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subtitled "How Inept Am I?"

I had three Critical Success Factors for the 2005 Cal24:

  1. Don't get a ticket
  2. Really, don't get a ticket
  3. Bring the bike and me back home in one piece


Additional goals, but not nearly as important, included learning from my mistakes last year and doing better on the rally this year. I felt good about some of the improvements, such as a much more comfortable bike, better preparation for lighting and writing at night (great LED flashlight and pen hanging from my neck on a lanyard).

So, to jump ahead, I made it about 12 hours before I felt I had to drop out while I was near Mammoth Lakes, CA. For the details, please read on...

Up until soon before that point, I was having an incredible time zipping along, and really felt good about the rally. I managed to take more pics this year, and the full gallery is already up in the MSMC pics site. Here is the start, with us getting our ride packets:

This Tom Melchild, RallyMaster ("RallyBastard" to his friends)


Here's a small group of folks at the start:


As soon as I got the ride packet, I ran back upstairs to my hotel room, where the laptop was already hooked up to the internet and ready to go. I immediately called Colin, and together we set to work identifying key areas. I thought he was an incredible help (Yes Colin, you *can* use the internet ) and we were able to get good information about much of the route and the bonuses. The paperwork was much harder this year, with the main route on one set of pages, and the bonuses on another set. This was challenging in the morning prep, and it was challenging once the ride started as well.

At a smidge before 8, Colin and I finished our work, I loaded the GPS's (1 primary and 1 backup, of course ) and packed up what I needed for the ride. I decided not to bring the laptop along, as it wouldn't be very useful enroute (playing with it would take more time than its worth, since both GPS's would have 99% of what I'd need anyway). This decision also allowed me to jettison the side bags, which I hoped would help if I needed to lanesplit at any point. Also, it would help the handling a smidge. After packing the bike up and wiring up the gadgets, I was about to be on my way at 8:15. (15 minutes after you are allowed to leave, but I felt the additional prep time would come in handy later). I then realized that neither my radar nor GPS were getting power from the accessory socket. I messed with the socket for a little while, unplugged and replugged all connections, but still nada. This annoyed me greatly (as you might imagine), but after just a minute or two, I realized I needed to get on down the road. The GPS should still work on battery power (as long as it can deal with the vibration of this bike), and radar is only necessary if I'm speeding, right? 100 yards down the road, *BING* both gadgets come on. So I figure that the battery must have been slightly low, and the electronic wizardry of the BMW kept the ancillary portions of the wiring off until appropriate. I had gadgets, I was happy.

The route started back up Bitterwater Road and headed towards 25. I love 25, and have done it quite a few times this year alone. I felt very comfortable on this road, but with my fear of tickets, kept it to exactly 9 over the speed limit throughout. Some folks whizzed by me, some stayed behind, but I was content. When the road got twisty, I kept it at that same 9 over, and this pace was much faster than pretty much anyone on the road, and I found myself passing bike after bike. I started to think that this non-speeding thing could work.

I got the items I needed on 25, headed down Panoche & Little Panoche roads (both for the first time), and enjoyed them both. At the Mercy Hot Springs, there was a sign out front, hand-written, that said "NO EASY-RIDER MOTORCYCLISTS!" There was a bonus question that asked us how deep the pool was next to the registration office. I proceeded to ignore the sign and ride past the entrance looking for the pool. Before I got halfway down the driveway, this very irate woman stepped in front of me, asking me if I saw the damn sign. I said I didn't think easy-rider applied to us. She was not amused, and forced me to turn around. I didn't feel like making her day easier, and just asking her to write the answer on the sheet out front, but I figured it would be more entertaining for her to have to forcefully interact with the 40+ individual motorcycles behind me.

The route then took us towards Merced. On the way there, I was following the main route, aiming towards a point in Merced, when the main route instructed us to get off of 5 and turn onto 165. When I did this, my ETA to the point I needed in Merced was 15 minutes longer than the route my GPS had wanted me to take. I confirmed there were no sizable points off of 165, so I hopped back on 5 and kept going, thus saving me those 15 minutes I had used at the start. Once in Merced, one of the bonuses was to find the SR71 Blackbird and get the tail number. Colin had found the address of this, so I checked the GPS and realized it was only 7 or 8 miles off the main route, for 250 points. I went for it, and just as I was 1/2 mile away, I came up against this:



This frustrated me greatly, but it gave me the opportunity to get off the bike and stretch. But the darn train started to slow down. And slow down. And slow down. And it didn't look like it would ever get past this intersection. So I look to the right, and see another crossing about 1 mile away. (The train was moving to the left). I take a quick U-turn, and zip up to the front of that new intersection. Which is exactly when another train starts coming from the left:



This was mildly comical, but it turns out that the train from the left cleared the track just about the same time the train from the right did, and I was on my way. I went to the Castle Air Base, and had to ask some folks in uniform to point me to the Blackbird, who led me to:



The route then took us through Snelling, Hornitos, and Bear Valley. 49 near Bear Valley has to have one of the nicest stretches of twisties I've ever had the pleasure of carving. Elevation changes, great pavement, great views, normal (55) speed limit, just about perfect. There were a couple of other rally bikes on this road that I was able to eat up and make great time on, using the same speed limit + 9 rule. That self-imposed limit still allowed me to have a heck of alot of fun, scraping boots, centerstand, and probably some other parts around some of the tighter portions. One of the folks came up to me when we had stopped in Coulterville, and was bemused by having his shiny FJR dusted by a lowly old RT. I felt pretty good at this point.

