Saddle Sore 1000: First attempt (part 1 of 2)

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Strat Tuner

25 September 2013
Saddle Sore 1000 Preamble


I have owned two motorcycles in my life. The first I bought - in cash - to ride through my high school Jr./Sr. Years. I remember my mother (God rest her soul) stamped her foot and said “you're not buying a motorcycle. I will not co-sign.” I took her at her word and worked summers at a book warehouse to save up $1,578 for a brand new Kawasaki KZ440B (blue). The dealer was surprised but very helpful once he knew I had cash. It was a commuter's bike: upright twin, air cooled, chain drive, dual rear shocks, but it was also the first brand new vehicle anyone in my family ever bought. I rode it for six years as my primary transportation in California's rain and sun. I sold it for $300 after marriage and our first daughter.
Fast forward thirty years. Both daughters are grown and out of the house, and I'm missing my family life like I never thought I could. My life-long quiet boast has always been “I am the husband of one wife, and the father of two daughters.” Well, I'm still married to the girl of my dreams, but the family years are fading into something less intense and frequent. Now what? Who am I now?
One of the things I am is a motorcycle rider. Only family and close friends know that, but once you learn to ride, you never lose that identity. It was time to ride again, I thought, for the simple reverse of the reason I stopped. Back then, the risk was too great. I had to be there for my family and (to be blunt) not dead on the highway somewhere. I have discharged the biggest part of that paternal duty, and now the risk balance changes. If the worst happens, the girls will at least be able to say their father raised them all the way to adulthood. I could afford the risk again.
The second motorcycle I ever owned would be a Honda NC700x: $7,500, (yikes!), inline twin, cylinders canted 65 deg, mono-shock, chain drive (silver and black). It's marketed as an entry-level “Adventure” bike, but it's a cruiser at heart with 17” rims and low RPM (3,900 at 70 mph). The engine design was my primary attraction. I wanted the quietest, most durable, ride I could find. BMW would have been my first choice thanks to reading William Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but BMW is just too expensive for this son of a potato farmer! I really wanted belt or shaft drive, but I settled for chain for the sake of cost. At least it's a known, dependable, predictable, proven, drive technology. The family savings took yet another huge hit, but I rode it home 300+ miles from an out of state dealer … all paid for!
Books have always been the greatest influence in my life, and so it happened again with a book called Hopeless Class by Joel Rappoport. It gave me a glimpse into the hobby of long-distance riding... a subject I knew nothing about. Here was a group of people dedicated to the idea that one could go “far” not necessarily “fast”. I don't know if you could call it a “sport”, but if you did, it certainly isn't as glamorous as other motorcycle sports like track racing or off-roading. It's quieter and more conservative and, for many like me, more appealing because it is so. It's centered around the IBA or “Iron Butt Association”. Now, if you'd asked me a year ago if I would ever belong to a society of friends that had “butt” in the title, I would have said “probably not”. After reading about the IBA rally and the Association, I wanted to join. To do that, you have to complete a challenge ride. The easiest is the “Saddle Sore 1000”: 1000 miles in 24 hours or less. I started researching how it's done and planning my route.
Why do something like this? Again, a favorite books provides insight. In Jon Krakauer's book Into the Wild, he describes the modern experience of attempting a “brave deed”. He writes about climbing the “Devil's Thumb” which is a technically difficult, dangerous, thing to do. He plans, executes, survives and returns home to construction work hammering nails next to someone, Jon realizes, doesn't care at all! His conclusion is that if you want to attempt a “brave deed” then you'd better have another reason than wanting to impress people you know. They simply won't care. You should do it because you're answering an inner call. For me, it's the age old reason: I climb the mountain (ride the ride)… because it's there.
I've had a two training rides of 700 miles in 12 hours. Both help me see that I really can do this, and the attempt comes this weekend. Monday morning, I'll be in the company of co-workers who don't know and wouldn't care much if they did. I'm still excited and looking forward to the 1[SUP][FONT=Times New Roman, serif]st[/FONT][/SUP] IBA challenge ride.
Route: Temecula (near San Diego), Las Vegas, Flagstaff, Phoenix, and home. It makes a circuit of 1,076 miles (according to google maps.)



