by bj max
Looking around this little room I call an office, I see several minor awards that I have accumulated over the years. It’s a pitiful collection and if it were the sum of my life, it would be a sad tale. I have on the desk in front of me a trophy I won racing cars back in the sixties. I won several of these meaningless awards, but this is the only survivor. I also have a trophy I won racing motorcycles. But the award I’m most proud of is the framed Iron Butt Certificate hanging on the wall. That award is special to me for more reasons than mere physical accomplishment. It’s special because it was my first ride after a very scary heart attack.
It was ten years ago this month, around five in the afternoon or thereabouts. I arrived home after a fifteen hour day and instead of getting some rest, I began setting up a new computer and I was smoking cigarettes like they were going out of style. And they were for me, I just didn’t know it yet. I was also fifty four years old, the optimum age for heart problems. The chain smoking and all the stress, combined with a lack of rest, was just too much and from outta’ nowhere and without any warning what so ever, my heart blew like a bad tire on a hot day, effectively shutting me down for the next six weeks.
During my recuperation, I read a lot and one of the more interesting books I came across was “Against the Wind”, a fascinating chronicle about the 1995 Iron Butt Rally as seen through the eyes of sixth place finisher, Ron Ayers. I couldn’t put the book down and by the time I was finished, I was hooked. So, hungry for more, I logged on to the IBA’s web page where I learned that I, too, could be a part of this outfit. But there was a catch. I had to either be declared legally insane by a licensed psychiatrist or complete one of several IBA sanctioned endurance rides.
Well, I am insane but not certifiable, so I had to gain entry into that wacky outfit the hard way. I had to earn it. Fortunately for me, the IBA sanctions rides for the meek and weak of heart and it was one of these, the so called “Saddlesore 1000” that caught my eye. By IBA standards the Saddlesore is a relatively easy ride; a mere thousand mile hop within a twenty four hour window. But strangely, the rewards are almost identical to those meted out to finishers of the more exhausting contests like the ridiculous Bun Burner Gold and the IBA Rally itself. I took the easier route and began making plans.
To keep things simple, I laid out an easy to document run from my home in Memphis, TN to Black Mountain, NC and back; a distance of some 1,025 miles. And with the help of some superb Triple A mapping software, I was able to plan the trip with precision; picking and choosing exits with major brands of gasoline, well known restaurant chains and most importantly, cappuccino machines. And it would be Interstate travel all the way without so much as a caution light to bar my path.
Originally I planned on a solo ride, but because of my recent health problems, my better half put her foot down and demanded that I enlist a couple of my imbecilic riding buddies to accompany me. And even then she only agreed on the condition that I do well on an upcoming treadmill stress test. The treadmill test turned out to be a walk through and according to my cardiologist I had made a remarkable recovery. Now all I needed was a dry day, a tube of Preparation H, and a couple of friends that meet the mental criteria specified by Sugar Booger and I’d be all set.
Enter David Elston and Stan Viets, stone reliable allies and long time riding pardners. As expected, these two would-be gypsies leaped at the chance to participate in my nutty adventure and joined in with the reckless abandon of rodeo clowns. We put our heads together, worked out minor scheduling details and set the date.
On a balmy Sunday morning, with just a whiff of locust blossom wafting in on a gentle southern breeze, I stood in my drive contemplating the long day ahead and asked myself for the umpeenth time if I was really up to this. I felt better than I had in years and all the numbers looked good, but doctors, even though they won’t admit it, are only human and I couldn’t help but be a little concerned. Someone once said that you can’t really live unless you’re willing to die. Makes sense to me. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t hankering to die anytime soon. But if living was reduced to sittin’ on the front porch rockin’ my life away, then I’d just as soon check out now. With that thought in mind, I saddled up, fired the engine and rode off to face a different kind of stress test…
Saddlesore documentation at that time required that a police officer or fireman verify your odometer reading and your departure time was validated by a gasoline pump receipt. The IBA can be real snots about this so we scared up one of Memphis’s finest, who wished us luck and signed us off with the cool demeanor of someone who had seen it all. An Exxon pump spit out receipts that read 3:26AM CST, our official departure time.
Within seconds of completing these essential duties we flew outta’ town like a flock of startled guineas. And what a grand morning it was. The temperature was perfect. Winds were light and the sky was as clear as a mountain stream with gazillions of stars to light our way. Our trip was pretty much a gas and go event so I won’t bore you with the details other than we did finish with time to spare and took our place on the burgeoning list of Iron Butt members. I had challenged the definitive stress test and passed with flying colors.
David and I are professional truckers and our butts are already tougher than a two dollar steak so we didn’t find the Saddlesore that difficult. That’s not to say it was easy, but five hundred mile days in an old truck is routine for us and makes a thousand miles on a Gold Wing seem easy. As for Stan, he’s as rugged as they come and could probably ride both of us into a coma if he tried. But even more impressive than his stamina was his ability to listen to David and I ratchet jaw on the two-way for twenty one hours without going stark raving mad. Stan was seventy years young then and he’s still going strong today. In fact, he just recently rode the very same motorcycle to Nova Scotia and back.
So what did we get for our trouble? Bragging rights mostly, and an eight by ten certificate proclaiming us to be three of the toughest, or craziest (depends on your perspective) motorcyclist in the world. We also received a pin plus a ninety-nine cent plastic license plate holder emblazoned with the IBA logo that’s guaranteed to fade into oblivion within ninety days, along with any fame we may have incurred.
That was ten years ago and doing the Saddlesore was fun but I haven’t repeated it, nor have I attempted any of the other LD events. Once was enough for me. But it did give me a little taste of the hell that the IBA Rally participants go through for eleven straight days. I don’t know how they do it and to be honest with you, I think you would have to have some important screws loose to even want to try.
Life is short good people. Ride far.