That evening I used my MS Street & Trips mapping software to plan a route that would meet the Iron Butt requirements. I settled on a super slab trip: Columbia, SC to Asheville, NC to Knoxville, TN to Nashville, TN to Birmingham, AL to Jacksonville, AL to Atlanta, GA and back to Columbia. I considered three major factors when I did this planning: I wanted to be in Jacksonville, AL by 400P CST for the start of my daughters softball game. I wanted to be home before 12 midnight on the 14th. I wanted to avoid rush hour traffic in the big cities along my route. I settled on a 500A start time and figured on being at Jacksonville from 430P until 700P. Given the normal 5 hour trip from JSU to my home, I should be able to get home in time to get enough sleep to work the next day.
Oh yeah, about my motorcycle. I have a 1999 Kawasaki Concours, AKA, Suzy-Q. I have had the bike for two years. I had recently done a complete maintenance check on my bike at the same time that I changed the tires so I had no concerns about my bike being ready. My bike has been modified for long distance trips. I have changed the handlebars to give a more upright seating position, added a CB radio, CDplayer/AM/FM radio, a taller windshield for more wind and noise protection, a tail trunk for extra storage, and a Garmin Street Pilot GPS. Many of the items I added to my bike were inspired by or copied from work others had done and shared through the COG mailing list and/or publications. The only doubts I had about my trip were concerns about myself - was I tough enough?
I was excited about my trip and had a little trouble getting to sleep. I also woke up 1 hour earlier than planned and decide to go ahead and start. My wife was good enough to sign my witness statement and I left home at 3:50A EST. It was only 2 miles to my official start, a nearby BP station. I put in 4 gallons of gas. I also had my first glitch of the trip - the gas receipt did not have a time stamp on it. I quickly went inside and got the clerk to sign my receipt. Official start time was 3:55A, March 15, 2001.
The first 120 miles was on roads that I had often traveled and went very fast. My concerns were not to get a speeding ticket and not to hit any deer. Just after crossing the SC line, going west (really north) on I-26, the interstate makes a quick run up the slope of the Appalachian Plateau. This section of the road, which I think of as the Saluda Mountain grade, climbs steeply for 5 miles. I blasted up the grade, passing trucks and cars that were slowed by the climb. At the top of the climb, I could look back at South Carolina and see for 40 miles. It was an awesome sight at the end of what had been a beautiful and clear night. I drove into Asheville just as the sun came up. I had originally planned to use the excellent gas capacity of my Connie to make at least 200 miles between stops. However, I was HUNGRY. I stopped on the other side of Asheville for gas and a biscuit. I had traveled 166 miles, averaged 70 MPH.
One of the reasons I had picked my route was that the ride through the mountains on I-40 in North Carolina is especially scenic. This area is still wilderness and the road is often foggy and can be closed by rockslides. For my trip this morning, the air was clear and the traffic fast and I was soon in Tennessee. Shortly after entering Tennessee, I begin to encounter the morning traffic in Knoxville (a side effect of leaving early). I listened closely to my CB to see if I could learn about any traffic problems. Traffic near downtown Knoxville was completely stopped and I briefly considered trying I-640 around Knoxville. I studied the map on my GPS, trying to determine where I could turn. In the end I chickened out and stayed on the planned route. It took nearly 30 minutes to go the 5 or 6 miles I needed to get out of Knoxville. I dealt with the frustration by listening to the truckers tell the stories they save for just such an occasion. I am glad my kids don't listen to the CB! Once clear of Knoxville, I rushed down I-40 towards my next gas stop.
