ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Richard Keegan is a member of the Gold Wing Owner’s Club of Ireland and the Iron Butt Association. He started riding in 1976 on a Honda 50 Cub. He discovered long-distance riding in 1977, riding his Honda 50 to Belfort, France for a summer job, and on to Switzerland and Austria, for a spin.

He works for Enterprise Ireland, helping Irish businesses improve their efficiency and effectiveness. He is well-known internationally for his work and teaching on benchmarking and best practice. He has several published business books to his name and has been translated into Italian and Portuguese, as well as being published in India.

Married to Geraldine, with two grown daughters, they live in Dublin, Ireland.

Richard likes to ride motorcycles …

ABOUT THE IRON BUTT ASSOCIATION


The Iron Butt Association and its 50,000 members are dedicated to safe, long-distance motorcycle riding. The Association is based in the United States, but has thousands of enthusiastic members throughout the globe.

The Iron Butt Association (IBA) does not have membership in the traditional sense; it is more a loose-knit group of enthusiasts who like to ride, far, and safely. The normal entry point to membership is to ride a Saddle Sore 1000. As the name suggests, this means successfully completing a ride of 1,000 miles within a single 24-hour time-period. The ride needs to be carefully documented to show that you completed the ride within the time-frame. Details of the Saddle Sore and other Iron Butt Association-sanctioned rides are available on the website, listed below.

The Iron Butt Association publishes information about long-distance endurance riding. Its Archive of Wisdom provides many helpful guides for those starting out on long-distance riding.

http://www.ironbutt.com/

ABOUT THE IRON BUTT RALLY


The Iron Butt Rally is an 11-day, 11,000+ mile ride held every second year, in Northern America. The Iron Butt first ran in 1984.

The Iron Butt is a fairly simple concept. Riders are given a list of bonus locations that they have to visit within a defined time-period and get to the next checkpoint on time. Points are usually awarded based on the difficulty of getting to a location. The object of the Rally is to amass as many points as you can and get back to the final checkpoint on time, safely.

No consideration is given for bad weather in North America during the Rally. Riders can expect to ride through rain, sleet, snow, severe thunderstorms, hurricanes and even an occasional tornado. Temperature extremes routinely run 125 degrees or more in the desert Southwest, to extreme cold at the top of mountains, to rain that seems to come straight from a Bible story.

The Iron Butt Rally can be a serious test of man and machine, and also great fun to participate in.

http://www.ironbuttrally.com

THE IRON BUTT RALLY

On 20 August 2007, 97 motorcycle enthusiasts left St Louis, Missouri for 11 days, facing journeys of up to 11,000 miles. All in the name of fun.

Motorcycling is a minority pursuit, touring motorcyclists are a minority within motorcycling and long-distance riding is often seen as being very particular even within the motorcycling fraternity. So what is the Iron Butt Rally?

The Iron Butt Rally is regarded as the Olympics of long-distance motorcycle-riding. Riders are given a long list of bonus locations and they have to decide which ones they can get to while still making it back to St Louis within a strict time-frame. Points are awarded for each bonus location ‘captured’, with higher points for more difficult / distant locations. Capturing the location usually consists of photographing a personal Rally flag at the location and recording certain details such as odometer reading and time. More points are awarded for keeping detailed fuel logs and taking defined rest-periods. A rider must achieve 190,000 points over the two legs of the Rally to be classified as a finisher.

Run every two years by the Iron Butt Association (www.ironbutt.org ), the Rally is billed as the ‘world’s toughest motorcycle Rally’ and no consideration is given for bad weather or poor road conditions. In North America, bad weather can range from rain to sleet and snow, severe thunderstorms and hurricanes or tornados – in mid-summer – and high temperatures, too. It is usual for bonuses to be located in Death Valley, California, where temperatures can reach over 125˚ Fahrenheit.

Riders in the Rally are selected from thousands of applicants from all over the world. A rider needs to be able to show a record of long-distance riding before being considered for a place on the start-line.

On 20 August 2007, I was on the start-line, a rider from the island of Ireland. This is my story.

GETTING THERE

I knew I was in trouble when I attended the riders’ briefing. Lisa Landry, the Rally-master, reminded us that the Iron Butt Rally was an extreme event. She told us that more people had climbed Everest during that year’s climbing season than had ever completed the Iron Butt Rally. ‘Extreme’ was the word that caught my attention. I thought I was going out for a spin on my bike. Extreme. I am not an extreme guy. Well, at least I thought that I wasn’t. But I was after 20 August 2007.

What a spin. From emotional lows to unbelievable highs. From physical discomfort to feeling no discomfort. What a spin. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The adventure started when I was time-barred in Dublin Airport. I was late to the airport, trying to spend the maximum time at home before I left. The flight was closed when I got to the airport. As with so many things related to preparing for the Iron Butt Rally, this was a problem that money could fix. €400 later, I was on the next flight to Manchester and running for my connecting flight. £125 sterling later again, I was on my way to Toronto – yes, overweight charges applied.


