I've run the MN1K for 3 years now, and this was going to be my 4th. In the past, I've always run with my friend Tim Foreman, but this year he was sitting out the rally to focus on running the scoring system cleanly. So, I was planning on running a conservative rally. On one hand I knew that my stops would probably be shorter, as I wouldn't be as tempted to socialize at each gas stop. On the other hand, I figured that night running would be more dangerous, as I had only the stock lighting on the FJ - when Tim and I run together across dark roads, many times we'll go side-by-side with both high-beams lit. His Beemer and my FJ have very different coverage patterns, and in combo they illuminate just about everything up ahead. On my own, the one stock high-beam casts suprisingly little light onto the road.
The rally began, as usual, with the pre-rally "Liar's Banquet" on Friday night. This year it was held at Warner Power Sports out in Bloomington, and it was a perfect location. Lots of parking for LOTS OF BIKES, and a good barbeque picnic for all of the riders. I didn't get the full count of how many riders were registered - although the rider numbers went up into the 300's, Eddie likes to assign rider numbers "for life" - once you've run one MN1K with a particular number, you'll always have that number. This makes for some braggin' rights if you have a low number - mine is #20, but there were quite a few there this year with even lower ones. I think the final number was around 200 riders this year.
At the Liar's Banquet the riders all socialized, checked out each other's bikes, and were finally addressed by the Reverends Adam Wolkoff and Eddie James. Some basic ground rules were laid down, but the simplest ones were: "Don't Cheat, Don't Cheat, and by the way, Don't Cheat". People were warned that there was no place for cheating this year, and if you got caught you would be thrown out. It was explained after rally packs were handed out, that many would probably notice that some of the bonus locations were right there in the Twin Cities. Checking out these locations before the rally started tomorrow would be grounds for instant disqualification. Furthermore, there were people WATCHING a few of those locations to make sure no riders showed up. Don't know how much clearer that could have been made, but it turned out that (4? I think four) riders went to the locations after the banquet - and were out of the rally. I don't know how people could have MISSED that simple warning!
Looking over the rally sheets, one of the obvious things missing from past MN1K's was the "super long-distance cross-country" bonuses. Last year's rally included the option to leave on Friday night (but not to rack up points until Saturday at 10:00am!) to pick up bonuses at such diverse spots as Woody Creek, Colorado, Lynchburg Tennessee, or Waco, Texas. This year, the only super-distant out-of-state location was Hell's Half Acre in Wyoming (I think it's West of Casper!), and for that location there was NO option to leave early. A round-trip out and back is just over 1800 miles, and I don't think anyone's made it yet without being time-barred at the finish.
The most tasty bonus this year was a couple of large circles keeping you in the state of Minnesota. A "do-able" circle of MN included Duluth, Rochester, Worthington, and Moorhead. This was a base route of just under 1,000 miles. If you added to that the sprinkling of fair-sized bonuses just off the track, you could get a good tour of the state and a fairly good score. The "big-dog" circle of Minnesota had you touching each of the farthest corners of the state, with a complicated verification system for Team Strange to know you'd been there. This looked like a sucker bonus - I don't know that anyone fully attempted it - and was worth "only" 6,000 points. I chose the easy circle for my "base run" and looked to see what I could score on the way.
Now, running this loop you had the choice of going either clockwise or counter-clockwise. The sensible "afraid of animals at night" route had one going up to Duluth, crossing northern MN via two-lane highways during the daytime, then hitting Moorhead and blitzing on mostly Interstate 29 and I90 to Worthington and Rochester during the evening. But running that direction meant that you would miss some timed bonuses in Sioux Falls, SD and/or Fargo, ND. 2400+ points are nothing to sneeze at! So I reluctantly set out for a "clockwise" route.
It started to rain immediately upon time to set out at 10:00am. I tried the first half mile without rain gear, figuring it was just a light sprinkle. The real raindrops started coming down on me shortly after I started rolling, and I had to immediately pull over and put on the boot condoms, rainpants and jacket, and the rubber gloves. Yeech. What a horrible way to start the rally!
About an hour and a half later, after shooting down the uneventful Highway 52 to Rochester, I saw a gas station right next to the entrance ramp. I pulled off, bought my gas, got my reciept and was back on the road in about 10 minutes. As I had 24 hours to do "only" 1,000 miles, I figured that I would make the best time possible while: (A)I was "fresh", and (B) it was daylight, and (C) I was on Interstate. This would give me time to be stupid later, without blowing it. I wanted as much padding as possible now, so I wouldn't have to panic later.
