Friday, Sept. 4 was a day at work I'd rather mention than give power to by talking about it. I will say that it left me needing something to do to obliterate the evil thoughts I had--some of which had I acted upon could land me in prison. Alas, nothing de-stresses me like a long ride.
So, at the last minute, with little planning, I decided to go "West young (wo)man!" My earlier plans to do a quick Saddle Sore (SS) that would coincide with the WIMA (Women's International Motorcycling Association) and AMA Women's Conference in Keystone, CO. I had a conference participant all lined up to sign my finish form (thanks, Marsha) but that didn't happen as I was needed at home during that time. As a backup, I had contacted a forum member who lived in CO, near Denver in the event I later rode in that direction. But until Friday, things looked dim for a westward journey to stretch my ride muscles, which had suffered three consecutive long trips. Then came the agony of Friday.
While trying my best to scrub off Friday, the thought of riding farther west than I've ever traveled before on two wheels popped into my mind again. A quick check of Google maps and I was determined to go. I had enough time to figure out an easy route and pack. But I did pause long enough to ask myself "How can I make this trek different from the first SS, which I think was a good first Iron Butt ride but most things can be improved upon. I recall in SS#1, I felt tired--in a spirited way and a bit wobbly when I dismounted the bike at the end; I recall too a tightness between my shoulders. This SS would be driven by the question, "How can I complete this 1000 miles plus adventure feeling as if I could ride another 500 miles after a 5 hour break?" The answer would tell me if I were prepared for the coveted Bun Burner.
Here are my little secrets that I feel helped make SS#2 an easier undertaking than the first SS.
Food--ya gotta eat!
Before retiring for the evening, I packed my food. On the first attempt I only packed a few snacks, thinking that stopping for food would be a good excuse to relax and get off the bike. But buying food is not only a time robber, it is expensive and the choices typically are dismal--unless you're a junk foodie, which I'm not.
I packed oranges, bananas, GORP (granola, oats, raisins and peanuts), cheese 'n crackers, water, Kashi and Odwalla bars. Keeping the blood sugar level normal is critical. A drop for me can mean light-headedness and foggy thinking. By the time I feel it, it's too late. And it difficult to recuperate from quickly. Thus, it's best to never let it drop below normal. On the other hand, one doesn't want to load up with sugars either; extreme highs or lows can wreck havoc (no pun intended). This brings me to drinking.
I usually prefer water to stay hydrated. Especially, in hot weather. But water is only one part of keeping hydrated. In hot weather, it is definitely important to have drinks that offer a bit more. But beware of those sugary drinks--some of them are loaded with both simple and complex sugars. I prefer good old, no sugar added OJ, grape or apple juice. I also recommend taking two water bottles to dilute even these juices if you've been drinking them all day. This may sound like a lot but it really isn't. For me, too much undiluted OJ and I'll need to spend time flushing--if you get my drift.
While it may be best to sip from a CamelPak throughout a SS, this doesn't work for me because of my fussy, microscopic size bladder. On other rides, where time is not an issue, the CamelPak can't be beat. To manage my liquid intake on the Saddle Sore, I consumed water at almost every stop. But on other stops, I ate liquid-heavy fruit like kiwi, grapes and oranges. This is an excellent way to get more liquids in but at the same time, slow down the absorption rate of the liquids. It helped me stretch the bathroom breaks. This method of balancing the water with water-heavy fruits helped me stick to my "stop" strategy.
On SS#1 I stopped for lunch in a crowded fast food joint. I vowed never to stand in line again for an order of fries and a drink--not worth it. I avoided this on SS#2. My stop for lunch was a pleasant respite where I consumed my own food. It was relaxing, quiet and refreshing--and it required far less time too. Eat light is my recommendation. Riding with a load in the belly can't be comfortable.
Stops--you just have to do it and the more, the merrier
In Saddle Sore#1, I started off planning to stop at regular points. The reality is I didn't always do this. If I didn't feel the need to stop, I didn't. In hindsight, I believe this had a cumulative effect for the ride's end. After 700ish miles, I was beginning to feel some physical tension that I pretty much ignored. On this, the SS#2, I vowed to stop every 90-127 minutes regardless of a felt need to do so--even if the stop only was to dismount from the bike and walk around it, get back on and go, I would stop without fail. I confess, in the early riding stages this became annoying, really annoying... but I stuck to it. At times I stopped right at 90 minutes; other times, I stopped nearer the 127 minutes mark. I learned that even five minutes off the bike can do wonders for the body, such as shaking out the limbs and letting the blood flow therein. Straightening and bending one's aging back after being positioned on a sport tourer is a welcome relief and your back will appreciate it. Stopping is a great time to stretch the muscles, flex the ankles, rotate the wrists, and hold an exaggerated curve in the spine for a few seconds.
