Heart of Texas 2022 Part 3: Pole Position

Bastrop TX – Cotulla TX
Fri April 29, 2022
(~715 miles)

Up at 04:15, and I brewed some room coffee while checking weather, doing some stretches, and prepping to get on the road. I swigged a chilled Ensure protein shake for an early breakfast substitute. We could obtain our START bonus receipt at any point after 05:30, so I needed to be in position at my chosen gas station ATM by then. Here is the bonus scatter for the rally, which pretty much covers the entire state:

map of all bonus locations

The scatter

Out at the bike, I ran into Kerri at last, as we packed up and made what passes for companionable small talk when you’re still half-asleep but hyper focused on your tasks. After bidding her good luck and safe riding, I mounted up and headed for my start location. The morning was still dark and temperature comfortable as I covered the quick mile or so to the gas station. My tanks were full, so I just killed the remaining minutes by mentally prepping the steps to submit my start receipt.

rally app screenshot

The rally app

At the end of this venture, I’ll be singing the praises of the rally phone app, which was mandatory to use during this event. It has a lot of great things going for it, and ended up making things very quick overall. However, on my poor old Samsung S7 smartphone, there were certain bugs that were bound to prove inconvenient and frustrating while operating on the rally clock, notably the lookup listing of all the bonuses, and the non-scalable font size of all the app buttons.

The workaround for the buttons was to decrease my global phone settings for overall font size and screen zoom. That meant I was unable to see most other things on my phone very well, at least until I learned the rally app well enough to know which buttons do what, and could increase the settings again.

The lookup list was trickier. You could click a button for a list of all bonuses, including a photo of each one, then just choose it to populate the name (much easier than typing it). However, on my phone, after clicking to the list, I was unable to scroll through the bonuses. I first had to click any random bonus, then back out of it, and THEN I was able to scroll. But ONLY if I didn’t flick it down too fast, in which case it would get “stuck”.

On top of this, I had decided that I would resize every photo before sending it, so I would be able to keep full resolution copies for myself, while at the same not bogging down my data connection with image files that were too large to transmit. That meant a few more clicks per every bonus. It was an exercise in zen and self-control that I gradually worked into a routine over the course of the rally, choosing my next bonus while on the move so that it would be ready to select at each stop. Hey, in rally riding, you have to just adapt to the conditions you are faced with.

START bonus receipt

START bonus

I queued up the bonus called START and, right at 05:30, used the ATM to do a balance check, thus securing my Dated Business Receipt (DBR) to start my rally. Jotted the necessary info on the receipt (rider number, bonus name, and ODO mileage), snapped the photo of the receipt with my flag, and got everything stored in short order. Off we go!

You had to start this rally with a pitstop bonus in order to start claiming any points from the racetracks. The first location bonus for us Bastrop starters would be PITB3, a former Humble Oil gas station in the downtown historic section.  I came upon 2-3 other riders already at the bonus when I pulled up and began to fumble with my own flag and phone. The others had probably used the smaller local gas station a block away – I hadn’t been convinced it would be open this early.

PITB3 bonus

PITB3

STICK bonus

STICK

The next bonus wouldn’t require any riding. In order to claim STICK, we simply needed to submit a photo of one of three particular stickers affixed to our bike. We had to purchase these stickers from the Fred Lobster racing gift shop prior to the rally, and it would need to be visible on the bike at the finish. I liked the star-spangled lobster, as it spoke to my New England home turf. By rule, this couldn’t be our first or second bonus, so I made it sequence #3 so I wouldn’t forget about it later.

Because I took time for the sticker bonus while I still had the rally-start adrenaline flowing, I was feeling antsy and inefficient right out of the gate. I had confidence I’d get in the groove after a few stops, as I woke up more and the jitters died off. Hopping back on TX 71, I sped southeast into the dark morning, keeping my jacket vents zipped up against the wind chill. It felt great to be rallying again, and a whole new set of roads was ahead of me!

The next bonus was another pitstop. PITF1 was in Fayetteville, about 50 miles away, and required about a 10 mile out-and-back from the highway to get into the quiet and empty town square of this small community. Empty except for some crazy motorcyclists takin’ pitchers! I followed one rider in the last mile or so and and joined two more already at the bonus, an old Gulf station. With the info already pulled up in my app, I made short work of jotting down time/odo and getting the photo from my seat – I was surprised to be rolling again in less than 2 minutes, very pleased with the efficiency this time.

PITF1 bonus

PITF1

MSS10 bonus

MSS10

The sun came up fat and orange over the horizon ahead of me, giving new energy for the day’s ride ahead. It was just a short 38 miles to the next bonus, MSS10, which was a (daylight-only) photo of the Hennessey Racing main building in Sealy. The exit was under construction, but I spotted the signage in time and was able to take the previous exit to get there without backtracking.

