by Karol Patzer
Have you ever wanted to go for a long ride; get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday responsibilities and tour the USA taking in National Parks as well as little-known attractions? If you like to leisurely walk the trails looking for the perfect photo opportunity, sleep late while enjoying the comfort of a soft, clean bed and the luxury of room service, you probably don’t want to apply for a spot in the Iron Butt Rally. But if you would like to grab the maps, pack the bike, and ride for 11 consecutive days with little time for sightseeing, sleeping, eating and personal amenities, it’s the perfect opportunity to challenge yourself. Sleeping is often accomplished on a picnic table, in the grass at a rest area or in a fleabag motel in No-wheresville, USA. Meals consist of Power Bars, granola bars, pretzels, bananas or other “tank bag” food. Nutrition takes a back seat to convenience and results in high-energy snacks that can be consumed while standing in a service station or stopping for an obligatory Polaroid picture of some obscure roadside attraction. No time for composure or waiting for just the right lighting. The best you can hope for is capturing the shot during “daylight hours”. Snap…record your mileage, the time, try to remember what time zone you’re in, and it’s off to the next “attraction”. Sound like fun? Well it did to 114 riders who made the draw in the 2001 Iron Butt Rally and the numerous wait- listed riders. What type of rider would enjoy this kind of grueling touring? The image that comes to mind might be that of a male rider who spent the last year preparing for this event by working out, toning up and preparing to endure the toughest 11 days of their riding career. Just another example of stereotyping. What made 7 seemingly “normal” women give up their comfortable beds, showers, 3 meals a day and put their careers on hold to subject themselves to behavior that could be perceived as self- torture and abuse? The same thing that drove the 105 men that entered the 2001 Iron Butt Rally.
The mystique that surrounds the Rally is reported to be the challenge of the ride, and the camaraderie that exists among riders in the long-distance riding community. Many of the participants have completed more than one event and keep coming back.
The Rally veterans have bikes that have been prepared just for the event, but the new riders that received notification of acceptance spent 2 years preparing themselves and their bikes for the 11 day adventure.
Before you know it the 2-year wait, has come to an end. Departure time has arrived and it’s time to ride! The time for gathering information from other riders is over. The preparation of the bike must be finalized. Extra fuel capacity has been added, and maps have been packed. You have practiced using the GPS unit, and it’s finally an asset rather than a detriment. You’ve selected your hydration system, have a tire repair kit, appropriate tools, spare bulbs, fuses and a first aid kit. The cellular phone, charging system, flashlights, Polaroid camera, film and a supply of batteries are packed. There’s just enough space to pack the bare essentials of clothing to include hot and cold weather riding gear. Credit card companies have been notified that you’re traveling, and the fear of being “cut off” has been alleviated.
The women riders who would be leaving Madison, AL took vacations from careers as diverse as surgical assistants and over the road drivers to concentrate on riding this grueling event. Marsha Hall rode in from Connecticut and took time off from instructing MSF classes for ABATE. This was her 2nd attempt to finish the Iron Butt. After a DNF in 1999 she gave up the sponsorship from Panzer and came back in 2001 riding a 1999 yellow R1100RS.
Lisa Landry, on a Harley Road Glide has been riding for 7 years, a 1st time entrant and half of the official IB photography team, rode in from California. Lisa’s riding has been primarily touring, a 50CC, Bun Burner Gold and other LD events. She left her family at home to ride the Butt, and was off photographing riders while her husband was dealing with a family crisis. While Lisa was somewhere collecting bonuses, the family dog died.
Phyllis Lang 5th time entrant with 2 finishes rode a ’99 Dyna Super Glide. Her riding partner and husband, Fritz, a long-time MOA member rode an ’85 K100RT. Hailing from Pennsylvania Phyllis is an MSF Instructor and WOW member and has been riding for 30 years.
Mary Sue Luetschwager – 4th time entrant- with 2 finishes is also an MSF Instructor in Indiana. When she’s not riding her R1100R, she’s an over the road driver, and has been riding for 14 years.
I was returning on a 1988 BMW K75C for a third Iron Butt finish by both bike and rider. Taking a sabbatical to travel for the summer I was starting the rally with a brace to stabilize a torn MCL ligament. Friends Doug and Lisa’s support was invaluable and they “ran” the last minute errands I was unable to run.
Carol “Skert” Youorski, well-known for her “Dropped Bike Seminars”, riding for 7 years was riding a well-equipped 2000 BMW R1150GS. After finishing a Butt Lite Rally and numerous other LD events, Skert was riding her first Iron Butt Rally.
No mention of the IB is complete without the infamous Ardys Kellerman. Riding a 2002 R1150RT, Ardys rode in from Texas. When asked how many years she’d been riding, the response was “Too Many”. I finally pinned her down to approximately 35 years. Ardys is the oldest female finisher at 69 years young. This was the fifth rally Ardys had entered and I dare you to keep up with her.
