(I don’t think so…)
What on earth have I gotten myself into? A couple of months ago I had come home from work tired and desperately in need of rest and some ‘do nothing’ time. After two beers and an hour of relaxing, I got a phone call from George Engler. “What are you doing later this spring?” asked George. My two beers responded with far more enthusiasm than I actually felt and said that I was “up for pretty much anything’. I was later to discover that was mistake number one.
George preyed on the fact that I had once told him that I had always wanted to do an Iron Butt ride (probably had a couple of beers that night too). For those not familiar, the Iron Butt Association (IBA) is a national group who sanctions long distance motorcycle rides, usually timed. The rides vary in length and time with the most popular one being the ‘Iron Butt SaddleSore 1000’ (riding a minimum of 1000 miles in less than 24 hours). These rides are subject to levels of proof and documentation usually reserved for border crossings into former Soviet Bloc countries: witnesses (and their phone numbers), receipts with address/date/time stamps, fuel and odometer tracking, an official person to certify start/finish place & time, etc.
Still, it’s an elite group of motorcycle riders and the reward for completing a sanctioned ride is IBA membership and a license plate frame that says, “IRON BUTT Association – World’s Toughest Riders.” It takes a very special kind of person to be inordinately proud of a small piece of metal which contains the words “IRON BUTT” in all capital letters then put it on the back of your bike so thousands of strangers can see it each day in traffic. And, yes, Sand Dollar motorcycle club members are exactly those kinds of people.
Imagine my (sober) surprise when George called and said “Let’s do the Iron Butt this weekend!”
If I have to…
Let me paint a mental image for you, just to set the stage… My dad has been going through radiation and chemo-therapy and I have spent most of what passes for ‘spare’ time the last few weeks at his house. My only full-time employee has been on maternity leave for 6 weeks and the two part-time employees are both college students with approximately zero schedule flexibility, both of our retail stores have just shifted into longer summer hours and my wife and I are task-saturated and exhausted. So how am I going to spend my only day off in a month-and-a-half?
That’s right, I’m gonna ride a motorcycle 1000 miles in less than 24 hours. Apparently that which I lack in intelligence, I more than make up for with sheer mind-boggling bad judgment. There was a small devil on my left shoulder (who bore a striking resemblance to George, now that I think about it) who kept saying, “Go ahead! You can do it. It’s a motorcycle ride! There’s not much in this world you enjoy more than riding a motorcycle“. Listening to the little devil was mistake number two.
The agreed upon meeting place and time was a convenience store on MLK Blvd. at two. That’s Oh two hundred A. M. o’clock in the morning, by the way, in case you were thinking that the Sand Dollar M/C might do something sane and reasonable like leave in the daytime. Nope. We leave in the middle of the night when nobody is awake except criminals and the police officers who chase them. While we did have a couple of current and past peace officers in our group, most of us are just a little shady and are a not qualified for actual criminal-hood.
I rode up to the meeting place and immediately noticed that there was exactly one motorcycle in the parking lot when there were supposed to be 10 or 12. That one motorcycle did not belong to George. I couldn’t believe that after talking this thing up and arranging it through dozens of phone calls and hundreds of e-mails, George was going to blow it off.
While I was adding “Take out a contract on George” to the top
of my mental ‘To-Do’
list, George and about nine other Sand Dollar members rode up over the space of just a couple of minutes. Say whatever you will about the Sandies, we may not have the tough street cred of some other Motorcycle Clubs, but we are a damned punctual bunch and we still strike terror into the hearts of restaurant cooks and wait-staff all over the southeast.
The poor woman who was working the grave-yard shift at the store really didn’t know what to make of the dozen or so motorcycle riders in full road-warrior gear. We’re all walking around talking and cross-talking to each other and all she can hear is, “mumble, mumble, murmur, IRON BUTT, mumble, mumble”. After a dozen requests for her signature and the store’s address and phone number, she got so that she wouldn’t even look at us any more. You’ve got to present a truly strange appearance for third –shift convenience store staff to think you’re weird. They’ve seen everything. If you can weird one of them out, you’re world-class.
