Heart of Texas 2022 Part 5: Checkered Flag Flying

Irving TX
Sat April 30, 2022

There wasn’t a convenient doorway onto the grounds of the Texican Court hotel from the rear lot. I grabbed most of my bags and slowly shuffled back up towards the check-in staff as my sea legs wore off and found the rear entranceway. This nicely appointed stucco-finished establishment has some pleasant manicured courtyard areas, with a nice big central pool, strings of lighting between log posts, a cornhole game area, and young trees dispersed around the sandy grounds and concrete walkways.

I was a bit startled at first by the beach apparel of the hotel clientele – mostly young well-to-do looking people in bathing suits and summer leisure wear. Remember, it’s still barely out of winter and a cold spring back home right now, and I’m moping along under the 90 degree sun right now in a space suit!

Then I spotted the welcoming cordura and blue t-shirted backdrop of “my people” and headed over to join the other rally riders. I met rider Rob Griffith, from Alabama while en route and got to hear his story of the crashed rider by the alligator south of Houston. Rob had kindly stopped to render aid to the downed rider (who was mostly unhurt), so he had the full scoop. I was hungry for any news from other riders about their rally by this point.

I plopped my stuff down on a picnic table and went over to say hello to Art Garvin, who’d apparently had catastrophic bike trouble within a few miles of the finish, and was now holding court at a shady table, looking relaxed as ever.  I also had the pleasure of meeting Tara Tong, Paul’s delightful wife, who was staffing the rally, and I let her know I was around and prepping to score.

I sat at the picnic table, got my claim form filled out, and…well, really that was it. The app already had everything in it, so I just needed to bring whatever backup information I might need in case something seemed off. Tara called me inside to the scoring  area when it was my turn. I gave Nancy a hug and Paul a handshake along with thanks for putting on the rally and bringing us all together here. Paul was busy but put up with my effusiveness, knowing the giddy elation we all feel after a finish. Chris Hopper was there to volunteer as well and he’s always a pleasure to see.

I was handed a report of my scoring summary and asked to check it over thoroughly. If all was correct, all I had to do was sign. I’d left no points on the table and had been granted full points for every bonus I’d claimed, always the first goal. Since I’d added a few bonuses to my plan, I didn’t actually have an exact tally of my score to compare with the report. Everything seemed proper, so I signed off on my score of 20,348 points, with 52 bonuses visited over the span of the last 36 hours.

I headed to the front desk and checked in, vaguely registering in my tired mind how nice this hotel was. The front desk staff was super friendly and patiently explained to me about the “light bulb card” that I received along with my room key. Apparently popular in Europe (?) these cards are inserted into a reader on the wall in your room to activate all the lights and electrical sockets in the room. It’s a quick way for housekeeping to turn everything off between guest stays and save money. What will they think of next?!

Then I headed back out into the courtyard to meet and greet with my fellow competitors for a bit.

riders in courtyard

Love this juxtaposition – chic young ladies enjoying a mint julep (or whatever) with shoe carelessly discarded in the nice weather, vs the backdrop of tired and grimy rally riders. Photo credit: Richard Swim

Ben and myself chatting

Photo credit: Richard Swim

I was the only rider from the New England contingent to make the journey down, so there were more unfamiliar faces than not. But I recognized several and  enjoyed talking routes and rally stories with them for a bit.

It was brilliant to get some face time with Ben Ernst, a giant Texan, intense rider, and nice all-around guy, turns out. Ben has won this event before, and after his 2nd place IBR 2021 showing is a favorite this time around despite being, as he’ll try to tell you “new to this rallying thing”. LOL, whatever Ben, I think you can take that story out to  pasture and shoot it. From our chat, I got an inkling about his route and it sounded like he’d pulled off an impressive plan with a boatload of points and miles, including full rest and meals stops. Hearing what he’d done, I was pretty sure he’d be racking up another W today.

Before too long, I took leave to go clean up and get some planning done for the ride home tomorrow, before it was time to come back down for the finishing banquet. The Texican’s decor and overall atmosphere formed an oasis from the busy urban landscape surrounding it and continued to impress. They really did a nice job making it feel like an old ranch or hacienda, with exterior walkways of real wood that creaked as you trod it in your boots. It felt a bit like I was in a cowboy movie.

Texican Court hotel

outdoor walkway

This floor creaked and thumped under your boots quite pleasantly. All that was missing was the spurs jangling.

The room was also nicely appointed, with a sliding barn door to the bathroom, a full mini-bar, and bright orange retro refrigerator. Despite that, it had fully modern fixtures and electrical outlets at the desk. They even give you a terrycloth robe, hanging in the bathroom for your stay. Fancy!

room at Texican Court

room at Texican Court

After washing the LD comforts, I took a refreshing and much-needed shower, before retrieving more stuff from the bike in order to re-organize for the trip home. I spent some time looking at my route and trying to decide when to leave in the morning. Soon enough, it was time to head down for the banquet.

