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Andy's Big Adventure

Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California - new places for me. Yes it is true. This LD (long distance) rider has never been west of the mighty Mississippi River. I really wanted to see California before it slides into the ocean so I started planning a coast-to-coast-to-coast ride. My original date of departure was going to be September 20, 2001 and my route was going to be from Savannah-to-San Diego-to-Savannah. The events of 9/11 made me reluctant to be away from home and I put my travel plans on standby. As I discussed the delay, and shared new plans on the LD mailing list, two other LD list buddies, Joe Colquitt (Tuscaloosa, AL) and Ben Askew (Houston, TX), expressed interest in making the ride. We decided to go together. The ride was rescheduled for the end of May and the route changed to start and end in Jacksonville Beach, Florida.

The Ironbutt Association ride we would attempt is called the 100CCC Insanity. To successfully complete this ride you have to ride from coast-to-coast-to-coast (CCC) in 100 hours (100). The insanity part is self-explanatory. During the months before the ride, all three of us decided to use the miles we had to travel from our homes to Jacksonville Beach to add to the 100CCC ride and also qualify for the Saddlesore 5000 (5000 miles in 5 days). For me, the SS5000 was easy to include as part of the plan. The 100CCC was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Since there would be three of us riding together, planning for the ride needed to be more detailed than normal. We settled on traveling 250 miles between gas stops (all of us carried at least 10 gallons of gas). We went ahead and picked motels and made reservations at the start (Surfside Inn, Jacksonville Beach), in the middle (LaVista Inn, Junction, TX), and at the end (Motel 6 in San Diego). Ben's bike (new model Goldwing) has a CB radio and Joe and I considered adding radios to our bikes so that it would be easier to communicate on the road. For me this meant reinstalling a handheld unit that I had previously had on the bike. I decided against this because I didn't want to make changes to my bike, especially in the cockpit. Joe bought a radio (and all sorts of other electronic gear) for his BMW R1100GS but was unable to use most of the gear due to problems fitting earphones in his Schubert helmet. Watch for his stuff on E-Bay (haha).

Speaking of my bike, it is a 1996 Kawasaki Voyager. I have had the bike for a year and am very happy with the performance, the ride, and the economy of ownership that this model gives. Bike preparation consisted of changing fluids (brakes, clutch, engine oil, rear end oil, anti-freeze), tires, speedometer cable, and light bulbs (headlight and driving lights). I considered all of this normal preventive maintenance. I also added a 4-gallon fuel cell (Econo-Rail from Jaz Products - positioned in place of the passenger seat), a customized seat from Rocky Mayer, and Clearview's biggest windshield. I had a couple of stressful moments while getting the bike ready. When I was pulling off the rear wheel to put on the new tire, one of the rear shocks came apart. I called the manufacturer, Progressive Suspension, and they offered to repair the unit, under warranty, in a hurry. I had the repaired shock back in a week - thanks Progressive. Also, the new windshield developed stress cracks as soon as I put it on. I felt like the cracks developed because the edges of the windshield (that were not exposed) had not been finished. It took nearly 6 weeks, and several telephone calls, but Clearview finally came through with a new windshield. My bike was ready 2 weeks before the start date.

On Sunday, May 19, 2002, I left home at 945A and rode to a nearby Waffle House. Robert Cooper, riding buddy, Palmetto Ramble Rally Master, and certified Ironbutt Association witness had agreed to ride down to Columbia (from Rock Hill, SC) to witness my start. We had a relaxed breakfast, got gas at the station next to the restaurant, and I started my ride. Coop rode along with me for the first 50 miles and it was good to have some company. I rode the super slabs (I-77, I-26, and I-95) all the way to Jacksonville, the last 170 miles in a light rain. I faced the first bit of adversity along the way when my radar detector quit working. I discovered the rainwater was going up and over the top of the shield and running into the detector. This had not happened before because I used a small strip of molding on the top of the old shield. The new shield was a little thicker and the molding I had would not stay on the shield. Five thousand miles to go and no radar detector. I was going to have to be a good boy.

