Thursday, July 18, 2013

Saddle Sore 2000 GOLD! The Ride That Pushed Me to My Limits.


“Endurance: It is the spirit which can bear things, not simply with resignation, but with blazing hope. It is the quality which keeps a man on his feet with his face to the wind. It is the virtue which can transmute the hardest trial into glory because beyond the pain it sees the goal.”

The LD Bug Continues to Bite.

In March of 2012, I, my father and Mike Brown completed a Saddle Sore 2000, 2000 miles in 48 hours on the way to IBA party in Jacksonville, Florida.  Overall, I must admit the ride was fairly easy but it was a great ride to attempt for our fist over night IBA ride experience.  While routing the SS2000, I looked into a Saddle Sore 2000 Gold which is 2000 miles in 36 hours but realized that it was going to be a bit much tackle with all the Waffle House stops for that rally.  It was a relatively new ride with only a few certificates having been awarded and after looking into the time constraints I understood why the numbers were so low.  That many miles in that short of time meant there was very little time to be off the bike.  I had discovered my next riding goal. 

Falling into Place

Summer 2013.   The Iron Butt Rally was scheduled to leave from Pittsburgh, PA on Monday July 1st at 10am.  When news of this broke, I marked my calendar at work and put in for vacation.  After attending the MTF breakfast at the 2009 Rally in Spartanburg, I was determined to watch the start of the next rally that left from the east coast.  Luck would have it that a tool vendor I was working with at the time was located in Saegertown, PA just an hour north of the host hotel for the IBR.  After a few phone calls with fellow riding friends, a discussion with my boss, the tool vendor and my girlfriend, the entire 4th of July week opened up for a much a needed motorcycle vacation. 

One of my LD riding partners in crime, Joey Lawson, was planning on attending the start of the IBR and was looking to head out the weekend before.  Thanks to his family connections with a hotel chain, we were able to easily afford a layover Saturday night just outside of Pittsburgh on Saturday night.  This made it much easier for us to spend all of Sunday with our LD riding friends.  The start of the rally was at 10am Monday morning and once the riders departed the activities would end for the spectators. Saegertown was only an hour away so I scheduled my plant tour and business meeting for Monday afternoon. From there the rest of the week was open, so I planned on spending the time with Taylor and her family in Connecticut.  However, Taylor had to work Monday-Wednesday which opened up the first part of the week for riding and with 48 hours open in the schedule I began to route my SS2K Gold.   

Routing Challenges

When planning a ride of this length most would consider going out west where the speed limits are high and the possibility of traffic congestion is lower.  Higher speed limits lead to more miles covered in a shorter time which in turn leaves more time available for rest.  My route was going to be the exact opposite, New England during the 4th of July week which meant lower speed limits and the possibility for heavy traffic.  The other challenge with this region was the lack of long stretches of highway which meant I would be making several stops to document my highway changes. In addition, I-95 out of the question as well due to the high risk of traffic. So with all that in mind, my options were very limited.  My focus quickly shifted from seeing new areas of the country to getting the most miles with the fewest amount of stops.  More stops for gas receipts meant less time to sleep. After a couple evenings behind the laptop I was able to find a route that covered 2000 miles with only 14 stops.  As usual, I would be behind the preverbal 8 ball before I began. 

My planned route began in Meadville, Pa on I-79, headed north to I-90 in Erie and then east all the way to Albany, NY.  Once in Albany, I planned to ride north on I-87 to the border of NY and Canada, Champlain, NY.  I had no intentions of dealing with customs so I planned to head back south on I-87 through Albany and on to I-84 east to pick up the Taconic Parkway and up I-95N for a few miles to Greenwich, CT.  That would complete my first day of ~940 miles and allow me to rest at Taylor’s house for a few hours before saddling up for the remaining 1000+.  In order to get the rest of the miles I basically re-traced my previous route.  I would head north to the border of Canada, double back to Albany and head west on I-90 with a turnaround just outside of Rochester, NY only to double back again to Albany and then head south to finish in Greenwich. ~2050 miles in 35.5 hours with 4 hours off the bike for rest and 10 minutes at each fuel stop. I added a good amount of miles to the trip in the event the IBA knew of a few shortcuts that I missed.

Lakes everywhere!

