This was published in Thunder Press, a free Harley rider oriented monthly magazine.
Iron Butt Challenge
Iíll take that challenge and raise the stakes.
In the February issue there was an article by Jim Skelton titled "Walking the walk". This article finally got me off my butt to write a report of my ride last fall. For those of you who did not read Jimís article, in it Jim talked about the Ironbutt Association (IBA), a group of riders who challenge themselves to ride long distances simply for the joy of it. Jim noticed that there were few Harleys on the list of those that completed the rides, especially the more extreme rides. Jim wrote "I see this as a challenge to step up to the plate...", "and complete one of the Ironbutt rides."
I have taken that challenge and will raise the stakes. I have completed a coast to coast ride in under 50 hours the hard way, from Maine to California. I have also put myself and my Harley on the shortest list in the Ironbutt, the Bunburner Gold 3000. Iíll get to that.
In the article Jim asked the question why so few Harleys were on the list. There are actually very few riders at all that complete these challenges. If you look at the list, many of the names are repeats, having completed multiple trips on the same make of bike. You have heard the term one percenters, Ironbutters are tenth of one percenters. Many of these riders put extra fuel tanks on their bikes so that they have to stop less frequently. Think about it, how many riders that you know would be willing to get on their bikes and ride for 400 miles without stopping, fill up and do it again? How about doing this over and over again for days? Thatís right, not many.
When I talk with most groups of riders about thousand mile days and riding thirty five thousand miles a year I get looks of disbelief. When they realize I am serious there are many comments about my "Iron Butt". One friend of mine calls me a "different breed". Say this around Ironbutters and there is at best a nod of recognition. These kinds of miles are common practice for Ironbutters or LDRiders. To stand out you have to up the stakes.
How did I get involved?
My favorite area of the country to ride is the west, the Utah, New Mexico area. My living in New England means that these areas are a long distance away. Over the years I have developed the habit of riding to these areas as quickly as possible to maximize my vacation time in some of the most scenic areas of the world. This meant riding ever farther each day, quite often over 1,000 miles day after day.
One day I heard about the Iron Butt Rally (IBA), an 11 day competition requiring you to ride at least 12,000 miles if you donít want to be at the bottom of the list of competitors. The ride requires you to show up at check points within a specified time period. You gain points by finding various bonus locations such as the biggest ball of twine or the location where Bonnie and Clyde were killed. Each location is worth different points. You need to not only be able to ride obscene daily miles, but also be able to think and plan on the fly. This sounded like fun, I guess that proves I am crazy.
Before you can even sign up for the IBR you need to complete one of their challenges. Some are relatively easy for the average LD Rider. 1,000 miles in 24 hours or 1,500 in 36. I wanted a challenge. In the fall of 1998 I completed the Bunburner Gold, 1,500 miles in under 24 hours. I did this on an aging Harley. My article appeared in the Thunder Press that winter I found out this was not necessarily enough to get me into the ĎButt.
To get into the IBR you can try your hand at a lottery type selection. I am neither that lucky nor that patient. The other way to get into the ĎButt is to get invited. To do this you need to get the attention of the organizers. When I asked the LDRider e-mail list what the best way to do this was, the "easiest" response I got was to go around the world on a Moped. Harley doesnít make Mopeds. I looked at the challenges and my vacation time and decided that the best way to get their attention was to do a "normal" ride in a different manner than most.
Kittery Maine to LA in under 50
I chose to combine two rides. These rides were done concurrently, not back to back. I chose the Bunburner Gold 3000 (BBG3K) and 50CC challenges in a ride from Kittery Maine to Los Angeles, California. The BBG3k requires 3,000 miles in under 48 hours and the 50CC requires riding from coast to coast in under 50 hours. To complete both I picked two coastal towns that were over 3,000 miles away from each other, Kittery, ME and Newport Beach, CA.
Prior to my ride, only four other riders have completed the BBG3K. This is considered an "extreme" ride. Iíll say. The 50CC is usually completed from Jacksonville. Florida to Sand Diego California. This amounts to "only" 2,345 miles. No one has finished it from Maine to California. I wanted to be the first.
