by Warren Harhay
Part I, The Plan
Have you ever wondered what your personal performance limits are? Have you ever tested yourself to find what you are capable of achieving? Have you ever pushed yourself to find the outside limit of your own “envelope” of endurance?
Perhaps those of us who have experienced the stress of combat or the thrill of competition in a world class sporting event can answer yes, but sadly for most of the rest of us, the experience of our mundane workaday lives seldom presents the opportunity to seek out and explore the outer niches of ones own skills, stamina and soul.
Since discovering the sport of endurance motorcycle touring and hungrily devouring every written word at the IronButt Association Website that’s been freely contributed by other participants in this sport, I have sought to improve upon my safe riding skills and expand my capability as an endurance rider. The various stories and accounts have been instructive and insightful for the preparation to complete the series of self-administered IBA sanctioned rides.
I have followed a natural progression of completion for these rides, beginning with a SaddleSore 1000 that took me to then untravelled areas of my adopted home state of Nevada. Within a month thereafter, I completed a BunBurner Gold 1500-mile jaunt to Houston Texas. Countless other thousand mile day sojourns throughout the desert southwest quickly followed. Each of these trips has been akin to going to back school learning new found skills, honing old ones all the while pushing my comfort level for achievable daily range. Each ride has become an adventure and been personally rewarding. At the conclusion of these rides, I found myself planning my next excursion that would provide more experience and yet further “on the road” instruction and adventures. Although each of these rides were challenging, I never felt that any of the rides pushed me to my limits, although the BunBurner Gold was certainly no piece of cake.
There was, however, one unfulfilled “biggie” event remaining for me to complete, The 50CC Quest, a ride coast to coast to be accomplished within a period of 50 hours. This ride allowed me not only to reach the other side of the continent but to transport me to my outer limits for physical endurance as well. Now this ride may not be much of a challenge to the “Big Dawg” veterans of endurance riding but to a novice wannabe IronButt it was, and is, a significant accomplishment.
I have read the accounts of Richard Bernecker, studied the logs of Richard Riegler, asked for and was sent a copy of Greg Pink’s 50CC report and gleaned from all their descriptions and comments the plans for my own crossing. For most of us, one of the limiting factors in even attempting one of these runs is devoting the necessary time to ride and return from the run. It would take me at least a week to complete both the 50CC and make my return trip home.
I decided that I would plan my attempt to coincide with Daytona Bike Week, an event which although I had read much about, had never yet attended. This timing would result in completing the run during the waning weeks of winter. The ultimate go/nogo decision would depend upon reasonable weather for the duration of the attempt.
In planning my run, I searched out for some way to me to make a contribution to the sport. I wanted to do something unique or novel that would make my crossing of value to others who might plan a later similar adventure. It would not occur to me until after I had completed the ride just what this contribution would be.
I recognized that my own physical limitations of diabetes and my propensity for migraine headaches would not permit me to set any records for elapsed time. My crossing would be accomplished with my physical limitations in mind. I was in a competition all right, but the other competitor was me, not the other folks who had demonstrated their incredible ability at shrinking the time/distance window. My crossing would require a full rest stop with six to eight hours of sleep in a real motel bed. I would not undertake this quest if it endangered myself or others.
There was never any question that the route taken would be I8 from San Diego connecting with I10 out of Tucson to the I12 bypass of New Orleans then back on I10 to Jacksonville Florida. The information from all the maps and atlases indicated an approximate 2400 mile journey. This is the shortest and most direct Trans-continental route. My BBG ride to Houston was accomplished in about 24 hours but the last third of the ride took me through dense fog and torrential rain. My plan would be to travel from San Diego to Houston at a BunBurner Gold pace which should provide for my arrival in Houston in under 24 hours, rest in a roadside motel for eight hours and then complete the remaining 900 miles in 14 hours, leaving a four hour buffer for the unknown and unanticipated.
Gas stops were planned at approximately 400-mile intervals along the route. As a rule of thumb, I knew from my riding style that a 400-mile segment could each be covered in six hours or less. I would maintain my speed with the flow of traffic and, when alone and appropriate, elevate my speed to no more than 10mph over the posted limit. In planning this trip, I wanted to pace my travel so that the most vulnerable areas would be traversed in daylight.
From the descriptions of others, I10 through Louisiana was just such a vulnerable area with the unwelcome combination of roads in poor condition and a gaggle of anxious overly eager State Troopers. Working backwards from this point, the starting time would be set to around midnight in San Diego. Arrival in Houston would be prior to midnight of the next day with an early morning departure continuing through East Texas and then onward through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and finally arriving in Jacksonville the following midnight, forty-eight hours after beginning in San Diego. I would travel from Boulder City Nevada to San Diego, stay overnight, make any last minute changes/preparations to the bike, take a nap and then depart for Jacksonville. I learned from the ldriders maillist that Ron Major would be making a 50cc crossing on the same weekend and planned to get-together for some picture taking and pre-run bench racing. My wife expressed the hope that I would travel with Ron “just in case”. I knew that would not be the case as his schedule would differ from mine and that as I myself have come to appreciate, most long distance riders prefer to ride solo on these IronButt jaunts. I reassured my wife that I had prepared my bike and myself for this undertaking, I would have CB, cellular phone and my ham radio handheld and that with any one of these I could summon assistance in the event that I should require it.
