Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Iron Butt Ride Report

For those who don't know, the Iron Butt Association is a group of long distance riders, who offer a number of ride certifications. The "beginner" Iron Butt ride is the Saddle Sore 1000, which is 1000 miles in 24 hours. Certification means you rode the ride, completed the documentation, sent it in, and it was verified by the IBA. In return, you get a nice patch, pin, and/or license plate frame, plus bragging rights. The IBA has pretty strict requirements. By design, it's not exactly easy to get an IBA certification. This is the tale of my first SS1000 attempt.

I spend Friday night at Joker's house (and they made me a fabulous dinner, for which I haven't thanked them profusely enough) and we agree to get up early and be on the road by 5:30 am. We're off to bed at a reasonably early hour.

Morning arrives, the alarm goes off. I hop into my riding gear, check all the last minute things that need to be checked, and we're off! We even get out by the time we wanted. By the time we get to the Coachella Shell station and tank up, the receipt reads 5:37 AM. Now, the clock is ticking. We turn onto I-10 eastbound. The sun will rise in less than an hour, and the deep purple sky on the eastern horizon drains imperceptibly of color until it's a bleached white, and then the gold and red tones of dawn greet our east-turned faces. It's not too terribly cold (I am not wearing every single layer possible, but close) and the wind, which can be fierce out here, has remained calm for us. A good start to our long day of riding!

Our first stop is just across the Arizona border, where gas is about forty cents cheaper than California. We whip in and out of that station so fast, you'd think it was a NASCAR race or something :) We're both feeling eager to pile on the miles, so early in the day! (The receipt has no timestamp on it; I think we get out around 7:15.)

The next gas station, we finally stop for a little breather and a bite to eat. Gas is at 8:30, and then it's breaktime. Neither Joker or I like to eat a big breakfast, so we set out without a meal, and I'm now snacking on powerbars and getting some caffeine in. I must admit that I am a coffee addict and will get a wicked caffeine headache if I don't get my daily allotment. Here, in Tonopah, we blow a lot of time standing around, but I am not worried. I have pretty meticulously charted this run, we're stopping for gas every 100 miles (a little bit of overkill, but it's a better-safe-than-sorry strategy in case of headwinds) and I've built a fair amount of farting-around time into our schedule and a big cushion at the end, in case anyone needs to take a nap somewhere along the trip. We eat into our nap time a little bit, which is no big deal.

Joker takes over the lead (I've been riding lead so far on this trip) and she sets a good comfortable pace. Her speedo is broken and she doesn't know how fast she is going, which is much less of a problem than you'd imagine. (If everyone is passing you, go faster. If you are passing everyone, go slower. That's about it, LOL.) Her bike is much larger than mine so if she forgets and twists the throttle she can leave me in the dust, and she pulls away from me a couple of times, and backs off a bit when she notices that I've fallen back a little. After a time, she gets the feel of the pace and my keep-up speed, and then that doesn't happen too much any more. We will trade off the lead position for the rest of the day, divvying up the work.

I've been warned there are road closures on I-10 in Phoenix, and sure enough the big electric signs are warning of dire consequences if we don't take the cutoff route, so we abandon all hope of going through Phoenix and take the Gila Bend detour. AZ Hwy 85 takes us south to I-8 east, which rejoins I-10 in Casa Grande on the other side of Phoenix. Here we stop for gas at 11:20 (at a stupid Exxon where four out of eight pumps were marked "out of service") and find ourselves fighting some traffic when we get back on the road. The corridor between Phoenix and Tucson is always bad, it seems, I guess it's just too many cars and too few lanes. It's not terrible but enough to keep us alert, for the cagers are driving city-aggressive instead of open-road-laidback, changing lanes frequently and tailgating and trying to pass on the right and all that nonsense. It doesn't really clear up until past Tucson, when suddenly there are few cars and we can relax.

Next gas stop, at 13:10, is Benson AZ (this is the part of Arizona where Bisbee and Tombstone are located.) A few miles later, as tempting as it is to stop and visit THE THING?, we press on and head into New Mexico. Our turnaround is twenty miles across the border, and we really need to stop and have a decent meal. We've only been snacking so far today.

We pull into Lordsburg NM around 14:55, get a Subway sandwich and have our first long sit-down of the day. It is oh-too-easy to not eat on the road, and we probably waited one stop too long to get a real meal, 'cause we'd both started fading a bit. I take the time to text Stormy to let her know we've reached the halfway point. Once fed, we both are feeling pretty good. We've come a smidge over 500 miles, which is how far I travel on a typical summer vacation day. Not today, though. I'm not feeling too tired or sore yet, but I can feel it coming soon.

Now, we turn around and come back, hitting all the same towns for gas along the way. Benson 17:15, Casa Grande 19:05. Here the sun has gone down and we'll be finishing the last 300 miles of the run in the dark, which is sort of a scary thing. We reduce our speed by another notch and keep a sharp lookout for critters. I do see what I think is a coyote on the shoulder of I-8, but we flash by so quickly it's hard to know if I'm right. Joker is leading, and she takes us through the Gila Bend detour. Coming from this direction, it's the most confusing road even in daylight, and it's only worse in complete darkness, confusing signs that are hard to read, and poorly painted lane markings. Thankfully I've been through here before and also she is paying attention to where I am pointing for her to go. We make it through and roll into the Tonopah station around 21:10.

Now, with only 200 miles to go, each leg is getting a little slower and each break is getting a little longer. My hands, wrists and shoulders are really starting to ache, especially on my throttle hand. I take my last turn at the lead, and steadily roll through the western Arizona desert, which is spectacularly dark and empty. No moon; it'll rise after we finish tonight as only a waning sliver. A few miles outside of Quartzsite AZ, a coyote runs out on the road in front of me, then retreats to the shoulder as I begin to swerve. The jolt of adrenaline is huge, but thankfully it's not a close call at all. I am very happy that we have seen no deer (the bane of motorcyclists.)

Gas at the AZ-CA border around 23:10, and Joker leads us on the last 100-mile leg home. We are both awfully tired and just want the thing to be over already, and the end is almost in sight! We finally hit a little bit of the weather that we've luckily avoided all day ... suddenly winds kick up, and we get a little spatter of rain with under 50 miles to go. We slow WAY down for that. An electric sign warns of high winds and low visibility ahead. Thank goodness our destination is right where the interstate comes down out of the mountains and onto the valley floor; we're going to miss the blowing sand that plagues the entire Palm Springs area some days. I am quite happy when the lights of the valley come into view, it's just the final roll down the hill now and off at the first exit, pull into the Shell station where we started this ride so long ago, and we officially stop the clock with one final gas receipt that reads 1:20 AM. Mission accomplished! We've completed our IronButt run in under 20 hours, and both of us were tired but not zombie-heads at the end.

I'd do it again :) just not two days in a row, not yet. I think I need to do a little training before taking that on, or at the very least get a throttle lock to give my poor right hand a break!