Adapt – Improvise – Overcome (part 1)


Yesterday morning, I packed my stuff and moved 10 miles north to the rally hotel. I checked in and started to exchange all the broken spare part that still needed to be changed after the drop of the bike during the Brit Butt Rally. I mounted a new right mirror together with its housing. I installed the fixed, big 2×7500 lumen LED Sevinas that Gerhard had brought from Clearwater Lights for me. I also swapped the clutch lever switch so that the cruise control will work again.

European riders at the Bauhaus Brew Lab

I spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with other fellow European and American riders. I convinced a pack of people to visit a special place in the evening: The Bauhaus Brew Labs, a small microbrewery in Minneapolis.

It produces a lot of German style beers and seems to be a special meeting place for the younger part of Minneapolis. A colourful place with music from the seventies, an open space where people can bring their own food or buy something from a food truck and drink the beer in the brewery. I tried the Münchner Helles, Bohemian Pilsner and German style Schwarzbier (sic!) and they all were very good. The beer mats/coasters explained German words and how to pronounce them. We really had a good time and a good laugh. We even entered the wrong taxi, but the driver noticed immediately when he heard us talking German. Unfortunately, there won’t be another opportunity to come back to this funny place.

This morning, I got up in a good mood and before going to breakfast, I wanted to collect all the papers I needed for today’s registration day. I looked for my bunch of papers and documents – and found only a part of it! I searched everywhere, no stone unturned, until I had to conclude that I had left back papers in the hotel room yesterday! The problem was: I was missing the contract of my medical repatriation insurance that is mandatory. I started to panic. Without a proof of this rally, I could not start the rally on Monday! I called the Allianz hotline in Belgium…as it was Saturday today, the normal help desk was not open and the medical hotline did not have access to the data base. Then I called the last hotel, they did not have anything, but they promised to ask the cleaning lady and to call me again (which never happened). Now I really had reason to panic. I had been stupid enough not to make an electronic copy of these papers, something I usually do before I go on long trips. Damn! In a desperate mood, I went down for breakfast. I met Lisa, the rally master and confessed my problem. She told me to stay cool, I still had two days until the start tot find a solution. At the breakfast table, I discussed the problem with the other European riders. Kevin told me that he had an insurance from Geos that was obtainable online. Hm, I could try this. I looked up the website and indeed, the conditions seemed even to excel the required ones.

The logo of the 2017 Iron Butt Rally. Is this the roadkill we have to expect???

immediately bought the policy for $175 and was happy that I was back on track. I joined the other riders and passed through the different stations…paperwork, video recording of my acknowledgement of the liability specs, GPS Spot track, rally pack, camera and SD card check….then I met Lisa again and told her my positive news. She said that the insurance from Geos was not acceptable for there were some issues with the transport by airplane. We sat down and I tried to find the right terms and conditions, but I failed. I was too nervous. 

Did I already mention that rallying is an emotional rollercoaster? My mood was close to zero again. Lisa suggested to print the conditions so they could be studied. With desperation, I tried to find the documents online and luckily the computer in the hotel lobby had a printer connected. What I found in the made me hope for a happy ending: the conditions seemed to fulfil the rules so I was slightly optimistic.
However, the check of the insurances would be right at the end of the whole exercise. I had to do the tech inspection next. The bike was checked and everything was fine except the fuel tank. WHAT??? It was not compliant (you bet where my mood was in that moment…). However, the „problem“ was easy to solve…the venting hose that I placed next to my number plate needed to be extended below the number plate. I received a piece of fuel hose and attached it with zippers.

Tape-covered „commercial“ stickers…

Another issue was that the bike had „commercial“ stickers….there are from the previous owner and were Castrol Oil stickers and the name of the bike dealer….I had to cover them with tape….The next thing was the odo route to check the accuracy of the odometer. A 28 mile ride later, I returned back and had finished the technical part. Now I had to do the final part: the SPOT check again WITH some data points in it, the insurance and medical repatriation coverage. SPOT was fine (I had to engage the „show speed“ option), the repatriation was barely looked at (!) and my tourist motorbike insurance received the exemption for foreign riders as a domestic insurance is not legally to obtain with the required insurance limits. And than I had to talk to Jeff Earls, the Rally Master who checked last things and welcomed me as a starter of the 2017!! Yes! I did it! But mentally, I was exhausted. This was an unnecessary stress that normally would not have happened. I needed a rest…But first I filled up the bike and bought some food reserves.

