The Reindeer Ride
December 1996 & January 1997
It all started innocently enough. I haven't been on any trips since the 3 Flags Classic and I was itching to get out of town. An opportunity presented itself when I read that the Reindeer Riders (IBMWR) were going to ride from Lake City, Florida to San Diego. Great! I'll just ride out to Austin and surprise them with my presence.
The first of my problems was their schedule, but Greg Pink solved that problem by emailing me their itinerary, since my place was one of the stops (I'm glad they told me!). I asked Joe Senner if he would put me up for the night and of course he said he would. That's what I'll do!
As the time went by, I thought that Austin isn't really far enough away from Tucson; I need to go further. I hatched a plan to go all the way to Florida and visit my parents on the way, but I didn't know where I could hook up with Greg Pink. I had his address in Plant City and I thought that I would go down there, but I didn't know if that was cool or not, so it was plan B. Plan A arose when Larry Fears announced he was going to meet with Greg in Florida too. Now I had to get some info from him. I emailed him questions like "where are you staying? What motel? Etc... He got suspicious and I had to make him my confederate and confide in him what my plans were. Plan A, make it to Lake City, Florida and surprise Greg. I'm ready!
Sunday, December 15th, 1996:
I sleep in and slowly get my act together to make sure that I'm completely rested. My plan is to make it to Pensacola, Florida in one shot to qualify for the Iron Butt Association's Butt Burner 1500. Pensacola is about 1,600 and change from Tucson (enough to not rely on any odometer error). I've done undocumented 1000 in 1's before in 18 hours and I thought that 1,500 in 36 hours, while not a cake walk, was totally do-able. All I have to do is the 1,000 miles, take a big nap in a motel and do the remaining 500 or 600 miles to finish. I downloaded and printed all the rules, requirements and witness forms from the Iron Butt's homepage. I put them in a freezer bag in my jacket. All I have to do is find a police officer. 9:00AM Sunday morning, I figure I can find one at the Dunkin Donuts. No luck. The sub station is closed and there's no one around. Great! I'm off to a good start! Where's a cop when you need one... I decide to go slowly through town toward the interstate and keep my eyes peeled. I finally spot a squad car at a Circle K. I've never asked a cop to be a witness for me and I was a bit apprehensive, but he shook his head and signed it, all the while telling me that my plans were insane. He rides a bike too. I'm off to a gas station to get my dated and timed receipt. I'm ready! 14,191 on the odometer.
Let me say now that I'm a desert rat. 60 degrees is chilly to me, and that's the temperature that morning. I brought plenty of winter clothes just in case the electric vest or heated grips went out. Little did I realize how much I would need that stuff, After all, I'm going I-10 to Florida! How cold could it get? What's the worst that could happen, rain? Bah, I laugh at rain. I didn't even bother to check the weather.
I like to stop every hour for a smoke and exercise and my first planned stop was Texas Canyon rest stop, elevation ~5,500 feet. Jeezus is this cold! I've been fighting 25 MPH side winds for the last 45 minutes and the temperature has been dropping. It's supposed to be getting warmer, not colder! There's nothing like a steady cross wind to expose all of the weaknesses in your armour against the cold. I had drafts down my neck, through my jacket zipper, and up my back where the swiss army knife kept the jacket from sealing around my waist. Time for the Fat Pants, baklava, and winter gloves!
All sealed up against the cold I make Demming, NM at 12:00pm and 14,410 miles showing. ~200 miles for every 3 hours of travel, so I'm still on schedule. My hands are icicles and the temperature is in the 40's. I'm starting to suffer a bit. Why is it getting colder instead of warmer as the sun comes up? I put on my racing gloves inside of my Army issue Arctic Mittens. This is really bulky, but it works out well. The mittens completely cover the heated grips and for the first time I can feel the warmth of them.