On the boat to the UK.


At Air Freighters in Manchester, UK.

I arrived at my hotel in Toronto to a message from the air freight office to say that my bike was ready for collection. Pay the money, rush to Customs, pay the money, back to the shipping zone and I was ready to go. Ready to ride my Honda Gold Wing onto Canadian soil, once I had negotiated the two-foot wide ramp that bridged the five-foot drop to road level. Gold Wings are heavy bikes and a two-foot ramp is not that wide. However, a few minutes later, I was into the Toronto night, heading for my hotel again. Slowly, tentatively, I merged into the traffic. It was not too heavy and, after a couple of minutes, I was relaxed and riding.

Next morning, the sun was blazing and it was already way too hot for an Irish guy from a temperate climate. I had parked the bike in the high-rise parking at the hotel under shade, so I was prepared to load her up and get her ready for the off. The Rally was due to start in St Louis, Missouri, about 800 miles from Toronto, so I had a little spin to get there. I also had an invitation to visit the Honda factory in Marysville, Ohio, on my way to St Louis, so the next couple of days were going to be interesting. I had planned to have a few days in the USA before the Rally to allow myself to get over any jet-lag. This morning was time to fit a new laminar lip to the top of my windshield, just enough off-centre to prove that it was owner-fitted, load the bike, fit the GPS and head out for Marysville. I was looking forward to bringing my bike back home to where it had been manufactured.

Crossing from Canada to USA.

I got to the border with the USA and joined the line – what a line. The day had been lovely so far, well up into the 30s or approaching 100˚F. Half an hour later, I got to the border control booth. I was hot, sticky and obviously not looking quite like the type of guy the USA wanted to just let in. The border guard very politely asked me the usual questions: “Where was I from? Where was I going? What was the purpose of my visit?”. At my replies, his eyes opened wide. “Eleven days riding all over the USA? Up to 11,000 miles?”, he repeated. When you say it like that, it does sound a bit daunting. “Where is the motorcycle registered?”. “Ireland.” “Ok, sir, can you please take this slip and move to the right to Building 2 and you will be attended to there?”.

For all I knew, Building 2 was a holding area for crazy undesirables. All the thoughts of being blocked at the border rushed through my mind. All the hours spent in my garage were piled up on my mind. They can’t stop me now! I could run for it. All these crazy ideas did go through my mind. Instead of running for it, I rode over to Building 2, parked my bike where I was told and headed in to the building. Oh no! There were about 50 people of all nationalities, crammed into a small room in front of a counter. People crowded out onto the path outside the room. I don’t like crowds too much anyway and at 100˚F and my Iron Butt ride in the balance, I was not too relaxed. As I calmed down, I noticed that, every few minutes, a loudspeaker would call people off to another building, Building 1. The lucky ones, I thought.

Then I was one of the lucky ones. “Keegan to Building 1”. I was there in a heartbeat. Only a family group of three people in front of me and I was with a border guard in minutes. The same questions again, the same answers and all was well. Pay the border stamp fee and I could go. One of the guys was a Harley rider and had heard of the Rally. All was well and I went back out into the oven, with temperatures well over 100˚F, got on the bike and took my first tentative miles into the USA. We were rolling.

I was due to meet a friend, Homer Krout, in Marysville in two days’ time. Homer and I had met on the first Iron Butt Saddle Sore ride in Ireland in 2000 and had made the opportunity to travel together and to work together a number of times since. We shared an interest in bikes, long-distance riding and motorcycle factories, so we were off to Honda to see how Gold Wings were put together. It was nice to bring my bike back ‘home’ and to see the level of excellence in manufacturing in use in the plant. Thanks, Bob.

Homer Krout, with his Harley-Davidson Road Glide.

And so to St Louis, 500 miles away. Homer and I had ridden together before and were reasonably comfortable, with similar paces and sitting abilities. We took off for St Louis and all was well with the world. Sit there, twist that, refill and repeat. It is a fairly standard approach for long-distance riding. Throw in a little food and all is well.

We approached St Louis after an uneventful ride. We had hit a rhythm and were making progress, as I got used to following Homer and dealing with the traffic. Then the sky began to darken. Then to blacken. Then to really go black. We hit a thunder cell. The winds and the rain lashed us. The CB chatter was all about ‘the blue bike nearly blowing off the road’. That was me.

