To begin with, there was a time when I would vehemently deny that I would ever ride 1000 miles in a single day. Back in the old days when I had never spent more than $200 for a bike the reasons are obvious. And even after experiencing the coushy ride and cast-iron dependability of my first two Honda Gold Wings, I had heard (and read) excellently worded opinions as to the foolishness of "endurance" riding.
Rich says, "I'm hungry. How about a Po Boy?"
But one day my good friend Rich Simmons (no, not the exercise guy) told me he would like to make a long ride down to New Orleans just to eat an authentic Po Boy sandwich. He used the term "iron butt" when describing the ride. At first I thought he was talking about an actual "Ironbutt" ride as sanctioned by the "International Ironbutt Association" (www.ironbutt.com). But somehow it became evident that he did not know there was such a thing as the IBA, and I told him about it and suggested that if he wanted to learn more about it he could go to the website and check it out.
Sure enough, within a few days he was back in touch with me about it. He was excited about the prospect of turning this ride into a real "Ironbutt" ride. And his enthusiasm was contagious. He wanted me to ride with him, and for the first time I was actually beginning to think maybe I might enjoy doing it. After all, I had ridden several 700 mile days, so how hard could it be to add those remaining 300 miles, especially if I began the journey with that goal in mind?
We decided that we would invite others to participate with us in the ride if they wanted to, so we kind of informally "announced" the ride to our local gang (The Middle Tennessee Honda Rider's Club). Several of them expressed interest in it, so we scheduled a meeting over dinner one night to discuss plans for the ride.
Before the meeting, Rich printed out copies of the rules, hints and forms that must be used for an "Ironbutt" ride. We also took a little time to discuss and agree to some "ground rules" before the ride. Probably the biggest decision we made that night was that everyone had to agree to have some form of "disabled vehicle" insurance/service before the ride, so that the whole group wouldn't have to feel obliged to stop if one of the bikes broke down. Rich had mapped out what he believed would be a good itenerary for the trip, which included mostly interstate highways.
I suppose in some ways I was a little skeptical that it would be enjoyable to travel all interstate highways for the trip, but since this was the first time we had tried this, it seemed reasonable.
There were five people at the dinner, and there were three others who had expressed interest in the ride. If everyone saw the ride through, there would be eight bikes in this ride. Someone suggested that with that many bikes it might be a good idea to plan fuel stops so not everyone was getting off at the same exit at the same time.
Rich and I suggested that some "practice" was in order. We were going to make a couple of practice runs to get the hang of trying to cover the kind of mileage necessary in a single day. It would give us a way to prepare for the endurance factor, as well as learn about the rate at which we could reasonably expect to cover hundreds of miles, accounting for fuel and rest stops.
On our first practice run, only Rich and I rode. Since it was still winter time (early February) we decided for sure that we would ride South. We left Nashville around 7:00 that morning and were going to ride to Birmingham, Alabama and return. But about the time we got to Birmingham it was still not yet noon, and we just didn't want to turn back yet. So we rode on down to Montgomery and I took the opportunity to show him the old college campus where I attended back in 1978-1979. Back then it was called "Alabama Christian College", but now it was called "Faulkner University". We were getting hungry by this time, so we decided to stop at a barbecue house just across the road from the college campus (called "Country's Barbecue").
In the barbecue house there was this gigantic rocking chair. Rich desperately wanted a picture of himself sitting in the rocking chair as a souvenir, but we hadn't brought a camera with us, so we decided that at some point in the future we would return to this place so Rich could get his picture. We finally did make it back in June, but that's another story altogether.
We decided that instead of travelling the same way back we would take I-85 towards Atlanta and then return to Nashville from that angle. It would add time and mileage to our ride, but we felt good. It shouldn't be a problem.
However, when we got to Atlanta, there was a definite chill in the air, so we pulled out the electric vests we had made and fired them up. On the way back from Atlanta it got colder and colder. Eventually we were riding in 20 degree weather, and both of us were getting mighty chilled. We finally made it back home. The total mileage for the day was just over 600 miles.
