Last week I toyed with the notion of doing a SaddleSore., a sort of baby Iron Butt Rally Association ride of at least 1000 miles in less than 24 hours. I needed something to restore my confidence after receiving some medical news that I prefer not to detail here. I felt myself allowing it to constrain me and detract from doing the things I want to do. Seriously long distance riding, starting with a SaddleSore has been on my mind from the beginning of my re-entry to motorcycle riding.
Each day, for the past week I watched the weather in IL, IA and NE as these were the states I'd travel through. Things were looking good for a straight west trip to Lincoln, NE, about 522 miles west. I thought of a hundred reasons not to do the ride and none of the excuses made sense. Then on Thursday I saw the moto-documentary Long Way Down, the second adventure ride of Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. This time they were riding from Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa. I left that movie feeling inspired.
On Friday, the weekend weather report looked great—I had run out of excuses and if nothing else, it would get me out of the house dwelling on my dis-ease. Sometimes I use childbirth as my litmus test on the relative difficulty of something. If it's harder than that, I take pause before acting. If it isn't, I am not intimidated in the least by the challenge. Surely doing 1000 miles in less than 24 hours can't be more difficult than pushing out from your uterus what feels like a bowling ball for 14 hours, some of which is gut wrenching pushing.
By Friday night I had decided to take on this personal challenge. First, I retrieved my owner's manual and read about the oils and things I needed to check on the bike before leaving. On Tuesday, I had had a Throttlemeister installed on the bike just in case my right wrist bothered me on future long rides. On the SaddleSore, it never did and I never had reason to use it. When I shattered my wrist five years ago, according to the doctors it will “always” be weaker than it was before. Five years later, the injured wrist (non-motorcycle related injury), is fine and extremely strong thanks to many wrist curls and hand exercises. The bike checked out. Now the excuses were completely gone.
Second, I printed out the forms I would need to document my start and finish time. I was in my Chicago apartment, so I could use the concierge as my start and finish witness. Then, I packed my goodies: Odwalla bars, water and GORP. I've thought of this ride for a couple of years. So preparing myself to leave didn't take long. Stupid things took me a long time, like which jacket and pants to wear. For someone who doesn't like shopping or spending money on clothes, I must say, I have a pretty nice motorcycle wardrobe! Mesh or textile? Rain gear or textile with rain proof material? Color to match the bike, or colors for maximum visibility? One thing I know is that what bothers you a little at the start of a long ride, will make you insane after 400 miles. The pants I wanted to wear have a little scratchy part at the knee where the knee pad inserts into the pants. The Velcro's edge is scratchy there. They don't bother me on errands but after a 1000 miles, I'd be nuts. After way too long trying on tops and bottoms, I decided on mesh and textile pants and my FirstGear short jacket that is proven water proof. I then gathered up several very important pieces: the BMW Anonymous book, listing all those who have graciously given their numbers should a fellow rider need assistance and the towing service number, which I didn't feel I'd need but it reminded me of an Arab saying, “Trust in God, but tie your camel to the fence”--or something like that.
By 11:00 p.m., the bike was inspected and packed, forms printed and my witness selected. If I waited longer than 9 a.m. to leave, this would be a difficult journey for me. As an early riser, a 4:30a.m. departure sounded great. I wanted the bulk of the riding to be done in the daylight and the dark times to be done on familiar ground. I woke up at 3a.m. ready to leave. It was pitch black out and I felt I needed to wait a bit before leaving. By 4, I couldn't contain my readiness any longer. I reviewed my goals: stop every 90 minutes. Never go over 120 minutes without stopping. At each stop of 10-15 minutes in length, walk around, drink and drink some more and munch on something healthy (although I did stop for a 30 minute lunch/rest where I consumed french fries and a milkshake). This was the only “long” stop I would allow myself. Any stop longer should be explained and documented.
The IBR folks don't seem as strict on the SaddleSore in terms of the documentation they require. The most important items are some sort of electronic/paper of your official start time (and finish) and a witness. My witness was curious about the ride, which I had explained to him long ago. I made sure we talked this time BEFORE he signed his name and noted the time. I ended up not leaving until 5:01a.m. First requirement: get a gas receipt with the time and location stamped on it. I also stopped at a nearby ATM machine for money and for a second, optional “start” paper documentation.
