Awaking in that luxurious Marriott bed after several hours sleep and NOT having to immediately jump up and pack…priceless! I got myself together and worked a little bit on my planned route home for tomorrow. A bit past 17:00 I headed to the south tower to join a few friends for a sip of bourbon in James’ room.
A social/cocktail hour was supposed to begin at 17:30, so we all headed down to the lobby around that time, to hang out and catch up a bit with our fellow riders. Closer to six, we joined the chow line and filed into the banquet room for a welcome hot meal of all the standard proteins, fixins, and some nice cheesecake for dessert. There were lot of weary but excited faces in the room, safe at the finish, and exchanging tales from the road as we ate like we hadn’t in almost two weeks.
After an hour or so, while many of us were still finishing up dessert, Mr. Mike Kneebone kicked off the presentations portion of the banquet. He made it clear that video recordings of the presentations would be unappreciated and against the spirit of the event, it being first and foremost for the riders, high off the completion of their quest, to celebrate each other’s achievements in the moment, amongst ourselves and with family/friends. The larger world could be filled in after the fact.
Lisa Landry took over and thanked the hotel and especially all the volunteer rally staff, without whom this event could never go off with the same high standard of quality and professionalism. The riders agreed with hearty applause. Jeff Earls got a standing ovation for once again putting together a brilliant and fun puzzle for all of us to work on and ride through, over the past 11 days.
She proceeded to read off the names of all the 2021 IBR finishers, working backwards from 61st place. Each rider and 2-up team was presented with their finisher plaque, accompanied by applause from their peers and occasional laughter if Lisa related some unique factoid or faux pas the rider had made during their journey.
As she broke into the top 20, reading off the points scores, I was surprised that there still seemed a ways to go to my own final tally. She stopped after calling up my buddy James, in 11th place, who had put in a focused and heroic ride this year. After beating myself up mentally over the last few days, I could barely register that I’d managed to hold on to a top ten placing. There had been no befuddling phone call from Lisa this afternoon, inviting me for a chat. I was also thrilled for my friends, noticing that Ken and Steve Giffin’s names also had not yet been called.
Jeff Earls took over the mic at that point, and called all the podium finishers to the front of the room, in no particular order. Wow, what an honor to be standing up there, once again in front of THAT room of riders! I felt like the grin would split my face, as I shook hands with the other podium riders. We waited for the applause to die down and Jeff began his intros from position 10 on down.
I cheered loudly for my buddy Ken “the Animal” Aman in 10th, who as usual rode a silly number of miles and hobbled away with a ton of points to prove it. Beast. Based on the scores, I knew I wasn’t far down the list, but next up was IBR big dog Bob Lilley finishing with a big third leg, chomping at my tail by less than 1000 points. I then walked over to receive my 8th place trophy with great relief and satisfaction.
At the end of these things, one of the most interesting things in the world for me is finding out what the other riders did, so I tried to focus and listen with close attention as Jeff read off the achievements of the final seven riders.
Smart and steady, Eric Bray had notched himself another excellent finish, and Wendy had pulled out a huge final leg to claw herself back up into 6th after a nasty string of bad luck in the earlier legs. I think Jim Owen got pretty much every bonus and combo east of the Mississippi. Then, just wow, three rookies in the top 4!
I was somewhat gratified to see my predictions about Messrs. Giffin and Ernst come to fruition, as they both put in monster efforts over the entire rally, making few if any mistakes. Mike Heitkamp did his thing quietly, as he seems to do, riding hard on a solid route, securing yet another top 3 placing. He’d made a huge initial push to Glacier Park at the start of Leg 3, after first securing the Atlanta bonuses and SATURN – similar to how my leg began, but probably a few hours before me!
And then there was Mike Brooke. Hell and tarnation – that’s what he must have gone through on that amazing custom Hayabusa to pull ahead of the rest of the field by a full 14,000 points. Apparently his method and plan had held up for the remaining leg. It wasn’t unexpected that he would win at this point, but …um what? who? how? Ugh. Honestly, until I listened to his excellent interview with Long Riders Radio a couple weeks later, I was ready to chalk it up to some sort of advanced routing software he was privy to, or perhaps just good ole fashioned black magic. Nope, it was exceptional preparation, attention to detail, and flawless execution, along with a generous dollop of good luck that any podium finisher needs in an IBR (i.e. no mechanical catastrophes, medical issues, or collisions with fluffy creatures). One hell of a ride, indeed.