I packed and further planned. The only new addition to the motorcycle would be a Garmin GPSMAP 195 moving map handheld. Every other component, clothing garment or accessory had long since been used and tested. I left as little to chance as possible knowing that chance and the road itself would provide their own “adventure” element for this trip. Since I would be initially travelling through cold areas and then later through temperatures possibly in the eighties with the very real possibility of precipitation at any point along the way, I chose my Darien Jacket and pants instead of leathers.
I used the layered approach starting with thermal longjohns, then a silk-like ski longjohns, denim jeans and shirt, Aerostich heated vest, Aerostich inner jacket and then the Darien as the outer layer. Over the calf stretch socks, sweatsocks and a pair of British Moto cop leather boots protected my feet and calves.
I had fitted a pair of “bass-monster” speakers to my Arai Quantum helmet with the thought that perhaps I might want to listen to tapes to fight of hopeful boredom while traversing the more bland areas of roadway. I had a digital thermometer mounted on the dash along with 2 timers and an additional clock set to Eastern Standard Time. With much juggling and rearranging I was finally ready for the adventure. Originally the plan was to leave on Friday, but a business crisis intervened and the planned hookup with Ron Major was now in doubt.
On Saturday March 1st at 9:00 AM I was ready. My wife offered to take a picture of me fully suited up and standing in front of the bike. “You look like you’re ready for anything” she said as she snapped the picture. My wife who does not prefer to ride and yet kindly tolerates my interest in motorcycling thus offered perhaps the most original and reassuring comment she could have possibly made as I responded “Yes, and that’s the point” referring to all the preparations that she knew I had performed during the winters evenings for this venture, this quest. After all, she had given me the electric vest as a Christmas present as part of the gear for this trip.
The 366-mile trip from Boulder City to San Diego was undertaken under the most delightful of conditions. Clear blue skies, sixty-degree temperatures along the familiar I15 superslab to San Diego. At about Barstow California the first of the “adventures” presented itself. While calmly looking down at the tank bag and map I noticed an unusual glint of movement around the handlebars. It was just the head of one of the handlebar bracket bolts dancing around.
The bolt had loosened and now was “walking” around, jumping up and down and I am going 70mph+. The electric rush of adrenaline washed through my body as I quickly slowed and moved cautiously to the berm with no unusual or extra force on the bars as I did yet not know if any other bolts had decided to join in on this little jig of terror. After retrieving the toolkit and retightening the bolt, I felt reassured that this one loose bolt was an aberration as the others were all secure. As added insurance I decided to drop in on a dealer friend in Victorville CA and have him retorque all four bolts to spec and give the bike a second professional once over safety inspection.
After this little pit stop, the headshake-down cruise to San Diego continued. Outside of Riverside a U-Haul truck attempts to pull into my lane. The application of the horn barely dissuades him, but I note that I now should add ALL rental trucks, Ryder, U-Haul, Hertz to my list of suspect stereotype vehicles that presently include Moms in minivans, Volvos, anyone holding a cell phone to their ear as well as Pick-ups driven by guys wearing baseball caps backwards. I ponder two great mysteries of the universe; one: Why do motorcycle manufactures fit such wimpy stock horns? and, two: What is the advantage of wearing a baseball cap backwards?
I ponder the philosophical issues raised by these questions as I motor on towards San Diego and towards and into the last incident of this leg. About forty miles north of San Diego, up ahead in my lane which is the second from the left of four southbound lanes, I see a cloud of smoke and then a beige Olds Cutlass wildly weaves first to the right lane then into the leftmost lane, triggering the instant display of scores of brake lights and reactionary weaving from every southbound vehicle in view. As I approach the point of the incident I notice newly hatched “road alligators” in my lane, which indicate that this fellow lost his tire to a blowout and subsequent disintegration. Miraculously the tire was the only casualty. This was just a little reinforcing lesson for maintaining an assured safe closing distance during the remainder of this trip. I continued onward through San Diego a bit farther south to neighboring Chula Vista and the aptly named Vagabond Motel where a two day stay awaited.
The newly added bass-monsters, which felt fine 366 miles and seven hours ago, are now torturing the tips of both ears. A quick remedial refitting would be the first priority after my planned leisurely meal and a full nights sleep.
Sunday I washed the bugs gathered on the motorcycle from my last road forays, watched the Weather Channel for final go/nogo conditions and futzed around with the bike for the trip later that evening. I removed about a 3/16 inch of foam padding from beneath the bass-monsters thereby forever taming them.
All was ready.
