I am writing this a few days after getting home from the 2019 Iron Butt Rally (IBR). This was my 3rd IBR and dare I say I was nowhere near prepared for it. In hindsight, I picked the wrong one to go into without being at the top of my game. I had grand plans, start working out to get in better physical shape to increase my endurance, start riding my butt off as soon as the weather broke, and take an off road riding course to increase my skills and confidence in handling the occasional unpaved road. None of that happened. I even had an aborted certificate ride on my way to the Jacksonville FL IBA banquet, the first I have ever had. I was concerned it would be an indicator of what to expect of my performance in the IBR, but those concerns were laid to rest a few weeks later when I did a 24 hour ride around PA for the Tour of Honor and in May when I rode out to Oklahoma for my uncle’s funeral. I should have listened to my instincts, but then there really wasn’t much I could do at that point other than dropping out of the IBR and I certainly wasn’t going to do that. The cause of all of this was simple family commitments and could not have been avoided, but they took a toll on me and my ability to ride. In flying there is a mnemonic we use to evaluate ourselves prior to flying, IMSAFE (Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue, and Emotion). Fatigue is part of every IBR and we learn to deal with it safely by resting when we need to. However my lack of physical shape caused me to be fatigued quicker than normal. And then there was the stress I put on myself prior to the IBR. I joked before the IBR that it would be relaxing, in truth I was simply substituting one form of stress for another. I am providing this background not as an explanation for why I did not finish as high as I wanted, but more as a warning especially to those who have never ridden in the IBR that you need to be at the top of your game for this event. Anyway, on to what you really want to read.
This year other than my family commitments I had little drama in preparation for and getting to the IBR (hooray!!!). My only issue was my XM Radio would stop working for no apparent reason. I had thought it was due to water getting into the USB connection at the antenna, but when it quit on the way to SC I realized that was not the case. I got there mid-day Thursday and it was great having a few days to hang out with friends and meet new ones. Saturday was tech inspection which involves signing releases and waivers, filling out forms, getting our camera cards checked to confirm they are the correct cards, verifying the level of insurance we carry meets the rally requirements, our VIN number is correct on your registration and insurance, our auxiliary fuel tanks are rigidly mounted and our total fuel meets the maximum requirements, and we complete a 30 mile odometer check ride. Once done we were free for the rest of the day. I played with my XM antenna and it quit again, so I reached out to a friend and asked him to overnight a spare antenna to the checkpoint so I could install it then. Sunday the rally poster was unveiled in the morning and it did not shed much light on the theme as it showed images of various landmarks around the country such as Mt Evans, a Lighthouse, and Alice’s Restaurant (the one in California, not Mass).
Also, in the words of the Rally Master, we belong to the rally staff. Riders begin to get their game face on, rookies attend a rookie meeting in the morning, and all riders attend a rider meeting in the afternoon. We then had a group photo and at 6:00 pm or so it was banquet time and we feasted. After we got done eating what was likely was our last good meal for 11 days it was time to hand out the rally books. This year rally numbers were assigned by the lowest IBA number, I was rider #43 out of 102 or so riders (bikes actually since some were two up).
The theme was “The Road Less Traveled”. We learned we would be visiting notable motorcycle destinations and/or riding on curvy back roads. We also noted that what we received was just a small rally book with a relatively small number of bonus locations and only covered the first leg. That was our first indication that something was different this time. Then it was noted that the location of the bonus was not necessarily at the coordinates in the files we had been provided, but it was “close”. When asked how close they were we were told within 100 miles. Perhaps we were paying penance for all those rallies in the past where we did not fully read the rally book (I always did, honest!!!) This meant this would not be a rally where one simply threw together a route on their routing software and blasted off on their ride. After dinner we went back to our rooms to begin planning our rides.
We all have our own method for planning but there is much similarity in the steps performed. Many of us rename our bonus locations to include availability and point values, we load them into our GPS(s) and mapping software. Then review the locations on a map and focus on the higher value bonus locations that we feel we can obtain and fill in the route with smaller locations until we have a route that we feel gets us the most points and we can comfortably ride.