Hardware “junkies” and armchair endurance riders mingled with family and friends of the 112 riders. The parking lot of the Ramada Inn in Madison, Alabama was overflowing with Iron-Butt riders and well-wishers on a sultry weekend in late August as the riders prepared for the long-awaited departure of their 11-day adventure. Don Hamblin and Ray Zimmerman were in the crowd to offer support to the many BMW riders. Mary Sue arrived at the last minute for check-in after completing a trip to the National Truck Driving Championships in Minneapolis, MN the previous 5 days. She had ridden the bike to Madison, returned home prior to competing in the Championships, and then flew to Madison arriving just in time for the start. Most of the other riders had arrived in plenty of time to allow for relaxation and socialization prior to the start.
Riders were busy with last minute purchases of items they had forgotten, and were attending riders’ meetings and the banquet that allows the “Evil Lord Kneebone” and his assistants to psych the riders up and out. Bonus packets were distributed and riders started planning their ride. Would it be north to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska or west to California and the first check point?
The morning of departure dawned as another sweltering August morning in Alabama. Bikes were lined up, final bonuses passed out, and the riders gathered for the send off. The shortest route from Madison to Pomona, California was 1993 miles. We had 58 hours to gather our bonuses and arrive without penalties at Brown Motor Works, the first checkpoint. Many riders would team up and ride all or part of the rally with a friend. Lisa Landry would be riding along with Dean Tanji, photographing riders enroute and at the check points. Phyllis left with her riding partner and husband, Fritz. Skert headed south with some friends while Marsha, Ardys, Mary Sue and I took off on our solitary rides. The riders not bound for Alaska would find their paths crossing many times during the next 11 days. Some riders headed for Bench Mark Works to take a picture of Craig and Elaine Vechorik, and their 1936 R17 BMW. Mary Sue headed for “The Pyramid” in Memphis slightly ahead of Marsha. I pulled up for the Polaroid moment just as Marsha was packing up to head for Eric Faires home and a mysterious bonus. Once arriving at Eric’s, we had the option to ride his tractor or jump in the pool to cool off. We had to sign in and spend a minimum of 15 minutes there before heading out. Mary Sue didn’t take time to change into her suit and simply removed her riding gear, and jumped in the pool in shirt and shorts. Marsha rode the tractor, tried to cool off for a few minutes, signed out and went on her way. The pool was inviting, but with a neoprene hinged brace, getting wet was out of the question. I, too opted for the tractor, and slowly rode around Eric’s back yard. The Memphis heat and humidity was quickly taking its toll, but I enjoyed some of the fresh fruit the Faires offered their guests, rehydrated and headed west. Next stop, Anton Chico, New Mexico and a lottery ticket purchased at Lillies. As I pulled up there was a familiar R1100R parked in the sand and Mary Sue was walking out of Lillies. We exchanged Kodak moments, and Mary Sue headed out. I made a circle around Anton Chico, a town about 1 block square. Adobe structures crumbled in this town that time seemed to have forgotten.
While we were off in the same direction, we were once again on our solitary rides. Skert had lost sight of the friends she was riding with and was now forced to make her own decisions, finally learning to use her Street Pilot. Skert reports her tendency is to prefer being a follower rather than striking out on her own. She found herself alone, streaking across Highway 10. Her desire to hook up with other riders was not to be. She was riding within sight of funnel clouds and in and out of storms, getting wet enough to resemble a mud pie after riding through a dust storm. While changing face shields and checking out a bump she had felt in the rear tire 2 other IB riders zoomed past. Starving for company she boogied after them and settled in behind for some camaraderie. Soon the bump became quite regular and she felt like she was slipping on wet pavement. Pulling over she realized her rear wheel was glistening with oil. She had seen only 1 rider in 800 miles, and suddenly there were 4 riders ready to help. That’s the beauty of the Iron Butt. Despite the competitiveness of the ride, riders are always ready to help a rider in distress. A tow truck was called, and Skert and bike were safely transported to Iron Horse BMW. Marty Cohen, owner, Jim Strang, service manager and Matt Noli, the mechanic worked getting the bike on the lift while Skert took a picture with her flag (sorry, Skert. No bonus points) Replacing a rear drive isn’t a simple fix and parts would have to be ordered. The new 1150GS waiting to be assembled quickly lost its rear drive, and within two and a half hours the Iron Horse crew had Skert back in the rally. The happiest call she made was to Donnie and Mike Kneebone to tell them she was getting ready to hightail it to Pomona. For the rest of the ride her priority was to be at the finish line. Bonuses? What bonuses? If they were on her way, she stopped. If they became difficult at any time, she abandoned them without the blink of an eye. Sleep was more important than any bonus.
While Skert was battling mechanical problems, I was battling heat and 8 miles of the worst construction I’d ridden approaching El Morro National Monument. When they routed us into a ditch, Derek Sutton, native Australian, was concerned enough to wait not wanting to ride off into the sunset if I ended up in the ditch. A brief rest and I was off again, heading for the Agate Bridge I jumped in behind a rider on an R1100RT. After a “spirited” ride battling crosswinds, Bob Hall and I had to admit defeat as the sun set on this “daylight only” bonus. Bob headed off into the darkness, as I repacked the Polaroid and recorded the mileage “just in case”.