After completing forms and receipts, filling gas tanks and emptying bladders, thereby establishing a pattern which was to continue unmodified for the next 19 and a half hours, we were off. (OK, it could be said that we were all a ‘little off’ or we wouldn’t have been there at oh two hundred A.M o’clock in the morning, anxious to go to Texas.)
Professional hurricane magnet and weather channel guru, Jim Cantore had promised beautiful weather for our ride. Lows in the upper fifties and a high in the upper seventies - Perfect motorcycle riding weather. As we pulled out on the open road the temp was actually in the mid-50’s and was a little “brisk”.
The temperature continued to grow ever more brisk until we merged from I-110 onto I-10 West just out of Pensacola. At that point, it changed from “pretty damn brisk” to cold. No euphemisms. Not ‘cool’, ‘nippy’, or ‘chilly’. Not ‘airish’ or ‘invigorating’. Not ‘spring-like’. It was COLD. Bone-chilling, demoralizing, frost in your nostrils, icicles-hanging-off-your-(Iron)Butt COLD. I seriously considered turning around while still within an hour of my house. I’ve ridden in some pretty cold weather but that’s when I was dressed for it. All I had on was jeans, a tee-shirt, a denim shirt and a riding jacket designed for ‘brisk’ weather, not COLD. When it’s genuinely cold, wind-chill at interstate highway speeds on a motorcycle can be fierce. You become aware of every single place where air is entering your clothing, no mater how small the amount.
You hunch your shoulders forward to cut down on the air rushing down your collar. Scoot your feet back on the pegs and raise them up on tip-toe to prevent the air from going up your pants leg (this particular blast of artic air is VERY noticeable). You squeeze your knees in tight against the tank and tuck your elbows in, too, while leaning forward to minimize surface area exposed to the wind. In spite of your discomfort, you suddenly realize that a term from high school having to do with chimpanzees and football fornication is a very accurate description of your posture at this moment.
You don’t care.
It was COLD all the way to Mobile, Alabama. There, presumably because of all the concrete and asphalt, the temperature climbed up a good 10 degrees to “pretty damn brisk” again and we didn’t encounter anymore artic weather for the rest of the trip.
Sunrise over your shoulder on a motorcycle trip is a magically peaceful time. You can feel the warmth grow around you with the light. The sun begins to make good on Jim Cantore’s promise of beautiful weather and suddenly, instead of wanting to turn around and go home, I couldn’t think of anywhere on earth I’d rather be. Even the smells change with daybreak. Riding through towns, large and small, where people are starting their day by having breakfast at Waffle house or Mom & Pop’s cafe. We ride by, inconsequential as ghosts, and smell the bacon and eggs, the waffle on the side with maple syrup, and always the coffee aroma, floating in the background like a bass-note. We ride on, chasing the sunrise line at over a hundred feet per second and the nameless people get on with their day, never knowing they shared a little bit of it with us.
After the gorgeous sunrise, the miles just rolled by. Coastal Mississippi and eastern Louisiana a mix of beautiful natural estuaries and cedar flats, occasionally jarringly punctuated by astonishing devastation and row after row after row of white FEMA trailers, very visible reminders of the equally natural incredible power and fury of Hurricane Katrina.
We crossed into Texas and eventually arrived at our destination, Winnie, Texas, the turn-around point. We were now officially halfway. It was also lunch time. Only the Sand Dollar Motorcycle Club would leave at two in the morning and ride over five hundred miles for lunch.
In Winnie, Texas.
At a Subway sandwich shop.
Inside a truck stop.
With food, fuel and restroom breaks out of the way, we started toward home. You start to count the miles individually, every mile putting us exactly one mile closer, looking for towns and landmarks you recognize as visual proof that you’re actually getting closer. In the back of my head is a small annoying child-like voice that keeps saying, “Are we there yet?” It’s mid-afternoon and the warm sunshine and lunch have combined with fatigue to make me drowsy.
I’ve ridden motorcycles for forty of my forty-nine years. I’ve ridden when temperatures were in the teens, and in temps over a hundred degrees. I have ridden in fog thick enough to drink it out of a cup and rain so intense that visibility was probably better in the tea-cup fog. At night with a burned-out headlight, or with a broken clutch cable, brake failure, you name it. Once, when I was much younger, with the help of a willing and adventurous girlfriend I was able to do things on a motorcycle that you don’t ordinarily associate with a moving motorcycle. One thing I had never done before on a motorcycle, though, was sleep. Not on a moving one, anyway.
