I knew I would have to be awake for the next 24 hours straight. Not just awake, but I would have to be focused, alert, and able to react. Still, sleep eluded me. It was the night before my very first attempt at a certifiable endurance ride, and I was too excited to sleep.
Weeks earlier, I had chosen this particular day – the first full day in between three nights off from work – to try my hand at the Iron Butt Association’s “easiest” certification: the SaddleSore 1000. The SaddleSore certification requires the rider to not only ride a total of 1,000 miles within 24 hours, but also to prove it through detailed documentation. I had longed to prove my riding mettle with an Iron Butt Association (IBA) certification for years, but had never made the time to do so. With my buddy Todd and I scheduled to participate – indeed, compete – in the Mason-Dixon 20/20 Rally over Memorial Day weekend, I felt the need for a shakedown run, to work out any weaknesses in my abilities or my equipment. We had just participated in the Annual Moonshine Lunch Run in Casey, Illinois a month ago, and ended up riding over 700 miles home in one 12-hour stretch of highway, with little effort, so I felt ready for a thousand-mile day.
In preparation, I had prepared my own versions of the IBA’s witness affidavit and ride log, to fit onto a small clipboard that I can keep in either my tank bag or tail pack for easy access. I worked out a route, a there-and-back ride down I-81 to Kingsport, Tennessee, approximately 530 miles away. The bike – my 2009 Kawasaki Versys with around 14k miles on it – had been serving commuting duty, so its preparations had waited until the day before: clean and lube the chain, check tire pressures, load detail maps onto the GPS, pack extra base-layer clothing, tools, and riding gear, and inspect everything.
The last piece of the puzzle was the weather. For days, The Weather Channel app on my iPad had warned me of predicted thunderstorms for the day of the SaddleSore. With the same forecast still looming the night before, I considered putting it off just one day – one day to make the difference between riding in thunderstorms or riding in the sun. I had bought new riding gear just a month earlier, an Olympia jacket and Rev’It pants – both of which included removable “waterproof” liners – but did not get a chance to test them out in wet weather.
When I first decided to go ahead with a SaddleSore 1000 ride, I knew without a doubt that I could complete it successfully on my best day, in perfect weather. The challenge then, I concluded, was to successfully complete the ride regardless of the conditions. Surely, I wouldn’t embark on such a ride while suffering illness or fatigue, but damn the weather! Thunderstorms or not, I was going to ride! If nothing else, it would put my new gear to the test.
The plan was to awaken on Wednesday morning around 4:15am EDT, and be out the door and on the road some time before 5am. Living near Philadelphia, I wanted to be on my way well before the morning traffic picked up, even though I’d be traveling away from the city. I had set the alarm, but I never needed it; my sporadic sleep ended for good at 3:45am. I tried to close my eyes again for that last half-hour snooze, but was still peeking at the clock at 4:05, and decided it wasn’t worth the effort anymore.
I had showered and laid out my clothing and riding gear the night before, so I could get dressed quickly and quietly, so as not to disturb my sleeping family. I decided a small yogurt was enough sustenance for now, as I had been warned repeatedly to avoid any heavy foods that could cause fatigue while it digests. It was too early even for Scout, our miniature schnauzer, to join me for breakfast, so he took my spot on the bed and slept while I donned my gear and brushed my teeth. After filling the hydration pack attached to my jacket, I was ready to go.
I kissed my sleepy wife good-bye, and was instantly snatched up into one of her warmest hugs ever. I know she worries about me on rides, especially long distance rides that involve me pushing the envelope of my endurance and abilities. And still, she is supportive of my riding addiction. She’s my favorite enabler. I made one more promise to return to her safely, pet the sleeping dog, and was on my way back down to the garage for the longest single-day ride of my life.
When we rode out to Casey, Illinois and back last month for the Moonshine Run, I realized that my favorite dual-sport helmet was not so comfortable on the open highway. One would think that the peak visor would be the culprit for wind buffeting, but it seemed more like the long, pointed chin bar was catching all the turbulence, and knocking my head around. The dual-sport helmets would be (and will continue to be) shelved for future highway endeavors. This time, I opted for my modular HJC IS-Max, that I bought in Eureka, California on our 4-week ride around the USA in 2010. My Scorpion EXO-900 modular had broken in Denver, and by California I was done dealing with it. I purchased a new clear visor for the HJC to replace the original, which had some scratches in it, and installed the headset for the Sena SMH-5 bluetooth, and it was ready for duty again.