I had planned my second gas stop to be a mid-point between Asheville and Nashville. I stopped at Kingston, TN, which was a little earlier than planned, because I really had to go. I found an excellent gas station and store near the interstate and took a 15 minute break. It was upon leaving this stop that I had my first big challenge. My motorcycle does not have a cruise control. I had been using an o-ring as a throttle stop. I had rolled this o-ring away from the throttle grip as I had come off the highway for my gas. When I got back on the highway, and up to speed, I wanted to move the o-ring back over. It was gone! I had been riding for 2 years with this o-ring and never dropped it. Now I had 700+ mile to go and no cruise control/throttle stop. My wrist started hurting immediately - oh, the power of the mind. I pulled over at the next rest area to look for possible solutions. I found that I could use a large rubber band (a spare for the ones used to hold my GPS on its mount) doubled over a couple of times (quadrupled?) to hold the throttle open. In fact, the rubber band did a better job of holding the throttle open than the o-ring. I was going to live!
The ride Into Nashville was great. Central Tennessee is beautiful country and I spent my time cruising down I-40 looking at the rolling hills and farms along the interstate. I had planned to get through Nashville and then find a place to eat. I followed this plan to the letter and was soon ensconced in a booth at the local Waffle House with the morning newspaper. I spent 25 minutes on a leisurely lunch of bacon and eggs. I had been on the road nearly 7 hours. My speed average was near 68mph and my gas mileage was now over 34 mpg. Man, I must have really had the pedal to the metal toburn gas like that.
The trip from Nashville to Birmingham seemed long and boring. My butt and wrists were starting to get a little tender and I continuously changed position to stave off the aches and pains that I was feeling. One way I tried to pass the time was by comparing the road patterns off of the interstate to what I could see on my GPS. For miles I was mystified, as it seemed like nothing matched my GPS. I finally figured out why I was confused. My GPS was set so that the orientation of the map was always north. Since I was traveling south, everything I was looking for was on the other side of the road. I thought about this for several miles, finally accessing the options portion of my GPS to change the orientation to "track up". I tried this option for 20 or 30 miles but decided that I like the "north up" setting better. This way, the GPS looked just like the maps I had studied before starting my trip. I stopped for gas just before Birmingham, glad that this portion of the trip was over.
From Birmingham, I headed east on I-20, past the Talladega International Speedway, to the exit for Jacksonville State University (JSU). JSU is 25 miles north of I-20 and I had to go through some small towns before I got to the University. Leaving an hour early from home had put me in Jacksonville sooner than I needed to be. I took the time to get gas, a drink, and a couple of snacks before I headed for the ballpark. I recognized several people that I knew as I parked my bike and was getting a number of strange looks until I pulled off my helmet. Once the people there recognized who I was, I had to spend several minutes answering questions about my bike and my trip (real torture for me :o)). Another softball parent who lived nearby told me that rain was expected later that evening. I nonchalantly told him not to worry, I was prepared to ride in the rain (ignorance is bliss). The game went well and our team won (5-3 vs. Georgia State University). After spending a few minutes with my daughter, I headed for home. It was 555 CST and I had 320 miles to go.
I took the shortcut out of Jacksonville because it goes through the mountains and the roads are twisty. I had been on this route many time in my car but this was my first chance on my scooter. I had a great time on the deserted and twisty roads. By the time I got back to I-20, it was starting to get dark. As I crossed back into the Eastern Time Zone, traffic was light and speeds were high. I happen to enjoy driving on I-20 through Atlanta. I always get in the carpool (diamond) lane and try to drive just a little faster than traffic. Just a little faster than traffic in downtown Atlanta is normally well in excess of 80 mph! I blasted through town feeling great about my ride and my life in general. This general felling of well being was not too last.
Just past the I-285 beltway, on the east side of Atlanta, the rains begin. My Connie's fairing and windshield offer excellent weather protection so initially I did not even stop to put on my rain suit (I thought the rain was localized and I would get through it soon). This decision turned out to be a poor one. I was aiming for the truck stop at US 129, about 50 miles from Atlanta and had gotten within 20 miles of this stop when the bottom dropped out. I was still OK as far as weather protection, but it was awful trying to deal with the spray from the big trucks. This spray can completely block you vision which is scary in a car and terrifying on a motorcycle. I hurried to the gas stop so that I could get off of the highway and check the weather. I was thinking about finding a place to hole up until the weather cleared.