Before the second practice run we were contacted by someone neither of us had ever met before, a woman named Margot. She contacted us by email, asking if it was too late to join us for the Ironbutt ride. We were a bit skeptical, since we didn't know her at all, but the best proof of the pudding would be if she wanted to ride on the second practice run with us. We had planned an 800 mile ride this time, and we figured if she could hang with us on that she would be fine.
It was mid-February, but as is typical in the South we had a nice day to show up, so we made our plans and took our ride. This time we rode down to Augusta, Ga and back. Actually, we had to ride on past Augusta a little further because we wanted to make it an 800 mile round trip. So we rode on into North Carolina for about 50 extra miles before turning around and heading back the same way we came.
Margot aquitted herself quite nicely. Rich and I were both impressed. Not only did she hang with us every mile of the way, but she did this ride on a V Twin cruiser, not on one of our coushy Gold Wings. The biggest difference is that on a Gold Wing it's not difficult to stand on the pegs occasionally to rest that tired tushy. Her cruiser, with its forward placed pegs and boards, didn't allow for convenient leg stretching and tushy resting.
When the big day finally arrived, we were down to four riders. Margot had added herself to our group, but most of the others had backed out. The "Final Four" included Rich Simmons, Me (George McConnel), Doug Cline and Margot Austin.
It was Saturday, March 4th, 2000. We had checked the weather forecasts for the various places we would be. Unfortunately there was a chance of morning showers in the Nashville area, but we figured we could handle it as long as it wasn't too cold. We planned to leave at 4:00 AM from a designated meeting point. When I got up I heard the ominous sound of thunder and could see lightning out my window. Great. I brought up my computer and took a look at the doppler at weather.com. There was a large area of rain centered right over Nashville. It was rotating around a central core and blowing east. It looked like it would be gone in another hour or so, but if we took our eastward path we would be following it for a long time.
So we had a decision to make. Should we take an alternate route, heading west towards Texas, then south towards New Orleans, or should we stick with our original plan? We met at WT's market in Murfreesboro to make our decision. If we took the westerly route we had the guarantee of no rain, but the temperatures would be a high of around 55 in the areas we would be visiting, and we wouldn't start south towards nicer temperatures until the sun was already going down. It was a promise of just about the whole day in the cold. The other way promised some rain, but south of Macon Georgia we would be running into some 70 and even 80 degree weather. We decided to wait an extra hour to allow the rain to blow over, then take our original route. Hopefully we wouldn't run into too much rain before we got far enough south to get out from under it.
So the moment finally arrived when we would start our big adventure. Although I used the term "Ironbutt" ride to refer to this trip, I actually understand the differences in the various rides sanctioned by the IBA. What we were shooting for was a combination of two IBA rides. The first is the "SaddleSore 1000" (1000 miles in 24 hours), and the second was a "BunBurner 1500" (1500 miles in 36 hours). Both of these can be combined in the same trip. It had to start with an "official witness" (Doug arranged for a police officer to come and sign the forms for us), and we had to fill up our tanks and keep the receipts as our official "start time".
We gassed up and hit the superslab on I-24 heading east out of Murfreesboro. After about 40 miles we were right back into the rain and dealing with poor visibility. We tooled on along for well over an hour that way. Finally we started up Monteagle Mountain. If the conditions had been bad before, they were purely awful now. The fog got so thick I could just barely make out a few tail lights. We were riding in the classic "staggered" formation, with Rich in the lead and me in the back. It was nice to have CB radios so we could stay in communication. Rich told me he was just going to "follow the truck". I couldn't even see the truck at all from where I was.
Interestingly, when we reached the top of Monteagle Mountain the rain stopped and the skies began to grow decidedly less cloudy. The fog was only on the western side of the mountain too. It looked like a totally different world on the other side, and for the first time since the trip started we began to feel like maybe we could make it after all.
