“Almost” Heaven, West Virginia

May 2010

Iron Butt Ride #42 | Part 2 of 2

At 1:35am ET on Sunday, 14 June 2009, I pulled an ATM slip at a SoBe Wachovia marking the end of my 42nd Iron Butt ride. On this, my 4th SaddleSore 2000 run, I covered 2079 miles in 32 hours 54 minutes riding time, and 43 hours 1 minute total time. Here ends my account of the ride:

Part 2 of 2: Head Down on the Hood and Handcuffed

On the second leg of this SS2000 I rode 1049 miles in 17 hours 9 minutes for an MTH of 61.16, which reflects not only a number of photo op stops but also a, uh, “temporary detainment” in the Palmetto State I’ll get to in a minute. My route from Charleston, West Virginia to Miami Beach, Florida was as follows:

IH-77 south from Charleston WV via the West Virginia Turnpike
IH-77 south through the East River and Big Walker Mountain tunnels to Virginia
IH-77 south through Wytheville and Fancy Gap VA into North Carolina
IH-74 east to US-52 south at Pilot Mountain NC
US-52 south through Winston-Salem NC to IH-85
IH-85 south to Charlotte NC, reconnecting to IH-77
IH-77 south into South Carolina to Columbia SC to IH-26
IH-26 east to IH-95 south through Georgia and Florida
IH-95 south to Ft. Pierce FL and the Florida Turnpike
Florida Turnpike south to IH-95 south to IH-195 east to Miami Beach

After a mostly sleepless night tossing and turning on a cool-looking but not so comfortable bed with overstuffed pillows that left a crick in my neck, I put on my sweats and flip-flopped down to the lobby for the Charleston Plaza Hotel’s complimentary hot breakfast buffet. Nothing much memorable there, except for a stunning young server who reminded me of Viveca Fox. As I filled up with caffeine and calories, through floor-to-ceiling windows I watched the morning sun begin to burn away the fog blanketing a nearby mountain ridge. There wasn’t much else to see, as this was a Saturday and the capital city streets were empty. Reloaded and recharged, I then returned to my room and got my gear ready to go.

At 8:26am ET that 13th day of June 2009 (there’s that number again), I pulled an ATM slip at a nearby SunTrust bank to log the start of my ride and rolled out of downtown Charleston. Heading south on IH-77, I crossed the Charles “Chuck” Yeager Bridge over the Kanawha River, and soon after stopped for the first of three $1.25 toll booths along the West Virginia Turnpike between there and the Virginia border. And from that point on, the run south to the state line at Bluefield would be as exhilarating as the ride north the night before had been exhausting. For as daunting as twisting mountain roads can be on a cold and rainy night, with a warm sun, blue skies and dry pavement, they’re a rider’s delight! The twists and curves of the West Virginia Turnpike are not as extreme as the cutbacks of IH-40 as it crosses the Great Smoky Mountains between North Carolina and Tennessee, but leaning into them while you twist the throttle is just as fun. And I thank the local Beemer Boy who was kind enough to play cat-and-mouse with me, making that 80-mile dash all the more enjoyable!

From Bluefield I rode through the 5,412-foot East River Mountain Tunnel connecting West Virginia to Virginia’s Blue Ridge Highlands. As on the ride up, I was once again struck by the marked contrast between the “Almost” Heaven mountains of the former and the “Just Might Be” Heaven valleys of the latter. And once again, the next hundred miles–through Rocky Gap into Wytheville, and through Fancy Gap into North Carolina and “Mayberry”–would be far and away the most scenic part of the entire ride.

Continuing south from US-52 to IH-85 and back to IH-77 in Charlotte NC, the temperature and humidity climbed as the elevation descended. And by the time I stopped for gas just south of there in Rock Hill SC, my handlebar thermometer was registering 100 degrees. The solar heat collecting in my skull rings and black Bowie knife scabbard was burning my fingers and chafing my leg, so I stowed them before riding on to Columbia SC. I would soon be glad I did that…

From IH-77’s terminus near Dixiana I headed east on IH-26. The oppressive heat was making me regret drinking a Coke instead of a bottle of water at my last stop a hundred miles back, and I was really looking forward to quenching my thirst at my next fill-up. Not long after that, though, I topped a rise and saw that my next stop would be delayed: There must have been a bad accident ahead, because before me was a sea of stationary taillights stretching in two lanes to the horizon. Damn! I stopped for a few moments like everyone else … but only for a few. I recognized my dry mouth and draining strength as signs of dehydration. And yes, I admit I had neglected to pack any emergency water that morning, but I decided not to punish myself for that omission by sitting in the sun and baking on the hot pavement until I passed out.

The emergency/breakdown lane was open, so I weaved my way into it and slowly headed towards what I hoped would be a nearby exit. I didn’t make it to the next rise, though, before I saw blue lights looming larger in my rearview mirror. Hoping he would just want by and not want me, I pulled back into the sea of stalled cagers and weaved forward to the first open spot, which was in the left lane. By the time I got there, the South Carolina cruiser was parallel to me in the emergency lane, and the trooper driving it was gesturing madly (both meanings) for me to come join him. I reluctantly but immediately obeyed, weaving over and putting my sidestand down just in front of his vehicle. And I had barely come out of the saddle before an extremely irate young trooper was right in my face and pitching a first-class hissy fit. I had ear plugs in under my Fulmer Modus brain bucket (my choice for that day), so I only caught about half of his tirade. It was clear, however, that he was taking serious exception to my use of the emergency lane. I tried to explain to him that I was thirsty and needed to get to the next exit for some water, but he cut off every sentence I tried to start. Each attempted explanation seemed to make him angrier, until finally he yelled something I caught word for word:

“You’re going to jail!”

Stunned for a moment, I put up no resistance as he cuffed my hands behind my back, walked me towards his cruiser, pushed me face-down over the hood, and ordered me not to move. He then got in the car and spoke to someone on his walkie-talkie, then someone on his cell phone. I couldn’t read his lips or hear a word of what was said. But when he marched back around to where I was standing, he was a changed man. His tone of voice was now softened, almost apologetic. And like night and day, his primary concern now seemed to be my well-being. He tried to remove the handcuffs, but inadvertently (I think) made them tighter and broke his key off in the lock. He then started frantically tearing through his front seat, glove box, side door panels, rear seat and trunk. I hoped he was looking for a spare key, and asked politely if he had any water as well. I also told him that my left hand was going numb. He came over and removed my helmet for me, and then–believe it or not–took a towel and gently wiped the sweat from my face. He told me he had no water to give, but that he had sent for someone to bring a replacement key, and I should soon be on my way.

Sure enough, a few minutes later a deputy sheriff in a black SUV with lights flashing topped the rise behind us, rolled up and parked, and handed my new best friend a batch of keys. Seconds later the cuffs came off my wrists … taking skin with them, and leaving marks behind. The trooper told me I was “good to go”, but first I begged a liter bottle of water off the deputy, and gulped it down in a matter of seconds. Then, as if I was waking from a bad dream, both LEOs disappeared and I was free to saddle up and ride the remaining 600 miles back to SoBe. And curiously enough, without ever being charged with or ticketed for anything … without ever showing any license or registration … and without ever even being asked my name!

Go figure, huh?

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

Bruce Arnold aka IronBoltBruce

Follow me on Twitter @ironboltbruce
Co-Moderator, Bruce-n-RC’s Biker Forum
Mile Eater Gold Member, Iron Butt Association
Author and Publisher, LdrLongDistanceRider.com|911TruthBikers.com
Signatory, 911 Truth Statement|Petition (911Truth.org|ae911Truth.org)

“Almost” Heaven, West Virginia – Part 1

April 2010

Iron Butt Ride #42 | Part 1 of 2

At 1:35am ET on Sunday, 14 June 2009, I pulled an ATM slip at a SoBe Wachovia marking the end of my 42nd Iron Butt ride. On this, my 4th SaddleSore 2000 run, I covered 2079 miles in 32 hours 54 minutes riding time, and 43 hours 1 minute total time. Here begins my account of the ride:

Part 1 of 2: Heading North to the Highlands

On the first leg of this SS2000 I rode 1031 miles in 15 hours 45 minutes for an MTH of 65.46, which isn’t bad considering the number of photo ops and other stops I made along the way. My route from Miami Beach, Florida to Charleston, West Virginia was as follows:

IH-195 to Miami FL then north on IH-95 to the Florida Turnpike to Ft. Pierce FL
IH-95 north from Ft. Pierce FL through Jacksonville FL and Georgia to South Carolina
IH-26 west to Columbia SC, then IH-77 north into North Carolina and Charlotte NC
IH-85 north from Charlotte NC to US-52 north through Winston-Salem NC
US-52 north to IH-74 west just north of Pilot Mountain NC to reconnect to IH-77
IH-77 north into Virginia through Fancy Gap and Wytheville VA
IH-77 north through the Big Walker and East River Mountain tunnels to West Virginia
IH-77 north via the West Virginia Turnpike to Charleston WV

The evening before this ride began, I logged onto BestWestern.com to reserve a room for the following night at their newly-renovated Charleston Plaza Hotel, then clicked over to Maps.Google.com to plot and print a detailed route map from my doorstep to theirs. I then packed my overnight touring bag, and hit the sack early. Rising early the next morning, I washed downed a hearty eggs and bacon breakfast with a pot of Don Francisco’s Colombia Supremo as I made a final check of the weather along my route at Nws.Noaa.gov. They predicted a 30% chance of thunderstorms for most of the way, so I pulled on my Gore-Tex rain pants before lacing up my waterproof H-D FXRG-2 boots and strapping on my patch-covered leather riding chaps. As always, that guaranteed that even if I didn’t get soaked by precipitation from without, the high temperatures and humidity would soak me with perspiration from within. I then Z-WAXed my ten-dollar sunglasses, SPF-ed my face and arms, plugged my ears, skull-ringed my fingers, put on my black Schampa do-rag and buffalo-hide riding vest, grabbed my keys and touring bag, and headed out the door.