Afterwards, I stayed around to chat with other riders for as long as there were folks to chat with, thirsty to hear their plans and experiences over the past several days, and how things turned out for them. This is my very favorite part of the event, no matter how tired, beat-down, and incoherent I’m feeling at the time. What did they plan? What decisions did they make? What happened along the way? Once everyone had drifted away and I found myself talking TO myself, I headed back up to my room to get some more shut-eye.
Final Standings (click rider numbers for individual scorecards)
I got up fairly early to finalize my route, feeling much more coherent after a full night’s rest. After booking my hotel for the night in Salina, Kansas, I headed down to join the fellas for breakfast. We had slightly different ride schedules for the journey home, though we were all taking I-70 to get there. As I had a bit further to go than my NY/CT buds, I wanted to get more miles behind me today and take advantage of the night/early morning hours to avoid traffic through the cities. We’d ride together for most of today, though, so after a quick brekkie, we headed out to the garage to complete our oil changes before the ride home.
I’d run the same oil all the way from home. That’s a lot more miles than I usually allow between changes, but I splurge on Mobil-1 synthetic, so I wasn’t too worried. Marc had a drain pan and funnel for all of us to share, and I got to work immediately after parking next to his truck, while the other guys prepped for their turns. It went quickly – no filter change this time around – and I dumped in the new Rotella I’d purchased at the rally start. We agreed on a KSU time and I went back inside to clean up and get everything packed while the others finished their maintenance tasks.
Marc had agreed to haul a bag of my stuff – mostly rally swag that I didn’t quite have room for on the bike, so I stored that in his truck, figuring I’d grab it back in a week or two. At 08:30, Ken, Gerry and I mounted up and rolled out of the garage onto the streets of Provo for the last time this trip. After topping off the tanks and tires, we headed due south out of town on US 189 to pick up the I-15 for a few miles, then diverted southeast on US 6 for a lovely ride through the canyon along the Spanish Fork River. We passed James and his wife along this stretch, towing his bike on the trailer and waved him to the side to check his tie-downs, as his Trophy was shake-rattle-and-rollin’ quite a bit back there.
The three of us chatted about the rally and about future plans as we rode down to pick up I-70 into Colorado. I rode up ahead and kept an intent-but-not-crazy pace, since I had a couple hours further to ride today than my companions. We fueled up in Parachute and enjoyed the scenic riding through the Rocky Mountain State, particularly the stunning stretch through Glenwood Canyon.
We’d been keeping an eye on some severe weather up ahead, but only got a few sprinkles here and there as we passed through the Rockies. Some of our compadres following at some distance behind us were not so lucky on this day. Apparently, by the time James came hauling through in his truck, there was a bad storm above the canyon and the interstate was awash in water and mud. He must have barely made it through before a huge mudslide caused a complete closure of the interstate. We heard from Steve Snell later on that he’d been caught behind that closure and had had to detour miles and hours to the north to get around.
As we descended from the mountains through Denver, we had our eye on a nasty looking group of storm cells out ahead of us. Somehow, we managed to thread the needle with nothing more than light showers. Aside from a fuel stop in Flagler KS, I don’t remember much else of note happening, as the landscape around us gradually flattened out into the wide open plains of Kansas. The other guys took their exit in Hays so we said our goodbyes on the go, and I pushed on for another 90 miles or so, to my waiting hotel in Salina.
I pulled off the exit and fueled up, then circled through a Mickey D’s drive-thru around 22:45, only to be waved off by the employees telling me that they were closed for the night. Great! I grabbed yet another pre-made sandwich from the nearby Pilot station, then headed to the Comfort Inn across the street.
Usually, I go inside to check in before removing any luggage from my bike, but this time, who knows why, I thought I’d be clever and save some time, grabbing my food and tank bag and heading inside. Well, when the hotel clerk couldn’t find my reservation, we quickly determined that it was because I’d actually booked the QUALITY INN on the opposite side of town. I’d apparently altered the hotel choice after already saving the route to my GPS! Whoops – definitely another 8th place move! 😅 I packed up, backtracked a few exits to the CORRECT hotel, and got checked in, for realz.
Happy Independence Day!