My beginning route was going to be a little unorthodox as I planned to ride out of my way to avoid I-88 to reach I-80. Leaving downtown Chicago I took the free and longer route to avoid the tollway. I detest paying tolls and avoid them when I can. I would add about 40ish total miles to the trip by taking the long way: Lake Shore Drive to I-94 to I-57 south to I-80 west. I travel these roads frequently and it was nice to be on familiar ground for the start of my journey.
The morning weather was surprisingly cool but promised to warm up with the hottest weather in Nebraska. Within the first 20 miles I began to doubt that I'd selected the best clothes. I was cold and aware of the wind on my neck. A brief insignificant drizzle started. I turned on the heated grips and hugged the tank of the bike and felt a little of its warmth.
Leaving early always means having the roads almost to yourself. It also means that deer might be out searching for breakfast. Early on, I embraced the practice of scanning with full head turns to each shoulder. It's a great exercise to keep the neck flexible and a great way to be watchful or critters. To those around me I must look like I have some sort of Tourette's tick. Oh well...
One has considerable time to think of everything when on a long ride. Once I settled in, I started thinking about the ride and what was before me. I thought, this time tomorrow, I will be done and can think of myself as a successful long distance (LD) rider. With many long trips under my belt, I wanted this designation, that of being able to go safely for many miles. Any frequent reader of this blog knows that I love and admire Ardys Kellerman, a great- grandmother who has been a LD rider long before she was a great grandmother. A couple of years ago, she won BMW's distance award for amassing over 70,000 miles in one year!! She has completed more of the mother of all IBR rides--the 11,000 miles in 11 days--than most (at least four). Her last one occurred when she was in her seventies! I thought, surely, you can handle 1000 miles in 24 hours. I accept the IRB's definition of safety, that is, a time that has nothing to do with speed, a ride that is managed safely to the very end. I told very few people about my attempt. I wanted the freedom to try it and end it on my terms. But I know me well. If I announce that I'm going to do it. I will die trying. That's a residual of the old competitive part of me that I have long since buried but it only takes a little external pressure to unearth it. I promised myself that if at any point of the ride, I had had enough, I would suspend the ride and try another time. With that mindset, I felt absolutely no pressure.
One of the reasons I selected the Chicago to Nebraska route had to do with the sun. This would allow me to have the sun rising at my back (cutting out glare) and the sun setting at my back as I headed home east along I-80. This was a smart decision, if I say so myself. I was thinking of something else when I caught a glimpse of something bright, red and purple and entirely brilliant in my mirrors. Ordinarily when I see the sun rise or set, I am looking at it—face-to-face. Looking at it from behind me in the mirrors created an new sensory experience. I couldn't help staring at it. Thank goodness the road was devoid of traffic! I think it ignited the Star Wars theme in my head too. It was beautiful and made me feel as if I had just received a special gift to launch my ride.
Once the sun came up, the day warmed, I forgot about being cold. Other than farms, silos and more farms, there's not much to see along I-80. I enjoyed it nonetheless. The bike just hummed, like it was finally in its element, finally allowed to blow its nose. The speed limit ranges from 55 to 70 along I-80. I stayed within 10 of the limit but there were a few times when Jesse hit 90. I was forced to do this to pass the plethora of trucks that dominate this road to haul stuff across the nation. Truck were ubiquitous and sometime they looked to be all traveling together, in closely knit packs. At times I took it personally that they seemed to delight in boxing me in. I always steer clear of trucks. I make sure I can see them in their side mirror but I don't always think that works. One time I had my eyes on a trucker, I could see him in his mirror. I saw him look in that mirror and he still came over into my lane. I was just in the process of passing him. I swear that move seemed deliberate to me. I backed off with ample space to let him have that left lane. That was the closest call I had and it really wasn't that close as he had plenty of room to make this abrupt lane switch.
My first stop hardly seemed necessary as I was feeling great, but I stuck to the plan. I drank some apple juice, stretched my legs, munched half an Odwalla bar and hopped back on the bike. Took about 10 minutes—the program was working.