Somewhere in South CarolinaI logged the start of this ride by pulling an ATM slip from a SoBe Wachovia at 6:34am ET on Friday, 12 June 2009. From there I headed north by the route shown above. And thanks to my rain pants, there were scattered gray clouds but no rain fell for the first nine hot and muggy but otherwise non-remarkable hours. I finally encountered lightning and showers along the 90-mile stretch of IH-77 between Columbia SC and Charlotte NC. But those heavy, ice-cold thundercloud raindrops brought a welcomed reprieve from the sweltering Carolina heat, and felt awfully good on my sun-baked arms and shoulders.

Somewhere in North CarolinaOne hundred miles more brought me to the heart of Andy Griffith country, a scenic and serene stretch of rolling green hills cut through by US-52 running north from Winston-Salem through Mt. Airy to the nearby Virginia border. Around Mt. Airy, US-52 is referred to as the “Andy Griffith Parkway” in honor of their most famous native son. Mt. Airy was of course the inspiration for the fictional town of “Mayberry”, just as the neighboring town of Pilot Mountain provided the genesis for Mayberry’s fictional sister city “Mount Pilot”.

Pilot Mountain (Mt Pilot) NC“Pilot Mountain” refers not only to a very real town, but to the very real and very unusual geological landmark nearby that dominates the landscape for miles around. Pilot Mountain is a quartzite monadnock [a huge knob] rising to a peak of 2,421 feet above sea level, and one of the most distinctive natural features of North Carolina. It is a remnant of the ancient chain of Sauratown Mountains, with its original Native American name being Jomeokee, for “great guide” or “pilot”. And I doubt any biker who’s ever ridden to Sturgis could long look at that omnipresent anomaly without in some small way being reminded of the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

Walker Mountain Tunnel VAThe next hundred miles, from Pilot Mountain west on IH-74 then north on IH-77 into Virginia, were hands down the most scenic part of the entire ride. From Fancy Gap northward, crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway, the spine of the Appalachians and on into the West Virginia border town of Bluefield, I was riding through the heart of the “Blue Ridge Highlands”. Here, the late spring shades of dark green trees on the slopes and light green grasses carpeting the valleys rivaled anything I have seen in the British Isles. And the lofty scale and broad expanse of the panoramic landscape would surely make Scotland’s William Wallace feel right at home. I found the twenty-mile stretch around Rocky Gap–bounded by the 4,229-foot Big Walker Mountain Tunnel on the south and the 5,412-foot East River Mountain Tunnel on the north–to be especially striking, and illustrative of what I consider the most marked contrast between the Virginia and West Virginia landscapes along my route:

Virginia’s Blue Ridge Highlands is an area of high mountain ridges made distant and majestic by deep, wide and seemingly endless rolling valleys; whereas North of the tunnel in West Virginia, steep mountain slopes are in your face and everywhere, but the valleys are narrow and flat land is a scarce commodity.

If someone were to tell me that John Denver considered West Virginia to be “Almost” Heaven because he saw Virginia’s Blue Ridge Highlands first, I’d give them no argument … especially not based on the final hundred miles of my ride up the West Virginia Turnpike. As the sun went down so did the temperature, and that “30% chance of thunderstorms” finally caught up with me. Every 26 wet and chilly miles, I had to wait in line and pull my gloves off to pay a $1.25 toll. And in between those stops, it quickly became evident that the State of West Virginia is not fully vested in the benefits of 3M reflective technologies. What was reflecting was the glare of the headlights of oncoming cars on the raindrops that pelted my visor, which made tracking the roadway’s twists and curves through the mountains and downpour a challenge to say the least. I came close to leaving the pavement more than once, but fortunately I wasn’t tossing horseshoes. Once again Providence gave me a pass, and at 10:19pm ET I checked my very wet and tired butt into a very nice but affordably priced room at the Charleston Plaza.

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

Bruce Arnold aka IronBoltBruce

Follow me on Twitter @ironboltbruce
Co-Moderator, Bruce-n-RC’s Biker Forum
Mile Eater Gold Member, Iron Butt Association
Sustaining Member, Motorcycle Riders Foundation
2009 Chairman’s Circle, American Motorcyclist Association
Author and Publisher, LdrLongDistanceRider.com|911TruthBikers.com
Signatory, 911 Truth Statement|Petition (911Truth.org|ae911Truth.org)

The Last Three Miles

March 2010

Iron Butt Rides #40 and #41

At 4:53am ET on Monday, 16 February 2009, I pulled an ATM receipt at the SoBe Wachovia marking the end of 8 days and 4084 miles in the saddle. I began this trip with my 40th Iron Butt ride and 19th Bun Burner GOLD (BBG1500), a 1583 mile run from Miami Beach FL to Ozona TX completed in 21 hours 43 minutes for an MTH of 72.89. I ended it with my 41st Iron Butt ride and 20th Bun Burner GOLD, a 1521 mile run from San Antonio TX to Montgomery AL to Miami Beach FL completed in 20 hours 58 minutes for an MTH of 72.54.

Between these runs I managed to marry off a beautiful daughter … piss off a prevaricating forum moderator … fight off a bullshit ticket … and cruise 980 relaxing and scenic miles of the Lone Star State, with stops that included:

Luckenbach TexasLuckenbach … where the Harley-riding but otherwise reminiscently Jerry Jeff Walker-ish Texas balladeer Jimmy Lee Jones was sittin’ on a log by the stove in the store, pickin’ and singin’ for beer;

Fort Stockton TexasFort Stockton … once HQ for the U.S. Army’s 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, an all African-American regiment given that nickname by the Native American Indians because their curly black hair reminded them of a bison’s mane;

Imperial TexasImperial … a sandy played-out oil patch in Pecos County I own a piece of (that I could not get to because an unmanaged reservoir had flooded the road) named by land developers after the Imperial Valley in California, in hopes that investors (i.e. suckers like me) would be convinced that irrigation might yield a similar agricultural miracle;

Van Horn TexasVan Horn … where just 30 minutes after my warm and sunny midday arrival, the temperature dropped almost 30 degrees as a massive red sandstorm blew in, consuming the sky, blocking the sun and delaying my chance to chow down at Chuy’s, where aerophobic sports announcer John Madden’s bus always stops for a “#21”; and

Somewhere in West TexasSierra Blanca … site of John Wayne’s and Celine Dion’s crumbling Mile High Clubhouse, an unfinished architectural marvel with majestic middle-of-nowhere desert mountain vistas, and the cactus-flowered centerpiece of an ultra-exclusive celebrity getaway real estate (misad)venture that years ago went bust before it ever bloomed.

There is “more to the story” for each of these, but for now I will focus on my last stop in Sierra Blanca. More specifically, let me tell you about the last three miles:

A few years ago I picked up a small strip of land outside Sierra Blanca, and one of my goals for this trip was to ride by and give it a visual inspection, using my Garmin GPS to find the corners and walk the perimeter. According to Google Earth, there appeared to be at least two routes to get there, albeit over dirt and gravel roads for the final stretch. Google Maps showed one of them running right off the IH-10 frontage road, so I didn’t anticipate any serious problems.

Unfortunately, sometimes Google Maps is not correct … and this was one of those times. The recommended exit off IH-10 did not exist, so I was forced to make a long loop back around from the next exit to get to where I thought I needed to be on the frontage road. And having done so, the road I expected wasn’t there. I cruised on west another mile or so and finally found it, but it had been fenced over with no gate, no cattle guard, and no other means of access.

Somewhere in West TXOK, Plan B… My only alternative required that I backtrack east a few miles, head north to the Mile High Clubhouse, then cut west between two rounded peaks to get to the next valley and my land. The route was longer and complicated by several more forks and turn-offs, but it was that way or no way. The good news was I had mostly paved roads right to the center of the ruined resort. The bad news began at the “State of Texas General Land Office: No Trespassing” sign. From there on, what Google Maps called a “road” was really more of a jeep trail … in a couple of places, not much more than a goat path:


“Man!” I thought, “What a great place to do some dirt bike riding!”

The only problem was, I was riding a fully-loaded H-D street cruiser. Ugh! Rumbling over shifting rock piles and fish-tailing through soft sand patches was challenging enough. But even worse was nursing the poor out-of-place beast down one side of steep gullies and wash-outs, only to have to immediately gun the engine to spin her up and over the other. Mother Fucker!

Finally (and Thank God) I spied the tell-tale signs of a dirt tank landmark on the left, and pulled out my Garmin GPS to confirm my eastern boundary just a short piece to the right. I made it! I damn near dropped the old girl a dozen times, but I made it!

