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Endurance rally brings motorcyclists to Big Sky

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By Emily Wolfe Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY – Imagine you’re riding a motorcycle on a dark highway at midnight. You’ve been going for 19 hours already, and you’re seeking out a specific spot along the Lewis and Clark trail. The GPS description reads:

After missing the entrance to what was later named the Columbia River, English explorer John Meares [in 1788] dubbed the massive headland jutting out into the Pacific Ocean, “Cape Disappointment.”… Almost 20 years later, Capt. William Clark and the Corps of Discovery explored the headland in their final push to the Pacific Ocean… Take a picture of sign saying: “Welcome to Cape Disappointment State Park.”

You have another 13 hours to ride before you’ll return to your starting and finishing point in Big Sky.

This is “Into the Unknown,” a 32-hour endurance motorcycle rally hosted Aug. 23-25 by residents Bob and Sylvie Torter and named for the Lewis and Clark expedition.

The goal isn’t to ride the most miles, necessarily – although participants will likely go upwards of 2,000, Bob said – but to score the most points in the 32-hour period. Riders accomplish this by locating bonuses such as the Cape Disappointment State Park welcome sign; each of the bonus sites is along the Corps of Discovery’s historic path between central North Dakota and the Oregon coast.

Sanctioned by the 50,000-member Iron Butt Association and the 220,000-member American Motorcycle Association, the rally will draw a couple of Montana riders, Bob said, and also people from California, Washington, Florida, Canada, the eastern U.S. and New Zealand.

Riding for 32 hours straight is no joke, and this is a serious crew.

“To get into the Iron Butt Association, there’s an entrance exam,” Bob explains. “You have to ride and document very carefully 1,000 miles in 24 hours… The next thing is you have to ride 1,500 miles in 24 hours.”

The Torters pose at home in Big Sky

He should know: the Torters have twice done the Iron Butt Rally, covering 11,000 miles in 11 days, and competed in other rallies around the country. Bob, 68, is originally from New York, and Sylvie, 48, from northern Argentina. The two moved to Big Sky 16 years ago from Fisher Island, Fla., off the coast of Miami.

“We like to ride [in Montana] so much that we wanted to share the beauty with other people,” Bob said. There had never been a rally here, he said, so in 2011, they decided to pay it forward.

“Good, Bad and Ugly,” their first event, brought 50 riders for an event hosted mainly within state lines. This year 70 riders have signed up, Bob says, and 16 people in addition to the Torters are helping run the event, which will be based out of the Summit Hotel at Big Sky Resort.

Riders received a map of the towns and course area a week prior, but know nothing about the bonuses until a pre-rally dinner on Friday night. This year’s rally package is 45 pages long, with 110 bonuses, each worth a different amount of points. A bonus on the coast of Oregon, for example, would be more valuable than one in Bozeman.

Riders also receive a thumb drive with the bonuses, which they plug into specialized computer software to design a route that maximizes their points but still gets them back to Big Sky in time.

“It’s very, very complicated to design a route,” Bob said. “There are a lot of computer geeks involved in the sport, because it’s largely a complex mathematical exercise.”

Complicating matters are “string bonuses,” which link bonuses together, multiplying their value. But riders must beware temptation. “There may be a 500-point bonus 200 yards from route that’s not part of the string,” Bob explained, “but if you get that, you break the string.”

Each rider’s GPS updates every 10 minutes, connecting to a satellite and allowing viewers worldwide to follow the rally. This also allows the Torters to keep an eye on the riders, each of whom have a SPOT locator device.

With dangers like drowsiness and animals in the road at night, the riders have to stay on their toes.

The only tangible reward for winning is a trophy.

“What you get is recognition, but you get a lot,” Bob says.

Sylvie says there’s something more. From the motorcycle, “you can see everything. It gives you a sense of freedom.”

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