Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Tale of Two Rallies

To understand Butt Lite 7, you have to understand Butt Lite 6IX - or at least that was the perspective I needed to take.

6IX was an emotional roller-coaster of self-doubt, fear and sadness.  I don't want to be Debbie Downer but 6IX was, for many of us, part of the grieving process.  It was a time to reflect on what Eddie had built and make the transition to something else.  What that something else was, we weren't sure.

But to get to 7, you had to go through 6IX.  Don't get me wrong - 6IX was a blast.  But it was also very difficult.

As soon as it was complete, riders were asking us about Butt Lite 7.  My running joke of "don't ask a woman who has just given birth when she is going to have another baby" became a mantra of sorts.

Within a couple of months, Bart, David & I started the conversations about continuing Butt Lite.  We were in for another go at it.  And we all knew it would be different.  It would be ours.  We had already proven we could put on a multi-day rally and did it in a way that honored Eddie.

Certain Butt Lite traditions would continue - like keeping the checkpoint(s) a secret until the rally packs are handed out, traveling around the country in a mini-van in a pathetic attempt to score more points than any of the riders and most importantly - finding bonuses that may or may not cause the rider to pause and reflect on some deep, existential level or to simply shake their head and mutter, "those bastards are crazy as hell".  And just when they think they have figured out the puzzle we've created.... all the pieces get tossed out and a completely different puzzle is presented.

Going into the planning we made some location decisions fairly quickly.  With the 30th Anniversary of TeamStrange, we all agreed that Minnesota needed to play a starring role.  Minnetonka was the second choice but turned out to be the better choice for Rally Headquarters.

As planning was underway our friend, long distance riding legend, Ardys Kellerman died in Alabama.  We wanted to include her in the rally by using her home dealership as the checkpoint.  Austin was perfect in other ways.  It was the southern opposite of Minneapolis sitting on I-35 and it created a nice circle for legs 1 and 2.

Bart headed west and south to work on leg 1.  David & I covered leg 2 and all points east of I-35.

Whispering Giant #4 - Colquitt,  GA
Wandering around southwest Georgia, I came upon a huge, wooden carving of an Indian head in Colquitt.  It was just sitting on the side of US 27.  I stopped to investigate, got the way-point, took the picture and once back home did some research.  Come to find out Hungarian artist, Peter Toth, had carved over 74 similar statues in all 50 states & Canada.  He identified with the plight of the American Indians & created the sculptures to honor them.  He is still living and carving at his studio in Edgewater, FL.

And just like that, a rally that appeared to have a bowling theme became one with an underlying American Indian theme.  36 Whispering Giant locations were featured, 6 on leg 1 & 29 on leg 2 which included a nice, valuable combo bonus.

Pedrow bags the Giant Bat in downtown Austin
Another Butt Lite tradition was continued - no over-arching theme... just lots of mini-themes thrown in & continued from one rally to the next.  Indians, lynchings, religion, crime, catastrophes, dog graves and the always popular, giant bat.

As we all converged at the Sheraton Minneapolis West in Minnetonka, I was as calm as I've ever felt.  Our planning had been meticulous.  The three of us had exchanged more than 7,000 emails during the last two years.  If a detail was overlooked, so be it.  All that was left to do was to execute. 

An odd couple of Strangers
Because we were based in Minnesota, getting volunteers had been the easiest part of planning.  There was no shortage of Strangers in the area who were willing to spend their July 4th weekend with us.  Registration and tech inspections went smoothly.  A couple of paperwork issues were resolved quickly; the one or two fuel-cell setups that needed to be analyzed.  Victor even got to use the sound meter on some non-stock exhausts.

Finally, it was time for the starting banquet.  Attrition had arrived in the weeks leading up to the rally and we had quickly dropped from 71 riders to 59 starters.  Rally packs were handed out and they discovered a route that would take them west & south to Austin, TX.  And they had 70 hours to get there.

Rider 61 gets a send off hug

I take my role as the fretful "Rally Mom" seriously.  More than anything else, I want our riders to be safe.  As they prepared to leave the Sheraton parking lot on Sunday morning, complete with the rain we had ordered up in advance - I made my way to each bike.  I don't know why I feel the need to do this but, do it, I must.  It calms me.

At 8:00am, July 6th, the riders made their way out of the parking lot.  Another tradition - no fanfare.  Pedrow watches the clock, 8am strikes, the riders are allowed to leave.  Simple as that.  Butt Lite 7 had officially begun.

Arlene with Rider 11
During the planning, we all wanted to have a bonus in Niobrara, NE.  Our history runs deep there but it was proving difficult to manage the logistics of a timed bonus that would include both the Two Rivers Saloon and Arlene Liska.  The Two Rivers was under new ownership with new Sunday hours.  We finally opted to have a simple, 24 hour, "take photo of your bike in front of the Two Rivers" bonus for 500 points.  But just a week before the start, we found that Arlene really wanted to be a part of it so the decision was made to give out an extra bonus right before the riders were scheduled to leave on Sunday morning.  For an additional 500 points, take a picture of Arlene in front of the Two Rivers.  They could combine the requirements in one photo for the full 1000 points - Two Rivers, bike, Arlene & flag.  42 riders adjusted their route and made the trip to Niobrara.  Arlene was thrilled and so were the rally masters.

