Well, it was finally done in the wee hours of the morning on June 7, and I still don’t know how to feel about completing my Iron Butt Association SaddleSore 1000 ride. On the one hand, it’s great to have a membership in the IBA pending. That said, the ride was anything but exciting. For someone who loves nothing more than spending time in the saddle, the unexpected setbacks I encountered made the achievement feel more like a completed chore than a long-awaited triumph.
This wasn’t my first 1,000 miles in 24 hours ride. My first one was in 2012 I think, but I am not sure because I lost the paperwork before I had a chance to mail it to the IBA. While I was peeved at myself for misplacing something so important to me, it didn’t bother me that much. That ride was from my parents’ house in Rochester, N.Y., to the Ohio/Indiana border and back. The turnaround point didn’t mean much to me, so I decided that I’d just do the ride again: this time with a meaningful route and destination.
I kept putting off doing the ride year after year. Often, my summers were packed with races and rallies I was attending and I didn’t make time on the weekends I was home to do the ride (though I planned routes several times). With all the chaos caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the inability to travel to see friends or attend events put my focus back on doing other rides this year, and the SaddleSore 1000 was one I put on my ride list for 2020.
My original plan was to use a route that I considered fun and know quite well. I would have ridden Interstate 71 north to Interstates 271 north and 90 east around the east side of Cleveland, then taken Interstate 86 east to one of several exits east of Binghamton, N.Y., then turned around and headed home. I opted to find another route when I realized the trip would require four 200-mile stints, as I wanted to space out the fuel stops more evenly.
Instead, I chose a route to the west made up mostly of Interstates 70 and 74. Though the flat terrain is not as exciting to ride as the foothills and mountains of New York’s southern tier, I had ridden the route last year during my mini west tour and there are lots of truck stops along the route, which allowed me to space my fuel stops almost perfectly (six 170-180 miles between stops).
Once I had the route mapped out, I went to work getting ready for the ride. I made sure to get my cardio exercise in most every morning so I’d have good stamina for 16 hours in the saddle. I looked over my Google Map trip plan daily to make sure I knew it by heart (I don’t have a motorcycle GPS, so I memorize exit numbers for fuel stops). I worked out a timing schedule of when I should be arriving and departing each stop so I could know if I was running behind schedule.
The day before I left, I checked the FJR’s tire pressures, picked out my clothes for the next day, made sure I had all the paperwork I needed to document the ride, took a couple nighttime allergy pills to make sure I’d get a good night’s sleep and went to bed early at 9 p.m. I had completed all the preparations that I could to make this the fun ride that I had no doubt it would be.
I was up at 5 a.m., wide awake, well rested and ready to complete the challenge ahead of me. After taking my and my girlfriend’s dog out and responding to a text from my boss’ boss that had come in while I was asleep, I put on my gear, fired up the FJR and away I went to a gas station down the road to begin the ride.
5:41 a.m. (Eastern) — Odometer: 32,080
The first problem I encountered on the ride occurred when I fueled up to start the trip. For those who are not familiar with IBA rides, your official start time is determined by the time stamped on your first fuel receipt. After I hung up the nozzle, the receipt failed to print. Well, that wasn’t the way I wanted things to start this escapade, but I didn’t panic. I walked to the convenience store at the station to get a receipt printed, and to my horror saw five people in line and one cashier with a trainee. Everybody’s gotta learn at some point, but why were so many people in a convenience store at this hour of the morning?
I very impatiently waited in line to get a receipt printed and bolted out the door as soon as I had it in hand. I took a quick picture of the receipt next to my odometer, then hopped into the saddle. It was 5:47 a.m., I was still getting out ahead of schedule. That five minutes I spent waiting in line wouldn’t amount to anything, right? Little did I know how dead wrong I was about that.
The Ohio portion of the first stint went smoothly. The temperatures were in the high 60s and the air had a light crispness to it as I rode through downtown Columbus and the western Ohio countryside on Interstates 270, 670 and 70 with the sun rising behind me.