Helmet and gloves on, Sena headset on and pairing with my iPhone, I thumbed the starter on my trusty Versys and let it settle into a high idle while I pushed it out of the garage. I zeroed one of the trip meters on the bike, as well as the trip log on the venerable Garmin StreetPilot 2820 GPS – keeping track of mileage is crucial to documenting and certifying an IBA ride such as this. Once the idle settled down, indicating the engine was warmed to operating temperature, I clicked into first gear, powered up the driveway, and hit the road at 4:42am.
My first stop was less than two miles away, at the local Sunoco. I had planned on using exclusively Exxon or Mobil stations for this trip, to make use of the SpeedPass to pay quickly at the pump, but the local Exxon stations don’t open until around 6am. So, the 24-hour Sunoco was where I collected my first receipt, and documented the time and odometer reading in my log. I made sure everything on the bike was secure, made sure the SPoT satellite tracker was on and tracking, and then twisted the jog-dial on the Sena unit until I found a good song to start off my trip in earnest. “A View To A Kill” by Duran Duran – theme song to the James Bond movie of the same name – seemed appropriate enough to kick-off this mission.
A few choice songs later, I was still riding in the dark, westbound on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, wondering how far I was going to get before I hit rain. I mean, most of the time the weather forecasts are completely wrong. It was mere seconds after that thought hit me, that the dark skies opened up and released the first drops of the day. It wasn’t long before the new visor on my helmet was leaking rain through the top edge. Despite my best efforts to seal the visor, the rain continued to leak. While rain droplets accumulated on the inside of the visor, I was fortunate that my eyeglasses were spared the same treatment. Every few minutes, I would lift the visor slightly, and the rushing air would clear the water from the inside of it. This would go on for most of the morning…
From Harrisburg, I picked up I-81 south, not long after the morning sun had risen behind dark clouds. The sky was still gray, and the roads wet, but visibility would be much better from here on out. Two hours into the ride, near the Mason-Dixon Line, I pulled into a highway rest stop to empty my bladder and clean off my helmet visor and glasses. A short eight minutes later, I was merging back onto the highway, proud of myself for not dawdling at the rest stop.
My first fuel stop on the road was in Clear Brook, Virginia, where I tempted fate and indulged in a Krispy Kreme honey bun. I would have preferred a donut, but they only sold them by the box. There was no way I was passing up a Krispy Kreme. Honey bun and GatorAde down, I hit the road again. This stop was longer than I wanted – around 20 minutes – but I felt good about it, especially in my belly.
Around 10am, I was really getting tired of the deluge coming down on me. I had also begun to realize that “waterproof” gear is never really waterproof. The new jacket and pants had done well staving off the rain for a few hours, but with the shells completely soaked through, the thin waterproof liners were barely holding up. My base-layer clothing (all micro-fiber for wicking away sweat and drying quickly) felt damp but not soaked. Still, I needed a break, so I stopped at the next Exxon station I saw.
I skipped filling up the tank – it was still almost half full, and I knew I’d want another short break before I could run through a full tank again. But, I was still hungry, and this Exxon also had a Subway restaurant. I parked under the overhang near the door, and wandered in, dripping all over the floor. I ordered my tuna sub – just a 6-inch, so as not to fill up too much – and took a seat. I was easily entertained throughout my meal by an obese truck driver talking to someone on his cell phone. His quick speech and southern drawl combined to make him sound just like Boomhauer from the animated series King of the Hill. I don’t recall much of what he said, but I gathered he had transmission troubles. “I can’t see into the dang-ol’ transmission. How I know it was gon’ break? I can’t see in there! Yeeeeeeah, boy.”
A couple with two small children entered as I was leaving. The children were obviously entertained by my efforts to get my Frogg Toggs rain suit on over my jacket and pants. Luckily, the rain gear is 2-piece as well, so it only took some mild contortions to get the top on over the armored Olympia jacket. My gear was already wet, and my underwear damp, but with the rain still coming down, there was no chance of anything drying out as I rode, so the Frogg Toggs would stay on, I decided, until the rain stops. I was back on the road with a full belly, clean eyeglasses and visor, and proper rain gear, just 23 minutes after I had stopped.
The rain slowly subsided as I pressed on to a fuel stop in Christiansburg, Virginia. By the time I reached Kingsport, Tennessee, the rain had all but stopped and I had even seen a glimpse of sunlight. I filled-up at 2:11pm at the farthest point of my trip, 546 miles from home, just 9 and a half hours after leaving my driveway. I was halfway done, and on a pace to complete the ride in under 20 hours. But, I knew the second half of any endurance ride is the harder half, and I had to turn around and ride right back into the rain.
