Death Valley

The 2005 White Stag Rally

By John Parker

Well the 16th Annual "Almost World Famous 2005 White Stag Premier Winter Motorcycle Rally" (Whew! such a long name for a 12 hour rally!) :-) is in the can. This was my 3rd time running in this event, and it was a blast! Tom Almassy teamed with Jeff Fisher this year to come up with a neat little 12 hour event that, I believe, challenged most of the entrants. It was based at the Stagecoach Hotel and Casino in Beatty, NV again this year, and as always, the staff was great to us. Jeff spent considerable time planning and laying out the rides this year, and it showed. We had 2 choices of medication, err...I mean route sheets from which to choose. One was the "Valium" route; the other was the "Viagra" route. The Valium contained boni that were fairly local to Death Valley National Monument, and it was aptly named, because that is the medication you would need after riding it! The night before the start, I counted 22 boni that I would need to do before noon! I gave up on this route and took a Valium so I could calm down and work on the second pill err..route. The Viagra Route "For those who want to ride hard and long" was quite a bit simpler than the Valium. You just had to ride long and hard for 12 hours (I thought that I was supposed to call my doctor if it lasted more than 4 hours ;-]. The Viagra had 5 main boni which were in 5 geographically diverse locations. Each had its own special challenges just to get to. You had to choose 1, and only 1, of these 5 main boni, and you had to bag that bonus or zero out on the rally. There were also 3 more pages of additional boni that could be combined with your choice of 1 of the main 5 if you were "up" to the challenge :-) If you know what I mean. As previously in the White Stag, rally packs were handed out the night before, so that you could "leisurely" scan the documents and ponder your choices ...for the rest of the night!

The weather is always a major factor in a Winter rally, and it has almost always played a major role in the White Stag. However, only once in the 16 years of this event has it stopped the competition. In 2001 the snow was so deep no one could (or wanted to) get out of the parking lot at the start line. This year the weather would again play a major role. As I plowed through the pages of route instructions and boni descriptions that night, I could hear the rain beating down fiercely outside. This fact narrowed my route selection considerably. Three of the Viagra boni were North of Beatty with 7,000' passes to get over. I knew that rain at Beatty meant snow and ice on the way to Gerlach, Wendover, and Beowawe. I had been to Rocky Mayer's Saddles a few days before, so I know that Ojai was isolated with 2 of its 4 access routes closed due to the recent flooding in SoCal. That would severely limit the additional boni that could be bagged on that route. So, I chose the remaining route to Grand Canyon Caverns. It still had some snow issues, as the storm was headed that direction, but the passes were a bit lower than those to the North. Some quick calculations revealed that I could score more points with less stops on the "Viagra Cave" route than by staying local and doing the dozens of boni required of the "Valium" route. I hit the sack at my "normal" time and slept like a baby until ...

At Zero_dark_thirty I (and everyone in the south wing of the Stagecoach) were jerked out of our blissful slumbers by the soul retching racket of my Screemin' Meanie! After some moments of fumbling and cussin', (or was it cussing and fumblin'?) I got the Meanie shut off, got up, and loaded my ST1100, and pushed her over to the Start line for the odo verification and wait for the countdown. At 0500 we were off and runnin'. All except me and about 8 other "Viagra" riders who had to wait at the gas pumps until 0515 to get a gas receipt for 15 bonus points. Boy that was a "hard" wait! Geeze! Now Tom's got me doin' it! :-)

By 0517 I was on my way with 15 points in hand. Now all I had to do was make it to Grand Canyon Caverns and back before 1700 this afternoon. My route on the Garmin showed 638 miles with a completion time of 1830. Ha! Not a problem. This was gonna be FUN! The ride was totally unremarkable South out of Beatty on highway 95. The temperature was hovering around 38 deg F. There was no wind or rain until Las Vegas, where it started to sprinkle. No problem. Traffic was light through "Sin City," and by the time I was across Hoover Dam it was pouring in typical Arizona fashion. I spent some extra time going I-93 rather than I-95 at this point, due to security measures in effect at the dam, but I had been wanting to check this monster out for years, and this was as good a time as any. Heck rallies are about FUN, right? :-) The rain continued all of the way to Kingman, AZ where I turned East on the I-40. I figured that the I-40 would have a better chance of staying open in a blizzard than Route 66. HA! As I would soon find out, I-40 might have been a "bad choice."