Then, with pictures snapped and perimeter plotted, all I had to do to get home was ease her around, and go back the way I came…

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

Bruce Arnold aka IronBoltBruce

Follow me on Twitter @ironboltbruce
Co-Moderator, Bruce-n-RCs Biker Forum
Mile Eater Gold Member, Iron Butt Association (IBA)
Sustaining Member, Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF)
Oversolicited Member, National Rifle Association (NRA)
Reluctant Member, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
2009 Chairmans Circle, American Motorcyclist Association (AMA)
Author and Publisher, LdrLongDistanceRider.com|911TruthBikers.com
Signatory, 911 Truth Statement|Petition (911Truth.org|ae911Truth.org)
Member, Peoples Campaign for the Constitution (ConstitutionCampaign.org)
Say No to Cloudmark Authority and all content-based Big Brother Internet Censorship
Repeal the Patriot Act|Reject Citizens United v. FEC|Recall Our Troops|Re-Elect Nobody

BBG 4500: My Bun Burner Gold Trifecta

February 2010

Over 4500 Miles in Under 72 Hours

One of the most challenging rides in the Iron Butt Association’s Bun Burner GOLD motorcycle endurance riding certification series is the Bun Burner GOLD Trifecta, also called the BBG 4500. The BBG 4500 requires three consecutive, back-to-back-to-back days of riding over 1,500 miles in under 24 hours, for a total of over 4,500 miles in under 72 hours. Prior to December 2008, only 7 riders had ever completed a Bun Burner GOLD Trifecta:

Bun Burner GOLD Trifecta Finishers (Back to Back to Back Bun Burner Golds!):

Name             Hometown                Date      Motorcycle       Mileage
Derek Dickson    Duluth, MN              08/28/07  Yamaha FJR1300   4,672
Curt Gran        Pewaukee, WI            07/04/07  Honda ST1300A    4,566
Steve Broadhead  Calgery, AL CANADA      03/13/06  Honda ST1300     4,512
John Tomasovitch Throop, PA              03/09/06  BMW K1200RS      4,500+
Peter Leap       Marblehead, PA          03/09/06  Honda ST1300     4,500+
Peter A. Murray  Hackettstown, NJ        09/23/05  BMW K1200LT      4,564
John C. Ryan     Roxbury, NJ             10/04/04  BMW K75          4,619

With IBA approval of the ride certification submission I mailed on 17 December 2008, that number increased to 8, and the list at long last included a Harley-Davidson rider.

At 2:18am ET Monday 15 December 2008, I pulled an ATM receipt at a SoBe Wachovia to mark the end of my 39th Iron Butt ride, a three-day BBG4500 over which I covered 4,558 miles in 71 hours 6 minutes. Here’s how it went, leg by leg by leg:

Leg 1 of 3 (Route map link: http://tinyurl.com/BBG4500-Leg1 )

Leg 1 commenced at 3:12am ET Friday 12 December and ended at 1:09am ET the next day, riding from Miami Beach to IH195 to IH95 through Jacksonville, Savannah GA and Florence SC to Dunn NC and back for a total of 1,532 miles in 21 hours 57 minutes. I chose a wee-hours starting time so I would always be in the coldest part of each leg (northern end) at the warmest part of each day (early afternoon) to lessen cold weather impacts and inefficiencies.

True to forecast, the temperature dropped steadily as I rode north. But the winds were mostly calm and the sky was mostly clear all the way to North Carolina and back. There were no traffic jams to contend with either. In fact, I had smooth sailing except for two attacks of stupid: One when I stopped for gas and forgot to pump it before pulling out; and one when I weaved through a slow-moving cager caravan only to learn that the gray Dodge Charger leading the procession was an unmarked NC State Highway Patrol cruiser. The flat-topped young trooper inside was a nice guy, though, and even complimented me on my performance as he was writing my award.

Leg 2 of 3 (Route map link: http://tinyurl.com/BBG4500-Leg2 )

Leg 2 commenced at 3:36am ET Saturday 13 December and ended at 1:38am ET the next day, riding from Miami Beach to IH195 to IH95 to the Florida Turnpike through Orlando to IH75 to IH10 through Tallahassee and Mobile AL to Moss Point MS and back for a total of 1,515 miles in 22 hours 2 minutes.

After completing Leg 1, I took less than two-and-a-half hours to inspect the bike, eat, shit, sleep (boots on) and slurp down a pot of coffee before commencing Leg 2. A rarity in South Beach, I could see my breath in the chilly night air as I saddled up and headed for the Turnpike. And it only got colder, from there all the way up to IH-75 then IH-10 and westward. But after accepting a blue-light invitation to discuss safe riding techniques with one of Florida’s Finest near Tallahassee, the needle on my handlebar thermometer finally moved up into the “tolerable” range. The ride from there to Mississippi then back east and south to the Turnpike was mostly monotonous mile-eating. From Orlando south, though, keeping safely cradled between a couple of racing cagers added much-needed eye-opening spice.

Leg 3 of 3 (Route map link: http://tinyurl.com/BBG4500-Leg3 )

Leg 3 commenced at 4:16am ET Sunday 14 December and ended at 2:18am the next day, riding from Miami Beach to IH195 to IH95 to IH595 to Alligator Alley through Naples to IH75 to IH475 to IH75 through Atlanta GA to IH20 to Douglasville GA and back for a total of 1,511 miles in 22 hours 2 minutes (coincidentally the same time as Leg 2).

Barely two-and-a-half hours after completing Leg 2, it took a concerted mental and physical effort to wake up from my short nap (boots still on), turn off the alarm, and raise my aching body off the bed. I came within a cunt hair of quitting at that point, but somewhere between throwing cold water on my face and a huge cup of lukewarm coffee down my throat, I regained my resolve to continue the quest. The weather was cool, but dry and comfortable, all the way across Alligator Alley and northward on IH-75 into Georgia. A gray overcast blocked the warming rays of the sun from Macon on into Atlanta, but the temperature was still in the “tolerable” range as I made my turnaround in Douglasville at 3:00pm.

Riding south from there, the growing fatigue of three day’s hard riding had me feeling the cold more than I otherwise would. But the further south I rode, the warmer it got. By the time I made it to the Jasper Florida exit, I was no longer feeling the cold, but definitely suffering from fatigue… Making even the simplest decisions–like which of two identical pumps to pull up to–became a challenge. Reaction times diminished–making me thankful I sort of instinctively keep open “lanes”, however narrow, in front of me as I ride. And once again I have to thank an Iron Butt legend–U.S. Navy Surgeon General and Vice Admiral Donald C. Arthur–for writing this LDR classic, a MUST READ for anyone considering any serious endurance riding:

Fatigue and Motorcycle Touring

The effects of fatigue are both mental and physical: For example, by the time I reached Ruskin, I had to make an emergency stop because I could no longer hold the throttle open without experiencing excruciating pain in my right hand and fingers (I don’t trust “cruise controls”). Somehow, my weary mind finally reasoned that by wearing different gloves and holding the throttle from different angles, I could use different muscles–or the same in a different way–and keep on going. I did. Until somewhere north of Fort Myers, where I found myself arguing with somebody about something having to do with our partner in the car in front of us. But then, thank God, I remembered I was alone, that there was no “us”, and that we had no “partner” in the car in front of “us”! And as soon as I realized I was hallucinating, the hallucination ended. It probably all transpired in the blink of an eye, but it was definitely the most memorable moment of the entire ride. Who the Hell was I arguing with, and what the Hell were we arguing about? I may never know for sure, but it may have had something to do with my Guardian Angel trying to submit his resignation… He must’ve hung in there, though, as I managed to make it through the remaining 160 miles and safely home without further incident (real or imagined).

My reincarnated ’99 FXDS with its remanufactured Twin Cam 88, new H-D stock carburetor and overhauled 5-speed transmission performed flawlessly throughout this ride. And I can’t thank Andy Vazquez, Bobby Gaines, Joey Barbosa, Charles Paken and most especially Diann Pearson enough for taking the pain out of the IBA witness signature requirements for me.

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

Bruce Arnold aka IronBoltBruce

Follow me on Twitter @ironboltbruce
Co-Moderator, Bruce-n-RCs Biker Forum
Mile Eater Gold Member, Iron Butt Association (IBA)
Sustaining Member, Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF)
Oversolicited Member, National Rifle Association (NRA)
Reluctant Member, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
2009 Chairmans Circle, American Motorcyclist Association (AMA)
Author and Publisher, LdrLongDistanceRider.com|911TruthBikers.com
Signatory, 911 Truth Statement|Petition (911Truth.org|ae911Truth.org)
Member, Peoples Campaign for the Constitution (ConstitutionCampaign.org)
Say No to Cloudmark Authority and all content-based Big Brother Internet Censorship
Repeal the Patriot Act|Reject Citizens United v. FEC|Recall Our Troops|Re-Elect Nobody

One Short Ride Before She Died … Again

January 2010

I blew my engine just over half-way through an Iron Butt Association Bun Burner 3000 Gold (“BBG3000”) attempt on 4 August 2008. It then took me almost four months to raise (with the appreciated assistance of many good-hearted bikers) the six grand–roughly $3,000 for parts, $1,000 for labor, and $2,000 for towing, shipping and airfare–needed to get home, get my bike transported from West Bumfuck to San Antonio and then on to South Florida, get my Twin Cam 88 remanufactured in Milwaukee, replace my carburetor, and bring my fubarred FXDS back to life. That long and painful process finally came to an end the week after Thanksgiving. Uncle Harley gave me back my bike on Tuesday afternoon. He told me to put a thousand miles on it, and then bring it back for a 1K service. Less than 24 hours later, I had done my part:

At 10:14am ET on Wednesday 3 December 2008, I pulled an ATM slip at the SoBe Wachovia to log the end of my 38th Iron Butt Ride and 10th SaddleSore 1000, on which I covered 1,034 miles in 17 hours 29 minutes. My route was from Miami Beach straight up IH-95 through Jacksonville and Savannah to Ridgeland SC and back again. I chose that route because there are several Harley-Davidson dealerships along that stretch of interstate, and that would minimize the likelihood of a long tow if my new hardware failed to hold up.

