As my second ever rally longer than 24hrs, and my first rally of the season I entered the Mason Dixon 2020. The name , in part, comes from the fact that they’ve always planned on 2020 being the last year of the rally. That made this the second to last, or penultimate. This resulted in the event selling out for the first time ever. There were also a lot of REALLY experienced rider registered, including many Iron Butt Rally (IBR) veterans and hopefuls who are preparing to run this years IBR in only a few weeks. Consequently I was more than a little apprehensive about it and was not expecting to do very well at all. In The Void rally last year I’d ridden my plan and despite having a couple of significant mechanical issues still ended up with plenty of extra time. All I was really hoping for out of this rally was to schedule a bit more aggressively and see what happens.
The bonus locations were revealed on the Sunday before the rally, and I spent most of the week trying to improve on my route ideas. The bonuses included a combo bonus that required getting 5 bonuses in a particular order, with no other bonuses in between. It would take about 12 hours of the rally to do the combo. The first of these was a daylight only bonus, but the rest were anytime. Because many of the non-combo bonuses were daylight only, the best routes I could come up with picked up as many non-combo bonus early, arrived at the first combo (N01) as close to the daylight cut off (2030) as I was willing to risk.
With the plan made as best I could with out actually having the rally book, which we wouldn’t get until about an hour before the rally started, I also made a plan to pickup a handful of Tour of Honor Bonuses on my way down to West Virginia, as well as scout the mandatory JIM bonus. This bonus is mandatory every year and it’s a visit to the grave site of one of the founders of the rally, Col James Young. Finding a particular head stone can be a challenge, it’s right next to a TOH Helicopter, and it’s well known by others as it’s required every year so I decided to stop in on the way down so I’d be familiar with the layout. The cemetery is Fort Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, it’s a beautiful facility, and seeing it decked out with 100’s of flags for Memorial day weekend was quite sobering.
The first TOH stop was an auspicious start as it was in a park that was closed when I got there. I turned around in a pull off up the road and realized I could see the helicopter through a break in the trees, I took the picture but I’m not optimistic that it’ll count. At the second stop, for the first time ever I forgot to put my flag away when I left. Thankfully I keep my flag in a spot on the bike where I can see it while riding for exactly this reason. I happened to glance down a few minutes after leaving and realized it wasn’t there. I pulled over to turn around and saw it sitting between the side case and the bike. That could have been much worse and I hope to not make that mistake again.
Thankfully after that I got into the grove and things went smoother from there. I did experience a couple instances of my GPS and backup phone not charging correctly though.
Once I got to the hotel I was able to get through registration and my first ever odometer check without any issues. I spent some time playing with USB cables to try and resolve the GPS issues.
That night there was dinner (fried chicken) and a riders meeting where some of the rules were reviewed, but we didn’t receive any additional information on the bonuses themselves. Following the riders meeting there was a Novice/Rookie meeting. I was a novice having never participated in this rally before. There were a hand full of rookies who had never participated in any rally’s before and most of the discussion focused on them. Jim Owen, the only 2 time IBR winner hung around to offer advice to us plebs. While he didn’t provide us with his secret for winning, it was interesting to hear his take on things.
Following the meetings we went our separate directions to socialize, admire all the bikes in the parking lot and make any last minute route changes. Based on some of the discussions I had with more experienced riders I was feeling pretty good about my route but I did make one change that cut my margin to N01 down to 30 minutes.
The next morning we moved our bikes to the staging area and met for another riders meeting at 0500. There we received our rally packs and frantically began trying to absorb all them. There were a couple of wild card bonuses including one for taking a picture of yourself standing in a pot hole. I found out that there was another one that I completely missed, I was focused on the locations I was planning on going to, need to be more careful in the future. After a few questions, some of them even legitimate, were were released. I made it out of the parking lot at 0545, already 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
The theme for this years rally is Cold Leftovers, all of the bonus locations are apparently from previous rallies, and all of the really flags, name tags, etc are leftovers from previous years.
First stop was the JIM bonus that I’d visited the day before. Turns out I needn’t have worried as there were about 10 other riders there at the same time making it easy to find. This is a large cemetery, but it’s small compared to Arlington or many of the other national cemetery’s. It’s humbling to think about all the men in women that have died defending our country, because of them I can spend the weekend riding my motorcycle around and many of the other things we take for granted.
From there is was off to Sugar Notch, for a WWI/WWII memorial outside a fire station then, Pittston for a memorial for those lost in a mining accident. From there I kept heading north to Jermyn for a sign that says Nebraska, not really sure the significance there.