Now to take advantage of a nap and to prepare for a midnight departure. I closed the motel room drapes and attempted to get some “Zs”. Just as my head hit the pillow and I tried to coax myself into slumber, the loud sounds of a live Mariachi band coming from a private residence behind my motel room began a serenade that was just as effective as a bugle blowing revile in thwarting my planned preride slumberfest. I covered my head with another pillow and tried to burrow myself deeply into the bed. The gala party next door now was just a faint rumble under my cotton and cloth cocoon.
I don’t know why I thought that MY plan for a nap would be any different from anyone else’s prior 50CC attempt. It seems that the expectation of the ride throws you back to that same condition experienced last as a seven-year-old kid nestled in bed on Christmas Eve. Ya just can’t sleep.
About eight p.m. I gave up on any possibility of any real sleep and decided to leave a little early. I checked out at the motel office, grabbed a couple of complimentary apples and a coffee, returned to the room, went through the now almost ritual “suiting up” process, stepped out into the ocean fresh night air, mounted and started the bike, turned left out of the motel parking lot onto the roadway to my quest and one of my life’s’ great little adventures.
Part II, The Ride
The die is cast, the Rubicon crossed, we’re now underway on a motorcycle adventure, a ride that will take us from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the East Coast and the Atlantic Ocean. We’ve left a bit early from our preparation waypoint at the Vagabond Motel in Chula Vista California and now must complete some clerical requirements to document the start of our 50CC Quest.
The IronButt Association requires a witness for the odometer, date and time. Most riders first choice for witness is a police officer. Having gotten the location of the Chula Vista Police department from the motel desk clerk, we head on over two blocks and pull into the city government complex. The office is closed but a metal phone box is available next to the locked door and we ask the receptionist if a police officer could assist us, mentioning that this was not an emergency. About 5 minutes later, a uniformed patrolman unlocks the door and asks what I want.
I explained my request for a witness signature of my odometer for a motorcycle rally that I was about to undertake. I purposely did not mention my destination nor the 50 hour travel time limit. The officer on whose patrol car is emblazoned “To protect and serve” now flatly declined “to serve” up his signature. This rejection of my trivial request came as somewhat of a shock as I certainly thought I represented the most conservative of appearances, a middle aged man attired in purpose designed riding suit, fully laden touring motorcycle displaying out of state tags and equipped with additional safety lighting, reflectors and full face helmet. A timid request for a trivial service.
But, No Sale!
He was adamant. “We don’t do that!” he exclaimed wrapping himself into a body lanquage position further enshrouded with that protective attitude that really broadcasts “I don’t have to do that!”.
So much for “to serve”.
Others had reported similar problems getting a cooperative police witness in Southern California. I really thought that I would be a more effective salesman, consequently I was bummed, I was down, but I was not yet out.
OK, on to plan “B”. Thank goodness for preplanning. When I read of the previous West Coast police rejections, I had earlier contacted a friend with connections in the California Highway Patrol. He made some calls on my behalf. I knew my backup witness was expecting my arrival in about an hour at the SeaWorld CHP office in San Diego. I remounted my bike and sought out a gas station to “prefill” the tank. A nearby Shell did the trick. I got back up onto I5 northbound through San Diego to the SeaWorld exit.
The CHP desk sergeant was expecting me and gladly signed my witness form and filled in the time at 21:15. My high spirits were restored and I now sought out the final kickoff requirement. This sole remaining item was a gas receipt documenting a filled tank and the official starting time. A nearby Shell station provided me with this last piece of paper work, which I placed into my logbook, a small spiral bound notebook that was secured with a large black document clip. I now turned on the GPS unit and within a minute I had my lat/long fix. I entered it into my log and hit the waypoint button twice thereby storing this location into the GPS memory. My plan was to record all gas and major stops as waypoints along the path of this journey in the memory of the GPS unit.
I tucked the notebook into the left front pocket of the Darien and for the first of many, many times ran my gloved hand over the outside of the pocket to feel the reassuring presence of the spiral binding giving me tactile assurance that the logbook and receipts were safe and secure. I tooled out of the station, rejoined I5 southbound to the I8 intersection and headed up out of the coastal plain into the mountains bordering in the east with their cold temperatures, gusty winds and mild twisties.
Next stop, Arizona!
With all the herky-jerky functions of the starting process now history, I welcomed the now perceptible and emerging rhythm of this ride. My plan was now unfolding, I was on a mission and I felt just great. The mountain ascent was marked by the roadside elevation signs rising numbers. The GPS confirmed the rising altitude. My soul confirmed a rising attitude.
The new toy, err..navigational aid, the GPS, displayed a moving compass, my lat/long, the velocity, the total distance traveled, and the system voltage. It even predicted the arrival time at my next gas stop. The most amazing feature was that beneath a cursor shaped like an airplane it displayed a moving map of the highway of travel and the intersecting roads from its’ internal database.
