A novice perspective on the Cal24

Wed Jun 20 01:04:35 EDT 2007

OK, so here's my take on the Cal24. Note that I've done two 12-hour
rallies ('05 Snake River Solstice Rally and '06 White Stag), and one
other 24-hour rally ('06 Cal24). Each time I had a lot of fun,
learned a lot, and was comfortable with how I placed based on my
performance during the rally. I made some classic mistakes, learned
from them, and then made new mistakes on the next ride. So basically
I consider my self a novice. I'm not a beginner anymore, and I'm not
nearly on the level as some on this list who have completed many more
and much longer rallies.

This year's Cal24 was hard. Really hard. I heard it referred to as
the "just say no" rally due to the large number of bonii that were
simply unattainable. Most folks were lucky to get one or two bonii
between checkpoints, and if you could squeeze in one or two more and
maybe even a thread bonii you were doing really well. Now, we didn't
all know that at the start, but it became pretty well apparent as the
ride progressed.

I rode hard, learned to plan on the fly, and did the best I could
within the parameters given. I thought I was doing OK, but not great.
I never considered dropping out, but after passing up several
attractive bonii and still sneaking in to the first checkpoint at
nearly the last second, I vowed to plan better and not risk missing
any of the remaining checkpoints. I threw out the suggested base
route, and looked for more direct routes that also had some bonii
attached. They were there, but you had to hunt for them. And you had
to know your own capabilities in terms of time/distance/ability to
find things in the middle of nowhere at O-dark-30. I had some
advantages as I'm familiar with much of California and the third leg
ran right past my house, but in the end it was simply balancing the
distances covered with the checkpoint restrictions and bonii difficulty.

In the end what worked for me was to spend a few minutes roughly
plotting the bonii on a map, finding what looked like a decent route,
writing the pertinent details of the possible bonii on a paper tucked
above my map, and then getting moving as quickly as possible. Then I
simply started riding. If an early bonus was very close to my route
or easily obtainable I did it. Otherwise, I just pushed well ahead to
get closer to the checkpoint, then looked at how much time I had
banked and decided which bonii I would chase (if any). I rode right
past some big points on the second leg, but managed to scoop up a
bunch near the checkpoint and get in early. Too early it turns out,
but that's another story (never completely trust your GPS).

For the third leg, I basically did the same. Roughly map out bonii,
pick a route that maximized my ability to make time in the dark, and
grab a few decent bonii on the way. I managed to get far enough ahead
early on that I chased an obscure bonus down a dark canyon road and
had time to backtrack to the main highway. Judging from the amount of
HID lights I passed, several other riders did the same. I passed on
some very tempting but very risky bonii simply due to difficulties
routing through what I knew were slow roads in the daytime, much less
in the dark. A few other riders did try that route, with varying
levels of success. I then grabbed another thread bonus, and another
quick side trip bonus, and got on to the checkpoint with a few
minutes to spare.

By the fourth leg, those of us who remained were all tired, but
determined to persevere. Local knowledge showed me that a huge bonus
that required some serious backtracking was doable so I grabbed it. I
then simply headed north as fast as was prudent, took another
shortcut that saved me some time and netted two more bonii (that
ended up being thrown out at the scoring table due to my not reading
the paperwork carefully). I had banked 15-20 minutes, so I grabbed
the few remaining bonii that I could and just kept moving. I got
quite tired during the last 45 minutes up 101, when there were no
more bonii to keep the brain occupied and just the final slog to the
finish, but I made it with a few minutes to spare.

This rally was very challenging with a bit of fun thrown in. If you
made smart decisions (or at least just lucky ones) you did OK. If you
didn't judge your time/distance/abilities well, then you didn't do as
well. Period. In comparison, last year's Cal24 was more equal parts
challenge and fun. This year I learned a lot but I was glad when the
ride was done, and I just hoped I did OK. Last year I was sorry the
ride was over, and I wished I had a copy of all the route sheets so
that I could re-run the rally without the time restrictions. Last
year's route would make a great 2-3 day leisure ride, trying to chase
all the bonii along the way. In fact, my biggest disappointment with
this year's rally was the fact that many of the bonii sounded really
neat, and I just didn't have time to go find them.

Personally, I was looking forward to the Iron Butt style rules, as
I'd like to ride the big show some day, and I welcomed the challenge.
I'm not sure the forced 1/2 hour wait at every checkpoint made as
much sense as it would have on a multi-day rally, but then again, it
was an experiment. I would have preferred getting the next leg's
bonus sheets when that checkpoint "closed" so that we could have used
that 1/2 hour wait to plan the next leg. But we all knew the rules
going in, and arguing with the RallyMaster or any of the volunteers
either during the event, at the scoring table, or afterwards in
cyberspace simply shows poor form.

Now the fact that half the pack was time-barred or otherwise didn't
finish should send up a red flag. Or perhaps it just shows that the
ride wasn't quite what many folks expected. Maybe they underestimated
things, or maybe the RallyMaster overestimated what was possible for
the average entrant. But the fact remains that two of the top three
riders were relative newbies, so obviously it was possible for almost
anyone to plan and execute a good ride. (Note that I'm not taking
anything away from the winner, but then again I don't consider him a
newbie by any means.) I understand having these types of 12 and 24
hour rallies as training grounds is very useful, and it's something
that I'm grateful for. And maybe a more realistic base route would
have been much better, with those difficult bonii left in to
challenge the old guard. I'm sure there will be changes for next
year, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

But I'm also impressed with the two riders who DNF'd by missing the
first checkpoint by 52 minutes, then decided to complete the base
route and get their in-state SS1K. They were caught off guard, but
instead of bailing out they reevaluated their options and decided to
complete the ride with a more realistic goal. That shows character.

And obviously I wasn't privy to every conversation, but I don't
remember any of the top three riders (or top five, for that matter)
raising a stink or whining about how hard it was, or how it should
have been run differently. They simply sussed out the situation, and
rode through it as best as they could. I'm honored to be included in
such company.

In the end, I simply have to give major thanks to the RallyMaster and
all the volunteers who worked their butts off so that we could all go
out and play. I can easily get on my bike and do 1,000-1,500 miles
whenever I want. But the structure that a rally provides challenges
me in ways that a solo ride just doesn't. That is what draws us to
this obscure sport, and that is what will keep me coming back for more.

Ken Meese