Complications Keep Things Interesting

 Monday morning, the IBR is scheduled to start at 10am and the rain continues to pound the entire east coast.  Unlike our dominate American racing series that is really good at turning left… the rain doesn’t stop the show for our crowd. At 10am on the dot, the bikes rolled out of the hotel in a single file line escorted by the Cranberry Township police.  They had strict instructions to not pass the cop until they reached the highway.  When I first heard this rule I couldn’t help myself, “I want you to go back out there and hit the pace car.” rolled right off my tongue.  That stuck and was passed around the riders as the official continued to let everyone know of the starting instructions.  

After the 96 riders left, I loaded up my bike and made my way north to Saegertown.  On my way, the rain continued to fall and it didn’t let up till long after I reached the vendor’s shop.  Just before 5pm I left Saegertown and headed back to Meadville where I had a hotel booked for the night.  On my way to the hotel the J&M started to malfunction by hanging up on the transmit function of the CB. From there all the buttons were disabled including the aux input function which supplied music from iPod.  The heavy rain fall must have been enough to get the inside of the unit wet causing a short across a few terminals on the circuit board.  Back at the hotel I removed the J&M and opened it up in hopes it would dry it out.  I walked down to the local radio shack and purchased a can of compressed air and a set of Apple ear buds in the event my air dry solution did not work.  Just before dark I buttoned up the unit and tested it.  Success! I went to bed at ease thinking that my ride was going to start as planned. 


7:05am was the time stamp on my first receipt in Meadville, PA.  I had used the bathroom, reset my GPS’s and made sure everything was in order before I started the gas pump.  I made my notes on the receipt, saddled up and brought the Vstrom’s Vtwin to life.  I reached over towards the J&M to crank up the jams but the volume key was useless, the unit was frozen again.  I quickly removed my gloves and helmet, unplugged the iPod, moved it to my jacket and plugged in the ear buds I purchased the night before.  Sometimes I feel like my iPod knows what exactly what I need as the first song on shuffle was, “The Hammer Going Down” by The Road Hammers. I entered I-79N grabbing gears and wrapping the throttle till it stopped.

Hammer Going Down - Road Hammers

Hard to see but there is an American Flag flying atop that rock.

East Bound and Down…. or make that North Bound. 

The ride to Albany was fairly uneventful.  I made my first receipt stop in Buffalo, NY, from there it was ~280 miles to my next stop.  Occasionally I would turn on the J&M to find that it was working but within a few minutes it would lock up again.  About an hour outside of Albany I checked it once again and thankfully it turned on fine and stayed that way.  When I got to my next stop I made the change over from ear buds to the intercom.  

I had scheduled all my stops for 10 minutes but I wasn't able to meet that goal during my 1st stop in Albany.  For starters, the gas station was in a poor location due to the intersection layout.  The station itself was rather small and required a key to use the restroom located on the outside of the building.  Add in the change over from the ear buds to the intercom, removing the liner from my jacket and I was behind schedule for my stop.  

Back on the road and headed north I managed to stay on time thanks to the time I had made up rolling across I-90.  I had figured out that when I was moving about 7-9mph over, I could shave a minute off my arrival time for every ten minutes that I rode. I.E., 2 hours till arrival would actually be 1 hour 48 minutes. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but every little bit helps. 

The ride north on I-87 was beautiful as I made my way through the Adirondack Mountains.
The road was well paved and meandered by some nice mountain views as well as a multitude of small lakes/ponds.  Traffic was light, as I expected it to be, so I was able to easily maintain my desired cruising speed.  Along the way I managed to catch up to a group of people my age that were headed to Canada I presume. We swapped pole position a time or two along our way north.  Normally that kind of thing would drive me nuts but with the lack of vehicles and road side life, the company was welcomed. 

My turn around stop just shy of Canada was much better than my previous stop in Albany.  I filled up the aux tank, used the restroom and completed my receipt notes in less than 10 minutes. I was headed south roughly 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

Some amazing views while riding through the Adirondacks.

Continuing to Make Time.

 On my way south I continued my normal pace and noted the time I was off the bike.  I figured I wouldn’t have any trouble with traffic until I got south of Albany but I was counting on traffic issues on and around the I-95 area. With this mind I did my best to maintain my 7-9mph over. 

