Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Boxer Shorts Article

I was asked to write a little something for the March 2011 issue of the Yankee Beemers Boxer Shorts. The Boxer Shorts is the monthly newsletter of the Yankee Beemers motorcycle club. Read it here first.

My Obsession by Wallace French

Hello, my name is Wallace French and I am an addict.

Like many of you, my obsession happens to be motorcycles, and, more specifically, long distance riding. I wasn’t always like this. When I got my first street bike back in high school (1976 Kawasaki KZ400), I mostly liked riding around town then gradually started to get into sport riding and some minor touring. There was a gap in my obsession too. I got over it and stopped riding for about 10 years and then it happened… I bought the RT in 2006 for a one time cross-country trip and the addiction returned. That’s when my wife would say the “trouble” started. Every time I get on that bike, I don’t want to get off.

When I discovered the Iron Butt Association (IBA) a few years ago, I immediately set out to start racking up the ride certifications. It’s an addiction. Then, I discovered competitive rallies and found groups of people that like to do what I do. I’ve been a quiet follower of the Iron Butt Rally (IBR) crowd for the last few years through various blogs, the LD Rider list, forums, and publications. After the 2009 IBR, I decided I was going to do everything I could to try and get into the 2011 Rally. When the time came to apply for a spot, I sent my application and a few months later received an email. “Congratulations! Your application was drawn for entry in the 2011 Iron Butt Rally.…you can expect to ride through blistering desert heat, numbing cold, pounding rain, painful hail and blinding snow on some of the worst roads North America can offer.” What’s not to love about all of this? I fully expected not to be selected this time around. I have heard stories about people applying for years and never getting selected so I’m not sure why, but I’m in and I’m pumped. There is some randomness to the “drawing” so perhaps they were looking for a certain percentage of rookies and I just happened to be drawn.

Once I got the message, I immediately created a punch list with all the tasks I needed to accomplish in order to be fully ready for the Rally. The RT is a work horse and ready for anything at any time, but I wanted to make some modifications to enhance my personal safety and increase my chances of being competitive with technology. The bike is a 2004 R1150RT. Here are the modifications that will eventually be on the bike: Ohlins suspension, custom seat, custom windshield, auxiliary lighting, HID headlight upgrade, 4.5 gallon fuel cell with custom cover and attached rally book case, communications system, two GPSs (and a third spare), radar detector (and spare), laser jammer, cb radio, satellite radio, cruise, electrified tank bag, tire pressure monitor, and a SPOT tracking device. None of this is going to give me an advantage because 90% of the field has the same stuff, but I think it is going to help me be competitive and give me some comfort on the ride. I have also done a few other things based on lessons learned from IBR veterans. I purchased the Florida and California equivalents to EZPass which should come in handy. I am working on a NEXUS card for speedy border crossings. The IBR is notorious for locating high value targets in Canada and Alaska and my guess is this year will be no different. I did a rally in Canada last year and zig-zagged across the border a few times. The NEXUS card would have been useless because the NEXUS lanes were always closed, but it is one of those things that if I don't have it and discover I could have used it then I’ll beat myself up over it. Especially if it would have saved me from being late to a checkpoint so I am going to mitigate that risk.

In terms of riding preparation, I am planning an “extreme” IBA ride in the spring. I am in the middle of an IBA National Parks tour which is a fun way to pretend you are in a rally. The National Parks tour rules require the rider to get 50 National Park stamps from 25 different states within one year. I’ve got all of them from the six New England states and a few from New York. In the spring, I will ride down to Washington D.C., Virginia, and Maryland to get as many stamps as possible and then ride back on the same day. I will complete the National Parks tour during my 3000+ mile ride to the start of the Rally.
I will be doing the Minuteman Rally in May. The Minuteman will be a good test of my routine and gear and some additional routing practice. You’ve got to have a routine in competitive rallying. For example, pull up to the gas pump, use credit card for gas, get receipt, verify information on receipt, enter data into the rally paperwork, file everything away, get on bike, and go. I can usually do this in less than two minutes. A routine is critical because when you are riding for days, mental mistakes are common and could cost you at the scoring table. I argued with Rob Nye for 10 minutes at the Minuteman scoring table last year on a technicality, but if I had stuck to my routine I probably wouldn’t have needed to argue for the points. I lost the argument. Routing is also critical and something I continue to work on. In this game, you’ve got people who can ride big miles, but lack the ability to route efficiently. Then you’ve got people who are excellent at routing, but can’t do the big miles. I am in the first category. I can do the big miles, but I am only mediocre at routing. If you excel at both and have a reliable machine you can be competitive. You also need a fair amount of luck which I am lacking.

I could go on and on about my preparations, but I’ll force myself to stop here for now. I could talk about this stuff all day. Are you starting to see the “obsession” factor here? What can I say; I’m an addict with no thought of entering rehab any time soon. For three weeks in June and July, I will be riding nearly 20,000 miles and I can’t wait to do it. Not 10 minutes go by during the day where I don’t think about the Rally. I’m obsessed.

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