At the truck stop, I had a big cup of hot chocolate and took the opportunity to find out about the weather ahead. News was that it was raining steady but not heavy. I was only a couple of hours away from home and that short distance was all that separated me from an important personal achievement. I decided to press on. The rest of the ride was routine except for two unexpected discomforts. First, water was running down my forearms and into my gloves. Second, water was blowing up my pants leg, wetting the top of my socks, and wicking down into my boots. The water in my gloves was a little uncomfortable and I readjusted my sleeves to cover the cuffs of my gloves. The water in my boots, while feeling a little funny (squish, squish) was actually keeping my feet warm. I could live with both of these issues.
I made my final stop for a receipt in Columbia at 1145P EST. Gas and go and I was at home before midnight. I had traveled 1030 miles in 20 hours, riding through 5 states, riding both night and day, in good and bad weather, to become a member of the Iron Butt Association. Now I can rightfully say that I am one of "the world's toughest riders".
My first attempt at the BBG ride was made in May and aborted when I had problems with fuel being pumped out of the carburetor overflow hose. I discovered the problem about 300 miles into the ride and could not make roadside repairs. Since I had only gotten 90 miles to the last tank of gas, and I had spent 75 minutes working on my bike, I decided to head for home while my bike was still running. I had not planned to make another attempt for the BBG prize until the fall (heat!). Then Thursday, while checking the weather for a local ride, I found that the weekend forecast was great for motorcycle riding, i.e., dry weather with moderate temperatures. I pulled up the cities on my original BBG route and checked the weather along the route. The forecast was for dry weather with daytime highs in the 70's in Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Incredible weather for the middle of July! I decided to go for the gold on Saturday morning.
I arranged for a friend who is a Notary to be my witness. He came over after work on Friday and certified my start mileage. I was up at 0530A Saturday and had two pieces of bread and some water for breakfast. My favorite gas station is near I-77, Exit 17, in Columbia, SC. I started North from there at 05:59:50 on 7/14/01 (Exxon seems to always have their equipment in good order). Interstate 77 through South and North Carolina is a boring ride. I just used the road to get to the part of my BBG route that I was excited about, the mountains. Mountain riding starts on I-77 as soon as you get to Virginia. There is a quick climb with some excellent views from overlooks along the way (Fancy Gap). My gas warning light came on a little earlier than I expected (mile 186 on my Kawasaki Voyager) but I was comfortable pressing on to my planned exit - I-77, Exit 14, VA. My bike took 5.15 (6.1 capacity) gallons of gas for the 197 miles traveled. Not to bad for averaging 76 mph.
I continued north on I-77 through Virginia and into West Virginia. I loved the part of this ride where I-77 is called the West Virginia Turnpike. Miles and miles of high speed (speed limit 70) sweepers with great views and little traffic. It is in the mountains where I identified what I really like about my motorcycle. Unlike the under powered cars and trucks that I have had, my motorcycle can accelerate up the hills. I used this characteristic to get away from cars that I encountered on this stretch of the road. My ride on the turnpike was all that I had hoped for except for interruptions caused by the three tollgates on this road. I was surprised by the first one since I did not remember any tollgates from a family trip to Niagara Falls in 1998. Luckily, I had put some money in my pocket at the first gas stop and I had the $1.25 required for a motorcycle. One motorcycle rider, in the gate next to mine, had his bike on the stand and was looking in his trunk for money. I think toll lanes are just too greasy to have to park and get off your bike so he had my sympathy. I stopped just north of Charleston, WV for more gas and some food. I was pleased with the 73 mph average I had maintained up to this point (363 miles, 5 hours 3 minutes).