We dived for the first exit, where it was nearly impossible to keep the bike upright at the exit junction. Water on the road was over my feet as I fought to hold her upright, waiting for the chance to cross to the other side of the road. A gas station’s lights shone out in the darkness and offered some shelter from the storm. This bit of weather had gotten my attention, my full attention. I had discovered the essential ‘run-for-cover’ technique. I quickly adjusted my personal goals for the Rally from ‘do well’ to ‘do’. We sheltered in the gas station until the storm passed and chatted to a guy driving an open-top, carbon-fibre sports car. He had not had the chance to get the hood up before the storm hit and was drenched. But he was smiling – as were we, once I had gotten over the initial shock of the weather. The run-for-cover technique was to prove very useful on the Rally. Thirty minutes later and the storm had moved on to the east and we headed out for St Louis, for the DoubleTree Hotel in Chesterfield, Missouri.

RALLY HEADQUARTERS – CHESTERFIELD, MISSOURI: THURSDAY, 16 AUGUST TO SUNDAY, 19 AUGUST

Arriving at the hotel in Chesterfield was the start of the adventure proper. There were five or six bikes outside the front door of the hotel, all long-distance (LD) bikes. LD bikes are easily identified: they are equipped with enough lights to provide a runway landing-light service in an emergency, additional fuel tanks and water containers of at least four-litre capacity and enough electronics to keep even the most gadget-hungry individual happy. It was clear that this was the Iron Butt hotel because at least one of these bikes was part dis-assembled and the guidelines for the Rally clearly stated not to do any major work on the bike for several weeks beforehand. Homer knew some people so it was time to say hello, to check in and to get settled.

Robert, Homer’s brother-in-law, was there to meet us, having ridden over from Virginia, so we settled in, had dinner and got to talking. Robert rides a Gold Wing too, so he was interested to hear about our visit to the factory. The discussion turned quickly enough to the Rally itself and what we still had to do before the departure on Monday. We planned to hang out in the environs of St Louis and not to take on too much activity, other than getting the final bits and pieces together. Friday saw us looking for a Wal-Mart and a camping goods store, for food and water-sterilising tablets. Saturday was dedicated to going through the registration process. As more and more riders arrived, it was clear to me that I was under-prepared. My efforts at building a Rally bike were OK – for 2003, not 2007. I was seriously lacking in electronics. Nonetheless, it was brilliant to be standing on the riders’ side of the line, with my bike with me, to be actually involved in the Rally and not just an observer.

Saturday morning was time for the technical inspection and odometer check. I have a one-off quick release system for my auxiliary fuel tank and was not certain that it would pass technical inspection. I had several heavy duty ratchet straps in reserve! No problems, the system passed easily. The big fear now was of falling off the bike on the start-line where a man-hole cover was being used as a marker, but I managed to avoid that too. Riders had to follow a set route to determine the accuracy of their odometers for later mileage checks. Since the route was written in American, I took my time to understand the nuances of how they give directions and was nearly time-barred on the odometer check, I was riding that slowly, but all was well. The rest of Saturday was spent hanging out and soaking up the atmosphere of St Louis and the Rally HQ. Oh, and trying to come to terms with the heat and humidity.

Sunday, 19 August and the riders’ briefing with Lisa, the Rally-master. Her comments about the numbers of people who had climbed Mount Everest this season versus the total number of finishers of the Iron Butt Rally focused me. The repeated emphasis on the big picture – our full lives, our families – was very well done and hit a resonance with me and many others in the room. After the riders’ questions and answers session, it was time to get organised for a very important activity, the riders’ pre-Rally banquet. Food and eating are an important part of my life. I like to eat, but it was quickly becoming clear to me that, on this extreme motorcycle event, eating, as normal people know it, would not be a common occurrence. And, for once in my life, I was dis-interested in the food. My whole focus was on the end of the meal and the distribution of the Leg 1 Rally packs of bonus locations.

The 2007 Iron Butt Rally was organised into two legs: from Monday, 20 August at 10:00 to Friday, 24 August at 19:00 and from Saturday, 25 August at 04:00 to Friday, 31 August at 08:00. A Rally pack consists of a list of bonus locations distributed across the USA and Canada and a number of reporting documents for logging fuel purchases. Each bonus location is worth a number of points; usually, the harder a bonus location is to get to, the more points it is worth. The object of the Rally is to plan and ride a route to maximise the number of points you get, while meeting the requirements of keeping accurate fuel logs and being at specific places at specific times.

I was planning to ride at least part of the Rally with my friend Homer Krout so, when we were issued with the Rally packs, we headed back to our rooms to start working out where the bonus locations were and which ones we could get to and back from to be in St Louis for Friday, 24 by 19:00. We were helped in this task by Robert. He would call out the bonus, Homer would look for it on the computer mapping programme and I would look for it on the paper map. We used a system of colour-coded post-it strips to create a paper picture of where the bonus locations were and the relative values of each bonus. The system worked quite well but the phrase “Where is ... Kentucky, or Alabama or Quebec?” was heard often: my knowledge of North American geography was not great.