Friday Evening: After hearing threats of rain all day, we were anxious to get going. We wanted to get camp set up before it started raining too hard. We arrived, having passed through some light rain on the way. KO, rally host and the most hospitable man on earth, insists on having his daughter drive us out to the G-store to get something to grill. Our original plan was to set-up camp before the rain hit, ride to get some grub, and then settle in for the night. After procuring some chicken, captain, and foo-foo drinks we headed back to KO's place for a night of BSing, drinking, and listening to heroic tales of two wheeled adventure before heading off to the Red Kelty Inn. The combo of the rain drops and sampling of finely distilled liquors was enough to get me to sleep almost instantly. The accommodations at the Red Kelty Inn. Not too shabby. Saturday: Morning arrived to the sound of bikes pulling in and people milling about. I was a little nervous and excited and don't remember too many details of the morning - mostly that the coffee was hot and the donuts were delicious. I followed GSA (holder of rally packets) around like a lost puppy. I couldn't wait to get my hands on one of those packets and nab a good spot to start planning our day. Three years ago I ran the Unplugged I rally and in true noob fashion received a dreaded DNF. I hadn't run a rally since. I don't care to invest in a modern GPS, fuel cell and other assorted sundries one needs to be competitive. Unplugged II was to be my redeemer. I've been waiting three years for this chance, I'm not going to blow it! 38 bikes, 44 riders and passengers – ready to kick butt. The rally packets are handed out and I budge my way to the front of the line. Politeness be damned, I'm in rally mode. Once the golden ticket is in my clutches it's off to find a suitable scheming/plotting site. Let's see here, the theme for the rally is small towns in Minnesota. Nice, I can forget about my North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan, and Wisconsin maps. Basically each county (other than Ramsey) in Minnesota has one very tiny city to visit. OK, that's easy enough. Let's start planning..... (cue the sound of the needle across the record) not so fast. Carissa points out all the combos and other bonuses found on the last page, this turns out to be #1 in a day filled with having my bacon saved by my lovely bride. A brief scour tells me most of the combo bonuses are either undoable or will eat up way too much time. Well, that is except for one that stands out from the rest. The Eddie James bowling bonus - 900 points. There's no way anyone can win this thing with out going bowling. I contemplate scraping this whole motorcycling thing, finding the nearest bowling alley, order a pizza, drink beer and return to rally central in time to collect my 900 points (I surely would have wrapped up the efficiency slot). Nah! We're here to ride, and ride we do. I never get tired of this view. On Thursday, I plotted out some 400ish mile routes beginning and ending in Monticello. I figured 400 miles should be doable in a 9 hour rally, and I didn't want to push to hard and risk ending my marriage. I prefer riding in uncongested areas and the North country is usually a little less congested than the cities. Ignoring the fact that counties are smaller and more abundant south, we chose a route that would lead us North then East, South then back West. Like I said, I knew roughly what we’d be able to cover given the 9 hour 11 minute time limit. Planning our route was simple. Note the county we were starting from, ride 400 miles (hitting the bonus in each county), and find a bowling ally along the way. Easy peezy lemon squeezy. We were on the bike and ready to go by 0800. Jim Weatherhead (#1 in 2007) was the first bike out of the driveway, we were second. We tailed him about 1/16th of a mile – uh, oh!! There’s that needle sound again… Rally central is located right off of Cty rd 11 just north of Monticello. We hit 11 and Jim turns south – F#%K. I knew right away that I had made the wrong decision. This guy is a rally master, he knows there are smaller and more abundant counties to the South. Screwed before the fourth turn. Oh well, we’re committed now. I’m not going back and re-planning a route for an hour, let’s roll. Almost… Did I tell you it was raining the night before and KO kindly had his daughter deliver us to find our meal. Well, you see, when I arrived at KO’s place I was on fumes. No problem, I’ll fill up on the way to dinner and start the rally of a fresh, full tank of Dino juice. OOOOPPS! First stop after traveling a paltry .75 miles – gas station. This is not starting well. As I’m filling up, I swear I hear 35 bikes go past but I don’t turn to look. On to the rally. The first stop is in Santiago (just north of Becker on Co. Rd. 11). The packet tells us to write down the name of the proprietor of the General store. We passed two guys on sport bikes a few miles before arriving at the General store, why they were going so slow I’m not sure. We pull in, the wife spots the sign, and she’s jotting down the name as said bikers are pulling in behind us. Carissa is shouting out a beautiful sound that I will hear many times that day; TIME? I reply, then comes; MILEAGE? I dutifully reply again. What a lucky man I am! She proceeds to flip the packet to the next stop and starts the process of stowing things for take off when I notice, coming out from behind the General store, an old timer with a cup of coffee in his hand. This is possibly the proprietor we were looking to name. He proceeds past us, onto his victims the sport bike riders – insert evil laugh here. We stow our things, get turned around, and head on down the road; all the while they are being regaled with stories of how this dudes grand pappy used to run this place till grams passed away yadda, yadda, yadda…. Poor bastards. Next stop is Ronneby (east of Foley), where we’re supposed to write down the address of the church. I pull up and stop and proceed to look everywhere for the address. It’s not on the sign, I can’t find it on the building, nowhere to be found. I flip up my face shield and hear: TIME? What? Huh? Where? “We didn’t get the address yet” I yell. “It’s right there, I’ve already got it written down.” Sure enough on a small blue metal post, nowhere near the actual building, are the numbers I couldn’t find – bacon save #2 for Carissa. From Ronneby we head north to Hillman and encounter our first mud