By the time I reached Davenport, I was determined to do another trip to this area. I've ridden here before but I've never given the Great River Road a try. I made a mental note to upgrade it to my short list. On the Great River Road trip, I would travel west to Dubuque, IA and follow the river south.
I stopped at the visitors center in Le Claire, IA. It was a neat little place but I spent about 20 minutes there—too much time! Stops at such places would eventually eat up more than an hour total, It took me three such stop before finally realizing I couldn't afford this time. It dawned on me: this is not one of my tours. Get busy riding!
As motorcyclists know, riding ignites all the senses. I wore ear plugs that didn't block all the sounds around me. I could hear the trucks bellow and boats blast their horn as they moved down the Mississippi. Iowa's farms ranged from deep verdant to pale greens. So many times I wanted to stop to snap a picture of an interesting silo or a decrepit old barn. And smells, oh the smells. On a bike you just can't get away from being reminded of living and dead things. At one point, I wondered why women couldn't have the skunk's ability to emit a really noxious odor when they feel threatened. Wouldn't that be amazing?! Women would never need to worry about being out and about alone. I imagined someone getting fresh with a woman, and she gets really funky--literally-- with them. And the scent would stay on the guy (it's usually a guy) for a week. Everyone would know that he had recently, seriously crossed the line with a woman. No matter what he did, it would last seven days. The world would either reek or men who bother women would get a clue.
To create the least amount of wear on my aging form, I decided to monitor my body during the ride and at every stop. Major goals for the ride: safety and fun. Riding is also a focusing experience. With this ride, I had ample time to focus on the road and my body. Even with all the focusing required to ride safely, once my head is in it, I can relax and enjoy the pleasure riding creates. It was amazing how many problems I solved along the way. By the time I had reached Davenport, IA, I had solved the nation's economic woes; figured out my motorcycle route to Nova Scotia; started two new businesses; and decided how I'd spend my money should reparations ever become a reality.
When I saw signs to Iowa City I resisted the urge to stop. It is a place I like to visit. Park of the campus suffered serious water damage during the spring floods and I wanted to ride around the downtown and along the main streets and hope for no visible evidence of the damage. After my Visitor's Center stop in Le Claire, I made a stop 128 miles later in Grinnell. I once had a job offer from Grinnell College, a strong liberal arts college where the center of social life outside of campus—at that time—was the new Wal-Mart. At the rest stop in Grinnell, Jesse (the bike) attracted a lot of male attention, from an 8 years old to some great-grand Dads. When people admire the bike, I must remember to just say, “Thank you.” Instead, I too often say, “Yes, it is beautiful, isn't.” I can't help myself.
In route to Des Moines, I couldn't help notice all the towns that began with the letter “A” and wondered: coincidence or deliberate? I later checked the map and yes, there were a lot of “A” towns bunched nearby: Adel, Anita, Atlantic, Avoca and Audobon. I made a mental not to do some research on these places. Des Moines came and went quickly. It was Council Bluffs that I had my mind set to. I started playing with the name. Councils Bluff, Council Bluff, Councils Bluff and Councils Bluffs. In any case, Council Bluffs is a stone's throw—approximately 5 miles—from entering Nebraska. By this time, I had already been on the road well over six hours. This was all feeling too easy.
A key stop for me before leaving IA was the small town, Walnut, IA. I have no special reason for selecting that place, it was simply time for me to stop. A huge BP gas sign loomed in the air and next to it is a McDonald's. As I pulled in I saw at least a hundred motorcycles. All cruisers with a bunch of riders in similar uniforms, if you get my drift. I looked for one, just one non-cruiser motorcycle and the only I spotted was the iron horse I rode in on. The lot is massive. I see a parking spot near by on the edge of the other bikes. I don't want to invade their space. When I pull in it was like watching dominos fall. Heads all turned toward me. When I remove my helmet, I suspect more heads will turn. This sort of thing can make me nervous. It always leaves me with more respect for zoo animals. This is also when I try my hardest not to make one single mistake because I know I am being watched and any mistake is likely to be attributed to either my gender, race or both. I pull in safely, find that dang side stand in one reach (its location is tricky!).