While I was going along, I was noticing that the radar would do a power self-reset when I would hit a sharp bump, and it also happened some of the time if I accelerated hard. That was a nice bonus for a time, because with the radar going off full-blast every time I accelerated hard, it quickly trained me not to accelerate hard; hence not needing the detector as much anyway. But I did note that this was different than the behavior at the beginning of the rally, and I hoped it wouldn't get much worse.

The route then snaked over the Sonora pass, which was beautiful as always. One of the bonuses had us stop at Donnels Vista to walk down a trail and read something off of a plaque. The vista was truly breathtaking! I took some pictures, but they really don't do it any justice.



Once over the pass and onto 395, the roads opened up and there was even time to play with the GPS while on the go and try and plot some more strategy. After going through Bridgeport, it looked like I had enough time to start going over the ghost town bonuses, so I made the decision to go out towards Bodie. 270 out to Bodie was a blast for about 10 miles, and then the pavement ends (we were warned). There are about 3 miles of sand/gravel to traverse to get to the entrance, and I was curious how the RT would fare. I was tentative at first, but after a short while I looked down and the GPS let me know I was going 56 mph on gravel, so I guess the bike does just fine. I couldn't figure out how to shut the ABS off coming onto the gravel, but it actually worked just fine (I only used the rear brake, and it would chatter away and slow me down just fine). Seeing as I don't have the cojones (or the horsepower, anymore) to spin up the rear tire on pavement, I had some fun goosing it in the tight turns to hop the rear out a smidge. Probably looks pretty silly on a 600+ pound touring bike, but that doesn't mean it wasn't fun. The ranger in Bodie was very helpful, and agreed to take a polaroid of me in front of the bike and the ranger station (so I'd get my points).

Coming back to 395 from Bodie, I realized that the radar & GPS were off completely. This started to concern me, wondering what was going on with the bike. When I got back on 395, I gradually found out that they both would work when I was in 4th gear, but if I shifted up to 5th, they would both go out. 4th, working. 5th, not. I must have shifted 20 times to confirm this silly behavior. So I knew that this was voltage related, and I didn't know if it was my alternator belt slipping, my battery going, random electrical gremlins, or aliens. Who knows. But it wasn't long before they wouldn't work in 4th either. But downshifting to 3rd, then they worked again. This was escalating to something perhaps more ominous. I shifted to the right lane, and realized that my turn signals had gone out. Oh, this is not good. Along about this time, I also saw that the dash clock display would reset to 0:00 while the bike was having these episodes.

I rode along for awhile, trying to figure out what could be happening, what I could do about it, and actually screaming in my helmet, worried that I wouldn't be able to continue if this got much worse. As I approached June Lake, my electric windshield stopped working. As it was stuck in the high position, and I didn't want it there, I revved the engine to redline while holding the windshield down button, and this worked, allowing it to come all the way down before completely dying and not responding again. So coming into June Lake, I had no accessory plugs (front or rear), no turn indicators, no windshield, and the BMW's clock was freaking out and resetting over and over again. I pulled over, took the seat off, and checked for any loose connections in the relays or fuses. I checked the wiring diagram, and saw that some of these devices were on different fuses. I pulled each fuse, and confirmed that I could see a wire in each one of them. This now really concerned me. I didn't want to be stuck by the side of the road in the desert. Or worse, I didn't want my lights going out as I'm approaching a turn at speed limit + 9 out in the desert. Here's where I stopped in June Lake as the bike was apparently on its last legs (picture taken the next morning on my way home):



But what sealed it for me, as I was approaching Mammoth Lakes, was that the bike started to feel like it was running rougher, and was down on power. I should have realized that this is a BMW, and they are all like that. In retrospect, it was probably just the elevation, but when the bike seems to be falling apart around you, any little hesitation or glitch seems like something else is going wrong. Once I thought I felt this change in the engine, I called it quits, and looked for a place to stop so I wouldn't be stranded in no-man's land. I called rally-central from a pay phone in the Mammoth Lakes visitor center (closed, but payphone was outside), and let them know I was unlikely to make the next checkpoint, and barring a sudden miracle, would be looking for a hotel room so I wouldn't have to ride through the dark. They suggested Bishop as the closest large town with not only hotels but also folks that may look at the bike, if not that night but perhaps in the morning.