I woke up when I ran over a couple of ‘Bott’s Dots’ (the little reflectors in the middle of the road) at around 85 miles an hour. Waking up at 85 (alone) on a motorcycle is the kind of thing that gets your absolute and undivided attention. Right Now. In this case, it also cured my drowsiness. I got a shot of adrenaline that left a taste in my mouth like I had licked a battery and it was a good 15 minutes before my heart rate dropped below 100. I was awake like I have rarely been awake in my life. Except for some extra time in the bathroom at the next rest stop, I didn’t experience anymore difficulties with drowsiness.
The last 25 % of any marathon undertaking is ‘grit your teeth and get through it” time. All of us were really looking forward to finishing. Mentally and physically worn out, we were all using up the last of our ‘second wind’. Unlike most group activities, our group all get along well, even under adverse circumstances. And when you talk now to all of us who made this trip, everyone is all smiles and tells you about how much fun we had and how cool it was. But on the last 200 mile leg of the trip home, each and every one of us had gritted teeth and not much to say. We just wanted to be done. Home, safe, asleep.
When we arrived at the convenience store at the finish, the same woman was working the grave-yard shift. Even she seemed impressed that we had traveled over a thousand miles since she had last seen us in the wee morning hours of this same day, 19 and-a-half hours earlier.
The smiles came back. We talked and cross-talked for a few minutes, all of us proud and happy to have done it – even happier to be done with it. Everyone is actually eager, for the first time in almost 20 hours, to get on a motorcycle. Because this time, the next stop is home.
There was for me, however, one feeling that stood out above all others, a single focal point that summed up the entire ordeal:
My ass hurt. IRON BUTT? I don’t think so…..
Oh, and mistake number three? I didn’t take nearly enough pictures, because now that my butt feels better, I realize I had a helluva good time and spent 19 ½ very memorable hours with some incredible friends.
A little time to relax – a couple of beers – I might do it again, sometime…
Editors Note: What Michael accomplished was a feat beyond measure, his Personnel and Ride circumstances were all very large Obstacles. But he persevered and accomplished a major Milestone in Motorcycling.
I don’t quite know how to explain this ride. It was probably the most
boring and exciting ride I’ve been on. While the scenery did not change
much the thrill of the ride was tense and fast paced (see email George sent
out). We rode so hard that some of us could not ride any further. Literally,
leaving our bike on the road Until Steve went and got some gas. I’m telling
you there was one bike that had so many jackets, chaps and etc. that ten pounds
could have made the difference in leaving it on interstate or making the next
There is so much to mention on this ride. If not for the CB radio the ride would have been even more boring for me. The radio helped to keep me alert. It was exciting to hear how fast we average, the time we spent on the road, the total time, and of course the banter that was happening from all that had radio’s (is it lunch time yet, are we there yet,). For those of us who were off and would not go (Tina) the crocodile farm and the air boat rides were really wonderful.
Steve our local traffic advisor kept us appraised of on coming cars, and trucks. When you have been on the road for ten plus hours your concentration or at least mine was not as sharp as it was the first hour. So thanks a lot Steve.
The different bikes that were on the ride, were probably not for that distance. I'm impressed with Sam, Chris, and Michael.
George sent out article about fatigue before the ride. I got home and left the key in my motorcycle. Thank goodness it was in the garage, with the door closed.
Sunday my iron butt, had rust on it.
David ( RUST ) Moody
My how things change. When George first told me about the leaving time for
the Iron Butt Saddle Sore 1000, it seemed reasonable. After all, 11pm isnt
that late at night, but it would get us out of town and through the countryside
during darkness and (more importantly) less traffic on the interstate. The
interstate you say? What in the world are Sandies doing driving on an interstate?
Planning for the SS1000 quickly became an exercise in deciding which interstate
highway to take, not whether or not to take one. No time for backroad tours
on this Sand Dollar outting. I-10 to I-12 to I-10 and we are there. Now then,
just where would we be? Winnie Texas. According to my planning it's 517 miles
one way. With a total of 1034 miles round trip, it was the perfect destination
for a 1000 mile ride. Out and back in less than 24 hours. Easy. Just hit
the throttle and go, right? Almost. We had a total of ten Sand Dollars show
for the event. That made it perfect for us to get the group discount from
the IBA (Iron Butt Association). It makes it a bit cheaper and the club President
can certify the final paperwork. Sam was more than happy to do that for us.