I got in the chow line and chatted with a couple riders, John (NC) and Dave (GA), exchanging tales of our routes and ride experiences from the past couple days. After filling my plate with food, including some nice chicken-fried steak and cornbread, I found a seat with my new companions, along with Rob G, the Hoppers, and the Handleys, whom I knew a bit from crossing paths during the last IBR. It was a companionable meal, and I enjoyed getting to know these folks a bit more as we enjoyed the food and iced tea.

banquet table

Photo credit: Richard Swim

riders at the banquet
riders at banquet table

James was trying to make some point…er, or perhaps two of them? 😉

riders waiting for a seat

Photo credit: Richard Swim

I spotted a familiar face across the room and got up to greet Billy Connacher. Poor guy was late to the party, and was standing in a sorry-looking lineup with a few other unfortunate souls, forlornly waiting with their plates of food for a spot to open up at one of the full tables. It seemed like someone should take up a collection on their behalf, but the hotel got them settled at a new table eventually. Billy is usually never late where it counts, as the rally results would later show.

After food, Paul got up to entertain us for a bit, thanking his dedicated and able staff, who got a round of applause. He provided a general update on how the rally had gone, saying that everyone was accounted for, if not necessarily present with us. In law enforcement by trade, he appears to be a man of many talents (besides phone app development) and also introduced us to his new line of shopping bags. 🙂

We were also lucky (unfortunate?) enough to witness this hulk of a Texan doing the “Little Teapot” dance with some others as part of the whole “Note from Mom” scandal that has been described ad nauseum on social media and in Ms. Miller’s excellent blog. That will all be remembered fondly in Heart of Texas lore, and it’s fun to see how these crazy stories collect to form each rally’s tradition. They certainly like to have a lot of fun at this one!

Awards were next (Paul gives out gobs of awards), including various situation-specific recognition awards in addition to overall points places. For example, Rob received a good Samaritan award for stopping to render aid and sacrificing an hour of his rally time for a fellow rider in need. First two-up team was awarded, and I believe the Handleys took an award for highest mileage of the rally (1783). Pretty cool stuff. The few riders of the shorter 8-hour rallywere recognized, with Team Lessert taking first place.

The rallymaster proceeded to run down the list of all forty-six participants from 36-hour rally, showing slides with our self-submitted mugshots, scores and stats. We applauded every single person’s efforts.  I ended up taking fifth place overall, a healthy 700 points behind Billy in fourth. A respectable finish, if a bit short of my hopes. Those last few extra bonuses had gained me a spot, so I was glad I’d fit them in.

The podium trophies were reserved for the top three places this year: Scott Durham in 3rd, who did a big mileage ride in from the panhandle via El Paso; John Anderson in 2nd with a great ride through the gulf area and east Texas; and then Ben Ernst, with a ride similar to John’s, took top honors in a dominating fashion, a full 1800 points over 2nd place.

Ben had done a counter-clockwise loop from Austin, San Antonio, and around Houston, then UP through east Texas to also grab a cluster of medium-point bonuses in the northeast part of the state. It was a stunning ride with an insane 61 bonus stops.  Nothing I’d spotted during my planning had come close, and I’d executed my own chosen plan to perfection. Back to the drawing board it seems – always learning! I’m so impressed with the talent of all these top finishers in planning and executing their routes, demonstrating such logistics savvy and grit.

Here is the SpotWalla animation for the rally, which is always fun to watch a couple times.

scoresheet

rally staff

Tara, Paul, Nancy, Jeff – the amazing rally staff!

With all awards handed out, Paul brought the rally officially to a close, taking a curtain call with his staff to enthusiastic applause from the riders. They did great work putting this rally together, even while likely working just as hard on the bigger rally coming up in June. Everything was top-notch, from the rally book, the hotel, and the swag bag, which included both long and short sleeved t-shirts, stickers, and helpful supplies like chapstick and lens cloths. I was more excited than ever for the upcoming LDX.

Above all, it seems like Paul really wants the riders to have a lot of fun riding and not get bogged down in the administrative details of reading comprehension and points-keeping. That stuff can definitely be a very fun part of the endurance challenge (for me at least) in rallies, but once in a while it is nice to participate in a rally with a different (Texas) personality!

While there were some cosmetic and performance issues with the rally app, so far it is by far the quickest, most efficient way I’ve seen in a rally to process bonus stops for the rider, while making near-time and final scoring as easy and painless as possible for both rider and staff on the back end. Paul has done a remarkable job with this software, and he promises continued improvements, so it will only get better.