Next up was Milanville for a historical marker. This was my closest call of the rally, on this winding back road, I slowed trying to find the sign, and I started to turn off when a utility truck comes flying up behind me, it isn’t able to stop in time, but passes me on the left. It stopped, made some rude gestures, and continued on his way. That’s fair, it was obviously my fault he was driving so fast…
I passed a few big pot holes in this area and stopped to get my wild card bonus. I thought I had an adapter to put my phone on the selfie stick, but couldn’t find it so I just adjusted the phone in the RAM X-Grip so that it could see over the dash and set the timer. By some stroke of luck, it worked on the first shot.
I then crossed into NY and headed for Corbett, NY the furthest north location of this rally for another historical marker. The second NY location was the a stone with a plaque noting the birth place of the horse Hamiltonian. The rally book claimed no one had heard of him (or something to that effect), but when I asked my wife, a horse trainer, she knew exactly who he was.
Leaving the Hamiltonian site, I ran into a detour around a local festival of some sort, it brought me out on the back side of a road block where another rally rider was trying to talk his way through. I learned later he was successful. At this point I was running almost an hour ahead of schedule and feeling pretty good about adding the extra stop the day before. Unfortunately I’d also completely lost the Garmin and my backup phone. Neither would charge reliably. Thankfully my main phone was working well, the down side is that it wasn’t really setup for offline navigation as I primarily run Waze on it and use the other two devices for offline stuff. This wasn’t a problem here, but I knew I going to be in the middle of no where PA in the middle of the night and would have been happier with a backup.
I continued on to Pen Argyle for a heart shaped head stone. It looked like there was burial going on in the back of cemetery I didn’t want to disturb so I snuck in the wrong way to get my picture. It was then on to Plainsboro, NJ for a grave stone for a cow, there has to be a story there… I then headed back into PA for a picture of the Pennsbury Manor sign. I encountered an inquisitive young man here who was very interested in how my bike did on the trails, and how smooth it is. (Given that it only has one cylinder, the answer to the last one is not very). I tried to be polite while not wasting a lot of time.
Zigzagging back into NJ, the next stop was the one I added at the last minute, it was work a good number of points but would require ridding through Philadelphia on the way out, I was a little nervous about traffic issues given the holiday weekend, but it turned out to no be a problem despite one wrong turn. I got my picture of a dinosaur and headed to the next stop in Malvern, PA for a monument to a massacre of a native american tribe. There were quite a few monuments in this park, so double checking the rally book was in order. I also noticed a sign on the way in say motorcycles were prohibited, not sure why. The next stop was the first of the N-Group combo bonuses. I was running about 30 minuets ahead of my plan which meant I was a full hour before the daylight cut off.
The leg to N02 was a long one, about 2.5 hours, most of which was highway, but there was some winding back roads at the end. As I was approaching the site I could see lightning in the distance and it was starting to sprinkle. I parked under a tree and got my picture. As I’d feared there was no cell service here and I wasn’t sure where to go. I loaded the off-line navigation app I have, and entered the coordinates, but it said I was too far away from a road to be able to calculate it. I didn’t feel like messing with it so I decided to backtrack until I got service. Before doing so I topped off my tanks at the gas station across the street. I hadn’t seen one open in a while and new N03 was even more in the middle of no where and didn’t want to take chances. I back tracked only about a mile or so before I picked up service. I pulled off and let Waze figure out where I was. While I waited a couple of other riders passed by and circled back to make sure I was ok. They offered to let me follow them if I couldn’t get it working which I appreciated, but I was now back on track. All that messing around cost me though, instead of being early I was know pretty much right on my original plan and knew I was going to lose more time getting to the stop. The ride from N02 to N03 were on these narrow, twisty, back roads. They’re the kind of roads that would have been a lot of fun during the day. At night, with a lot of fog and some rain they were just slow going. The last 10 miles or so were on this really windy barely paved road. A lot of riders complained about it, but I kind of liked it, I guess having a dual sport bike helped.
I then headed for Altoona where I’d planned to take my mandatory 3 hour rest bonus. I wasn’t terribly efficient here, I grabbed a sandwich from the gas station, had to fix an issue with my aux tank mount (some of the hardware loosened up due to the lack of loc-tite), and the hotel clerk was in no hurry to get me registered, by the time I actually laid down I set the alarm for 1hr and 10 minutes.