MTH (miles traveled per hour) for this ride was a lackluster 59.14, but there are reasons for that. For one thing, the new engine break-in instructions from my wrench were to “…keep it under 50 for the first 50 miles, then take it easy for the first one thousand.” I may have been a bit aggressive in my interpretation of the “take it easy” part, but I conscientiously avoided any serious throttle-twisting. Another factor was the chilly winter weather: Luckily I encountered no rain or snow, but the comfortably cool temperatures of the day dropped quickly after sunset. And from midnight until daybreak. That’s a WCT (wind chill temperature) of about 15 degrees at 70mph.

The cold didn’t slow me down while on the road, but it did force me to take extra time–20 minutes or more–at almost every gas stop between dusk and dawn to go inside the shop and thaw the frostbite out of my aching fingers. I figure that without those extra thaw breaks, my MTH could have easily been in BBG range at 65.00 or higher.

The miles traveled per hour parameter, by the way, is an integral part of Iron Butt Math. For example, the minimum MTH for a SaddleSore 1000–riding over 1,000 miles in under 24 hours–is 41.67. The minimum MTH for a Bun Burner 1500 Gold (“BBG”)–riding over 1,500 miles in under 24 hours–is 62.50. Anyway…

The important thing is that I successfully completed the break-in without a single mechanical hitch, leaving me tickled pink and pleased as punch with the performance of my born-again motor. And to top that off, replacing my thirsty Mikuni carburetor with its more gas-thrifty H-D stock equivalent (sans Dynojet kit) was adding as much as 40 miles to my tank’s cruising range. Now all I had to do it seemed was get some sleep–and a 1K service on the bike–and we’d both be ready for some serious long distance riding!

After a good night’s rest and a slow-paced morning spent completing my IBA ride submission paperwork, ordering some new glove liners (I’ll have more to say about these in the future), and charting routes for another BBG 3000 attempt I optimistically planned for that weekend, I rode my bike to the shop for the 1K service. It was a warm and beautiful December afternoon, so I spread myself out on a bench and basked in the South Florida high-season sunshine while my wrench went about his business. After about an hour he came outside to find me, and it wasn’t to bring me a beer:

In his hand was a pan. In that pan was my drained transmission oil. And in that oil were more than enough shiny metal filings to make a prospector feel prosperous…

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

Bruce Arnold aka IronBoltBruce

Follow me on Twitter (ugh): @ironboltbruce
Co-Moderator, Bruce-n-RC’s Biker Forum
Mile Eater Gold Member, Iron Butt Association (IBA)
Sustaining Member, Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF)
2009 Chairman’s Circle, American Motorcyclist Association (AMA)
Author and Publisher, LdrLongDistanceRider.com|911TruthBikers.com
Signatory, 911 Truth Statement|Petition (911Truth.org|ae911Truth.org)
Say No to Cloudmark and All Forms of Content-Based Big Brother Censorship

One Last Ride Before She Died

December 2009

At 4:51am CT on Monday, 4 August 2008, I pulled a fast gas receipt at the Timewise/Valero Junction Country Store to mark the end of my 37th Iron Butt ride and 18th Bun Burner Gold 1500. On this ride I covered 1,539 miles in 21 hours 0 minutes for an MTH (miles traveled per hour) of 73.28. My route was from Miami Beach FL north on IH-95 to Jacksonville FL, then west on IH-10/IH-12/IH-10 across Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana to the Lone Star State, on through the Alamo City, and then a hundred miles more to the western edge of the Texas Hill Country at Junction.

I have ridden through Junction many times. And I suspect that due to its location, many other Iron Butt riders could say the same. If you’re making the IBA 50CC run–i.e. coast-to-coast in 50 hours or less–from Jacksonville Beach FL to San Diego CA on IH-10/IH-12/IH-10/IH-8, you might want to consider Junction for your midpoint rest stop: It’s centrally located 1,196 miles west of Jacksonville Beach and 1,162 miles east of San Diego. If you choose to do so, be sure to check in for your 40 winks at the Lazy-T Motel (2043 N. Main, 325-446-2565). It’s just a few hundred yards south of IH-10 exit 456. You’ll get a clean room at a low rate, and Bill won’t mind if you wake him up in the wee hours of the morning. And tell him Bruce Arnold sent you!

Now back to the ride…

This was supposed to be the first of two back-to-back 1,500-mile legs for my elusive third Bun Burner Gold 3000. But as those of you who read my September 2008 installment may recall, that was not to be the case: About two hundred miles into the second leg, the odometer on my ’99 H-D FXDS rolled over 150,000 miles. And mere minutes later a short hesitation … then a groan … then grinding … and finally the awful sound of metal crunching metal marked the end of the road for my long-faithful Twin Cam 88.

Although distressed by her demise, I can’t say I was disappointed. After all, I’ve been told that stock Harley-Davidson engines are only engineered to last 100,000 miles without a major servicing. So the extra 50,000 miles I got out of mine was a substantial bonus, especially considering that for most of those miles the old girl was getting–quite literally–rode hard and put away wet!

I can’t say I didn’t get any warning that her end was near, either. My fuel consumption for this last hard ride was the worst in memory. It was as if I was riding into a strong headwind the whole way, forcing me to repeatedly drain my reserve just to average 100 miles between gas stops. Even more foreboding was the fact that I was going through nearly a quart of oil every 500 miles. That alone should have given me pause. But she wasn’t smoking that I could see, and so it didn’t. Yeah, I knew I was riding on borrowed time. But hey, I’d been doing so for quite a while. Surely she’d hold together for one more race against the wind, right? Oh well … just chalk it up as one more case proving “Hope springs eternal…”

Anyway, aside from the gas-guzzling, oil-burning, and knowing deep down inside that my engine might go at any time, the ride from Miami Beach to Junction was a good one. The skies were clear, the air was warm, the winds were calm and the Sunday traffic was light. The summer sun did fry the exposed tops of my hands during the day (I forgot to use sunblock), but later the cooling night air flowing over them was soothing enough. In fact, about the only real pain I experienced on this ride was the impact of what historians may someday call the Great Depression of 2008: Premium gas near five bucks a gallon … the stations or c-stores at one in five fuel stops out-of-gas or out-of-business, … and many of the rest saving a few pennies by no longer printing receipts “at the pump”, which forced me to go inside to get the required ride documentation, and cost me several precious minutes on the 24-hour BBG run clock.

All in all though, these inconveniences amounted to nothing compared to the obstacles I’ve had to overcome on other long distance rides. I encountered no wicked crosswinds … no rain, sleet, hail or snow … no accidents or traffic jams, not even any heavy traffic. In fact, of my 20 BBG 1500s submitted so far, this one was far and way the easiest. Well, least challenging, anyway.

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

Bruce Arnold aka IronBoltBruce

Follow me on Twitter @ironboltbruce
Co-Moderator, Bruce-n-RC’s Biker Forum
Mile Eater Gold Member, Iron Butt Association (IBA)
Sustaining Member, Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF)
2009 Chairman’s Circle, American Motorcyclist Association (AMA)
Author and Publisher, LdrLongDistanceRider.com|911TruthBikers.com
Signatory, 911 Truth Statement|Petition (911Truth.org|ae911Truth.org)
Say No to Cloudmark and All Forms of Content-Based Big Brother Censorship

Flat Tire in East Texas

November 2009

At 7:21am ET on Sunday, 11 May 2008, I pulled an ATM slip at the SoBe Wachovia marking the end of 2 days and 2,435 miles in the saddle. From my run north and west, I certified my 35th Iron Butt Ride, a SaddleSore 1000 covering 1,022 miles in 14 hours 24 minutes (MTH 71.25). And from my run back east and south, I certified my 36th Iron Butt Ride, a SaddleSore 1000 covering 1,141 miles in 17 hours 16 minutes (MTH 66.08). But SS1000’s were not what I was aiming for… This was supposed to have been the end of my third Bun Burner Gold 3000 (“BBG3000”). And given that I had light traffic and perfect riding weather the entire time, that would have been a quite feasible outcome. But instead, this run marked the third time in 15 months that a f**king flat rear tire took its toll on one of my Iron Butt rides:

This one took me out just after midnight on IH-10 West near Houston in Channelview TX, about 1,206 miles into the ride. I was attempting to pass an 18-wheeler on the left when the tail of my bike began that all too familiar slide from side to side–as if the rear tire was made of ice. Recognizing the tire was going flat, I ever so gently eased off the throttle, slowly coaxing the bike to the right, and finally coming to a stop at the top of an overpass. Fortunately, I was near the start of an exit. So I came up off the saddle and nursed/lugged the bike down the ramp and into the chuck-holed parking lot of a rundown No-Name Motel. Crossed fingers and a canister of ThreeBond SEAL-N-AIR failed me, and at 1:00am in the morning I had no other quick recovery routes. I mentally conceded my BBG3000 attempt, woke up the young Indian desk clerk, and paid him seventy bucks for a freeway frontage room whose door and window shook with every passing truck.

