Tuesday, September 04, 2007

For those of ya’ll not in the know, there is a group of motorcycle nuts that call themselves the Iron Butt Association. These sadistic riders enjoy getting on their bikes and riding until their eyeballs pop out of their skulls. They poke them back in the sockets with a popsicle stick and then keep on going. They have several different levels of torture including an annual group ride where they get together and ride one thousand miles per day for eleven days straight. If you can’t addyplicate, that is 11,000 miles in eleven days.

Their entry level ride for us wannabees is fairly straight forward. Ride one thousand miles in 24 hours. If you don’t think about it long enough to do a little mental math it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal. They call this ride the “saddle sore” event and anyone that wants to give it a go is more than welcome. If you feel like this is too easy you can upgrade it to the “bun burner”. This entails adding a mere 500 miles to the ride and you get another 12 hours to complete this portion. That is 1,500 miles in 36 hours.

They have rides that go coast to coast, coast to coast and back again, from Key West to Alaska and many other variations. Each variation entails riding a motorcycle much farther than most people would consider sane. There are lots of rules pertaining to safety, record keeping, verification and award presentation. Collecting the proper chain of evidence to verify your ride is almost as challenging as the keeping the bike between the yellow and white line. The forms, witness statements, receipts, maps and so forth have to be gathered and filled out perfectly for the ride to be verified by an official judge.

I have been kicking the idea of doing an Iron Butt run since I heard about the Association but had not taken the initiative until recently. I read the rules, gathered the forms, planned my route and prepped the bike. The first thing I did was to calibrate the speedometer/odometer so that I could be relatively sure I was actually completing the required miles. Second thing I did was order a sheepskin seat pad with a gel liner to give my posterior a comfy surface to sit on for the day and a half in the saddle. I pulled some general maintenance and did a fairly intensive inspection of the bike. I had decided that if I was going to give this a run, I wasn’t going to take the easiest award available. I mapped out a 1,500 plus mile route and added just enough extra miles to make sure I didn’t come up short during the verification process.

Up until this attempt my actual longest day in the saddle was just over 500 miles. I usually try to stay off of the interstate so piling up big miles on two lane mountain roads is just not that realistic. In my initial planning I laid out two different potential routes to give myself some flexibility in the event of poor weather conditions in a particular region. I kept a close watch on the weather channel up until the night before I left and made my final decision.

Saturday morning I opted to attend my usual early morning prayer breakfast rather than trying to use every available minute of daylight for the ride. I got home and rolled the bike out of the door at about 8:15. I made a few last minute preparations while the bike warmed up and then pulled out of the driveway toward the Gainesville Police Department. I caught the 8:30 shift change and easily convinced a local peace officer to fill out a start of trip odometer statement. I then went around the corner and filled up with fuel and got my first dated and time stamped receipt of the trip.

I pointed the dreamsickle (a restomodded 1978 Harley-Davison FLH) south on I-985. Soon I merged onto I-85 south towards Hotlanta and enjoyed the ride in the relative comfort of the H.O.V. lane. I crossed under the engineering marvel called spaghetti junction and rolled through the metropolis of downtown Atlanta. My first change of direction was merging onto I-20 westbound toward Birmingham Alabama. Except for getting caught behind a funeral procession for about twenty minutes and then a long construction area this segment was uneventful.

In Birmingham I picked up Hwy 78 towards Tupelo Mississippi. This section of road starts out with a series of stop and go riding through heavy traffic and a series of traffic lights but soon opens up to controlled access four lane. After crossing into Mississippi the road number changes to Hwy 178 and the speed limit picks up to 70 mph. The ride from Tupelo to Memphis was highlighted by very sparse traffic and brand new pavement.

In Memphis I made the transition to I-55 and crossed in to Arkansas. Powering north, splitting a seemingly endless series of cotton fields, I was surprised to find the roads still relatively free of traffic on what was supposed to be one of the busiest travel days of the year. The terrain was flat, colored by a mixed pallet of green plants covered with fluffy white cotton, the sky was blue and the temperature was perfect. I continued riding north on I-55 until I crossed into the “show me” state of Missouri.

With the dreamsickles limited fuel capacity due to the 3.5 gallon tanks combined with a moderately hot-rodded evolution engine and fairly high interstate speeds I had to stop for fuel every 100 to 120 miles to avoid the risk of having to push the bike. Whenever I stopped I would top off the tanks, use the restroom, swallow a light snack and pour either a cup of coffee or some water down my neck. Each stop took about 15 minutes and was spaced at about two hour intervals. While some folks seem to like to go farther between stops I seem to get less fatigued when I am able to stand stretch my legs every couple of hours.

I eventually took the I-57 split and crossed into Illinois. The broken pavement and 65 mph speed limit combined to make this my least favorite stretch of road on the trip. Luckily this was a short leg on the journey and soon I was heading southeast on I-24 and into Kentucky. As I blasted through Kentucky the daylight faded into the darkness of night. With nightfall the highway patrols presence increased dramatically so the challenge of balancing between speeds that would pile up the miles efficiently without attracting the attention of a cop became more of a challenge.