We stopped in Chattanooga for our first fill-up of the ride. We all took the opportunity to clean our windshields back up since it appeared we had left the rain behind. From that point forward it became pretty routine for the next several hours. Ride about 130 miles (Doug and Margot's bikes only had about 130 miles of range before requiring a fillup), find a suitable exit, pump/pay/pee, mount up and keep moving. We stopped in Dalton, Macon, somewhere well Northwest of Savannah, Brunswick, and Jacksonville.
Somewhere just South of Atlanta, the sun had started shining and the temperatures had warmed up considerably. Things were really looking up. As we headed west on I-10 out of Jacksonville, we had shed the jackets and were now riding in our shirts. A couple of them were wearing short sleeves, but I didn't go that far. Margot forgot to buckle her saddlebag as we left the Jacksonville stop and her papers blew out. Rich and Doug saw the papers blow out and radioed us to stop. We pulled over as they went back down the Interstate on the shoulder in the wrong direction looking for the plastic baggie she had been stowing her receipts in. When they finally came back and Rich held up her plastic baggie, she was jumping for joy. We had already endured a lot for that documentation, and she didn't want to lose it now.
Margot sure was glad to see that bag of papers again!
We mounted back up. We kept watching the Pennsacola signs get closer and closer as we made a couple more fuel stops. By the time we got to Pennsacola the sun had gone down and we were digging the jackets back out. Mardi Gras was evident from the people wearing beads all over. I never knew how big Mardi Gras was. I thought it was basically a New Orleans thing, but I saw tremendous evidence of it all along the gulf coastal towns from Pennsacola on. They were having a big Mardi Gras celebration in Mobile, AL.
In Pennsacola the Interstate goes through a tunnel which actually takes it below sea level for awhile. Going down into that tunnel was a strange feeling. I aim to do that again some day.
As we neared our destination of Ocean Springs, MS, the temperatures were definitely getting chilly. We were really glad when we finally saw the exit we were looking for, and the Day's Inn hotel not far away. The reservations we had made proved quite valuable, as every hotel in town was booked solid. Mardi Gras had taken over this town even though it's still almost 100 miles away from New Orleans. Our total mileage for Saturday was 1040. It was getting close to 11:00 PM, so we had almost ridden for 18 hours by this point.
We were all dog-tired and we threw down in the hotel and slept solid until about 7:00 AM. Then we jumped up and got checked out and started rolling again. We rode on down towards New Orleans, then hit Interstate 59 and started our Northeasterly trek back towards home. Ride... fuel stop.... ride some more. We got to Tuscaloosa, AL and stopped at a real famous barbeque rib place for lunch. Mmmmm. That turned out to be our only real meal together of the entire ride. Everything else was quickly grabbed snacks at various fuel stops. Real light stuff, mostly granola bars. Can't afford to have anything too much on your belly when you're trying to eat up the kind of miles we were trying to.
We pulled into our "destination point" in Elkton, TN at just after 5:00 that afternoon. The ride had started at 5:08 the previous morning and we had to get in the 1500 miles before 5:08 PM. We had to quickly find two witnesses to sign the paperwork and fill our tanks for proof of our stop time in order to make sure we had all our documentation. By the time I made it back home I had covered a total of 1,670 miles since 5:00 the previous morning.
Having done it now, I've gained an appreciation for endurance riding. I don't believe it's for everyone, but under the right conditions it is a managable thing and can be an enjoyable challenge.
To this date I haven't actually sent in the documentation to get the official notification from the IBA that I did the ride. I still have the documentation and maybe some day I'll decide to apply for the recognition. Margot applied and received hers. The ride itself was its own reward for me.
Unfortunately, Doug Cline was killed in a highway mishap a few months after this ride took place. He was hit by a tractor-trailer while walking alongside the road after his car broke down one night.