2021 Iron Butt Rally – Prologue

Pre-Rally Intentions:

As we all know, 2020 was a challenging year.  I had grandiose plans for the 2021 IBR.  Two things were holding me back from placing higher, one was my hesitancy to push the envelope to the point that I could put myself way behind and have to abandon my route simply to make it back to the checkpoint in time, or worse, DNF because I did not make it back in time.  The second was to increase my physical fitness so I had the stamina to push myself harder to allow me to travel more miles and hopefully score more points.

Issue 1) is a mental thing with me, and I am adjusting my rallying to push myself harder and go for those bonus locations that are either further out or are in the opposite direction of the next checkpoint.  For example, heading southwestern Nevada from Provo on my way to Carmel Indiana.  However, issue 2) is holding me back from going further out.  For Issue 2) my plans were simple, start hitting the gym in the spring of 2020 to drop 20-30 pounds.  I had a good start, visiting the gym exactly one time in March 2020 before they were all closed in PA for 9+ months.  True I could have exercised outdoors, and I did as my Facebook friends who saw my almost daily posts of “went for a walk”, however not nearly as much as I would of had I had access to the equipment at the gym. 

I also struggled with how I would handle getting to and from Provo.  My concern was not the distance, but the time spent away from the office.  I considered trailering out and back, shipping my bike out, shipping my bike home, riding out early so I could fly out just before the start, leaving my bike out there after the end and flying back later to ride home.  I settled on riding out after work on Friday of the weekend before the start, working in Draper UT near Salt Lake City for 3 days, and then heading to Provo.  Then after the IBR I would ride partway home at a relaxed pace and stopping on Wednesday July 7 and working Thursday and Friday, then coming the rest of the way home Saturday.  This allowed me to save 3 vacation days and allowed me to visit some people and hopefully take a relaxed pace on the way home (it didn’t!)

Life Happens:

Fast forward to January 2021.  Things started opening up in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, so I started to salvage my plans.  I started working out on a regular basis and was seeing results.  I also had plans of doing quite a bit of riding once the weather broke which is typically in March.  I also needed to do my pre-rally inspection and preventative maintenance on my trusty 2006 Sportster.  The odometer showed 288,000 miles on it at the time, and I had seen some metal pieces in the primary when I had last changed the primary fluid in the fall.  Keep in mind the engine was replaced with another with only 17,000 miles on it in May 2017 with the odometer showing 206,000 miles so the engine had approximately 100,000 miles on it.  I had fears of one of the gears going inside the transmission, so I discussed with my mechanic and showed him the pieces.  We concluded it was from the teeth on the ring gear and I confirmed that the ring gear had a few teeth that were shorter than the others.  Since replacing the primary change and sprockets which included the ring gear this was part of my pre-IBR maintenance I was not that worried about it.

And then in February things started going sideways.  A family member had some health issues so that became the focus of our attention until I left for the IBR so no gym and no time to do a thorough inspection of the bike.  Then I ran into issues with parts being backordered, taking 4-6 weeks rather than 2.  I had to order a second primary chain from Drag Specialties since Harley could not give me a date for the factory part at the time.  As a result, I did replace the primary drive as I typically do and I put new tires on, however little else got looked at. Something that would come back to haunt me in legs 2 & 3. Plus, the last two weekends before I left would be spent setting up and then parking cars at an airshow, something I have been doing for over 10 or so years.

In May I told my wife I had to start training for the IBR, so I was able to get some time on the road.  Rather than do several Tour of Honor rides I signed up for the Motorcycle Podcaster’s Challenge.  This was a 3 weeklong mini rally of sorts where we were given 6 letters on a Friday night, and we had to find a street that began with each letter.  All letters had a value assigned like Scrabble and the point value of the word was based on the sum of the values of each letter.  This was both an individual and a team challenge.  I managed to come in second and rode over 2,500 miles in the three weeks which is about what I would have done had I been chasing after Tour of Honor memorials.  By the way, our team came in 1st. And that was the extent of my training as I had to run parking for an airshow which meant the next two weekends were out and I left for Provo the following weekend. That and a 3,000-mile ride in March were it for my “training”, a far cry from what I had hoped

Getting There:

As it happens most times that one is very busy time absolutely flew by from mid-March until Memorial Day weekend.  Memorial Day weekend I was working in fields getting them ready to park cars for 20,000+ attendees over 3 days for an airshow the following weekend.  The airshow flew by as well (no pun intended), and suddenly it was Friday June 11 and I found myself packing the bike and finally heading out.  As I left home around 7:30-8 pm I wondered what the heck happened to my spring????

