My 2012 Trip West
It was Wednesday, August 8th 2012. I wanted to go to Sturgis again and as usual, I'm short on money and vacation time. So I will incorporate another IBA ride to cheat father time. For those that are unfamiliar with I.B.A. , it is a motorcycle endurance riding club. If you've read any of my running journal entries you know I love challenges of physical endurance. While IBA rides are not running, there are similarities in preparation and experiences.
- You must be smart about your nutrition and hydration, eat light to stay alert. I have a friend at work who has hunting dogs. He told me the only way to get his dogs to hunt was to keep them hungry. A full and satisfied dog will not hunt. Considering that water was my 2nd largest expense last year (2011), I bought a drink bottle with a built in filter and filled it from the sink at gas stations. I learned early on that the bottle was too small. I was running out of water long before I was running out of gas. Next time , I will bring two. Also, I do not condone the use of stimulants other than the occasional coffee to aid with alertness.
- You need to be rested.
- It helps to have a relatively good fitness level
- You WILL have to endure fatigue and discomfort.
The IBA or Iron Butt Association, has different levels of certified rides criteria you must meet to be in this exclusive group. The entry level ride is called a Saddle Sore 1000. You must ride at least 1000 miles in less than 24 hours. They use the time and location information on your gas receipts to verify your ride. You must have witnesses fill out a form at the start and also you must enlist witnesses at the finish. It can be difficult to get witness as they have to be willing to give personal information in case the IBA audits your ride. Some friends and I did a Saddle Sore 1000 back in 2004 going 1065 all the way to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I did the Bunburner (1500 miles in less than 36 hrs) in 2011. So, for 2012, the next logical progression was the Bunburner Gold 1500 miles in less than 24 hrs) this time I would go the whole distance from Alabama to Sturgis (actually Spearfish) in less than 24 hours. I went solo again because traveling this way does present an element of danger and I didn't want to worry about other riders safety. I just wanted to focus on the ride, the challenge on a personal level. On the 2011 ride , I got drowsy in the wee hours of the morning and napped on an Iowa rest area bench. I was still able to make it under the 36 hour time limit with plenty of time to spare. On the 2011 trip, I camped 2 nights in Sturgis for $15 a night. Camped one night on the way home in Iowa. I brought canned soup and a spoon, never darkened the doors of a restaurant. I spent 6 days on that trip and it cost $466! $51 dollars total lodging expense, the rest was spent on gas and bottled water. It was then that I realized if I traveled this way , I could afford to go more often. It would require incredible stamina and proficient time management skills meaning I couldn't be still long at gas stops. For every minute I am not moving it cost me a mile.
I had bought a 2008 Victory Vision in May of this year (2012). My '99 V92C , Ol' Blue, needed to be put in the shop but not before I put over 136,000 miles on it! I was planning on buying a Vision but not this soon. Ol' Blue began to make noises that indicated she needed some love from a certified Victory technician. The Vision was a trade in and a great buy. It is a travelers dream. It has greater range ( a 6 gallon tank and a true overdrive 6th gear), Cruise Control, very comfortable seat and more amenities like XM radio (option), heated grips (which I would have to use crossing Beartooth Pass in Montana , 46 degrees at its highest point), heated seat, a power adjustable windshield and a wind tunnel design that allows you more control of how the elements affect you . I love this Bike and thank God for it every day. I have named her Ruby after my grandmother. I had to buy a new tent before I left. Mine had leaked in a storm last time and it made for a long night. I had packed the bike the night before.
I got up Wednesday morning, had breakfast, My good friend Terry Kisor came by that morning on his way to work to pray with me. I really appreciated that and all the prayers for me. God is so good to take care of me like He does. After Terry left, I kissed Kay goodbye and went to Leesburg for my 1st receipt. I got the gas station attendant to fill out the witness form and I took off. I was feeling great , making great time. The roads seemed better this time but it could just be that I have a newer motorcycle with more modern suspension this time. I do not like riding through St Louis or Kansas City. There is always major congestion from a game , an overturned 18 wheeler, or something every time I travel through those cities. In Kansas City, the sky turned black. I was a little worried. A storm came up like I had never ridden through before. It rained but it wasn't heavy rain . It got very misty but it didn't feel wet. Trash was flying everywhere. The temp dropped from 98 to 68 in a 15 mile span! A 30 degree drop! I thought something bad was about to happen like a tornado but it didn't. I will have an alternate route next time. I was making pretty good time but off pace slightly. I had gotten drowsy around 11p.m. and pulled over for a nap in Iowa . Interestingly enough, at exactly the same rest stop as last year. I unpacked my pillow(left it in the plastic garbage bag) and napped on a rest area bench for 30 minutes I had 1000 miles in at 16 hours 30 minutes. I was getting tired and couldn't discern my pace correctly. I had convinced myself that I was going to fall short but continued on. As the miles passed by and I kept studying my time and distance. I discovered that ,in my weariness, I miscalculated. I could still make it. It was going to be close. I dropped the hammer! If I made it, there would literally be only minutes to spare. My route was planned for Belle Fourche , which is farther west than Sturgis, to get the needed 1500 miles. Looking at my clock, I would run out of time before I made it to the gas station in Belle Fourche to get my ending ride receipt. I made a decision to stay on I-90 , ride past Sturgis and hope the next exit was close. I needed a place to get a receipt and I needed witnesses. I twisted the throttle to 85 (the speed limit is 75). I rode through Sturgis. I kept going and 1 mile seemed like 10. I kept looking at the clock and kept an Eagle eye out for South Dakota state police who patrolled this section of I-90 heavily, especially during the rally!