Of course, I then immediately missed my turnoff to drop South down to I-90. I had to go about a mile and a half further down 52, exit, and turn back. Great! I just blew another 5-10 minutes - so much for efficiency.
Dropping onto I-90, I had about 200 (I think?) miles to go until my next bonus stop at Worthington. Nothing more exiting than superslab on a grey rainy day. The rain had dropped off enough that I could get rid of the rubber gloves (very uncomfortable) but the rest of the gear stayed on. I tried to nurse the FJ along fast enough to make good time, but slow enough to get fairly good mileage. The FJ can put about 230 miles out of a tank at 55, but with the 70mph speed limit and the general flow of traffic playing the "about 10 over" game, I was limited to about 150+ miles before having to stop for gas. Only saw one rider on the road across MN - Joan Oswald zipped by on her ST1100, looking quite comfy. I gave chase for a while, figuring it's nice to have someone faster ahead as a "cop-catcher", and of course my mileage suffered even more. After many uneventful miles and one gas stop, I was stopping for a third time in Worthington for the 2nd of the 4 corners I needed. Next stop was Sioux Falls, SD where there were big points for checking in at the Harley-Davidson dealer there and doing nothing for 20 minutes. I figured I would purchase food at Worthington, and eat it at the dealers (full-face helmets do not lend themselves well to eating while riding). The only hole in this plan, I discovered, was that I had to remember to get food! I hadn't remembered. After pulling into the parking lot in Sioux Falls, I got a bag of Fritos for my mid-early-afternoon lunch. Yum.
There were a LOT of riders in the parking lot here! I had felt like I was practically the only person going West on I-90, yet here it seemed like dozens were doing the same thing! I guess when you get a spacing of even a few minutes, you just don't bump into people much where you're all going the same speed in the same direction.
Unfortunately, by the time I'd gotten to Sioux Falls, I could tell that I wasn't going to make it up to Fargo in time for the 6:00pm cutoff. There were many who had already been and gone who were going to make it - they had opted for a more direct route straight to Sioux Falls by cutting the diagonal on Highway 169 SW down to I-90. This would mean that in order to finish the 4 corners, they would have to come South into the Twin Cities from Duluth, then run another hour and a half down to Rochester, pick up the gas reciept, and then come back North to Minneapolis. I knew that I didn't want to make any slingshot runs like that, because the mental games that go on when you're tired (gee, I'm so close to my BED right now) would just do me in.
Although Fargo was out of my reach for bonus points, I-29 was the most efficient way to get up North to it's sister-city of Moorhead, MN. I turned onto I-29 and started heading North. Again, the ride up the concrete superslab as largely uneventful. Not much to see, not much to do but keep going. I had my new GPS mounted to the handlebar, and I amused myself by watching all of the city names scroll by. I didn't use the GPS for a lot of route planning or even navigating, really. I just had the major points of the route punched in as waypoints, so I could quickly check how many miles I was away from my destination. As some have said: "That's what maps and road signs are for" but I found it comforting (especially at night) to have a constant indicator of how close I was to my destintion (and what direction it was in). Not a strictly necessary tool, but handy for the quick "how the hell far away is Duluth from here?" checks without having to hold a ruler to the map.
After crossing up into North Dakota, I saw blinky lights on the shoulder up ahead. I checked my speed (not too bad, but I'll trim a bit down) and then noticed the "drug checkpoint ahead, drug-sniffing dogs in use" (or something similar) sign. Coming closer to the interchange, I could see a big motor-home parked up at the top of the exit ramp, with the blinky-lighted State Trooper past the interchange ready to give chase. I guess how these stops work is two-fold. First, the people who see the sign and freak out decided to bail off of the freeway - tada! There's all the officers at the end of the ramp waiting to ask you a few questions (I think the motorhome is their command center - anyone care to confirm this?). This is where Joan Oswald got held up - she was innocently looking for gas, and fell into their clever trap. The other way these stops work is that the trooper on the freeway can just randomly decide to pull people over and ask them a few questions. John Ryti got pulled over on his borrowed BMW and had officers going through all of his bags! I guess it was the loud graphics on his helmet which aroused suspicion?
Pulled into Moorhead, got my gas reciept, and chatted with a couple other guys going the same way - Michael Weseli, from Wisconsin, and his friend Don. They were going to get a bite to eat before heading East towards Duluth, and as I hadn't eaten all day I decided to slow up and join them for a bit.
