d continue to leak more time from my ETAs with additional delays across the desert.
I started up I-10 around 23:40 (still on the 28th), headed north out of the city. Riding in overwhelming heat like this wasn’t ideal for achieving a rested and wakeful state of mind at any time of day, let alone with the night only half over and the dark Sonoran desert all around. The whole world is what your headlights can reach, so there is no visual stimulation to keep your brain occupied. There were several hours to go until daylight, and I hoped I’d be able to make it through with minimal nap time.
Last night, I tacked on two mid-size bonuses that were right along my route. They added only about 15 minutes to the day’s ETA, which seemed worth the points. The first was in Phoenix, which took about 1.5 hours travel time. I exited on University Ave, with a straight shot into the campus of Arizona State University. Down an unassuming side street next to a parking garage and I arrived at a institutional-looking building for AZ , my final rally-wide bonus bringing my total to 25.
The origins of the cure for Ebola can be traced back to Charles Arntzen’s groundbreaking research at ASU’s Biodesign Institute.
There was a mess of a construction zone along this part of University Ave, but I just followed the signage and Google to get myself north through the campus, making an unexpectedly pleasant little night crossing over the Salt River, quite pretty under the city lights. Back on I-10, I settled in for a long haul, grateful for the nighttime desert crossing, but feeling the fatigue still tugging for control of my brain. To add to the mix, I was keeping an eye on a nasty looking storm cell hovering near my route just ahead.
My first stop was necessary about an hour and a half out of Phoenix, just pulling off an exit for a 15 minute nap on the bike. A bit later, I pulled off in Quartzite for a quick nature stop and snack. The storm had apparently wandered off to the north, because I never saw more than a bit of lightning in the distance by the time I hit the area. After crossing the line into California, another 15 minute nap at a rest area past Blythe managed to get me the rest of the way through until dawn.
I chatted with Ken off and on quite a bit through here, though neither of us was very talkative at this hour. Every little distraction helps on these long rally nights. I felt much better after my next fuel stop in Coachella. There was some light in the sky now as I rode through the valley area of Palm Desert and Palm Springs, with a scenic mountain backdrops and an absolute army of wind turbines(!) now visible to focus my visual interest.
Traffic picked up a bit as the early morning rush hour began, but was flowing just fine as I cruised into the San Bernardino valley. This was my first time motorcycling through southern California, though I’d been to the LA area long ago. Being someplace new always perks me up, and I didn’t end up hitting any of the really horrendous traffic I’ve heard about, probably due to my next side-trip that cut the corner raway from the denser LA areas.
I exited onto Sierra Ave in Fontana and rode due north for many blocks in light stoplight traffic. I turned through a series of local streets to reach the west end of Seville Park, pulling into a small parking lot to capture the wascally WABBIT bonus, the second along-the-way bonus I’d added last night.
On this site in 1928, the Federal Government established the first and only experimental station in the US devoted solely to research on the breeding and raising of rabbits. No, we don’t get it either. Rabbits seem to have a good handle on that without our help.
Author note: In writing up this report, I felt obligated to find out a bit more about this strange “first”. There isn’t much to be found about the experiment with a quick search, but this site has a decent summary. Our farmer friends in Vermont raise rabbits for meat, so they might get a kick out of this little historical tidbit. Too bad the idea didn’t catch on, rabbit is delicious, plus the little critters tease my dog and munch my wife’s hastas! 🐇
It was around 06:30 local time, so I’d lost an additional 40 minutes off my ETA during that sleepy trip across the desert. I was feeling pretty sure that any chance I’d had of completing the full NW loop had been eked away by the sandman, and that I’d be pegging the throttle directly for Glacier National Park to complete PARKS right after my rest break.
I felt disappointment, but also a bit of inevitability. After such an inefficient start to Leg 3 back in Huntsville, I didn’t have much reason to hope for any kind of decent showing anyway. I was 100% certain that I’d lost my chances for the top ten, and was hoping to hold on to maybe a top 15 finish. All I was focused on now was getting to the MUIR bonus by closing time tonight, and I would try to figure things out from there.
I found my way north to CA 210, as rush hour traffic continued to build up. There was an HOV lane that I began to experiment with, but even that eventually got bogged down. OK, this is California, what am I doing sitting in traffic!? I pointed the nose of my motorcycle between HOV and regular lanes and just like I remembered would happen, once the drivers saw me they pulled aside to leave a gap. I friggin’ love proper cooperative lane splitting! I cruised between the lanes as needed, which turned out to be many miles. One time I’d pulled back into the flow, and I saw a local rider go zipping right by in the space I’d left. I fell in behind, letting him to dictate the pace for a while. Whee!