Everything went exactly as planned in Jacksonville. Joe and Ben showed up shortly after I had checked into the motel. Our Jacksonville witnesses, Steve Hunter and Michael Vincent, came to the motel at 600P. After completing the paperwork, we all rode to a Jacksonville Beach restaurant where we were met by the Motorcycle Tourer's Forum sweetheart, Juli Davis. We had a good meal and a lot of lively conversation. I learned that Steve was leaving the next Saturday on the ultimate coast-to-coast ride, Key West, Florida to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Juli also was going on a motorcycle trip, leaving the next morning (just like us) for a tour of the northern states, including riding the Great Lakes Challenge (circle the Great Lakes in 50 hours). Meeting and spending time with other Ironbutt riders really adds a lot to these trips for me.

Thanks to our immaculate and detailed planning (the term anal was often used as we planned), we actually got started 20 minutes early. My gas receipt for the Chevron at the corner of A1A and Highway 90 said 540A EDT, 5/20/02. Joe had scouted the route out of Jacksonville on an earlier trip and had determined that Highway 202 was the best way off of the beach. He led the way and we were soon out of Jacksonville, heading west on I-10. Interstate 10 in Florida is a very good road. This super slab is nothing like I-75 or I-95. The first hundred miles go through horse farm country. The rest (and there is a lot more) gently curves through small rolling hills, much like the piedmont section of South Carolina. Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi quickly rolled by and we entered the Cajun state.

I had heard and read many horror stories about LA roads and was surprised to find the first 150 miles were great. Flat and straight but in good condition with traffic that moved very fast. It was in and west of Baton Rouge that I found out what everybody had been complaining about. The seams in the super slab all seem to be mismatched by at least a half an inch. Potholes were everywhere. In addition to the poor road conditions, the Louisiana State Patrol seemed determined to make their budget by writing tickets to travelers along the route. Thank goodness they didn't get anything from us.

Texas was a state I really looked forward to seeing. One of my hobbies is reading and it seems like I have read hundreds of cowboy books. I greatly anticipated riding through the state, seeing many of the cities that had been in my books, and remembering some of the history of the old west. Unfortunately, east of Houston, it seems like Texas must use the same road construction outfits that build the highways in LA. Bump, bump, bump. Texas drivers in this section of the state also won my prize for being the worst drivers. Visualize women in a Ford Excursions or a Chevrolet Suburbans, in the left lane, going 60 MPH, talking on the cell phone, and checking the diaper of a baby in the back seat. Women like this are better drivers than some of the ones I saw east of Houston. Houston was one of the parts of the ride that caused me the most concern. Several stories on the LD list had mentioned how bad the traffic was and how hard it was to get into the HOV lanes. Magnifying this concern was the fact that we were getting into Houston near the end of the afternoon rush hour. Lucky for us, Ben is a Houston resident. He led us through the maze of highways and we hit the HOV entrance with no trouble. We must have passed 10,000 cars stopped in the 5 outbound lanes of I-10 on the west side of Houston. Lucky for Ben we didn't stop for 100 miles. I wanted to kiss him for getting us by the traffic. We neared San Antonio just as it got dark and used 1604 to by-pass the city (thanks again Ben). The rest of our ride that night was through Texas hill country and was made exciting by the number of deer we saw on the side of the road. We arrived in Junction, Texas on schedule (1043P CDT) and checked into the La Vista Motel for 6 hours sleep.

Our ride on Tuesday started at 500A and the first hour was in the dark. As the sun came up the country opened up and Texas started to look like what I had had expected. The color of the landscape (no color except brown) was hard to get used to. The mountains seemed to just pop up wherever they wanted to and were not connected to each other. The road was in excellent shape and in most places you could see for miles. We may have exceeded the posted speed limit a couple of times. However, everything we did seemed reasonable and prudent for the conditions. As we neared El Paso we could see the Rio Grande Valley and beyond into Mexico. El Paso was hot and crowded and the truck stop we used for gas (Petro 50 Gas - Exit 2) was the worst one we stopped at. It was here that someone stole Joe's gloves while another kid got his attention. We made a joint decision to use another stop on the way back.

