Wherever you happen to reside in this country, there is some great geography on the other side of the country or at some distant point, that perhaps you seldom get to see. Or perhaps you have never seen it at all. Many of us who ride motorcycles have harbored a desire to ride across the country. We envision a leisurely trek with as much time as we need. Just you and your iron steed following your whims, and taking time to smell the mountain wildflowers and the tumbleweed. Some of us have even accomplished this, and regale the rest of us with great tales from the middle of nowhere that begin “And then there was the time that I ran out of gas in Wannaholla and had to run on fermented pickle juice that this old farmer gave me after I mucked his stables…..”. I have always loved the quote “A good traveller has no set destination, and is not intent on arriving” by Lao Tzu. However, for most of us, time is not unlimited, and a fixed destination at a given point in time is part of the equation.
And so it was that I developed a plan to attend the BMWMOA International Rally in Redmond, Oregon. I reside about 3 hours from the ocean, and Redmond is about 3 hours from the other ocean. This was as close to coast-to-coast as I was going to get anytime soon. One thing was certain, the trip involved a lot of miles in a relatively short 10 days (see the blog entries in the GS journal). The basic thinking was 3 days out, 3 days there, 4 days back. The final decision to attend the rally was not certain until close to departure time, but in the last minute planning, I was following a thread on the BMWMOA site about the Redmond 1000. This was a special event put on for the MOA rally by the Iron Butt Association.The Iron Butt Association (IBA) is an organization dedicated to people who enjoy riding long distances. Particularly if they do so within relatively short periods of time. Examples include levels like the Saddle Sore 1000 (1000 miles in 24 hours), Butt Burner 1500 (1500 miles in 24 hours or 36 hours), etc. The names are humorous, but the organization’s credibility rests on a very serious process of validation and independent confirmation. I had seen the license plate holders, stickers, and patches from members of this association at various club events and rallies. I assumed that they were all hyper-miler types which fit with a segment of the BMW clan that take pride in odometers that have turned over 4 or 5 times. They have no known address, and often travel to the local club meetings via the Dalton Highway in Alaska. Certifiably insane to a person 😉
The Redmond 1000 was a special Saddle Sore event.The Ride allowed riders to start at one of three locations, Miles City Montana, Cheyenne Wyoming, and Mesquite Nevada. From any of these locations, you had to get to Redmond Oregon within 24 hours. With my aggressive plans to get to Redmond via Cheyenne in rapid fashion, and a modification of the starting dates to include guys like me riding out to get to the GS Adventure pre-rally event, this was the perfect excuse to participate. I got to Cheyenne late at night after battling crosswinds in western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming. There were a couple of other BMWs in the parking lot, so I was not alone despite the early date. After some sleep, I got the witness form signed by the nice motel manager (she had signed a few others earlier), and got a gas receipt which started the clock. Riding into daylight is always enjoyable for me. It is a time of day that is both serene and beautiful. After Iowa and Nebraska, the landscape of Wyoming clearly says you are now in the west. The rising sun on the rock formations causes them to glow in golden hues while the passages between them are still in the cool shade. Even on the Interstate, there are times when traffic is very sparse, and you can imagine yourself to be in a spaghetti western where Clint Eastwood would suddenly ride up beside you at full gallop. That is, if full gallop was 85+ MPH. The western states have more enlightened speed limits of 70 or 75 MPH, allowing you to make greater progress without missing the magnificent vistas around you. Gas stops are also interesting. I needed one every 200 miles, and on several occasions, the off-ramp ended in a dirt road. In one direction might be a dirt road entering someone’s ranch, while the other went to a gas station and then off into the distance. In some cases, the interstate sign even said “Casey Ranch” or something similar.