After stocking up on “pitstop points’ with the previous two bonuses, I had plenty of “fuel” in the bank to earn my first racetrack points for the rally. Although, you could partially claim a racetrack bonus up to the number of fuel points you had banked, I’d planned my route such that I would always have enough fuel points to claim the full value of every racetrack – as long as I stuck to the script and got everything in order.

The short mileage between stops would be the norm for my route. The longest stretch between two bonuses for me on the entire rally was 86 miles. This is partially why the shorter 24-36 hour events can be thought of as “sprints”!

 

Sunrise on Hwy 71

Next up was the Gulf Coast Kartway in Katy, TX, a.k.a. bonus KWK01 – more actual points! I loved the cool laser-etched gates with go-cart riders on them, making me think of last night’s motivational feature film.

Heart of Texas 2022 Part 3: Pole Position

KWK01

I was starting my clockwise circuit around the Houston metro area now. Most of the bonuses were located far enough out from the city that I was hoping the area’s infamous traffic wouldn’t be too much of an issue through the mid-morning hours. Luckily, that turned out to be the case based on my timing. I heard complaints from other riders who went through here at other times of day closer to rush hour.

The next pitstop bonus PITC5 was another old Humble service station in a busy mall area in the suburb of Cypress. Humble Oil Company was apparently founded back in 1911 (in Humble TX in fact). It was later was absorbed by Standard Oil and then eventually Exxon. Nice to see some remaining architecture of such humb… er, unpretentious beginnings.

Humble gas station

PITC5

Mike's Hobbytown sign

RCP01

North of the city, I picked up I-69 very briefly before exiting onto the 494 Loop. Yet another type of racetrack was in our book – the kind for remote control hobbyists. Mike’s Hobbytown sign in Porter TX served as bonus RCP01.

Houston Motorsports Park sign

MSH08

Onto I-69 once again, I blasted south (through Humble TX itself, hey!), getting discombobulated at the Highway 8 Sam Houston Beltway interchange and taking the wrong ramp. I gave Garmin a slap and quickly corrected the mistake, getting headed east on the beltway and making good time. I rounded the northeast corner of my “lap” round the city, and forayed briefly inside the belt and Houston city limits to gather more racetrack points at the Houston Motorsports Park, bonus MSH08. 

Down the beltway for another few miles, then hooked a left on US 90 east, over the San Jacinto River. Exiting south on Route 2100, through the small town of Crosby, I found myself in a long stretch of active road construction, with both lanes torn down to scarified bumpy under-pavement and gravel. Of course the next bonus, Battleground Speedway, was smack dab within the construction zone, and the rally book gave cause for some concern about whether a sign for the closed track would be present at all.

I’d been leapfrogging bonuses with Kerri (and a couple other riders) throughout the morning, and now spotted her up ahead in a very small gravel pull-off on the right shoulder, getting her photo. Seeing no room for me there, I pulled off sooner, at the waypoint, into a gravel driveway for the old pit entrance, and spotted where the sample sign from the rally book would have been if it were still intact. However, the bonus allowed us to use ANY sign that had the racetrack name on it, so the elevated marquee sign about halfway down the property line would do fine. I carefully got the bike parked on the gravelly sloped driveway entrance, actually got off my bike for the first time since start of the rally, and trotted over through the grass to get my photo of SWH18.

Battleground Speedway sign

SWH18

 

Getting back on the bike, the Garmin was directing me to head back north out of here, which didn’t make immediate sense. I obeyed it anyway, only to realize immediately that I was following the short backtrail of my route on the screen. Grrr. About a mile down the construction-strewn road, I was able to turn around in another driveway, avoid getting behind some big gravel trucks, and get back on track, passing by the last bonus. Kerri was gone by now and that would be the last time I would see her during the rally. I wondered idly where/how our similar routes would eventually diverge.

old Gulf station in Baytown

PITB4

Continuing south several miles, I crossed though the I-10 interchange, following route 330 down into Baytown. PITB4 was a huge pitstop bonus, worth 1400 fuel points, right in the center of this busy little burg. Luck and timing were still with me, as I mde it in and out fairly quickly, snapping a photo of the nondescript former Gulf station.

I had to head east from here a few miles on TX 146 for a big racetrack bonus, and this is where things got a bit slow and frustrating. There were lots of trucks and stoplights along the two-lane stretches, with few opportunities to pass and lots of oncoming traffic. Nothing to do but settle in and grit your teeth to get through it.

Bonus RWH12 was the sign at Houston Raceway Park, on the eastern outskirts of Baytown. Getting off the bike earlier had brought about the need for a nature break and the bunch of porta-potties in a corner of the parking lot served their purpose after bagging the bonus, as I had to go pretty bad by now.

