Friday, August 1, 2014

Back to Miles 2,754 to 3,766: The Iron Butt Chronicles (Quest Reflection #3)

This rather uninteresting picture was taken at Mile 1,012 at a gas station in Castle Rock, CO at the end of my Iron Butt attempt. Let's just say that not everything went according to plan.

It is about a thousand miles from Houston, Texas to Castle Rock, Colorado. My goal was to ride it in 24 hours. After it was over, a friend emailed me and asked me what temperatures I ran into. I offered him a simple reply.

“All of them.”

Just passed the halfway point, the plan was to stop in Amarillo, Texas where my family would be waiting to spend the night. The Iron Butt was actually just an excuse to get to Colorado for our family vacation as fast as possible. But if I had to ride that far, I might as well try. Even though some people said I should try it under different circumstances, all at once, and so forth, I was going to make the attempt whether I completed it in time or not.

The Iron Butt Association—(a real thing, seriously)—awards riders who document a 1,000 mile ride in less than 24 hours. They have very strict rules about documenting your stops with receipts from your gas stops and a detailed map of your route. I planned through all such things prior to the trip, but the trip had other plans.

Not quite two hours into the ride, I stopped for a moment in Centerville, Texas for a bottle of water for me, and a fresh drink of premium gasoline for Rocinante. Pull her up to the modern, computerized stable of our day, insert the credit card, and treat her to an expensive drink.

We get back on Interstate 45, which is a miserable ride no matter how philosophically willing you are to see the beauty in the world. It’s just not that much fun.

I crested a hill—(Texas-speak for a slight rise in the road)—to see the car-train just ahead of me all light up their red taillights at once.

By then, I was a little more than two hours into the journey when the highway not only came to stop, but was completely shut down.

Since I was pretty far back, I decided to scoot along the shoulder to see firsthand what I was up against. As I rounded a slight bend in the road, I saw the giant plume of smoke rising into the sky. As I got closer to the scene where the cop car was pulled diagonally across both lanes blocking all traffic, I could see that this was not good.

It was some sort of wreck. I could not see it, but the smoke and huge fire up ahead said this was going to take a while. The grass between the highway and shoulder was too thick to ride across. Plus, the shoulder was completely shut down as well.

Turn off the bike, throw the kickstand, take off my helmet.

Stand there in the 100-degree sun.

Not a good start.

I called my wife to give her the bad news that I was going to be late to Amarillo, at best. Wait, and then wait some more. Stand around looking at the people getting out of their cars. A congregation of frustrated, overheated travelers.

Finally, the cars up ahead began to move. I put on my helmet quickly, started up, and slowly creeped onto the access road with the other travelers. Up the access road for a mile where we all made the procession beside a flatbed 18-wheeler loaded down with tons of smoldering hay.

A little more up the access road. Back onto the highway.

Let’s go.

I looked at the clock. An hour had passed. Not good.

Getting through Fort Worth was a chore. Riding up to Wichita Falls was about as entertaining as watching an old episode of “My Mother the Car.” Never heard of it? Then you get the point.

I detailed the hot ride from Wichita Falls to Childress earlier about the swimming pool fantasy filled with cold watermelon, so we will move on to Amarillo where I met the family at a cheap hotel. Not much to report other than the fact that I arrived an hour later than planned.

Spent that day from 11:46 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. with Rocinante. Just a little over 600 miles.

Take a shower. Get in bed. And don’t sleep much.

After falling asleep for maybe a good two hours, the alarm interrupted my dream at 4:40 a.m. In order to allow myself the one-hour cushion for the 24-hour deadline, I needed to leave Amarillo at 5:00 a.m. That would give me just under seven hours to put down 400 miles.

And here's where the trip got interesting.

It was bone dry as I loaded my bike, but the radar on my trusty wayback machine showed a huge storm just up the road. I put on my full rainsuit, boot covers, and helmet, started the bike, and off we went.

