Iron Butt Rally 2007
There are as many reasons for riding the
Iron Butt Rally as there are people in it. For me it’s about the people and the attitude.
“Hi my name’s BillyJoeJimBob; I’m
a borderline psychotic and I like to ride bikes hard, real hard and for a real long time (twitch).
These here hundred people in the parking lot are my borderline psychotic friends and they all like to ride bikes real hard
for a real long time too. And it’s a competition; and it’s on the public highway, and there’s this crazy
woman in charge. You’d better be nice to her; she gets real mad and does bad things when she’s riled. I hate deer
real bad (twitch). I haven’t had coffee or beer for a week and I’m
feeling kinda grouchy (twitch, twitch). Welcome to our community.”
“Community” as in, “One Flew
Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. At home they’d throw away the key.
Back in ’03, it was not altogether clear
to my nearest and dearest at home either what the Rally was or that I was in it. I got into some trouble when I got home.
In ’05, I had let my friends and
family know I was in the Butt, but that as far as I was concerned it was merely an excuse for an easy jaunt, sightseeing around
the good ol’ US of A. Of course on Leg 1 in ’05, the sightseeing strategy really paid off (so long as the sight
to be seen was not Key West). So there I was; 12th on the first leg and 2nd on points per mile. Congrats
all round in Denver, but an utter bollocking from home as a result of the internet reports; “You told me you were just
sightseeing. What the **** are you doing in the top twenty; that’s not ****ing sightseeing in my book, etc.” An
exploded transmission in deepest, darkest, rainiest Quebec on day 9 put an end to my dreams of glory that year.
So to ’07 and St Louis. Stick with the
sightseeing strategy, that’s the thing; but first question; What bike to ride ? T’internet is stuffed with advice
and argument about this one, but travelling from outside the US for the Butt limits your options. For me the possibilities
included freighting over the FJR, borrowing Dick Fish’s wonderful R1100R again, and renting a Wing off Canadian pal
Smeyers. In the end, I rented a Wing from a commercial outfit (unlimited mileage, but no gravel roads allowed), did 500 miles
to get used to a bike I hadn’t ridden before, and arrived in St Louis on Friday night.
Saturday saw Tech Inspection for almost everyone,
some last minute adjustments / modifications for some (last minute adjustments being frowned upon by rally vets) and a complete
conversion of a stock bike for me. Up at 3 a.m. with jet lag to start work…………..
On the subject of jet lag; it is a huge advantage
to start the Butt insufficiently rested, with massively ****ed up sleep patterns. On the Monday morning I’m already
deep in the zone that will envelop everyone else over the next few days.
fitting fuel cell, auxiliary power sockets for the cell and heated clothing, integrated GPS, sat radio, cell and V1 radar
detector, new tyres and belly plate on bike and head set in the helmet. Finished by 3 pm. Sailed through tech. on Sunday with
a shake down ride on the odo check. Rick Morrison turns up. I am borrowing gear from him. It’s great to see him again;
he visited us for the Isle of Man TTs this year. I keep in touch with him during the rally, letting him know where I am and
how I’m doing.
Holy Moly, I’m ready to go.
Sunday night; a slap up feed and a bundle of
bonuses. The sightseeing strategy and an aversion to alligators, old people, oranges and drug dealers (oh yes, I’ve
seen Miami Vice) lead me inexorably north east.
Monday morning and it starts to rain (proper
rain). It stops somewhere in New England on Tuesday. The bonuses at the Arch and Hoagy’s (weren’t they some of
the nicest people ?) and a short motel break already fading from the memory as I reach Buxton Maine late afternoon; but I’ll
remember a twisting Appalachian I 70 in the dark and rain with the trucks, crappy road markings and the tar snakes till the
day I die. An hour in Buxton; tried to sleep and failed, sensible food and a chat about moisture with fellow riders. Headed
north, good weather now. I see a bike ahead of me and close up. It’s Watt. Five miles of incomprehensible signalling
later and we pull over for a chat. We’re both headed for Quebec and Perce Rock via Campbellton; I’ve just ridden
past a sizeable bonus near Portland; idiot. We ride on. His V1 radar detector is out, so I lead.
We cross the border at Houlton with no problems
(Houlton is pretty much always a good spot to cross) and press on north to St Leonard; then on to one of my favourite north
American roads; route 17 to Campbellton. We get through the construction zone and press on. Bill leads; he has great aux lights.
We see moose (mooses ?) and slow down. Coming down the hill towards Campbellton and suddenly a big black lump on stilts hurls
itself into Bill’s path. Bill slams on the anchors, tosses out the parachute and stops quicker than a big bloke on a
big bike has any right to. I too make an emergency stop that lifts me up, forward and out of the seat and just avoid hitting
the huge, frightened, wide eyed, sweating critter in front of me. I also miss the moose. Contact has been made, but, somehow
Bill has avoided complete disaster. One image that returned to me some days later was of Bill throwing a solid left jab into
the moose’s side, at the moment of impact; I’m not saying he knocked it out or anything, but it was a laudable
gesture of defiance.