As the riders struck out to the west, the rally van pointed south.  We bagged bonuses as we went and managed to show our Australian staff member some memorable sites.  A pig farm in Iowa, another tribute to American Indians in Wichita, the bombing memorial in OKC and the beautiful landscape near Mount Scott.

For the first time, Butt Lite had a Spotwalla page for the rally masters so we could watch where the riders were.  We also provided a public page for spectators to stare at and ponder who was going where.  Watching SPOT became the best form of entertainment in the rally van.  Bart was able to provide very colorful, play-by-play analysis of Leg 1 routing.  We watched as Rider 61 went for the big, far bonuses - Gerlach & Amboy.  For Leg 2, the van riders mostly got to hear me give constant updates on where Rider 17 was.  In what we are sure is a first in LD rally history, one of the rally masters is in a relationship with one of the riders.  It made for interesting conversations in the months leading up to the rally.

Me:  I'll be out of town for a few days.
Rider 17:  Oh, where are you going?
Me:  I can't tell you.
Rider 17:  Oh.  Ok.

It was actually a fun game - he didn't want to know anything about the planning and I didn't want to tell him.  And as with all the other riders, I was remarkably calm throughout the rally.  Very little fretting took place.  We had 3 tumbles, all with minor injuries.  As pointed out in a previous posting - the help our riders received when they were in need was overwhelming.  Above and beyond doesn't quite do it justice.  Many, many thanks to Ira Agins and Shane Smith.  You exemplify what makes this little community so special.

We arrived in Austin on Tuesday afternoon and met with Robert Krull of Lone Star BMW/Triumph.  Robert & his team could not have been more welcoming and helpful.  He stayed up all night Tuesday  to make sure the food was ready, the scoring area was set up and the riders had places to rest as they arrived in the dark.
Rider 17 takes a nap on the cozy floor of Lone Star

Scoring went smoothly thanks to David's efforts to make it as automatic and simple as possible.  It was completed within 4 hours. 

Leg 2 was handed out with a warning from David to look at it carefully before leaving.  Another Butt Lite tradition - routing on the clock.  The riders can leave at any time once the route sheets are handed out and the rider meeting is over.  Most heard him.  Some did not.  There were three bonuses they needed to be aware of before getting too far down the road - make a purchase at Lone Star before 10am for 500 points, pick up another 500 points at the Branch Davidian complex in Waco and then go bowling from 12:30 to 3:00pm at the International Bowling Museum in Arlington for 2500 points plus your bowling score.  Some bagged all three... some did not.

As we watched the Spotwalla page on Wednesday afternoon it was obvious that only a couple of people were tempted to go to Florida.  One of them was Rider 61.  He also gobbled up the Okefenokee combo bonuses.  His lead going into leg 2 seemed to be safe.

The rally van headed due north up I-35 while the riders took more scenic routes.  We arrived back at Rally Headquarters on Thursday night and began to wait for the riders to come home.

Scoring started at 4:00am Saturday, the 12th.  By the time the penalty window opened at 6:00am all riders were accounted for except two.  They joined us before the window closed at 8.

Another special bonus involved the Onward Store in Rolling Fork, MS.  This is near the site where President Teddy Roosevelt refused to shoot a tethered and injured black bear during a bear "hunt" resulting in the creation of the Teddy Bear.  Lyle is a huge fan of President Roosevelt.  Riders were asked to purchase a Teddy Bear at Onward Store & bring it to scoring for 509 points.  25 bears were collected and will be donated to SafePath Children's Advocacy Center in Marietta,  GA.  Children at SafePath are in transition from being removed from an abusive situation into foster care.  They have nothing of their own - but a simple stuffed animal goes a long way in calming a scared child.  Something Eddie & Lyle knew well.

In an effort to clean out my basement of years of unused TeamStrange rally swag, a raffle was held during the cocktail hour before the finisher's banquet.  $600 was raised for Eddie's Road.  My thanks to Paula Behm, Lynne Carey & Kevin Kocur.

And then, we were done.  49 riders ultimately finished.  A good bit below our one time registration of 79 riders.  All finishers received a lovely, used bowling pin as a reminder of what they accomplished.  Rider 61 held on to his lead and took home First Place and a paid entry in the 2015 Iron Butt Rally.

And the questions about Butt Lite 8 began....

Thank you, Bart & David.  I love you both.


1 comment:

  1. Great report on what sounds like a great rally. Bart was gracious enough to do a phone interview this morning for Long Riders Radio podcast and I hope to have a couple of riders on as well. I'll look forward to Butt Lite 8, I almost entered this year but didn't feel quite ready for a multi day, wished I would have. Thanks for posting updates, spot links, and rally files for those of us who were following along online.