Houston Raceway Park sign

RWH12

I headed straight back through Baytown on 146, and 20 minutes later I was crossing back over the San Jacinto via the Fred Hartman Bridge.

bridge over the San Jacinto

view of Galveston BayTraffic was ALL jammed up through Kemah, where Clear Lake runs into Galveston Bay. The entire raised interstate structure south of the bridge seemed to be under construction, so traffic was being directed down onto the surface access roads for a couple of miles. It was a HARD stop and my feet were DOWN, with traffic barely squeezing forward as local traffic tried to join in on the surface road at each stoplight, with only a few cars getting through the lights on each cycle.

There were no shoulders to ride …just nothin’. Not even Waze or Google maps was being helpful – “you are on the fastest route”! Yeah right. So I zoomed out a bit on my Garmin and spotted some parallel local roads just inland. I would always rather be moving, so I took the next turn that I could on route 2094 and found myself an alternate route, rejoining the highway about one mile further down, past the jam and probably saving myself another half hour stuck in that hot mess.

Now the traffic was light and fast (most of it was stuck behind me!) as I rode south towards Galveston, and I enjoyed my first views of the bright turquoise waters from the I-45 causeway out to the island city.

Galveston Bay

Galveston Bay

Bambu Mexican restaurant

PITG1

The interstate petered out into Broadway, which was still a generous 3 lanes per direction. This was my first time to Galveston, so I tried to absorb the flavor and sights while remaining focused on the large pitstop bonus that was my objective here.

Passing by an old cemetery on my right, I was struck by the unexpected beauty of acres of yellow wildflowers covering the grounds in between the gravestones. I really wanted to stop for a few photos, but wouldn’t let myself be distracted and kept motoring on. I later learned that this bloom in the cemetery is a famous annual sight here in May. It’s pretty awesome that the city allows nature to pay homage to the deceased in its own way for a while each year. I was really glad to have seen that and it was one of the highlights of my rally.

PITG1 was another whopper, at 1400 fuel points, a former gas station turned Mexican restaurant. What IS IT with Mexican restaurant bonuses these last couple years?! Ooh temptation! This would be my easternmost bonus in the rally. I managed an adequate photo from my seat after positioning the bike awkwardly from a parking spot, and circled my way around the block back to Broadway, and thence back the way I’d come, off the island.

Immediately after the causeway, I exited onto TX 6 northwest for a few miles, through the main drag of Hitchcock, and onto route 2004. It still weirds me out to be on routes with four digits – we don’t have nearly the room for that many roads back east. Just down a ways was the dirt road entrance to Grandsport Speedway, bonus RWH11. Despite the overgrown  rustic signage, according to the rally book this track has quite a nice list of facilities for members and patrons.

Grandsport Speedway sign

RWH11

20 miles further on, just past Chocolate Bayou in Liverpool, I pulled off TX 35 and did a careful multi-point turn in more gravel to capture a shot of this unreadable sign for Texas Thunder Speedway, which has a cute little motorcycle atop it that was the real requirement in the SWL21 bonus photo.

Less than 2 miles down the road was bonus SWA02 at Gulf Coast Speedway, with a go-cart mounted on the sign.

Texas Thunder Speedway sign

SWL21

Gulf Coast Speedway sign

SWA02

 

Time for a fuel stop and cool down, so I backtracked a couple miles to a station I’d passed. Filled the tanks and poured some water over my head and down my sleeves to get the evaporative cooling underway, which helped a lot. It was up to the low 90s in temperature today (saw high of 93), but not stupid humid.

Followed some county roads from the station west to pick up TX 288. The wind was picking up a bit for this stretch of the journey, as you can see from the alternate takes of my next few bonus photos.

Bonus SWA01, the MSR Houston Racing track was just off 288.
MSR Houston Racing with flag blown by wind

“Whoa there!”

Houston MSR Racing

SWA01

dead alligator

photo credit: Tommy Craft

Now I had my “longest” stretch of 86 miles to the next bonus. It was along here somewhere when I spotted the alligator on the shoulder…what?! Yep, pretty sure that was at least a four foot gator, probably dead, but no time to go back and check. Cool! I’d later learn that this was just about the spot where another rider’s rally would come to an unfortunate end courtesy of a wayward pickup truck. The gator was the identifying landmark along this fast and isolated bit of state highway.

The wind was still up to its tricks when I reached Texana Raceway, outside of Edna TX, to capture the RWE08 bonus. Used the windshield to my advantage this time to ensure the flag number was visible!

Texana Raceway Park sign

RWE08 – plastered to the windshield

Texana Speedway with flag blowing around

Whoopsy daisy!