The McDonald's was replete with tourists and bikers. When I entered, I felt like a tourist attraction. For many reasons I stuck out. I guess people just don't get out much. I tried to make eye contact with a some of the motorcyclists nearby but they seemed embarrassed and would turn away-they had eyes only for each other, I guess. I ordered my french fries and milkshake and settled for a back table and ate surrounded by doo-rags wearing riders who stole glances at me every now and again. When I'd see them out of my peripheral vision, I'd look around and their heads would snap in the other direction—that part was fun. As I was leaving, a man and his SO were eating at a table facing me. When I passed he said, “So is that white motorcycle out there yours?” He was motioning to a bike. He had to be kidding, I thought. That thing looked like a truck on wheel! It was a massive cruiser with a more massive fairing,, with streamers and chrome and baubles and bangles. I politely said, “No” and left it at that. I wanted to school him on how my dress clashed with that bike but decided against it as the owner just might be at one of the nearby tables. Then the man says, “I was just kidding, I saw your keys so I figured you ride a BMW.” Now, I liked him and wished I'd had time to chat. I talked briefly about the bike, the color and my love for it and left the restaurant a positive note.
When I aimed toward the bike, it looked like another hundred riders had pulled in. Still not a single sport bike among them! The lot was filled, eating tents were assembled along the grassy periphery. More domino reactions as I walked to the bike. I admit to being nervous. I had to not only back out the bike, I had to maneuver around some closely parked HDs. I envisioned them killing me if I touched one. I also had to either paddle the bike around or make a U-turn. I yelled silently at myself for parking this way! This was my one long stop. I had to eat and be out within 30 minutes or I'd have to document this stop. Still I took my time preparing to leave. I was hoping they'd get bored blatantly staring in my direction. Stall tactics: I checked stuff and opened my bags enough to hush my nerves. It could be that folks were just admiring the bike, but it felt way deeper than that. My built-in antenna picks up on these things. The bike fired up and its throaty sound turned the remaining heads in my direction. I peddled the bike back and carefully around the glistening—no, the blinding—chrome bikes.
Next the u-turn. Remember, turn your head and use the back break. Ok...but there was a fancy luxury car near the curve of the outer curve of the U. Briefly, I thought of hitting that car and falling and having all those people staring at the dumb, no-riding black city woman. I definitely have issues! Literally, I shook myself of this foolishness. I execute U-turns all the time. With the weight of Black America resting on my shoulders, with every woman who rides a motorcycle donning full gear and a non-cruiser, with every solo riders sitting perched on my back, I revved my engine, made my U-turn and smiled at the Lexus sitting on the outside curve as I passed it. And, I must say, I did a nice lean during the U-turn and the head turn would make my instructors at Ride Chicago proud. I did a primal scream in my helmet as I left the BP/McDonald's lot. It's not easy being a minority!When I saw the big sign for Nebraska I did a hoot and holler in my helmet. I felt downright gleeful! From Walnut, IA to Lincoln is approximately 105 miles. I made my last stop to a Visitor's Center at 1212 Bob Gibson Blvd., where I talked to the clerk and hung around too long collecting travel brochures. I reached Waverly, the outer edge of Lincoln in no time. The odometer showed roughly 550 miles. The only significant traffic I'd seen so far was in Omaha through Lincoln. None of it compares to Chicago traffic, however. I had reached the half way point feeling absolutely pumped and I just couldn't image the turn around to feel any differently. I found a gas station (the return gas receipt is important) and filled up. I inspected it and it wasn't obvious that there was a time stamp among the numbers on it. I asked the clerk to note the time and initial it. He did and figured out I was in some sort of “ride competition.”
Approximately 2 hours later, I was back at the same BP/McDonald's stop. Believe me, had I bombed that U-turn, I would not stop there! It must be a popular meeting place for 'cyclists because the group of riders had grew larger with bikers constantly flowing in and out. This time I parked behind the McDonald's, where the big campers parked—far away from the bikers. I didn't go inside the restaurant; instead, I drank water, stretched, snapped a picture of some old farm equipment and left. It was 4pm when I left Lincoln. I felt late, two hours behind my estimate to be exact. All that stopping at visitor's center had eaten up nearly two hours! Still, there was plenty of daylight left to do some serious riding.
