Friday, May 31, 2013

the rest of the recap...

That spot several hundred miles from home was by far the toughest part of the ride.  It drove home just how dangerous it is to be on two wheels when you don't have your wits about you.  In a car when you're tired you might drift around a bit on the road, maybe hit the rumble strip along the side, but unless you ram head-on into something you're not apt to die.  On a scooter it wouldn't take much of a mistake to put you on the tarmac or into the guardrail.  I would have liked it if that awareness of danger could have snapped me to attention but mostly I was left feeling pretty vulnerable.

We pulled off for a fuel stop and took a 15+ minute rest stop.  Just being able to walk around, drink some Gatorade and talk with the others did the trick and when we got back on the road I was fine again.  I even got a bit of a second wind when I realized I'd beaten back the fatigue.  I also knew we were essentially one Cannonball day's ride (300 or so miles) from the end and I knew I could pull that off.

The ride east through West Virginia was the scenic highpoint of the trip.  We had miles of long, twisty descent through the mountains.  It's nice to be able to sail along at 75+ mph on a big, wide interstate, although there were some turns where the surface was a bit hacked up and tough to hold traction on.

It got dark with several hours of riding left ahead of us.  I don't care much for riding in the dark.  I also kept thinking about not having a low beam and what I might have to do if the high also failed me.  It turned out not to be a problem but one of the things this ride impressed upon me is that you want to keep things as simple and effortless as possible, and that includes reducing the need to think about anything other than the task at hand.

Roughly 100 miles from the end we rode through a lengthy construction zone on the highway.  It must have just rained since the road surface was wet and it was very dark.  The road was a blur of flashing lights and hi-viz lines and barrels and cones.  They were whizzing by on either side of me and it felt like I was in the movie Tron or hurtling down some intergalactic landing strip.  It was mesmerizing and kind of cool but it also felt a bit dangerous.  It was surreal and I felt more like I was flying than riding.  We got through it just about the time that I was starting to get sort of freaked out by it.

70-80 miles from home...our last fuel stop.  As we got onto the exit ramp I felt like I was riding drunk.  I slowed way down to negotiate the turn and felt wobbly and barely in control of the scooter.  When we got to the gas station I realized just how exhausted I was.  If we could have gassed up and ridden right out we would have had a chance of getting home at or before midnight, which would have put us at sub-20 hours of riding.  A good sign of how wiped we all were is that no one was urging us to hurry up and keep moving.

The last part wasn't bad because I knew just how close we were to getting it done.  Since our route totaled 1,050 miles we passed the end well before the finish line, which meant that the rest of the way was icing on the cake.  Even if I had a mechanical and ended up on the side of the road I still had my 1,000 miles in.  We were also on road at that point that I travel frequently.  Each mile marker and exit sign was familiar.  Even so, this stretch wasn't without incident.  It's a very rural stretch of highway so it's pitch black.  There's also heavy deer population so I was back to worrying about that again.  I was riding along just sort of spacing out when suddenly one of the white lines on the road jumped up off the road next to my scooter.  I don't think it was a trick of the lighting or a poorly painted line - I actually saw it jump off the road.  It's good we were only 15 minutes from the end.

As we pulled into my driveway my wife came out of the house to snap a photo of us.  She'd been following our progress online and decided to wait up instead of going to bed.  It was a very nice greeting.

That was it.  We went inside, stripped off our gear, sat around for a little while in a bit of a daze and then went to bed.  20 hours and 15 minutes of riding, nearly all uneventful.  No drama, no problems.  There were no issues between the three of us on the road, no times when one person wanted to stop while the others wanted to keep going (probably my biggest pre-ride concern).

Immediately after the ride I decided I could check this off my list and have no need to ever do it again.  Now that a little time has elapsed I've begun to think about not only doing it again, but doing the next step up - the "Bun Burner 1500" - 1,500 miles in 36 hours.  I don't know if I ever will but I can't say never.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Iron Butt ride recap

Up at 2:30 am for a 4:00 am start.  I had all of my gear laid out the night before as well as a checklist of everything I needed to do before leaving.  It's good that I did - I got maybe 3-4 hours of sleep at best and would have ridden off without any number of things if I didn't have a list handy.

On our scooters and ready to go at a few minutes before 4:00.  Someone notices that my headlight isn't working.  I have a high beam but no low.  I'm not about to take the time to put in a new bulb so I leave hoping that I don't have a failure along the way and have to figure out a way to complete the ride in the dark.

The first 50-60 miles is a bit pucker-inducing because it's pitch dark out and we're in the middle of deer country.  Having hit a deer on my scooter before I'm more than a little paranoid about doing it again.  It turns out that we didn't see any deer on that stretch but it took until it was fully light out before I began to relax.

The first hitch in my well-laid plans came early on.  I had all of our fuel stops plotted out for the entire route.  Some were far enough apart that we'd be close to empty but still able to make it as long as we were willing and able to ignore the low fuel light that would likely be on for a good 20-25 miles before each stop.  As I figured, our lights came on well short of the first gas station and we chickened out rather than soldiering on.  The only problem with this is that it threw us off for the remainder of the stops.  It turned out not to be a problem in the end but I knew we would have some bits of road with little on them in the late hours of our run.