After a light dinner, we decided that the best way over to Duluth (there's no *great* way to do it, just okay and not-so-bad) was to take Highway 10 SE to Brainerd, then 210 NE up to Duluth. Not too much two-lane road, and as it was starting to get dark, it seemed the safest way across. This is deer country up here, and I just didn't plan on adding Bambi to my load of luggage. Besides, I had just rebuilt my forks, and didn't want to mess them up! From Moorhead to Brainerd was a simple 4-lane divided highway, with almost no stops (just "reduced speed zones")as we cruised across the heart of MN. Naturally, at the first point where highway 10 turned into a two-lane road, we dipped down into a little valley. My headlight didn't reach all the way down to the bottom of the dip, and the approaching car's headlight hadn't yet hit the point where I could see the road surface. Sure enough, in that dark gap was a deer. RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME - ahh! Brake now! I landed on the front and back brakes with the rear end giving just a wiggle and I came down from 65 to 30 in almost nothing flat. Thank goodness the road surface was dry. The deer just leapt off the road when I was about 20 feet from it. Man, that was way too close. I drove pretty cautiously from there on in to Brainerd. Nothing like that metallic adreneline taste in my mouth. Besides near-crash situations, the only thing which causes the same effect for me is the flicker of red flashing lights in my rear-view mirror.
The stop at the gas station in Brainerd was amusing. It seems that once the sun sets in Minnesota, all of the teenagers and 20-somethings with nothing better to do take their cars out to the parking lots of Conoco, Dairy Queen, SuperAmerica and the like and they just hang out there. Cars and cars full of people going nowhere and doing not much! Mike and Don and I had just finished gassing up and getting our reciepts when John Ryti rolled in. We talked for a while about where we were headed and decided to wait for him to gas up so we could roll as a foursome towards Duluth. While waiting for John to fill up, a young lady walked into our midst. "Excuse me, but can any of you guys do a wheelie?". Huh? Where the hell did THAT come from? I answered to her that I couldn't (I can't) and that even if I could, I wouldn't, 'cos I didn't want to screw my bike up.
"Oh" she responded, "well, do you think any of them would?" (pointing to Don, Mike, and John). I answered for them "well, we're all pretty serious riders - we don't screw around like that very much". Boy, I must have seemed rude to her! Perhaps John would have been the type to give it a go, if he hadn't been on a borrowed bike, but really.... the last thing crossing my mind while on the rally was wanting to do stunts for a bunch of bored kids in a parking lot! We saddled up and rolled out of the lot, with carloads of kids shouting "Wheelie! Wheelie!" honking their horns, and holding their hands out of the windows palms-down while making an upward motion with their fingers - like doing wheelies with their hands, trying to encourage us to show off for them. Bizarre!
John agreed to lead the way from Brainerd to Duluth. He had pretty good lights and ABS, so he seemed the natural leader at that point. We strung out along 210 and shot into Duluth with almost no incidents. Cruising up an overpass through Motley, we came up on a rise, doing about 10 over the limit of 40, when we met a trooper coming the other way. Flickity-flick go the lights on top of the car. Just on and off real quick-like - a friendly reminder. We slowed down for the rest of the cruise through that town. Thanks, officer! When we hit I-35, we had to go north about 10 miles before hitting the city proper. There were two bonuses here worth doing - one was the gas reciept to show you'd reached a corner of the loop. The other was going down to the waterfront to check the port of origin of a boat docked there. John in the lead took the bend in the road heading for downtown, while Don and Mike in the middle inexplicably took the fork which lead to Highway 53 Northbound - nowhere near the port! I kinda shrugged and followed 35 into town, wondering what Don and Michael were up to - didn't see 'em again until the checkin at Trackstar.
We hit the William Irvin just as the clock struck 1am. The bars clustered all around Grandmas were just letting out, and I think a couple of alcohol-laden boat tours had just docked too. The streets were swarming with college-aged kids whoopin' and hollerin', while John and I parked alongships and checked out the back of the boat. With answers, mileage, and time logged into our bonus books, we went back down along 35 to get the gas reciept.