I know my bike is reliable because I have had her for over 200,000 miles. I have owned "modern" BMWís that were far less reliable. This bike has been across the country countless times. She went to Alaska when she had over 80,000 miles on her. I have ridden the bike on roads that are supposed to be limited to four wheel drive vehicles. As one cop once told me, an FLHS is the best 700 pound dirt bike ever made.
Those who donít understand the reliability of Harleys ask me what kind of preparation do you need for such a ride.
As with any ride there was some preparation required. Months prior to the ride my 1991 H-D FLHS had started vibrating a lot. The cause was unknown. I checked everything to try to find it. I even pulled the pistons to check them. The bike only has 70,000 miles on the first overhaul so it should be fine. The bike only has 224,450 miles on it so I was not too worried. No cause could be found, I gave up. The only reliability problems I have found was that the lifters tend to only last 50-60,000 miles. It has gotten so that if one self-destructs on the road I can change out the lifters and the cam in 2 hours on the side of the road. I checked my records for the age of the lifters before I left.
A friend spent a few hours making a 5.5 gallon fuel tank out of a portable air tank and the filler neck from an damaged Softail tank. I just had to remember to turn the cap to the left to tighten it. Strapped on the back it gave me 11 gallons total. I packed the bike with road food, water and all the gear I would need to be on the road for a month, part of it camping with my girlfriend. I was ready to go.
Saturday Sept 4, 1999 - 1:57am EST -224,589 on the odometer. The ride was to start in Kittery Maine. Proof must be obtained that I was actually at my starting point when I said I was. This is usually done with a police officer's signature on a witness form, with a dated gas receipt as proof of time. On my way to the police station I saw an officer at the 7-11 where I planned to fill up. He was kind enough to sign my form. He questioned me as to what it was for and I explained that it was a "Scavenger Hunt". Well sort of. I filled up and got the mandatory dated, timed gas receipt which gives you the official start time. I was on my way. Traffic was light, even though it was a Labor Day weekend. Of course it was 2am so I didn't expect too much traffic. I made great time, just staying with what traffic there was. Maybe just a little faster.
At each stop the rider must give proof that he was there in the form of a gas receipt that has the date, time, amount of fuel purchased and location of stop. The first hassle was at my first fillup, which was in Pennsylvania. The receipt said 8:05, the real time was 5:45. No other gas stations for miles so I was stuck. The attendant initialed the corrected time, he said the station owner couldn't or didn't bother correcting the time on the computers and get a lot of complaints about it. I could only hope the Iron Butt Judges would accept this. Itís a lot of miles to ride for nothing.
The rest of the first day went smooth as silk. Some construction in all the states and lots getting stuck behind slow trucks trying to pass even slower trucks but no hassles. Near the end of the first 1500 it started to rain. About 100 miles worth of rain. The way the BBG3K works is that it is split up into two consecutive 24 hour periods. The first 1,500 miles must be ridden in the first 24 hours, the second 1,500 in the second 24 hours. If you ride past 1,500 miles you are just wasting sleep time.
So far I had traveled through ME, MA, CT, NY, NJ, PA, OH, IN, IL and MO. I had planned to stop in Joplin, MO but I decided to go a little farther to be sure I had enough miles for the first half of the BBG3K. I decided to stop at an on highway gas station to fill up and look at the map. There was construction in the area. I followed the traffic lines like a good doobie, right off the road into the dirt. Just what I wanted to do after 20 hours and 1,500 miles, some off roading. I got the bike stopped safely and got off the bike to see how could I have been so stupid. Looking at the other tire tracks it looked like more people took the off road route than the paved portion. My thanks to the DOT for making my ride more intreresting.
I stopped in Miami, OK at 10:30 PM CST - 226,117 on the odometer. It took a while to find the police station to get a signature. The officer there recommended I camp in the towns park. I got a good 2 solid hours of sleep by laying back on the seat of my bike. The bike is more comfortable to sleep on without the extra tank, but I made do. Steel can be very comfortable after an all day ride, especially when the ground is muddy. The bugs ate me alive, next time I leave my gloves and helmet on sop they canít get at me.