Monday After...


At 04:00 hours, I woke up before the alarm and and shut it off so it wouldn't disturb my wife. It's a faulted notion, actually: the idea that one can get up and out of bed and not have your spouse know... but we do it anyway.


I had all the gear stacked in the living room for easy access: riding suit, three pairs of gloves, two sweaters, and thermal “leggings” I usually use for cycling. They keep me warm on the bicycle, so I figured they'd make a good base layer.


I took the time to push my Honda NC700x out of the back yard and on to the street before starting it. It's one of the quietest rides I've ever heard (or not heard), but I didn't want to start it up at 04:45 so close to so many bedroom windows. It was pre-sunrise cool, but not cold... 50 deg. F, and headed for 80F for most of the day. No rain in Vegas, Flagstaff, or Phoenix.


The Iron Butt Association require each rider to document his/her ride. This consists of having a starting/ending witness who will sign that he saw you leave/arrive at the time noted. Since we are able to have our spouses do that, I knew I could get my lovely wife to sign for me. The official clock starts ticking with the time stamp on the first gas receipt of the morning. I wanted that to be right around 05: 00 hrs, so I took a little time to stop at McDonald's fast food and eat an egg on a muffin and drink a tall cup of coffee faster than I should have. That first, time-stamped, gas receipt came from the Chevron corner gas station: 04:50 hours. I would have to get another receipt from the same gas station at the finish to stop the clock... hopefully before 24 hours elapsed!


Riding along I-15 at 05:00 hours in the dark is really quite relaxing. Most of the night-life drunks have gone home or to jail, the angry impatient commuters aren't there yet, and the freeway is as empty as it ever is. (Much of the story is about regional freeways in California, Nevada, and Arizona. 'No way to avoid that... and about “me” since I was the only one there.) I know the I-15 from Temecula to Rancho Cucamonga very well. For five years, it was my morning commute, and I rode wondering if I were ever one of the angry and impatient? Maybe, on some mornings. My self-memory editor discards hard facts like that and leaves me with pictures of the nicest guy you'd ever meet... who sorta looks like me.


If you live long enough, there aren't too many places you can go that don't remind you of another time and place with family. Every freeway for 400 miles in any direction is that way for me. I should note here that in any direction is a different term here in California as you may only travel North, East, or South! West puts you into the blue part of the map.


I got on I-15 at Pechanga Indian Reservation and started. Looking over my shoulder to the left I could see “Old Town” and got my first flood of memory. We've spent many happy hours there. I immediately thought of our youngest daughter's first “wine tasting” on her 21[SUP]st[/SUP] birthday. She wanted this to be at a winery in the company of her loving parents. That's an odd idea to me since our red-neck heritage says it should have been in a truck somewhere remote... but maybe that means we've escaped the family cliche'... One can only hope. The winery we chose was full, and worse, full of the world's elite. The bar was packed, and we felt out-of-place trying to get to it. We abandoned the effort and went to a familiar wine tasting room we know in Temecula Old Town. Tesoro is small and quiet, and has near perfect acoustics for the sounds of conversation, local guitar players, and the gentle clink of wine glasses. We ordered a tasting there from “Ray” who we know by name, and he smiled, obliged, and made a sort of first-wine-tasking souvenir from a wine cork. He presented it to that lovely young girl, and I bet she still has it.


It was still dark by the time I got to lake Elsinore further north on I-15, and I couldn't help remembering photographing the departure, and spectacular return, of two retired Teachers who made their first and only parachute jumps there. The waiting area on the ground is a kind of camp where people fold parachutes and practice departing the plane from a life-size mounted door on a platform. One of our two made several practice jumps out of it, and you could see the indecision in her face. The practice wasn't about getting her footing right... it was about getting her head right before attempting the real thing. My heart went out to her. The bar there is cheap and gawdy, and just the sort of place to down something to steady ones nerves while singing Jimmy Buffet songs. It surprised me when the jump plane taxied on a nearby dirt air strip... I'd always wondered why I couldn't see the runway from I-15, and now I knew why. The day ended well with the jumpers gliding down to the same area suspended from brightly colored parachutes set against blue sky. It made for some nice photos, and the jumpers were glad to have them. I thought of the bar, the tables, and the plane all silent and empty at that dark morning hour I went by.