At about 4,500 feet the temperature had skidded to the low thirties from the high fifties along the coast. Small snowflakes swirled about and some accumulation could be seen at both roadsides. Over the crest and into the “Gusty Winds Ahead” zones I burrowed. Man and machine intent on getting to Yuma and Arizona before one AM. The wind gusts were stiff but no worse than I have experienced in the past. No better way of dealing with the wind or the elements than to have experienced and dealt with it before. Then, when reencountered on a drive like this, the mild unpleasantness can be dismissed with that “looseness” that is achieved because many times before you’ve “been there, done that”.
This is one of my principal reasons for undertaking such endurance journeys, to soak up all the experiences that this tough tackmaster the road can throw at you, then reformat and remold them into a learning adventure all the while building skill and comfort levels. For most of us who enjoy this sport, too much is just about right.
I am now streaking through the high desert, the waning moon has not yet arisen, and I am reminded of a remark, no a complaint someone had made about the lack of description and detail in the accounts of previous riders of the 50CC quest. I smiled to myself with the realization that no matter if Hemingway himself was aboard this bike as my pillion, no great descriptor of the countryside would be possible since any route, any plan would be executed while surrounded by the blackness of night for at least half of the journey.
This mission is not about searching out and recording the uniqueness of the geography or the culture of various disparate locales of the United States, its’ focus is sharp and pinpoint, to safely reach the other side of the nation in less than 50 hours. To find out if you have the stamina, the skill and the cunning to defeat the road and the clock. Descriptive prose is for a different ride at a different pace.
We roll past the “starburst” welcoming sign for Arizona and through Yuma with little more than half a tank of fuel remaining. The first fuel stop will be in Stanfield Arizona and we arrive there just past the intersection of I8 and I10 at the Petrol station. We have traveled 349 miles on this first tank in 5 hours and 10 minutes without stop. A quick walk to the general store for a “comfort stop”, some orange juice to drink now, some to put in the water bottle aside the tank bag for later.
An extra treat of cinnamon flavored chewing gum is also indulged in. While waiting to pay, I notice the Arizona State Police officer in front of me. He is a giant of a man, at least 7 feet tall but not possessing any other characteristics other than bigness. Geez, I wouldn’t argue with this fellow if stopped. I’d meekly agree to anything he claimed. But I’d bet ya that he’d sign my witness form!
Even though we are now just outside of Tucson the temperature remains stuck in the mid thirties as we rejoin the highway eastbound on I10 at just after 2:30 AM in the crisp early Arizona morning. Let’s see we’re on schedule and the next gas stop is El Paso Texas. I feel good about this first 400 mile segment just completed under budget and ahead of schedule. Hmmm…just like Hoover Dam! The warm mood lasts until just outside of Benson where the continuous cold is getting the better of me and I decide to stop and warm up in the only available place, A Best Western Lobby. Free coffee and a comfy couch to sit on are a welcome respite as I take 5 minute coffee and “comfort” break. At 4:00 AM we’re back on the bike and a quick fight to defog my glasses in the cold desert air while once again rejoining I10 east.
The faint promise of sunrise is now being made across the eastern horizon. We pass into New Mexico as the inky dark blue sky of the final night hours shifts into the electric blue hues of dawn. The plan now will be to stop and enjoy a full breakfast while the sun creeps above the horizon blinding any fool continuing to rush eastward. The first glint of direct sun is taken as the signal to exit now and take that welcome break.
The Kranberries restaurant is an old friend. Home cooking and good service was discovered here in Lordstown New Mexico while on a previous ride to Alpine Texas. I walked into the restaurant and after being quickly seated I discovered how really cold I am. I’m sure that the older fellow sitting in the adjacent and adjoining booth didn’t appreciate the involuntary shivering motions being transferred through the common booth furniture. But my shaking subsided, the coffee flowed and a soul and body warming breakfast was hastily consumed.
Twenty minutes later while getting back on the bike and resetting ourself for the remainder of this segment to El Paso, a lady getting out of her gray-blue Dodge Aries jam-packed full with luggage remarked how she wished she could travel as lightly as I. “Not a chance” I thought as I just smiled in return and then quickly rejoined the superslab. The sun had quickly risen past the point of interference. I now had on my polarized sunglasses. Daytime! The remainder of New Mexico passed by unremarkably, check that, it was somewhat remarkable in that this was my first trip through New Mexico that the wind was NOT blowing. Not blowing all through Las Cruces and arcing southward past the border into Texas. After a few miles further the fuel warning light indicated a gas stop was in order. Into Anthony Texas we putted for our second scheduled gas stop at 712 miles into our route. The lat/long is recorded with the 9.6 gallon of gas and the second waypoint stored. We’ve been on the road for just over eleven hours.
El Paso presented no problems and perhaps is my favorite Texas city for interstate travel. A straight shot. That is until you reach the road construction in perpetuity that exists just south of El Paso on I10. Just when will this job be finished? I have a distinct feeling that every Texan will be able to speak English before this construction job is completed.
Continuing on across the desert of west Texas I notice how little character this area has. Even the Mohave and Colorado deserts have more variety and interest than this area of bland scrub. At about 50 miles west of Ozona, the engine suddenly begins to sound as though its sucking only air. No combustion. As I downshift to try to keep up the engine revs, a flood of messages and questions course through my mind. “What is the mile marker?, Will the cell phone work here?, Where is the nearest repeater?