I follow the philosophy of not going all out for the first leg to save some energy for the second and third legs. I chose not to go east to the large bonus locations on the east coast due to traffic concerns and not wanting to add more miles to an already long route. The distance to the checkpoint in Kennewick WA is around 2,600 miles, I told myself I did not want to do more than 3,500 miles before the rally. I ended up planning for 3,700. And since some of the locations were rather remote or were in tourist areas I decided to book my hotel rooms in advance which I rarely do. With that it was time for bed around 1am.
Day 1, Leg 1: Greenville SC – Paducah KY
My alarm went off around 6:30 am, I packed, and went down for breakfast. After I ate I carried stuff out and loaded the bike. I had about 100 miles of fuel in the tanks, so I headed out to top off my tanks and then was back in line to wait … and wait … and wait. On the bright side my XM Radio was working again. At 8am it was odometer check time and I was at my bike this year and took care of that. As I was waiting a friend from the XLForum who I had never met in person before, Cindy, stopped by so we got to hang out for an hour or so and I introduced her to some of the other riders.
Cindy is a long distance rider who also rides a Sportster and someone I looked up to when I first got started. At 9:30 am we had our last briefing on the start process, and it was time to go … I mean go to the bathroom … At 9:55am. I took care of business and got to my bike. As I was in the middle of the pack there was little danger of being the first bike to leave. I started my bike and was patiently waiting for my signal to go, and when they were about 5-6 bikes from me my bike stalled and would not restart. After a few seconds which seemed like hours I realized that my issue was likely due to vapor lock in the fuel line from my auxiliary tank so I switched over to the main tank and the bike fired right up just as the rider next to me was pulling out. And with the point of a finger I was off on my 3rd IBR.
To get out of the lot we had several turns to make and I heeded the warning we were given about “cold tires”, especially since there were cameras all over the place and any mishap would be recorded for eternity. We also had police manning the lights so we had a clear shot out to the highway. As with rallies past, the adrenaline was pumping and I was forcing myself to keep the speed down to an acceptable limit. The route to my first bonus took me through some US and State Highways and of course there were traffic lights, and more lights. I had a tight schedule to keep to make the photo bonus which was my third stop for the day. I meandered my way through the towns and countryside of South Carolina and was a few minutes ahead of schedule which was good because at my first stop I had a hike from the parking lot to the location I needed to take my photo. As I neared my stop I found I had two other riders ahead of me, both obviously in the rally. Suddenly one turned off and as I went by I saw the sign for where he turned and it seemed vaguely familiar, however I kept going because the magenta line on my GPS said so. 8 ½ miles later I came to an intersection and the GPS said I had arrived. I looked around and decided I needed to consult my rally book, so I found a corner in a parking lot and did so. My bonus was Whitewater Falls, and reading the rallybook it said:
“Southeast on NC-281 approx 8.5 mi to parking lot turn off 35.0297, -83.0162. Viewing platform at 35.0344, -83.0158”
I muttered a few choice expletives and marveled at how the directions had me backtracking along my route, almost as if they knew what direction we’d be coming from. I had no excuse, as I had been down this path before in another rally. As I turned around I vowed to not let this happen again and that after the day was over I’d be sure that the rest of my planned bonus stops had the actual location rather than the one in the data file. I rode the 8 ½ miles back to the turn and went to the bottom of the parking lot. I hopped off my bike, grabbed my flag and rally book, and started on my hike. When I was about 1/3 of the way there I realized I had forgotten my camera, so I muttered more expletives and went back to the bike. I was conscious of the ticking clock and since this was the lowest of the three bonus locations for the afternoon I decided to skip it and go on to the next one. About 15 miles up the road I realized that I was behind schedule and if I continued on to this stop I’d miss the larger photo bonus, so I pulled the plug on this one and decided to head back to the one I had skipped, Whitewater falls. I could not believe the horrendous misuse, waste actually, of time and chalked it up to this being my first rally of the year. I was hoping this was not a sign of things to come. One good thing about longer rallies is you normally have time to recover from mistakes, but not too many. I arrived back in the parking lot and grabbed my flag, rally book, AND CAMERA, and set off up the trail. I got lots of strange looks hiking in my riding jacket however I had no way of securing it to the bike and my wallet and spare pens were in the pockets. I got to the end of the trail and walked down the 154 steps (over 165 in my count) to the viewing platform and right in front of me was a couple taking up the entire area preventing a clear photo. As I was about to ask that they step aside they did so on their own accord and I took my photo as required.