These stops do not necessarily coordinate with stops for fuel. That's fine. I don't believe one can stretch too much--but I'd imagine if one isn't accustomed to stretching, something might pop--so be careful if stretching is new to you. I know that my back is an issue even when I'm not riding. So, I took extra care this time not to allow too much discomfort to settle there. Another point, stretching while riding is something I also encourage. For example, scanning from side to side was not just for watching for deer or other critters and bad drivers. It was also a great way to keep my neck loose. I always make full head turns when changing lanes. I moved my head a lot. I'd get the chin part of my helmet aligned with my shoulder. In fact, I did a series of head turns and neck rolls. Recommended only when road/ride conditions allow.
During stops and while riding, I routinely did body checks. I used to be prone to leg cramps. On my SV650, I typically had cramps after 300 or 400 miles. Some were so painful and paralyzing that I'd have to stop, message my legs and wait until the discomfort subsided. The ST doesn't have as tight a tuck of the legs as the SV, which is one reason the SV doesn't make as great a long distance tourer as the ST. Low potassium may also be a culprit in leg cramps so I've added more than a few bananas to my diet. Bananas don't travel well, but fortunately, they are easy to buy on the road.
I believe regular stopping precluded muscle tightness, leg cramps, and any of the tensions I felt creep in on the first Saddle Sore. In retrospect, I can see how in SS#2 I was far better at managing my physicality over the 1000+ miles. In other words, I was able to spread out my energy better. I think I gutted out the SS#1 and had to dig deeper at the end, which didn't detract from the joy and fun I had on SS#1. However, in SS#2 it was even-steven the whole way. The only "push" I encountered on SS#2 were mental (more on that later).
Darkness--Unavoidable on a SS
Unless you do your SS in Alaska, some stretch of your SS will occur in the dark. I don't mind night riding and I accept the extra risk involved. My bike is equipped with lights that hopefully make me more visible. I've added Martin Fabrication lights, which Steve at Motoworks fixed for me (thanks Steve!) and I also now have hyper lights and a 3 in 1 LED license plate that does all sorts of flashing and pulsating when brakes are applied. My Martins light up the sides of the road amazingly well. While there's no guarantee this heightened illumination will save me, these extras give me some peace of mind knowing that I've done my best to be most conspicuous.
My thoughts on the night riding portion of the SS is to try to always do the dark parts on familiar ground. In my first Saddle Sore this worked. I did an out and back route. I left in the dark, so I traveled roads I know well. My return was on those same roads. Even when a tad tired, I knew every curve, every dip in the road and which lane to avoid because of that huge gouge in the left part of the lane. Had I left on SS#2 at the time I had planned, I would have left in the dark and arrived in CO just before blackness. Well, this didn't happen. I did leave in the dark but several hours later than planned so I arrived in pitch darkness, which made the last 188 miles an interesting mental challenge of having to focus extra hard on unfamiliar, pitch black roads. You might also want to take note of the sun's direction as riding into a sunrise or sunset can be a challenge--but I wouldn't let it stand in the way of a great route.
The loneliness of a long distance rider...
Not another soul, it seemed, rode I-76 after midnight. Before reaching I-76, I had spent considerable time on I-80. It too was dark and rather isolated. Truck, however, were omnipresent. Normally, I avoid trucks. But I found on I-80 that the sight of a truck filled me with joy. I still stayed far enough away to avoid surprises but I found one ahead of me and I gladly settled behind it and rode in the comfort of its lights and presence for many miles, approximately 40 happy minutes. When he turned off, I shouted in my helmet for it not to leave. Oh well. The isolation on I-80 paled in comparison to the total blackness and absence of vehicles on I-76 heading into Colorado.
It's spooky looking into the mirrors and seeing nothing. Total black nothingness. It's surreal. I recall shivering a couple time, not from cold but from the spookiness of it all. Less than 200 miles from Golden, Co and I was seriously alone. The moto-type lights beautifully illuminated the side of the road where I kept searching for death wish deer, angry bears and rabid mountain lions. It didn't help that at a post midnight stop at a McDonald's to get a Coke, a man came up to me and said, "Hey, be careful out there, there's been a lot of deer spottings." I thanked him. "You being on a bike, you better be careful." I thanked him again. "Last week or so, they had to air lift a man off the road 'cause he hit an elk." I thanked him again. Then the clerk behind the counter chimed in. "My uncle hit a deer and his car caught on fire--totally destroyed his car--he was hurt too." I thanked him too. "Just be careful, 'cause there's a lot of deer out there." I'm sure they meant well, but I left feeling that McDonald's was about the most dangerous place for me to be!