Things got a little rough when I crossed the border into Indiana. The normally 70 mph speed limit was reduced to 55 for road construction … the whole way from the Indiana/Ohio border to the eastern outskirts of Indianapolis. I lost about 10 minutes of time running 15 mph or so slower than I had planned on before reaching my first fuel stop at Exit 96 on Interstate 70. I still wasn’t panicking. I was behind 15 minutes. Big deal. I could easily make that up by shortening a couple of stops and maintaining a consistent pace the rest of the way.
8:37 a.m. — Odometer: 32,255
I fueled up the FJR, hung up the nozzle and, once again, no receipt printed. This was getting old quickly, but I used my trip into the convenience store to get water and a couple snacks. By the time I made it to Greenfield, temperatures were in the high 70s.
After getting the receipt, downing some water and logging my stop I got back on the road about 8:47 a.m. My trip plan called for me to depart Greenfield by 8:50 a.m., and I had done that. As long as nothing else went wrong, I was still on track to be home by 11 p.m. But my well-planned, well-executed trip would start to unravel about 10 minutes later.
I got back onto Interstate 70 west heading toward Indianapolis. To the southwest, I saw a big, black cloud of smoke rising. I figured it was a house or commercial building fire and hoped that the fire wasn’t too close to the Interstate 465 loop that I was about to take around Indy. Even though Google Maps said going through downtown Indy is faster, I’ve run into a couple slowdowns at the Interstates 65/70 split. So, I’ve used Interstate 465 to avoid any traffic snafus. However, not thinking that the black smoke could be coming from a crash on the highway cost me the fun, relaxing trip I’d been looking forward to.
I merged right onto the exit for Interstate 465 south, and just a couple hundred feet after getting on the ramp I saw traffic backed up onto it. It was too late to turn around, and it didn’t take long to realize my ride was in trouble. As I got closer to the backup, I saw traffic also was slowed down on the right-most lane of I-465. With how slow it was moving, I figured it’d set me back at least another 10-15 minutes. It ended up being a 1 hour, 10 minute delay.
The traffic switched between creeping forward and a dead stop, with the center and left lanes starting to back up too. The ambient temperature was rising quickly and was made worse by the heat emanating from my FJR’s radiator and the exhaust of the idling vehicles around me. The FJR’s air temperature gauge read as high as 106 degrees as traffic inched its way forward.
I started trying to move over a couple lanes, but a truck driver was kind enough to pull up next to me, roll down his window and warn me about what was ahead.
“A tanker blew up,” he shouted out the window. “Get off at Washington Street!” So, I stayed to the right and inched forward with traffic. The interstate had been closed at Washington Street, and it was five lanes of traffic trying to exit the expressway.
So, I waited, and it wasn’t having to wipe the sweat from my eyes nor the oppressive heat that tortured me: it was my motorcycle’s clock. And as I watched each minute tick by while covering inches per minute instead of miles, I watched the trip I had dreamed about for years die a slow death.
As each minute passed, the sadness and disappointment set in even stronger. Though I knew I could still complete the ride, the excitement was gradually replaced with anxiety and despair. If I finished the ride, I thought to myself, I’m going to have to ride well into the night. Is it worth it? Should I just abort and turn around and go home when I get out of this?
My high school chaplain had a saying she used over and over again with my class, “This too, shall pass.” Though it felt like I was in hell while sitting in that traffic, I knew eventually I would be out of it. But though the anguish of the heat would pass, the disappointment would follow me the rest of the way.
Eventually, I made it to the exit, got turned around and headed north on Interstate 465, passing by the traffic jam I’d been stuck in only a minute before. I took the exit for Interstate 70 west and continued my journey, the whole time unsure if it was worth continuing.
As I made my way through downtown and the west side of Indianapolis, I questioned what to do. I wasn’t so far behind that I wouldn’t make the 1,000 miles in 24 hours, but my chances of doing so in the safest, least anxiety-producing manner (riding in daylight as much as possible) were long gone. I took Interstate 70 Interstates 465 north, then got in Interstate 74 west. I stopped twice on Interstate 74 before reaching my next fuel stop at Le Roy, Ill., debating whether to continue or abort.