Five sleepless hours later, I was back at the “front desk” for a much-needed cup of their “complementary coffee from six to ten”. It looked and tasted like dirty water, so my caffeine craving compelled me to take a twenty-minute hike to the nearest c-store for four cups of decent java and a muffin. Once back at the room, I got on the phone with my HOG card and made arrangements for the first available tow to the nearest Harley dealer. Neither was far away. So when they rolled open the glass doors of the San Jacinto H-D Service Department at 8:00am that Saturday morning, mine was the second bike through.

Since no Iron Butt ride clock was ticking at that moment, I asked the wrench to give my bike a once-over while he was changing the tire. He did, and discovered that one of the passing lights was out. I could have made it home without it, of course, but I figured the best thing to do would be to go ahead and put new bulbs in both lamps while I was there. Not a bad idea, right?

Wrong. Thirty minutes after they finished with my bike, I was back on IH-10, fueled up and heading east. That’s when I first noticed in the reflections from the rear end of cages in front of me that my lights were going on and off. Not just my passing lights, but my headlight as well! I started to turn back. But I hate turning back once I’m headed somewhere, and the problem wouldn’t be critical until nightfall, so I pushed on to Beaumont and made my second service stop of the day at Cowboy H-D. There, we uncovered that the problem was not the loose connection that I suspected, but rather the fact that the new bulbs were drawing more than the old ones … and more than enough to trip the circuit breaker and take out my headlight in the process. The obvious solution was to replace the replacements, but the proper replacements were not in stock. They recommended I try the local auto parts stores, but by that point I was out of patience and ready to pull the plug on the whole process. So that’s exactly what I did. I pulled the bulbs out of both passing lamps, and continued my ride east with just my headlight. At least I still had both High and Low beams, and I gambled that even my luck would not run so bad as to lose both of them in the next eighteen hours.

Aside from the misfortune of having a flat tire and the comedy of errors that it precipitated, there was nothing more particularly remarkable about this ride. Good Lord willing, this will not mark the end of my BBG3000 attempts. This ride did, however, mark the end of something else:

Due to unaffordable gas prices, uncertain economic prospects, and an unexpected tax penalty, June 2008 was the first calendar month for which I did not complete at least one Iron Butt ride since December 2006. But from January 2007 to May 2008, I completed at least one IBA-certified ride each month for 17 consecutive calendar months, including altogether 22 of my Iron Butt rides. I do not know if this is an IBA record. Regardless, it represents a personal best I do not expect to challenge.

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

Bruce Arnold aka IronBoltBruce

Follow me on Twitter @ironboltbruce
Co-Moderator, Bruce-n-RC’s Biker Forum
Mile Eater Gold Member, Iron Butt Association (IBA)
Sustaining Member, Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF)
2009 Chairman’s Circle, American Motorcyclist Association (AMA)
Author|Publisher, LdrLongDistanceRider.com|911TruthBikers(dot)com
Signatory, 911 Truth Statement & Petition (911Truth.org|ae911Truth.org)

Over 3000 in Under 48

October 2009

At 7:50am ET on Saturday, 29 March 2008, I pulled an ATM slip to mark the end of what was certified as my 33rd Iron Butt ride and 17th Bun Burner Gold, a run of 1531 miles in 23 hours flat. My route was simply to ride from Miami Beach FL to Dunn NC and back on IH-95. This was supposed to be the first leg of a Bun Burner Gold 3000 (BBG3000). But in attempting to log the start of the second leg, I realized I had lost a credit card. I ultimately determined I had left it in the ATM I used at the end of Leg 1. All the drama cost me more time than I had to spare though, so the successful completion of my second BBG3000 would have to wait for another day…

That day was Sunday, 20 April 2008, when at 7:42am ET I pulled another slip from the same Wachovia ATM–this time remembering to retrieve my credit card–to mark the end of what was certified as my 34th Iron Butt ride and 2nd Bun Burner Gold 3000, over which I covered 3071 miles in 46 hours 55 minutes.

The Iron Butt Association’s BBG3000 rules require two back-to-back BBG1500 runs, i.e., riding over 1500 miles in under 24 hours for two consecutive 24-hour periods. The route for my first leg was simply from Miami Beach FL to Dunn NC and back (again) on IH-95, over which I rode 1538 miles in 22 hours 4 minutes. The route for my second leg was IH-75 from Miami Beach across Alligator Alley to Naples, then north to hit IH-10 near Lake City, then west to Daphne (Mobile) AL, then back east on IH-10 to Jacksonville and south on IH-95 to Miami Beach, over which I covered 1533 miles in 22 hours 55 minutes.

According to the IBA Certified Rides List at Ironbutt.com, as of 30 June 2009 less than 80 riders have ever completed a BBG3000, and only 3 have done so on a Harley-Davidson:

Bob Lyskowski    Manchester, NH      09/04/99  H-D FLHS       3,072
Pauline Ralston  Ft. Pierce, FL      06/01/00  H-D Ultra      3,046
Bruce Arnold     Miami Beach, FL     05/28/07  H-D Dyna Conv. 3,056
Bruce Arnold     Miami Beach, FL     04/18/08  H-D Dyna Conv. 3,071 

Aside from yours truly, only 5 riders have completed 2 or more BBG3000’s, with the legendary Canadian rider Steve Broadhead being the only man to complete 3:

David J. Derrick Califon, NJ         09/10/04  BMW R1100RT    3,063
David J. Derrick Califon, NJ         09/23/05  BMW R1100RT    3,047
Jorma Viemero    FINLAND             04/25/00  BMW K75        3,112
Jorma Viemero    FINLAND             08/06/00  BMW K75        3,072
Lee Myrah        Calgary, AL Canada  05/24/03  Honda ST1100   3,147
Lee Myrah        Neepawa, MT Canada  06/17/00  Honda ST1100   3,131
Mike Hutsal      Winnipeg, MT Canada 05/24/03  Honda ST1100   3,147
Mike Hutsal      Winnipeg, MT Canada 06/17/00  Honda ST1100   3,131
Steve Broadhead  Calgery, AL Canada  07/22/05  Honda ST1300   3,074
Steve Broadhead  Calgery, AL Canada  08/19/05  Honda ST1300   3,050
Steve Broadhead  Calgery, AL Canada  09/10/04  Honda ST1300   3,061

The BBG3000 is a daunting proposition, but it is only the second most challenging endurance ride certified by the IBA. The toughest is the Bun Burner GOLD Trifecta, also called the BBG4500. This certification requires three consecutive (back-to-back-to-back) rides of over 1500 miles in under 24 hours, or over 4500 miles in under 72 hours altogether. In the history of the Iron Butt Association to date, only 10 BBG4500’s have been certified:

Steve Short      Fair Grove, MO      06/17/09  Honda GoldWing 4,584 
Greg Rice        Ft. Lauderdale, FL  03/05/09  Honda GoldWing 4,559
Bruce Arnold     Miami Beach, FL     12/12/08  H-D Dyna Conv. 4,567 
Derek Dickson    Duluth, MN          08/28/07  Yamaha FJR1300 4,672
Curt Gran        Pewaukee, WI        07/04/07  Honda ST1300A  4,566
Steve Broadhead  Calgery, AL Canada  03/13/06  Honda ST1300   4,512
John Tomasovitch Throop, PA          03/09/06  BMW K1200RS    4,500+
Peter Leap       Marblehead, PA      03/09/06  Honda ST1300   4,500+
Peter A. Murray  Hackettstown, NJ    09/23/05  BMW K1200LT    4,564
John C. Ryan     Roxbury, NJ         10/04/04  BMW K75        4,619

And trust me, folks, there is a very good reason why none of our names are listed twice. I posted a brief report of my BBG4500 run here, and I’m sure I’ll have more to share about it in future installments of “Distance Riding with Bruce”. In the meantime, if you’re considering going after a Bun Burner Gold 1500, 3000 or 4500 for yourself someday, I strongly recommend you read this first:

Fatigue & Motorcycle Touring

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

Bruce Arnold aka IronBoltBruce

Co-Moderator, Bruce-n-RC’s Biker Forum
Author and Publisher, LdrLongDistanceRider.com
Mile Eater Gold Member, Iron Butt Association (IBA)
Sustaining Member, Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF)
2009 Chairman’s Circle, American Motorcyclist Association (AMA)
Signatory, 911 Truth Statement & Petition (911Truth.org|ae911Truth.org)

Bikation 2009: Sixteen Days for “69”

September 2009

Including US-385 from “Bottom to Top”

Saturday, 8 August 2009, marked the end of 16 days and 6,385 miles off the grid and on the road for the Princess, HiDalgo and me. Our route was from Miami Beach Florida to Terlingua Texas to Gillette Wyoming–our base for the 69th annual Black Hills Trailer Classic in and around Sturgis–and from there back home via Wounded Knee, Sioux City, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Knoxville and Deal’s Gap TN2NC. Here are our map links going and coming back:



As part of this roundabout ride to Sturgis, we followed highway US-385 from its southern terminus in Big Bend National Park some 1,200-plus miles through Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Nebraska, and South Dakota to its northern end at the city limits of Deadwood:


But before passing on further high points of the pilgrimage, let me say thanks for the following:

First … aside from a summer shower east of Tallahassee FL that barely got us wet … and a 70mph-gusting hail and Hell’s fury thunderstorm west of Sundance WY that nearly blew us away … we encountered no other rain or bad weather.

