2019 – The Void 14 – Part 2

Cutting 3 hours off my rest bonus made up for the lost time and had me getting to the finish with 30 minutes to spare. This sounds like a lot, but unlike other rallys, in the Void, the clock doesn’t stop until you submit your paperwork for scoring. I’m still new enough at this that I don’t have a good feel for how much I’d need so 30 minutes was about as tight as I wanted to cut it. (rumor has it the wining rider pulled into the parking lot with 3 minutes left to get his paperwork submitted).

I left the rest stop after 3:01 and was feeling pretty good (a fair bit of Coffee at Denny’s certainly helped.) The morning was pretty uneventful with only a few deer sightings. I made it to Baltimore, staying on schedule, picking up 3 bonuses and 2 fast food bonus. Unfortunately it turned out the I-895 tunnel was closed for construction forcing me to take I95, which cost me 30 minutes.

The next bonus was out in Annapolis, which is this cool little town that’s clearly been around longer than cars have. It reminded me of the pirate towns you see in movies, but a little more reputable, it would probably be a cool place to wander around for a few hours. This being a rally I stopped for about 3 minutes. and dodged through a possibly closed road on the way out.

From there I followed the Washington beltway around to the north before heading to the Taste of New Orleans Smokehouse. The plan called for a Fast Food bonus next at a near by Chipotle. As I’m getting close I see lots of people milling about and children carrying instruments. I quickly realize that there is either a parade just ending, or about to start. I’ve never heard of a Columbus day parade, my birthday was the day before so maybe it was for that? Traffic was still moving if a bit heavy, and I pulled into a very full shopping plaza with the Chipotle in it. A Maryland State trooper generously offered to let me park on a concrete slab that wasn’t really a spot. I explained to him that I just needed the picture and I think he was confused but let me do what I needed to do and I was on my way.

The route to the next bonus took me into the outskirts of DC, another first for me, it turns out there are some really interesting twisty parkways in the area, I’d like to go back and explore some more at some point. After getting the Metro diner it was once again time to make a decision. If I stuck with the plan the GPS was showing me getting to the finish 3 minutes late, and not leaving time for scoring. If I headed straight for the barn I would get there 1.5 hours early, which was disappointing. Based on my luck with traffic so far I made the decision to make this my last stop and head for the finish. Dropping the 9,840 point bonus hurt a little.

I felt a little better when I hit more traffic on the way back to Fredricksburg losing another 30 minutes. I still arrived over an hour early and was one of the first bikes back. I’d really tried to plan an aggressive route this time, and was pretty bummed I couldn’t execute it. This did give me the chance to triple check my rider log, where I caught one minor error.

Scoring went smoothly despite a couple of technical issues (hazard of being early I guess). Other than the light house issue I didn’t lose any other points.

The banquet was a blast as expected, hosted by Rallymaster/Comedian Scott. The food was good and it was fun listening to everyone’s stories. I was fortunate to sit at the same table as some of the top riders and it was reassuring to hear that their routes were fairly similar to mine, with the critical difference that they either skipped NYC or managed to hit it and Long Island at night when traffic wasn’t an issue.

Last year, of the PA starters I finished 9th overall, this year I was 6th overall, however they separated the 2-up teams into a separate class leaving me third out of 22 riders. Given my mistakes I was very happy with that. It stung a little that if I hadn’t messed up the light house I would have had 2nd, but that’s the way these things go.

On the 8 hour ride home the next day I spent a lot of time thinking over some of the conversations I’d had at the banquet. A few of these centered on the deficiencies in BaseCamp, the routing software most of us use. It’s main downfall is that it doesn’t have any concept of points, it’s a general tool and not specific to rally riding. As a result of this not only do we jump through hoops with spreadsheets to get the bonus data into the appropriate format but we also group the bonuses into categories (low, medium, high, etc) based on someone arbitrary tiers. There was some discussion on how this may artificially bias a rider between two bonuses that are only a few points apart in reality. I started thinking that a color gradient/heat map might be a better solution. BaseCamp also has no ability to use historical traffic data (which would have been really useful this time) and makes comparing routes a pain. By the time I got home I’d roughly flushed out in my head what I thought a rally specific tool might look like. And I have been looking for an excuse to learn C# better…  we’ll see where this ends up.

2019 – The Void 14 – Part 1

This was my second time doing the Void rally and based on how things had gone on the previous two rallies my primary goal this time around was to not have anything major fall off the bike.