As I stood at a rest area for a couple minutes pondering my options and on the phone with my girlfriend, I took a quick look at social media and saw the support fellow riders were expressing on my posts. This is something that obviously others could tell I really cared about accomplishing, and — though I questioned my decision the rest of the trip — I chose to press on with the ride.
11:54 a.m. (Central) — Odometer: 32,437
I made it to the Casey’s General Store in Le Roy, Ill., fuel up and, for the first time on this ride, the receipt printed at the pump! I parked to log my stop, tried to go into the store (but there was a sign that I needed a mask, which I did not have), ate a small snack, drank the water I had left and took a couple minutes to consider one last time whether I should just turn around and give up on this ride. After rationalizing to myself that I’d already come this far, I pressed on.
From Le Roy, I got back on Interstate 74 west and passed through Bloomington and Peoria. I reached the Interstates 74/80 interchange southeast of Davenport, took Interstate 80 west, crossed the Mississippi River and entered Iowa — the farthest west state on my ride. After a restroom stop, I continued a short ways to my turnaround point — the Iowa 80 Truck Stop.
As I approached Exit 284 and saw the facility’s big sign come into view, I didn’t feel relieved like I thought I would. While I was happy to see one of my favorite places to stop on a tour, there was a lot of trepidation about whether I had made the right choice continuing on.
2:53 p.m. — Odometer: 32,610
I pulled into the Iowa 80, fueled up the FJR, logged my stop, then parked and dashed inside to get a snack and drinks. My original plan called for sitting down in the facility’s massive food court, but that couldn’t have happened regardless of when I arrived. The tables were stacked up and it was carry-out only.
I managed to keep my tradition of buying a shot glass every time I stopped at the Iowa 80 alive, and grabbed a soda, water and bag of crackers to boot. I paid for the items, I made my way back outside to the FJR and wolfed down the snack and drink. After making conversation with a 2010 Triumph Bonneville T100 rider who had parked next to me, I threw a leg over the FJR and started my journey home.
As I rode, I thought more about my situation and came to the conclusion that perhaps — with the coronavirus restrictions in place at the Iowa 80 — this was never going to be the ride I had wanted, but maybe it was the ride I needed. The words of the philosopher Jagger (as retold by my role model, the character Dr. Gregory House), “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need,” sprung to the forefront of my mind.
As desperately as I was trying to make peace with the less-than-ideal predicament I was in, the facts of the situation clearly delineated how screwed I was. My trip plan called for me to be departing the Iowa 80 no later than 1:35 p.m. Central. When I got onto Interstate 80 west to start heading home, it was 3:18 p.m. I knew it was going to be an anxiety-filled ride back, and I upped my pace to get as much riding done during the daylight hours as I could.
Other than when I was stuck in traffic, this was the hottest segment of the ride. The temperature gauge read 90 degrees or higher for most of the stint.
I rode back through the outskirts of Davenport, then Peoria and Bloomington to reach my second fuel stop of the day in Le Roy, Ill., … more than an hour and a half behind schedule.
5:54 p.m. — Odometer: 32,783
This was probably my shortest stop of the ride, and I decided to use the Love’s Travel Stop at Exit 149 instead of the Casey’s, in case the receipt didn’t print and I had to go inside to get one. After fueling up and logging the stop, I downed some aspirin and got right back on the road.
I passed through Champaign and Danville, crossing into Indiana and back into the Eastern time zone about 8:40 p.m. After another hour, I reached the outskirts of Indianapolis and got on Interstate 465 to go around Indy, since Interstate 70 east was closed through the city.
I was wearing one of my dual shield visors, and left the flip-up tinted section in place as long as I could. It was covered in bug guts, and I figured I’d use it as long as I could to keep the clear shield below clean for the nighttime riding. By the time I reached my stop at Exit 96 in Greenfield, darkness had set in.