It was colder than I thought it would be on the 15, and I thought about stopping to put on an extra sweater. I keep one stashed inside the motorcycle's plastic body wedged between the steel frame that gives strength and the plastic panels that give shape. I always pack a little more than I need, and I've taught my children the phrase: “you can put on what you brought, but you can't take off what you left at home.” that phrase helps them, and me, remember to bring extra coats. I'm planning a solo trip to Omaha in November, and that experience there on the 15 taught me that I will have to dress a lot warmer... thermal underwear? Heated vest maybe? Maybe, but those darn things are expensive. If I retain anything from my red-neck, potato-farmer, heritage it's that I don't like spending a lot if good sense (and good engineering) will work just as well.


I-15 takes off, north, into the hills that separate Elsinore from the great plain that stretches out along the foot of the San Antonio Mountains. The area sometimes calls itself “the Inland Empire” to distinguish itself from California beach property. It's certainly not that! It's hot and good for agriculture and cattle.... though these days it sports more tract housing and warehouses than farms. It is one of the places where Mr. Kaiser refined steel for WW2 “liberty” ships. The steel mill is gone, but Kaiser Medical's empire started there and lives on. Mr. Leo Fender decided the area, in Corona, would be a good place for his expanded Guitar factory when Fender guitar outgrew its smallish brick warehouse in Fullerton. It's a big valley with a thousand “color” stories like that, and the place I grew up from age 1 to 45. It is my hometown.


15N is the first Interstate sign I can remember, and I watched it slip by like an old friend at 70 miles an hour up into the Cajon pass. As a kid, I remember that 15N meant we were on the right road going the right way. Our family went along the same road usually once very summer to go home and visit the family farm... what was left of it anyway: 40 acres, some dairy, and Uncle Lester who liked to sit on the porch and drink and talk about family I never knew. It is the house where my 16-year old mom crawled under an ancient washing machine to unplug a clogged drain hole. The combination of the tight place and boiling water burned her back from shoulder to hips. There were no burn wards near an Idaho potato farm when my mother was a girl, so aunt somebody (?) dressed her burns and taught her to wear outfits that would hide the scars. Not every memory is a pleasant one... that one I sshhhed and told to sit quietly amongst my other memories as I emerged from the Pass. I started to think about something else... as we always do. I remember sitting on the Farm House back porch on the Fourth of July. I was ten years old, and I poked a set of “sparklers” into the ground, like a stand of tiny trees, by the wooden steps. I lit them with a lighter and enjoyed a brilliant, firey, grove of light for as long as that moment lasted. I guess you could argue that the moment lasted 40+ years since it's still with me.


My mind wandered back to my ride and the twisted grades of the Cajon Pass. The pass is dangerous in winter when it snows, but there was no chance of that now as I watched the sun come up on my right side. The truckers and tourists seemed happy to be there. I was too.


It's not a good idea to drink a big cup of coffee before a long ride on I-15. It tastes good and wakes you up, but it makes you stop at gas stations along the way more frequently than you planned. I was not liking that much at all, and I knew I wouldn't do that again. After several stops, I actually needed gas. My NC700x has a name. We call it “MAC” sometimes because it has a double meaning. “Mac” was grandpa's (wife's side) nickname, and the letters also stand for “Middle Aged Crazy”; a good acronym for that bike and this rider! The tank holds 3.7 gallons, and can go 250 miles under ideal conditions. I was filling up at 150 just to be leisurely. Like the big cup of coffee, being “leisurely” and stopping for gas so frequently would turn out to be another bad choice.