I continued to ride and stop every 90-120 minutes. One thing I noticed and it sort of warmed my heart was the huge numbers of motorcyclists who waved across the highway. I'm talking from way across I-80! At first it caught me off guard and I didn't think they were waving to me. When I got it, I was impressed that so many were so faithful to the wave. I tried to wave back to many of them but I'm afraid I missed most. I just wasn't focused on what was transpiring on the other side of the highway. I would often just forget until I'd catch someone's arm swing out as they zipped by. “Dang, missed another on...” I sure hope they understand and all is forgiven. I like to wave!
Around the 650ish mile point, I checked all body parts. Nothing seemed bothersome. My butt must be made of iron because the stock seat was treating me kindly. I had a Throttlemeister (TM) installed the previous Tuesday and so far felt no need to use it. I wanted to note the point at which my right wrist might need some relief. It's a damaged wrist that has a 6 inch titanium implant holding it together. I've been told to expect all kinds of “issues” with it but five years later, it has not been a bother. Of course, I do lots of wrist curls and ball squeezes with it. The injury, btw, is non-motorcycle related. Still, I'm glad I have the TM on the bike just in case.
Again, not much scenic along I-80. I made my stops and each one was strictly 10 minutes or less. I experienced no leg cramping (something I've been bothered by before). I continued to feel alert, sharp and eager. As the sun began to set, and the sky darkened I realized that I'd do at least five hours in darkness. The setting of the sun occupied my mind until it was entirely tucked away. The colors in my mirror were deep red, purple with splashes of orange, yellow and gold. Watching the sun rise and sun set in my mirrors--definitely among the highlights of this adventure. After the sun disappeared, I felt like I had witnessed something rare when the only rare part was that I was seeing the transformation from a different perspective. Challenges to one's perspective is good thing to experience and even deliberately create now and again.
At 800ish miles it had already been dark for a while and although I wasn't fatigued by any measure, I was feeling the need for some greater mental stimulation. The roads were sane and manageable and the billboards held little interest. I did see two places that excited me. One was Cabela's an outdoor, sport equipment place I saw back in NE. My friend, Brent Miller, of Sojourn Chronicles, ordered a bag from there, told me about it and I ordered one too. I wished I'd had time to stop, the place looked massive. Then I saw PayPal. I have an account but I've often imagined them as some small operation in some secluded place with no real address. Well, they have a an impressive building and look seriously legit—at least from the outside.
Around 900 or so miles, I felt the need to listen to music. At my next stop I hooked up my ipod and put it on shuffle. I have nearly 600 song, poems and speeches in there and felt that it would entertain me the rest of the way. Upon reaching Davenport I had what could only be described as a spiritual experience. Although I was far from the end, I had only 175 miles before reaching home. This was also the most challenging part of the ride.
At night, things look differently than they do at any other time. Every risks is heightened. Moto Lights are my next purchase for Jesse. Both me and the bike are highly visible at night (I'm told) but I can do more and will. Some trucks literally glow at night, no only is their size phenomenal, their lights impressed me. Trucks at night posed a particular concerned. I felt downright miniscule next to them but I didn't feel that way during the day. I hope they weren't offended but I used my bright lights to get by and away from them. Their presence at night seemed more threatening than it did during the day. Then there was the strange mental challenges. When there were no vehicles behind me, looking into the mirror and seeing nothing but blackness has never bothered me. But with less than 200 miles to go I think I was beginning to imagine things and some of it could have spooked me if I allowed it. Like the white lines, they looked to be moving sideways and some of the large bushes along the road appeared to be buffalo waiting to leap in front of me. These things felt like I was loosing focus. It didn't last long but still it was weird.
Thanks to Aretha Franklin, Eva Cassidy and Jackson Browne, I got me through. I sang badly with them. For most of the day, I had seen, perhaps two police cars but their presence was ample Saturday night. I stayed around 5 -10 miles above the limit and over that only to get away from trucks—a difficult thing to do as they seem to own I-80.
The sign welcoming me to Illinois never looked so inviting! I still had many miles to go before reaching home, but these are roads that I travel frequently. I know the turns and lane shifts and the rest stops and I used it all to my advantage. I was still feeling fine but definitely bored. Still, I was almost home.