The small portion of Utah that I passed through was even more spectacular in scenery. Mountains were higher, and mountain lakes appeared in places. I have been to both Salt Lake City and Park City before, but from the seat of a motorcycle it is even more impressive. This is a state to come back to for further exploration at some point. Stops were minimized, and progress was good. So far so good, I would be able to minimize the night riding on the last leg of the journey. Then I hit Idaho. At points too numerous to mention, there was road construction which reduced I84 to 2 lanes (one each direction), and reduced the speed limit to 55 or 45…..or 0. The budget for orange cones in Idaho must equal the GNP of a small country. To be fair, the roads are relatively good, and they were repairing flaws in roads that would never even get discussed in PA or NJ where entire school buses have disappeared into potholes. However, this made it all the more frustrating, and tiring. I stopped to eat and downed a Red Bull. Once I got beyond Boise, things got better. There was still roadwork, but far less traffic, and everyone was travelling at 60+ through the coned areas. After what seemed like a very long time, I got to the Oregon border. The crossing of state lines provides a psychological boost and I stopped for gas in Ontario, Oregon. This brings up a long time pet peeve. With all of the possible combinations of the letters in the english language, why should any town (or street for that matter) have the same name as someplace else ? Iowa had names like Kearny, Hershey, and Brooklyn !! With the rich and descriptive naming system that native americans had, why didn’t we just stick with their names for all places instead of just a few towns and rivers ? Why does every state have a springfield ?Who is in charge of naming anyway? But I digest……
Oregon was a key decision point. The highway ended, and route 20 across to Redmond was a two lane trek of 250 miles with only one gas stop open at night about halfway. I called Mike Kneebone (great name) from the IBA and asked what they knew about this road. Good road, but lonely was the sentiment. I had about an hour of daylight left, and made the decision to go for it. The first hour of the ride was magnificent. Elevation changes and twisties following the Snake river through gorges and valleys. The setting sun made the scenery magical. Then dark descended. One of the remarkable facets of this trip so far was the relative absence of deer or roadkill in general once you got west of Ohio. You cannot travel a major highway in PA without seeing recent roadkill, and it seems to be extending ffurther into the year for deer so that the spring and fall peak seasons are joined together. I normally try to avoid riding at night just for this reason. Regardless of the fact that the IBA indicated little risk, and I had long been equipeed with a deer whistle, this was green landscape and it looked like deer could pop out at any moment. I took the pace way down, and crawled into Burns Oregon for gas. Riding tense accelerates fatigue, and the thought of 120 more miles like the previous 60 was not encouragement. I took a longer break, another Red Bull, and I resolved to crawl the rest of the way if needed. I had plenty of time. Things changed after Burns. Traffic went to zero, and the road was straight despite some elevation changes. I latched on to the back of a truck for a while who obviously knew the road and was flying along at 70+ . That was just a different kind of scary not knowing the road, so I backed off. I soon came across signs like “Open Range” and “Deer next 14 miles”. This did not help. The high desert was pitch black. My auxiliary lights were illuminating the roadway and sides of the road to some extent, but not enough. It looked like there could be national forest on either side of the road and no fences in the open range sections. I really wanted the massive Cibie lights and multiple HID lights that often festooned the road warrior GS bikes. I saw a rabbit or two, but there was no sign of deer anywhere. Regardless, I rode like this was an unknown backroad in PA. This was the longest 100 miles I had ever ridden. After an eternity, I arrived in Bend, Oregon and civilization. Then there was a short highway stint to Redmond, and the Chevron station for a time-stamped gas receipt and a witness form, and finally Motel 6. Camping would wait for tomorrow.
A few days later, we were up in the mountains on the GS adventure ride, and came back to the rally site using the last 30 miles of route 20. I saw that it was entirely open high desert with scrub pines and little in the way of cover. There was no evidence of life at all on that stretch of road. In fact, another rally attendee likened it to the extra terrestrial highway in Nevada. Things look completely different in the light of day, and I understand how 70MPH or even faster seemed so easy for the truckers at night.
A few days later I met Mike Kneebone and the crew to turn in my paperwork. It turns out that he is the president of the IBA. He indicated that most people initially get involved like I did out of the necessity to get from A to B by a certain time/date. While I was waiting, the staff was engaged in trying to validate the start time of another rider whose receipt was missing some key info. It involved calling a gas station somewhere and questioning an attendant. Mike indicated that they take this stuff seriously, and that the stickers and patches and license plate frames are earned and cannot be purchased. Things turned out ok for that rider. In the course of completing my documentation, he discovered proof that I actually completed 2000 miles in 48 hours !! This qualified me for another level of recognition. So I went from wondering about these strange Iron Butt crazies to becoming another inmate in the asylum.
Insanity is not easy, you have to earn it.