I-15 turns up to head toward Las Vegas, and there's a rest stop there I rode by that hasn't changed in 30 years. It looks the same as it did when I stopped there with our family of four on the way to Las Vegas. In the pictures we have at home, you see a young married couple and their two small, blonde, girls standing and squinting in the bright sun and summer heat.


Baker is just about the half way point between the Cajon Pass and Las Vegas. Grandpa MAC used to stop there routinely for gas, and I pulled off on to its main street to relive memories of my own family there. We got out, stretched our young legs, and shopped the souvenir stores before having lunch. There weren't more than two or three of those early trips, but they were happy family times, and I miss them now more than ever. I had been sending all three Bowen girls texts at each stop. I'd send where I was and what mile it was of 1000. I was happy to text them from Baker where we had been together and happy in years past.


My next real gas stop (at 150miles on the tripometer) came at a Parkway that transitions from 15 to Hwy 95. It's straight, long, goes through industrial parks and housing tracts, and bypasses the worst Las Vegas Strip traffic. I have a flood of memory of family and Las Vegas and almost Every major hotel along the strip, it's dining hall and swimming pool! What I remembered now was that I-15 used to be the Vegas Strip. They were the same road! I-15 went down the hills into the valley and suddenly had stoplights, intersections, and more neon signs in one place that the world had ever seen! It's not like that now, I-15 turns and goes just to the left of the “the strip”, but it wasn't always that way. It was now time to Gas up in the city of Vegas, collect another receipt, write it in the official log of odometer readings, number it, and tuck it into my wallet for proof later. It felt like the half way point, but I knew it wasn't. I even took the time to take off most of the sweaters and leggings. It was getting hot, and I knew I'd feel better not wearing so much. I made the change in restroom and was glad I did. I set my GPS to tell me how far to the next “way point” was on the circuit. That turned out to be a mistake. I should have set the GPS to tell me ETA for the finish. I didn't, and next time I will.


Las Vegas seemed like a wonderland at age 12. We had to go through it on the way home to the family farm in Pocatello, Idaho, and I looked forward to it every time. My mother always took uncle Glen along (from who I get my middle name), and they shared the driving. Vegas was fun to look at, and they enjoyed it too, but it was expensive in the early 70s to stop there for gas or food. I remember walking the strip at night with my mom wide-eyed and slack jawed. Wow! What a place. Back then, kids couldn't get anywhere near gambling devices, and Circus Circus was the only place I could enter and go directly upstairs to the arcade (which we also couldn't afford much), and watch the circus trapeze show above the main gambling floor. Later in life, I came to the strip with my own family, first as tourists and later as band parents for two or three marching band competitions. It amazed me to be able to walk through big hotel casinos with my family with the slot machines so close. I never got to do that, and it felt good to finally eat at some of the restaurants with my family. I felt privileged in a way that my own children will never understand, and I'm glad they don't! I texted the family “Las Vegas, Baby!” as Frank Sinatra might have phrased it.


Next on my big circuit was Highway 95. It goes from Vegas down to I-40. (I-40 follows much of what used to be the famed Route 66). 95 is straight as if someone had drawn a ruler on the map to plan the highway! It's well maintained and acts as a bypass for Hoover Dam. I knew it wouldn't be a good use of time to go across the top of Hoover Dam, but I did stop at a “scenic exit” and take a photo of the mighty Colorado River just after it exists the Dam. Water going through that rocky, desert, country looks so out of place.. though I know it's been there long before history had any remembering. It was still light, but the straightness of 95 is hypnotic, and not in a good way. I was glad for any small town gas stop, fast food, casino intersection along the highway that gave it some interest. The straightest parts made me want to take a nap which is not a good idea at 70mph on a two-wheeled vehicle! It's not modern, but I DO NOT carry an electronic music playing device. I prefer the silent contemplation of scenery and miles to just about any music, but I do concede 95 is one stretch of road where I could have used the distraction.


95 puts you on I-40 at Kingman, AZ which is a pleasant town in “open carry” country in the great state of Arizona. I have a much more recent memory of being in a Walmart there, buying chain lubrication, on a different trip, and seeing that I was one of the few guys NOT carrying a side arm. I love it! I don't own firearms, but I'm glad that there are still places in our country where you can own them and even carry them around with you.