There was an exit up ahead. It was Spearfish. I barreled up the exit ramp , turned left and down the overpass to a Burger King. I whipped it in the parking lot ran in and told the cashier 'quick, I need a coffee and a receipt!' She asked if I wanted cream and sugar, 'yes!' She said 'do you want me to put it in or do you' ' I was thinking just give me the receipt and keep the coffee. I said 'you do it but I need the receipt quick, I'm doing a timed race'. I thought maybe by using the word race , she would share my sense of urgency. She didn't. She printed the receipt, I looked at it'. I did it! 1503 miles in 23 hours and 56 minutes . I had only 4 minutes to spare! So, I get 2 guys eating breakfast in BK to sign my witness form then I go out to the bike , whip out a celebratory can of soup and have breakfast myself. I was hungry.
There isn't time to eat much on the gold version of the ride. After eating , I called Kay and let her know that , by the grace of God, I made it. I then went to Belle Fourche and set up camp. There were two other Vision owners in the campground. One was a 71 year old man named Guy and the other David from Oklahoma City. I saw a lot more Victorys than ever. Especially the new Cross Country Tour. The Victory owners ride and luncheon was later that day. It is very cool. The vice president of Victory along with some celebrity figures always gives a pep talk. Victory sales numbers are industry leading again this year. The Ness family was present. The Gunny was there too. He promotes Victory Motorcycles. Great guy. The ride is beautiful and ends at the Buffalo Chip Campground where they feed you and give away free stuff like victory jackets, t-shirts, bandanas, a guitar, and a custom Victory motorcycle. The Victory crowd was bigger than ever. After the ride I went back to my tent , called Kay and went to sleep. I hadn't slept in about 36 hours.
I got up the next morning and partook of the free campground coffee. I checked on showers and there was a line so I got my cleaner and started to knock off the first 1600 miles of bug guts. The nose of the bike looked like I had ridden through a frontal assault in a yellow paintball firefight.
Polaris, who backs Victory, had recently acquired Indian Motorcycles so both Victory and Indian had big displays in downtown Sturgis. Mike Wolfe from American Pickers is a big Indian fan and as such , would be present at the Indian display Friday to meet and greet . I had planned to go and meet Mr. Wolfe but a couple of weeks before this trip I had been talking with my boss about some sightseeing he did out west . It got me really fired up and I began to research some of the areas he spoke of to see if it was logistically possible to do my own West route home and see some of these beautiful places. I had all but put it out of my head. Then, after cleaning my bike and myself, I started looking at my Atlas. It was decision time. If I chose to wade through a sea of Sturgis biker traffic to meet Mike Wolfe , I would have to sacrifice the wild west loop home. It would be too late in the day and I would need every bit of the time I had left to cover that much ground and be home in time to go to work Monday.
