The Marriott in Pittsburgh is enveloped this morning, not in fog, but smoke from the Canadian wildfires. While not as bad as the smoke in Missoula, Montana in 2013, the current smoke maps show red and purple ratings for this area. The fires are north of the Great Lakes, so the riders will not have active fires to ride through to get to the finish like the ’13 riders did. However, the smoke extends as far south as Huntsville, Alabama and blankets much of the area for 1000 miles surrounding Pittsburgh. A lot of riders will be contending with the effects of various densities of smoke particulates today and this evening, no matter which direction they are coming from on their return.

Martin Little and Rebecca McCallum have informed the RallyMom they have withdrawn from the rally and will be returning to Minnesota. Every rider must make their own choices, given their condition and circumstances. This was without a doubt a very difficult decision for them. We are sad they will not be at the finish.

Jim Abbott is back in the rally with a functional ST1300. We have not gotten the name, but someone from the ST1300 forum devoted enough of their time to get two tires and a wheel, drive 500 miles, help with the wheel swap and tire change, and then drive 500 miles back home. Just to get Jim back in the rally. Wow. Jim made some eastward progress, but apparently he has stopped at another hotel. It looks like he needs to do a a big ride to get to the finish. It is not easy, but it is doable, as many of us have accomplished similar long rides on our last day of the IBR. But he needs to get out of the hotel and get moving.

Speaking of not easy, but doable … convention wisdom says that Key West is always a sucker bonus. You see this phrase repeated often on forums and social media. A look back at the historical record paints a very different picture. The reality is that Key West is rarely, if ever, a sucker bonus. It is usually worth a lot of points because it can be a costly time sink. Unless the rider can time it to arrive in the middle of the night, it is likely to be a slog in slow traffic, as well as roast the rider in the unrelenting south Florida sun. But when it has been available, Key West has usually been a key part of an aggressive ride plan.

It is not a sucker bonus this year either. Several riders have it in their ride plans because it is worth 12,430 points. Somewhere around 20 riders have chosen to make the run to the southernmost point of the continental United States. But unlike prior rallies, the buoy shaped marker is not the bonus. The Key West Key Lime Pie Company is the bonus location. Riding to the Keys for some key lime pie sounds good, until you realize there is probably not enough time to sit on the beach and watch the surf as you enjoy a slice.

Jon Anderson was taking a route yesterday which made no sense to the rally staff, as it was adding over an hour to what he seemed to be wanting to do. He finally called the RallyMom this morning and explained. He needed a front tire and took the backroad detour to stop at his home in Colorado to change the tire. He is back on track and heading for the finish.

Eric Edelman was rear ended by a car a few days ago. It was a minor impact. The car had more damage than the bike and he did not go down. The car driver attempted to leave the scene by driving around Eric, but there was a police officer two cars back and immediately pulled the driver over. How often does that happen? Thankfully, Eric was able to continue riding. He called the RallyMom this morning to report that he was just “kung fu kicked by bambi” near Cumberland, Maryland. That sounds painful. Eric noted he was going to be lucky to get to Pittsburgh at this rate.

The staff tracks rider speed during the rally and riders who have dabbled with excessive speed are talked to and penalized if needed. So far, the riders are doing well with avoiding this pitfall. We hope that continues as the clock winds down and the pressure mounts to arrive without penalties.

We need to give some well deserved recognition to Jason Jonas, whose Spotwalla animations and tracking pages are always entertaining and informative for those following the rally from the sidelines. Even though we randomize the numbers on the public page to avoid particular riders from be identified and tracked, it is still fun to watch the riders spread across the country in search of points. Jason’s talent and effort is probably to blame for quite a few companies experiencing a drop in workplace productivity during the rally. Thank you Jason!

We can confirm that Ben Ernst is the first rider in the history to ride to the Northwest Territory during an Iron Butt Rally. In 2001, when riders knew there was a possibility of Alaska or Yellowknife being on the bonus list, a lot of us looked hard at the route to Yellowknife. It was not paved and had a ferry crossing back then. It is now paved and had a bridge. But it is still a long way to ride. Ben went there for the 20,818 points. Steve Eversfield also made the long trek to Sombe K’e Park. Will that long, lonely ride, combined with some other bonuses be a winner? We will see tomorrow night.

More than 10 riders liked the idea of 13,731 points in Meat Cove, Nova Scotia, combined with other bonuses on the east coast. Around half of the riders liked the west coast options, which had no huge anchor, but a buffet of smaller bonus values which could add up quickly. Will the west coast routes be better than the east coast routes? Was Yellowknife the right call? Will anyone get one of the combos Will anyone get more then one of the combos? Will anyone complete their entire bingo card for an extra 2000 points? Was there a potential winning route which even Jeff did not see? We will know the answers by tomorrow night.

It is always a frustration for the scribe to not be able to publish more details as they are happening about the massive rides being undertaken by some of the riders. The daily reports tend to highlight the problems and unfortunate things which happen to riders. The riders who are not having problems and who are executing brilliant ride plans do not get talked about during the time they are working their skills and magic across the country. The staff can see what is developing, but the scribe cannot identify the riders in the reports, nor share what we think their strategy might be. To do so would allow others to potentially adjust their routes to compensate for things they did not see, adding additional bonuses or combos to try and keep up with someone who initially found a better solution to the puzzle presented by Jeff. We will try to share more details of some of these well executed routes in the post rally reports, because these amazing riders deserve the recognition.

The rally staff is busy getting everything set up for the riders who are returning. Check in, scoring, verification of results, finisher banquet, awards, and the post banquet tire kicking sessions which will last well into the night for some. For others, they will get well deserved rest with a shower and a comfortable bed in a cool hotel room instead of a concrete picnic table out in the elements. Then it will be over.

Adjusting themselves back into the normal world after two weeks of intense rallying can be difficult for the riders. Some will have vivid dreams and wake up with a jump and wonder where they are. Some will wake up suddenly and wonder why their riding gear and helmet is missing. Some will be checking their watches to see how much time is left until the window closes. Eventually, they will return to the daily routine and have time to reflect on their time in the rally. Some will wish they had done better, some will be pleased, some will be elated to have a 3 digit number. Some will start planning for the next one. Some will decide this one was enough. We hope they can say they gave it their best shot and can be at peace with the outcome.