Some of the others there asked if I was doing a scavenger hunt and since I now had an extra hour to get to my next stop and needed to catch my breath I explained what I was doing and why. Some got it, and others shook their heads. I then started my climb up the stairs and hiked back to my bike, loaded up and I was off. I had some great roads through the countryside and arrived at the site for the photo bonus, Fontana Dam, an hour or so early. I rode through and exited the lot, certainly raising an eyebrow or two from the rally staff, and made my way back to a small store a mile or so up the road so I could use a restroom. As it was hot I decided I wanted ice cream so I grabbed something from the freezer. I noted a large amount of items for the Tail of the Dragon, which for those who don’t know is an 11 mile long stretch of US 129 along the NC and TN border that boasts around 300+ curves. I asked if we were close to it and I was told it was all of 8 miles away. I hopped on the bike and headed off to the dam to hang out with the other 15-20 riders until it was time for the photo.
Once the photo was taken we got on our bikes and headed out, and a few miles away we found ourselves riding the Tail of The Dragon in fully loaded rally bikes, not my first choice of things to do and had someone said I’d be there during an IBR I would have called them crazy as the road is such a huge time suck even without traffic. We moved along at a good clip until I came around a corner and lying across the road was a two up couple from the rally on a big touring bike. We all stopped and helped them right the bike and pick up the big pieces from the road. After checking several times to see if they needed anything we were on our way at a slightly reduced clip. I had a fairly long ride to my next bonus, Indian Grave Gap Trailhead in Smoky Mountains National Park and as I entered the park I realized I had another rallier behind me. This was a HUGE time suck as we had to follow a park road winding through the park with a posted speed of 25 mph, however most of the cars were doing 5-10. Now if they were seeing deer, elk, etc. I could see that, but they were seeing horses, in Tennessee, really? Horses were all over the place with most open areas part of a horse farm. Some were nice enough to let us pass, others we were able to scoot around when they stopped, and eventually my GPS said we were there. I parked and pulled out the rally book to see we were not there. The rally book said:
“From Cades Cove Loop Road, proceed north on Rich Mountain Road approximately 2.8 miles to the Indian Grave Gap Trail marker. The marker is at 35.6233, -83.8158.” We got to the trailhead and took our photos and were on our way.
I believe we had a 4 ½ ride on a gravel road to the exit which took forever. From there on it was an uneventful ride for the rest of the day and I stopped around midnight in Paducah KY
Total miles covered for the day were approximately 550
Day 2, Leg 1: Paducah KY – Salida CO
My alarm went off around 6am and I was on the road by 6:30. I had a long but simple day ahead of me, simply transit from the Eastern US to the Western US with two bonus stops for the day, one was Mushroom Rock in Ellsworth KS, and the other was the Creede Underground Mining Museum in Creede CO. My lack of prep and training for the rally was evident as I was having difficulty throughout the day and was making frequent stops. I lost about 2 hours enroute because I needed a break and I drank so much caffeine that I had the shakes by the end of the day. I also had some heavy rain periodically throughout the day. I was exiting the interstate and realized I no longer had rear brakes, really??? I had replaced the caliper and master cylinder not long ago (Ok it was 10,000 miles and 4 months). There was nothing I could do about it at the time so I continued on to my first stop, Mushroom Rock. I made my way down some KS highways and came to the turnoff which was a dirt road. I silently gave thanks because it was dirt rather than gravel and was probably doing 30-40 mph when I hit the dirt. My thanks was short lived however when the entire bike went sideways on me and I was just along for the ride. I chose to chop the throttle and hope the bike settled down before I was thrown off and fortunately it did. I had 1 ½ miles to the photo spot and I took my time keeping my feet down just in case. After about a mile it started to get worse and I figured enough was enough, so I opted to turn around at an intersection. Turning around was no easy feat since when I cut the wheel hard it simply pushed mud and the bike went straight. I finally had the bike pointed in the correct direction and stopped, exhausted. I considered leaving the bike and walking the ½ mile to the bonus, but there was no place to leave the bike and it was likely the side stand would simply sink in the mud, so I worked my way back to the road. Yes, I’m a wimp, but the last time I dropped my bike I tore a hamstring picking it up and I did not wish to repeat that experience on day two of the IBR. I continued west into Colorado with the rest of the day being on 2 lane state highways. I had some heavy rain off and on and the temperature dropped significantly once the sun went down and I started climbing in elevation. Not sure how cold it was but my heated gear was just barely keeping me warm. If I had to guess it was in the lower 30’s. I arrived at the miner’s museum in Creede CO at 2:30 am local time and noted that the object we had to photograph, a small steam locomotive, was not where it was supposed to be. Normally this would cause a call to the rally master however I had long been out of cell coverage so I took photos of the steam engine that was there, and the side of the museum which was made of logs and rather distinctive, and of a sign for the museum. And as I was about to head out I saw a steam engine on the other side of the road near a garage and as I approached it I recognized it as the one we were to photograph. I took a few photos of it thinking that I now had a number of photos that would confirm I was where I was supposed to be.