"The West or the Wolfe," This is a tale of how the West won! I very hurriedly began to take down the tent, got it all packed on the Vision, picked a road, hwy 212 , on the Atlas that would traverse the entire breadth of Montana, a state I had never seen. Needless to say I was stoked! I was doing something truly spontaneous and free! Montana was beautifully vast. I saw a lot of land that had been burned up in the wild fires. One of my road breaks was at the Battle of Little Big Horn. I did't have time to take the full tour but just being there was something. There is something about being somewhere of historical significance, a place worthy of it's on pages in an American History book that is special. It was around this timeline during the journey that my debit card had begun to be declined at gas stations. It was a little unsettling. I knew that the tracking of unusual activity by my credit union had lead to them freezing it. They had considered the card stolen . A card normally used in and around Alabama now being used all over the Northwest , Identity theft was a reasonable assumption. It was bitter/sweet. I appreciate this protection but I was also concerned about being stuck out in the middle of nowhere. I had forgotten to call beforehand and tell them of my travel plans and I had forgotten to get some cash. I saddled up and kept moving , using a different card. Kay got it straightened out for me . It wasn't easy . She made several calls to our bank and Visa on a Saturday and even had to drive to a not so local branch. You can imagine the difficulty of trying to get a live person on the other end of the phone any day but especially on a Saturday. Thank you again Kay for keeping me going from base camp
By days' end , I had reached the jaws of this amazing mountain pass . It was about an hour before dark. I came to a sign that said Beartooth Pass! What a treat! I had heard a lot about Beartooth Pass from being a member of motorcycle riding forums. Just the very beginning was so beautiful that as I got deeper in I started worrying that it would get dark before I made it through and this was a place that I really wanted to see. So, I turned around and went back out to Red Lodge , the town just before Beartooth Pass. I started looking for camping. Every motel was 'No Vacancy'. I found a KOA campground . It was perfect. A guy riding a Harley was registering in front of me. While I was waiting to check in , this young oriental tourist came to the desk and asked about bear repellant. I could tell by his tone and mannerisms , he was terrified. The lady behind the desk told him they didn't have any and tried for several minutes to assure him that he didn't need it. She told him not to concern himself with bears , that if they come to the campground, they just dig around in the garbage. That did not comfort him at all! He kept asking if he could get the repellant other places. After he left, I had told the lady behind the desk and the biker how I had almost driven on through Beartooth and how that it was a blessing finding this place before dark. They both gave me very serious warnings about riding this area at night. They made me believe that I would almost certainly hit something bigger than I (my 849lb Vision) was. This would be a recurring theme on this trip. There were always signs warning of 'Open Range, Loose Stock'. Signs with pictures of bears, elk, deer, horses with riders, horses without riders. Yes, I saw wild horses for the first time ever ! (They were in Utah. Also in Utah, I was sitting on a curb at an intersection taking a break , eating my ration of soup, and a deer casually walked right across the intersection and beside me in broad daylight!) So, after registering in Red Lodge, the biker asked me if I had a pump for his air mattress. I did and I shared it with him . He had dropped his earlier in the week and broken it. I set up camp and he returned the favor and shared the pizza he had strapped to the backseat of his bike he had bought in town. His name was Kim. He was from Oregon. We didn't get to talk much as it had begun to rain so I thanked him for the pizza and we both got in our respective tents. I had packed a tarp and draped it half over my tent and half over my bike so I had a front porch lean to. Lord willing , I hope to buy a camper trailer to pull with the Vision next year. It is called a timeout camper, really nice.
So, I get up the next morning , showered, had coffee , soup and it started to rain again so I got back in my tent and waited it out. 30 minutes later, it stopped and when I exited my tent , I noticed that my other neighbor was on a Vision too. I struck up a conversation with him and he told me about Chief Joseph highway to Cody Wyoming. It sounded great. I packed up camp and took off for Beartooth. It was about 58 that morning at camp. At the coldest , highest point of Beartooth, my ambient temp reading was 46! I would experience temps from 105 in Moab, Utah to 46 here. I was very close to being underdressed for that temp. I didn't realize I would be going through Beartooth on my way to Yelowstone. My Atlas was old. Time for a new Atlas. I turned all the Vision air deflectors out, turned the heated grips on and stayed relatively warm. The vistas were incredible! I just couldn't believe that I was there and seeing all this. God's creation is so beautiful! I can already tell, as I attempt to put my trip to paper, I am going to overuse the words; incredible, beautiful, amazing, etc. I can't find words powerful enough to convey all I saw on this trip. The mountains were so majestic, at their highest points, Ice capped. I would find myself stopping and looking in awe, in total silence, in reverence. At those moments , my mind was purged of all worries and all fears and I was just there, in the middle of creation, praising God for showing me this. The air was so crisp, I found myself just huffing the whole time. I would breathe so deep just to fill my lungs with that air over and over. It may be the cleanest air I would ever breathe and that's saying a lot because I live in rural Alabama. I just couldn't get enough of it.
After Beartooth, I took the suggested scenic road , Chief Joseph Highway . I just couldn't believe what I was seeing! I felt like I was riding through a Clint Eastwood western at times . Other times I felt like I was riding on Mars (Arches National Park, Monument Valley)! The cross wind was relentless that day. I had to lean my bike over into the wind just to track straight down the road. I didn't really pay it much mind though. I was too excited by what I was experiencing in these surroundings to care about the wind. I rode through incredible canyons and spectacular vistas of red earth before arriving at Flaming Gorge, Utah and found camp there. There were Jack Rabbits there that looked like medium sized dogs. I set up camp, called the wife, and went to bed . I ate sardines and crackers. I had become so aware of wildlife that I was afraid I would spill a drop of juice that the sardines were packed in and attract bears! LOL. You know how aromatic dead fish is. Needless to say, I ate very carefully and walked my supper garbage to the dumpster several yards away from my tent. Tomorrow ,Sunday, would be a big day(s).