Sunday Sept 5 - 1:03 AM CST - 226,119 The start of second half was uneventful. I got gas, but there was no date on the receipt. Damn. The attendant put the correct time on the receipt and signed it, but I did not know if that would be enough. This was the only time during the ride that I got a coffee. As it turned out there was a date and time on the cash register receipt, I didnít even think to look. Thatís where being clear enough to think is important. I got a toll ticket with the time on it as I entered the highway. This was the proof I needed. At the next gas station I put an extra pint of gas in the tank to get further proof. Maybe this is overkill but I would hate to blow this ride just because I didn't have a computer generated timed receipt.
Again the rest of the ride was smooth. I froze in the higher elevations and baked going across the desert. Traffic was light in the LA area which was one of the areas I was worried about. I arrived at Newport Beach near Los Angeles at 8:06pm PST at 227,368 to end the 50cc run. 3,041 miles in 45 hrs 9 minutes. The official calculated miles were 3,021. This was only 1511 odometer miles from the midpoint. I rode down the coast to put more miles on for comfort, 11 miles over the 1,500 was too tight for me. I wanted to be sure the official miles would be over 1,500. I found a cop at the 7-11 in South Laguna, CA. I think the police stations should be moved to the 7-11's. That seems to be where all the cops are. The officer signed my form and I was officially done. 8:53pm PST at 227,648. 3,059 miles in 45 hrs 56 minutes. The official miles were 3,072. The end of my BBG3K.
The reason for the disparities between odometer miles and official miles is that the official miles are calculated using a mapping program. Odometers are not always accurate, and miles spent getting on and off the highway are not taken into account unless it is way off the highway. If you attempt a ride, be sure to try several mapping programs and then add a few miles to your ride just to be on the safe side.
After the completion of my ride I continued down the coast to find a reasonably priced motel. I found one in Carlsbad, CA at 10:07pm PST, 227,683 3094 miles in 47 hrs 10 min. The next day I didn't get out of the hotel until 9:30 am. Very late for me. I then rode only 600 miles that day. I must be getting old.
At the end of the ride I actually felt pretty good. I considered doing a 100CC (100 hours coast to coast to coast) by going to Jacksonville, FL but I had to pick up my girlfriend in Phoenix in a couple of days. Damn these responsibilities. Well, she's worth it. This trip was actually a lot easier than the BBG that I did last year. Planning, preparation and most of all, plenty of sleep prior to leaving, made this trip easier.
When I eventually got home I figured out the vibration problem. Earlier in the year I had replaced the rubber engine mounts just for the hell of it. The new mounts have a harder rubber compound which increased the vibrations slightly. Well, at least I no longer have a base gasket leak.
I am now thinking maybe a 100CC from Maine to California and Back would be fun. Maybe a 50CC from Portland, ME to Portland, OR. My ultimate goal is to be invited to ride in the IronButt Rally, a semi annual eleven day, long distance event A rider scores points in the IBR by riding lots of miles and earning bonus points by stopping at oddball locations around the country. Miles in excess of 12,000 are not out of the question on this ride. Most riders shoot for placing anywhere in the top twenty, a most honorable position.
I want to be the first person to win the Iron Butt Rally on a Harley. Just to finish is quite a feat. Many LDRiders have a poor view of Harleys. They donít put them down per se but they do not believe they are up to the task of LD Riding. If you look at the last IBR, the percentage of Harleys that entered was low even if you include the American Other. LD Riders will point out that a few of these bikes fell out of the ride for mechanical purposes. In actuality the percentage of the BMWs that fell out due to mechanical trouble was much higher. Many of these were due to bearing failures in the drive train. I have never lost a bearing on my bike.
My FLHS is up for sale. I now have a new mount, a 2000 FLHT it only has 3,000 miles on it but then, I only picked it up in December. I will finish breaking it in on my ride down to Daytona. Maybe go from New Hampshire to the Keys in under 24 hours.
I wonder if H-D or Buell needs a new test rider. If they gave me a bike to use I will put at least 50,000 miles on it the first year. I promise.
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