We spend the next 20 minutes with a roll of
duct tape putting together the indicator / aux light / mirror kit that the moose has left us. For the next two hours all Bill
says to anyone is, “I hit a moose; ay ?”
We can’t find the damn salmon in Cambellton;
we keep following the directions and nothing. Marty turns up with the same problem. It’s 2 a.m. and there’s not
even cell service to ring the witch. Bill reveals his secret weapon; the sat phone.
“You ring her”
“**** off, I’m not ringing her.
It’s 2 o’clock in the morning. It’ll make her mad and you know what happens when she gets mad.”
Someone dares to ring her. We get directions
and we’re off and running; find the salmon (one of the few 24 hour bonuses), take a picture, take another picture, finally
get one to come out, back on the bike heading for Perce. Marty is long gone. Suddenly tiredness hits me. Wham. Got to stop.
We find a motel and wake up the nice motel lady, who Bill thinks fancies him (hallucinations this early in the rally ?) and
crash. We take the rest bonus and the call in just after.
Perce Rock; lovely spot, a proper sightseers
bonus. Check and recheck photo instructions; we really don’t want to **** this up. Which way home ? Canada or US. I’ve
got a hankering after a Pickle Barrel in Michigan, so it’s Canada for me and Bill’s already on the same wavelength.
Heading back up my favourite road towards St
Leonard; making progress, but being careful; it’s New Brunswick, so no V1. We get passed by another rider who’s
apparently a bit more adventurous than us, so we tag along. Two miles later a cruiser appears over the brow of a hill about
50 yards in front of the more adventurous rider and turns on the disco lights. In five seconds, the cruiser has handbrake
turned, the rider has stopped and we glide past all smug and grateful. If we’re lucky (and this is New Brunswick after
all), he’s going to jail and out of the Butt; one place higher for us; and no cops ahead; press on lads, press on.
Two miles later more adventurous rider passes
us again. Huh ? A little later we stop for construction (road works) ………….
Remember; construction is always your friend.
Go to the front of the line; speak with an English accent and you’ve just overtaken a whole load of slow traffic.
“Why aren’t you in prison ?”
“The cop has an ST1300”
“And he said I’d have to hurry up
if I wanted to catch my friends.”
We’re stopped for a while and a
few rally bikes turn up. Off the bikes and stretch the legs; grab the chance for a chat and a piss. Notice one rider wees
through a tube that emerges from the bottom of his trouser legs. Cathetarisation and on board weeing; now that’s commitment
to never getting off the bike.
And so on into the night. Some rain but nothing
like before. I get tired and grab 20 in a rest area. Bill presses on. He’s got Niagara in his sights as well as the
Pickle Barrel. I head out again. I stop for another sleep on the way into Ottawa, but not for long; I want to get through
before rush hour, which I do.
I stop for 5. I ring my kid; it’s his
fifth birthday; I sing Happy Birthday over the phone; I get some odd looks; I press on.
Sudbury; the tallest chimney in the world; sadly
it’s not a bonus, but I’ve always wanted to see it and now I have. Time to haul ass for the border ………..
You see, that’s the thing about riding
in the rally; you get to say really cool stuff like “Time to haul ass for the border.”
……………. Sault Saint
Marie; big queues on the bridge; then I get hauled in for questioning. ****. Two hours lost, but I still make the Pickle Barrel
bonus at Grand Marais well before sunset. Heading south and into the bastard rain again. Tired and wet so grab a four hours
in a motel and carry on in the morning. It doesn’t matter; if I carry on, I’ll end up in Milwaukee way early for
Harley Davidson so I may as well stop here (wherever here is).
Next morning HD for 8 a.m. and other riders.
Then Buell and more other riders. Dick Fish has just had his Ullyses factory serviced.
The rest of the day is about the barn door.
I’m relatively pleased with the leg; could have, should have, but who cares.
St Louis; assess tyres. No, I’m not going
to change them. They’ll be OK, so score, chat for a bit and then a fine old sleep.
4 a.m. Saturday morning and it’s the now
infamous ’07 Leg 2 Rally Book. I spend two and a half hours just putting them on the map. Holy crap. I opt for a badly
conceived vague route taking Split Rock and the Big Fish Supper Club in upstate Minnesota on the Saturday before heading for
Seattle and then (in my mind) sweeping south through Oregon and on into California the big Observatory bonus. But it’s
****ing eight o’clock. I’ve got to get the hell out of Dodge if I’m going to make Split Rock in daylight
But of course, Split Rock isn’t
goddamn daylight hours is it ? It goddamn well closes at six o’clock. I find this out just south of Minneapolis when
I phone Moose Boy Watt to see what he’s up to. It’s a bad line, but something makes me look at the bonus again.
