LDRally Scoring

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The View from the Scoring Table

Written June 14, 2005 by Allan Pratt, apratt@bestbits.org.
(Expanded somewhat July 9, 2006.)

I was a volunteer at the 2005 Cal24 rally, and it was great fun. As I have done in past years, I pre-rode the base route a week or two ahead of time, "proofreading" the instructions provided by Rallymasters Tom Melchild and Mike Heran and offering suggestions. I knew what the riders were in for: funky county roads, the snowy vistas of Sonora Pass and Westgard Pass, the switchback nightmare of Bodfish-Caliente Road in the dark, and some oh-so-sweet late-night sweepers on CA166 west of New Cuyama.

The rally organizers Mike and Tom did an amazing job, the rest of the volunteers were first-rate, and a grand time was had by all. Well, almost all; the "oops" award goes to... well, I'll let somebody else tell that one. As far as I know, no rider gave any volunteer a hard time, and thanks for that.

At the finish, Tom asked me to help score. This was the first time I helped score a rally. That experience gave me a new perspective on rallies and the things that happen during the critical time after the miles have been ridden and before the finishing order is announced. I decided I would write down some of my thoughts on that. I don't speak for the Cal24 rally or Tom or Mike: these are my own observations.

Scoring a rally is a hectic activity. There are people moving around, stacks of paper (and other junk) to keep track of, balky computers, tired riders still coming in, and always the clock ticking down. The deadline for the scorers is the banquet start time: if you don't have the finishing order ready by then (and usually the Top Ten vetted by the rallymaster himself), you're keeping everybody waiting - and your own lunch is getting cold!

Scorers have to exercise a kind of limited judgment. When a rider's answer to a question doesn't exactly match the answer key provided by the RM, the first instinct is to mark it wrong. After all, the guiding principle is "wrong is wrong." But there are exceptions: if the wording isn't exact but it's close, or if the phone number is right but leaves off the area code, you've got a judgment call. Usually the scorer will ask the RM for a ruling, even though it means dragging him away from the million other things he's doing during the finish.

Judgment calls open up the question of variability: if there are multiple scorers, one might mark the phone number correct even if the area code is missing; the other might mark it wrong or ask for a ruling. Sometimes the question doesn't come up until several riders' packages have been processed. It is possible that a rider whose package has already been scored (or at least scanned) won't get credit for a certain type of variance from the canonical answer, even though later riders will. Scorers try to go back and review and correct earlier packages, and try to remember and give credit for variances equally, but they're on deadline and fallible. Just so you know.

Then there are the "consistently wrong" answers. As a scorer, when you see the third or fourth sheet with the same wrong answer for a given question, you start to wonder whether things weren't as clear in the dark as they might have seemed while the RM was laying out the route. (See the "L-shaped bench" example below.) This also calls for a judgment, where the RM can declare that multiple answers are acceptable due to multiple "equally correct" interpretations of the rules or the questions. Again, this usually happens after several packages have been scored, and scorers have to go back and check.

I'm not trying to say things are always chaotic and random at the Scorer's Table, and your final standing is just a matter of luck. Scorers try to get it right, and try to apply the rules and judgment calls equally, but it's worth knowing that things don't always work out perfectly.

As a rider, you can help yourself lock in the points and save the scoring volunteers from making judgment calls by doing some simple things:

1. If a question's answer appears on a sign, copy down the exact wording from the sign. Don't paraphrase or interpret. Question: "According to the sign at location X, what should you do with children?" If the cutesy sign makes a joke about "beholding" children and says you should  "Be Holdin' 'Em," then that's what you should write down. Not "Hold them," which a Rally Bastard or a scorer in a bad mood might have to think twice about.

2. Make sure you're writing down the proper piece of information. One question in this year's Cal24 was about the elevation of a certain place with a marker. It turns out there were two elevation values on that marker, and at least half a dozen riders copied down the wrong one. (Insert the RM's evil laugh here.) Reading comprehension counts: the question and the sign were clear about which one was the right answer. The same thing happened with names and dates from other markers: there was more than one on the sign, but the question made it clear which one would get you the points.

3. The flip side of #2 is when the question and location do not make it clear what the exact right answer is. If there's any ambiguity, record everything you can. Question: "How many benches are at location X?" Answer: it depends on how you count. Is it two benches, or one L-shaped bench? Several riders saw this possible double answer, and wrote (and even sketched!) the bench configuration. That was very smart. In the end Tom said to score both "1" and "2" as correct.

4. If you don't see the answer, look again. One question was, "What is the telephone number of the pay phone at location X?" One rider wrote "blank," because the usual location for the number was indeed blank. But this wasn't that kind of trick question: the phone number did appear somewhere else on the phone, and lots of other riders found it.

5. Copy information carefully and check it twice: for a different phone number question, at least one rider copied the phone number down wrong. Rallies (and scorers!) vary in the amount of leeway they give. The basic attitude is "wrong is wrong," so a not-quite-right answer puts your points at risk, subject to the vagaries of the hectic scoring process.

Of course, as always, read carefully and get the right answer to the right question. Record additional information (time, odometer, etc.) as called for in the instructions. Write clearly enough that the scoring staff don't have to guess whether that's a one or a seven or a nine. All that good stuff.

Two other items from the 2005 Cal24, and not very jolly ones:

Unfortunately, Tom had to disqualify two riders who missed a checkpoint and didn't call in. Every rider needs to realize that this is A Big Deal. When this happens, the RM has to assume you're bleeding in a ditch, and will start calling your family and the cops. False alarms are bad for everybody: the RM doesn't want that grief, and your family doesn't want it, and you don't want it.

Also unfortunately: it happened that, due to checkpoint worker error, one rider was believed to have missed the last checkpoint. This set those wheels in motion again - calling the cops, calling your contact number. The situation was resolved in a couple of hours, but there was a bad time for the rider's spouse. You have to know that human error happens. Speaking for myself, if my wife got that call, I think it could be fatal to my rallying future - or my motorcycling future altogether! So I think I'd take the time to make my own spousal call at checkpoints, just to be sure.

Just so I don't end on a downer, I'll express my thanks and appreciation to the RMs and other volunteers again, to the riders for good behavior, to the hosting hotel (Keefer's Inn of King City) which did a magnificent job for us and made a contribution to CEID besides, the banquet site (Margie's Diner in King City), and to the many sponsors who gave door prizes. Cycle Gear really came through with something over $1000 in gift certificates of varying sizes, and both Rick Mayer and Bill Mayer Saddles provided big discount certificates.

At the banquet, the representative from CEID (Center for the Education for the Infant Deaf, the charity Tom selected as the Cause for this year) taught us three American Sign Language words appropriate after a 24-hour charity rally: "thank you," "motorcycle," and "bed."


This page was last edited April 26, 2008.