The theme of the rally this year was food, with most of the bonuses being diners or other food related establishments. About a week before the rally, as is typical, we received the bonus locations, but not details via email. I spent the next few days studying the locations and trying to come up with a route I liked. Unlike last year, there wasn’t an obvious best route right out of the gate. There were a high concentration of low to mid point bonuses in the NY City/Long Island area, and more spread out bonuses west and south. The highest theoretical route I could come up with was to sweep Long Island, take the ferry over to CT and come back that way. I wasn’t terribly thrilled about dealing with that traffic and would prefer to ride someplace new though. There was also forecast to be a massive storm system coming through and high probability of the ferry being canceled. Going west you could get close points wise, but were bumping up against the millage cap (1700 miles). Knowing my bike won’t make time on the highway the way some of the bigger bikes will, I felt I’d be at a disadvantage going that way.

I was still mulling over the options on Tuesday night when we received the full rally pack, which changed everything. The rally book it self was pretty typical with only 2 combo bonuses. What we also received though was details on the “blue plate special”. The blue plate special had two parts, chain restaurants and fast food restaurants. These were essentially wild card bonuses in that there were no fixed locations. We were provided a list of possible restaurants for each category with the restrictions that each restaurant could only be used once, and there must be at least 2 regular bonuses between each blue plate special bonus. A chain restaurant bonus was worth 75% of the value of the previous regular bonus. The value of a fast food bonus incremented exponentially, so the first one was only worth 50 points, but by the time you got to 10 it was 1,943 points, and if you could get to 20 it would be a massive 112,085 points.

Some quick calculations convinced me that the way to win this was to get as many fast food bonuses as possible. In order to do that, it was necessary to get as many regular bonuses as possible. Due to the huge value of the fast food bonuses, the individual bonus points values were almost irrelevant. I had a little bit of luck in that when I arrived at work on Wednesday, the power was out for the whole building and the power company was forecasting many hours to get it fixed. My employer sent us all home giving me almost a whole day to work on my route. I settled on a route that went up into CT before returning through NYC, Long Island, down the Jersey Shore, through Baltimore and DC before ending up at the finish in Fredricksburg, VA. I was shooting for 14 Fast food bonuses. This route had the advantage of avoiding the ferry, it turns out that this was probably wise as I know of 2 people that did it, the first had their bike fall over enroute, and the second was technically canceled, but managed to talk their way on anyway.

Thursday was a travel day and I hit a number of TOH memorials on the way down to the start in Bethlehem, PA. To get warmed up for the rally. The trip was pretty uneventful. I had one instance of the ongoing vapor-lock problem and decided to play it safe and only run 100 miles on the main tank, which gave me a total range of about 250 miles. Not the range I wanted, but it worked, I didn’t have any further issues on this trip. I had dinner that night with a number of the PA starters and had a good time reconnecting with people I’ve met in the past and meeting some new friends. After diner I returned to my room to try and get some sleep and finish my preparation. I remembered as I was falling asleep that I still needed to send in my route deceleration (worth a few points) and got that done.

The next morning I headed to a Wawa that I’d scouted ahead of time, and at the appointed hour grabbed my start receipt and texted a picture of it to the Rallymaster and receiving the “K” response I was on my way.

It turns out, on my way wasn’t very far as I’d chosen this Wawa specifically because it had Long John Silver next door, netting me my first Fast Food bonus. (Fast Food bonuses had to have the entire bike in the picture)

From there it was a bit over an hour to the Empire Diner in NJ (EDNJ), on the way I was passed by Steve Gallant and his wife Char. Steve finished 3rd, as a rookie, in the IBR earlier this year. This gave me some hope that my decision to go east wasn’t completely crazy. I didn’t see them again until scoring where they beat me by over 10,000 points. There was some morning traffic on I287 and I was running about 30 minutes behind schedule. I knew traffic in New York was going to be unpredictable and I told myself that I wasn’t going to worry about timing until I got off of Long Island. This became a kind of mantra as the day went on.

From EDNJ, I headed into CT via I87 and picking up the Merritt Parkway. I grabbed 3 regular bonuses and 2 Fast Food Bonuses in CT and NY before heading into Manhattan for another Empire Diner. I’d debated the wisdom of going after this one, but in the end decided to go for it.