****, **** and double ****.
I ring Watt again. He’s headed for Lake
Louise and Hyder Alaska, but he a long way east of me. I change my mind about where to go. I’m not waiting for morning
for Split Rock and I’m not wasting these northern miles. I’ve never been to British Columbia or Alaska, and the
sightseer in me takes over. We arrange to meet up at Jamestown North Dakota. When I get there I’m 3 hours ahead of him.
I book two rooms, shove a Macdonalds down my throat and bed down. We meet at 4 am in the lobby and head north west. We’re
on Highway 52 which is both fast and on the correct bearing. Through the border at North Portal and onwards on the Canam Highway.
At a gas stop we talk about the route and riding together. We change to going anticlockwise with Watson Lake in the Yukon
first; and we agree to ride on together as long as it works for us both.
So it’s on through the flatlands of Saskatchewan
past Regina and Sakatoon. Gas and go all day is the plan, but Bill seems to be stopping a lot to pee. He’s not feeling
too good. We stop at two hospitals and some drug stores. He thinks he has a bladder infection. He looks real bad and has a
temperature; I’m sort of worried about him and expect the hospitals to admit him. But he presses on. The hospital tells
him it’s not a bladder infection. It’s flu plus a prostate problem. He is so pleased to be blessed with this during
the Butt. We motel it again that night north of Edmonton, stopping when suicidal animals and tiredness bring us to our senses.
Next day, Bill purloins some towels and fashions
a seat with a hole in the middle to take the pressure off. We get to Watson Lake about six hours behind schedule; this sure
is the sightseers route; the scenery has been amazing (and I mean abso***inglutely amazing); but for mile after mile
we’ve been engaged at close quarters by pretty much every type large mammal known in the northern hemisphere……………….
They’ve got everything in Canada;
moose, elk, bison, deer, wild goats, wild horses, bears (****ing bears ?), wild sheep and caribou, all on the road in front
of us. And they’ve all got their own signs. “Moose 5 km”; “Deer 3 km”; “Elk High Risk
next 6 km”; etc. I’m surprised they don’t actually tell you their names; “Fred the Caribou will be
patrolling the highway for the next 200 m. Mrs Fred and the children may leap out and surprise you at any moment. Have a nice
day.” Repeated in French obviously. I don’t see the point of the specificity; it can even be dangerous; I’m
tooling round a corner looking for Ernie the moose (as the sign told me to do), and suddenly there’s Fred the
caribou who I almost don’t see because I’m too busy looking for Ernie. All these musings led to my suggestion
to Lisa that Canada just puts up one sign at each border crossing say “Welcome to Canada. ****ing big animals; ****ing
everywhere.” And leave it at that. I’m sure she could arrange it.
We’re tired and get confused about where the bonus is and where we each are. We lose forty minutes. I get cross until
I rationalise it and realise that we both screwed up. Then I get pissed off that I got pissed off at Bill. The main thing
is that after two and a half days, we get our first bonus of the leg.
We’ve got as far north as we are going,
unlike, we hear on the jungle drums, Jim and Rob and maybe George, who are on their way to Homer Alaska, so we turn south
on the Cassiar. We press on knowing that fuel could be a major problem during the night on the Cassiar. After about 70 miles
and a key gas station derelict, things are not looking great, but Bill comes up trumps. He collars a mountain man in a pick
up who has a gas stockpile at his store in Jade City. His wife makes and sells jewellery from the jade that mountain man digs
out of the hills. They are cool people and we spend too long being sociable; but Hell, we got us enough gas to make Stewart.
We book ahead into Bell 2 and get going.
It gets dark quick and the “highway”
gets bad quicker. I don’t know now, but it felt like 50 miles of dirt, gravel, mud and rocks. It takes us a long time.
I break the bike seat. We stop for a rest; “You know Bill, I think I may have just violated the terms of my rental agreement.”
There’s a full moon and a clear
sky which help, but late in the night it starts looking a bit weird and I realise we’re seeing a lunar eclipse. Fantastic.
Bell 2 for a quick kip and then up and at ‘em.
Stewart for gas and then Hyder shortly after. Alaska; yippee. Only bonus number 2, but this is pay dirt; 42 K.
South to Prince George and the new plan is to
get the rest bonus in Jasper. The Yellowhead Highway. What a fine, fine road and a lovely surprise, broadly following the
Fraser River. No (I mean no) traffic until we cut up past Mt Robson. We get to Jasper with an hour to spare and start
the clock on the rest bonus.
Five hours and one minute later we head south
on the Icefields Parkway. It’s drizzly and dark and we’ve heard horror stories about this road. As it turns out,
the road’s not too bad with a lot less animal activity compared to the last few days.