There was no room in my schedule for the Los Angeles bonuses, nor the two in the hills north of here, so I turned the corner north onto the I-5 , leaving the traffic of the LA area in my rearview. I climbed out of the valley to cool and refreshing temperatures in the 60s at altitude through the nearby mountains. The scenery was great and I began to enjoy the riding and my surroundings once again, feeling like I’d emerged from a hot stifling cocoon. This was one of the intangible benefits of riding this rally…zipping along a road on the opposite side of the country from home, under blue skies with light traffic and gorgeous mountains around you!
The heat wasn’t done with me yet, however. What goes up must come down, and so I descended from those mountains to ride north at full gallop on CA 99 through the hot Central Valley region for miles and miles, passing through Bakersfield and then taking in the western rural scenery, which consisted mostly of huge agricultural swaths of fields and orchards, interrupted by a small town here or there, then back to fields again.
As the morning waned and the sun reached higher, the day was really heating up. I kept my vents zipped and my sleeves wet and stayed pretty comfortable for a while. I stopped in the small wayside community of Traver to get fuel, water, and remembered about my cooling vest, which I promptly soaked in the sink and put on under my jacket. I was feeling pretty froggy about now, and enjoying the ride in new-to-me territory. I passed through Fresno (“..no one goes to Fresno anymore!”), then back to more rural farming landscape for many more miles.
In Merced, I finally turned towards the mountains that walled the valley to the east. The bonus at Yosemite was at the Big Oak Flat gate. I’d dropped a couple shaping points on my GPS route to ensure Garmin didn’t try to take me through another entrance, where I was likely to get turned away without a reservation. Despite my efforts, Garmin still found a more adventurous route for me to take, rolling due north out of Merced, through the tiny village of Snelling on CA 59. Unlike other fun-with-Garmin detours, I’m not going to complain at all about this one!
From 59, I followed isolated Merced Falls Road, which starts out with some unique and beautiful scenery – wide open gentle hills covered with yellow-hued grasses dotted with green grove of trees as perfect accents. This road had plenty of really good curves and sweepers to keep your focus. Smaller farms and ranches began to dominate the nearby landscape, as I continued gaining altitude slowly but surely out of the flat valley bottom on this narrow road. I really wished I had taken some photos along this stretch, I just remember feeling the beauty around me so vividly.
I turned onto CA 132 near Lake McClure and ascended as I skirted up north of the lake, with nice views down.
I passed through Coulterville, after which the road got significantly more curvy and fun, as I climbed on Greeley Hill Road up into Stanislaus National Forest. Then it was Smith Station Road to get up onto the ridge and CA route 120, which is the primary approach to the park, still miles away to the east. Now I could make a slightly faster pace. There were plenty of slowpokes, plenty of blind curves, and what seems like far too few marked passing lanes, but I passed when I could and made good time. The scenery off 120 is stunning, looking out over the forested valleys and nearby rock-crusted ridges.
I0 pulled into the small lot just before the west entrance where the park welcome sign stands. The original TEDDY bonus was at the actual historic location inside the park, but due to the Covid restrictions and current reservation system, the rally staff had moved it out here for equal access.
On this site on May 178, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir sat beside a campfire and talked of forest and wilderness preservation.
With the first third of the PARKS combo in the bag, and invigorated from the great riding up into the mountains, I felt renewed purpose. I headed back out the sweeping curves of 120, this time continuing out and down into the valley via Moccasin. There was an especially nice and crazy section of twisties on the final approach down to that little village that had me whooping.
After sitting immobile on mostly interstates for days on end, your leg muscles aren’t ready for the moving around in the saddle that you need to do while riding the curves. By the time I got to the bottom, my knees were feeling it from all the fun riding over the last couple hours.
120 meets SR 108 at Yosemite Junction, where I zigged left onto Obyrnes Ferry Road, more excellent two-lane fast riding through ranchland and mining country. I cruised along the lovely Tulloch reservoir, passing through a town with the fun-to-say name of Copperopolis. I turned west on CA 4, quick riding through more perfect scenery towards Stockton, where I decided I had enough time for the planned bonus in Lodi. I turned onto route 99 once again and headed north… oh great, now I’ll have Creedence stuck in my head all day!