I hit the road around 05:30, for an early start on a long day when I’d be losing another hour to time zones. I hit Kansas City and there was no traffic this early on a Sunday, but the plethora of interchanges threw me for a bit of a loop after riding all day yesterday with no choices to make! I ended up doing alright, just missing one small shortcut loop on I-670, staying on I-70 to pass closer to downtown.
Fueled up in Kingdom City. Traffic was a bit heavier by the time I reached the St. Louis area, but always moving and never a real problem. One of these days, I really would like to stop in for some barbeque ribs in one of these gateway cities! I was also passing through Casey IL too late for a Moonburger (grill closes at 12:30 sharp), so kept plugging away.
I-70 was definitely proving to be the correct decision for the journey home, as there were hardly any construction zones of note and no Chicago traffic to schedule around. I skirted the south side of Indianapolis on I-74, as I-70 was closed down for some major construction. The signing was a bit confusing on this detour, but it all worked out.
My last fuel stop in New Lisbon IN carried me through Ohio to what I thought was my hotel in Youngstown. Yes that’s right, for the second day in a row I pulled up to the wrong Quality Inn, having passed the correct one five miles back. This time I was SO thankful to find this out….let’s just say this first hotel I stopped at in Liberty made me twitchy just looking at it. I fueled up and searched unsuccessfully for an open restaurant (holiday, duh!), settling once more for a pre-made sandwich from the convenience store.
I rode back to the CORRECT hotel once again and checked in just past 20:00, intent on getting another early start after some shuteye. After running through some of my extra rally food supplies over the past two days, I’d decided to retrieve my swag in Marc’s truck and save myself a future six hour round trip. I’d purposely booked a hotel near where the other guys would be staying tonight, though they were some 4-5 hours behind me at this point. Marc and I settled on where he’d leave the stuff on his trailer so I could grab it before hitting the highway again in the morning.
Leaving the hotel around 01:30, I headed over to the Fairfield Inn, on the fancier side of the the street, and grabbed my stuff from Marc’s saddle bag. Blasted across Pennsylvania on I-80 with one fuel stop. Up to I-84 for final entry into the homeland.
With an ETA for around midday, I finally had some time for a real hot breakfast at my old standby wayside, the Red Line Diner in Fishkill NY. Oh my, it was so nice to get off the bike and take a seat in relative comfort, to enjoy an unhurried meal again!
It was still early enough crossing Connecticut that not even Waterbury had any traffic backup (though it was still busy – will someone just build a damn bypass around this city!?). I smelled the barn and laid tracks through the nutmeg state and along the Mass Pike to get myself OFF this damn bike! There was a nice little welcoming committee awaiting my arrival, as my ever-supportive sister, who follows my spot intently during the rally, came over to join Char and Tango to help celebrate a safe return.
After managing to safely complete a once-in-a-lifetime ride (twice), I’d be remiss not to acknowledge those who make this nuttiness (and this longwinded tale) possible. First and foremost thanks to my wife, Charlotte, who stoically dealt with an ongoing series of unfortunate family, house, and car-related situations while I was away. She is truly the bedrock in my life. Our pup Tango had had a more severe seizure just prior to the rally start, but had pulled through and was there to greet me upon my return from one final long trip. Sadly, we would lose him two months later in September, and I was supremely grateful to be home for that.
There are also not enough words to properly thank Lisa Landry, Jeff Earls, and Mike Kneebone for all they do for LD riding, including dedicating a ridiculous portion of their lives to being highly specialized travel agents for a hundred motorcycle riders every two years. 🙂 But thank you will have to do. To all the volunteers and staff who are the backbone of this amazing event, thanks and we appreciate you so very much.
Thanks to all my fellow riders, mentors, and friends who continue to inspire me to keep testing myself and exploring the world on two wheels. I am still learning so much and this year’s Big Dance taught me a lot. I have a long list of lessons learned and improvements to make, all of which will keep me busy and wondering what-if over the coming winter months. If I had to identify one crucial point of my rally where I’d like a do-over, it would have to be that hour on Day 8, spent in an ice-cold Waffle House on a hot Arkansas night. Where I should have decided NOT to make that left turn at Albuquerque. Sorry Bugs.
Total Days: 18
Trip Miles: 17,324
Rally Miles: 12,405
Bonuses Visited: 68
Rally Fuel Stops: ~37
Tip-overs: 0 (100% improvement!)
Pieces of Pie: 0 (100% failure! But I’ve been making up for it…)
**** Click here to view a larger gallery of photos from the entire trip, including many not in the posts.****