Thank you to her for her part in all of this. If nothing else she kept George
in line, and that, in itself, can sometimes be quite an accomplishment. Not
that George needs reigning in now and then but he does come up with some "unique" ideas
from time to time. George calls a couple of days before we left and told
me it was a no-go for an 11PM leave time. 3AM would be much better he says.
Like a dumbie, I say "gee ok" and sign off on the change. Not that
George needs me to sign off on anything but I think he needs the positive
reinforcement now and then. Just my opinion of course.
At 3AM on Saturday the 21st 9 Sandies showed at Tom Thumb number 10 on MLK
blvd in Fort Walton Beach. The staff at the Tom Thumb certified the leave time
and off we went. The adventure begins. At this time of the morning there is
very little traffic, the weather is cool (more on that later) and everyone
is fairly fresh, most having had a good sleep before the start. Rolling into
Pensacola and up I-110, things became a bit startling as a construction truck
was BACKING UP ON THE INTERSTATE either placing cones out or picking them up,
didn't matter, the guy was backing up. Some Sandies went left around him, the
others went right. I don't know what the heck happened to the cage behind me,
I was just happy he stopped when I did. That was one of the rare incidents.to
happen on this trip.
Onto I-10 we roar, hit high speed and heading west. Life is good, no traffic, good riders and good bikes. Two Tom and Jerry G hit it hard and off they go, leaving the rest of us in the dust. Soon they disappear and we are now seven. Things go well and we pick up Dave (he rode in from Monroeville to join up) at the Mississippi rest area just inside the state. We didn't even stop, he joined in just as if he had practiced the move before. Again we are on the highway and heading west. By this time we are all noticing that it's not just a little chilly out.
It's COLD! We start donning our cold weather gear when
we make the next stop. At the first gas stop Chris M shows George and the rest
of us his "auxilliary gas tank" (it's a plastic one-gallon container),
saying he's prepared to go the distance. Our Intrepid Road Captain tells him, " nah,
you wont be needing that, we will stop every 132 miles." Putting he can
away empty (key word here folks is "empty"), off we go. Somewhere
in Louisiana, 110 miles from that stop, Chris's VRod sputters to a stop. Being
Tail Gunner I stop with him and tell the rest of the group we will catch up.
I hear Tommy N tell George that Sam is now on reserve and they need gas. We
are about 20 miles from a group stop. It seems the V Rod just wont go 85 mph
for hours on end and make it much past 110 mile on one tank. Loading up Chris
and his empty can, we hit the next exit, gas up and go back to his bike. Within
minutes we are on the way and join up with the group at the next stop. At this
point, let me say that it was not a break down of the bike, it was not the
riders fault and it certainly wasn't the Road Captains fault that this happened.
Who knew Harley would design a fast bike with no legs? Ah well, a minor incident
after all and now we plan 100 mile gas stops. All is well as we roar on into
Winnie Texas, other than being just a tad over 500 miles from Fort Walton Beach,
really is not a vacation spot. I'm sure the proud Texans who live there will
tell you it's a heck of a nice place to live, but I'm pretty sure I wont need
reservations to stay at a hotel there anytime soon. Tommy N tells everyone
that we are going to Winne to get some pie. Pecan Pie. We never do get any
of that pie, but we did eat at the Subway before heading east. Only 517 miles
As we leave George behind, ( that's right we left Winnie while the Road Captain
was performing an important task, he was loading his CD player for the trip
home) the traffic is picking up as it's now mid day. Through the construction
zone near Beaumont M2 has to make a slight detour as a highway construction
pick up truck makes it into his lane despite the fact M2 was already there.
No harm done as M2 deftly swerved into the shoulder space, the guy went on
as if nothing happened and we were once more all safe. At the next gas stop
we hear George and Tommy on the CB and let them know where we are. Joining
up we head Eastbound and homeward. Farther on we meet up with Dave M and Chis
M, who had been the first to abandon all semblance of following George. Nothing
remarkable about the trip to this point, other than a couple of very minor
incidents. Just as we near the area where Chris M ran out of gas, M2 now pulls
over. George and the group keep going as two of us check to see the problem
with M2. Low oil light. Seems that his FZ1 turns 6000 rpm at the speed we had
been traveling and burned some oil. Perfectly normal, but kind of unexpected.
