Southeast MA – Malvern AR
Tue April 26, 2022
“[Texas] is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to [Texas] .”
– with apologies to Douglas Adams
I have always loved maps. And by that, I don’t mean just pieces of paper with maps printed on them. I’m referring to the concept of maps, whether paper or digital – all the colorful regions, waterways, place names, symbols, lines, etc – as well as what a map represents. To me I think that has always been about exploration. Seeing a place represented on a map, and then going to see for myself what is there.
There is an old videogame I played, the original Warcraft, that used a concept called “fog of war” in which you are only able to see what is happening on the screen within areas that your characters have already passed through. Everything else was behind the black “fog”, which hid treasures, dangers, and adventures. I enjoy this analogy of dispelling the mist of the unknown from my own personal world map of where I’ve been. Little by little, I bumble about exploring, and the blank regions of my mental map of the world are revealed, and part of the puzzle is solved.
I used to pore over the big National Geographic wall maps of the US and the World on my bedroom wall, looking at dots with exotic place-names on the map like Bangkok, Thailand and Kermit, Texas. More recently, I’ve been documented progress to uncover my personal motorcycling map using the convenient automatically-created GPS tracks from my Garmin devices. I upload these tracks to my Basecamp database after almost every ride, to save my breadcrumbs and form part of a larger picture of where I’ve been so far.
Although I lived in Texas for some eight years, and even rode on two wheels for a small portion of that, I was a casual rider at the time, commuting a bit by bike and going for the occasional weekend ride to the state park an hour up the highway. I didn’t understand about windshields and earplugs back then, so highway riding felt like taking a beating, which I opted to avoid more often than not. So even after finally finding my way across the country a few times in recent years, I have this big blank area, devoid of tracks, over the state of Texas on my map. And I wanted (needed) to fill it in!
In recent years, I’d watched from afar all the fun that people were having in rallymaster Paul Tong’s Heart of Texas (HoT) rallies. As you might guess, the event is based in, and run mostly within the borders of, the Lone Star State. There is usually an interesting TX-based theme for the bonus locations and some devious twists like making riders cart around a bottle of wine to use as a rally flag!
With other rallies and trips taking up my finite vacation time, I hadn’t been able to set aside enough for the long haul down to a Tong rally in Texas. But in 2022, with all the eastern rallies being retired or cancelled, I’d been thrilled to sign up for this event at last, when my vacation schedule began taking shape back in January.
Paul was also going to be running this year’s inaugural multi-day LDX Rally in June, so I was also looking forward to getting a feel for how he runs things. My newly acquired telecommuting privileges were also a key factor in being able to sign up for multiple events like this in far-off locations this year. It was finally possible to spend some quality time in the Lone Star State and continue filling in blanks on my map!
The HoT would be a 36 hour affair for 2022 (with an 8 hour option as well) compared with the four-day event held last year. Riders would be able to start their rally from anywhere, with a group finish at the Texican host hotel in Irving TX, nestled smack dab in the middle of the busy Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
I’ve ridden similar rallies before and generally the rally books would be sent out just a few days prior to the event, or maybe even a full week. We lucky cowboys and cowgirls received our professionally color-printed and bound work-of-art rally book a full THREE WEEKS before the event! Plenty of time to plan. And worry. And re-plan!
This years theme is “Days of Thunder”, referencing the 1990 movie starring Tom Cruise as a NASCAR race car driver. We’d be visiting racetracks of all shapes and sizes throughout Texas as our bonus locations during this rally. There was a twist, however. In order to keep our “race cars” fueled up to gather lovely POINTS, we had to also route ourselves to PIT stop bonuses, which were old gas stations from the 50s and 60s in various states of glory or disrepair. We would gain fuel points from the PIT stops, and could only claim as many points from a racetrack bonus as we had fuel points in the bank. So one must plan their route such that you started with a PIT bonus and then kept hitting more of them, alternating with racetracks, in an order that allowed you to claim the full amount of points from each racetrack bonus. Interesting!
Rallymaster Tong has embraced the use of technology to keep his rallies running as efficiently as possible for the riders and his small but able volunteer staff. Most notable is the custom rally mobile phone app that he developed himself in his spare time – it’s use is required for riders to submit their bonus photos to the scoring staff in real time during the course of the rally. It also provides a way to time and submit the meal and rest stops that he usually includes. We were all encouraged to download and play with the app ahead of time with some test data.
In addition, most of our registration forms and documentation requirements were all gathered via a single slick online form that we had to fill out, filling in the blanks and uploading photos of our registration, license, etc. All in the name of saving time, and especially useful in a start-anywhere scenario like this.
As I absorbed the flavor of the rally and how the points system worked, I adapted my planning tools and process for the specifics of this event. In comparing routes, it was clear that the rallymaster had put in a lot of work and planning to even out the map. There was no immediately obvious route with a big lead in point total, everything looked pretty close. I considered a panhandle start, but eventually opted for a variation of my gut-feeling original route starting in central Texas outside Austin. It would be almost exactly a 2000 mile ride to the start.
I had originally requested three days of vacation for this trip, which I’d then reduced to just two after my successful telecommuting trip to Jacksonville in March. Now I had a start location and played out a few travel scenarios before deciding to use one vaca day on Tuesday for my initial travel day to make the miles out of the northeast corridor. I’d work Wed-Thurs from the road and easily be at my starting hotel by Thursday night to be in position for the 05:30 Friday morning start of the rally.
Seeing that I was just shy of 1500 miles riding to the Little Rock area, I booked a hotel just a bit further down the highway in Malvern, deciding to treat the ride like a Bun Burner Gold (1500 miles in 24 hours) certification ride. It would give me something to focus on and keep me motivated for the tedious interstate journey. I’d have a manageable second day working/traveling down to my start hotel, where I’d get in a full day’s work on Thursday while resting up for the rally.
So I was in bed around 20:00 Monday night for a four hour rest, up a little after midnight, and starting the clock with a receipt at a nearby gas station at 01:06 EDT. Temperatures were in the mid-high 40s, not too bad. I-95 was wide open and inviting at this hour as I zipped south out of New England to I-287 to I-78, with my first fuel stop in Shartlesville PA.
The weather was good, warming nicely as I rode, and the sun made it’s appearance. I continued to I-81 for the long stretch down to Knoxville, with another fuel stop just past Roanoke and then another in Baxter TN. On I-40 approaching Nashville, I was a bit gun shy about possible weekday city traffic, and opted to take the long I-840 loop around the entire city. It was nice to avoid busier traffic, and I figured that the extra miles for this loop would put me just over the 1500 miles I might need to certify the ride.
There wasn’t really much traffic through Memphis, which surprised me until I realized that the I-40 bridge had re-opened after being closed down for several months. I enjoyed the nice views of sunset reflecting off the large flooded fields through eastern Arkansas and stopped for fuel one last time to ensure I’d make it all the way in to Malvern. I picked up Subway to eat later on at the hotel, in case the restaurants were closed by the time I rolled in.
The final couple hours passed uneventfully as I picked up I-30 near Little Rock for the leg down towards Texas. I rolled off the highway a short while later into Malvern and secured my final receipt, about 21.5 hours after leaving this morning. I was pleased to have knocked out most of the miles in one shot and looked forward to catching up on rest over the next couple days before the rally.