Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Skipper Gets Her Iron Butt

It's October, and New Hampshire is calling. I've got friends to visit, family to meet, and I'm going to enjoy some cool weather and beautiful foliage while I'm at it. I thought about flying, but wanted to have my own transportation while up north and didn't feel like paying for a rental car, which means I'm taking the bike. Which means I'm doing a hell of a lot of miles.

Which's time to get Iron Butt certified!

On October 10th, I was up at 5am. Everything was already packed; I got dressed, attached the luggage to the bike, and waited for my housemate Scott to get up so he could sign my witness form. When that was done, I put in my earplugs and rolled down the street to a gas station. Normally I would have filled my tank the previous day, but the certification considers your first gas receipt to be your official beginning. The pump at station #1 didn't print a receipt; I had to go inside for it. I hoped that wouldn't be the story of the day.

It was dark and pleasantly cool as I rolled through Houston, already building its daily allotment of traffic jams, because you can't have traffic all day if you don't start in the morning. Merging onto I10, I realized I'd left my tool kit in the carport. Oh well. I hoped fervently for no problems and continued east.

A beautiful sunrise was followed shortly by rain. I pulled into gas stop #2 (Vinton, LA) just as it really started to pour. By the time I'd sucked down a coffee, the weather showed no sign of letting up, so I put on my rain suit and hit the road. For the next couple of hours we played a fun game of "find sun, get warm, remove rain suit. Find rain, get wet, apply rain suit." Over and over. One shower was so intense I had to drop my speed to 30mph, but it was gone in less than three minutes. Just Louisiana saying good morning.

Stop #3 was in Baton Rouge. Stop #4, 409 miles from home, was in Poplarville, MS. Somewhere in Mississippi, a butterfly splatted against my face shield. I've killed a lot of bugs with my helmet, but never one that made that wide of a mess. I wiped it with my glove.

By stop #5 (Meridian, MS), I was over 500 miles into the day and still feeling good. The seat on the NC700X is rock hard, so I brought a bath towel to use as a chair pad, and it was working wonders. It's a little slippery, but that's only a problem if I stop hard - and even then, I don't slide as long as I pinch the gas tank with my knees.

Somewhere on the ring roads around Birmingham, AL, my left knee announced itself with a sudden sharp pain. I propped my foot up on my highway peg, then went over a bump in the road, and the sudden pressure made me knee pop in a really alarming way. I probably said a bunch of nasty things, but traffic was heavy and moving fast, and it wasn't a good place to pull over. By the time the road opened up again, my knee had had its say and fallen quiet.

Stop #6 (Springville, AL) saw 713 miles on the odometer. Hina's odometer is actually slightly inaccurate, about 3-4% above GPS measurements, which is normal for Japanese bikes. For this reason, the Iron Butt verification is based on GPS and not on the odometer.

It was dark when I crossed the Tennessee state line. A wave of awful stench hit me and continued for at least half a mile, longer than I could hold my breath. Rising Fawn, TN? Smelled more like Dead Fawn. Stop #7, in Cleveland, TN, was at 861 miles. It was still pleasant outside, and I felt good, better than I'd expected to feel after 15 hours on the bike.

I'd been planning to get a hotel in Kingsport, TN, but decided to push a little farther to Bristol, VA. Just as I was rolling over mile 900, a rock or something flew off the road and hit me in the finger. I yanked my hand off the throttle and shook it, swearing repeatedly, hoping my finger wasn't broken. On we rode, northbound in the deserted darkness of I81, Hina purring happily and me with tears in my eyes, occasionally still yelling "Fuck!" and shaking my head. I really wished I had storm guards to protect my hands.

Stop #8 was at 993 miles, in Baileyton, TN. It was frustrating to pause so short of my goal, but I didn't know how far it was to the next gas station and Hina's empty light was blinking. I was 50 miles from Bristol and the fatigue was starting to set in. I tried to use my phone to book a hotel, but kept getting an error, so I just headed for Bristol and hoped.

I made my final official gas stop in Bristol. We didn't need fuel, but I had to get a receipt to prove where I was. Then we headed for the Red Carpet Inn down the street. I woke the lady who worked the front desk, but she was very kind, and even agreed to sign my witness form. The room was old, broken, and dirty, with unrepaired flood damage on the walls and at least one large bug that ran under the fridge when I approached. I didn't even change my clothes or remove my contacts - I'd only be getting four hours of sleep anyway.

My alarm sounded at 5:30am, and the rubber was on the road at 6am. It was chilly but not miserably cold. I stopped after the first hundred miles for breakfast at a Bo Jangles. Their coffee is always too damn hot, but the food was amazing after more than 24 hours without a proper meal. I'd spent the previous day alternating between granola bars and beef jerky, supplemented with cans of double-shot espresso, my standard road diet.

I knocked off more than 180 miles on my next run, stopping for gas in Woodstock, VA. There was a storm hovering, and I couldn't tell how wet it would be, so I put on my rain suit just in case. It was too cold to risk getting significantly wet.

By Enola, PA, now a total of 1,459 miles into my second-day goal of 1,500 miles in 36 hours, the rain had wicked up my sleeves to my elbows, up my boots and pant liners to my knees, and I was cold. I dug into my luggage and found dry clothing, then rolled up my sleeves and put my dry socks in plastic bags to protect them from my wet boots. I swapped the light gloves for the heavy waterproof gloves.

In Dunmore, PA I stopped for gas at 1,580 miles. I grabbed my witness form, now unfortunately wet and limp, and went into the station. There I found two Dunmore police officers. I explained my quest, and officer Taylor was only too happy to sign my form. I'd been aiming to make New Hampshire that night, but the rain was still coming down and my waterproof gloves weren't and I was freezing. The officers recommended a good hotel nearby, and when I was confused by the directions, they got into their cruisers and led me over there. The Sleep Inn was beautiful, and after throwing all my gear and clothing into the dryer, I jumped into the hot tub with glee.

When the socks are dry but the boots are wet.

Warm and dry again, I followed the officers' other recommendation up the hill to The Loading Dock, where I took a seat at the bar next to a guy in a Harley-Davidson t-shirt. Five of us at the bar were travelers, mostly on business, and one was a local. The company was entertaining and the burger was excellent. I even drank a Russian Porter, because apparently my housemates' love of unusual beer is rubbing off on me.

With my paperwork in order to get my Saddle Sore (1,000 miles in 24 hours) and my Bun Burner (1,500 miles in 36 hours), I slept well if not long enough. The next morning's 300 miles to New Hampshire were cold but efficient. I showed up in Mom's garage after 1,858 miles in 54 hours, 14 states, 14 tanks of gas, 10 hours of sleep, and about 250 miles of rain.