Van Horn, Texas. 16:15PM and 14,638 miles on the odometer. I get off the bike and fuel up. I start trembling from the cold. I can't believe this! I tell everyone who comments that "it's pretty cold out there to be on a bike", that "I feel like a f*****g popsicle!" Where is this cold coming from? I go in for coffee and breakfast for lunch. I feel much better now.
It's getting dark now, my morale is starting to drop from the miserable cold that I'm enduring. I now ditch the plans of 1,500 in 36 and start to think that a 1,000 in one will just have to do. As I go down the road, I see that it's starting to rain, but this is some kind of funny rain in that it's not making my faceshield wet. Hmmm, it must be dust. The road under my headlight looks funny too. I can see all these patches where the darker, newer asphalt has worn away to expose the older, lighter colored asphalt underneath. As I near towns, I can first see the reflection of the towns lights in the clouds. "Ugh, light mean warm, I hurry now." I had intended to keep my speeds around 10 MPH over the speed limit (just to see if I could), but as I neared the lights, I would find my speed at 100 to 110 MPH. This is a good way to get busted, considering it's night and I don't have a radar detector. My GPS is a quiet comfort, with it's green backlight, showing me where I'm at on its map and the time and distance to the next town. I finally pull in to the Sonora, Texas rest stop. At least the wind has died down and it wasn't raining. 21:04pm and 14,900 miles on the odometer.
I am absolutely freezing to death. My old and worn System III is ejecting its parts. Neither the jaw piece nor the shield stay up by themselves anymore and the shield doesn't seal anymore either. Getting off the bike and walking around, I realize that I'm much warmer going down the road on the bike than I am as a shivering mass walking laps around the rest stop. I talk to a traveler in a car. He's heading the same direction I am. I tell him my plans to make it through Houston before I stop. He offers me his car to warm up in while I rest. I decline and eat some frozen sandwiches that I packed. I'm agreeing with the cop in Tucson that I'm a mental idiot for doing this.
It's dark, it's cold. It's west Texas where you don't see much. Traffic is rare. I'm dying out there, but I have 2 or 3 hundred miles to go. A cakewalk. I notice that the road is more worn out here. Either that, or there is a lot of dust. The bridges seem to be collecting a lot of dust. I start to question if the weeds on the side of the road are old dead brown weeds, or living green weeds with a layer of snow on them. My question is answered when I cross this particularly long bridge. Suddenly it feels like I have a flat back tire. Even in my stupor I realize that I'm crossing a bridge that has iced up and the dust covering it is snow. I'm doing 95 MPH and I'm afraid to move, not the brakes, the throttle or my lungs. I wish my heart would stop beating, lest it upset the delicate balance I'm maintaining on the bridge. I figured that if I crashed here, I would probably die. Not from the crash, but from the cold while I awaited help. I'm scared. To hell with the 1,000 in 1, that can wait until another day, I'm checking into the first motel I see.
I take the Kerrville, Texas exit and pull into a Chevron station. I ask the guy there if I could hang around a while to warm up. He said that was OK. I do laps around the potato chips and candy bars while I shiver uncontrollably. He said the temperature at his house before he came to work showed 30 degrees and it's only going to get worse. That clinches my decision to quit.
At midnight of the 15th, with 15,017 on the odometer, I check into the Save Inn motel. I've only done an indicated 826 miles. The Weather Channel is showing a weather thing called a Siberian Express. Good grief. This isn't supposed to happen. I take a picture of my bike. It looks like the way I imagine an airplane looks with its wings iced up. I take a hot shower and it's all I can do to stay awake in there. I fall to the bed and pass out.
I awake the next morning to find my bike under about 3 inches of snow. I watch the Weather Channel again to see that things are only going to get worse from here. I think of all those bridges in Louisiana that will be iced up. I question my sanity while I eat breakfast. I have to make a decision to go on or turn back. Going on means miserable temperatures, snow and rain. Turning back means failing miserably, disappointment and high crosswinds. I hate crosswinds. I decide to continue on.
But that's another story.