Exiting off Highway 40 for a diversion, the original Route 66 twisted and wound up the hillside allowing for speeds of about 10 mph into Oatman, AZ. The temperatures and slow speed made it a hard-earned 188 points. The only donkeys in sight were roaming the hillsides and were not an option for a Polaroid shot. All the women would arrive safely, albeit a bit road weary, to the Pomona checkpoint.
Next stop…Sunnyside, Washington. 1103 miles to be covered in 45 hours. This leg would find Mary Sue overcome by smoke from nearby forest fires, and making the call to Mike Kneebone withdrawing from the rally. Phyllis and Fritz met a group of Hell’s Angels at a service station. When the Angels inquired about “the thing on the back of the bike”. Phyllis explained it was a fuel cell. They were fortunate she had it when Fritz ran out of gas and they had to use the CamelBack hose to siphon gas into his stock tank. I slept in after the Pomona checkpoint, contemplating withdrawing from the rally. After a pep talk from home, I headed for Widder’s in Ojai. It was half the value it had been the previous day, but still worth 1888 points. The ride in was enjoyable and I was happy to see Ardys’ R1150RT. We got the necessary signature from Pat, Ardys pointed me to a good breakfast spot, and as I headed off to eat, Skert was pulling in and we vowed along with Ardys to head straight for Sunnyside. Unfortunately, I couldn’t resist the lure of 3553 points for Devil’s Postpile. The 1800 points to visit MOA member R. Van Santen, DDS would cost me a 900 point penalty, and I rolled into Sunnyside an hour after the checkpoint opened. Ardys was checking in when one of the volunteer scorers asked if Ardys had ridden all that way on the back? Onlookers and riders were shocked, but Ardys just looked her in the eye, and informed her she had ridden by herself, “thank you very much”. The scorer was duly embarrassed and Ardys grinned, enjoying the young lady’s discomfort. Many of us checked into a local motel to rest before heading out for Buxton, Maine which was a distance of 3100 miles. We had a leisurely 120 hours to check in unless we decided to head for Alaska. Marsha chose the high points that could be obtained from the Colorado route. Ardys went North and we met again in Duluth at Aerostich after taking pictures of the Penquin in Montana, and the geographical center of North America. Andy wasn’t around, but we said Hi to Sally and took a picture of the sign to capture almost 1000 points. Ardys rode off to take a somewhat direct route to Maine. I had dinner with Jerry, and was tempted to head 170 miles south and home. Instead I headed to Michigan, the Mackinac Bridge, Canada and on to Maine.
During her quest for points, Marsha was time-barred in Maine and forfeited the accumulated points. Skert, Ardys, Lisa and Phyllis made it safely, and were there when I rode in with only minutes to spare before accumulating penalty points. Gorham to Madison, Alabama and the final checkpoint was 38 hours and 1280 miles away. Skert had already had her stroll on the beach, and Ardys decided to enjoy a lobster dinner with family, while Lisa and I would ride off separately to Portsmouth for a copy of the country’s oldest newspaper.
Many of the riders had one goal in mind, and that was to be at the finish. A few were still chasing bonuses, but most were heading home, and only going slightly out of their way to pick up gas receipts if they weren’t too far off the beaten bath. If you chose to stop at a motel directly off the freeway, you could almost bet you would be in the company of other Iron Butt riders. The last 12 hours were the toughest. Pulling into rest areas to stretch, and drink coffee, other riders would pull in with the same idea. Parking behind semis on the ramps to catch a few winks, and the final few hours drinking energy drinks, and finally watching the sunrise. With it came a renewed adrenaline flow. Pull off…get that last receipt, and ride into morning rush hour traffic.
It was almost over. This was not the time to let your guard down. There’s no time for mistakes. No time to risk having a chat with law enforcement officers. The clock is ticking as the riders exit the highway and pull into the Ramada Inn parking lot to be greeted by cheers, and congratulations from onlookers and fellow riders. If you’re early, you can catch your breath and gather your paperwork before heading in. If it’s only minutes before 8:00 am, you pull in, and rush in to the hotel. If it’s after 8:00 AM or nearing the 10:00 AM closing, the crowd will help escort you inside so Mr. Kneebone can record your arrival. Most of the riders would make it. Some would not. A few riders would be late, and if previously time-barred, they would now hear the dreaded term, DNF, (did not finish). Riding the ride, capturing the bonuses, but being unable to claim a finish.
Participants in the Iron Butt are billed as the world’s toughest motorcycle endurance riders. I leave you with the thought that there is a soft side to “tough”, and that would be the Women who Ride…and ride….and ride!!
- 12 women have finished the Iron Butt since it’s inception.
- Suzie Mann was the first woman finisher in 1985
- Ardys Kellerman, has successfully finished 4 IBR
- Fran Crane, Phyllis Lang, and this writer have completed 3.
- Ardys was the oldest female finisher at 69 years young.
- Jean Copas was the first Canadian woman to finish
- Of the 12 women finishers, 10 were BMW riders.
- 3 Women have finished as passengers
For more information about past and future rallies, visit: www.ironbutt.com
*Originally appeared in BMW Owners News March 2002 – MMM thanks them for its use.