As choices go, the one I made to ride the Cave Route was a "crap shoot" but the best choice of those offered. The dusting of snow I had been seeing on the surrounding hills of Kingman, was the first harbinger of what was in store for those of us who chose this route. As I climbed East through the foothills on I-40 toward Kingman, I listened to the weather report on "The Weather Channel" with my Roady Satellite Radio. All morning long the report was for heavy snow and icy travel conditions on I-40 in the Flagstaff area. Being that Flagstaff was quite a bit higher in altitude than my most Easterly destination at Seligman, AZ, I hoped that the road would stay passable at least that far. The surrounding countryside was a surreal and awesomely beautiful site that brought both a sense of euphoria and dread as the big V-4 throbbed along at a reasonable pace. As the scenery became more and more like a Colorado Christmas card, the road became more and more like a Colorado ice rink! At first the wispy clouds of snowy mist blowing along the surface of the ever whitening tarmac amused and amazed me. I was within 40 miles of Seligman, when the first signs of ice on the road began. I stayed on the heals of a particularly expert trucker as the road changed from asphalt with a few bits of ice here and there, to ice with a few bits of asphalt here and there 80 I was 20 miles from Seligman, and the ice was 6" thick with grooves the width of a truck tire to guide the Avon STs toward my destination., when the clouds closed in and visibility dropped to 100-200 feet. The driver of my guide truck thankfully slowed the pace, but we were still passing all of the other vehicles on the road. Periodically, as I came abreast of an 18-wheeler, its tires would cross out of the tracks in the ice, and the weight of the 80 ton behemoth would send 25 lbs of crushed ice at me at 50 mph! A little tequila and lime juice and I could have had a Margarita.

Finally, the offramp for Seligman came up. I pulled off, and then the adventure began. It was 0900 and there was still the 6" of ice, but now there was 12" of snow on top of that. It became even more of a challenge to stay in the narrow tire tracks, and looking far ahead was imperative, as once in a track there was no crossing over to another. I had a brief premonition of what I was in store for when I followed the circular offramp to a T-intersection with US-66. I had managed to toboggan through the tire tracks, but now I was on the wrong side of the street. My objective in the town of Seligman was to get a photo of "Blue Thunder" in front of Angel's Barber Shop and Visitor Center. I had no idea where to start looking for Angel's, so I headed for the nearest gas station, a Chevron, to fill up and get info. I made it across the snow and ice in the center of the road without much drama, but as I crossed the bare ice that filled a gutter in front of the station, I found myself instantly in "the dead cockroach position." That is, rubber side up 80 Since I was traveling at something less than 3 mph, there was no damage to the ST and only embarrassment to myself. A somewhat reluctant motorist asked if I could use some help, and I quickly answered in the affirmative. I think he was hoping I would say no, but it was too late, and we righted the 700 lb beast with less effort than I had expected. With much more trepidy, I scooted over to the pumps a filled the 11 gallons of tanks with 87 octane. I surveyed the exterior of the bike for damage, and only found that the "break-away" mirror housing had ... broken-away. I readjusted the mirror and popped the housing back on. I went inside to collect my fuel receipt and pump the locals for the info I needed on boni locations, road conditions, etc. They were concerned for me after seeing my rendition of a turtle righting itself in their driveway, so I unashamedly used the opportunity to get some good up_to_date road and weather info. It appears that the county highway department keeps US-66 open and maintains it better than AZDOT does the Interstate. Many of the folks in Seligman work at various points along "Old Route Sixty-Six," and the snow removal equipment originates there. How cool! Following the directions of the helpful folks inside, I headed for my first bonus location of the rally. Just before mounting my bike, a K-bike rode by on 66 in the direction of the bonus without noticing me. I paddled my way through the ice and snow successfully and cautiously made my way down to Angel's Barber Shop to bag the 25 points. While there I picked up some more info from the lady who ran the place. It seems her son used Route 66 to get to work that morning, so it looked like that was a good way to go West all of the way back to Kingman. Good news, as the main Viagra Bonus and 2 other boni were on that section of the National Trails Highway. As I made my U-turn (ice and snow were now big deal by then :-) Mr. K-bike pulled up to take his Polaroid.