My next stop on I-87/I-84 was another quick one, but I feared that it would not be open when I returned back through the area in the early hours of the morning.  Thankfully, I noticed a truck stop on the other side of the exit as I was turned onto the entrance ramp.  I made my way across I-84 east and headed south on the Taconic parkway towards I-95.
Thankfully, I-95 was flowing well as I made my way north to Greenwich.  A few exits later I was topping off both tanks at the local gas station before I headed towards Taylor’s for a few hours of rest. 

Rest Break.

Sometime around 8:30pm I arrived at Taylor’s home and was greeted with smiles and hugs.  I placed my gear in the spare room and made my way to the kitchen to enjoy the dinner that her parents had prepared for me; an amazing cut of steak and steamed green beans. YUM!  After I devoured my dinner I made my way upstairs and tried to sleep for a bit.  Based on the time I made on the first leg, I decided I needed to be on the road by 1 am at the latest. 
I tossed and turned for what seemed like forever.  In the 3 hours or so that I spent in the bed, I might have slept an hour at the most.  Sometime after midnight I gave up and headed down stairs to shower and head out on my way. Taylor handed me some sandwiches as I walked out the door so that I would have something to munch on besides Fig Newton’s. 

Heading back to Canada. 

Once I got off I-95 I had the highways to myself for the most part.  It wasn’t until just south of Albany that I started to see a steady amount of cars on the road again.  Somewhere outside of Albany I must have finally calmed down and the sleepiness settled in.  I noticed that my speed was starting to vary a little bit and I wasn’t able to keep the bike within the same spot of my lane.  Now don’t misunderstand, I wasn’t drifting all over the highway but I was moving around in my lane a decent amount.  At one point I glanced down to activate my SPOT and when I looked up there was an SUV moving very slow in the middle of the 2 lanes of highway. By the time I saw this I was rather close to the back of the car which forced me to brake hard and drop off onto the shoulder of the highway to miss the vehicle.  I remembered thinking that I should have saw that coming sooner and after adding up the other signs of fatigue I decided it was time to check in at the Iron Butt Hotel.

I pulled off at the next service area and found myself a nice, well lit picnic table in the back parking lot.  When I pulled up I noticed a couple in a Ford Escape moving around their luggage around and making camp in the back of their car.  Been there, still do that.  I took off my helmet, set an alarm on my phone and laid across the table top with my phone in my hand.  I always thought it would be hard to fall asleep out in the open like that. Nope, I was out quick and I slept like a rock too. I shook off the sleep with 30 pushups and a short jog around the parking lot.  It was amazing how much better I felt after that. 

Riding north to Canada was beautiful once again.  This time I was able to watch the sun rise across the mountains as I headed north.  I made another quick stop at the top of I-87 before heading south through the Adirondacks for the last time. 

Beautiful lake.

Fatigue Was Starting to Set In. 

Around 9:30am I began to hit a wall once again.  This time my resting spot was in a very busy Dunkin Doughnuts parking lot.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to really sleep but I did manage to rest for a good 15 minutes before I took a short walk around the back lot.  I was feeling a bit better when I got back on the road but my head was still a bit foggy as I decided to take 90 East to Boston instead of 90 West towards Buffalo. Doh! I made a quick turn around and corrected the issue but then as I entered the toll area my fuel tank began to overflow as I forgot to shut off the pump from my aux tank.  Stalling the bike out in the middle of the toll lane has a way of waking your ass up in a hurry.  

At this point I was furious because I was behind my “worst case scenario” schedule. I was kicking myself for not resting properly, blowing a turn and wasting time trying to get the bike running again and now I was in danger of not having enough time to finish.  When I made it to my fuel stop in Albany I pumped the gas as quickly as I could before trying to remove my pant liners.  I glanced in the store before heading in to grab the restroom key but  a line had formed that I did not have time to wait in.  Having absolutely zero shame, I dropped my pants there at the pump and came out of my liner.  

I continued my ride west while doing the time/distance math in my head.  If I maintained my 9 over plan and kept my next fuel stop short, then I should be back on track by time I returned to Albany. With that in mind I really focused on keeping my speed as consistent as possible. (No electronic cruise control)  As the miles ticked away I continued to battle with my fatigue.  I fought it off by stretching on the bike, chewing gum and eating jolly ranchers. I am sure I was talking to myself at some point, too.  The miles continued to fall away and the arrival time slowly made its way back into “the safe zone.” 