I made my way back down the mountain and into Salida CO which is where my room was. I think I checked in around 3:30 am, however that was local time and I had left around 6:30 am eastern time, so I had been on the road for 23 hours and had covered about 1300 miles. I also got rather interesting looks from the hotel clerk.
Total distance covered for the day was 1300 miles and 1850 miles for the rally
Day 3, Leg 1: Salida CO – Dubois WY
Due to my late arrival I slept in until 9:00 am. When I went outside I was greeted with a magnificent view.
I was out an on the road at 9:30 headed to Mt Evans and then on to Billings MT to set myself up for my first bonus on the following day, Bear Tooth Pass. As I was riding I started thinking about my rear brakes, or lack there or, and what I should do about them. First step would be to bleed them but that is not an easy job solo unless you have 8 ft. long arms which I do not. I elected to worry about it at the check point but did not relish the idea of riding in the mountains with no rear brakes. Also looking at the time I realized I needed more sleep as I had another 1300 mile day tomorrow and as it was I would be getting in late and accruing penalty points. I decided to forego the Bear Tooth pass bonus as it was worth a little over 1,000 points and get more sleep during my rest bonus which would cover some of the lost points. I saw that I could not cancel my hotel room in Billings but decided to book a room in Riverton WY anyway, chalking the unused room up to a cost of riding in the rally. As I rode on I decided to see how close my route took me to Dubois WY which was were Declan, a friend of mine who now had a motorcycle repair business lived. As luck would have it, my route took me right through Dubois WY. I gave him a call and asked if he could take a look at my bike and if I could spend the night at his place. He said yes to both so I changed my destination for the day to his place. When I stopped for fuel next I went to cancel my hotel room in Riverton and it turns out I could not cancel that one either. Not wanting to take the time to call I simply decided to eat that cost as well so I now had two hotel rooms for that day which would go unused.
An hour or so after I left my hotel I got to my first and only bonus of the day, Mt Evans, and paid my admittance to the park. The ranger asked if I was in the rally too and I said I was, obviously I was not the first to claim this bonus. I had approximately 13 miles to get to the top of the mountain and climbed, and climbed, and climbed. I remarked at the smooth but narrow road, a whopping 1 ½ lanes wide, and the lack of a guardrail in some areas with a rather long drop to the bottom. When I got to the 10 mile mark the road changed, the quality deteriorated, there was now snow in the corners, switchbacks became prevalent, and it narrowed to being one lane wide in places. I hit an unexpected bump in the road that I felt in my spine and my XM radio quit again! As I made my way up the switchbacks a couple of times my wheels slipped on the snow but I was able to keep the bike upright and continued my ascent. Finally I got to the top and found a decent size parking lot. I looked for a place to park and found one, however the winds from hell were now howling. I tried to get off the bike but when I did the wind almost blew me and the bike over. I put my sailors hat on and pointed the bike into the wind and got off with no issue. I pulled out my rally book to see what photo I needed and I had to take a picture of the ruins of an old restaurant at the summit with my bike in the photo. I moved the bike out to the very start of the parking spot, took my flag out and placed it on my windshield secured with a binder clip, and then pulled my camera out of the camera case and laid the case down on my seat, only to see it instantly depart my seat and tumble across the parking lot and over the side of the mountain before I could make a move. I took a few photos to be sure I had one where you could read the number on my flag and see the ruins and my bike, and was off.