In Nashville I merged left onto I-40 east toward Knoxville. My map work at the house had said it would be 1024 miles from my front door to downtown Knoxville and that is where I intended to stop for a shower and a nap. Unfortunately my odometer only showed 984 miles covered when I arrived in the center of the city. Since I couldn’t begin to guess if the error was in my odometer or my route planning I decided to push on. I merged onto I-81 at the split toward Bristol Tennessee. When the odometer showed I was well over a thousand miles on the day I decided it was time to bed down. I took the Hwy 25E exit and rode up to Morristown and checked into the Days Inn.

It was just before 2:00 am EST and the hotel clerk was kind enough to fill out my end of the day mileage statement. The odometer showed 1049 miles and the official time to travel that distance was 17 hours and 17 minutes. That figured up to an approximate trip average of 60.75 mph including stops. By the time I unloaded the bike and showered it was pushing 3:00 am. I watched the Weather Channel for a little while and set the alarm for 8:00 am.

I awoke after my five hours of sleep feeling very refreshed and ready to hit the road. I stepped through the shower again, loaded the bike and hit the free breakfast bar. I got the morning clerk at the hotel to fill out my mileage verification statement for the start of day two and was pulling out of the parking lot at 9:30 am EST. I made my way back to I-81 and headed toward Virginia.

Upon crossing the Virginia state line the speed limit dropped to 65 mph and I seemed to encounter a cop every few miles. Apparently Virginia may be for lovers but it definitely is not a state that loves speeders. In Wytheville I turned south on I-77 and headed for North Carolina. The section of I-77 from Wytheville down the hill towards Charlotte is drop dead gorgeous. You couldn’t ask for a more scenic stretch of interstate highway. My next change of direction was onto Hwy 52 towards Winston-Salem.

This was another really beautiful drive even though the pavement was a tad rough. I stopped for fuel near the intersection of hwy 52 and I-40 and then continued on Hwy 52 to finally turn south on I-85. Finally I was on the downwind homestretch run to the house. As I approached Charlotte I saw a sign for Raceway Harley-Davison and looked at the time. I was doing very well on my schedule so I decided I would stop for a trip t-shirt and to maybe eat something more than a cold snack. While I didn’t find anything hot to eat I did score shirts for the better half and myself.

I managed to get through the cluster of traffic surrounding the dealership and turned back south on I-85. At this particular point I couldn’t help but be surprised at just how well I felt. Soon I crossed into South Carolina and told myself that I had it made. I should have remembered the old adage about counting chickens…

Between Spartanburg and Greenville the traffic was getting thick so I resigned myself to being patient and trying to patiently play my least favorite game that I call “follow the retard.” I was in the left hand lane in a endless row of traffic traveling at a couple of miles per hour slower than the posted speed limit. I decided I needed to make an adjustment to my MP3 player and tightened the thumb wheel of the throttle lock.

I was fishing around in my pocket with my throttle hand when one of the retards a few cars in front of me decided they just had to two foot the brake pedal for no reason whatsoever. I instinctively grabbed a handful of brake lever with my left hand. Since the throttle was locked and the back end was pushing this threw the front end into the worst speed wobble I have ever experienced. I couldn’t get my right hand out of my pocket quick enough to help get the front end under control much less disengage the throttle lock. Traffic in both lanes quickly slowed way down and I was fighting a bike that was bucking like a bronco and the front end was acting like it was going to fold up at any second.

I didn’t have time to do much of anything including thinking. Luckily my years of riding trials bikes kicked in and I instinctively used some bodacious body english to motivate the bike to the right and split the lanes. Here I was fighting a carnival ride gone mad, while splitting the lanes between two rows of bumper to bumper traffic. I eventually got my right hand on the throttle, disengaged the lock, got the front end under control, and slowed the bike down to the same pace as traffic. I merged into the slow lane and contemplated how I had survived. The folks that I had blown by were looking at me like I was a space alien as they passed by. I imagine I was white as a ghost and contemplating how I had escaped going down.

The funny thing is that at that moment a song called “I believe in Miracles” started up on the MP3 player. Yeah, it was a combination of miracle, luck and a little experience riding trials courses. All of that riding, trying to be careful and I tried to kill myself less than one hundred miles from the house. The rest of the trip was uneventful and I pulled back into the Chicken City at 6:00 pm EST. I found someone to fill out my end of trip statement and sign it. I pulled into a local fuel station to get my final dated and time stamped fuel receipt and the pump wouldn’t accept my credit card. Apparently being used dozens of times in 11 states in less than 34 hours caused the American Express computers to shut it down. I pulled out another card, got my fuel and drove the last mile to the homestead.

I had covered 11 states, 1575 miles, and wasted 34 hours of my life for a meaningless piece of paper that does nothing but confirm the fact that I may be insane. Lots of good riding, one close call, and I was really hungry. I parked the bike and got in the truck to go get some dinner. I felt way too tired to risk riding the bike even a couple of miles to eat. All in all it was a blast and I am already plotting my next Iron Butt/No brain event.

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