Saturday, April 26, 2008
Have you ever wanted to do one of those multi-day
long distance rallies? Maybe even the Iron Butt Rally itself? I've done a
few 1000-mile days in my time, but never had any navigation rallying
experience. Running around the countryside trying to make checkpoints and
grab bonus locations all while keeping on a very strict timetable. My
chance finally came when I heard about the LowCal 250 Rally put on by San
Diego BMW as a charity event for Polycystic Kidney Disease Research. Here
was the opportunity to experience all the highs and lows of a navigation
rally in the course of just one day! Sounds like fun and it's for a worthy
charity. The LowCal billed itself as an informal one day San Diego County
Navigation Rally perfect for beginners new the to the rally experience.
I signed up along with "Big Bird" (my
12GS) as entrants for the Saturday April 26th start. The rally would take
place all through San Diego County with the vast majority of bonus
locations available to streetbikes, however to make it interesting for us
dualsport types, there were a few bonus locations on dirt roads too.
I arrived on Saturday morning at SDBMW for the 7:00
AM rider's meeting. Craig Chaddock, our
rallymaster was all set with the details and rider packets. He gave us the
run down and we then dived
into our paperwork showing the bonus locations. There were 26 bonus
locations in all. For these types of rides you have to think of the
bonuses as items on a menu. You can't eat everything without hurting
yourself. It would be impossible to make all the locations in the 8-hour
riding period. Pick the ones that had the highest points and were in
locations you could get to while still getting back on time. Not an easy
task at all. GPS coordinates and basic map descriptions were given for
each location. For
out of town entrants the GPS locations were very necessary for the rider
to find their way, however for a local like me,
I could just read the descriptions and pretty much knew where most of the
bonus locations were. The hardest part was figuring out the route to run
throughout the day. Many riders built their route right there at the shop,
while others (like me) decided to wing it a bit. Glancing through the
bonuses, I noticed that Mt Palomar had the largest points of all. I knew
you couldn't win without going to Palomar. OK that's the first part of the
route. Get to Palomar and hit some bonuses on the way. The rest I'll
figure out later.
Our 1st checkpoint for the start of the rally would
be at the Barona Gas Station on Wildcat Canyon Rd. This receipt would be
your clock start and then
you have 8 hours to get to SDBMW to shut the clock off. I picked up my gas
receipt at 8:53 AM. I had to be back by 4:53 PM. Head out Wildcat and then
onto Highland Valley Rd to pick up a bonus. Here's an example "What
was the family name on the Adopt a Road sign on Highland Valley between
mile marker 8.5 and 9.0?" Find the sign, write down the name, record
mileage and time, then you're off to the next one. I grabbed another big
bonus at Lake Wolford Cafe, and then it was on to Palomar. I skipped a
bonus at Bates Nut Farm as it was low points and it could be quite
touristy and crowded. The most direct way to Palomar at this point was to
go up the South Grade, but that can get full of traffic with bikes, cars,
and CHP. I decided to take Nate Harrison dirt truck trail even though it
would take me a bit longer. Unfortunately, Nate's wasn't in very good
shape, so it took me quite a bit longer to get to the Mother's Kitchen
bonus. When I arrived, I saw some of my other competitors already leaving
the mountain with both of the Palomar bonuses in hand. I knew I had lost
some serious time now.
Twenty minutes later, I had my Palomar bonuses, and
it was time to head down the mountain on the East Grade, as we had a
mandatory gas check at Borrego Springs. On hwy 76 along Lake Henshaw I
decided to grab a good bonus on Mesa Grande Rd. It would mean doubling
back once I picked up the bonus, but I like Mesa Grande anyway. Next,
heading on hwy 79 toward the S2 turn off for Borrego Springs (Check Point
#2), I knew there was a bonus past Warner Springs with some large points.
However, the temps were unseasonably high this day and I decided skip
Warner Springs and go for other big bonuses in higher cooler areas. This
turned out to be a lucky decision as later the road to Borrego on S22
(Montezuma Grade) would be blocked from a sportbike accident, holding up
many of my competitors.
I got gas at Borrego and my receipt for
"C2". It was just after noon, so I decided to take my Lunch
Break Bonus. Rallymaster Craig, not wanting all the riders running around
all day skipping eating and getting dehydrated, had put a 1400 point, 40
minute lunch break into the schedule. You couldn't bag more than 1400
points in 40 minutes of riding, so it just made sense to take the break.
More important this gave me a chance to review my route back into town as
I was still pretty much winging it. During my "LB" I reviewed
all the remaining bonuses (bonii?) and a route started to develop in my
head. I would head out Yaqui Pass, get points at Scissors Xing, head up
Banner Grade, grab points on Wynola, go up Mt Laguna for another big
bonus, back down Laguna to Lake Cuyamaca, hit a bonus on Engineers Rd,
take dirt road Boulder Creek for another bonus, continue to Descanso, then
Japatul, and onto Lyon's Valley Trading Post for one more bonus pickup.
Then if time permitted, go up dirt to the top of Otay Mountain for a final
bonus and head back to the SDBMW.
I had 4 hours to pull this off and since the route
was now in my head, I really didn't need any mapping or strategy -- just
ride Big Bird and grab the points. My run went right to plan all through
to Lyon's Valley Post. Now it was 3:30 PM and I had 1 hour and 20 minutes
I get up Otay and still make it to the shop? I knew the rally had at least
one Iron Butt veteran entered, and I also know that these guys are
serious. They can grab bonus points practically in their sleep. I had no
idea where I was in the standings, but I felt it that it was worth the
risk going for the Otay Mountain bonus. OK, take Honey Springs Rd to Otay
Lakes Rd, and then turn up the dirt at the Thousand Trails campground.
Head up Otay Mountain, find the highest tower, write down the address, and
ride down the mountain to Otay Mesa, hwy 905, then north on hwy 805 to the
I arrived with 10 minutes to spare. Big Bird
performed flawlessly and while I didn't know where I would be in the
standings, I was proud of my run no matter what position I came in. Craig
and his wife scored all the sheets on a laptop while SDBMW provided a catered
dinner for the participants. Final rider's meeting at 6:00 PM, and
once all the swag was handed out from numerous local shops, the winner
announced. Big Bird did it, Highest score by 2000 points! SDBMW's own
Geoff King was 2nd. The local boys had made the grade against the rally
veterans. Truth is, road knowledge is the key here. A GPS is a great tool,
but it will only get you so far.
In the end it was a great time and good learning
experience. Everyone made mistakes and everyone learned a bit on how one
of these rallies run. Craig did an excellent job with all the bonus
locations showing amazing attention to details. If you're looking for an
easy way to experience a navigation rally, while getting some good
experience with your GPS, or just want to ride around our beautiful
county, I highly recommend running the LowCal 250 for next year.
Want to Know More?
Download the Abbreviated Rally Instructions and give it a try on paper... and maybe even go out and run your planned route to see how close you come to your plan!
Logistics, Back-Country Recovery Assistance and Bonus Location
Verification was provided by
The sponsor, San Diego BMW Motorcycles, provided dinner and covered all the costs of operating the rally. Because of this, everyone's "entry fee" was a 100% deductible donation to the PKD Foundation (donations were between $25 and $250). Additionally, to mark our first year using a rally format, the sponsor matched everyone's donation - doubling the funds raised by the rally for PKD* this year!
* Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) affects 600,000 Americans and 12.5 million children and adults worldwide. Visit PKDcure.org to find out more about the only organization worldwide dedicated to promoting research to find a cure for PKD and improving the care and treatment of those it affects.