Second … although I’d say about half the asphalt we rode on was either under repair or in need of it, we hit no potholes deep enough to blow a tire or bend a wheel, and no tar snakes or pavement seams serious enough to cause us to lose control.

Third … despite the fact that most of the discretionarily-distracted cagers we encountered were paying more attention to their discourse than their driving, we managed to cross 3 time zones and 18 states without becoming a hood ornament.

This “bikation” was a testament to the fact that motorcycle touring is more about the journey than the destination. Of our 6,385 miles in the saddle, 3,356 were logged getting there and 2,579 getting back, leaving only 450 miles ridden around “the Rally”. And out of 16 days on the road, only one was actually spent in Sturgis proper. Here’s what we did the rest of the time:

Day 1: Miami Beach FL to Tallahassee FL (Fri 07/24/09, 482 miles)

Our ride up from SoBe on the Florida Turnpike then north on IH-75 was typically non-remarkable, at least until we stopped for gas near Gainesville. There, turning the key failed to light up my engine/oil/neutral indicators, and my Start button wouldn’t. Experience told me it was time to replace HiDalgo’s second ignition switch with a third, but first I had to get her to a wrench with the parts. Luckily, ten minutes and a few dozen on-off jiggles later, I was able to connect the wires and light the fires one last time, and push on to the nearest safe haven for what Uncle Harley’s service writers call “stranded travelers”. And from there, it was a short ride through a warm summer shower to our evening’s destination, the Sleep Inn of Tallahassee.

After checking in, I called my rider radical counterpart Robert “RC” Conroy and his sweet lady Kim to join us for pizza and a brief reunion. And as if we were munching on coca leaves (we weren’t … really) RC and I talked for hours, coming close to identifying solutions for every major problem facing bikers, America, the human race and the known universe. But alas, as they say, “…’close’ only counts with horseshoes and hand grenades.”

Day 2: Tallahassee FL to Lake Charles LA (Sat 07/25/09, 567 miles)

Starting out early, we made good time crossing the remainder of the Florida Panhandle, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, taking IH-10/IH-12/IH-10 to reach Lake Charles by early afternoon. There, longtime friends Jeff and Linda Seagle were kind enough to comp a two-night stay for us at the Isle of Capri Casino’s Inn at the Isle. Jeff and Linda are former motorcycle riders, having given up on two-wheeled transport after a care-less cager who “didn’t see them” turned left in front of their cruiser a few years ago, causing a serious accident that left them with permanent emotional if not physical scars. Jeff maintains that a universal “left turn on green arrow only” law would’ve prevented that accident, as well as untold thousands of other failure-to-yield and right-of-way-violation (FTY-ROWV) casualties.

Day 3: Lake Charles LA (Sun 07/26/09, 0 miles)

We stayed an extra day at the Isle of Capri not to gamble but to spend more time with Jeff and Linda. We also managed to arrange a meeting to discuss FTY-ROWV mitigation strategies with local residents Carl and Elizabeth Webb, whose 26-year old son David was killed on 11 April when care-less cager Tracy Armstrong ran a stop sign and turned left in front of his motorcycle. I am honored to say we were joined in that meeting by Motorcycle Awareness Campaign activists from Baton Rouge – including FTY-ROWV survivor Amy Pickholtz, who was seriously injured and whose husband Jim was killed in a crash caused when former Sorrento LA Mayor Brenda Melancon pulled out in front of their motorcycle on 14 October 2007.

Day 4: Lake Charles LA to Del Rio TX (Mon 07/27/09, 491 miles)

On this day, we stopped worrying about defending our right-to-ride (for a while, anyway) and instead started enjoying it. Heading west on IH-10, it took less than half an hour to reach the border of the Lone Star State, and from there we had sunny skies and smooth sailing all the way through Houston and deep into the heart of Texas at San Antonio. From the Alamo City, we left the relative safety of the interstate system and continued west on US-90 to the border town of Del Rio, following the same route I’d covered some eighteen months earlier.

What I had to say then about Del Rio bears repeating: Located just across the Rio Grande River from Ciudad Acuna Mexico, Del Rio can be considered a “border” town in more ways than one. As you’ll learn from logging onto Wikipedia.org, “Del Rio lies on the northwestern edges of the Tamulipan Thornscrub, also called the South Texas Brush Country. It is also near the southwestern corner of the Edwards Plateau, which is the western fringe of the famous, oak savanna-covered Texas Hill Country.” And that puts Del Rio right smack dab at the eastern edge of the West Texas region of the 140,000 square-mile Chihuahuan Desert.

Just inside Del Rio’s city limits, I pulled into T&T Cycles to thank the gang there for witnessing an Iron Butt ride for me back in 2008. And a lucky stop it was indeed… Saddling up to leave, I turned the key on my new ignition switch and nothing happened. Nada… But only minutes after I walked back in and asked for help, T&T’s master mechanic had isolated the problem, re-soldered a poor connection made by the wrench from three days earlier, and had HiDalgo ready to ride again.

I shudder to think what the consequences might have been if this break had happened a little earlier or a little later than it did, as either way we would’ve been in the middle of nowhere … in 100+ degree heat … and thanks to my believing AT&T’s “more bars in more places” BS, most likely without a cell phone signal. Instead (thank God) we rolled on into town, took a room at the Best Western’s Inn of Del Rio, and then took our own sweet time washing the South Texas dust out of our throats and heat out of our systems with some perfectly-blended top-shelf margaritas procured at a nearby Tex-Mex cantina that producers of “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” might easily have overlooked.

Day 5: Del Rio TX to Fort Davis TX (Tue 07/28/09, 237 miles)

Sanderson TexasOne of many things I enjoy about motorcycle touring is the changes in landscape as you ride from one point to the next, especially where those transitions are sudden and abrupt. Just west of Del Rio and Lake Amistad, where US-90 crosses the Pecos River, is such a place. It was early in the morning when we made that crossing, and from that point on there was a marked contrast between the flat, mesquite-covered brush country of the South Texas Plains behind us and the rolling expanse of rocky buttes, rounded mesas and endless canyons dotted with cactus and sage typifying the vast Chihuahuan Desert ahead. And if ever there was a good place to plant a “Welcome to West Texas!” sign, this would be it!

Langtry TexasMinutes later, we turned left on Loop 25 into Langtry, where we were made welcome by the friendly ladies running the State of Texas’ Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center. Among other valuable freebies (especially for those not fortunate enough to have been raised in Alamo Country) they gave us a copy of the 272-page Texas 2009 State Travel Guide, which you can order free online. Leaving Langtry, the road was pretty much ours alone on into Sanderson … the “Cactus Capital of Texas” … factual home of the Buzzard Rally … and better known as the fictional setting for the blockbuster film, “No Country for Old Men”. There we gassed up, posed for photos requested by a busload of Mexican missionaries, then continued west on 90 through Marathon to Alpine, “the Hub of the Big Bend”. There we turned north on Texas Highway 118 into the Davis Mountains, which look a lot like the Black Hills but with red rock formations instead of gray

We soon arrived in Fort Davis, where we spent a leisurely afternoon doing a whole bunch of nothing in our affordably comfortable mini-suite at the Stone Village Tourist Camp.

Day 6: Fort Davis TX to Terlingua TX (Wed 07/29/09, 208 miles)

American Legion Post 653A thunderstorm had passed over during the night, and the lightning over the mountains was a sight to see. But by dawn the skies were clear, so we packed up and headed back down 118. Terlingua is only 107 miles away by that route, but we did a little rambling which required us to log another 101. Just off of 118, for example, I have a rock ranch I wanted to inspect. And after walking the 10-acre perimeter with black leathers soaking up the scorching desert sun, a stop for a few cold ones with Sherri and the rest of the fine biker-friendly folks at “The Last Outpost” (a.k.a. American Legion Post 653) was certainly in order. Our thirst quenched, we rode on south to the Terlingua “T” (Ranch Road 170 at Texas 118) where we stopped to fill our bellies with some mouth-watering Tex-Mex soft tacos al carbon at the Chili Pepper Cafe. Then we crossed the highway, checked into the overpriced and under-accommodating Big Bend Motor Inn, and rested up for the long ride north up US-385 to the Black Hills that would commence the following day.