How far is it to Ozona? What the f%&k is wrong?”, And then, before any of these can be answered, the engine returns to normal. The same can not be said for me. This is the first instance of an engine-related problem. I guess that it may be a fuel related as most electrical failures don’t “heal” themselves. Geez, maybe I shouldn’t harbor negative thoughts about the Texas desert or Texans, pondering perhaps a potential spiritual intervention in this incident.
The Ozona exit is a welcome relief. At the Chevron I take stock of myself and the machine during the third fillup at 1,077 miles and 17 hours into the quest. This will be the last fillup before arrival in Houston, the place of bed rest and respite now planned before midnight local time. This last leg of the first day will take us through San Antonio just after rush hour and back into the blackness of night towards Houston. I hate San Antonio, but I tried not to think this negative thought too deeply fearing possible further spiritual retribution upon my fuel supply or its quality. The winds have shifted and are gusting strongly out of the northeast. Although the temperature is now in the low forties, these gusting winds are now more annoying and chilling than those experienced in the crests above San Diego. I think to myself that at least the next round of night driving, in Florida, will be much more pleasant.
The proximity to Houston now is reassuring. My mind begins to luxuriate in the thoughts of the bed awaiting me in the La Quinta Motel along the I10 roadside in Houston. The last gas stop of the day is made in the western Houston suburb of Katy Texas. This is familiar territory as it is the point of termination for my earlier BunBurner Gold ride. As I fill up at 1,459 miles and 23 hours into the ride, I now begin to feel the approaching signs of fatigue thinking that the knowledge that rest is near is accelerating this natural let down. Back onto I10 and twenty more miles to the La Quinta I proceed cautiously. The sign and the turnoff trigger twin pangs of both ecstasy and exhaustion as I park the bike and boldly strut into the lobby to claim my room, my bed, my rest.
And what a brutal welcome I receive when the desk clerk tells me that I have NO reservation at this La Quinta. My room is in another La Quinta on a frontage road further down I10 off on Federal Way. And NO! There are no rooms available here. And here’s a map, and good bye! I stalk out to my bike and I am pissed. My plan was to stay at THIS La Quinta. I knew I would be tired. I knew I wouldn’t want to screw around looking for a motel. I had stayed HERE before on my BunBurner. I mounted up and headed out per the map for the damn Federal Way La Quinta. Of course by this time nearly 24 hours of straight road time had begun to take its toll as I soon found myself entangled within a spaghetti bowl of unfamiliar Interstate ramps, exits, loops, lit signs, unlit signs marked and unmarked lanes.
A continuous litany of vile obscene filth and degradation spewed from my mouth directing curses at the La Quinta reservation system, profaning and damning as well as questioning their parentage. The most crusty sailor would have been offended by what I was now shouting aloud in my helmet. As putrid as these vocal epithets were, inside my head I could hear a tiny somehow familiar whining voice crying out; “MOM-MEE, I WANNA GO NIGHT-NIGHT”. I barreled threw this concrete quagmire now hopelessly lost, disoriented and headed for someplace called Victoria Texas. This is where they keep the secret I quess. As each second ticks by, my Arai Helmet begins to get heavier and heavier. I am forced to put my hand to the chin bar to hold it up. Off the right a bright yellow and now very inviting Days Inn sign miraculously appears through the concrete bulwarks and maze that now has me entrapped.
I take this exit ramp.
As I banked to exit another inner voice seemed to boom at me; “STOP THIS MOTORCYCLE NOW! OR SOMETHING VERY, VERY BAD WILL HAPPEN.” The voice of reason?, common sense?, God perhaps? No matter, at the base of the ramp I pulled up off the road and onto a vacant lot. The Days Inn was no more than 500 yards ahead, a beckoning oasis in the night. I dismounted, took off my Helmet which somehow now had swelled its weight to I am sure over 50 pounds. I sat down on the curb, with my boots dangling in this now deserted urban street. A passing gentleman looked over and called out “What’s the matter? Your bike break down?”
“No”, I replied, “I did”.
And that’s the truth. I had found my limit. I didn’t feel safe driving even that last little bit to the Days Inn. And so, I walked.
Into the lobby and up to registration.
Yes, they had a room. Didn’t matter at this point, I would have slept in the lobby. I inquired if there was a porter that could assist me with the bike, unfortunately not. After leaving my Helmet, which now seemed to be strangely continuing to gain weight with each passing minute with the clerk, I walked back to reclaim the bike and walk it into the security of the Inn parking lot. I removed the GPS, grabbed my travel bag, and seemingly floated up to my awaiting room.
It was a dump. It was heaven.
I set my alarm and dialed down to get a wake up call at 6:00 AM
I lay back on the bed and spiraled into a black hole of unconsciousness.
Day one was done, but I wasn’t finished
Part III, Daytona!
