Waltz Across Texas Rally 2003
The Waltz is a 24 hour long distance rally. It is run somewhat like a scavenger hunt with many interesting "bonus" stops to visit. There are many more than you can do in the allotted time and the 1200 mile maximum distance you're allowed ( yes these people can ride quite a lot more than that in 24 hours). It was my first such rally and first motorcycle competition on a motorcycle in more than 25 years. I'd spent a year getting in shape for it and was of course very excited about it. The weather was great and looked to stay that way throughout the week end. My wife Kathy drove down for moral support and to see what I was getting into now.
A long distance rally, you might say is what you do when you can't compete at anything else. Well, these guys are serious competitors and very good at what this sport requires. As I'm finding out, that's a lot. Planning, packing, navigating to name a few, are not my strong points, as my wife would verify. Riding 1000 + miles in 24 hours is the fun and easy part.
I rode the 550 miles to Marble Falls the day before the Saturday 0700 start, rode the odometer test route, checked in, got the rally pack ( t-shirt hat etc.). The rider meeting was at 7 pm. We had pizza, met the rally staff, went over the rules. They passed out the rally book that contained the routes, and listed all the bonus locations you could go for to get extra points, this is when the excitement really starts and it gets more serious.
We go straight to the room to begin the long night of planning the route and bonuses. This is where the veterans and the fast learners have a huge advantage. They get out the lap- tops, go to the mapping programs to mark all the stops and figure out how much they can do or want to do. As for me, I'm still learning to use the GPS ( a necessity in this game) had not moved up to using a much faster laptop for route planning. After midnight or so I gave up and decided on the simplest route, and one of the longest, ( there is a 1200 mi maximum in this rally). It went for the Van Horn, TX route in the western pan handle. Picked out a few bonuses that looked doable and got about three hours sleep. It's real hard to get to sleep at these things, no trouble waking up though.
Short riders meeting before the 0700 start. Jack ( rally master) threw in a special bonus that could win the rally by it's self. All you had to do was ride to Amarillo eat the 72 oz steak and all the trimmings in the allotted one hour for 2700 points, possibly enough to win it. If you can't finish it? Well you just rode to Amarillo, zero points. The rally masters are good at this too, and have quite a sense of humor. Three riders went for this, I believe, and none made it.
The first stop on my list was Luckenbach, this should be interesting, and it was, both finding it and the place. The GPS took me there okay, but I, and another rider, found nothing resembling the general store, rode up and down the hiway, gave up and walked around the only buildings there. A kind man saw my confused look and told me where to find the "loop". Easy enough, back down the road a few miles to the creek turn and there it was, the famous place. A few old timey frame buildings, dirt streets and the general store and most importantly the bust in front. I take the required picture with my rally towel, plus a couple more and I'm off.
Next planned bonus stop Kerrville and the Quiet Valley Ranch and RV park, home of another music festival (folk) though not nearly as famous as Luckenback of course. Not too hard to find, only had to ask once, when I made my first gas stop.
Head towards I10 and Van Horn for a long steady ride. I was too focused on Van Horn and completely forgot my next planned bonus at Junction, and a stopping point for travelers for centuries. From the Maques de Rubi in 1767 to IBA riders on their 50cc quests. Won't say any more here, I'm still mad for missing it all.
I chose this route because it was simple, and I'd used up all the time I could stand trying to decide and had to get to bed. Had been wanting to ride West Texas again anyway. Headed west on I 10 for Van Horn and Chuy's with the John Madden Hall of Fame. It's a Mexican Restaurant/Drive in that John liked to stop at on his road trips and the first one I found without asking directions. Had my first real food for the day. John is right the food is very good and it's a neat place. Tool my picture of the "Chui's Taxi", gas up again and head for the Monahans Sand Hills State Park.
I've now used up half the allowed 1200 mile maximum allowed. The sun is getting low in the sky now, the weather has stayed sunny and not too hot. Van Horn is high elevation (for Texas) and as I near West Texas it warms up even as the sun sets. Am into familiar territory now. We lived in several of these towns during my teenage years in the fifties and I'm enjoying seeing it again. The state park is just out side town and another easy one. I'd realized the easy ones do not pay many bonus points and that will show up later in the results, but it's neat, my first rally is going well so far. Pass through Odessa,( where we first lived in Texas ) before sundown. It's quite warm now and has the familiar smell of west Texas sweet crude that I remember. No time for sight seeing now. As I get near Abilene it's abut 8:30, time for more gas and a chili dog from the Sonic next door. The gas stops seem to come up fast about every, 200 miles, no auxiliary fuel tank yet, as the veterans all have.
My route turns off I 20 onto FM 2228 (farm to market road in Texas). It's fully dark now and I get to try the xenon driving light for the first time. The road is fresh clean and traffic free with 65mph limit. Great feeling out there in the cool quiet night, the best part of riding to me. The V-Strom seems to like it too. My Dad always said a vehicle seems to run better at night, and so it seems. After a few miles of soaking this up I saw a sign, just in time, road construction pavement ends gravel road next 7 miles. Had to remember my dirt riding days and relax, let the bike move around some. All was well till I got to Cottonwood and nothing resembled the description in the rally book. Pulled out the Texas map and found there are two Cottonwoods in Texas and the right one is too far away to go for. Two planned bonuses missed. After about an hour riding around on narrow dirt roads get on route to the next stop.
Brownwood, home of a 3M plant and maker of the very best duct tape. Not too hard to find. It's around midnight now and we have to take a picture of the sign in front. It's quite a ways from the parking lot up a grassy bank. I Hike up there with my Polaroid, tape my rally towel on the post make a few tries at getting the reflective sign to show up and see a patrol car pull in, no surprise. They're looking over my bike when I get to them. After a few minutes of questioning they're convinced I'm not trying to blow up the place. They'd looked over my GPS which was lit up and the map in the tank bag. After some curious questions, justified for sure, they give the go ahead. Was a bit excited leaving the facility and turned the wrong direction against the GPSs instructions,and added about 50 miles to the ride which I wasn't sure I could spare. Had not learned to program the whole route into the GPS so I would know how far to the finish.
Next stop Comanche and a visit to the old Cora Courthouse, the oldest log court house in Texas. It's has a good story too, won't repeat it here. Short ride once headed in the right direction. Find the Fleming Oak in front, take a picture of the marker and call it a day and head for Marble Falls and the finish. Still feel pretty good, no trouble staying awake, enough excitement to keep me alert.
Get back to MarbleFalls about 3:30 AM with about three hours to spare, but close on the mileage with 1100 and change on the odo. They open the check-in a short time later, get checked-in, get scored and head for the room for some sleep before the noon banquet. There's a Harley group in the motel now getting ready to go and warming up their loud pipes so I didn't get much sleep even after being up all night. It was rest anyway.
Good banquet good group of people. Finished as expected near the bottom, but a finisher anyway, what I came to do. Enjoyed it all, learned a lot. As I'm packing the Suzuki for the ride home some are loading up on trailers and that looked pretty good. Once under way it was a good ride home and time to think about the experience. Great weather all the way. My good weather luck has to run out sometime, but has not yet. Looking forward to the next rally, the Hopeless Rally in Alabama in May on the EX500 we are preparing for it ( there is a 500cc limit in this one).