At this point I checked my mileage and realized that if I cruised into the Cities, I would be short my 1,000 miles by about 60. John still needed to get down to Rochester, so we parted ways. He went South while I decided to hit Hwy53 Northbound to Eveleth - home of the U.S. Ice Hockey Hall of Fame. I figured the rest of my ride would be like this: one hour up to Eveleth and one hour back makes 3:00am. 2.5 hours south to the Twin Cities makes 5:30am. I would have time to check into my local SuperAmerica, tank up, and start my (big points!) "3 hours of nothing" by sleeping in my own bed. Nice!
Running up to Eveleth the rain started again. Not so much rain as big heavy clouds which just sat on the road and condensed on you as you drove through them. Rain plus fog plus low visibility means slow going. Plus I had cars which I swear would come right up behind me and stick on my tail, so their headlights would bounce off my rear-view mirrors and illuminate all of the raindrops on my visor. I was running blind! I ended up dropping off to the side of the road for a second, letting the cars pass. Then I pulled up behind and let them lead me the rest of the way up there.
Pulling off on Hat-Trick lane to the Hall o' Fame, who's in the parking lot but Joan Oswald again! She'd been much farther North than I had gone, and was cleaning up points I just knew I wouldn't have been able to do safely. We chatted for a bit and then she took off. I gathered up my answers, logged 'em, and then took off to follow her back to Duluth. I figured with all that wattage up front, she'd be good to follow. That, and she rides a bit faster than I do.
Upon arriving in Duluth, highway 53 sorta peters out into this local road with unpredictable twists, bad cambers, and stoplights which won't change for motorcycles. All this while going down a fairly steep hill. Here's where Joan got to follow me - I'd had the GPS in track mode the whole time while going up, and when I zoomed it fully I had a nice readout of where I needed to go to backtrack. This way I had a warning about the road ahead "oh, here comes a funky bend to the right - yep, here I am!" which gave me a bit more confidence. I led down to I-35 and we stopped at the gas station before the final run into the Twin Cities.
At the station Joan pointed out that one of the rest-stop bonuses on 35 into the cities was on the Northbound side of the road. Again, I wasn't up to the game of turning back when I was so close to home, so after we picked up the "White Castle Cheeseburger reciept" bonus in Hinkley (I opted to actually eat the Cheeseburger - Joan, like dozens of rally entrants before her, ordered the cheeseburger with "hold the actual cheeseburger" and just got the receipt.), we agreed that we would part ways in Harris, MN - where she would turn around, go back up 35 to the bonus, then turn around again and head South.
My next bonus was a rest-stop in Forest Lake, with a historical marker where we needed to record the regiment a particular man served in. Upon reaching the marker, I found an ode to the U.S. Railroad system entitled "Ribbons of Steel". Due to my diminished capacities at this point (4:30 am) I figured I'd just skimmed the plaque poorly. So I read it again. Aloud. Twice. Just to make sure I'd not missed the name in there somewhere. Finally I gave up and wrote in "????? Couldn't find anything but 'Ribbons of Steel'???" in my rally sheets and left. A little bit frustrating.
Got into St. Paul in time for my first of two reciepts to indicate "3 hours of nothing" at 6:00am. Drove 3 blocks to my house, snuck in, set the alarm for 9:15 and went to bed. Ahh, bliss!
Too soon, the alarm went off and I was up. Let's see.... clean T-Shirt, clean undies, fresh socks, and brush the teeth. I'm feeling much more human already! Rode back down to the SuperAmerica for purchase number two to indicate that I was still in the same location. This was a two-fer. There was an "Honorary Peter Hoogeeven (I think I remembered the name right?!?) six-pack bonus" for bringing in a cold six-pack - but it had to be purchased within an hour of your checkin time. So I got a twelve-pack, figuring it was close enough, and headed into Trackstar Motorsports for a checkin - a full 15 minutes before the penalty points would start being added at 10:00.
Net results: 1113 miles by my GPS, with only 15:56 of my time spent actually MOVING anywhere (don't know what my official corrected distance was, but it had to be over 1,000 'cos they gave me my nice shiny "1000 miles in 24 hours" pin), and 12,887 points. Most of the top scores were in the 14,000 to 16,000 point range, so I figure I did pretty darned good. My goal had been "run a clean rally with enough preparation that you don't have to panic in mid-rally" and I did just that. The 1,000 miles was a bonus as well. Maybe next year I'll be out for a top five finish?!?! Who knows.
Kudos to Eddie James, Adam Wolkoff, and all of the Team Strange gang for putting on an entertaining, challenging rally. And if you've read this far, thanks for reading!