What’s that ringing? What time is it? Where am I? … Who am I?
Now rudely startled to consciousness from the colorless depths of a deep sleep sanctuary, I fumble with the ringing bedside telephone.
My brain delivers the answers.
I feel as though I have been just been forced to ride fifteen hundred miles on a motorcycle virtually non-stop in the winter! My neck and shoulders achingly cry out for both masseur AND chiropractor. I struggle against my body’s stiffness to sit up and take inventory of the universal American sub-economy hotel room now surrounding me. The rumble of heavy trucks and traffic can be heard and felt coming from the door and window to the right.
I stumble out of bed and groggily lurch to the window. I tentatively pull aside the curtain and peek out through heavy fog at an elevated expressway straight ahead and across the street. Four stories directly below is a courtyard filled with cars and HEY! There’s my motorcycle!
Oh yeah, 1,500 in the book and only 900 more to go I now recall. The reason for this quest comes back into focus. Well, not quite the reason and maybe it isn’t really focus, but let’s just say the reason why I am here in Houston instead of back in my bed in clean green Boulder City Nevada. I begin the only exercise undertaken for this trip by repeatedly bending over in each room corner to gather up bits of my riding paraphernalia. This stuff was strewn about the room six or seven hours ago with great abandon in the mad rush to get into bed. No rush now, I’m not going anywhere in this fog.
After completing the familiar morning ritual, I learn from the perky TV weather person that this fog is typical and will burn off quickly as the sun rises. I suit up, this time without the benefit of the thermal under layer and proceed to check out of my temporary digs. The desk clerk possesses that secret weapon of many Texas women, a smooth lilting almost musical drawl. It drips now onto my germanic-inherited, eastern educated, no-nonsense business executive impatient ears. It is totally disarming. Just to hear it once more, I ask her to repeat the saccharine sweet directions for the quickest way to get the hell out of Houston via I10 east.
Her directions prove perfect. The Inn is located in the wholesale florist district of downtown Houston. There are flowers everywhere including the vacant lot that was my final waypoint last evening. We are escaping Houston and as a bonus everything is coming up roses! The instrumentation and GPS confirm that all is again under control. My neck and shoulders seemed to have responded well to evening rest and a morning shower although I swear this ARAI helmet seems much heavier now. The fog is lifting as promised and with it my spirits. Our next gas stop should be near Biloxi Mississippi.
Everything from here on is newfound adventure. I have never been east of Houston on I10 and the anticipation and excitement now overcomes my little aches and pains. All remains fine through the remainder of Texas.
After riding just a few miles into Louisiana, I confirm what everyone else had written, the road here is terrible. The possession or use of a level must surely be a punishable offense in this state. Each slab of concrete roadway has sought its own independent elevation point. The resultant and constant pounding of the helmet caused by it bobbing up and down is now aggravating the neck strain from the previous days journey. Once again I found myself with my left hand on the chin bar or on my chin directly supporting my helmet clad head.
I can’t drive the rest of the way like this.
I thought to myself, I have never before worn THIS helmet for 24 continuous hours. Sixteen, yes. Who would have thought that there would be any difference? The helmet I had worn for 24 hours straight on my BBG ride was a 3/4 openface SHOEI. It didn’t have the weight of chin bar and face shield for my neck muscles to counter in looking up from the very slight forward crouch. I had no problems with my neck at all on that trip with that helmet. That helmet was of course not with me now. At the first rest area I pulled over had a breakfast of orange juice and power bar and tried out my first idea for a fix.
I took off my Darien jacket and the inner liner as well. I tied the liner jacket around my neck, rolled up the bulk of the liner onto my chest, and got back into the Darien. The helmet now had some support on the rolled up jacket liner. That’s the ticket! I thought as I rejoined the eastbound traffic along I10. After a few miles, it became apparent that this solution wouldn’t do for the remainder of the journey. The fix was too confining. The steadily rising temperatures would make this just too uncomfortable for the remaining miles. Meanwhile the bouncing torture of he uneven roadway continued to pound out an unwelcome tattoo on my head and neck.
As I kept up my pace, I knew that that I would have to come up with another solution or abandon hope of making it to Jacksonville within the required 50-hour window. Do I really want to do this 50cc thing? Now I begin to understand why there are less than two dozen documented successful attempts. To complete this quest, I knew early on that it would take a well-executed plan and flawless performance from the equipment. The third component, physical endurance, and mental conditioning were my sole responsibility. This part is one that you couldn’t buy, learn, or fabricate from others. The stamina, the desire, the drive had to come from within. Did I really want to do this? I wondered, as I passed over and through the Henderson Swamp. I decided that I would continue on as long as my safety and the safety of others were not compromised.
At the I12 bypass I began to fashion the idea for a brace that I could jerry rig to support the chin bar yet allow head movement and recovery should I have to make an emergency maneuver. The plan was to take the tough nylon carrying case for the GPS and stuff it with my thermal undershirt to give it body but become not too dangerously stiff. I would attach the snap strap to the case and then hang the case around my neck just as originally designed. The case would nest on a natural shelf on my chest/stomach and between the “VEE” of the partially unzipped Darien. At the next rest stop I put my plan into action.
