The Ride Around Louisiana (RALA) is a themed ride that the Iron Butt Association (IBA) will "certify", and it can be used as a ride to achieve membership to the IBA. The minimum ride necessary to earn membership to the IBA is called a SaddleSore 1000, or SS1K for short, 1000 miles in 24 hours. Each state's "Ride Around" has different distances due to the varying circumferences, so there are guidelines specific to each state. The circumference of Louisiana is, for the purposes of this ride, 1200 miles… 200 miles more than a SS1K, therefore it is possible to nest a SS1K into the RALA, and the rider has 30 hours to complete the RALA. The IBA also certifies many longer rides, but the next one in difficulty is the BunBurner, 1500 miles in 36 hours. I can hear the wheels turning in your head already. Photos of gas receipts adjacent to the odometer are the first piece of evidence that the Scorers use. Submitting the photos with my Spotwalla track simplifies scoring and accelerates approval. Odometer inaccuracy can be remedied with additional tracking and a google map to back it up.
The RALA involves going to 11 specific cities that outline the state, and this is the order that we chose: Morgan City, Venice, Slidell, Bogalusa, Clinton, Simmesport, Lake Providence, Bernice, Vivian, Deridder, Cameron. So, basically around the periphery, counter-clockwise, starting and ending on Hwy. 90. The rules were updated this year to allow the rider to start from anywhere, but has to end at the very same place. For Lonnie and I, New Iberia, was perfect. I picked a gas station that was on the path between Cameron and Morgan City. We got our starting time-stamp at 10:22:23 PM.
First mistake: I started the ride tired. I had gotten up Friday at my typical time, 6:30am, and rode the three hours to Broussard before it rained. I took the opportunity to check out my start/finish location, so I went there for gas to confirm that the pumps gave a receipt and the time and date were correct. That was before noon. I tried to take a long nap at Lonnie's to get on the same schedule with them, but it didn't work. I spent about 8 hours in a dark room playing solitaire on my phone. We gathered in the kitchen at 8 pm and took off for New Iberia around 9:45. So, this would be approaching my bed time. By the time we got to Bogalusa, around 6am, I was really hurting. Then we got hit by a rainstorm that we weren't expecting. It had been foggy for a while, turns out it wasn't fog, but a thunderstorm hovering below the treetops, and it opened up on us, and caught us out in the open without our rain-gear on. That was an hour lost, and honestly, I was ready to throw in the towel and try another time, but Lonnie and I convinced each other to keep going. If I had quit then, I don't know if I would have tried again.
The middle portion of the ride kept getting better with each passing hour. When the sun broke through around noon, it really lifted our sprits, and we were entering a part of the state we had never ridden in before, and we'll definitely go back there. That really sustained us. We took an extended break in Ferriday, and removed our rain gear, and ate a meal at Sonic. This stop was both needed and our 2nd mistake. We were there for over an hour.
Then, north Louisiana, above I-20 was a real treat. There were actual hills! One stretch of highway was like ribbon candy. At the top of one hill I could see the highway crossing the next several hills for miles in the distance. Our path took us right to a Tour of Honor location, and I was able to get a quick photo there. The remainder of that part of the ride was really nice, and being daylight we were making pretty good time.
We made our turn south at Vivian, and we decided to use I-49 to get through Shreveport. We should have been able to make up some time as well as rack-up some miles on the super-slab. This was our plan to get the SS1K in the bag. Night had fallen by this point, and I was NOT enjoying the interstate at high speed. In addition our speed was not high enough to keep all of the traffic from blowing past us.
We missed the SS1K by ~58 miles, due purely to bad time management on the part of the team. We knew what we needed to do, and we had the time to do it, but we mis-managed our time. It was still possible to finish the RALA on time, but we squandered that too. By the time we hit the 900 mile mark, 24 hours into the ride, fatigue was setting in, and Lonnie now had to worry about getting home to his dog in time for necessary meds on schedule. We parted company in Many, La., ~981 miles into the ride around 11:30 pm. I continued on to Deridder and Cameron, and took my Cameron gas photo at 2:56 am, leaving only 86 minutes to get back to New Iberia, 110 miles away on curvy two-laned roads, in the dark, while exhausted.
A side note here... 981 miles for perspective, is more than the distance from NYC to Chicago.
With the knowledge that I didn't have enough time to get from Cameron back to New Iberia, the smart/safe move was to take a nap. If I was going to miss the deadline, there was no point running off into a swamp while hallucinating. So, I parked the scooter, took off some of my gear and looked for a place to sleep. The IBA has a long tradition of Riders using a picnic table for such a purpose, and they call it the Iron Butt Motel. I couldn't find one, but I did find a protected place to lay down. I set a two hour timer on my watch and woke up about 5 minutes before my alarm. If you had seen me in the next five minutes you would have sworn that I was drunk... or worse.
This was mistake number three. Going to Venice in the dark was inconsequential. It is a very straight four-lane road that is well maintained for evacuation purposes. Not scenic, just straight and flat. However, going to Cameron in the dark 28 hours later was a mistake. The roads are narrow, dark, curvy, and you know there's going to be an aligator in the road just around the next bend. Plus, it should be a pretty ride that is completely wasted in the dark. Next time, I want to do Cameron around sunrise.
And to top things off… I killed a bunny! It was just after sunrise, and I saw the bunny hop out of the grass on the right, cross my path and stop in the other lane… safe and sound, and then instead of running to the grass on the left, he chose to go back where he came from... he never made it.
I stopped for coffee on Forked (Fork-Id) Island... 50¢ for a big mug of good coffee brings back memories of a world before Starbucks! This is another opportunity to up my game. I need a better coffee mug set-up so I can sip on the road, instead of standing around like a chump waiting for the elixer-of-life to cool to sub-lava temperature.