I had a minor panic at the Empire Diner in Manhattan, after the stress of getting there, and finding a place to park (in front of a hydrant), I couldn’t get the bike positioned right to make the side stand work (this has been a frequent problem since adding the aux tank, I many need to consider shortening it, or upgrading the rear shock). I ended up popping the front wheel onto the sidewalk, so now that I’m stressed, and very questionably parked, I look down at my notes to see what I’m supposed to take a picture and read: “take a picture of the front of the Diner so you can see the red “Diner” on the front of the building”, easy enough. Except I can’t find any red at all, it’s all black. After wasting a bunch of time looking around and re-checking my notes I decided that it must be an error in the rally book and take a picture of the black signage. As I’m getting back on my bike and getting ready to head out I realized my mistake. The next stop is the Empire Diner on Long Island, and I’d been reading the instructions for that one instead. The correct instructions were “Take a picture of the diner so you can see the word “Empire” in the picture. There are several angles of the diner that will afford you this opportunity.” I was good to go, but had wasted a bunch of time.

Getting in and out was pretty straight forward, easier than I’d feared, but traffic was far worse than anticipated. In retrospect going for it was a mistake as it cost me almost 2 hours. I’m happy to be able to say I rode the bike into Manhattan, but I think once is probably more than enough in one life time.

The ride up the north side of Long Island was pretty uneventful I picked up 4 more regular bonuses and 2 more Fast food bonuses. By the time I started heading out to Montauk Light House it was about 1800 and I was feeling pretty glum about my prospects, I hadn’t lost any more time, but I hadn’t made any up either. I knew I was going to have to make some changes to my planned route, in addition it was getting colder, it was very windy, and I was starting to feel a little bit of evening fatigue coming on. I was shocked by the amount of traffic this far east, and knowing that it was a holiday weekend (sort of) I had serious concerns about how much traffic I would encounter on the way back. As a result of this, as well as very strong winds, I was not in the best frame of mind when I got out to the Light House.

The wind was strong enough that I had to put the bike on the center stand to keep it from being blown off the side stand. The requirement for this bonus was to have the light house and the historical marker sign in the picture. There is a sign in front of the light house that I couldn’t make out due to it being just past sunset, I made the incorrect assumption that this was the required sign, and hoped the picture would be good enough. I did look around to see if there were any other signs that met the requirements but didn’t see any. As I found out at the scoring table, this was not the correct sign, the correct one was only a few feet away, but in my hurry to get out of the wind I missed it. This is officially the first time I’ve lost points for taking a bad picture, I’m sure it wont be the last.

Not knowing about by mistake I headed out, now heading west on Long Island, feeling good about heading in the right direction and the last 3 Bonuses, and 2 Fast Food locations on the Island went by quickly and without incident. The traffic I’d feared didn’t materialize and I was getting a second wind as I made a final fuel stop in NY (I hate getting fuel in NJ).

I almost lost this one at the scoring table as the sign is hard to read.

Once in NJ I was repeating part of my route from last years Void hitting several points on the Jersey shore. This was fairly uneventful until I got to long beach. The storm that had gone through the last few days had resulted in some flooded out areas. There were some “puddles” about 6 inches deep completely blocking the road in spots. Going slowly I made it through these areas, but I’m not sure the bike will ever be the same. I’d hoped this might be freshwater rain, but the next time I used the hydration system my hope faded, definitely salt water. On my way back out through the puddles I passed another rally rider, the first I’d seen in quite a while. At the next stop, the Oyster Creek Restaurant, the rider caught up to me as I was trying to figure out the instructions to take a picture of a “Oyster Creek Inn”. The other rider turned out to be Steve Giffin, who’d won this year’s MD2020, and is always a top finisher, once again giving me hope I wasn’t completely off the mark. We decided that the instructions must be in error and I headed out to my rest stop.

This was decision time, I was still over 2 hours behind schedule. I’d also planned pretty aggressively counting on making up some time, which wasn’t happening. The rally requires a 3 hour rest stop, and awards additional points for each additional minute up to 6 hours total. I’d originally planned on taking the full 6 hours, but the 1800 points I would lose would be well worth it to pick up the 9840 points I’d get for the final planned fast food stop, so the rest bonus got cut to 3 hours. I knew I wanted to do some replanning and paper work so I decided rather than getting a hotel I’d just spend the time in a Denny’s.

I filled out my riders log and took another look at the plan for the rest of the rally. I’d planned on hitting the bonus on the southernmost end of the Jersey Shore, but looking at the map again I realized the I could add a bonus on the other side of the finish instead. I also remembered that to get to the one in NJ you had to go over a toll bridge that only took cash, which is just a pain. This would give me more flexibility in dropping it as the last bonus if needed without effecting the mileage or timing. Of course this simple change meant replanning all of the remaining fast food stops too. Oh well…

 

Continue to Part 2