The neck brace works. It is small enough to allow ventilation, relieves the helmet weight, and is easily resets into place when a quick headcheck maneuver is called for. The bridges over the swamps and rivers give me no concern. My weakness has been compensated for. The other options, to quit, to get a “beanie” style helmet and go on, to go it without a lid, were now forgotten. We’ve rejoined I10 and the road is clear to Mississippi. Well for a while at least. Another component for a successful 50cc finish was quietly waiting ahead to be recognized. Luck.
Interstate 10 has become a giant parkway, a ribbon of concrete cut through green, snaking through am emerald necklace draping the southern United States. To a desert dweller like myself the lush landscape is a treat that I happily devoured. The GPS map shows that we’re only 5 miles from the Louisiana/Mississippi border. I now notice something very strange. There is no westbound traffic. Wait a second, that police car on the westbound side is going the wrong way! As the roadway banks around through the forest two solid lines of stopped east-bound traffic ahead display lit or blinking tail lights.
I pull into the queue and turn off the engine. Up ahead, way ahead, people are out of their cars milling about. Just the situation for my CB I smugly thought. I reach down and turn on my newly added beacon of information and assistance.
Channel 19 greats me with an answer:” Mumph jarsk kraglle spiff squak slink rimple strad ssshh pop click!” Next to me a giant Kenworth/Peterbilt rig chugs and hisses to a halt. I yell up to the big rig driver for a translation.
It seems a west-bound tractor trailer jackknifed at 8:00 am that morning blocking all of I10 west. A crane was set up in the leftmost lane of eastbound I10 (that’s us) to clear the spewed truck. A state troopers car was parked in front of the crane with its emergency lights on. Of course these strobes were as candles to a moth for the first DUI Cajun happening by who immediately piled into the trooper AND the crane at a legal speed of 65mph, thereby completely closing both west AND eastbound I10. It is now 11:45 AM. I am wedged into this monster traffic jam with another big rig now directly behind me. What to do? What would you do?
I checked into the IronButt Motel.
I dismounted, took off my helmet, exchanged it with a baseball cap, bill worn forward thank you, strapped the helmet to the rear tail trunk, got back on the bike, put my head down on the tank bag and promptly went back to sleep.
My wake up call of dual air horns awakened me to the realization that there was now about 500 feet of empty road ahead. We’re moving! I quickly started the bike, crept ahead, and maintained the snails pace up to where the accident scene came into full view. A TV satellite truck was setup next to the scene and every state patrolmen, sheriff and Barney Fife was there. As I crept up next to the scene, one of the troopers who obviously had nothing better to do yelled out “Get your helmet on!” Followed by a chorus of “Helmet, helmet, helmet!” with much jumping about and fingers pointing AT ME from this mass assemblage of southern law enforcement. A particularly enthusiastic deputy directs me left adjacent to the concrete divider right next to the crunched cab of the overturned big rig. I immediately begin to put my helmet on. The deputy tells me it’s a good thing I stopped because “those troopers would chase you down fer sure, boy.” I meekly asked where the state line was. He responded by pointing east and with “about 100 feet more up this bridge”.
Now safely rehelmeted, I made my grand entrance into the great state of Mississippi. Without police escort. This whole highway operetta consumes 90 minutes, but I bag 60 extra minutes of Zs and some rest for my neck. No accounting for luck. Just ask me, I’m from Nevada! I continue on to Gulfport/Biloxi for my next fuel stop at 1,888 miles and 38 hours into quest. It is now 2PM, I have 12 hours to get to Jacksonville and travel about 500 miles. No problemo. Next gas in Florida. No dilly-dallying now, back onto the Interstate and into Alabama. While passing through Mobile, I notice that the waterfront park in which the battleship Alabama is now berthed has been greatly expanded from my last visit over 20 years ago. I make a note that this is a must see stop for the return. Through the tunnel and onward, the miles now are easily consumed. The sunlight wanes as the Florida border is breached. The first thing I notice is the loud sounds of the insects in the night air. Now crossing the bay, I take an extra measure of the invigorating fresh ocean air. Some mild twists are negotiated as we zoom through the Florida panhandle at the speed limit under cover of darkness.
I stop to pamper myself with a quick on and off at the Golden Arches seen from exit 21. These joints are my absolute last choice on “unpressurized” runs. Now I can count on a clean table overlooking the parked bike, a clean restroom, and a known menu to choose my hamburger and coffee from. This eight PM rest stop is a luxury, it last longer than most at 30 minutes. Now to continue and search out the last in-route gas stop. The gauge indicates that I could possibly stretch the existing tank non-stop into Jacksonville. I take this as a test of judgement and quickly decide that no such chance will be taken as I pull into the Chevron at Live Oak Florida at 8:30 PST, 11:30 EST.