My turn around in Rochester took longer than I would have liked due to a rather slow store keep that was preoccupied with stacking cans of beans in the far corner.  Eventually I made my way back on the highway and headed east for the final leg of my ride.

Coming up on Canada!

Emergency Stops. 

Throughout the ride I had been sipping on water and munching on Fig Newton’s, Cliff Bars, Nutri-Grain Bars and the sandwich halves that Taylor prepared for me. In the past few weeks I had been drinking a decent amount of caffeine, so to eliminate the withdrawal headaches and that 2:30 feeling I packed a couple 5 hour energy drinks.  After I made it through the rainstorm (for the second time) I hate the last sandwich, a cliff bar, Fig Newton, drank a good amount of the Gatorade and took the 5 Hour Energy.  90 miles outside of Albany and I was feeling pretty good, tired, but good. At one point I stood up on the pegs to stretch my legs and my head began to spin.  Head rush… I have had these from time to time and normally they are nothing to worry about.  However, temporary dizziness while running 70 mph in the left lane of a major highway on a motorcycle isn’t something I am OK with.  I quickly sat back down and grabbed my water hoping the spell would pass quickly, thankfully it did.  A few miles later though my feet began to go from hot to cold rather quickly and everything started to feel light.  I have fainted a couple times in my life and each time I distinctively remember that feeling happening just before I was picking myself up off the floor.  I quickly moved over to the right lane and off to the shoulder as I threw out the anchor. I pushed the kick stand down before I was at a complete stop and parked the bike as quickly as possible.  I tagged the SPOT, grabbed my cell phone and stumbled down to a shady area a good 50 feet away from the shoulder of the highway.  If I was going to pass out, at least I would be in the shade.  I sent a quick cryptic message to Taylor to let her know what was going on and where I was.  At that point I relaxed about the situation and then focused on getting myself together. 

I laid down in the grass for a few moments trying to focus on one object and quizzing myself on things I should never forget.  Once I settled down I went back to the bike, drank some more water and ate another Nutri-Grain bar. The fainting feeling went away so I decided to saddle back up and keep moving.  However, I decided moving around on the bike wasn’t in my best interest and the right lane was probably my safest bet. I made it another 40 miles before the feeling struck again.  Once isn’t OK, twice is even worse. Something was wrong and I wasn’t about to find out what it was while riding down the highway. I pulled over at the next service area and called off the ride. 

I spent over an hour laying in a booth at a McDonald's restaurant munching on a grilled chicken sandwich and sipping on couple bottles of water.  I made a few phone calls to my parents and the people that were watching my SPOT to let them know what was going on.  Failure is not something that I easily accept and I was kicking myself for calling off the ride when I was just over 100 miles shy of finishing.  At that point I had no desire to ride the bike another 2000 miles to attempt this again but my body wasn’t having any more of this and I had to listen to it. 

Eventually my strength came back, at least to where I felt comfortable getting on the bike again, so I put my gear back on and merged back onto the highway with plans of heading straight to Taylor’s. I wasn’t in any rush at that point and I planned on stopping whenever I needed to. The shortest route to Taylor's was the same route I had planned for my ride so I just followed my GPS which was still running my planned route.

Morning fog rising off a lake in the Adirondacks.

Second Wind.

South of Albany on I-87 I noticed that one of my GPS’s had brought the way point for my fuel stop on the corner of I-84 and I-87 into view.  Out of curiosity I checked the odo on the GPS to find my trip mileage was around 1950 miles. I then glanced over at my ride clock and noticed that I still had an hour left in my ride. On my route sheet I had noted that the I-87/I-84 fuel stop was mile 1994 for the trip. There was still hope!  I pushed on to that fuel stop hoping that traffic would remain light and things would go in my favor.  Somehow I managed to get all green lights on the way in and there were plenty of pumps open.  I rolled into the pumps a little hot, to the point where people were staring at me, but then again that could have been due to my bright yellow jacket and odd looking motorcycle. I remembered a story that Hammy had told me at the IBR start about pumping just a few cents worth of gas to get a receipt in order to finish on time.  With that in mind, I stuck the nozzle in the aux tank and squeezed it for just a second before slamming it back into the cradle and snatching my receipt.  I quickly noted the odo reading, fired the bike up and left in the same hurry I arrived.  I can only imagine what the people around me were thinking…. 