Wending through the tightly packed downtown district, I came to a Road Closed sign along Sacramento Street, and the GPS was trying to take me straight through, with the bonus only a quarter mile away. The road looked like it had been closed for quite a while, and looked a bit sketchy. I was on the verge of parking the bike and going to seek the bonus on foot, when I realized how silly that was when I could simply go around the next block and see if I could get closer! Sometimes these simple conclusions are not so simple out on the Iron Butt Rally!
I did, in fact, ride around the block, through a long narrow alleyway, and arrived directly at the ROOTBEER bonus location, a plaque embedded on the sidewalk commemorating the site where the first A&W Root Beer was served. I thought fondly back to the root beer toast with my fellow riders at dinner in Provo, about 10 years ago it seemed, rather than 10 days.
On this site in June 1919, Roy Allen served the first frosty mug of A&W Root Beer.
There is now a pet grooming shop at this location, and the owner apparently got a huge kick out of seeing all the riders stopping to take a photo of her sidewalk. She wrote a very nice post on the Iron Butt Facebook group about it, and apparently snagged the attention of a few road-weary riders to offer them cold water and a restroom. There are good souls who help long-distance hikers on long journeys, given the moniker “trail angels”. This seems to also be the case on the roadways of this country, and Colleen sure seems to fit the bill.
After she posted, I seemed to recall giving a wave to someone there, but was a bit preoccupied, with earplugs in, snapping my bonus photo, rummaging through snacks, and then taking a moment standing by my bike to make my CALL3 call-in bonus. She did snap a couple photos of my better side, however.
Call on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, between 5:00 AM to 5:00 PM MOUNTAIN DAYLIGHT
As luck would have it, the voicemail system mangled my message into something passive-aggressive enough to once again make the scribe report on the following day:
Valley Staff. This is Steve Poulinwriter and a 41.Currently at Lodi,California stuck in Lodi again.AndI’m at the repair bonus was my last point on as before that it was petty,am heading to hear.And while that rode up and down, the Yosemite kick my ****. Cuz my niece haven’t been moving herDave and leading into the curved. Man, it’s fun, but he’s not ready for it.Butwhy did he last couple of days? In the SouthE Nat the southern states, he and like Southern Desert, Tucson, and Air Arthur, Arizona this morning that’s horrible. You’re not even before fund.I think, cool.Going through many. New Mexico yesterday, that with brain.That was nice change.Anyhow, I’m babbling.That’s it. Fear.
Packing up, I set off through historic downtown Lodi, quite a lovely place, with some cobble-brick streets lined with with nice shade trees and plenty of pedestrians at the shops and restaurants. Definitely, a place I wouldn’t mind stopping in for the night for some food, brew, and getting-to-know-you. I kept singing the tune “Lodi” to myself, seeking more fitting lyrics for my situation. My working draft is included for your amusement at the end of this chapter.
I left town on CA 12 westbound, another fast two-lane thoroughfare, but this one had plenty of vehicles going both directions. In 10-15 miles, I hit the Sacramento River and turned south on 160 just before the crossing. The winds was really blowing along this exposed stretch through the river lands, until after crossing the San Joaquin River into Antioch, where I picked up CA 4 once more, now a larger divided four-lane highway. Another 20 miles and I exited into at Martinez.
At the bottom of the ramp, the GPS tried to take me straight ahead towards the onramp to get back on the highway. WTF Garmin?! I knew this bonus was in a historical park, and had to be accessible from local roads, so I turned right and spotted the entrance to the John Muir National Historic Site.
I pulled in right around 16:00, over 1.5 hrs past my original ETA, but with an hour to spare before the park closed. I could see the John Muir house, prominent atop the hill, with a paved path winding up around the hillside. Apparently the bonus waypoint was right at the house, closet to the interstate, hence the GPS kerfuffle coming off the ramp.
A ranger greeted me at the gate and waved away my attempt to pull out my parks pass, saying the site was free access. I told him I just needed a photo of the house and he pointed the way. I hiked the few hundred yards up the little hill, only to discover that a large area in front of the house was currently fenced off and under construction. That included, of course, the set of granite steps leading up to the house that we were specifically supposed to include in the photo!
The construction fence actually stopped right at the top of those stairs, so I hung my flag close by and snapped a few shots to clearly show the problem, then walked down the fence to the edge of the slope to get a best-effort shot with both the house and my flag (hanging on the railing) in the frame, to secure the MUIR bonus and the second third of the PARKS combination.