We discovered pretty quickly that we hadn't dressed properly for the weather.  All three of us were dressed for the expected daytime highs but not for the morning and evening lows.  The first few hours on the road were cold and we were all chilled to the bone.  As we climbed in elevation it got colder even as the sun got higher in the sky.  Good lesson learned.  Pay better attention to the weather and dress accordingly.  It's easy to remove layers but it's not possible to add layers if you didn't bring the gear along with you.

After my fears of deer in the dark didn't manifest, the deer did come out once it was light.  The first one appeared out of nowhere and ran across the road between the first and second riders (I was third in line).  Several miles later there was another deer standing in the right lane of the interstate and it didn't budge until we were pretty close. That was the end of the live deer for the rest of the trip.

A bit beyond the midway point we had a planned rest stop where we were met by a fellow rider, wmak from Modern Vespa.  He rode for a couple of hours just to come down to have a quick meal with three tired and distracted riders.  He also served as a witness at the westernmost point in our route.  This could come in handy if the people who certify the ride have any questions about whether we actually did it or not.

Within the first 100 miles after our rest stop I really hit the wall.  My eyes were crossing and I found myself in a downward spiral of negative thoughts.  While I wasn't telling myself that I couldn't do it, I was questioning just how the hell I'd be able to make it while feeling that poorly.

Part II to follow....

Friday, May 10, 2013

countdown to, um, something

It's funny to get excited over something that's apt to be tedious, uncomfortable and downright painful, but 24 hours from now I'll be tucking myself into bed for 5-6 hours of sleep and then setting out on my ride.  I wish I could leave now and just get on with it.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Is it just a ride or is it something more than that?

When I was planning my IB ride back in 2010 I noticed as we were getting closer to the date that my riding partner had more or less disappeared.  I was putting a lot of thought into the ride and focused particularly on the mental preparation.  I felt this wasn't the sort of thing one should enter into lightly.  Long rides lead to fatigue and fatigue leads to stupidity and poor decision-making.  I really wanted to talk about it with my partner and he had seemingly checked out.  After tracking down and pestering him enough to finally get him to respond, he wanted to know just what in the world I wanted to discuss with him.  I said I thought it was important that we get together to discuss the ride to make sure we were on the same page.  In exasperation he replied, "What's the big deal and what is there to prepare for?  You get on your scooter and go.  It's just a ride."

It's just a ride.

I was stunned.  I don't know what, if anything, I said in response.  I should have decided then and there that we were poorly matched to do this together.  Instead another week or two passed and several days before the ride he got in touch to tell me he couldn't go because his mother-in-law was coming to visit that weekend.  (I still hold a grudge, not so much because he called off the ride but because he used such an insultingly pathetic excuse.)  In retrospect I'm glad it didn't come off as planned but it took me some time to get to that point.  I remained disappointed for a long while.  And I will admit that there's some pleasure to be taken in the fact that I'm planning this current ride for the exact same weekend in May as we were three years ago.

It's just a ride.

Well, okay, on a basic level it is just a ride.  It's longer than most but like any other ride you sit down, fire it up and head down the road.  But it's just a ride in the same way that rafting the Grand Canyon is just a boat trip.  It's a ride designed to test your physical and mental stamina and your machine.  Call me crazy but I think that demands my attention and respect.

So now that I've made a case for this event being a really big deal, let me explain why I think it might be best not to make a big deal out of it...

There are competing schools of thought on whether an Iron Butt ride is best done alone or with a small handful of riders.  If you go alone it's just you and your scooter.  You and your own thoughts.  You and your own mechanical issues, hunger, thirst and fatigue.  There's no one else to worry about.  On the other hand, there's no one else to worry about you either.

If you travel with other people you've got some support.  You know someone else has your back.  If you're starting to have doubts about your ability to finish, the others can help buck you up and keep you going.  If your scooter dies you're not left all alone on the side of the road (and least not at first).  But with other riders there you have someone else that you might want to impress or you may be concerned about appearing weak if you can't continue while they're feeling fine.  Suddenly what felt like support can morph into peer pressure and you keep going beyond your ability.

Along the same vein, since riding with others can be a negative because of the potential pressure you can put on yourself, what about telling the world that you're about to set out on this ride?  What about telling a bunch of people on, say, a scooter forum that you're going to do an Iron Butt ride and they get excited and want to follow your progress online.  They want to hear all of your stories at the end and they want you to succeed.  So now you've got this other chorus in the back of your mind as you're tooling down the road and beginning to think maybe you've reached your limit and that maybe you kinda sorta should stop?  Now you're really going to look lame after you've spent months telling everyone you're gonna do this thing.  So I am - or I guess was - of the mind that it would be best to keep it quiet and just report in after the fact.  I'll put enough pressure on myself to succeed; I don't need a crew of onlookers.  It went another direction and became very public but that's a story for another day.

Is it still just a ride?