We hit Lake Louise for 10,000 points, do the
call in and head off. It’s after 8.00 am on Wednesday morning and we have 2200 miles to do in 45 hours.
What if we’d hit Split Rock on Monday
before 6 pm (possible if you left before 6am on Saturday), made better time on the way up to the Yukon, and bagged Lake Louise
on the previous afternoon, as sort of planned ? Could we have hit Vancouver Island and Seattle for points on Wednesday morning
? Probably; but the Watson Lake / Hyder route was so flawed that even had we done so, it would not have saved us from mid
table ignominy. As it was we were heading for the Big Fish Supper Club and Split Rock again. Canada passed by uneventfully
(insert own joke about Canada and eventfulness here). We were at the border in North Portal that evening. Bill went through
first and they kept him slightly longer than I expected. I got the full treatment.
Off the bike, inside, into the back room, “Take
the jacket off, put it on the counter and sit in that chair.” So I take my riding jacket off, revealing the heated jacket
underneath; a bulky, padded jacket with wires coming out of it. Sharp intakes of breath all round. I swear one guy
ducked under his desk. I think, “**** they’re going to shoot me.” And start a babbling explanation about
heated clothing and bikes and cables and plugs. It seems to register and everyone breathes out at the same time. Desk ducker
man pretends he was picking up his pen. I get kept another two hours because as it turns out it’s ****ing training night
at North Portal and spotty faced youths are learning all about homeland security.
Bill has waited for me at the gas station and
we set off heading for Minot and then an eastwards run to Duluth on US Route 2. It’s one of those ride-for-a-bit / sleep-for-a-bit
Suddenly it’s Thursday and we’re
in up state Minnesota having ticked the Big Fish Supper Club. I feel sleepy and this looks like it’s the end of the
partnership. I’m going to ride for a bit and find somewhere to kip. Bill’s heading for Split Rock. But after a
while I feel better and carry on, skirting round Duluth and up Highway 61 (yes Dylan fans, that Highway 61) to Split Rock
Lighthouse. I bag the lighthouse and head back towards Duluth, wanting to get through before rush hour. I get to the other
side and hole up in a gas station. I’d seen Bill going in to Split Rock as I was coming out. I ring him; he’s
about half an hour behind. I grab some zeds and Bill rolls in. I’m pleased. I know we’ll get tired at different
times over the next 15 hours, but I’m pretty sure that we have enough time not to worry about that now. It seems right
that we head for the farm together and we do.
Very shortly after leaving the gas station (100
miles or so) I get proper uh-oh sleepy and have to stop. It turns out we both need sleep and we get about an hour on a couple
of picnic tables before heading out again. Cruising past Minneapolis St Paul a car pulls up alongside us. He gestures at his
watch and urges us on; he knows what we’re up to; cool. Then he smiles at Bill and puts his thumbs to his forehead with
his fingers splayed out in the internationally recognised gesture for, “You’re Bill Watt and you hit a moose.”
How the **** did he know ?
It gets dark and we’re into sleep-a-bit
/ ride-a-bit territory again. We don’t want any **** ups this late in the game. We have a whites-of-its-eyes near miss
with a couple of deer and go real easy. I get the same feelings of exhilaration, warmth and satisfaction flooding over me
as we get closer and closer; the last time I felt like this was in ’03 on the run in to Missoula. Getting lost on the
way to the Arch seems a long time ago.
We roll into the Doubletree at around 6 am.
Dale mothers us in and we’re home and dry. Coffee or a Margherita; that’s the question now. Unfortunately the
bar is closed, so it’s coffee. It’s great to see everyone, particularly Lisa; how does she cope with 100 riders
out there intent on doing “something stupid” ?
Susan (Bill’s better (by far) half) is
here. She thanks me for sticking with Bill when he wasn’t well. I tell her, and it’s the truth, that I needed
his lights for night time riding with the animals, so the last thing I was going to do was bugger off without him.
Score, convert bike back to stock and mingle.
I’m determined not to waste any of this day by sleeping, so by the time the ceremony comes around I am dead on my feet.
43rd; could’ve, should’ve,
but couldn’t have enjoyed it more.
Saturday and the parking lot is emptying. For
various good reasons, I will not be doing this again; I will miss it and I’m a bit sad.
I take the bike back to the rental place; I’ve
not been looking forward to this. But they don’t bat an eyelid; they check the computer, congratulate me on setting
a new rental mileage record and express their most fervent hope that I have a nice day. Back to pack and then the airport
Thanks to Watt (new friend), Smeyers (old friend),
Fish (old friend), Morrison (old friend) and Murph (new friend). I hope to see you in the UK. Thanks too to the big bloke
with the beard and scary blonde lady and all their little helpers. And thank you America for being so big.