John Muir is known as the “Father of the National Parks”. This essayist, engineer, and naturalist helped preserve Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park, and many other wilderness areas.
Whew, next sub-mission accomplished! I hoofed it back down to the bike, my mind on the next tasks at hand. I’d achieved the day’s goal, but I was running much later than planned. I pulled out my laptop and sat on a nearby curb in the shade to consider my next options. I reviewed my route to see what effects my new timing would have… it wasn’t looking good. I had used up any cushion I might have had, mostly via the extra rest and general inefficiency back in Tucson and through the desert overnight.
My full 8-hour rest bonus had to begin some time today. Because I needed more time to study my route options anyway, I felt intense pressure to start the rest immediately and put a final game plan together off the clock. Without much further thought, I quickly located the nearest Choice hotel, about 200 yards down the street and booked a room for my REST3 bonus.
Document a stop for four (4) or more hours starting on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. (18 points/minute)
I headed directly across the intersection to a 76 station for a starting rest receipt, and once again had to deal with receipt computer time inaccuracies. The girl in charge behind the counter got a bit snippy when I came back in asking about the time on the receipt and whether it was the same on the register receipts. No matter how polite I was, I could not, for the life of me, get her to understand that I was just asking for a sample receipt to compare the times. Finally, after a few minutes of getting nowhere, I slapped a candy bar down and bought it, and the girl next to her actually asked me if I wanted a receipt. I’m like, that’s the ONLY reason I just bought this, fool! And THAT receipt was good, at last.
After 10 minutes of useless dickering, I had an accurate receipt in hand and assurance from staff that the store would be open later at the end of my rest. I was hangry, so I punched up the nearest Subway on Google and headed off to find it. It was a few miles away, taking a couple local roads, and the round trip felt much longer than was prudent. According to my records, I was back and checking into my hotel about 23 minutes after clocking into my rest. Not a great use of my rest time.
The hotel rooms had doors to the outside, so I was able to park right in front of my room to get my stuff in quickly. After a great shower, I got all my other standard room chores done (despite a sink that wouldn’t drain), and then got down to the nitty gritty – exactly how fucked was I?
Quite a bit, as it turned out. The mental errors just kept piling up on top of each other on this leg. One of the first things I noticed were the two daylight-only bonuses worth a combined 3000 points only 25 miles away in Berkeley, and I could have easily gone to pick those up before starting my rest – it would be too dark after my rest. But the news got worse.
I figured that continuing my original route north through Oregon and Washington (again!) and over to Glacier was just flat out no longer possible, with an initial ETA over an hour into penalty time. My heart sank – I had so been looking forward to visiting that lighthouse bonus up in Crescent City, and then sweeping up the northwest again for HUGE points. If I HAD been thinking a bit clearer, I could have easily curtailed my rest by a couple hours and stuck with my route, which was completely do-able. It would have even been worth a bunch of penalty points for arriving late. Honestly…it simply didn’t occur to me at the time, in the state of mind I was in.
Next I looked at Plan B – fastest route directly to Glacier and then to Provo. It was 2100 miles in the 31 hours left in the rally after my rest, so it really wasn’t much shorter than the original route. It was technically feasible to pull that off, especially out west, though it did not account for any stop time, and the resulting points would be disappointing for that amount of effort. My heart sank further still. I’d known right from the start, after the way this leg began that I’d be struggling to make something decent out of it, and now it seemed I’d be finishing things off with a very underwhelming final day points-wise. But what if…
I suddenly realized that giving up the PARKS combo, to sweep up more of the closer big point bonuses, would actually net me more points in a lot less time. Once I saw that, I was kicking myself that I hadn’t made this decision earlier in the leg, so I could have hoovered up more of the points in the immediate area that were either time or daylight dependent. Just another mistake to add to the smoldering pile.
My new route (dubbed ‘LAST DITCH EFFORT’ in Basecamp, had me getting in to the finish some two hours early. My brain was starting shutdown mode at this point, and I couldn’t readily find a way to utilize that extra time for more points. So I decided to extend my REST3 bonus with two additional hours of sleep (for no points), and start the final day well-rested. Turns out that two hours would have come in handy after all… but for the moment, in ignorant bliss and with alarm set, I dropped off into luxurious slumber.
My route got bad,
My route got worse,
Looks like my plans fell through…
Oh lord, stuck near Lodi again.