I-40 (or Route 66) is a long road! As Interstates go, it's well maintained and not crowded like the 15 can be on a Sunday night! It follows 66, and the towns along it try to hold on to that 50's, route 66 era. Seligman is notable and has a couple souvenir stores and cafe's that look “of the period”. I side tracked over to it and bought gas even though I didn't need to. It was a leisurely trip, right? I ate an energy bar in the parking lot. Here seems a good place to talk a little about “Route 66”. I've seen Seligman, and I've gone out into the wilds along the real route 66 to see what it's like. “Route 66” and the time period it conjures are GONE FOREVER. Seligman is a sad, nostalgic, gas stop, and the “real” Route 66 sections I found out in the desert are so badly maintained, I was worried I would shred a tire before finding an on-ramp back to the smooth safety of I-40. You'll have a better idea of what Route 66 was if you go to California Adventures at Disneyland. Strangely enough, I've seen a few places along 66 where the hotel, the pool, the parking lot are all gone... but the sign is still there... Apparently, you can tear down everything but the “route 66” era sign!


The upper-right corner of my big circuit was “meteor crater road” in Arizona. When I planned the trip, I had to drag the Google Maps waypoint marker that far out to make the circuit more than 1,000 miles. Flagstaff to Meteor crater road was the only place I went coming and going. The road is near a big meteor crater... which I would have like to seen, but I settled for getting off the Interstate there as the sun set. There's not even a gas station there, but there was a local Sheriff car parked near the abandoned station to make sure... of what? That no one bothered a heap of metal siding standing in the desert, I guess? I needed a place to take off my riding suit and put the sweaters and leggings back on. Where did I carry this stuff? “MAC” has his gas tank under the seat. This leaves the traditional tank space free for storage. There's a trunk door that opens on the top of what looks like a gas tank. It's a spacious and convenient storage area where I carried everything I needed. Changing clothes was a problem as it was still light, and the Sheriff was near and on the look out! I went over the overpass to the other side which has two features: the I-40 on-ramp to take you back and a flat side-road that dead ends into the unchanged desert. Since it was on the other side of the “hump” the sheriff wouldn't see me take off the big suit and stand in my bike shorts and sport shirt to put on warmer clothing. Now there's a memory, changing clothes on the edge of the desert as the cars go by on I-40 and local law enforcement lurks near by!


I got back on and decided to set my GPS for “home” and not just the next “leg”. ETA? 02:30!!! Uh oh! What happened!?! My planned ETA for the whole circuit was 23:30! I realized that all the unnecessary coffee stops and the early, leisurely, gas stops came at a price. It was pushing my Finish time further and further away. If I'd had the ETA set for the whole trip, I would have known that! Darn. Now I would resume the circuit with renewed urgency. As always, when something goes wrong, you try to compensate. What could I do that would help? I could start by doing what I should have done all day and stop for gas when it was critical at 180 miles and up, not at 150 miles. No more side trips to interesting places either. That part was easy because the sun was going down. Hmmm... that still wouldn't solve the time problem. I'd stop losing time, but I wouldn't gain any. How could I stay up until 02:30 hours? I knew I could try one of those 5-hour energy drinks I saw at gas station convenience stores. Coffee created other problems, so I'd avoid that. Maybe a couple of those five-hour drinks would be enough to keep me alert until I got home?


I back-tracked on I-40 until it came to the I-17 which goes south from Flagstaff to Phoenix. There were forests on both sides, and I realized that I would like to make the drive again with my wife in the day time. Much of the riding I do has that very effect. It makes me come back in a car with the one I love. I had to stop for gas one time along 17, and I noted there were a lot more expensive sport cars in the gas station parking lots. Hmmm... must be a nice area.


