With the mercury hovering in the mid-sixties, my teeth chattered in my helmet as I watched the damp fog rise out of the cornfields and waft onto the highway. The morning sun finally started to emerge above the tree line as I pulled into a Sheetz station just outside of Wheeling to top off. Tap dancing in the parking lot to get the blood flowing, I scarfed down a Shmiscuit in desperation to find warmth. I left Dayton geared up from head to toe but apparently not enough because somehow the morning air was just sapping body heat right out of me. I’d been on the road through almost 200 miles of darkness, and still had a full day of riding to go.
The above tale is how my morning started out last August; a 500-mile ride to Virginia to go test ride a Scrambler 1200 (Big thanks to Triumph of Harrisonburg), just to turn around and immediately ride back home. A 20-hour ordeal full of highs and lows, with more hours in darkness than I’d like to repeat. Having said all that, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: I hate riding on the interstate. The highway is monotonous; chocked full of disinterested traffic, making for otherwise unremarkable, dull experience. If I had to describe my favorite type of (paved) roads, it would probably be a tangled ribbon through a mountain pass or a neglected goat path through Kentucky Amish country. But what if I said, I like to ride the interstate for (almost) an entire day about once a year? Like truly enjoy it, to the point I’ve done it multiple times, with intentions of more.
Shivering in the cold, monkey butt from the long hours on a factory saddle, and soggy feet from failed waterproof boots doesn’t sound like fun to most people. On most days, I’m in complete in agreement; but I can’t deny, I get sick kicks out of doing “hard” things. Like anything else, difficulty is a matter of opinion. In my case, I find riding a motorcycle from sunup to sundown over long distances difficult; more specifically, documenting an Iron Butt Ride.
For some, the prospect of riding 1,000 plus miles in one day is unthinkable; for others, it’s not even seen as a challenge. Tastes in riding are as diverse as the people that do it; in my case, I’m not spending a moment on flat, straight pavement unless the payoff is worth the tedium. Thus, where I’ve discovered the challenge: having the tenacity to endure the boring, repetitive nature of the “all-day” commute. With the right bike, and the right setup for the rider, finding comfort for an Iron Butt ride isn’t nearly as difficult. With the right route and enough entertainment, the scenery, and some good podcasts, staying entertained for 18 plus hours isn’t necessarily difficult. However, riding an ironing board the journalists call a “styling exercise”, having your GPS take a crap, feeling your footpeg coming loose at 80 MPH (allegedly), and riding into a hailstorm make for exciting, if not challenging events.
Certainly, you don’t need to ride a thousand miles in a day to find excuses to have breakdowns and endure the elements, you can do that anytime. I, however, I’ve discovered that I like to use a long-haul ride as a confidence booster for recent maintenance I may have done. The bikes I have parked out back in the “pig pen” tend to hang around for a while, and thus have various “afflictions” that need tending to from time to time. After the slow tedious process of getting the Scrambler back up to speed after it spent years as the breadwinner, I wanted to give it a proper shakedown, which ultimately gave birth to the before-mentioned trip to out to the Shenandoah Valley and back. Do you ever get the feeling like you rode away and forgot something? I get that nagging feeling after I’ve installed a new clutch, adjusted the valves, and so on. The fear that I perhaps forgot to torque a bolt to spec or I didn’t balance a tire correctly. It may nag me for a couple of days when I think I “feel” something on the ride to work and so on. To shake off the “demons” I like to “prove” my craftsmanship by “testing” the machine with an all-day ride. Assuming I don’t ride “shotgun” back home in a tow truck, that usually puts the doubts to rest.
“There has to be a better way”. My wife is so tired of hearing me say that… about everything. You see, I have a sickness, my mind is preoccupied with finding the most efficient method of accomplishing a task. When asked why I would attempt to ride such distances just to come back home the same day, it finally dawned on me, I enjoy the challenge of finding the most efficient method of getting from point A to point B in the least amount of time. I’m a navigation nerd, so I enjoy looking at maps and figuring out which gas stations are conveniently located right off the exits, and ideally, are open 24-hours. Trying to ride a thousand miles in a day means finding the best way to pack the bike with the most important things where you need them; rain gear stored on top of the tools in my pannier and snacks right under my paperwork in the tank bag. I try to make a habit of going over the bike the day before a big trip, that way I can confirm that all the essentials are packed in that before mentioned tool kit. “Smooth is fast” definitely rings true here as well, which means forming habits to scribble notes in your trip log about where you’re stopping and what your odometer says when you roll into a stop; topping off the gas tank and not misplacing your keys or your credit card. Speaking of credit cards, being pressed for time means you learn how to think on your feet when your newfound routine is disrupted as your credit card is shut off for “fraud alert” after stopping at the third filling station in three states. You learn how to stay hydrated while riding and what not to eat to avoid those awkward emergency bathroom breaks. Bad weather and bathroom emergencies also help highlight any issues you may have with your chosen set of riding gear; over pants and adventure boots are all fun and games until that “oh I gotta’ go” thought hits you.
As with taste in roads, the definition of “a good day’s ride” depends on who you ask. I remember being exhausted after the 160-mile trip to grandma’s, but I also know people that don’t stop for breakfast until they’ve emptied the 7-gallon tank on their ST1300. Training, or forcing yourself to tackle a thousand miles in a day shows you what you’re capable of; it demonstrates the destinations you could potentially reach in a day and tells you how much ground you can safely cover in a pinch. With that, like many of you, I have limited vacation time. As much as I would like to spend weeks taking my time and stopping in all the no-name towns around the country, sometimes I need to burn down the highway to get somewhere. Living in the Midwest means I have to commute to the type of roads (and trails) that I prefer to ride, having the experience of a full, non-stop day in the saddle means I can potentially reach destinations in a day instead of two, and still be rested to enjoy the fun riding the next morning. This obviously isn’t for everyone, but I see this as another tool in my toolbox when time is at a premium.
Lastly, I have to be honest, I also find a strange satisfaction out of doing seemingly ridiculous things. There was certainly a time when that passion was fueled by an adolescent “I’ll show them” attitude (i.e. who would ride a Scrambler off-road). Right or wrong, I think that mentality shifted to “I want to prove to myself” that I can accomplish “X” task. At first, it was “will this Scrambler survive 18 hours on the interstate?”, and now I’m asking myself “Will I blow up my 250L if I ride it non-stop to Denver?” I have no doubt a lot of this sounds self-serving, but if done for the right reasons, as with my previous point, it allows you to prove to yourself what you’re really capable of. Again, this isn’t for everyone, but there’s no doubt I enjoy riding motorcycles because it’s not easy. That interest pushed me into racing and continues to motivate me to ride through the night to work up to tackling 1,500 miles in 24 hours or less, and perhaps one day an Iron Butt Rally. For me, off-road racing has been (mostly) a physically demanding endeavor, whereas distance riding has been a mental test; both addicting as it turns out.
For me, what started as a “bucket list” challenge created habits that evolved into modus operandi, and ultimately a passion. What about you, is an Iron Butt ride on your bucket list? If you’ve documented a ride, do you plan on riding another? Or does this all just sound like a terrible way to ruin what makes motorcycling fun?