I can't remember ever feeling as frustrated, depressed, sad, pissed-off, etc. etc. etc. as I did pulling into Bishop. I look forward to this event for months, and to have to throw in the towel because the bike is going flaky, after having ridden for 12 hours and 500+ miles; well, it just sucked. Alot. I'm a grown man (theoretically), and I almost teared up again a second ago thinking about how I felt at the time. I was doing so well time-wise, the GPS prep was helping me keep ahead of the game, I had been on many of these roads coming up before (190, 178, etc), I thought I was on track to do quite well. It's just a silly game, but with so much energy, so much time, and heck, 12 hours of saddle time just that day, it really hit me hard.

In Bishop I saw a Kragens on the left that was still open (it was just a smidge before 8 PM). I went in and explained my situation, and they suggested doing a battery load test. We went outside and eventually got the leads in, and the battery checked out fine. So the information I had now was that the bike was progressively losing electrical systems, the battery itself was fine, so I thought the most likely scenario at this point was that the ECU or some other non-roadside-fix part was the culprit. The folks at Kragen recommended a cheap motel right down the road, which happened to be right next to a Denny's, and I holed up for the night.

I got up early in the morning, the bike started up just fine, and I was on the road by 6:30 AM. I figured I'd go as far as it could; each mile I could get closer to the bay area would be a mile less the bike would need to be towed, and Moto-Tow only covers 35 miles anyway. I needed to get back to King City, as my laptop and much of my gear was sitting in the hotel room there (yes, I paid for 2 hotel rooms for Saturday night, neither of which I wanted to be in). Heading north on 395, I started to feel a bit better. Sleep had cured many ills, and I was actually looking forward to going back over the Sonora pass, this time with no time pressure, and no need to hop off the bike from time to time to grab rally bonii. The bike actually felt pretty good, and I even was using the electric clothing, as it seemed that battery voltage wasn't being affected by the gremlins, and it is wired directly to the battery anyway. The weather was crisp and clear; here's a picture from near June Lake towards the mountains:



The RT has incredible fuel range compared to what I was used to, and even though I had 75 miles on the tank already when I left that morning, I didn't need to fill up until I was in Arnold, after the Sonora pass (250+ miles on that tank, including the ascent up Sonora). While stopped at a gas station there, one of the other travelers came over to talk about my bike. He has a new K12LT, and used to be a Harley mechanic (now there's a job that's not going away anytime soon). He said that he'd fixed a remarkable amount of electrical gremlins by unplugging all fuses and relays, giving them a little love, and plugging them back in. (i.e., cleaning them and getting some spit on them; especially if there is no dielectric grease around). I had done this before with the fuses, but not the relays, so I took out my pliers and pulled 'em all, replaced them all, and unfortunately it didn't change anything...

I filled up, got back on the road, and headed towards King City. I took a more mainstream route this time, but with the traffic I hit on 120, I probably should have just taken the same scenic way back. The RT and I made it back to King City just in time for me to grab my stuff out of the room, and see that the banquet had just finished. I spoke to Tom Melchild, let him know things were OK, and received my plaque. I also spoke to some other fellow rally folks, to find out the stories and excitement that I missed from the meal. By this point, I had pretty much forgiven the bike, as it had flawlessly returned me approximately 500 miles to the Bay Area, and I also was still completely comfortable when I stepped off the bike at the end.

Turns out I wasn't nearly the unluckiest. One poor soul, a very accomplished rally-dude (Iron Butt competitor), made it 7/10ths of a mile from the hotel in the morning before making a turn and rear-ending a car; totalling his bike. He walked back to the hotel. Another guy high-sided his FJR up near the Sonora Pass, but the bike was still rideable and he only had some bumps and bruises. The same poor sap also got a flat tire later in the rally, but as far as I know was able to fix it and still complete the rally as a finisher (more than I can say).

So as I pulled away from King City, headed for home on 25, I felt pretty good about the experience. 1000+ miles of riding some of the nicest roads on the planet, on a bike that was fun yet comfortable, and even with all the apparent issues, it still was a great ride. If I grade myself against the 3 critical success factors up top, the ride met every expectation. Can't wait 'til next year, I'm going to kick some ass.

AFTERMATH:

Once I got home, I unloaded the bike, showered, and had something to eat other than a powerbar. The MotoGP race was great, anyone who hasn't watched it already, please do so, so we can talk about it. I then went back out to the bike to try and do some more diagnosing. First thing I did was plug the battery charger into it. The charger gave me an error code, as if it wasn't even plugged into a battery. It needs to sense a battery before it starts to charge. This is interesting, how can it not sense a battery, even though the ignition is off. Bingo, it's gotta be a fuse. %^&*%*%&*&*)!!!!! I pull the seat off, yank out every fuse I can find, again, and replace them all with whatever fuses I can find in my toolbox in the garage (had no extras on the bike). Can anyone guess what happened when I flipped the key? So evidently 2 fuses, while looking OK, must have been on their way out. They apparently would let current across once it hit certain voltage, but not below, and got worse over time as they wore down. I went out to Orchard to get the correctly rated fuses (+ quite a few extras, that will never leave my tankbag), and installed them into the bike. So the RT is now roadworthy again (barring an unforeseen primary issue, of which the fuses blowing could have been a symptom). There's always next year...


Click here for a link to the full photo gallery.

Click here for a link to the GPS track of the ride.