In the meantime, my new wind shield had arrived on time and I mounted it. I had some lunch and after that, Peter tried to help me to get me the North America map in Basecamp on my computer, because I don’t want to connect the GPS device all the time when I want to do the routing. We struggled a long time, but in the end it was Gerhard who had the solution: he gave me his SD card with an old map on it, this seems to work. Excellent. Fewer worries.

Finally we gathered for a self-paid dinner of dubious quality. Some of us Europeans decided to go to the bar instead. So the day is over and tomorrow morning, I have to go to the rookie meeting for I was not a finisher last time. In the afternoon, the rider meeting will take place.

And on Monday morning, I will be among the starters of the Iron butt Rally 2017!

„Gemütlichkeit“ will soon be over…and we will need a lot of „Flüssigkeit“…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slowly but surely….


OK, I’m back in the hotel. As John has correctly put it, today’s objective was to get my bike through customs and out of the warehouse.

I got up early and prepared again my papers. I had been instructed by the shipper that it was extremely important to obtain a stamped form 7501 from customs, otherwise the bike couldn’t be re-exported. I had a broker in stand-by in case customs would insist on a broker. So in a nervous mood, I went by taxi to the US customs and homeland security office in Bloomington.

It was a very quiet place, I sat there some minutes before somebody passed by and asked  me if I was being served. I heard this question another four times and I realised that these people were very friendly and helpful. A friendly officer took my papers and took them to his office. There were no other customers. A quiet place. Finally, the officer returned. He had retyped all my documents and stamped also form 7501. That was very quick, after 45 min I was out again. Wow. This went quite well. I called the same taxi driver again and he drove me to the warehouse near the airport. I presented my papers and waited, reading a book. I was relaxed, this went much better than expected. Then a girl explained me that the customs clearance was not in the electronic system. I explained that I just had been to the customs office in Bloomington. The warehouse looked puzzled and told me that the correct customs office was in the airport terminal! But…..my mood changed rapidly. This was just a small glimpse what will be ahead of me during this rally: the usual emotional rollercoaster. Great. Get a taxi first. This almost failed as I was waiting at one entrance of the compound without realising there was another one where the cab would wait…but the driver found me. In the airport, I went to the CORRECT customs office where a massive officer took my papers. When he asked for the purpose of my stay, it turned out he was a biker as well and knew about the Iron Butt Association. We had a nice chat and finally I received the correct form 7501. He told me that there was an issue: the shipper had deleted an intermediate transport from Chicago to Minneapolis, this still needed to be fixed. Great….I took another taxi back to the warehouse where the validation of the change took ages, I felt. In the end, I could pay the warehouse fee and access the crate.

There it is…

The problem was that the bike still was in the crate. I had to rip the box open and with the help of the warehouse people I managed to get the bike out of the crate. I attached the screen to the bike, mounted the panniers and put on the rain suit. The workers refused my tip and wished me good luck. I went back to the hotel in the rain and I was happy the the whole thing took less than 5 hours.

Yes, it is cool and rainy today. We soon will miss this mild weather. Checkpoints 1 and 2 are located near Dallas, Texas. Massive thunderstorms are happening now between Florida and Texas and in the South-West, thermometers are reaching temperatures of 45 to 50 degrees celsius!!! If you want to do well in rallies, you cannot consider what weather you will encounter. But in this case, I think I will have to monitor the elements very closely. The heat wave in the South is just too much. To be avoided.

People have been asking me about the password for the link to my GPS track. But the link for the track is still missing. Here it comes:

https://spotwalla.com/tripViewer.php?id=1463f5922cb53d4e29

It will be active from Monday onwards. The start will be 10 a.m. local time.

I also learned some things today:

  1. Officials in Minneapolis are very friendly and helpful
  2. Taxi drivers here are mainly from North-Eastern Africa, such as Ethiopia or Eritrea
  3. I need to switch off my mobile internet and use it with great care. I have a good roaming daily pass for 5 Euro per day that gives me 80 MB of internet per day. However, every 1 MB on top is charged with 14 Euros (!!!!). The problem is if you receive the warning messages very late. That’s how I lost over 100 Euros (!!!) today…..

I have another night booked here, but I might pass by the rally hotel this evening….

Come fly with me …..


Well, he’s in the air somewhere over the Atlantic at the moment and should be landing in just over 3 hours.

He’s got his riding gear, he’s got his route planning hard software, the sat navs are loaded with the latest USA maps, credit cards are ready to use – what else can he possibly need ?

Oh yes, a bike …….. but there’s that slight „issue“ to overcome – the U.S. Customs …..