The mind is a strange thing and vulnerable to suggestion. My normal scanning for animals took on paranoid dimensions after that stop. Every twinkle of a reflector embedded along the side of the road appeared to be the eyes of a deer waiting to dash out at the precise point of impact. It took me many miles to shake off the "helpful" advice from the late night McDonald group. I remained vigilant but settled down to enjoy the lonely black road to Denver, CO. Another place that spooked me: rest areas, advertised with the blue and white road signs. I've visited many rest stops at night. Some are fine, some are downright terrifying. I stopped at one somewhere along I-76. Not a car in sight but packed with trucks. Inside the building, men who looked sleep deprived including a few who looked this side of deranged, made me wish I'd taken my switch blade with me into the bathroom. Before entering the slightly opened bathroom door, I bent down to see if anyone was inside any of the stalls. I consciously used the first stall, figuring it was closest to the door and if necessary, I'd have a shorter distance, if attacked, to fight my way outside. When I left the bathroom, I stood inside the building to make my phone call to my contact, Robert, in Golden, CO. I told him that I would be arriving way too late for him to sign my form. He provided me with much helpful info for getting to a police or fire station to get the form signed and directions to the hotel.
I settled back into the dark, lonely ride west until I could see signs of Denver way in the distance. The sky twinkled in the massive congregation of lights and tall structures. As if I were being propelled by a giant magnet, I moved tirelessly toward those lights. I realized that it wasn't the dark road that bothered me most, it was the pitch blackness that permeated the entire sky and the lack of light in air space. I'm talking absolute nothingness. The lights shining in Denver gave the jet blackness much welcomed sparkle. It made the world seem alive and it made me a tad emotional. I was almost there and I immediately remember the ending of the motorcycle documentary "Long way Down," where an accident occurred near the end of the journey. It's true, the ride isn't over until it's over. I hadn't made it yet but I was getting closer. I did my body check and realized that I felt great, not good, great!
Contacts--activating your network
After hanging up with my Golden CO contact, I called Claye, who had been my hotel checker, weather reporter and general "call a friend" person on the road. I could call her for any reason. Her best delivery was the AMA code for hotel discounts (Thanks, Claye). A few times, I was able to call or text her to check something for me. Two hours later, I could call her for the answer. Gosh, how did I get along before text messaging and email. On my first SS, I called no one and only advocate it if you have a need. It was great having someone who could look something up for me. No offense Dave, if I had called you, it just wouldn't have worked so easily. Call a computer savvy person. It saves time and beats having to drag out your computer or fiddle with the Blackberry.
When I reached my hotel in Golden, I got lost. The GPS kept trying to steer me correctly but for the life of me I couldn't find the turn. Claye had warned me that it was tricky to find and was tucked behind an Outback steak joint. While being lost, I found my last gas station from which I needed a time stamped receipt. This was an unmanned station and I prayed that the machine would give me a receipt. On SS#1, the printer was broken and I couldn't get a receipt. I forced the clerk to get a piece of paper and sign it, which he reluctantly did. I had to return to the station the next morning to ask for a better, more formal receipt. On this SS, success! An accurate receipt popped out. Now if I could only find the hotel. I passed the restaurant again and turned in where my mind told me not to. It's tough getting lost at the end of a ride. My goal was to check in, find the police or fire station, and get my form signed.
I snaked my way around and behind the structure. I saw one hotel but not the one I was booked in. I continued riding around and there it was: Comfort Inn. After parking the bike, I looked at the time it was about 1:40a.m. I decided to ask the clerk to sign the finish form but first I had to wait at the front desk until the clerk appeared. Finally, another guest went to retrieve her. The clerk returned; she was cordial, apologetic and willing to sign my form. Evidently, she knew motorcyclists in Chicago and that seemed to give me some street "creds." She wanted to chat with me about motorcycles and rides she's taken on the back of bikes. Form was signed at 1:45ish a.m. so I didn't mind chatting with her a bit.
Later, I unpacked the bike, checked into the room, checked my body signs and I felt great. Not tired at all. No tension in the shoulders, ankle rotated without noise--I felt giddy and had to force myself to settle down and go to sleep. Although I hadn't had a real meal since the day before, the ongoing munching had kept stomach growls away.
Were I not meeting a dear friend later in the day in Aurora, CO, I know this for sure:
If I follow my common sense secrets, a Bun Burner is not far away...wonder if I can fit one in before the snow falls. Hmmm....
Saddle Sore#2 -- 1,054 miles (21 hours)
Part II--The Return and Riding the Great Plains of Kansas