We hit the next exit and M2 buys a quart of oil, pours in THREE OUNCES and
off we go. Catching up with the others we have a quick bite to eat. MacDonalds
works just fine for fast food at this point. Only a few hours from home now,
eight tired and sore Sandies head out. One more fuel stop for some and we will
be home in plenty of time.
Going through the tunnel in Mobile, I was sorely pressed to honk my air horn.
But being a good guy and all, I didn't. George thanked me. By this time we
all are pretty tired but, surprisingly, alert and aware. Normally at this point
of a long day you get easily distracted and find your mind wandering. OK I
know some of us have wandering minds anyway, but this is diff--Hey did you
see that Ghost Rider is out on DVD?
Gulf Breeze was the last pit stop for those with short legs on their bikes.
The rest of us continued to Fort Walton Beach and filled up at the Tom Thumb
number 10, right where we started from. Once again, the staff was happy to
see us back and signed off on our paperwork. The staff also told us that Two
Tom and Jerry G had been back at 9:30. An hour and a half before us. Unfortunately,
they also told us that Two Tom had lost his wallet and all of it's contents
somewhere in Louisiana. Jerry G graciously paid for the two of them for the
rest of the trip. See? Sandies take care of each other, on the road this is
an important thing. Stuck 500 miles from home, no credit cards, no cash and
no drivers license can be quite stressful.
19 and one half hours from starting we had completed the IBA SS1000. Was it fun? Yes indeed. Was it stressful? Yes indeed. Was it challenging? Yes indeed. Would I do it again? Nope, but there is the Bun Burner 1500 to consider.
If you have a choice doing the SS1000 then I recommend a small group of travelers.
We had eight at most of the time. That many slows things down considerably.
It takes longer to gas up, longer to eat and with more people, the more likely
incidents will happen. Even with the expert group we had assembled, the gas
pumps and waitress' were slowed down by the number of people wanting the same
thing at the same time. Perhaps three or even two in a group with a common
start/stop place would work much better.
As I reflect on that trip, I marvel at the fact that ten bikes, ten riders
went a thousand miles each, that's a total of 10,000 miles with no major incidents,
no injuries and everyone on every ride made it back safe and sound. A testament
to good preparation, excellent bike designs and excellent rider skills. A job
well done by the Sand Dollars. George, Sam, Jerry G, Two Tom, Steve G, Chris
M, M2, Dennis H, Dave M, Tommy N. Well done by all!
Did we have fun? Yes indeed. Did you miss a good time? Yes indeed.
It was a great journey. Some apprehension as we gathered for the departure,
but the group was the best as they talked about how we would stay together
to help in the event something happened. That is just how Sandies are. The
whole trip was a basic ride for us, with a couple of u-turns (a Sandie tradition)
and only a couple of minor incidents leaving no one behind.
This event shows that all we do in practice helps in the daily riding and improves
our ability to deal with minor issues on the road. The small traffic issues
that included a car running off the inside shoulder and crossing our path to
the outside shoulder to stop and recover, to the merging traffic trying to
push Michael to the inside edge of the road, we were able to handle these with
no panic and continue our ride without incident.
I would like to compliment all of our members, even those who didn't do this ride, for their dedication to improving their skills and making riding safer for all of us. We definitely ride with the best. Just a few thoughts about why I consider riding with the Sandies the best part of riding a motorcycle. It really makes it a better ride.
Dennis (Iceman) Hamby
Two O’clock in the morning the alarm went off. Normally that would be
OK as I could go back to sleep for a few hours more, but not tonight and anyway
I have been up since twelve. I initially went to bed at ten, with the bike
packed and ready to go on the Sanddollar Saddle Sore, 1000 miles in 24 hours
trip. So with two hours of sleep I trudged to the shower and then scarfed down
a banana and breakfast drink. Got on the bike and proceeded to navigate my
way down to the Tom Thumb on Freedom Way. Got there around 0245 to get my first
gas receipt and see what fools actually got up to do this ride. As George often
says that Sanddollars are not the sharpest spoons in the drawer what I seen
at the Tom Thumb were eight people, me being number nine, (number ten will
come in the picture later) who had trouble even seeing what was in the drawer
let alone sharpen any spoons.