My Garmin Zumo GPS estimated my arrival time as 1:29 a.m. Before pulling into the garage, I would stop at my final gas station on 12th and Roosevelt Road.
When I reached I-57 I got emotional. I can get like that over the smallest things. But to me this was big. I've been told to consider giving up motorcycling by doctors who don't mind speaking from a point of ignorance. They would never tell someone to stop riding in cars. I've sold my car; this bike is my sole—and preferred mode transportation and I'm not giving it up. Psychologically, riding has made me feel better than the narcotics these drug pushers have prescribed for chronic spine pain (to be honest, I did ask for something to ease the pain...STILL). I have a bone disease, which I now know can, in some cases, be improved, maybe even reversed—supposedly not in my case. To me, however, I'm the case in which it will be reversed! And, the first thing for me to do is NOT to automatically and blindly follow the advice of physicians. I need and want someone who will work with me and understand my wishes and not feel threatened when I question every single procedure or demand absolute involvement in my own treatment. Ok, that's way TMI. But you know, this ride taught me a few things about myself that I needed to experience again. It's not like I don't know these things about me. Sometimes I just need to remember who I am, to pause and exhale.
As I left Lake Shore Drive toward the gas station, the bike felt wobbly. Really wobbly. I even thought I'd lost the rear breaks? Breaking was soft and weak. I was momentarily freaked. When I got to the gas station, I checked the bike. Everything seemed fine. I was less than a mile from home. I then remembered Ewan McGregor's admonition in Long Way Down, that the final leg, those last few miles of a journey are the “most dangerous” because you know you're home, you let your guard down and you are likely to have an accident. What I was feeling about the bike was really about me. I was clearly letting my focus and fortitude wane. I was home. I was tired. I filled up the bike and the machine said to get a receipt from inside. Only the station wasn't admitting people inside. The guy at the window said he couldn't give me a receipt because their “system” was “down.”
I was no longer tired. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck salute. I said, “Look, just write it out.” He said, “I can't, I don't have anything to write it with.” I moved closer to the window. “You don't have a piece of paper and a pen to write with?” He said, “No.” I narrowed my eyes. “Look, I need a receipt for money I just spent—it is the law, you know.” He seemed befuddled. I imagined the headline, “Successful SaddleSore Rider Breaks into Gas Station and kills clerk.”
“I'll get you some paper but you need to write a receipt for the gas I just bought!” He started searching and came up with a scrap of paper and wrote the amount. He handed it underneath the window through a metal slot. I looked at it and put it back. “You need to write the time on it.” He looked more befuddled. I've been to this gas station before and it is always a dramatic or traumatic experience, which is why I never use. I made a mental note to write to the manager. Their machine are always out of paper! So paying at the pump is a joke! What is the freaking point if you still have to go inside. Once when I asked an inside female clerk this very question, but the way she looked at me told me that I didn't want to hear her answer. It was something like, “If it's broke, it's broke, I'll report it to the manager NEXT! She could have taught the Seinfeld character, the Soup Nazi a thing or two about customer service. I left the station quick, fast and in a hurry—as we say on the south side of Chicago. On this early Sunday morning, I left the gas station feeling I'd made myself clear.When I mounted the bike, this time I paid extra attention to everything I did. The bike still felt strange but I knew it was me. When I pulled up, to the building, my witness was at his station. He looked out, saw me, smiled broadly and waved. He's a nice man and I made a mental note to get him a nice gift. When I entered the building, he congratulated me and said, “Well done, you've returned.” I gave him the sheet and he filled out the end report. It was exactly 1:42 a.m. A few hours later than I estimated but who cares?! It was under 24 hours. And, I had a lot of fun spending the day with Jesse. Just like that, I became energized. When I walked into the apartment, I couldn't stop smiling. And, I didn't settle down to go to sleep until a wee bit after 4a.m. When I opened my eyes again, it was 8a.m. and I asked myself, “Did you really do a SaddleSore or was that a dream?” But when I got out of bed, I felt, for the first time, evidence of my ride in my stinging butt—so much for being made of Iron. Still, it felt rather good.
Ride total: 1,076.5 miles