Been thinking about doing an Iron Butt qualification ride for a year or so. My buddy at work who rides a Harley expressed interest and for one reason or another, it just never materialized...until last week, that is.
We both had a day off that coincided. It was Wednesday. So on Tuesday we decided to give it a go. I looked at the weather map. We had a pretty clear shot from his home in Greenfield up to the Locks in Sault Ste. Marie. Round trip we were right over 1000 miles.
He and I both work night shifts, so 'turning around' from our last shift Monday night prevented too early a start on Wednesday morning. We figured, hey, we're used to staying up all night, so what does it matter?
We started at 9am from his house. Went to the Sheriff's department where he works full time and had our starting mileage form witnessed and signed.
Next to the local Shell station for a fill-up and 'start the clock' receipt. Off we go.
It was a rather uneventful trip. Weather wise we had started the day with a little rain locally, but nothing that amounted to much. It was warm and humid at this point in the morning. There was a nice layer of clouds and once moving, it was really not to unpleasant to be riding.
The next few hours were pretty much what you'd expect...riding straight north on I-69. Our first gas stop was at the Michigan welcome center to grab a map. I'm a GPS guy, but I still prefer to have a map. Nothing beats a free one, and the state of Michigan was obliging us. I folded mine and put it in my tankbag. My friend put his in the Harley's "Tour Pack" since he doesn't have a tank bag.
Next we rode to our first gas stop in lower Michigan. Gassed up, got receipt, recorded mileage and continued north. It was warm and pretty sunny at this point. Somewhere north of Lansing, we stopped and got some food at Arby's. Just a light deli sandwich for me. I had been munching on an energy bar slowly since we left. Taking occasional sips from a hydration bladder in my tank bag. My Harley friend had bought a couple of small water bottles which he could keep in his leather windscreen pouch.
After lunch as we drew closer to the Mackinaw Bridge, it started to cloud up and cool off. We left in 90-some degree high humidity, and now it was down in the upper 70s and cooling off rapidly! Thank goodness I'd packed away a Goretex liner from one of my other riding jackets. I now donned that under my perforated jacket. My friend also put on his full riding oversuit over his jeans and replaced his lightweight riding jacket with the heavier one.
Soon after that, we hit the first rain. Well, really it was light almost mist. Just enough to cool us off a little more and kick up a lot of road spray. Fortunately that cleared up almost entirely by the time we got to the Mackinaw Bridge.
I've never been across the bridge before, so this was a big treat. I stopped and hooked on a GoPro video cam to capture the moment!
We had an uneventful crossing. Going all the way on the metal grating. It was slightly damp from the prior rain, but there at least was no wind. Thankful for that. It was a shot of adrenaline for us both, however.
We continued the short distance up to the Soo Locks and stopped the bikes briefly to snap a few conquest shots. This was around 4:30pm.
We turned around and got a gas receipt to document our turn around point.
Then started the long trip home...
We stopped again at the Big Mack.
And by this time the sun was starting to set. But the weather was gorgeous up here.
The crossing back the other direction was also done all on the iron. Not so much by choice, but they're working on the outside of the bridge and you must stay on the inside lane at some point. It just made sense to stay in that lane. Plus it was getting to be more fun on the second go around.
The rest of the trip was, I will freely admit, a slog. It got in short order: darker, colder, and more rainy. There were seemingly miles of unending straight roads through deep forest with signs warning of deer and elk. What, elk? Yes, elk! You do not want to hit a deer, let alone an elk. That thought kept me very awake.
The good news was both of our bikes had good lighting. His had the standard Harley three light setup. I had PIAA 910's on mine. There was next to no traffic. And the medians were heavily forested, so we actually rode side by side staggered very slightly each on one of the two lanes with our lights blazing a path for miles at a time.
But it was still very boring riding. Eventually we got back to what seemed like civilization near Lansing and stopped at a McD's for some dinner and a short rest. Then it was back on the road. We stopped for gas another 100 or so miles later. Then continued the push towards home.
This part was clearly getting harder. We had a little under 300 miles to go. It was now after midnight. It was growing less fun at this point! But we kept going.
In retrospect, it would have been better to take more frequent breaks at this point. I don't think we did for two reasons. One, my friend had to be in court the next morning (he's a Sheriff's Deputy and had to testify), and in our crazy logic, I think we just wanted it to be over! It would have been better to stop after a hundred miles, but we kept going till the end of his tank (~160 miles).
Last gas stop before home! But it was a temporary victory. The miles got harder. The road got seemingly more boring as we started down through northern Indiana. We kept going past rest areas where we should have taken a short break.
I decided at the last stop we'd made just to keep going towards my home in Franklin. I had originally planned on ending where we started, but my home was just a little further if I went directly there and the all-encompassing thought I had at that point was falling in bed.
So we parted ways. We both had uneventful finishes except I got a cramp in my leg and felt closer than I wanted to dropping the bike as I came to the first stoplight in over 200 miles. But collected my last gas receipt and got home to wake up my wife and let her know I was home safe.
It was a great experience to do this. It gave me an even greater appreciation for what the IBA competitors must go through in the IBR every other year. This wiped me out for the next day at least. I can't imagine doing back to back to back rides like this.
I'm glad for a few things: hydration pack on my bike, bringing extra gore-tex layers with me, and the auxiliary lighting. Even my autocom and ipod music helped energize me and make the miles pass more quickly.
I wish I had stopped more to rest the last legs of the trip. I had plenty of time left (over 5 hours). I should have used it more wisely. It was not better to push ahead IMHO.
Working night shift did not prevent the onset of fatigue just from the sheer hours in the saddle. It was naive to think it would help! Maybe I was a little better off than the average person who lives a day schedule, but it definitely seemed it would have been better to get an earlier start if possible. Night riding is just not ideal for so many reasons.
I shared the story with my local club and it was fun to see the replies from people who'd done the same ride, many years ago, but still recalled their first IBA attempt or completion with such clarity as if it was yesterday.