Knowing that I had the smallest gas tank I pulled out my “reserve” one
gallon tank that I had stored in my saddlebag. George being the great road
captain he is looked at me and laughed saying he would ensure that I would
not need that as he had scheduled stops with some room to spare. Of course
he said this after he shouted, “Damn Mitchell, you just made me lose
a bet,” alluding that I was not showing up. Strike one for old Engler.
Well we get the paperwork for the start completed and off we go.
Now for I am beginning to feel tired and I think to myself, “There is
no real shame if I just say I can’t do this right now and go home.” I
kept thinking this all the way down 98 to Pensacola and on to 110, which is
like driving the Gauntlet in some auto video game with hazards all over the
road. I convince myself to try to make it to at least daylight and then see
how I feel. Getting onto I10 caused another shock which woke me up pretty fast…cold.
It was very cold to say the least. Here is where Jerry “Possum” and
Tom took off and left the rest of the group. We stopped for gas at about 130
miles and then started off again. George must have had that video game in his
mind as we now sped down I10 through the rest of Alabama and into Mississippi
at over 85 miles an hour for 110 miles, picking up our tenth rider as we drove
through the first Mississippi rest stop in the form of David from Monroeville
on what another Haverty Couch, I looked down the row of bikes and it looked
like a couch sale from Haverty’s traveling down I10. Of all ten riders
only myself, Sam on her VStar, and Mike M on his sport bike was not on a moving
lounge chair. I almost thought that I saw one of them pour coffee from a coffee
maker on the dash of his two wheel automobile.
Well we kept proceeding down I10 at break neck pace at wayyyyyyyyy above the
posted speed limit, not that that would normally be an issue. But then I heard,
ok rather felt a sputter in the VRod (not a couch, heck not even a lounge chair,
more like an outdoor bench on wheels). Yes you that already know I ran out
of gas on I10. Now with Steve being behind me he stopped and yes I had to ride
b………….backseat on his Valkyrie. No wonder he wears
earplugs, that bike is too loud, and that is saying something as I ride a Harley.
Me with my one gallon gas can riding as a passenger probably was not a pretty
site. Well we got the VRod back in operation and finally met up with the rest
of the Sandies at the next programmed stop. Here I found out that Sam had had
to switch to her reserve tank. Now I don’t feel so bad. Well we finally
came through Louisiana and into Texas. In Texas the wind picked up so bad that
it felt like I was wrestling a Texas Longhorn with the solid wheels on my bike.
We finally made it to Winnie Texas and ate lunch and then started back. When
we got into the Eastern end of Louisiana I was hit by the sleep monster once
again. With about 250 miles to go I started really dragging. It was starting
to get dark and now I really questioned myself if this ride was really what
I wanted to do. I debated my options and decided to try to keep going on being
so close (a close 250 miles being relative when talking 1000 miles). After
putting on a jacket and reflective vest and eating a Snickers Energy bar and
a Starbucks double shot espresso I left with the group heading east. Another
double shot at the next stop and I was actually wired for sound at this point.
Mike M had a bit of trouble with his bike and now we have the second bike stopped on I10. He had to get some oil and then he was back on the road. Probably the worst part of this ride (OK actually the whole ride was some of the worst times on a bike I have ever had) was going from Biloxi to Pensacola on I10 at 8:30 at night at 85 miles an hour weaving in and out of traffic. We finally pulled into the initial starting point and I was never so glad to be through with a ride than I felt then. The things that helped me on this torture was the back belt I wore, the bicycle riding shorts with gel pads, and the earplugs I got from Steve G. I will never, repeat never, do something as stupid as volunteer for another Saddle Sore 1000 miler on a VRod again.
Now when is that Sanddollar Iron Butt 1500 scheduled for?
Chris (The Mitchell) Mitchell
Editors Note: What Chris did was well beyond the Norm, his Ride was not equipped
for such an epic journey. It is a testament to Chris, the person, that he made
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