Before I made it to the north side of Amarillo, the rain started falling. Not gently with a kind introduction. No. What my grandmother used to call a “gully-washer.”

The streetlights of northern Amarillo slowly disappeared in my rearview mirrors, and nothing but dark roads lay ahead. Then, he darkness was pierced by fierce lightning lighting up the sky in front of me, first high in the sky, and soon giant bolts that looked as though they were aiming straight for the highway.

The rain fell hard. The lightning fell harder. But I just pushed forward. The next town was over thirty miles ahead, so I hoped for the best.

Have you ever had the experience where the lightning in front of you becomes the lightning beside you becomes the lightning behind you? And just when you breathe a sigh of relief, a huge bolt crashes down just a few miles in front of you. That happened twice before I rolled into the next town.

Dumas, Texas is a collection of motels and gas stations. Nothing much to it. It’s main claim to fame for those of us who travel from Texas to Colorado is that it is the place you turn left to Dalhart.

So that’s what I did.

Turn left onto a tiny two-lane road that connects Dumas and Dalhart right on the northern edge of Texas that smells like wet cattle.

The rain continues.

I was doing about five miles per hour over the speed limit, in the dark, in the rain. I know it sounds foolish, but when riding in conditions like that, all you can think about is punching through to the other side of the storm. But when the car approaching you meets you, and you see the car’s brake lights come on in your mirrors and then turn around, the only thing you think is, “I’m about to get pulled over.”

He turned around, approached me, followed me for five miles, and then turned back around and headed in his earlier direction back toward Dumas. In my mind, here is how I played out the scenario.

“Hey, Joe, do you want to pull this guy over?”
“We’re going to have to stand out in the rain.”
“Yeah, let’s just let him go.”

That’s what happened. At least that’s my version of the story.

I pulled into a Chevron/McDonald’s in Dalhart, Texas. I was cold, but not horribly so. The rainsuit and boot covers were doing their jobs. But I needed to layer a little more, and get some coffee.

I was pretty upset when I looked at the clock and realized it had taken me two hours to travel 90 miles. In order to finish the Iron Butt on time, I would have to do a little over 300 miles in four-and-a-half hours.

Average 66 mph for four-and-a-half hours, and you get your Iron Butt.

This is not going to be easy.

Let's go. That bike's not going to ride itself.

As I crossed the border from Texline, Texas into “Absolutely Nothing, New Mexico,” I read the sign that welcomed me:

“Welcome to New Mexico, Land of Enchantment”

But what they do not share with you on the sign is that New Mexico Highway 87 is a straight shot that basically gets you to Colorado. And from Texline, Texas to Raton, New Mexico, the ride was “enchanting” in a most interesting way.

As soon as I crossed into the Land of Enchantment, I immediately renamed it, “Land of Fog.” I was relieved that the rain stopped, but the air grew colder. I ducked down behind my detachable windshield, and screwed the throttle to 80 mph. Just get across.

The rolling fog was the most interesting scenery on this bare corner of land. No billboards. No animals. Only one small town. But mostly a whole lot of nothing. Nothing. Since it was first thing in the morning, I had New Mexico all to myself. Seriously. I never passed a single car for two hours, and none passed me. I met a few vehicles obviously hightailing it back to Texas, but only a few. But going my way? Nobody.

All alone.

As I got closer to Raton that shoves you up into Colorado, the mountains started to stand up tall out of the flat ground. As I climbed in elevation, at one point I noticed that I was riding above the clouds ahead of me. Maybe that’s what they mean by “Land of Enchantment.” Because to a man who lives at sea level on the Texas Gulf Coast, let’s just say this was a new experience.

Over the pass into Trinidad, Colorado. Stop for gas, and look at the clock. I am making good time, but maybe not good enough. I had just ridden 148 miles in about two-and-a-half hours. Good, but there was more road ahead. Everything would have to fall right into place. Right at 160 more miles, but only another two-and-a-half more hours before the deadline. It should be fine. I made great time blazing across New Mexico. If I can hammer down at 80 with no interruptions, I can make it.