Phoenix is an ugly town. There's no way around that, but it has a lot of family marching band memories. The Fiesta Bowl competition is there, and we attended it two or three times over the eight years my daughters spent in marching band. I could see hotels we'd stayed at as I rode past. I could find the dealership where, six months before, I bought MAC. There's another memory... I hadn't been on a sizable motorcycle in 30 years, and there I was taking the keys and riding out of the parking lot so that I could ride to Temecula from Phoenix! It seemed like a huge ride six months ago, but tonight it was just a segment of a larger effort.


Night time riding is not fun. Every highway in the world looks the same at night, and the endless repetition of reflectors has that unpleasant hypnotic effect I noted on highway 95. It's repetitious uniformity makes you sleepy. I was happy to stop for gas and have a local retired Marine stop me and ask for pocket change because he'd left his credit card at home. I have him two dollars in quarters, and when he combined it with his own change he had enough for a gallon of gas. He actually asked if he could mail the $2 to me. I declined. I did wonder, as he drove away in his pickup, how far just one gallon would get him. I hoped he lived close.


I-10 is ruler straight and monotonous. It was nearing 23:00 hours, and I was tired. Two 5-hour energy drinks were wearing off, and I had a good sense I wouldn't make it past Blythe on the California / Nevada border. Now was the time to contemplate defeat. I knew I wouldn't finish, and what would I make of that? Would it be a crushing disappointment leaving me gloomy and sullen for days after? I thought it might as the self-recriminations poured in, but at some point, I decided the best course was to remain positive and try again. (Later I would find out my wife dreaded my bad mood at home, so when I arrived upbeat, she was relieved. There's an important lesson there for this husband... possibly more important than anything else that happened on this trip.) Back on I-10,I could feel the sleepiness coming on.. you know it's happening when you lift your head and realize the sound and light are fading back in... what you don't notice is that they faded out in the first place! When that starts, it's time to stop your ride. I limped into Blythe and stayed at the motel 6 where I had stayed with my family many times before. I texted the family “DNF. Sleep time in Blythe”.


In the morning I showered and left seeking no breakfast. It was beautiful sunshine and cool in the California desert, and again my temptation was to ignore that and contemplate being a failure. Once again, I was able to defeat that idea. It was a beautiful day, and I was going through fine country, and the renewed hope for another shot at this adventure, on another weekend, took hold. I felt better and found my appetite and stopped at Denny's in Palm Springs. I ate pancakes and eggs and even had a cup of coffee... hey, what did it matter now... I could go as slow as I wanted and stop when I had to. In Beaumont, I reprogrammed the GPS to take me home “avoiding highways”. That took me off I-10 and on to highway 79S. I had never gone that way, and it was a good choice. Very pretty farm land about to be over run by closely spaced stucco homes. (Seems to be a theme in this part of the world.)


I finished up going through wine country. I had to make one more gas stop, and standing there in my gear next to my bike, a man rode up in a truck and said “hey Don, is that you?” I looked at him and noticed it was one of the local musicians we know from local tasting rooms, wineries, and various open mic. nights. “Is this you finishing up that big ride? Man that is so cool!” He shook my hand and we parted knowing we'd see each other around town soon enough. I could tell the story then. I was encouraged. Staying positive about the attempt, even for a DNF, was the right choice.


At home, I greeted my wife of 30 years and thanked her for letting me go. She admitted that she was worried I'd come home in a blue mood having not met the goal, but I was looking forward to another attempt in the spring and loving life for having had the chance to do this at all.


Iron Butt? Maybe not yet, but close. Contented and hopeful heart? Definitely. I live to ride again.
 

L.B.S.

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That was a great read, no matter the outcome. Thanks for taking the time and trouble to put it out there and share, very much appreciated! :)

Eagerly awaiting part II :D
 

StratTuner

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That was a great read, no matter the outcome. Thanks for taking the time and trouble to put it out there and share, very much appreciated! :)

Eagerly awaiting part II :D

You're welcome.:eek:

Maybe TMI? .... but life is what it is.
 
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OldJeff

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VERY good read! Thank you for taking the time to post it. Failure is just something you learn from. If it was easy, everyone could do it, so where's the fun in that?
 
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