strewn, potholed dirt road. No worries, the V-Strom is up to the task. Carissa makes note that Wojciak and Talberg are the two names on the Legions sign, shouts out those two words I just love hearing TIME? - MILEAGE? I give my replies, thank my lucky stars for this perfect woman, and we’re off to Ironton. In Ironton, we see a couple of KLR 650’s parked at the bonus location but no riders to be found. I get a little panicky, cause I’m wondering what bonus they know about that I don’t. I shout to my co-pilot, “Where do you think the riders are? Are you sure this is the number we’re supposed to be writing down?” Her response is both blunt and immediately verified: “I’m sure they’re just peeing or something.” Sure enough, seconds later SafetyBob and Jim appear, rounding the corner of the pole building zipper(s) in hand. Whew, I need to relax a little. From Ironton we head north and east to find that the nice little town of Tamarack, for whatever odd reason, has decided to call their town hall the “Clark Town Hall”. Crazy Swedes. We head east to Wright and find out that grass on top of bog is really slippery and soft and almost find out what it’s like to be trapped under a 500 pound motorcycle. Luckily, my superior skills and cat-like reflexes save our bacon (that’s #1 for me if you’re keeping score). South to Denham, where we run into the longest stretch of dirt road in the rally. The V-Strom again proves to be a perfect choice, never faltering. Further south we reach Grasston and nab some numbers off the county park sign, then it’s on to Sunrise… RRRRSSSCRRREEEECCCHHHHH!!!! Would you stop doing that?!? Apparently some asshole decided to hold Haydays (a snowmobile grass drag race traditionally held in Lino Lakes) right outside of North Branch right in our route. The traffic was lined up as far as we could see. We made the difficult decision to skip Sunrise and go straight to Stars and Strikes in Wyoming to pick up our huge Eddie bonus. Collecting the all important Eddie bonus. Way to go baby!! We had given ourselves an hour to bowl during the planning stages just in case things went slow. Carissa once again nailed this one for us – 19 minutes from the time I shut the bike off to hitting the magic button bringing all 650 cc’s to life. Since she did such an awesome job, we realized we could take the back way into Sunrise and still have time to hit all the other stops, so that’s exactly what we did. Now we’re in our home turf. We easily navigate our way to the Sunrise bonus then it’s homeward bound. That’s right, the next stop is Ottisville, which if you look at the enlarged Twin Cities portion of your state map, our house is right were the “e” in Ottisville is! That’s not to say we have an easy time finding it. For the first time on this day, we both have Cerebral Flatulence at the same moment. We hit Hwy 8, we are within spitting distance of where we reside and neither one of us can think which way we need to turn. Yikes! We get that all sorted out fast enough and easily navigate our way to the bonus which is less than a mile from our home. I take the luxury of stopping in and grabbing my spare sunglasses since the ones I had brought with broke the night before. From there, it’s on to Bethel were we see Steve Johnson and Shawn Gellert on their BMW R1100RT. We have a brief “rally conversation”, follow them for a few miles, then head our separate ways. We are headed to our final bonus in Oxlip and they are headed, well, somewhere else. Oxlip is the only bonus location we come close to loosing points on at the scoring table. The sheet asks “What color is the sign in front of the fire station?”. Well that’s a bit of a tricky question. I mean the sign is mostly red but it’s got some white letters and a nice fancy logo with some orange and black and maybe a few other colors here and there. We go with “mostly red”. The bonus at Sunrise. We had to identify what Frank D. Lowdon almost became. Answerresident With the last bonus in the bag we head back to rally central with plenty of time to spare. We arrive at ‘cassa de ‘squito with 25 minutes still on the clock. We check in, get our pre-score sheet and with a little instruction (I’ve never made it this far) we’re off to tally our score. Getting the numbers together we see our Hayday mistake put us solidly in the high point category for miles. We add, add again, and add for the third time until we come up with the same numbers consistently and it’s off to see the judge. This is the first time for me at a scoring table and I’m very nervous. I’ve heard many tales of how these guys scrutinize every t and i. We stand in line until a spot opens up. Allen (sorry forgot to catch the last name) is our scorer. This man has the look of a very scrupulous individual, a doctor?, maybe an accountant? Nicely coiffed hair, thin rimmed gold glasses. Aw shit, why couldn’t I have gotten the guy with BBQ sauce all over his shirt and the confused look on his face? Sitting at the scoring table. Nerve wracking! Allen turns out to be a really nice guy who’s only question is what “mostly red” means. After my explanation he agrees to my pre-score sheet and congratulates me on a good ride. Our final score is 2414 points. We mill about and chat with some old and some new friends. I knew we had ridden a good rally but you never really know until the names are announced. I told Carissa “If we don’t at least score in the top 10 we might as well never run one of these again” and I mean it. Today things have gone as well as they can. When she made a mistake, I was there. When I made a mistake (which was much more often), she was there. A perfect day. When 5th place was announced and the score was 2153 points, I knew we done good. I was happy to not embarrass myself with another DNF. To come away with the first place trophy against a field of players whose names I have seen and heard numerous times is nothing short of amazing. That night was as good as it can get. We spent some time getting to know some new friends. We got to finish that “rally conversation”, eat some stellar BBQ with some fine company, listen to the best live Bluegrass I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing, and sit around a campfire with some of the best people I have the honor of calling friends. PERFECT! The North River Ramblers. Simply the best old timey bluegrass you will ever hear! Thank you all! Travis and Carissa Your Happy Travelers The trusty steed loaded up and ready to head home. The trophy belongs to her.