If I thought El Paso was bad, it was easy to see why El Paso cowboys called New Mexico the badlands. The country was harsh looking and the wind blew constantly. We were routed off of I-10 briefly for a check by the border patrol. Since we were on motorcycles, they just waved us through. No Mexicans in my saddlebags . I-10 in southern New Mexico climbs up to the continental divide (4500?+). My Kawasaki, the one that ran so fast in Texas, could only do 83 mph uphill against the strong headwind. Gas mileage on this route was also affected by the wind and I used 9 gallons to go just 260 miles.

Arizona was much like New Mexico but more scenic. On I-10, between Wilcox and Benson, the super slab goes through some tremendous rock formations near what was once an Apache Indian stronghold. Sharing just what I thought, I have to write that the rocks looked like petrified dinosaur turds. I made a mental note to stop on the way back for some pictures. West of Tucson we changed to I-8 and road is mostly flat. There was more wind and dust but the scenery changed in that there was a lot of plant life in the desert. One thing we kept seeing through out the desert was warning signs about wind and dust. The signs normally said "High Winds and Dust for the next 15 miles." We all agreed that Arizona and New Mexico could have saved a lot of money by putting up just a few signs that said high wind and dust for the next 500 miles.

We got to California before it slid into the ocean. The first 20 miles or so of I-8 was bordered by just absolutely awesome sand dunes. Seeing the dunes made me wish for another dirt bike. On the left side of the road was the American/Mexican border. We saw several Border Patrol Officers, sitting on top of hills, in their vehicles, watching the border with binoculars. Also along the border were numerous little buildings that Ben thought housed some sort of microwave radar to help detect anyone trying to cross the border illegally. It was reassuring to see our tax money at work. Not far into California we entered the Imperial Valley area. This area is famous for their agriculture and things can grow here thanks to water from the Colorado River (Saw this slogan: Where water flows, food grows). The highway in this area actually sinks below sea level. Ben got an altitude reading on his GPS of -28 feet. Out of the Imperial Valley we headed in to the mountains. Most stories about cross country runs include comments about how cold it gets and how hard the wind blows in the mountains just before San Diego. We were not disappointed. However, I found this to be a pleasant change from the desert. I changed to my winter gloves on the fly and chased Ben up and down the mountains. Joe didn't enjoy this section as much as Ben and I did. Seems like his GS BMW, with the big tank, tank bag, and other road necessities, was a little top heavy and hard to control in the wind. Joe did the smart thing and slowed down enough to feel safe.

We got to San Diego on schedule at 853P PDT. We were meeting Lou Caspery and his wife at Ocean Beach, and Lou was going to sign off on our first cross-country leg. I took the lead and drove from the end of I-8 straight to where we were supposed to meet Lou. Ben and Joe said it looked like I could have been there before and knew right where I was going. I attributed it to the hours I spent studying the map and dreaming about seeing the Pacific Ocean. We spent nearly an hour at the beach, taking pictures and getting west coast sand and Pacific water samples. After Lou signed our witness statements, we all went to a restaurant just off of the beach for a pleasant meal and some good conversation. We checked into the Mission Bay Motel 6 at 1106P PDT with plans to start our return leg at 600P PDT the next morning.

The wake up call at Motel 6 was not what I expected. I answered the telephone and Tom Model was on the other end. He said, "Hi! This is Tom Model from Motel 6. Thanks for staying with us and be sure to come back again. We will leave the light on for you." The giggle from this call helped me get going. It was still dark as we packed and Joe mentioned that he was going to get just enough gas to get to the scheduled stop (215 miles). Joe was sure his bike would handle better without the extra weight in the tank. He was right and he stayed with us through the mountains without any trouble. One funny thing happened. I thought we were riding pretty fast; no one had passed us for miles. I was not pushing my limit in the twisites, just coasting up to the turns without using the brakes and powering through. Ben was leading and seemed to be using the same technique. Just over the last summit, on a good downhill section, a guy in an old Ford Econoline passed us. He was going so fast I thought I saw the tail start to come around in the first turn after he passed me. I mean I actually backed off of the throttle to watch the crash. He got through and disappeared. Thirty-six hours later, on I-10 near Pensacola, Florida, I swear the same van passed us again. Neither Ben nor Joe seemed to notice this. I kept my mouth shut about the van. I didn't want them to think I was delusional.

