2017 HW3 – Heaven and Hell
Justin was at it again… He and his team devised yet another brain-tweaker for the fourth edition of the How the West was Won 32-hour rally. This year’s theme was Heaven and Hell, with bonus locations aligned with history of the American West. Heaven locations gave positive points and Hell gave negative points. There had to be equal quantities of each. Hmmmm… How would that work?
I registered early for my fourth ride in a row for the HW3. My shoulder was recovering well from the surgery in December, but still not 100 percent. Regardless, I was ready to ride.
The rally packet arrived a week before the event, giving time to devise a strategy for at minimum finishing. At first glance, I was wondering how one could ever gain the 4,000 points to avoid a DNF. Upon further investigation, the way would be to leverage combos to net substantial points. But many of the combos were not obtainable due to distance limitations. But wait… there were wildcards available where one could claim a bonus without visiting the location. Dang, my brain was starting to hurt. The only way to pull this off and still keep to a reasonable number of miles would be to claim the maximum number of wildcards. A rest of four hours would give two wildcards. Spelling “Heaven and Hell” with city, county and state sign letters would give another three. A wildcard was given for riding 350 miles over 1,000. OK, now it’s doable. I came up with a couple of routes – one heading north through Utah and Idaho to Wyoming, and another west to Nevada. The Nevada route netted more points with 3 combos and road/traffic conditions would be more predictable (I thought…). Prior to my departure from home, my available time was used to maximize points for the Nevada route.
August 9, 2017
I awoke early to beat the traffic out of the metromess. Getting out of the hot Texas summer temperatures into higher ground is an all-day affair. I had added a passenger peg-mounted cooler as a hydration system. It worked great with cool sips of water anytime I wanted. But thankfully, the temperatures departing Texas were mild, with an early morning thunderstorm over the Panhandle cooling things off.
I rode through northern New Mexico toward the small mountain village of Cuchara in Colorado.
After turning and ascending the Highway of Legends, I leaned into a familiar corner and slowed for a quick stop in Weston, CO. Years back Deb and I made Wes stand in front of the Weston city limits as a thundering mountain storm was approaching. Wes could not wait to get back in the car and I don’t blame him.
I stayed at Michael Moore’s B&B alongside a soothing stream that made for perfect natural ambient noise for sleep. The burgers at the Dog Bar are great! Cuchara’s quiet roads are nice to stroll in the crisp evening mountain air.
August 10, 2017
I had a leisurely breakfast chatting with Mike and his only other two visitors that were also from the Dallas area.
I packed up and rode towards Independence Pass for the traditional chilly high-altitude crossing to Aspen. It was nice not being under tight time constraints for travel. My destination for the evening was the small town of Rifle, only an hour ride away from Grand Junction.
It’s typical in the mountains to have afternoon showers, and this day was no exception with dramatic clouds and rainbows over the rugged landscape.
August 11, 2017
Getting to the tech inspection on time was of no concern being so close to Grand Junction.
As I arrived, familiar faces greeted me. This sport draws friends from all across the nation together for the ride. My tech inspection and odometer check went flawlessly. I checked into my room and enjoyed visiting with my long-distance friends. Justin gave us final instructions after dinner and threw a couple of extra bonus opportunities being churches during the day and cemeteries at night. These small-value bonuses can be substantial in end results.
August 12, 2017
I don’t really know why I set alarms for events like this. I can’t remember ever being awakened by the alarm before a big ride. My brain is buzzing in the early-morning hours and ready for the challenge. The Clarion staff opened the breakfast area at 5:00 for us. It’s always good to start a long ride with plenty of food to help through the long hours in the saddle.
We were lined up at 5:30 for the final odometer check and send-off by Dale “Warchild” Wilson at 6:00. Tyler was taking photos of riders and motos in the early morning darkness.
The sky started to brighten, and Warchild waved us forward on our long quest. Riders continued to pass me on the interstate towards Utah with many of them stopping at the border for their first word/state bonus. I kept riding knowing I would cross the Utah border 5 more times.
My first important bonus stop was the Burr Trail Grill, which would be part of the “Pies” combo.
I debated whether to backtrack over the mountain pass I just negotiated or continue on through the dramatic Escalante Staircase. I decided to continue south and do the knife-edge road where one is torn between looking at the mesmerizing landscape or keeping on the pavement.
After passing by Bryce Canyon, I turned north to Circleville to claim the massacre site for another combo bonus. I determined later I could have totally skipped this visit as I wound up using a wildcard to reduce its high value of negative points. But along the way I picked up three important letters for the word wildcards. The storm clouds were building. I did not worry too much and welcomed the cooler temperatures.
Michael Phelps and I leap-frogged at stops. He and I had been riding close together from Capitol Reef through Bryce Canyon. We parted ways at the Thunderbird Restaurant where I continued south to Arizona.
I continued to pick up letters for the word wildcards and rode towards the north rim of the Grand Canyon to pick up the Kaibab Plateau bonus.
Documenting the state border signs was important to pick up substantial points and have letters available for the word wildcards.
One can get auto parts, lottery tickets, guns, ammo and beer in one stop at this multi-purpose store in Arizona.
After leaving St George, I journeyed north through minor highways picking up a Pies combo bonus at Veyo and another Hell bonus at Mountain Meadows for the massacres combo. Thinking about what had happened at these massacre sites in the 1850’s was disturbing.