About 5 miles down the road Mr. K-bike blew past me. Great! I had a rabbit for the rest of the ride to The Grand Canyon Caverns. 17 miles later we pulled into the Caverns turn off. Mr. K-bike missed the road to the Cavern and stopped at the cafe, so I continued the 1/2 mile through about a foot of fresh snow to the visitor center. There were 5 other White Stag fools...err, competitors besides myself already there. It turned out they came up from Kingman on Route 66. Ron, our contact from the Cavern, had talked to Rallymaster Fisher a few minutes prior to our arrival and was ready for us. He expedited our tour 23 floors down the elevator and up half that many stairs to the infamous "Sloth" for our photos. Ron graciously took my photo with the prehistoric creature himself. Another 15 minutes and we were all back up to the surface. It sure was a nice break from the 30 degree blizzard outside to take a little hike in the 57 degree cave. I'll have to come back another time when I can explore this natural wonder more closely. Soon, some of us were back on our way to the highway. Two riders were in front of me and they turned right to head for Seligman. I'd been there_done_that_got_the_T-shirt, so I turned left to get my kicks on Route Sixty-Six.

About 10 miles West from the Caverns, I rolled into the tiny town of Valentine, AZ. I felt a warm feeling run over my body as I glanced at my beloved V-One on the Mark Riese Shelf. I liked this town already. The bonus was to get a photo of the old Indian School, which was quickly accomplished and I was on the road again making like Martin Milner and George Maharis. Even with the snow, it was easy to find my mind flashing back to the '60s when Buz and Tod cruised this same Route 66 in their Corvette for the T.V. show of the same name. The next bonus completed the flashback as it was a restored General Store of the 50's - 60's era replete with all of the signage and memorabilia of the time. So far no other bikes had passed me since the Caverns bonus, and I was making good time, so I decided to take a few minutes and call in to Rally HQ. This call was also worth 100 points if made between 1100 - 1300. I probably should have waited 'til I was back in the 21st century, because by the time I got the payphone to work I had wasted 30 minutes. Three of the riders from the Cavern were pulling in as I was leaving. As I got closer to Kingman, the altitude gradually dropped and the fluffy white snow was replaced with the usual high country chaparral the adorns this country.

When I reached Kingman, I had a choice to make. I could take the short way back to Beatty and pick up 15 points along the way. Or I could take a bit longer route through Needles, CA and Kelso, CA and pick up 25 points. The longest route via Barstow, CA for 50 points was out at this time due to all of the time lost due to weather to the East. Though I hated to go back through Vegas again, I headed that way via Bullhead City, NV and Hwy 95. I told myself that morning, as I entered Las Vegas on my way to Seligman, that I wanted to be back in Vegas on my way to the finishline by 1500. It was around noon and I new that I could make the Kelso detour and still get to the finish on time if everything went perfectly the rest of the day. Things very rarely go "perfectly" during these events, so I played it safe and passed on the 25 points via Kelso for the "safe" 15 points via Las Vegas.

After 3 tries, I collected the required receipt with "Bullhead City" on it for 5 points. Then a short time later I was measuring the length of a "dirt divider" North of Searchlight, NV for the remaining 10 points on this route. I rolled through Las Vegas at around 1330 just as the sky opened up and dunked me again. As I cruised through town in bumper to bumper traffic with the rest of the "suckers," I thought to myself ... How weird is this? It rains maybe 3" per year in this part of the country, and here I was getting at least that much in my two trips through today.

About 30 miles West of the pollution and gridlock jammed cacophony of Vegas, I was again alone rolling along hwy 95 when the rain suddenly ceased. With a renewed alertness, I now began to search for the final bonus that I could score on this route. I needed a photo of my bike with a 4-legged "road kill" for 20 points. Now that the rain had stopped, I knew my chances were 100 fold better than during the storm. Little critters would be out in the clear air looking for whatever it is little critters look for in the clear air. Many of those little critters, unfortunately for them, fortunately for me, would become "roadkill." Now, when looking for "roadkill" the object is not to look for the squished critters themselves. The best way to spot fresh "roadkill" is to look for large black birds (crows and/or buzzards). After several false alarms, I found my carrion and documented it as required.

I lazily rolled into Beatty and pulled up to the Death Valley Nut Factory at 1520. I took all of my paperwork inside, ordered a Café Mocha, and set down in warm comfort to finalize my Rally paperwork. Fifteen minutes later, I had checked all of my "evidence" and made sure all documents were in order, and no overlooked boni remained to be had on the "Cave Route." I then checked in with Tom the Rallymaster to get my official finish time of 1539. An hour and 21 minutes early, but heck, I had a great ride and saw lots of beautiful scenery, and accomplished most of my goals for the day.