A man in his sixties mans the counter. He is accompanied by a UPS driver much younger still in his brown drivers uniform. While the tank is filling, I get an orange juice and Anacin “power snack” and strike up a conversation about where I am from, where I am headed, and my requirement to be in Jacksonville before 2 AM local time. The older gent asks; “Ifn ya git thar ‘for then, whadda ya get ?”
I tell him; “A certificate.””What, that yer insane?” he zaps back with much glee.
Florida repartee final score:
Cracker = 1 Wannabe Ironbutt = 0
Humbled, I rejoin the road for the last segment of the quest. The goal is now within reach. I could taste it. Nah, that’s just the Anacin. Now my excitement is tempered with extra caution. Too much has been invested, too many miles traveled. “Don’t screw up now,” I remind myself as I enter into the urban outskirts of Jacksonville.
The signs announce the impending end of our friendly I10 trail and we take the I95 exit southbound and begin the search for a open gas station and our time confirming gas receipt. An Amoco sign presents itself and we are drawn as if in a tractor beam to the station beneath the beckoning sign. A complete fill up at 1:21AM. We’ve done it! A 50cc in 49 hours and 6 minutes after leaving the SeaWorld California Highway Patrol station on the Pacific Coast. Equal parts of planning, preparation, super equipment, stamina, chutzpah, and luck have defeated the road and the clock. As if by magic, A Days Inn appears next door to the Amoco! Yes they have a room. Yes it was a great rest. In the morning we secure a police witness for the odometer. The open and friendly police sergeant is a sharp contrast to the Chula Vista disappointment experienced at the other sided of the country. And now for the excuse ….err, the reason for this journey, on to Daytona!
In late winter the flux lines of the earth rearrange themselves and everything loose in the country flows into coastal east Florida instead of southern California. Hey, I’m proof, I think as I now putt into Daytona. I celebrate my arrival and accomplishment with a magnificent seafood lunch with broiled lobster, shrimp, and scallops. I can now switch back to my normal combo gourmand/gourmet role… that’s a glutton with good taste. I continued on down the coast to Titusville where the HSTA group had secured special rates at the Days Inn.
Once checked in, I called back to relay the news of my triumphant arrival. I learned from a co-worker who was into endurance cycling (that’s the human powered kind ) that my neck/helmet problems were encountered before by a well-known cyclist during a coast to coast rally. In fact the malady now has a name in sports medicine, Shillers neck. He also overcame his problem with an improvised brace. I decided not to press my luck and to let my neck rest during the rest of the stay. I decided to rent a car. The Economy agency was out of sub-compacts, and I would be forced to endure a Buick Rivieria for the week at the Neon rate. I agreed, thus perhaps becoming one of the first persons to drive their motorcycle coast to coast to Daytona, then make their way around town in a rented car. Somehow it wildly appealed to me. I need to prove nothing further to anyone. And so I piloted my land barge/cage back into Daytona.
I followed the stream of Harley’s of all models, engines, and colors into town having my life saved many times over each foot of the way by the ubiquitous, loud pipes. What a celebration of salvation. Lives were being saved all over town continuously by the chorus of blatt, blatt, blatt intertwined with an occasional potato, potato, potato rumble.
On Main Street I witnessed the parade of the cretins as they whisked not so silently up and down this drag exposing not only their rebellious nature, their conformity to an agreed upon style of non-conformity, as well as some bare buttocks. As a person born in the midst of World War II, the sight of the NAZI style helmet clad riders disturbs me. Once I asked one of these folks if he knew about the heritage of this design. He shockingly responded that “One of my relatives died in a concentration camp”. Probably by falling out of a gun tower, I silently thought to myself. No harm, no foul. One of the great things about our country is the ability to freely express ourselves. Sometimes its just hard to remember to cut that same slack to others that you yourself expect. The highlights of the week were the pizza get-togethers of the IBMWR and Ironbutt groups. Old friends were sought out and new ones were made. These meetings put Daytona on next years calender as a must-do event. Great times, Great folks all.
I have purposely not yet mentioned which of my three bikes I drove to Daytona. Quite honestly this ride is not about the bike or the brand as you may have gathered. Many of you who I did meet in Daytona don’t know which bike I had as I drove the rental cage. Each of you probably visualized me upon YOUR choice. And that’s just great ’cause I could have made the run on that one just as well, but perhaps not quite as easily. For the record the Honda ST1100 did the deed, the tip off should have been the auxiliary gas capacity, a feature not (yet) fitted to the R1100RT. When people ask about why three, I have answered that the Honda is for endurance runs over a thousand miles, the BMW for closer sportier juants up to the grand mark and the Harley for trips within walking distance. Now you Harley folks take no offense, I just mean that it is a better city bike than the other two! Hope you all enjoyed the trip and the story. Butt, be warned, I’m planning a Four Corners trip later this year.
Oh by the way, Another business crisis summoned me back to Nevada via air, squelching my planned leisurely return. It did, however, give me a close start to a return later this spring and Key West =;)