A storm cloud darkened the sky as I neared the turn west into Nevada. The rain came down in heavy sheets that made it look like it was raining up as Forrest Gump said. I was relieved once riding west out of the heavy rain. But traffic ahead of me was stopped on the highway near the Nevada border. I realized soon that a flash flood in the high desert had shut down Hwy 56.
As I waited and watched some high-clearance trucks cross, my hope for pulling off any reputable finish in the rally was fading. The rest bonus in Ely, Nevada was of utmost importance in order to leverage the wildcards needed to complete the combos. But the longer I waited, I saw that the rushing water level was dropping.
Every few minutes another vehicle crossed and I made note of the water depth with each passing vehicle. After a half-hour, I felt it was safe to cross. I stood on the pegs to get the best visual and steadily rode through the swift but relatively low water. On the opposite side, I looked in my mirror and saw many cars following behind me through the water.
I made a stop to document the Welcome to Nevada sign and rode into Panaca. A couple of churches grabbed my attention for some additional points.
The temperature climbed significantly as I rode southwest towards Caliente (appropriately named…). The Caliente train station looked like it came out of a Mexican/Western movie. The plaster walls, arched walkways and tile roof shingles was interesting to take in. I documented Caliente for one of my Hell bonuses to balance out other Heaven combos.
There was very little traffic on the Nevada roads. It’s a bit lonely out in the high desert. One has to plan well in order to make it between fuel stops. I had researched a couple of fuel stops in Alamo, which would be an out-and-back heading on the road to Las Vegas. I noted a lone fuel station as I passed south through Ash Springs. This would prove important as I saw none of my researched fuel locations in Alamo operational.
The Alamo Inn was a Heaven bonus being a host headquarter for Greg Barrett’s Alamo Nevada Rallies. This was an important stop for my Rally Headquarters Combo pursuit. The fuel stop at Ash Springs gave me enough go-juice to make it through the early evening hours to my rest stop in Ely.
The Extraterrestrial Highway sign caught my attention at the intersection of Hwy 375. It’s always comforting thinking that dusk is falling and aliens are tracking my location along these lonely roads. At least Justin would be tracking my SPOT location as I was being beamed up to the spacecraft.
Approaching Ely was typical of other towns in the West. Only a few miles away and there was no indication that any town was nearby. There is no urban sprawl out here. Now in the middle of night, I searched for the cemetery to claim another 50 points. The Four Sevens Motel was another important bonus in the HQ combo. I grabbed fuel near the Nevada Hotel to document the start of my rest bonus. After settling into my room, I grabbed a late-night breakfast, showered and hit the bed for around 3.5 hours of sleep.
August 13, 2017
Several hours of sleep did wonders to refresh and get ready for the return to Colorado. I grabbed my small luggage and said goodbye to the night shift at the desk of the circa-1929 hotel. My bike was parked conveniently in front of the hotel lobby. There were strangely very few on the roads of this casino-dependent town for a Saturday/Sunday. I topped off my tank for the all important end of rest receipt.
The hotel clerk had warned me of deer through the Great Basin Highway. My eyes are constantly scanning each side of the road for animal threats.
The return to Grand Junction would be relatively simple with a lot of riding and another massacre bonus followed by a stop at Devil’s Kitchen. This stop would allow me to substitute a higher negative point Hell bonus with a wild card, netting greater overall points.
After documenting the Gunnison Bend massacre bonus, I enjoyed the spectacular morning storm clouds in front of me with the rising sun behind. I was not too happy about the possibility of riding the twisty Nebo Loop on wet roads. But as I neared, the storms were dissipating and the morning was looking great.
I made my way up the ascent to Devil’s Kitchen, the mini Bryce Canyon of this area. An enjoyable trip back down the twisty road with absolutely no traffic made the Sunday morning even more pleasurable.
Now it was just a run back to the barn with a few stops in small villages to grab church photos and the all-important Colorado border sign.
I was in the Grand Junction area an hour and a half away from the DNF time. I kept shooting photos of churches worth 25 points each. It was a lot of effort, but all of these extra stops gained me around 500 points.
Steve Aiken checked my odometer and time with 20 minutes to spare. I took my log sheet in and started double-checking the bonus location accuracy. I did not want to lose any points at the scoring table.
Leornard and Liz had greeted me for my return, and I felt bad that I had to take over a couple of hours in the scoring process before I could visit with them. They are a joy to see and very supportive of my eclectic sport.
I literally ran up to my room to shower off before the dinner and awards ceremony. Justin and Steve did a good job presenting the finish results, and I was pleased each time I did not hear my name called.
Last year I finished only a few spots from last place. This year my goal was to do better than last year, and I accomplished that with a 12th place finish. This was a difficult rally, with almost 20 riders with DNF’s.
Visiting ensued after dinner, and I had no problem sleeping.
August 14, 2017
This would be another day of almost no pressure to get myself down to Taos for an overnight stay.
Chatting with locals was fun. After a tamale dinner and a local brew, I rode on into Taos for my rest.
August 15, 2017
The sun was just rising as I rolled away east on Hwy 64 through Eagle Nest and Cimmaron. This road is fun and the morning traffic was very light.
The return home through Texas was not too hot for August. This whole ride ranks very high on my list of great trips and rallies. Can’t wait for the next one.