So I thought.

As soon as I left Trinidad, the winding roads down the mountains slowed me down a bit more than I anticipated. The road finally straightened, the speed limit went back up to 75, and on I rode. But when I made it to Pueblo, Colorado, the moron who designed the Interstate right through town, twisting and weaving at 50-55 mph, obviously had no regard whatsoever for my own little Cannonball Run against the clock.

After finally making it through that armpit of I-25, I put the hammer back down at 80 and leaned forward like when Superman decides to speed up.

Every few miles I’m checking the clock, checking the trip meter. I think I’m going to make it. A countdown against miles, a countdown against time.

Hills and mountains fly by on my left, prairies fly by on my right. Things are going fast, just as I need them to go.

But then Colorado Springs.

Just as I thought I was through Colorado Springs, I looked down at my trip meter.  It told me I was at 985 miles. Hit the button a couple of times and read the clock. Just 45 minutes to go before the deadline passes. That’s when all the taillights in front of me light up, and traffic comes to a dead standstill.

This cannot be happening.

Highway workers have cones set up taking three lanes down to two… then to one. I have a decision to make. Lane split or just go with the flow. Since lane splitting was going to have to include an uneven lane with grooved pavement on one side and two inches of raised asphalt on the other, I knew that I really had no options.

Push forward. Just push.

Ten minutes later the traffic opened up. I leaned over all the way to the fast lane and twisted the throttle as far as it would go.

Come on, Rocinante.

I left my trip meter on the display and watched the countdown.


Time was running out, but I think I can make it.


Twenty-five minutes to the deadline. I start scanning the exits.

Where’s an exit?!

Nowhere to stop for gas.

Come on!

Keep going.

Edge of Castle Rock.


Exit ahead. Gas and food.



19 minutes until the deadline.

I pull up to the intersection. No gas station.

“Where’s the gas station?!” I shout out loud.

I look left under the overpass. Nothing.

I look right. Fast food places. Shopping centers. But no gas station.

Just go. Turn right.

Go about a quarter mile. And there it is. The gas station.

I pull in. Don’t even take off my helmet. Pump a tiny amount of gas to get the evidence on the printed receipt.

Put the nozzle back in place.

“Do you want a receipt?” the Hal 9000 asks me.

“YES!” I shout as I push the button.

The receipt spits out, and I look at the time.

10:30 a.m. (11:30 a.m. back at my starting point.) 

Mile 1,012.

Sixteen minutes to spare.

I did it!

But then... it almost all fell apart. At least that’s how it felt.

The Iron Butt Association requires you to have an eyewitness who signs a document saying they saw you in said place where your 1000-mile-plus journey finishes. They also require the eyewitness to give his or her name, address, and phone number. And if you have ever walked up to a stranger at a gas station while you are wearing full motorcycle gear and MC colors asking for their personal information… well… let’s just say that the good Iron Butt administrators really didn’t think that one through.

“Excuse me, sir,” I began. “I just finished a thousand mile ride from Houston.”


“The motorcycling community gives an award if you can document the ride. Will you please sign this document saying you saw me here in Castle Rock, Colorado, and give them your name and contact information.”

“I really don’t like giving that out.”

“I understand. But I promise this is not a scam.”

But he wouldn’t budge.

Now mind you, I probably would be just as reticent. In these days of identity theft, lack of trust, and indifference in helping your fellow man, giving your phone number to a road-weary stranger is not an easy pill to swallow.

But since I was on a deadline, I had no sympathy for the devil. I ran inside, waited behind a customer in front of me in the convenience store line, and then walked forward to the young clerk there at the counter.

“I just finished a thousand mile ride from Houston, Texas, and--”

Before I could continue, he responded, “Wow, man, that’s awesome.”

Good start.

“I need you to verify that I was here at this specific time. Will you please write down the address here at this gas station, give the phone number here, and sign your name?”

"Of course! Glad to help!"

And that's it.

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