Back on the highway and I had just over 10 minutes left.  The next exit on I-84 was the Taconic Parkway and it was 5 miles away, I needed at least 6 miles to round out my ride and from what I remembered of that road there wasn’t a single commercial area on that stretch of road. As I looked at the GPS I discovered that the next exit was another 5 miles past the parkway and I had no idea if there was gas there.  All I could do was hope.

As I pulled off the exit I saw the sign that indicated fuel stops 0.1 miles to my right and my left. At the bottom of the ramp I approached a car that was stopped at the light. I quickly scanned the intersection and made the decision to make a right on red and pass the car in front of me as they didn’t have their blinker on.  I dropped off the road and into the dirt and continued till I found my way back on the road and into the gas station parking lot. There was only one pump open as I entered the station and that last pump was about to be occupied by an older Honda Accord.  I knew I was down to the wire so I tapped the horn, blipped the throttle and found my way between the pump and the car that was backing in to that pump I desperately needed.  Due to that last bit of throttle my approach speed was a bit higher than I needed, so with a quick stab of the rear brake and a little pressure with my inside leg, I pitched the bike into a slide to stop just past the nozzle.  I literally threw the cap of the aux tank, shoved my card in the reader and punched in my zip code before clicking the fuel nozzle once.  After I saw that fuel had dispensed I shoved the nozzle back in the cradle and waited for my receipt. 19.04.27

I threw my arms in the air and began jumping up and down.  Yes, I looked like an idiot but I really didn’t give a damn.  I walked over to the driver of the Honda, tapped on the window and began apologizing for my behavior and explained the situation that just unfolded.  As you can imagine, he thought I was nuts but his curiosity got the better of him as he began asking me what seemed like an endless amount of questions regarding the bike and what I do with it. At least he wasn’t angry… he was actually quite supportive and very congratulatory.

Photo montage of my receipts and GPS reading.  Squirrel photo credit to a rider in the IBR.

Bringing it Home.

Now I know what you are probably thinking… “How did he make it even after he stopped for so long?”  My original route was for 2050 miles that finished in Greenwich. I knew I was cutting it close by stopping with only a few miles over  the 2000 mile goal but I didn’t really have a choice, I needed to document all I could.  

I eased my way back to the Taconic Parkway after making a few phone calls to Taylor and my family to let them know the good news.  I arrived at Taylor’s house sometime around 8pm and for the first time in a while I was glad to be getting off the bike.  Taylor’s family had invited some friends over for dinner as well that evening and when I walked in they all cheered for me and offered their congratulations. Taylor came up with a hug while her mom was letting me know there was food in the kitchen and I could eat now or later and where I could put my stuff down.  Apparently she could tell that all the instruction and available options were a bit much to process at the moment so she tapped me on the shoulder and said, "or you can just sit everything down here and figure it out later." I heard a chuckle throughout the group and decided that it would be in my best interest to change quickly and avoid laying down on the couch.  

Dinner was amazing again; pulled pork, corn bread and baked beans… talk about a southern boy’s comfort food.  Taylor brought up a cold beer from the basement fridge and I was set.  I passed out shortly thereafter. 

Lessons Learned

I planned the ride in order to test myself.  I wanted to see how fast I could do my stops, how hard I could ride before I needed to stop and how well could I plan a ride like this. Well I learned all those things and more.  I found out that I could easily knock out stops in under 10 minutes, I learned that my body can’t function on Fig Newtown’s and Cliff Bars alone and I learned that while the east coast isn’t the optimal region for these kinds of rides it can be done. More importantly I learned how much more fun riding is when I am with my family and friends.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed about every moment of my ride, aside from the fainting parts.  But my ride would have been much more enjoyable had my father and my closest LD riding friends been burning up the road with me while jawing on the CB.  I have completed every other IBA ride with them and it is how I will complete every other ride from here on out.

Note: After mapping out my receipts in Microsoft Streets and Trips my mileage came to 2018 miles. I have sent off all the necessary documents to the IBA as of July, 10th 2013.  Now comes the fun part... waiting for the certificate to arrive.