Going down was much easier than going up and 30 or so minutes later I was leaving the park behind me. Most of the rest of the day went without incident and I found myself riding some nice roads in the CO and WY countryside. As I was nearing my friend’s town in Dubois traffic came to a halt and people were outside their cars. Just after I stopped my friend Steve pulled up with his girlfriend Micki and we chatted for a few minutes until someone from the car informed us there was an accident ahead with a fatality and the police stated the road could be closed for several hours as they waited for a coroner. And there was no visible way around the road closure so we were stuck. Fortunately for our sake they decided to let traffic pass and we saw traffic coming from the opposite lane and 10-20 or so minutes later we were moving. As we closed on the accident scene my worst fears were realized and there was a bike on the ground. It wasn’t a rally bike so it was none of the ralliers however it was very sad to see. I shook that off and 15 minutes later I was in town at 7:40 pm. I topped off with gas and took a photo of the Jackalope inside.
I then headed to my friend’s house a few blocks away using “the force” to find it since I did not have his address. After a few minutes I broke down and gave him a call and he directed me to his house which was the next street over. (Note that as my wife reads this she is likely laughing at me!!!)
I unloaded the bike, pushed the bike on the lift, and walked inside the house to change and use the bathroom. When I came out Dec told me the brakes were working again and they simply needed bleeding. I laughed, shook my head, and then we decided to change the fluid just in case it had been contaminated as we could not figure out why they would suddenly fail like that. We also installed a new kickstand spring because mine was stretched a bit. All in all we maybe put 30 minutes into working on my bike. We chatted for a bit and then I took a shower and went to bed around 9pm.
Total distance covered for the day was 650 miles and 2500 miles for the rally
Day 4, Leg 1: Dubois WY – Kennewick WA
What seemed like moments later my alarm was going off at 3:00 am. I used to go to bed at this time, not get up!!! There is no way my parents will believe I am their son. I hit snooze twice and then forced myself out of bed and got dressed. I had a 2 ½ hour ride ahead of me to get to my first stop of the day, Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. Dec was up and made me coffee which I gladly drank. I thanked him for his help and the bed and got on the road around 3:45. First I needed to get a receipt to end my rest bonus and I chose an ATM since I did not need gas. I checked my balance so I would not incur a fee and the first thing I noticed was it was blank, great. I could see the bank logo but that was it. Then I turned it over and the info including the time, date, and address were printed on the back. Someone had put the paper in upside down. Crisis averted I proceeded on my way keeping an eye out for forest rats (deer) and the larger critters that called this area home. After all, I was no longer at the top of the food chain! 90 minutes later I saw the sky was getting lighter and I came around a bend to see the Grand Tetons lit up by the sun at daybreak and reflected in a body of water. Even though I was on a tight schedule I just had to pull over for a quick non-rally picture.
Once taken I made my way into the park and to the Old Faithful Lodge, where I went in and sat down to wait for Old Faithful to do her thing. As I was waiting two other riders came in. After a while we say signs of life from the geyser and went outside to capture the eruption, the time was 7:46 am and I had been there for approximately 90 minutes.
We said our goodbyes and headed off on our own way. I left the park from the western entrance and noted the long lines of people coming in. I made my way north and west up into Montana and had to deal with several rain showers and two construction zones where the pavement was gone and we had to be escorted through the site. That cost me an hour or so. I turned off on the road leading to the bonus and was greeted with a car whose driver decided he would rather do 20 mph below the speed limit. Fortunately a passing zone appeared and I was able to get around him. 15 or so miles later I was at the bonus which was the Dirty Shame Saloon. I could hear music coming from inside and if the circumstances were different I would have gone in for a beer.
Alas it was time to move on, so I did. It was 3:45 local time had a 300 mile ride ahead of me to the finish. My GPS said I’d get in before 8pm when penalty points started accruing but I would need to make one fuel stop and I was tired. Other than one slowdown I made good time and got in at 8:29pm PDT at a cost of 290 points. I was good with that!
Tobie Stevens Photo
I had an hour to present myself for scoring so I got my room, showered, reviewed my score sheet, and was ready for scoring at 9:15.
Scoring went well and the only points I lost were the penalty points for getting in late. I grabbed some food, swallowed it, and chatted with a few of the other riders for a bit. I retrieved the spare XM radio antenna from the hotel desk and since mine was working I chose not to use it. I took a brief walk outside to wind down and was scolded by one of the rally staff for not being in bed. And with that I went in around 10 pm for 5 1/2 hours of sleep.
Total distance covered for the day was 1000 miles and 3500 miles for the rally