Day 7(a): Terlingua TX to Panther Junction TX (Thu 07/30/09, 25 miles)

Study Butte TexasA mile south of the Terlingua “T” on the east side of 118 is the one-of-a-kind Study Butte Store, which is arguably the most hippy-cool and eclectic desert roadside oasis on the planet. We stopped there just before dawn to gas up and exchange pleasantries with Diane at the register. Then, with the early morning sun just beginning to silhouette the peaks and ridges of the Chisos Mountains before us, we headed east into Big Bend National Park:

Chisos Mountains BBNPI have neither the words to express now, nor the photographic skills to capture then, the spectacular natural panorama that played out over the next 24 miles. The warming golden sun rising over majestic purple (yes, purple) mountains to the east cast both light and shadow over the cactus-dotted basin and monolithic buttes surrounding us, creating an impression I can best describe as primordial. Except for the single narrow strip of blacktop snaking over the jagged hills and painted desert floor, I recall no evidence of human existence whatsoever. And in fact, if this had been a movie in need of a theme, my choice would be the music used in 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Dawn of Man sequence, “Also Sprach Zarathustra”.

[~~~ Start of the ride up US-385 ~~~]

Day 7(b): Panther Junction TX to Dalhart TX (Thu 07/30/09, 546 miles)

US-385 Near Big Bend NPStill deep inside the 801,163 acres of Big Bend National Park, at Panther Junction we turned north on the road that would become US-385, stopping 28 scenic miles later to photo the first highway marker just north of the park boundary. Just past that point, our ride was nearly brought to an abrupt end when a good-sized deer darted onto the road at a creek crossing and started running parallel to our course. I prayed it would not break left as we overtook it, and Somebody must have heard me. Anyway, from there we continued north through Marathon, Fort Stockton, McCamey and Crane to Odessa, the “Jackrabbit-Roping Capital of Texas”, “Oilfield Supply Capital of the World”, and together with its sister city Midland, hub of the energy- (oil, gas and now wind) based Permian Basin.

Somewhere in TexasLike Route 66, US-385 is a highway that takes you back to a slower, simpler, less complicated and more enjoyable time. And all along the way are nostalgically appealing little townships all but lost to history, yet each proudly clinging to unique claims to fame. About 150 miles north of Odessa, for example, we rode through the small South Plains hamlet of Littlefield, crossing over a bumpy thoroughfare named for favorite son and country music legend Waylon Jennings. Riding 150 miles more across high, grassy plains and through deep, fertile canyons brought us near the top of the Texas Panhandle. And there we found a far richer slice of Americana–the “XIT City” of Dalhart–so nicknamed for its association with the world-famous but ill-fated 3 million acre XIT Ranch (whose spread over ten counties in Texas did not inspire the name).

Dalhart TexasDalhart is the home of the XIT museum … the headquarters for the annual XIT Rodeo and Reunion … and the site of the Empty Saddle Monument–commemorating the XIT cowhands and other pioneers who died settling the Panhandle. A stone’s throw south of it, we checked in for the night at the EconoLodge.

Day 8: Dalhart TX to Chadron NE (Fri 07/31/09, 549 miles)

Texas/Oklahoma BorderAfter taking in our fill of complimentary boiled eggs and coffee, a short ride north took us across the border into the Oklahoma Panhandle. This 5,687 square-mile rectangle (larger than Connecticut) was once part of the Republic of Texas, but was surrendered as part of the Compromise of 1850 to become the “Public Land Strip” … more commonly referred to as “No Man’s Land” … and later the “Cimarron Territory” before finally being absorbed into the Oklahoma Territory in 1890. Near the midpoint of this Strip we stopped for gas in Boise (pronounced like “voice”) City, where the turnabout-centered Cimarron County Courthouse seemed to symbolize all that is just and good about America.

Boise City OklahomaThe history of Boise City, however, reflects anything but: First of all, it was founded in 1908 by two swindlers who were sent to Leavenworth for defrauding the original settlers suckered into the area by promises of a paradise that didn’t exist. Then a few years later, those too proud or too poor (or both) to move on found themselves smack dab in the epicenter of the “Dust Bowl” for the duration of the Great Depression. And if that wasn’t bad enough … just after midnight on 5 July 1943 Boise City became the only city in the continental U.S. ever bombed during World War II (two B-17 pilots mistook the town square for a training target). Oh well … if what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, there must be some tough friggin’ Okies in Boise City!

Oklahoma/Colorado BorderWe managed to make it out of there without getting ripped off, blown away or bombed, and soon crossed the border into southeastern Colorado. We entered the Mountain Time Zone, but there are no mountains here: Only miles and miles of miles and miles of grasslands. Not too many people, either: Just long lonesome stretches of straight open road and plenty of temptation to twist the throttle. We made good time to Lamar … then lost some of it finding the dogleg east to Granada that 385 shares with US-50. There 385 turned north again, through farmland so near to Kansas I thought we’d see Dorothy.

Cheyenne Wells COThe serenity of the heartland that surrounded us for the next 55 miles was so pervasive as to border on disturbing. That brought us to Cheyenne Wells. And from there to historic Julesburg, a station in the old Pony Express named after a horse thief, US-385 would be co-branded as the “High Plains Highway”.

Colorado/Nebraska Border US-385We had enjoyed open roads, light traffic, beautiful scenery and perfect weather all the way so far, and the temptation to ride lidless and take it all in had been too great to resist. Safety concerns aside, riding bareheaded was not an issue in the freedom-of-choice states of Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado. But crossing the line just north of Julesburg, I was reminded that Nebraska still has a mandatory lid law. I pulled over for a moment, and gave that some thought. But after carefully weighing the possible price I might pay for defying an unjust mandate against the importance of preserving my freedom to ride where I want and wearing what I choose, I opted for the latter: I rode on through Lodgepole … where 385 briefly shares pavement with US-30, the Lincoln Highway, and then on into Chadron, with my brain bucket strapped to my right saddlebag. There, we got a good room at a good rate from the good people at Economy 9 Motel, where we spent a good evening sharing tales of the road with Rocky, a rider from Idaho that I’d buy a beer or block a bullet for anytime.

Day 9(a): Chadron NE to Deadwood SD (Sat 08/01/09, 141 miles)

Hot Springs SDFrom scenic Chadron it was a short ride into South Dakota, the Black Hills and Hot Springs. And as soon as the innkeepers and merchants of Chadron convince the Nebraska Legislature to give motorcycle riders the freedom to choose what they wear when they ride, they can all expect more biker bucks from me. Continuing on up 385 we soon rode into the Wind Cave National Park, on whose 28,295 acres you might spy just as many prairie dogs and bison up close and for free as you would pay to see in nearby Custer State Park:

Deadwood South DakotaWe were now in the heart of the Black Hills, and the remaining ride of 80 miles or so through Custer and Hill City to the Deadwood City limits (at Pluma) and the northern end of US-385 were as enjoyable as they come.

[~~~ End of the ride up US-385 ~~~]

Day 9(b): Deadwood SD to Gillette WY (Sat 08/01/09, 110 miles)

Gillette WyomingFrom Deadwood it was a short hop up US-85 to IH-90 west, which took us the remaining miles to Wyoming and our “base camp” for Sturgis, the National 9 Inn of Gillette. With biker-friendly manager Debra Curley, her courteous staff, affordable rates, cable TV, refrigerator, microwave, 24-hour coffee, room service, a built-in cafe and lounge, swimming pool and a laundromat next door, the National 9 may be 118 miles from Sturgis but it’s still a great place to stay for “the Rally”. We arrived there at noon, checked in and greeted our friends, stowed our gear in the room, and made tracks for Jake’s Tavern.

Days 10-12: “Sturgis” (Sun-Tue 08/02-04/09, 450 miles)

Sturgis Black Hills Motor ClassicFor some, “Sturgis” is a place … a small dot on a South Dakota map. It is, but it’s more than that. For others, “Sturgis” is a party … a week-long binge at the Buffalo Chip. It can be (sadly), but it’s more than that. For me, “Sturgis” is a pilgrimage … a long, steam-letting, soul-cleansing, mind-clearing journey … a truly spiritual experience that can take you as close to Heaven as a biker may ever get, at least while his boots are still planted above ground. And trust me, friends … you will never share that experience towing a “Live to Ride” trailer.

“Sturgis” is (or should be, anyway) about “the Ride” more so than the Rally. So I will say no more about “the Rally” here … knowing you can read about it elsewhere ad nauseum … other than to note that except for the increasing age and decreasing number of the attendees, not much has changed in the past few years.

Day 13: Gillette WY to Sioux City IA (Wed 08/05/09, 599 miles)

Near Wounded Knee SDBeginning a long and winding route back to South Florida this day, we headed east out of Gillette on IH-90, then southeast on US-16 through Moorcroft, Upton and Newcastle, continuing across the South Dakota border once more into the Black Hills and Custer. From there, we followed US-385 south through Hot Springs to US-18, which took us eastward into Pine Ridge … our 8th largest Indian reservation (bigger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined) … and one of the poorest places in America. That was clearly evidenced all along our route, and at our stop in Wounded Knee.

Wounded Knee South DakotaOn 29 December 1890 (two weeks after the assassination of Sitting Bull), Wounded Knee was the site of the last armed struggle between Uncle Sam and the Sioux Nation. It was a short but bloody massacre in which over 300 cold and hungry Lakota Sioux Indians–mostly innocent women, children, and men to old or too sick to fight–were mowed down by 500 troopers of the 7th Cavalry supported by four Hotchkiss guns. Today, Wounded Knee is the site of a mass grave with a modest granite obelisk, a ramshackle “museum”, and a faded roadside marker all of which suggest that neither White man nor Red care to remember what happened there.