I got my ending receipt at 7:40:48 AM, so I missed the 30 hour limit by 3h 18min.
After my well earned nap at home, and doing a few Honey-Do chores, I submitted my email to the IBA for scoring. I mentioned at the beginning of the email and in the subject that I knew that I failed to finish in time, but would they look at my documentation for completeness. I included the link to my Spotwalla track, which also had all of my Gas Receipt photos embedded into the track. They replied 12 hours later congratulating me on a great ride, and confirmed that my documentation was complete.
An aside about the IBA as an organization... they want you to succeed, and they hold firm on their rules and guidelines to maintain the value of the accomplishment. No "participation trophies" here. In the week or so leading up to, and while corresponding afterwards, I got good advice, sincere encouragement, and heartfelt consolation when I failed. Michael Kneebone himself corresponded with me, and it was his idea for me to look for another interval in my track to find a certifiable 24 hours. Another gentleman, Howard Entman, phoned me to talk over my plan, looked at what I had prepared prior, and gave me advice on what to worry about, and what not to worry about. Nate Steuber, an accomplished LD rider from my area, followed my track all weekend, and gave me good advice as well. BTW, what advice did they have in common... make your fuel stops efficient and keep the tires rolling! Two things that we didn't do. If you have distance riding on your bucket list, start participating in their forums. I've been practicing more efficient fuel stops for a long time knowing that I'd need to hone that skill. They have several scooter specific Certifications, and recognize the additional difficulty of competing at their level on a smaller machine with a small fuel tank. But nowhere do they discourage us, or treat us as second-class Riders.
Mechanically, my '21 Vespa GTS 300 SuperTech (I call her iScoot) performed flawlessly. I checked the oil at Sonic, and it was still in the hashes, but I added oil since I was already down there. My mechanic had installed auxiliary lights at my first service interval because I knew this night was coming, and they did a good job illuminating the road at night, and to make me more visible to cars during the day. My QuadLock setup kept my iPhone at 100% charge even with GPS, etc. running. I was prepared for my Sena to need recharging, and had the cable and a power-bank in my breast pocket. Fun fact for you Cardo folks, the Sena can be charged while in use. Another tweak to my setup though... the Sena should be on the charger from the get-go, that way it is fully charged if you run into rain. I started the ride with my Camelbak full of Hydration IV, and on the route added bottles of Gatorade. Sipping throughout the ride is my secret weapon. I had also brought my winter riding jacket in case the night was cold. Riding twisties through the woods at night is much cooler than the interstate. I never needed the coat though. I was wearing my Helite AirBag Vest, and it blocks a lot of wind. I was quite comfy at night. During the heat of the day was another story. Did I mention sipping Gatorade all day?
The refueling process at the gas stations went well, and I recommend other Riders practice a process that works for them. My goal is to do the full fuel stop process without doffing any of my gear. My gloves and my touchscreen are tempremental, so I have a touchscreen-stylus on a lanyard. For receipts, I taped a clear, zippered pouch to the inside of my windshield. I had a smaller clear pouch to hold the receipts. I put a piece of card-stock in the pouch to give me a writing surface and I have a Sharpie in a holder on the inside of my windshield, and an extra one in the large zippered pouch. My process was to get the receipt, write the odo reading on it, then put it in the pouch. This gave me a larger "holder" for the receipt so I wouldn't have to worry about my gloves covering important info in the photo. I then took a photo using the iPhone's camera app, and then going into SWTracker to send my Custom Message and included the receipt photo from the library. My reason for this seemingly extra step is that the internal camera app captures/tags the photo with GPS metadata that may be necessary for more detailed documentation. Belts and Suspenders!
Lonnie's Bergman also performed like a champ, but they did have a fogging issue with the windshield that had to be addressed a few times. Antoinette's Sena 50S died, and I remembered that I was carrying my old Sena 30K as a backup. I see a lot of negative comments about Sena in the forums, and I've come to believe that they are Cardo people trolling us. The switch from her 50S to my 30K took about 15 seconds. Let's see Cardo match that. My mistake was not packing a charging cable for the old Sena. (face-palm!!!)
I've had enough time to stew over my "failure", and have already started planning my second attempt. I've ordered a few items that should help. One of the fundmental problems with attempting any IBA ride is that I'm getting about 100 miles per tank. I had 16 fuel stops on my RALA. [my fuel mileage will be the focus of another report]. I have ordered a 3 gallon Giant Loop Armadillo Bag which will act as a fuel bladder, despite me clicking on every warning telling me that it is not approved for that purpose in the USA. Assuming that this works as expected, I can now extend my range between fuel-station stops. The IBA requires documentation (photo of a Dated Business Receipt with your odometer in view) at a minimum interval of 350 miles. The Armadillo bag will be perfect for getting that range. I've never had the need for "cruise control" until this trip. By the end, I had pain in my wrist, so i've ordered slip-on grips that will hopefully provide some relief there. Also, by the time I arrived home, my butt was hurting. 1500 miles in the saddle is a lot to ask of any saddle, so I've ordered an AirHawk. All of my farkles are on the premium end, but the way I see it, I'm going to keep riding these extreme distances, so my cost per mile will keep going down.
All told, I rode 1548 miles that weekend, roughly equivalent of New Orleans to Ottawa, Ontario. It's very hard to say if I could have earned a Bun Burner, but it makes me wonder if that is possible in the future. I have had time to go through my data from Scenic to compare various 24 hour intervals looking for the 1000 miles, and the closest one was about 58 miles short. The problem, as I allude to above is that we started off tired, and needed extra long breaks, thus ruining our chances of having a solid 24 hour interval.
I will accomplish this!