Friday June 11: Home – Somerset PA

My ride Friday night was uneventful, cold, but uneventful.  I had my heated jacket liner on and was comfortable.  I like to leave home in the evening after work to get a few 100 miles in, plus I have found I can get out of a hotel room much quicker than I can my house.  I stopped for the night in Somerset PA, about 230 miles and 3 hrs. from home.  This hotel has turned into a regular stopping point for me when I leave on trips, so I am familiar with it.

Saturday June 12: Somerset PA – Lincoln NE

Saturday I was out of the hotel around 7 am.  I had a revelation as I was leaving, why not do a saddle sore 1000?  Most of my rides normally involve Tour of Honor memorials where my route would not be easily documented and where I may only do 6-700 miles because I don’t want to deal with taking photos of memorials in the dark.  This was a good opportunity to do one, so I made sure I got a receipt as I pulled out.  My route was fairly simple, PA turnpike into Ohio, then pick up I-80 and ride it all the way into my hotel just south of Salt Lake City UT where I would spend three days working before making the move to the host hotel in Provo.  I made good time on my ride and got into Lincoln NE at midnight Central time, 18 or so hours after I left.  Hardly a stellar performance, however I did stop and take a few photos and take a few breaks.  I also went through Chicago where I lost some time due to traffic but not much as it was a Saturday.  Plus, just west of Chicago I hit a fairly heavy storm.  I had been watching it for a while and had been on the fringes, but ultimately the road turned the wrong way and I found myself in the storm yet able to see clear blue sky to my north.  Due to slower speeds that cost me another hour or so.  I also discovered that my riding pants had a leak in the left leg just above the top of my boot.  It was bad enough that withing 5 minutes of it starting to rain my leg got wet and the sock wicked the water down into my boot in no time.  I did realize however that my new hydration system wasn’t working as it should.  I had rushed the installation and finished it 2 days before I was to leave.  I had forgotten to add a vent hole so I had drilled one next to the “straw” I was using and had nicked it so I was barely getting any water.

Here is the only photo I took for the day

Sun setting in Menlo IA

Sunday June 14: Lincoln NE – Draper UT

Sunday I was up and out of my hotel around 8am.  Unlike the previous day, I had plans to stop at a few Tour of Honor locations that were on my route.  The first was about 20 minutes away in Lincoln NE.  I found myself in a nice park and wandered about for a few minutes checking out the other memorials.  Ran into a few locals walking about and got some polite nods but no one seemed to want to come up to and speak to someone wearing what looked like a winter coat and pants.  I took my photos and got on my way as I had another 575 miles to go.

Tour of Honor memorials

Post 9-11 Memorial

Gold Star Family Memorial

I stopped for fuel around 1:30 pm near Chappell NE and wasn’t feeling all that well.  I was tired and had no energy.  I happened to look at a screen on my GPS that shows the temperature, and it was 101 degrees.  I then realized that I was likely dehydrated.  I drank a bottle of Gatorade and filled up the 20 oz bottle in my bottle holder.  My hydration system was all but useless as I had found out the day before, something to work on when I got to my hotel in Draper UT.  I also realized that I had forgotten to turn on my Spot tracker, so I turned that on and then answered the multiple texts I had from people telling me it was off and/or asking if I was ok.  I did call my wife to tell her, not that she worries or anything when I am doing rides like this …

I noticed as I entered Wyoming that my rear brakes were soft.  Before I left, I had put new pads in them and replaced a rubber bushing, but otherwise they were untouched.  I do suspect I have a gremlin that latches onto me when I am in WY or UT because every time, I have entered either state I have had rear brake issues and had to detour to a friend’s house in Dubois WY to get them fixed which is usually nothing more than bleeding them but did involve a full rebuild once and a replacement another time.  And by every time I mean every time since the 2015 IBR.  I have been in one or both states every year since 2015 with the exception of 2020 (yes, that is 5 or 6 years).  No other time have I had issues with my rear brakes in those years and I probably have ridden 150,000 or so miles in that time.  I debated turning north to my friend’s house in Dubois but that would add 5 hours to my day and I needed to do work the following morning and I was going to be working east coast hours so I could have some overlap with my team in the UK.  I opted to stay on my course and bleed them myself.  Should I need to I had time to head north to Dubois before heading down to Provo.  And to top it off, my right grip decided to come unglued from the throttle tube, so I had to grip it tightly whenever I move the throttle.  The to do list was growing a little over a week from the start of the IBR, not good.

