Georgia/South Carolina Border

Sixty-Six Hundred and “66” – Part 5

May 2008

Part 5 of 5: BBG3000 Leg 2

Wednesday, 30 May 2007 marked the end of eight days and 6,603 miles in the saddle for me. My two-wheeled trek began when I logged the start of what should be certified as my 21st Iron Butt ride–a SaddleSore 3000 run covering 3,069 miles in 65 hours 26 minutes. It ended three hours and 130 miles after I logged the last stop of what should be certified as my 22nd Iron Butt ride–a BunBurner Gold 3000 run covering 3,055 miles in 47 hours 7 minutes. In the first three parts of this series, I told you about the three legs of my SaddleSore 3000 run from Florida to Arizona last May. In these last two parts, I’ll tell you about my BunBurner Gold 3000 run back the other way:

BBG3000 Leg 2: Lonoke AR to Fort Pierce FL
(1,540 miles in 23 hours 7 minutes)

To earn a Bun Burner Gold 3000 certification from the Iron Butt Association, you must complete two back-to-back Bun Burner Gold 1500 rides. In other words, you must document a ride of over 1,500 miles in under 24 hours for two consecutive 24-hour periods or “legs”. Returning from a Memorial Day 2007 visit with relatives in Arizona, the route for my second leg was as follows: Beginning in Lonoke AR, I rode east on I-40 to Knoxville TN, continuing on I-40 through the Blue Ridge/Great Smoky Mountains to Asheville NC, then further east on I-40 to Benson NC, then south on I-95 to Fort Pierce FL.

At 10:00am CT on Tuesday, 29 June 2007, my cell phone alarm reverberating from the top of the cheap veneer night stand 18 inches from my head brought me out of a short but restful sleep. And by 10:06, I had checked out of Perry’s Motel, strapped my gear on my bike, plugged my ears, donned my lid, and pulled a gas receipt at the nearby Lonoke Shell to mark the start of the second and final leg of this ride. I missed breakfast, though, so I grabbed a couple of corn dogs and a cup of coffee at my next stop in West Memphis AR before I crossed the Mississippi River bridge heading east into Tennessee.

Light traffic on I-40 westbound made my ride across the Volunteer State the previous Thursday a breeze, but that was not to be the case heading back the other way. The interstate traffic in Memphis TN was congested, and just east of town I hit the ever-dreaded sea of brakelights and stalled cages. It took me well over an hour to whiteline and sideline my way through that mess. When I finally broke through, there was no hint as to what had caused the queue. And by “broke through”, I don’t mean to clear lanes. I can’t prove it, but it sure looked to me like (a) just about every family in the western half of Tennessee had chosen that specific day to load up a U-Haul and move to the east, and that (b) every damned one of them was towing a trailer for the first time in their lives. Oh well… I guess a migration of some sort occurs at the close of every school year, so I should not have been surprised.

By early evening, I had finally dashed and dodged my way through the endless convoys of weaving, road-hogging rentals to the eastern edge of the state at Newport TN. And for the next 60 miles of I-40 from there to Asheville NC, I rode along the edges of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and over some of the curviest (yes, it’s a word) lanes in the federal interstate highway system. I had ridden this same stretch about 15 months earlier, but I wasn’t able to see anything then because it was the middle of the night. This time I was lucky enough to see all the natural beauty that was surrounding me, as night did not fall until I made my next stop in Old Fort NC.

From this point forward, the fatigue from several days of hard riding was beginning to overcome the exhilaration of possibly becoming one of less than 80 riders ever to complete an IBA BunBurner Gold 3000. Tossing back a Red Bull in Old Fort helped, but by the time I reached the outskirts of Winston-Salem NC at Clemmons around 10:30pm ET, it was time for another boost. I couldn’t stomach another Red Bull yet, and what I was really craving was just a good ole cup of coffee. I went into the c-store and bought one, then realized I didn’t have time for it to cool. But a quick shot of ice from the soda dispenser assured that my pause to refresh would be a short pause indeed.

I made good time from there eastward across North Carolina, as the hour was late so the traffic was light, the skies were clear and the roads were dry. The favorable conditions persisted as I hit I-95 and headed into South Carolina. About half-way to Savannah GA, though, I hit drizzle … that became mist … that became a blanket of fog so thick I could see nothing in front of me except the fading taillights of eighteen-wheelers flying by me as if they had radar. I knew that my slow speeds were taking time I didn’t have to spare, but I could think of no safe way to make better time through the fog.

I was exasperated as well as exhausted when I stopped in Hardeeville SC for gas and to choke down another Red Bull. I pulled out my log book to check time and miles remaining, and realized that I had to either pick up the pace, or give up the race. With all the resolve I could muster, I decided to go for it: I rolled back out to the freeway and into the fog, and watched my rearview mirror for the headlights of the next big rig coming up behind me. I accelerated as it approached. And as soon as it passed me, I pulled in behind it, determined to keep up and stay within sight of its taillights. I did. And thanks to Providence, I didn’t have to do so for very long. In a few short minutes I finally rode out of the fog, and my weather worries were over.

At my next stop near the Florida line in Brunswick GA, I guestimated I had a little under 300 miles to go and a little under 5 hours left. Averaging 60mph on open roads was no challenge, but getting to and through the Jacksonville metroplex before rush hour was. One final round of, ah, aggressive acceleration did the trick, though, and by 7:30am ET I was south of St. Augustine. Beyond that, all I had to do was keep my eyes open for another 180 easy miles, and the prize was mine. One more “iced coffee” carried me through, and I logged the end of this leg and the BBG3000 at 10:10am ET on Wednesday, 30 May 2007, by pulling an ATM slip and collecting my witness signatures at the Flying J Travel Plaza in Fort Pierce FL.

Then, all I had to do was ride 130 more weary, wobbly miles to get home and to bed.

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!