The adventure starts ...

15 August 2016  |  Admin

BUTT SERIOUSLY: FIRST TIME OUT ON THE IRON BUTT RALLY: AN IRISHMAN'S STORY / Richard KeeganArriving 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. 

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.

Two main choices emerged as we looked at the map. A run down to Key West in Florida or a spin to New Brunswick in Canada. I was here for a spin, not a run, so Canada it was. Homer had been to Key West many times but never to Perce Rock in Quebec, so the choice was made. The big bonus on this leg was a photo of Perce Rock on the mouth of the St Lawrence Waterway. But there was a slight catch. Perce is 1,750 miles from St Louis, if you take the direct route. Our route was over 1,900 miles, passing by Albany and Boston before heading north to Perce. We had four-and-a-half days to get to Perce and back to St Louis. The bonus photo had to be taken ‘on the rock’. At low tide, it is possible to walk from the mainland out across the sea-floor to the rock. At high tide, it is not only impossible but very dangerous to try this walk. So, we had a two-hour window to aim for, 1,900 miles away. The mind games had well and truly started. To help riders plan their rides, a list of target points levels showed how many points were needed to earn a gold, silver or bronze medal or to be considered a finisher. Going to the Rock itself would not be enough. It was going to be hard to do well in this Rally. We planned our route and got to bed, to try to sleep.