9:44 p.m. (Eastern) — Odometer: 32,963
I took my time at this stop, since I was going to be riding in darkness the rest of the trip. The temperatures had dropped to the high 70s, and I used the time out of the saddle to rest my sore rear end. After about a 15-minute break, I got back on the FJR for the last stint of this ride. Once again, I faced more than 50 miles of a 55 mph work zone speed limit on Interstate 70, and traffic had been shifted to the far right portion of the road and the shoulder.
The road was very rough, with divots in the concrete pavement that felt like craters. The FJR’s suspension handled them the best it could. The rumble strip that was normally to the right of the white line was dead center in the only lane for traffic, and much of it was not paved over. To make matters worse, I caught up to some slow traffic when I was about halfway through the work zone. Though I appreciated having extra sets of headlights ahead of me, I did not like the 50 mph pace. Though I had no plans to speed at night, this was a bit too slow for someone who desperately wanted to finish the ride at hand.
As I had passed the 16 hour point since I had departed, the Bob Seger lyrics, “When you’re riding 16 hours, and there’s nothing much to do, and you don’t feel much like riding, you just wish the trip was through,” had never rung truer to me.
The only saving graces of the nighttime riding was the amount of traffic and the smell of wood-burning fires. As I crossed into Ohio and out of the work zone, traffic fanned out and I was able to stay with a couple groups of cars and trucks so I wasn’t relying solely on my motorcycle’s headlights for nighttime visibility.
The air was warm and thin and the smell of fire was in the air in spots. Had I been riding a well-lit road, such as one of Columbus’ urban interstates, I’d have been in seventh heaven. Instead, my senses were on high alert for deer or debris in the road that I might not see until it was too late. The anxiety of rural night riding drained the last bits of fun out of the ride like the last sands making their way to the bottom of an hourglass. Temperatures were down to the high 60s, just like when I had started out in the morning. For all the anxiety I was feeling, at least I was riding in good conditions.
After what felt like hours upon hours of riding in the darkness, I passed Exit 85 on Interstate 70 and the lights near Exit 91 to Hilliard-Rome Road came into view. I had survived the darkness and made it to the light. I was almost home.
I scooted along under the overhead lights to the Interstate 670 split and took Interstate 670 to its end at Gahanna. I followed Granville Street through downtown Gahanna to South Hamilton Road, where I turned right and headed south to a 24-hour Speedway station.
I pulled up to the pump and, for the last time on this trip, fueled up the bike, hung up the nozzle and waited while the receipt printed. I pulled the all-important end receipt from the pump. It was over. I had done it: not the way I wanted to do it, but I had accomplished what I had set out to do about 18 hours earlier.
12:49 a.m. — Odometer: 33,135
While I was still standing, I felt my soul collapse to its knees. It was over. Though I felt relieved, I did not feel joy. Even though I was standing there with my admission to the Iron Butt Association in my hand, I wondered if I should have let it end this way. Had I settled for something less than I wanted for this accomplishment? Was what I just risked really worth what I was holding in my hand?
After logging the stop, I got back on the bike and rode another five miles home. My girlfriend, who had been monitoring my progress on Google Maps using my phone’s tracking app, had the garage door open for me. I rode up our short driveway into the garage, hit the kill switch, listened to the engine stop churning out its one lone song, and got myself out of the saddle.
I was tired and sore all over, which I expected myself to be. And though I didn’t walk into a restaurant strung out from the road or feel the eyes upon me as I was shaking out the cold, I didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment, joy or exuberance. I was happy to be home, but still conflicted about whether I’d shortchanged myself by accomplishing something so dear to me in an anxious and hurried manner.
Even as I sit here writing the closing of this piece, I still can’t decide how I should feel about the ride. Unlike my mini west tour in 2019 — where I felt defeated upon arriving home from a tour I’d waited nine years to take — it wasn’t my failures that led to a less-than-ideal ride. I’d planned well; I’d prepared well; I’d ridden well. I most definitely didn’t lose the battle, but had I, as the female changeling said in one of the closing episodes of the series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, had I, by my decision to finish the ride just to finish it, “made victory taste as bitter as defeat?”
Well, whatever the case may be — and however I end up looking back upon this trip — I did it.
Turn the page.