 

 

 

 

Ready to take off


So here I’m sitting at Brussels Airport, killing time before I take off for Minneapolis via Amsterdam. The first obstacle is past me: I arrived here without problems. After yesterday’s terror attack at Brussels Central Station, it was questionable if the trains would run normal, but luckily they did. I also passed the security check at the airport, despite my bag full of cables and electronic devices. Suspicious, isn’t it? In the end, the security guy was only interested in one item…..“It’s a motorcycle mirror!….“???“…..Apparently it was deemed inappropriate to blow up a plane so I was waved through.

Yesterday I received my second Sat Nav from my GPS shop; they had managed to install the North America map properly on it. After more than two weeks of struggling with the Garmin support (the map had been assigned to the wrong GPS device), I gave up and bought another map that I installed on the Zumo 350….and it didn’t work properly. But in the end, it seemed to work yesterday. The problem is that I can’t transfer the maps to Basecamp on my computer, the monitor is too small (that’s difficult to explain now), so I need to have a device connected to the computer in order to see the map in Basecamp. But this wouldn’t work yesterday! A brief moment of shock. Without a GPS map, there’s no rally. In the end, a re-boot seemed to solve the problem….

My biggest concern is now to get the bike out of customs tomorrow in Minneapolis. Air freight is usually straightforward, but I have been told by my shipper that US officials increasingly insist to deal with a broker and not a private person. In this case, I’d have a problem. I have Thursday and Friday to get the bike back, if I don’t manage, there’s no rally for me. I want to think that I have seen worse and even getting the bike out of Dubai harbour did not take more than two days…Let’s keep fingers crossed.

As usual, I will provide a link to my GPS track the next days….if you want to know the password, contact me and I will send it to you.

Heading for the gate….

Airport in „hellhole“ Brussels…

Unfinished business – riding the Iron Butt Rally 2017


Only 36 hours to go before I take off to the US….

After 2013, this is my second attempt to become a finisher of the notorious Iron Butt Rally, the toughest long-distance motorcycle rally in the world. I will leave on Monday morning, 26th June from Minneapolis and will return 11 days later, after some 11.000 gruelling miles, having seen many corners of North America. This time, I start this adventure with a „proper bike“, i.e. the Honda ST1100 Pan European. I bought it in 2014 for very little money with the purpose to ride the Iron Butt Rally 2015, but in the end I cancelled my participation back then.

The bike is optimised for long distance rallying and has an impeccable track record: out of nine rallies since 2015, it came second once and won all the rest of them. A good recommendation for the Iron Butt Rally. In the last months, I optimised many features and spent a lot of money to revamp the bike. With support from Mart!n, Bavaria’s best motorbike mechanic, the bike got a complete make-over: a new (almost new) motor, a new drive shaft, refurbished alternator, new brake discs with brake pads and refurbished pistons, new water pump, new wheel bearings, refurbished fork, steering bearing, a new cruise control, and and and….not to mention all the improvements (farkles) I had installed earlier: the highest wind shield, a day-long Russell seat, a new, smaller auxiliary tank, handle bar risers, heated gear, improved suspension, 14000 lumen LED headlights, 15000 lumen auxiliary Clearwater LED flood lights….

I will write more before the start of the rally, but I want to take the opportunity to introduce my back-up writer for the duration of the rally: my friend Mr John Young, probably the fiercest Triumph fanatic east and west of the Mississippi. He did the blogging four years ago during my first Iron Butt Rally. I will be banned from social media during the rally so he will keep you updated on my adventures. Knowing John, this could be quite entertaining…

I’m back …….


and for the next couple of weeks will be reporting on the adventures of my favourite Bavarian, Robert, as he again takes on the challenge of the Iron Butt Rally – an 11 day, 11,000 mile scatter rally ….

Despite my pleadings that he should use a Triumph, he has again chosen to attempt this rally on a Honda, albeit a different one from last time.  For 2017 he is using a Pan-European.

he is attempting to convince all and sundry that this particular bike should allow him the „privilege“ of being in the „Hopeless Class“.

Huh ???  It has indicators and an electric start for goodness sake ….. How can that ever be considered a „Hopeless Class“ candidate …..

 

 

 

 

 

Hattrick – The Brit Butt Rally 2017


OK, the Brit Butt 2017 is over and finally find some time to write some lines. This is what I had prepared before the rally:

Well, here I am. Sitting in the hotel room, trying to work out the challenge that the rally master of the 2017 Brit Butt Rally has thrown at us.