PITA2 was another big fuel points bonus, an old Texaco station at a dusty crossroads on FM 1961 in Ander TX. Far from being an actual “PITA”, I enjoyed some nice curves at last,  getting to this one. I’d almost forgotten how to lean, except into the wind.

old Texaco station

PITA2

Just a few miles south, off US 183 in Goliad, was the derelict and rather poignant entry gate to the well-named Shady Oaks Speedway.  Bonus SWG14 now looks like it has just been swallowed up into the surrounding ranch lands.

Shady Oaks Speedway

SWG14

 

From sad to pathetic, I took US 59 southwest from the center of Goliad several miles to the otherwise charming town of Beeville, for a photo of PITB5, a hollowed out remnant of a gas station in a more urban setting.

abandoned gas station

PITB5

I fueled up again on the outskirts of Beeville and hit the southernmost point of my rally right before I picked up I-37 to head northwest for a while, away from the Gulf Coast region. The I-37 Speedway is on the outskirts of Pleasanton, just south of San Antonio, and you have to exit onto the access road a good couple miles before the turn, in order not to miss it. The GPS led me true this time, and I bagged SWP27 without any trouble.

Cutting west to I-35 through Pleasanton and via TX 173, I turned south again at Devine. Another brief venture onto the access road north of Pearsall got me a shot of the Cooper Tire testing facility gates, bonus TTP02.

I-37 Speedway

SWP27

Cooper Tire facility gates

TTP02

abandoned gas station in Cotulla

PITC3

I continued south 40 miles on I-35 to Cotulla, which would serve me as a meal and rest bonus stopping point. First, I zipped into the downtown area, to nab the PITC3 bonus, another tiny abandoned gas station that now blends in anonymously with the surrounding structures.

Time for a break! Back out to the Flying J by the interstate in order to start my meal bonus stop for the day. Unique in the rally world (to my experience), Paul’s rallies incentivize the riders to stop a bit more often to take breaks for a sit-down meal off the bike.

For this event, we were allowed/encouraged to take a 45 minute meal break on both Friday and Saturday. While not mandatory, these breaks were worth an exponential multiplier affecting how many points we would earn during the mandatory rest bonus. If n is the number of meal breaks we take:

Total Rest Points = base rest points/minute x 2n.

Once you looked at the math and routing a bit, it was clear that the rest and both meal bonuses would be necessary to have a competitive finish in this rally.

I’d purposely booked my hotel next to the Flying J in order to consolidate my stop time. It ended up being a bit too far to walk from the hotel, so I parked by the Subway doors and started my meal bonus clock in the app. After getting my food, I made a couple disorganized trips out to the bike to grab my claim form and other paraphernalia, catching up on bonus documentation while I ate. While not really a relaxing stop, I enjoyed my sub and cold drink off the bike while I schemed and plotted, knowing that I was also just a receipt away from starting my full rest bonus next.

meal bonus receipt on flag

XEAT1 meal bonus

parked outside Subway

I’d bagged about 22 bonuses today and was running more than an hour ahead of my estimated schedule, which I chalked up to the insanely reasonable Texas speed limits 😁 as well as the super quick efficiency of using the app to minimize time at each bonus stop. It didn’t give me a huge amount of options in terms of adding big bonuses, but I should be able to grab some of the smaller ones I’d marked off as optional closer to the finish. Because of the need to bank pitstop fuel points to claim the racetrack bonus points, there wasn’t much room for improvisation in routing during this rally, though I never stopped looking for options.

When my 45 minutes was up, I was ready at the gas pump, filling up to get my starting receipt at 19:41 for a full eight hour rest. Of course, no receipt was forthcoming from the pump, so I had to trot inside to grab it. I marked it up as appropriate and carefully stored it away for the later bonus photo on my flag, to be taken together with the ending receipt. Then I headed up the hill to my hotel room at the Mainstay Suites.

After getting settled down, washing my LD comforts (eek, I’d forgotten to pack my 2nd pair!). I suddenly realized that I’d forgotten to “clock in” to my rest bonus using the app. I did so immediately then, and following prior instructions to communicate freely with our assigned scorer, which for me meant Nancy Oswald, a super-chill personage and a pleasure to talk to. I quickly dialed her up to find out what to do. No problemo! Just send a text after ending my rest with a reminder to adjust my rest start time after I submitted it. The receipt timestamp was the important thing here.

I felt a wave of relief as I realized that the app was being used more as a tool for scoring efficiency rather than a test of rider cognizance and motor skills. These are the types of things you learn about individual events and rallymasters as you go. In other rallies, I might have just sacrificed an hour of my rest bonus! Otherwise, everything had gone like clockwork and according to plan today, so I was feeling pretty good about my rally so far. Since I’d handled some of my usual “rest chores” during the meal break, I got to sleep much earlier into my rest bonus than usual.

map of day 1 of my rally

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