After I made my decision to continue on my journey after failing my 1000 in 1 quest, I carried on towards Lake City, Florida to meet up with Larry Fears and Greg Pink for the Reindeer Ride.
I pull into the Motel 6 about 3:00pm and settle down to watch some television. I'm expecting Larry Fears pretty soon. His last email said he was going to take off at about 3:00am and that should put him in Lake City, Florida at around 5:00pm. I wait and watch the 1 of 2 working channels of a news station from New York City. It was entertaining and reminded me of why I live in the West.
6:00 pm and I start to wonder a little bit if Larry is OK. I know what the weather is like where he's going through. I wanted to take a warm shower, but I didn't want to bogart the bathroom when Larry showed up. I figured he would need it worse than me. 7:00 and there's still no Larry. One of the problems with surprising someone is that if the plans get changed, you are left holding the bag. I was thinking of backup plans of where I would go. Pretty much, I was stuck. The friend that I have in Florida just moved and I didn't have his new address. I was not going to visit anyone that I knew up the east coast either. I'd had enough of the 20 degree cold. I would simply have to go straight back.
9:00pm and Larry shows up. I'm happy to see him. I help him unload the bike and get him settled in. He's wearing 5 pairs of socks under thin leather boots. He is a popsicle.
The first thing I notice is that Larry likes to talk. He tells me all about the trip from D.C. His bike is getting poor mileage and he's happy that he carries a spare fuel container that he had to use. That container saved his butt many times during the trip west. Larry explains that he didn't get any sleep the night before and has pretty much been up for about 36 hours now. It's about 11:30 and Larry's still talking. One of the things he said was that he noticed that the guys from the West name their bikes, while the guys from the East name each other. I decide that I'll name Larry and I name him Larry "help! I'm talking and I can't shut up" Fears. When I brought this up later, he blamed it on me for asking a bunch of questions. Uh uh.
One of the things we talk about is what we're going to do when Greg shows up. We decide that when he knocks on the door the next morning that I'm going to answer the door naked (now where did I get that idea from Ira?) while Larry takes a picture. We giggle like girls in anticipation.
5:00am comes really early in the morning, especially when it's 20 degrees outside. I dress and go outside to hide the bike from Greg. I press the starter and the R bike cranks and lights up sluggishly. I blip the throttle just enough to kill it. I work on the starter for another couple of minutes to no avail. Great! I can't believe I can't start the bike. I let it rest a bit, pull in the clutch and work the coldstart lever to the max and keep my hand off the throttle. It starts. I let it warm up a long time and I move it to the back of the motel. By now the idea of answering the door naked has absolutely no appeal to me. I'm already freezing and there is no way I'm going to stand around like a dork.
Larry tells me that Greg will be here at 6:00am on the dot. 3 minutes after 6:00am by my watch, I see an RT pull into the motel drive so Larry and I run back inside the room to hide. I may not be naked, but at least I'll answer the door. I peek through the curtains and see Greg go down the parking lot. Going all the way out of site. Didn't he see Larry's bike?! We wait... and wait. I think that Greg missed Larry's bike and decided that we weren't here and took off for Louisiana. !!! I walk up to the office and I see the RT there. Greg's inside having a conversation with the check in/out lady. I walk up behind him and ask "who are you looking for?" He gaped at me for a second. He recognized me, but nothing about me being there fit. He even seen my bike behind the motel but didn't make the connection. It was funny. After Greg dropped his load, it became apparent that he was happy to see me.
I don't know how many miles I've ridden around Europe and the US on a motorcycle, but I've been doing it mostly non-stop for about 23 years now. Of all the trips I've done, I can't remember most of the nice trips. You know, the one's where there are white puffy clouds in the sky, the temperature is perfect, and nobody tries to run you off the road. I remember all the trips where the bike broke down or I crashed. I remember being cold, wet, stranded by rain or snow. I remember all of the miserable trips I've ever made.
I'm getting ready to embark on part II of a trip I'll never forget.
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