I got up and heated up water for coffee and oatmeal. I had gotten so caught up in my journey that I hadn't put much thought into the time I had to get home and the time I would need to get home. It was around this time that I was beginning to realize that I was not going to make it in time to go to work Monday. I only had 2 vacation days left and they were spoken for. Kay and I had planned our annual Biketoberfest trip to Daytona Beach. I didn't shower that morning. I just wet wiped critical areas because I had acquired a mild sense of urgency. I resigned to the fact that I would have to burn Monday as an unexpected vacation day and I would work Tuesday. So, I had to make it to Flagstaff before dark to get on I-40. I thought if I could ride the rest of Utah and Arizona as far as Flagstaff, It would be safer at night on I-40 with no open range to worry about. Still, there were Elk/deer warning signs all along the way. It was beginning to sink in just how far away from home I was. I wasn't going to be anywhere near home and was afraid I would have to use my last vacation day to cover my discrepancy. I pulled it up on my phone at a gas stop and knew I would have to ride nonstop to get there for work Tuesday. I drove all night through Arizona and most of New Mexico stopping only for gas and after sunrise, a photo op on Route 66.
I started looking for the huge cross. I knew it would be coming up soon. It's in Groom , Texas. There wasn't much else at this exit but the cross , a church and the sculptures of Jesus encompassing the cross. There was a plaque that contained scripture and a description of what was happening to Jesus from the sentencing from Pilot to the empty tomb. I would just go to each statue and look in Jesus eyes, I was standing face to face with the Son of God and He was carrying my cross. His body was stooped over from the fatigue of the beatings and weight of the cross. The artist captured the pain in His face like nothing I had ever seen. The weight of physically seeing Jesus go to the cross for me was gut wrenching. I couldn't speak and I could barely breath. I cried all the way back to the bike and a few miles down the road. I spent a lot of miles on this trip praying and thanking God for showing me just a small snapshot of His creation. I witnessed to two native Americans at a gas station in New Mexico. They wanted money. I gave them some but not until I talked with them for a minute about the Lord. They were a captive audience because they wanted the money . I also gave them tracts and a Gideon Bible compliments of my friend ,Terry Kisor. The one who received the Bible, sat down and began to read it immediately. Whether he was putting on a show for me , I don't know. At least he has a Bible. Maybe he will read it. I had to cover some ground now. There were no more attractions between here and home. I barreled through the rest of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas before it got dark. Got through Mississippi. I could see Lightening in the distance going through Olive Branch, MS.
Finally , I was in Alabama! It started to rain . I covered 16 states and where did I get the most wet, Bama! It would continued to rain steadily on me ALL the way home. I got drowsy on 278 and had to pull off at an abandoned gas station under a canopy and lay my head on the gas tank for just a few minutes . The rain was making it hard to see. I saw as many dear just across the Bama line as I did the whole trip. I finally pulled into the house at 3 a.m. Tuesday morning. I had ridden from Sunday morning in Flaming Gorge, Utah to Tuesday morning Sand Rock, AL, non- stop. I still had the same clothes on from Sunday. I had been smelling like a homeless person (and beginning to look like one) for a couple of days! I peeled my soaked clothes off, got in the shower. I texted my boss and told him I would be in at 6, laid down for 45 minutes, drug my dead, unshaven self out of bed and rode my bike to work.
I was still high from my trip and talked about all day to any who asked and anyone that would listen. As soon as I got off work, I rode home and took a nap on the couch. It would take me a week to get caught up on my sleep. Praise God , I had successfully completed my Bunburner Gold ride . I had seen so much and still bypassed so much. God kept me safe, kept me alert. God is so good.
A couple of weeks have passed and I finally did the math on the last leg. It turns out that I rode 2,245.37 miles in 42 hours non-stop! Those numbers qualified me for another Ironbutt ride , the Saddlesore 2000 (SS2000) which requires one to ride at least 2000 miles in less than 48 hours. The only problem is I didn't get beginning witnesses . No problem, I plan to do a ironbutt ride called 48 in 10 one day. It's where a rider must touch all 48 states in less than 10 days. It would be somewhere in the ballpark of 8500 miles . You can have smaller qualifying rides inside of bigger ones so I would do the SS2000 inside of the 48 in 10. Some people may look at the way I traveled and may want to feel pity for me. Please understand, This was the greatest trip of my life! I LOVED this trip!!!!! I love the challenge of roughing it. I love the element of discovery. I loved waking up every morning and realizing it wasn't a dream , it was real! I love that I could do this in a way that would minimize the burden on our finances which made it somewhat guilt free. Actually doing it the way I did made it possible. It was a special time of worship and praise and thanksgiving. While riding this incredible journey , I sang, laughed, cried, and raised my hand (only one). I am forever changed and can't wait to take Kay on a trip like this.
- Jim Tom Stimpson