When planning my route, I searched online for a place to stop and rest at my turnaround point. I settled on a Japanese steakhouse restaurant in Kingsport, called Moto. I thought it was appropriately named for my trip, although further research revealed that “moto” in Japanese means the origin, cause or foundation. I found it quickly, pulling into the parking lot around 2:20pm. I figured I would pack away the rain gear, and give everything else a chance to dry out a little over lunch. By the time I had stowed the Frogg Toggs back into my side case, I realized the restaurant doors were being locked, and another patron had just been turned away. The posted hours showed that they closed between lunch and dinner, from 2:30pm to 4:30pm. I didn’t have 2 hours to spare to wait around for some Kobe beef, so I had to go, but not until I snapped a photo to show I was here.
Checking the weather maps on the iPad, it looked like I would be rain-free until around Bristol, VA, just an hour north. I decided to forego the rain gear until I actually hit rain again, to give my gear a chance to dry out a little. I hit I-81 northbound under gray skies over wet roads, but no rain falling in between.
The maps lied. There was plenty of rain on the hour ride to Bristol, but it seemed to pass by the time I reached the city limits. In fact, I saw slivers of bright sunlight peeking through the clouds. Feeling a little cold and achy from being damp all day, I decided to hit a Starbuck’s for a hot Café Mocha and a slice of lemon pound cake, both of which are the types of foods that are to be avoided on rides like this, according to experts. Still, it was nice to sit down with a hot coffee and free wifi for a few minutes.
Two more hours up the road, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. The rain had stopped completely, the sun was starting to show itself in earnest, and the roads were mostly dry, but I was fed up with being cold and damp. I hit a highway rest stop at 5:15pm and changed my underwear and socks. Back at the bike, I pulled out my classic – read: old and out-of-date – Widder electric vest, and installed the pigtail connector through my accessory fuse block. This stop took a full 30 minutes of my time, but it was more than worth it to be in dry clothes and the warm embrace of an electric vest. Temperatures were probably up into the 60s by this time, but it took the vest’s 75 watts of toasting power to keep the chill off of me.
The rest of the ride up I-81 was sunny and scenic, but otherwise uneventful. A 20-minute fuel stop in Buchanan, VA to down an iced tea and fill up my hydration pack with a fresh bottle of water, was the last time my foot hit the ground outside of my home state. A few hours later, following a quick fuel stop in Greencastle, PA, I was eastbound on the PA Turnpike under night skies, still toasty warm but out of tunes; the Sena had exhausted its battery on I-81, after an amazing 16 hours of streaming music. I listened to the wind noise and my thoughts for the last few hours of my ride.
A quick stop at the hometown 24-hour Sunoco for my final gas receipt, and I was almost home. I closed the garage door on my ride at 1:28am, a cool 20 hours and 46 minutes of riding, with 1,094 miles (9% farther than I needed to go) on the odometer. The GPS showed 1,081 miles traveled. More hugs and kisses with the relieved wife, and I slept like a baby for the next 10 hours.
As I’m writing this, I’m still compiling the necessary documentation to send in to the IBA for my certification. Copies of my ride log, witness forms – my wife bore witness to my start and end odometer readings, so I wouldn’t have to bother strangers for their signatures at 4 in the morning – maps to show the route traveled, and copies of all gas receipts with odometer readings. It’s all in a handy PDF file for my own records, too. With any luck, I’ll soon be a full member of the Iron Butt Association.
The Versys performed flawlessly, averaging around 46 miles per gallon. While it lacks the weather protection that would have kept me dry and the rain out of my helmet visor, it was otherwise very comfortable. While it held up well, I found the limits of my riding gear, and will be sure to always continue to pack my dedicated rain gear on trips, in case of extended downpours. And I was glad I went to the trouble of packing a change of clothes for this one-day trip. Having clean and dry underwear and socks made all the difference in the last several hours of the ride.
The question has already arisen: Will you do it again? Well, probably not on purpose. Meaning, I don’t think I will plan another trip solely for the purpose of an IBA certification. However, if I want to ride somewhere far away, I may attempt it within the time constraints of an IBA-certifiable ride, just for fun. If I do, I will also plan on just sleeping until I’ve had enough sleep, and then go, rather than plan on a specific wake-up time and then worry about getting enough sleep. As it was, I didn’t feel the slightest bit tired on this ride until the last hour, and even then I didn’t feel at all impaired by it; another hour or two and I would have had to stop and rest, though.
I was pretty sure I could pull it off, and I did, in close to the time I had predicted despite the heavy rain most of the day. I have no reservations at all about attempting another long-distance endurance ride, especially if the weather decides to cooperate.
Update: On May 31st, I received an email from Michael Kneebone, president of the Iron Butt Association, stating my ride has been approved and I am officially a member of the Iron Butt Association! My documentation and swag will still take a few weeks to arrive, but I’m official! -JG