We made good time out of California, averaging 79 mph from the San Diego gas stop to the California line. The weather was gorgeous and the traffic light and I was in the lead. Forgetting all about Joe's gas situation, I decided to pass the scheduled stop and head for one where we might could get breakfast (take my word for it, there is not much in Tacna, AZ). Joe was in the rear and I watched him pull off the super slab in my rearview mirror. I wasn't overly concerned that we had gotten separated. Ben and I pulled off at the next exit (20 miles) with gas at Dateland, Arizona. We took turns watching for Joe as we used the potty and got water. I was sure he would pull off I-8 when he got to our exit. However, Joe might have been a little irritated. In any event, he had found a rabbit and was hauling boogie down the road. He never even looked over as I jumped up and down and waved at the end of the exit ramp. Ben and I jumped on the bikes and took off after him. It took 25 miles before we caught up to Joe. When we finally did catch up, I innocently waved at Ben to take the lead. Ben is much smarter than I thought (maybe the smartest guy in Texas). He signaled for me to go. No way he was going to pull up by Joe when he was mad at me. I pulled on up and faced the music. It wasn't too bad. I think Joe was glad we were back together.

The rest of desert crossing in Arizona and New Mexico was uneventful. It was a little hotter than Tuesday but the wind was hardly blowing. We stopped in Las Cruces, New Mexico for gas so that we could avoid stopping in El Paso. We were all tired by then and discussed making an extra stop between Las Cruces and Junction. We never got a chance to make that decision. One hundred and fifty miles later, as we rode across west Texas, I noticed the sky was a funny color. In a short time we were in a dust storm that limited visibility. The dust wasn’t that bad but the wind was awful. One of the things that made this ride dangerous was luggage. Somebody in front of us was losing a suitcase off the top of his or her car about every 10 miles. With the reduced visibility, we couldn’t see the bags until we were right on top of them. Thankfully, the bags were all out of our traffic lane. Whoever was losing the bags was going to be in for a big surprise when they finally stopped for the night. We rode at reduced speed for what seemed like hours until we pulled off at Fort Stockton, TX. It was 1000P CDT and we were whipped and worried about being able to get to Junction. We decided to check into a Motel and sleep a couple of hours. We got rooms at a good rate at the Motel 6 and slept from check in until 220A. I was not surprised that I got another wake up call from Tom Model. That guy is sure busy. He has a nice voice though.

The wind was still up but the dust seemed to be gone (maybe to Canada). I was a little concerned because we were fixing to travel through the part of Texas where we had seen so many deer the day before. I was also worried about attempting to do a 1400-mile ride on 3 hours sleep after already being on the road for 4 days. We took it slow and easy. It was a long and dark ride for the 5 hours until the sun came up. We again took the 1604 by-pass near San Antonio and motored on through Texas and Louisiana.

The highlight of the afternoon was a food stop in Welsh, LA. We ate at a Dairy Queen and Ben was good enough to park his Goldwing right in front of the building. I got a good picture of Ben and his bike and the big DQ sign. Our bikes and riding suits also attracted the attention of a mature lady in the parking lot. She seemed to be really impressed with Ben (tall Texan in a red Aerostitch with a huge yellow Goldwing) but she was also nice enough to speak to Joe and I. She asked about our clothes and the asked about gas mileage for our bikes. I commented that Joe's BMW seemed to get much better gas mileage than my bike. She asked why. Joe said, "Well look at him (240#) and look at me (150#). What do you think?" Needless to say, the lady thought this was really funny. I figured Joe just got even for the gas stop screw up the day before.

Traffic in Mississippi and Alabama really cooks. One misconception about the west that was laid to rest for me was about how fast people drive. Besides a few truckers out west I saw moving along at hyper speed, everybody in Mississippi and Alabama puts the westerners to shame. We went with the flow of traffic and before I knew it we were through the two states and into Florida. We were starting to smell the finish line.