With much to ponder, we returned to 18 and continued east, eventually exiting the reservations and passing through uncounted miles of green crops and fat cattle. We crossed the Missouri River over the Fort Randall Dam that forms Lake Francis Case, and stopped for gas (and a huge bag of Sugar River Beef Stick Ends and Pieces) in Pickstown, a childhood home of Tom Brokaw, one of America’s last credible television journalists. From there, it was a straight shot across SD-46 to Beresford. Then we took IH-29 south into Iowa, stopping for the night on the south side of Sioux City at the all-night Truck Haven’s priced-right Haven Inn Motel.

Day 14: Sioux City IA to Shelbyville IN (Thu 08/06/09, 702 miles)

Illinois/Indiana BorderFrom Sioux City we continued south on IH-29 to IH-680, where we turned to head east across the entire state of Iowa on IH-80. The 300 miles or so that followed can be summarized thusly: Cornfields … Des Moines … and more cornfields. That brought us to Davenport, where we looped down IH-280 across the Mississippi River into Illinois, then took IH-74 and nursed our reserve to reach Exit 24 and gas at the Casey’s across from the pond in Andover. We then rode 200 miles more through cornfields, Galesburg, more cornfields, Peoria, more cornfields, Bloomington, more cornfields, Champaign, more cornfields, and Danville to the Indiana border.

Another 100 miles brought us to the IH-465 loop at Indianapolis, where with 5 o’clock rush hour approaching we stopped only for gas and some Arizona Iced Tea before continuing southeast on IH-74. That took us to Shelbyville, a quaint little town whose claims to fame include being the final residence of both Sandy Allen, who at 7 feet 7.25 inches was once the World’s Tallest Woman, and Edna Parker, who was the World’s Oldest Person before passing after 115 years and 220 days. Unaware of any of that at the time, we stopped there for the evening and took a cheap room at the Knight’s Inn.

Day 15: Shelbyville IN to Acworth GA (Fri 08/07/09, 556 miles)

Indiana/Ohio BorderAfter washing down a forgettable complimentary breakfast with some surprisingly good coffee, it was a short 60-mile ride down IH-74 to the Ohio state line. There we gassed up in Harrison, then followed IH-275 to bypass Cincinnati, loop briefly back into Indiana, and cross the mist-covered Ohio River into Kentucky.

Ohio/Kentucky Border IH-75We then took IH-75 heading south, and for the next 240 miles or so had smooth roads and increasingly beautiful scenery as we ascended from the Ohio River Valley to the Appalachian foothills of Kentucky and then on into the mountains of eastern Tennessee. In Knoxville, we merged onto IH-40 westbound, took Exit 386B to the northern terminus of the Alcoa Highway (US-129), and from there followed the highway markers not yet boosted to the Great Smoky Mountains and the Tennessee end of the 318 curves in 11 miles which form the “Tail of the Dragon” at Deal’s Gap.

Deals Gap | Tail of the DragonAt Punkin Center, we stopped and walked across the road to buy a couple of “I Rode Mine” patches from Brett (if I remember his name correctly) and have him sew them on our vests. After sewing on mine, he scanned the other patches for a moment, and then told me the needlework on some of them looked familiar. Well as it turns out, Brett was once the apprentice of “Mary”, the takes-no-gruff grandma-lookin’ lady who sews on my “Sturgis” patch every year in her tent on Main not far from H-D! Small world, huh?

Deals Gap | Tail of the DragonFrom there we began our run up the Dragon’s tail … under often dense forest canopy, and through seemingly endless curves and switchbacks … stopping only once we’d reached the overlook at Calderwood Dam.

Somewhere in SoutheastObligatory photos taken, we rode on through yet another gauntlet of curves and switchbacks that ultimately delivered us to the North Carolina border, and just beyond that to Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort. Here again we stopped to take photos and make friends, then continued our winding route south on US-129 into northern Georgia. Once there, we followed the sun westward to return to IH-75, then rode on towards Atlanta as far as Acworth, where we stopped and spent a comfortable night at the no-frills Econolodge.

Day 16: Acworth GA to Miami Beach FL (Sat 08/08/09, 722 miles)

Having been on the road and off the grid for two gloriously rejuvenating weeks and then some, it was at long last time to return to the daily grind. So through Atlanta and on down IH-75 to Florida we raced … there taking IH-10 east to Jacksonville … and finally IH-95 south to SoBe and the closest thing this Texas Exile has to calling “home”.

* * *

I wish you all could’ve joined us on this journey … I hope you all enjoyed reading this log of the ride … and may sharing these memories inspire you to mount up and make more of your own!

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

Bruce Arnold aka IronBoltBruce

Author and Publisher, LdrLongDistanceRider.com
Co-Moderator, Bruce-n-RC’s Biker Forum
Mile Eater Gold Member, Iron Butt Association (IBA)
Sustaining Member, Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF)
2009 Chairman’s Circle, American Motorcyclist Association (AMA)

West Texas: Mountains, Mesas & Miles – Part 4

August 2009

Part 4 of 4: Coming Back from Carlsbad

Friday, 29 February 2008, marked the end of seven days and 4,448 miles in the saddle for me. My trip began with my 31st Iron Butt Ride, a Bun Burner 1500 run from Miami Beach FL to Del Rio TX, covering a total of 1,568 miles in 34 hours 26 minutes. It ended with my 32nd Iron Butt Ride, a SaddleSore 2000 run from Carlsbad NM to Miami Beach FL, covering a total of 2,126 miles in 43 hours 51 minutes. Most of the remaining miles were spent riding through some of the most historically rich locations and incredibly scenic landscapes the Lone Star State has to offer.

As is often the case on a “ride day”, I woke up long before my alarm was set to go off on the morning of Wednesday, 27 February 2008. The coffee maker in my spacious yet inexpensive room at the Ocotillo Inn of Carlsbad NM was well stocked with tasty Colombian java, and I managed to take in the entire caffeine cache before packing up, firing up, and heading out into the clear but icy cold pre-dawn darkness. Moments later, I pulled an ATM slip at the South Y Shell to mark the start of my long ride home at 6:07am MT.

Van Horn TexasHeading southwest on US62/180, it was a short ride to the New Mexico-Texas border, and the sun was in my mirrors by the time I began the climb up and over the pass through the Guadalupe Mountains near Guadalupe Peak. The sunshine radiated welcome warmth, but not enough to ward off the painful chill that was working its way through my gloves and into my fingers. Soon, though, I made the turn south on Texas 54 and had a barren but awesomely beautiful Chihuahuan Desert landscape to help me keep my mind off the cold for the 55 remaining miles to Van Horn. There, I made a return visit to the semi-famous Sands Motel & Restaurant, where I took time to thaw out and enjoy a hearty West Texican huevos rancheros breakfast.

Davis Mountains TXWarmed up inside and out, I gassed up and headed southeast on US-90. And for the next hundred miles or so–through Valentine, Marfa, across the desert basin and on into the Davis Mountains–the radio in my mind was alternating Marty Robbins cowboy ballads with Nelson Riddle’s instrumental theme for Route 66. I had to turn the music down, though, when I crested the peak of a winding foothills twisty going a bit too fast, and caught the attention of a Texas State Trooper coming the other way. I watched his gray and black cruiser spin around in my mirrors, and knew that a blue-light invitation for a roadside chat was imminent. Fortunately, however, the trooper and I were able to reach a “Good Ol’ Boy understanding,” so no citation was issued.

Big Bend National ParkA few miles more brought me to Alpine, the seat of Sul Ross State University, and the commercial “Hub of the Big Bend.” There I turned right on Texas 118 and looped south to Terlingua … through the Big Bend National Park, … then back north on US-385 … once again enjoying the magnificently immense and seemingly timeless panorama of towering mountains, rocky buttes, majestic mesas and painted desert floors described earlier in this series.

Sanderson TexasIn Marathon, I turned east on US-90 and emptied my reserve making it through the cactus-covered canyons to Sanderson. A hundred miles later I skirted Judge Roy Bean’s Langtry … crossed the Pecos River … then the ink-blue waters of the Amistad Reservoir … and finally left the setting of “No Country for Old Men” behind me as I rode on through Del Rio, out of West Texas, and into the South Texas Brush Country.

Night had fallen by the time I reconnected with IH-10 in San Antonio … and with it fell the temperature. So when I stopped to gas up in Seguin, I bundled up as well, adding my glove liners and a couple of extra pullovers under my jacket. That kept me (barely) warm enough to endure the remaining 246 miles to my evening’s destination in Beaumont, where I checked into the Best Western Jefferson Inn at 12:27am CT.

Perhaps a bit fatigued from fighting the freezing cold the night before, and knowing I would set no records with this ride anyway, I took my time getting up and going Thursday morning. After an enjoyable breakfast conversation with two retired Canadian gentlemen touring the continent on their Ultra Glides, I finally headed east on IH-10 at 8:38am CT. From that point on, it was a long cold ride to Jacksonville, where sometime after 10:00pm ET I turned south on IH-95 and headed for home. I pulled an ATM slip at the SoBe Wachovia marking the end of my third SaddleSore 2000–and seven good days in the saddle–at 3:58am ET.

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!