I arrived yesterday here in Leicester and have passed all the tasks today (registration, odometer check route, technical inspection, rider meeting). It was an unusual hot day here, but unfortunately the weather will bring some thunderstorms to the British Isles tomorrow; Sunday should be fine again.
I have finally enrolled for the rally with the aim to use it as a shakedown or dress rehearsal for the big Iron Butt Rally I will ride in June/July in North America. The bike was prepped considerably and this will be the last test before it will be shipped over the big pond. As I have won the two previous Brit Butt Rallies, I am in a very relaxed mood. I have no pressure at all and apart from testing the bike, I want to have fun during the rally.
I had already had an idea before the rider meeting what the rally could bring, but it was even worse than expected: there was no rally book, just a list of towns that could be visited, all of them starting with the letter „Y“ or „Z“. There were no predefined locations, you had to find the name of the town on a sign or board to prove you were there. Every town had a value that was doubled if you visited another Y town in the same county, i.e. 1 – 2 – 4 – 8 – 16 – 32 – 64. Every county visited acted as a multiplier for the obtained points.

The possible locations to be visited in the BBR17

So this was a complex equation, although there was a simple solution to it: Get some high point counties and visit their 6 or 7 locations and visit many single-location counties to increase the multiplier coefficient. A very mathematical rally, but not my cup of tea. I had decided to enter the rally to test everything. The route planning templates were useless in this case. This was not the rehearsal I was prepared for. I was considering to cancel my participation, but decided that I still could test the bike. I always loved the BBR for the big points, great rides, scenic places, spectacular locations. Searching for signs or other written names of the place in little villages, maybe at night, was not what I expected from this rally. Well, in the end I had designed a route and planned to ride it until Saturday evening and would then decide if I continued the rally.

We left at 6 a.m. as usual and I headed for Wales. In some villages, no signs were available, so I had to take a picture of a town sign, knowing that only a total of five town signs were allowed. In Wales it was cool and cloudy.

Welsh – a book with seven seals.

After three hours, I parked my bike in front of the Yarpole parish hall. I was sure that the bike was standing safely. Five seconds later the bike had crashed into a railing, smashing the windshield and right mirror. I need the help of two men to get it upright again. I quickly taped all the broken parts and continued the ride, much more chilly without the big windshield.

The route in Wales.

When I left Wales at 6 p.m., I was more than one hour and half behind my very ambitious route.  I decided to skip one point for I had booked a hotel in Swindon and my plan said I would reach it 1 a.m. However, it was clear that I would be late. I visited all seven points in county Devon and bagged 127 points, visited one point in Cornwall. I had to ride for one hour against the setting sun, swearing about the single track farm roads with grass or dirt in the middle and the shadow on the road that made the riding extremely risky. Finally it was dark and I could switch on the floodlight I had installed: 14000 Lumen H4 LED Cyclops lights plus the 15000 Lumen Clearwater Sevinas. And night turned into day. This makes night riding rather quick. Until the mist slowed me down. A lot.

In Exeter it was clear that I wouldn’t get to the hotel before 3.a.m., so I asked in a Travelodge motel for a room. Fully booked. I checked the booking.com website: In Exeter, 100% booked. OK, let’s continue. I bagged many points near Yeovil, but the fog was very nasty. Finally, I arrived at the hotel at 4:30 and spent my 4 hour rest break there. After a refreshing 2 hour sleep, I had a quick breakfast and continued my ride. I knew that my initial plan to go to Yorkshire was impossible, but I wanted to continue it as far as possible.

A typical picture of a „Y“ village location

I visited Oxfordshire, rode on the M25 and visited Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. I realised that I could not get more counties so I decided to sit down in a Costa Cafe in a shopping mall and did my paperwork, as it had to be presented at the finish before 5 p.m. The scoring was not perfect, despite my double checks I missed to claim one county and some more points. I had visited more than 60 locations. But 13250 points sounded not too bad, should be good enough for the podium. Unfortunately, John Young had to drop out due to an infection, but there were still enough rivals for the top. At the ceremony, I was called with the Horsefall brothers to the podium. They both had formed a team and had obtained about 8200 points….oooops, this meant….I had won the Brit Butt for the third time in a row! Unfortunately, I had no time to celebrate, as I had to hit the road for I had to work the next day.

My GPS track of the BBR17.

At home I discovered that the rear wheel bearing made a screeching noise….luckily, I have discovered it. Just image if this would have happened during the Iron Butt Rally! Apart from that, I think I am well prepared for it! 🙂