Traffic was much heavier north of Charleston. I had a 10 miles dice with a green mini-van that was camped out in the show-off lane. She could have never stayed with me except for help from blocking traffic. I wonder if she would care if she knew she was pissing off one of the "World's Tughest Rders?" Crossing the Ohio River at the WV/OH line is always a treat. The river is tame and beautiful here. Except for the winters, I would love to live in a small city at this location, Marietta, OH. They call Marietta the steamboat capital of the Ohio River. My family and I had dinner on a old paddle boat during the same 1998 trip I had previously mentioned. Downtown in Marietta, near the river, is a monument dedicated to the original settlers of this area (not counting native Americans). I remember that the monument is at the location of the western most civilized settlement in America in 1796. Ohio sure doesn't seem like the wild, wild west now. Enough of the background, on with the trip.
The most traffic I encountered was near Akron, OH. Even then this was not a problem. The road was good and I could still travel near the speed limit. I stayed on I-77 to I-76 and then headed east. Thirty or 40 miles later and I was in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is one of the most scenic states in our nation. The views along I-80 when going over the Allegheny, Clarion, and Rust Rivers are incredible. Even this illiterate redneck can see why they call the Rust River the Rust River. The water and rocks were Clemson Orange. Speaking of Clemson, I am no longer a football fan, but there is enough sentiment left over from my youth to get a special thrill when I passed close to Penn State University. I hope to take a look at Happy Valley some day (and maybe meet some Nittany Lion cheerleaders - my favorite part of football). One of the moments we all dread came for me in Pennsylvania. I had been advised that the speed limit in PA was 65 mph but that patrol officers ignored everyone going 74 and under. So.....I was traveling along I-80 around 400P (remember, riding since 600A) and my ears were really hurting. I thought that I remembered seeing some riders without helmet, so I pulled mine off as I rode along. The combination of 70 degree temperatures, beautiful Pennsylvania scenery, and the wind in my hair was some of the best riding of my life. Like all good things, this came to an end. I ran through a PA State Patrol speed trap. My old model Escort gave one short quick beep as the trooper hit me with his radar gun. He immediately turned on his lights and started after me. Here I was, running 74 in a 65 zone, my GPS indicated maximum mph for my trip was 91.7 (see earlier reference to the WV Turnpike), and my radar detector was in plain site (I have heard that there is no mercy when you get caught speeding and you have a radar detector). I was surprised when he asked me about my helmet. I guess the surprise must have shown through when he told me that a helmet was required in PA. When he let me off with a warning, all of my warm and fuzzy feelings about the ride and the day returned. Reflecting back on the helmet issue, I have one of the new HJC jobs with the flip-up front. To save time, I did not remove the helmet a some of my stops. No wonder my ears were sore. My last Pennsylvania gas stop was in Drum's near the intersection of I-80 and I-81. The foreign store manager (Iranian?) asked me several questions about my bike. The last group of questions went like this: Where are you from? Answer:Columbia, SC. Wow, how long have you been riding? Answer:since 600A this morning. WOW! how much longer are you going to ride? Answer:I plan to ride all night. WOW!! where are you going? Answer:Columbia, SC. At this point I lost creditability.
My ride down I-81 in Pennsylvania was uneventful except for being on the lookout for speed traps around Harrisburg. I quickly found myself in Maryland where I had planned for a gas stop. I have been using MS Streets & Trips to plan my stops. My software indicated that gas was available on I-81 in Maryland at Exit 6. Highways signs leading up to the exit also said there were gas stations. I got off at the exit that routed me east. No gas stations for almost one mile. I turned around and went to the other side of the interstate. Nothing there either. This failure to find gas at Exit 6 was not a big issue except that I was tired and feeling time pressure. I hated wasting minutes and miles. I got back on I-81 and found gas at Exit 2. I had ridden 1050 miles in 15 hours and 45 minutes. The reality of the ride was that it was nearly 1000P and I had almost 500 miles to go. Adding in the cold (hell yes it was cold - and I didn't have enough clothes) weather with time and mileage issues caused me to seriously question my ability to function as a rational man, loving father, dedicated employee, etc. I decided to continue.