I'm inclined to over-think and over-prepare.  I often get ready for the worst so I'm frequently pleasantly surprised when things turn out well.  I want to get home from this ride and think, gee, that really wasn't all that bad after all.  But because of the way I'm wired I can't help but go into it thinking of it as the Bataan Death March for scooters.  And I can't possibly think of it as just a ride.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

So what's this Iron Butt thing all about?

As I was writing my previous post my friend Bill was literally in the middle of doing an Iron Butt ride through France.  I suppose that was a large part of what started me rethinking the whole blog thing and why I ended up writing something.

Bill successfully completed his ride and in several days he'll be on a plane to come to the U.S. to do another one with me and our friend Adrian.  I rode the Cannonball with Bill last year and we got on very well together.  We met Adrian in Abilene, Texas.  He helped to organize a BBQ/party for the Cannonball riders and seems like a sane, level-headed guy.

Anyway, a bit about the Iron Butt.  I explained what it is.  I have a harder time explaining why I want to do it.  When I tell people about it there's usually a bit of a pause before they scrunch up their face a bit, cock their head, and ask why.  My answer makes sense to me but I doubt it does to many others.  It's really pretty simple: because I can.  Really, it's not a whole lot more complex than that.  I like to ride - that's a given - and I also like a good challenge.  Some people assume there's a competitive aspect to it.  Maybe that would make it more understandable; I don't know.  But it's not competitive.  Not only do you not win anything, you have to pay to have someone validate your ride so they'll give you a certificate and an Iron Butt license plate frame.

If pressed I'd also say that part of the motivation for this sort of thing is that I want to do crazy shit while I still can.  I'm not old but I'm getting older.  I want to do a 1,000-mile ride on my scooter when the only ill effects will be some fatigue and stiffness, not a threat to my life.  That's really the best explanation I can give.  Most folks still won't really get it but that's fine with me.  It doesn't need to make sense to anyone but me.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

This is kind of embarrassing

It's been a year and a day since I posted here.  It's not like I haven't thought about it.  I've actually thought about it more than I should but could never seem to get engaged enough to write.  Every time I'd slink away feeling guilty that I didn't have it in me.  So a day passed, then a week, and so on.  It turned into 366 days and I found myself today coming to the decision that if I wasn't going to write, I should delete the blog.  Whenever I come across an abandoned blog I find it a bit sad.  Someone had something that was important enough to them that they wrote about it, but then it petered out and died.  I didn't want to leave this blog carcass lying around like that and was about to delete it and that is what inspired me to write something instead.  "Do not go gentle into that good night" and all that...

I stopped writing because Cannonball seemed to have sucked my interest in scooters right out of me for quite a while.  I think I've ridden barely over a thousand miles since I got home a year ago.  For a time I didn't think about riding at all.  When I did it was only long rides that came to mind.  Tooling around for 50 miles on the back roads around home had lost its appeal.  I wasn't going to climb on the scooter unless it was going to be for two or three hundred miles.  I didn't do that, either; I just thought about it.  Sigh.

Other things intervened, too.  We bought a new house with a nice chunk of land just before I left on Cannonball and when I got home I started spending all of my spare time on projects around the place.  I put in a 3000 sq. ft. garden and fenced it.  I cleared some land and turned it into an orchard.  I fixed stuff.  I spruced things up.  It made me really, really busy and very happy.  I still felt guilty for ignoring my scooter but not quite so much because at least I was engaged with other things. 

Fall and winter passed and I could shrug off scooter thoughts by telling myself it was too cold to ride.  Spring is here and it's been a chilly one so far but I've finally begun to ride a bit.  It only took a couple of rides to remind me how much I enjoy it.  But there's one, big overriding reason why I began to ride again and it's called an Iron Butt ride (technically the Saddle Sore 1000, but that doesn't have the same ring to it).

There are motorcyclists who get their kicks from doing endurance rides.  Really crazy endurance rides.  And there is a volunteer organization called the Iron Butt Association that monitors and certifies these rides.  The entry level is the Saddle Sore 1000 - a ride of 1,000 miles that is completed within 24 hours.  (Not enough for you?  How about the 50cc Quest - a ride across the U.S. in 50 hours or less?  Or the annual Iron Butt rally that goes 11,000 miles in 11 days?)

For three years I've been wanting to do an Iron Butt ride.  I actually had one scheduled on the very same date in 2010 as the one I'm about to do but my riding partner bailed on me at the last minute and I opted out instead of going alone.  I knew I'd do it eventually but didn't know when.  Then talk of a ride sprang organically from idle banter at the end of last year's Cannonball.  Not wanting the fun to stop, several of us started to talk about an IB ride in the summer or fall.  It never came about but the discussion kept going an a plan began to crystallize.

[more to come...]

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I did it

Arrived home late last night and have to go straight to work this morning (boy, was it ever a mistake not to take another couple of vacation days).  I'll be doing a lot of writing over the weekend to capture some memories before they blur and fade away.

Riding the Cannonball was by far one of the coolest things I've done in many years and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

More to come...