When I got there at 1900, the Closing Banquet was well under way. The food was exceptional this year. The prime rib was even prime quality :-) Everyone got plenty to eat and no food fight this year at the "animals" table :-) The crowd was in a jubilant mood. All seemed to have had a good time this weekend. There were many stories from both participants and staff. Bob Bacon (he didn't have TWC in his room ;-) Found the Northern terminus of highway travel for his K-bike somewhere North of Goldfield, NV where he ran into ice and snow. Several others had similar anecdotes of attempts at the Northern Boni. A couple of riders tried the Widder Viagra Bonus in Ojai and didn't find out about the road closures until they were on scene. At least one of them made a very long day out of it by bagging boni at Barstow and Kelso on the way back to the finish. There were a few who rode tough routes, but were time barred after putting in exceptional efforts. A few of those who finished on time lost points by not following bonus instructions to the letter. UGH! There's that reading comprehension thing the rallybastards keep thrumming into our heads :-) Tom Almassy related several stories in connection with the Valium Checkpoint at the Titus Canyon turnoff. Once again he and his cohorts proved that K-Band Radar can stop a motorcycle faster than any magazine road test "expert" rider. And at a distance...kind of a remote control braking system ;-] The same remote braking device also works as a very effective Radar Jammer, it seems. Beware, however, as a very pissed off Bear is most likely to come alookin' for the dastardly perps! One lesson learned during said "Jammer" event, is to back off from triple digits BEFORE flipping off the little red pickup truck :-) Ben Askew did a very good (too good?) impersonation of a Melrose Avenue inhabitant as he thoroughly embarrassed Chuck Hickey with some "blue" remarks. Picture a white haired Jesus with a beet red face :-) All was in good fun and in the spirit of the "Stag."

When the awards were handed out, it turned out to be a very closely contested event. Three riders tied for Third Place with around 550 points. I received my plaque for Second Place from "Trophy Girl" Lisa Landry for my 585 points. Dick Peek scored the top honors with a very hard earned 590 points gathered on the Widder Viagra Route. Congrats Dick!

The raffle for door prizes went well, if not a bit long. Several nice prizes were scored including helmets, jackets, tools, and a $250 gift certificate from Rick Mayer to use toward one of his custom seats. Rick is 1/2 of the Mayer brothers. He and his older bro Bill, AKA "Rocky," have continued making custom motorcycle saddles in the steps of their late father Bill Mayer, "The Saddle Meister." Rocky was in Death Valley for the "Death Valley Days" celebration so missed the White Stag this year.

Some of the "notables" in attendance at this year's White Stag rally were: Dave Swisler, Steve Lotsofsky, Lisa Landry - IBA Rallymaster, Tom Melchild - Cal24 Rallymaster, Joe Denton - ibdone KOTL, Rick Mayer - Saddle maker, and George Swetland - Baby Butt 1500 Rallymaster.

During the Banquet, I overheard Rallymaster Jeff Fisher say that only one of his "Buried Road Treasures" had been recovered at that time. The Road Treasures idea is a variant of the old buried treasure boni used by 4X4 clubs for years in desert rallies. Before the White Stag started this year, Jeff saw to it that six water bottles were placed in certain locations in and around the Death Valley area. A list of the "Buried Road Treasures" and directions to each was included in the Rally Pack. The reward for finding a treasure was extra raffle tickets for the Banquet Prize Giveaway. Since there were no "points" awarded for finding any of the treasures, few of the riders spent the time to search them out. A shame after all of the effort Jeff obviously put into them. All too soon the festivities drew to an end, and we retired to our rooms for some well deserved, needed sleep.

Sunday morning I awoke and headed for breakfast at Rita's Cafe, convieniently located inside the Casino. This year the food was better than I remembered from past meals here, and the service was outstanding. Tom had obviously won over the staff, as the server brought my food in record time along with the bill. I could have used this for an Iron Butt stop; too bad I was in no hurry this morning :-) I saddled up the ST and headed back over Daylight Pass through Death Valley on my way back to L.A. The weather was beautiful; not a cloud in the sky and just light winds. Beatty was 34 degrees. Great riding weather for this locale. Since two of the "White Stag Road Treasures" were more or less on my way, I decided to see if I could "score" one or two. In Death Valley, I turned on to hwy 267 and followed it north 11.5 miles to a "Point of Interest." The directions said to read the information sign, then turn 180 degrees and find a painted rock. The #4 treasure was hidden in a bush just behind and to the left of the rock. To my surprise, the "Treasure" was a nice water bottle. Baby powder, cigars (no matches), candy, gum, and other little trinkets and useful items filled the bottle. Kewel! I also scored the #5 treasure on hwy 190 at the 3000' sign. The rest of the ride was very uneventful as I rode back roads all of the way home.

I had a great time again this year and will definitely be back again next year, rally or RTE. Thanks again to Tom Almassy, Jeff Fisher, and all of their hard working staff for an outstanding event.