A friend introduced me to the Iron Butt Association sometime in 1997. Long motorcycle rides always intrigued me, and an IBA ride sounded like it might be something to try. Getting time off from work was always a problem, but I’d get away when I could and take a trip to see a friend a few states away. None of my rides were timed or documented, it was just something I enjoyed doing, but I was wanting to do one of the IBA rides in the near future. The opportunity would come in 2003.
Tom was a school teacher and avid motorcycle rider. We’d known each other for a year or so, and we each knew the other rode motorcycles. He asked me if I’d ever heard of the IBA, and if I’d be interested in doing a Saddle Sore 1000. The simple version is to ride a motorcycle 1000 miles in under 24 hours, documenting the trip. (Details about the SS1000 can be found here.) Of course I was in, so we got together a few times to make some plans.
The ride would take place in August. There would be three of us riding – Tom, me, and Pete, who was Tom’s friend. Tom’s son was going to drive his truck, trailing behind in case anyone had a problem. Though we’d be taking the same ride and same route we wouldn’t necessarily be riding together. We’d take off together but we’d each ride our own pace and make our own progress. Tom’s wife would be our contact at home.
Tom would be riding his Goldwing, the king of all touring bikes. I was on a Suzuki Marauder, which is definitely not a touring bike. We met early the morning of the ride, at the Iron Skillet in Bordentown, N.J. Tom was already there when I arrived. Pete arrived a few minutes later, pulling up on a custom Harley Soft Tail, which was completely chromed out, with chrome spikes and chromed barbed wire. It was shiny and LOUD – really LOUD.
It was a little chilly for August and a light rain was falling. We ate quickly and gassed up the bikes. Tom was 50 something and had a lot of road trips under his belt. I was 35 and had done a fair amount of riding. Pete was in his mid-twenties and I don’t think he’d ridden a lot.
Tom and I put on our rain gear and suggested Pete do the same, but he just snickered at us. He had no rain gear. “Real bikers don’t need all that stuff!” he said. He had on a sleeveless jean jacket, fingerless gloves, the smallest open-faced helmet I’d ever seen, and really cool sunglasses. He was a big guy and looked like the quintessential biker. I was a bit intimidated standing next to him as we fueled up.
We hit the road and pulled in behind Tom. He had planned the route, which was as simple as “head to the PA Turnpike and go west until you hit I-70. Then keep heading west until Kansas City.”
We rode together for a while, but fuel stops would separate us. Tom’s Goldwing could go more than 200 miles on a tank of fuel. Pete said he could probably go about 200 miles, but he seemed to be struggling with the weather and had already fallen behind. I lost sight of Tom when I stopped for fuel at 120 miles.
I’d be on my own the rest of the way. I’d call Tom’s wife at fuel stops, trying to figure where Tom was. Maybe I could catch up with him and we’d ride together? The rain stopped for a bit, and I thought about Pete. I expected him to come roaring up behind me at any moment. I kept an eye out ahead for Tom, but was distracted by the foreboding clouds on the horizon. It looked bad and it was pouring a few minutes later. I thought of Pete again, but didn’t bother to check my mirror for him anymore. I was just hoping he was OK.
Iron Butt rides revolve around fuel stops. You’re either looking for a place to stop for fuel or trying to hurry through a fuel stop, grabbing a drink and something quick to eat. I’d still call Tom’s wife at fuel stops, but had given up on trying to figure out where he was. I knew he was doing OK and on pace to make it within the allotted time, and he might be behind me now.
The rest of the way to Kansas City was uneventful, other than the torrential downpours. I pulled into my final fuel stop around 2 a.m., 20 hours after we had started. It was late but I had instructions to call Tom’s wife. She said he was on schedule and just a couple hours away. He gave her info about where I could meet him for breakfast in the morning, so I grabbed a room to catch some sleep.
Tom and I met the next morning at a restaurant and compared notes about our trip. Pete and Tom’s son arrived about 20 minutes later. Pete had taken the wrong exit in PA and ended up heading about 50 miles on the Northeast Extension. He realized his mistake and turned around, but was struggling with the rain. He decided to pull over and wait for Tom’s son. They loaded his bike in the pickup and continued on to Kansas City. He had made it about 300 miles.
We all had different plans for heading back. I had to be at work the next day, so I just took the same route back. Tom was on summer break, so he planned on taking a scenic route home. Pete decided to leave his bike on the pickup and rode home in the truck with Tom’s son.
Monday at work was tough. I’d barely gotten any sleep and was beaten up by the road. I looked terrible and felt even worse. Tom stopped by my office near the end of the day. He was on his bike and looked great. There was no way to tell he’d just gotten back from a 2000 mile bike trip.
It was fun to successfully complete the SS1000, but I’m not sure I’d do it again. I will continue to do long-distance rides, but having to complete it in a certain amount of time takes a lot of enjoyment out of it. You can’t stop to see the sights or change your route on the fly, and having to document the whole thing and save receipts is tedious. And in the end, I never did submit my paperwork to make it official! I still have it though -all the receipts and signatures are sitting in a folder in the bottom of a filing cabinet.
Some things sound like a really good idea, until you do them!
Riding gear is important. You might not look as cool, but you’ll go further, get there faster, and be more comfortable.