The rest of the day went well with no more unexpected surprises.  I stopped for a quick photo near Rock River WY to give my wife and friends who had not been out west an idea of the vast openness out west and then stopped in Green River WY for a Tour of Honor memorial.

Rock River WY
41st Tank Battalion Memorial in Green River WY

The rest of the ride was uneventful.  I arrived at my hotel in Draper WY around 8:30 pm.  Since I didn’t feel like riding to get dinner, I walked to the McDonalds next to my hotel for some food.  The view out in that area never ceases to amaze me.

My last chore for the night was to put together a to do list for the bike.  My to do list was:

  • Fix hydration system
  • Re-glue the right grip (or replace)
  • Bleed my rear brakes

I set up my work laptop and plugged it into the TV in my room so I could work with two monitors and went to sleep.

Monday June 14: Draper UT

I gave my mechanic a call to see what he would suggest as glue for my grip.  The Internet was no help as every post suggested something different.  Use hairspray it’s great!  Don’t use hairspray it will only work for a day, a week, 6 months, whatever.  Use Product X.  And so on.  My mechanic suggested super glue gel, which I believe I had used 5 or 6 years ago when the grip came apart.  That went on my shopping list.  I realized I did not consider the amount of time I’d be wearing non riding clothes when I packed, so I added a few clothing items to my list.  To fix my hydration system I added silicone adhesive to my list.  And I needed brake fluid.  I had the tubing I needed to bleed the brakes and a simple cup would do for the old fluid.  While I had a wrench set, I did not have the 5/16th wrench I needed for the bleeder, so I added a set of wrenches to my list.

After work (3pm since I was working east coast hours) I rode to the closest open Harley Dealer to get some brake fluid.  None on the shelf, just great.  I asked and was told they were running low, so they did not leave it out, but he was happy to sell me 2 bottles.  From there I rode down to multiple stores to pick up the items on my shopping list plus something to eat and got back to my hotel around 6 pm.  I ate, then started on the brakes.  I did not buy a vacuum bleeder since I really did not wish to carry it around with me, so I rigged up a bungie cord to the rear brake pedal (right side of bike) and connected the tubing and cup to the rear caliper (left side of bike).  Crack the bleeder, walk over to the other side of the bike and make sure the pedal goes all the way down and stays put, walk to the other side of the bike and close the bleeder, walk to the other side and pull up on the pedal, and repeat … 15 to 20 times. And someone decides to park right next to my bike rather than one of the other 5 spots that were along the row just as close to the entrance to the hotel.  At least they waited until I moved my legs out of the way.  Once they were inside, I repeated the process a few more times and decided the brakes were good and that there was no way I was going to change the brake fluid like I had planned.  I cleaned up and then turned to the right grip.  I made sure all the old glue was off and then made sure the orientation of the grip was correct and then covered the throttle tube with super glue.  I slipped the grip on and turned it a few times in each direction to ensure the glue was spread evenly and then made sure the grip was oriented correctly.  The 100+ degree heat would cure it.  I cleaned up, stuffed the tools and brake fluid in my saddle bags (no small feat as they were already packed with tools (right side) and oil/rags/gloves/heated jacket liner (left side)

I want inside and it was time to turn my attention to my hydration jug.  I found the nick in the straw, so I put some silicone adhesive on it and let it set.

I called it a night.

Tuesday June 15: Draper UT

In the morning I went out to check on the brakes.  They seemed just fine.  I chose not to touch the throttle, so it had more time to cure.  I met a coworker from work for lunch, so I did not touch the bike until after work.  I needed dinner and did not want McDonalds, so I decided to go for a short ride to get something and see how the brakes and grip were.  Both were working great, what a relief.  I am kind of proud of my worn grips that show every bit of the 200,000 or so miles I have ridden with them on the bike and did not want new ones.  And while I would have enjoyed seeing my friend in Dubois WY, I wanted to take some time and relax in Provo.

Wednesday June 16: Draper UT – Provo UT

While getting breakfast I realized I had a slight scheduling problem.  I had booked my hotel in Draper until Weds and my hotel in Provo Weds through Monday.  However, check out time in Draper was noon and check in time in Provo was 3pm.  While that would be fine most of the time, I was working.  And I had calls to take so sitting in the hotel lobby would not work.  I asked for a late checkout in Draper and when asked how late I said 5pm. I got a look that said they would need to charge me for part of the day, and I said fine. It was much better than trying to work in the lobby.  I did my work and when done packed up the bike and donned the ridding clothes.  I was out of the hotel at 5pm.  Along the way to the Provo hotel, I stopped at a Harley Dealer to check it out and they had several old bikes that I thought were cool, and then stopped at the Tour of Honor memorial a mile from the hotel.  Checked in and wandered about, seeing several friends I had not seen since the 2019 IBR.  Stopped at the bar and ran into a few friends who were talking with someone who obviously was not a rider.  After a while I realized he was a guitarist for Kid Rock, Jason Krause.   We hung out for a while, and he was just as interested in what we did as we were in what it was like to play in a rock band.  We went to another bar to play pool for a few hours and said our goodbye’s. 