After thanking all the staff once again, I spent an hour or so chatting with other riders out in the courtyard, under the strings of incandescent bulbs, swapping route details and stories from the road. I turned in rather soon after that, as I had decided get on the road early the next morning. I was disappointed to be missing breakfast with my fellow competitors, but such is the cost of riding so far afield to enjoy these events, while maintaining a full-time job. I look forward to the LDX rally coming up in June when there would be more time to hang out and socialize.

Heart of Texas 2022 Part 5: Checkered Flag Flying

My rally track from spotwalla.com. My Texas ‘fog of war’ is now partially penetrated!

 


Irving TX – Southeast MA
Sun May 1 – Mon May 2, 2022
(~1778 miles)

I’d booked a hotel in West Virgina for Sunday night, but I was feeling very well rested after this ride. More so than most rallies thanks to the full rest break, two meal breaks, and a pre-chosen route. Since I had to work on Monday, I’d decided yesterday to cancel the hotel and try to push all the way through to home, with just naps as needed. I could avoid dealing with hotel logistics for yet another work day from the road. Plus I could squeak into the northeast overnight and avoid NY/CT traffic. The weather looked like it would be pretty clear all day. If I got too knackered, I could always bail, grab a hotel, and go back to plan A.

I got up, had my coffee and protein shake, and was rolling by rows of filthy bikes and out of the Texican lot by 0530. Local PD was out and about, removing barriers from yesterday’s triathlon, but I had no obstacles blocking my way to I-635 east around Dallas. My GPS blipped into a reset right near my exit for I-30, and I missed the ramp, taking the next exit for Mesquite where I decided to fuel up for the first stretch northbound. The station’s pumps wouldn’t process my transaction, and the clerk who was out emptying the trash cans didn’t care one iota when I mentioned it. I headed to the station next door and filled my tanks.

From there on out, the ride went smoothly for the entire day, with little traffic to contend with as I re-traced my route up through Arkansas, Tennessee (taking the much shorter 440 loop in Nashville this time), and stopping only as needed for fuel or nature breaks. I was still feeling good as I passed by my cancelled hotel room in WV, and believed I’d made the right move in continuing on. Then I hit Pennsylvania around midnight, and began to notice a bit of misting and  few drops on my windshield.

I pulled up the MyRadar app on my phone and was a bit shocked to see a big colorful mess on the radar just north of me, right along my path. Sure enough, soon it started to come down in earnest. After going through a bit of hard rain, I pulled in for a fuel stop and took a moment under the overhang to examine the weather in more detail. It looked like the storm cells were coming east in waves right along the I-78 corridor, with large gaps in between each colorful radar splotch. I was right on the leading edge of one now. If I boogied hard, I might be able to get out ahead of it, into one of the gaps, and avoid actually riding in the heaviest pockets of rain in the dark of night (== noFun).

Easier said than done! I stepped up the pace quite a bit now, especially once I got through Carlisle and Harrisburg. I had the weather radar left up on my phone screen and focused on trying to pull my little dot further ahead of the big mean storm clouds. I was getting rained on and a lot of spray from all the trucks on the wet roadway. Still. So. Many. Trucks! In the middle of the night! Why aren’t they all sleeping!?

With all this weather business going on, sleep was forgotten. I wouldn’t be able to find someplace dry enough to nap for a half hour. Besides, now I was now alert and wired and just trying to get into that groove between storms. Hey, whatever works to amuse and entertain yourself to keep those wheels turnin’!

All the way across the Keystone State that storm stayed on my tail, as I averaged somewhat higher than the speed limit, hoping all the LEOs were taking a coffee break out of the rain at this hour. When I hit I-287 in New Jersey, I had to jog to the north, which allowed the weather to catch me up a bit, but then I was over the Hudson and down to a basically empty I-95. Game on! I was able to pull ahead for good at last. It was a fairly dry ride across Connecticut, though as the sky began to lighten up near the Rhode Island border I could see the clouds of the storm wave that was ahead of me. I’d come almost clear across the weather gap, but luckily it seemed to be petering out by this point, or else moving south over Block Island Sound.

I pulled into the garage a few minutes past 0630 local time, over 1700 miles and just a hair past 24 hrs exactly since leaving the Texican Court. Needless to say, I was pooped! I got a shower and slept a few hours before getting up to start a late work day before noon.

This had been a fun, successful trip and rally. I was grateful for the early-season opportunity to get out to explore new roads and areas this time out, filling in more of those blanks on my map. I look forward to heading down to Texas for more fun next year – there is still so much to see!

 

Trip Stats

Days: 6
Door-Door Miles: 5152
Rally Miles: 1389
Rally Bonus Stops: 52
Fuel Expense: ~$600
Pie: 0  (ok, a “mostly successful” trip)

map of route home

 

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