I mentioned earlier that it is a long ways across Florida. It was much worse in the dark. We stretched out our gas stops trying to improve our pace and went 300 miles without stopping (from Mosspoint, Mississippi to Lloyd, Florida). I was not able to contact our witness, Michael Vincent, from the stop at Lloyd. We briefly discussed our options and Ben said that we could find a policeman. There is a point to this part of the story. I thought we were going to get stopped twice after we got to Jacksonville. Coming up to the intersection of I-10 and I-95, a policeman passed me (I was the tail) and pulled in behind Joe and Ben (who were riding along in the fast lane). He followed them for 2 miles and I was concerned because neither Joe nor Ben seemed to notice him. The policeman finally passed them on the right and I breathed a sigh of relief. We ran through one last radar trap on the road to the beach, just 3 miles from the end of the ride. Ben got plenty of notice from his Valentine Radar Detector and we slowed down and waved at the policeman as we passed. I was laughing in my helmet and wondering if a ticket from a Jacksonville Policeman would be good enough to certify the end of our ride.

We got to the same gas station we started from and I got my final gas receipt at 2:01A on 05/24/2002. Michael showed up just a few minutes later and we spent nearly an hour taking pictures and signing statements. I was so excited I think I could have shared stories with Michael for hours. Finishing the 100CCC is a big deal for me. I was also proud of what we accomplished on the last day. I have previously completed the Bun Burner Gold ride (1500 miles in 24 hours) and termed it my toughest ride. Well, the 1400 miles in 22 hours after 3 hours sleep and being on the road for several days beats that easy. Working through some adversity makes the ride much more memorable. I have always found that the mental aspects of a LD ride are much tougher on me than the physical issues. I had two physical problems that I had to work through on the road. The first was that my ears got very sore from the earplugs. I solved this by using toilet paper wadded up and held in place by band-aids. This was not as effective as good earplugs but it worked for me. My lips also got a little chapped. I usually keep some chap stick in my kit but didn't have any on this trip. I finally bought some on the way back in New Mexico after my lips got sore. The mental issues are about keeping my mind sharp and fighting off boredom. My favorite game is to buy a lottery ticket and spend then next several hours figuring out what to do with the money. A by-product of this train of thought is it keeps me in a very good mood. I also like to sing a little and had some especially appropriate songs in my mind for this trip. As I rode into west Texas on Tuesday, I sung the Marty Robbins standard, "El Paso." I also belted out a few bars of "The 3:10 to Yuma" as we got near Yuma, Arizona. The only California song I could think of was something about hippies, flowers and San Francisco. Not an exact match but I sang it anyway. I am sorry not to be able to share this music with you in person.

Finally (I did promise a Zulaskian Story), I think I figured out why I like LD riding. I love looking at the sky, mountains, rivers, bridges, building, and people when I travel. For me, longer trips just means there is more to enjoy. You might then ask, why document the ride and go for an Ironbutt Certificate? This is easy. The certificate is like a photograph that most people use to remember important events and trips. Years from now, I hope, when I look at the certificate, I will remember the places and things I saw along the way. One last thing. With all of the hobbies I have had (golf, RC airplanes, softball playing/coaching, motorcycle racing), the things I remember most fondly about each hobby is the people I met and the friends I have made. After spending nearly a week on the road with Ben and Joe, I now think about them as my best friends. They are great guys and outstanding riders. I especially admire Joe. He is a little older than Ben and I and he accomplished the same ride on a bike that could not match the comfort of our luxury tourers. And don't let me forget the witnesses. Robert Cooper, Steve Hunter, Michael Vincent and Lou Caspery are all great guys who went to considerable inconvenience to help me and our group with this adventure. Thanks again guys for being where you said you would be, when you said you would be there, and for the support you gave us.

Andy Simons

100CCC Route Sheet
Joe's Story
Ben's Story

Saddlesore 1000 & Bunburner Gold 1500
Saddlesore 2000