1911 Harley Davidson Model 7A

Servi Car – I so want one of these, someday …
Tour of Honor Memorial in Provo UT
View from hotel

Thursday June 17 – Sunday June 20 – Provo UT

Thursday and Friday were down days, I hung out in the hotel with friends and basically relaxed.  Thursday morning, I was treated to a site that I had not see for 15 or so months, a breakfast buffet!!!

Breakfast Buffet … I smelled BACON!!!!!

I had zero initiative to get on the bike as it was over 100 degrees each day.  Saturday was registration day.  We met in the hotel lobby first thing in the morning and started the registration process.  This was our first chance to view the poster for this year’s IBR and start the guessing game of the theme so we could get some insights into where we would be going.

2021 IBR Poster

After the morning’s meeting we had waivers to sign, video waivers to do, documents to get checked and verified, etc.  Part of the process was to do an odometer check where we rode a predefined route so the rally staff could check our odometer for accuracy so any errors could be adjusted in the event of a tie, and then the dreaded technical inspection.  This involves measuring our auxiliary fuel tanks to confirm total fuel capacity does not exceed 11.5 gallons, verifying they are mounted securely, and ensuring vent lines are routed properly.  Anyone not running stock exhaust must also have a sound check to ensure they are not too loud.  For most of us this went fairly smoothly and took a few hours, however some had issues and had to redo the odometer check route or had to re-route vent lines or adjust the mounting of their auxiliary fuel tanks.  Once done it was back to the bar for the rest of the day.

Bikes in parking garage for tech inspection

Sunday is when things started changing.  There were rider meetings to attend where rally staff went over preliminary details of the rally and how the start would work.  Riders slowly started getting into rally mode.  We were all hanging out like before however you could sense the change occurring.  Then it was time for the banquet.  We all got together for a final good meal and as we were done eating it was time.  Rally staff were introduced, and then riders were called up one by one to get their rally packs which included the rally book and their flag.  And then the mystery of the theme was revealed, Miles of Progress.  Essentially, we were to be visiting locations around the country that had something to do with technological progress.  These sites included the first airline flight, first airplane flight, first commercial nuclear reactor, first automobile accident, first snowmobile, etc. Bonus locations would be in two groups.  One group was good for the entire rally and there was one location per state, the other group would be good for only that leg.  For the group good for the entire rally there was a progressive bonus after achieving a certain number of locations so the more you visited the hire the cumulative bonus.  That was an interesting twist. Additionally, we were informed that the leg one bonus locations would be generally northern US, leg two would be generally northeastern and mid-Atlantic US, leg three would be generally southern US.  “Generally,” was a key term here … At that point rally veterans went back to our rooms to plan our routes but rookies were able to stay to for some extra pointers. 

As I reviewed the locations, I noticed the number of locations was less than prior rallies.  My normal process is to break the bonus locations down into groups based on the point value and import them in 4 or 5 groups with different colors and/or shapes.  This allows me to suppress the lower point value locations so I can start building my route on the higher point vales.  Due to the relatively small number of locations I opted to rely on the name of each bonus which I had modified to include the point value and availability and instead only did two imports, one for the locations valid for the entire rally and another for those only valid for the leg.  This saved me some time but was a decision I would later regret.  I settled on a route around midnight that had me going north to Salt Lake City and then turning southwest and heading to Reno NV, then backtracking for a few hours and then heading north up into Idaho and then east to Lake Michigan before turning south to the checkpoint in Carmel IN.

Planned route for leg 1

I arrived at this route because I had originally planned to go to the photo bonus but realized if I went direct to the bonus location, I’d have about 90 minutes of down time waiting for the bonus time.  There were no bonus locations worth enough points in my opinion to fill in this time, so I skipped the photo bonus.  I had one alternative route that would get me about the same number of points where I’d go south from Reno and then east along the southern border, however I skipped that because we were told that the last leg would generally have locations in the south and I thought my time would be better spent up north since I’d be able to claim the southern bonus locations in leg 3.  Satisfied that my route was the best that I could ride I called it a night.

Stay tuned for Leg one …