The next 300 miles were more about managing my comfort level than looking at the countryside. My biggest reservation about the BBG is the fact that you have to ride at night. Throw in strange roads, bad eyes, and a bug covered windshield and the riding can be stressful. Major league monkey butt had also set in. I tried several solutions, finally ended up sitting on an extra folded T-shirt, on top of my beaded seat cover, on top of a extra pair of pants. I won the auction for a sheepskin seat cover on Ebay last week. It should be in by Tuesday. I was wishing I had it now.
Riding got a little dangerous about 150 miles from home. I have never had a problem maintaining my ability to function when long hours are involved, but then I had never been tested like this. Near Statesville, NC, I found myself unable to stay in my lane. I knew I had to do something. I was too close to the finish and too worried about time to rest. That left coffee and/or drugs. I don't do drugs and I haven't had any coffee for 20 years (coffee gives me gas). I settled on the lesser of two evils and drank some coffee. The combination of the coffee and the anxiety about the wasted 25 minutes helped to focus mind. I started back down I-77, radio turned up as loud as it could go, and me singing at the top of my voice. I am sure that the noise will cause the fish to quit biting in Lake Norman (north of Charlotte) for a couple of weeks. I thought I was doing great when I got through Charlotte. Then I remembered that I had not seen the buildings downtown or the stadium. I took a look at the next couple of exit signs and the numbers were counting up to 30 instead of down to 1. Panic! I looked frantically at my GPS (Street Pilot). Thanks to Garmin for the narrative line at the top of map - mine said "heading south on I-85". I had taken a wrong turn at the I-77/I-85 interchange. At least I knew what to do to recover. I got back to I-77 with a net loss of 12 miles. I did not try to document the wrong turn because of concerns about time and my confidence that I had the mileage covered. This mistake served to eliminate any remaining stupor caused by lack of sleep and fatigue.
I sailed towards Columbia with enough confidence that I would make my time window that I did not feel the need for speed. I had a couple of hard moments in the last few miles. My gas warning light came on while I was still 30 miles from my last planned stop. I had figured the last gas stop right on the edge of my gas window. The extra miles in Charlotte put a real cramp in this plan. Additional uncertainty came from not knowing exactly how many miles I had lost in Charlotte. I decided to make an extra stop 12 miles from Columbia. I thought that the mileage to that point would equal 1500 (actual 1505). If anybody was watching me at the Blythewood, SC Exxon, then they probably thought I was training for a NASCAR pit stop. I put in 1.5 gallons of gas and hauled ass - quick! I made it to my gas station at Exit 17 in Columbia at 537A. Pulled up to the pump and inserted my charge card. The same pump I had used the previous morning and it wouldn't take my card (Exxon station suck - and I know, I said they were great earlier, but opinions change with the situation). I pressed the pay inside button and nothing happened. Then I noticed the clerk standing outside and asked her to start the pump. She said that I had to pre-pay. I am afraid I might have said a few cuss words then. I moved my bike to another pump and had the same result. Then, I ran to the window and gave her my card. First she checked my card to see if there were any problems. She said, "this card should have worked". I thought she was going to ask me to try again. By then, my butt was clenched so tight (as I tried to maintain my cool) that I believe that if my wife's Chihuahua had bit me on the ass, it would have broke his teeth. Well, I finally got the receipt and the gas, and on time too.
In conclusion, let me say that this was much harder than I thought it would be. My other experience (on the SS1000 ride I took in March) led me to believe that long distance motorcycle rides are mostly a mental test. Count that thought as my first July mistake (2nd was the missed turn). I rode 1535 miles in 23 hours and 40 minutes (GPS numbers). Speed average was 65 mph when stops are included. Average while not stopped was 71 mph. Top speed, as noted earlier was 91.7. I am not really sure when I did the top speed number other than I know it happened in WV, probably as I accelerated away from a toll gate. I seldom exceeded the speed limit plus 7 during the ride and the burst of speed was not necessary (but ain't it fun). I previously posted a note about my ride on some of the e-mail lists I follow. My closing statement was that I wasn't sure why I did the ride, but I was glad I did. Maybe some day I will understand me.