There are two parts to this trip. The first part, documented below, was my attempt to meet the criteria as set forth by the Iron Butt Association (www.ironbutt.com) for membership. There are a number or ways to qualify for membership, and I chose the “Saddlesore 1,000” by riding at least 1,000 miles in 24 hrs. I motorcycled from Wales, Maine (near Lewiston) to my brother’s house in Conyers, GA (near Atlanta) - a distance of around 1,300 miles in about 22 hrs. The following is my summary of the “Iron Butt” qualification portion of the ride. After this section, you can read about the return trip back through the Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive, and beyond. Enjoy this write up, and click here for pictures.
Iron Butt 2004 Ride – Saddlesore 1,000
Date: Oct. 1&2, 2004
Motorcycle: 2004 Yamaha FJR1300
Start: Wales, Maine (Time stamp from Cumberland Farms c-store in Sabattus, 3 miles from home)
Finish: Conyers, GA (Time stamp from Shell Station, just off I-20, 2 miles from ultimate destination – Mike Michaud’s house)
Starting odometer reading: 7,384
Ending odometer reading: 8,689
Total mileage: 1,305
Mileage per Microsoft Map Point: 1,287
I initially planned to start my Iron Butt attempt at around 2:00 AM on Saturday, October 2, 2004, anticipating that the effort would take about 20 hrs, and put me at my brother’s house in Conyers, GA around 10:00 PM that evening. However, the nearest gas station to get a time stamped receipt from closed at midnight, so I altered my plans to start just before midnight. As the departure day drew close, I kept an eye on the weather reports and learned that the east coast was in for some inclement weather on Saturday. Most notably, NY and PA looked as if they were going to get a steady soaking, while the rest of the eastern seaboard was expecting scattered showers and thundershowers. Since I expected to be in NY before daybreak, I thought it would be best to get a jump on the weather, and (hopefully) make it south of PA before the rains came. I updated my plans to leave somewhere between 10:00 – 10:30 PM on Friday, October 1.
Sleep comes hard when you are anticipating an event such as this. My mind kept checking and re-checking all of the preparations I had made for the trip, and consequently, didn’t let me get much sleep Friday evening. After a few fitful hours of “rest” (far from REM sleep), I got up and decided to get on my way. I took a refreshing shower to wake up and get started. I donned my riding gear, which included a new electric jacket. This recent purchase proved to be essential when riding through the chilly October night. I can honestly say that I was comfortable throughout my ride because of the riding gear I had chosen – insulated overpants, electric jacket, Gore-Tex lined riding boots and insulated riding gloves.
I left my house around 10:30 PM and proceeded to the Cumberland Farms convenience store a few miles from home. I filled up there and obtained my starting gas receipt. A few of the local constabulary were there and found this fully laden bike and rider kind of curious. One of them asked first what sort of bike I was riding and where I was off too. I told him proudly that I was riding a Yamaha FJR1300, and when I mentioned I was off to Atlanta, I got a mix of reactions – bug eyes from the one who asked the question, disbelief from another, and a clear “you must be nuts” look from the third. Still, they bade me a safe trip, and I was on my way.
Working my way out of New England at that late (or early) hour was simple, and without incident. However, I was starting to question my choice for a starting time, as fatigue started to set in. I had seen pictures of the “Iron Butt Motel” (a picnic table at a rest area) on the organization’s web site, but never thought I would be in need of it. By the time I reached PA, I was starting to feel very tired. I stopped at a rest area on I-84 east of Scranton and checked into an Iron Butt Motel to catch a few winks. This proved to be just the refresher I needed. I stopped for breakfast in Hazleton, PA, and head out to put some more miles behind me. Lunch came in VA, and my last gas stop before reaching Conyers came in NC.
So far, my strategy to avoid the rain had worked. However, the “scattered thunderstorms” caught up with me in SC. Scattered showers are, in many ways, worse that steady rain because you never seem to be in the right gear. While I was wearing waterproof over-pants, I still choose to ride with a leather jacket, which means I need to put on a rain jacket over it when it starts raining. Likewise, my winter riding gloves are lined with Gore Tex, but my summer ones are leather. The raingear begins to get uncomfortable in the warm southern temperatures, so I played the apparel game a couple of times when the showers caught me. The last shower caught me in Spartanburg, SC, and it was as violent as anything I had ridden through before. I remember passing by a body of water (river or pond, I can’t be sure which) and could see the line of rain fast approaching so rapidly that it appeared as a furious gray monster, frothing at the mouth where the rain met the water below. It passed almost as suddenly as it had started, and I could now focus on my last couple hundred miles to my brother’s house.
The last 200 miles did seem to be the most difficult. The trip had already taken longer than I had expected. I had not counted on stopping as many times as I did to refresh myself, get a bite to eat or fuel up. When I finally reached Conyers, it was just after 9:00 PM. My brother, nephew and niece met me at the gas station where I topped off and got my last time stamped gas receipt. My Iron Butt attempt was complete, and I was looking forward to a good night’s rest.
All in all, it was a good ride. The FJR1300 performed flawlessly, as I expected it would. The only ill effects I suffered from the trip were some numb fingers on my throttle hand, but I picked up a “Throttle Rocker” for the return home, and that helped quite a bit. I also made a point to take a more scenic ride back up through part of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and The Skyline Drive – roads well suited for the “Feejer’s” best assets.
Georgia 2004 – The Rest of the Story
The Journey Home
The decision to travel Georgia enabled me to attempt and Iron Butt run, but it was not the only, or even the most important reason for the trip. It had been far too long since I had visited with my brother, Mike, and his family, and I had not been to see him since he moved to Georgia some 10 years ago. I really enjoyed my visit, although it was all too brief. My timing probably couldn’t have been much worse as my sister-in-law, nephew and niece had to head out to Chicago to help prepare for her brother’s upcoming wedding. They left Monday afternoon, and Mike followed them later in the week. Still, it was worth the trip to see them, even if for only a couple of days.
A bit of work needed to be done before I could leave. At close to 9,000 miles on the stock Metzeler MEZ4’s, they were pretty much at the end of their life when I arrived in GA. Knowing that this would be the case, I ordered new tires (I chose to go with the new Z6’s from Metzeler) and had them shipped to Mike’s house. The trick now was to find a motorcycle shop to install them – on a Monday. I hadn’t really thought about the last part until the week before the trip and started calling shops in the Atlanta area, but most shops (especially smaller ones) are open Tuesday through Saturday. Fortunately, I found a great shop (Lawrenceville Honda Yamaha) not too far away that was willing to fit me in. My brother loaned me his truck and trailer, and I got my new tires installed without delaying my departure.
As for the return home, I had myriad options to choose from, and I wanted to make the most of my time. Although I was entering the world of the self-employed, and did not really have a hard commitment for a return date, I knew that the sooner I got home and began making calls, the better. I also had to be cognizant of the fact that my family was not sharing in this mini-vacation, and that my (very gracious) wife was doing the heavy lifting, so to speak, in my absence. I had been given a number of excellent suggestions for things to see and places to go on my way home, and I really didn’t have my mind completely set until I got underway. This is pretty much my M.O. and it drives my wife MAD – she needs to have all the plans laid out to the last detail before departing on adventure. To me, that takes the “adventure” right out of it.
I had a few loose goals for my return trip: find some good, authentic barbecue, travel some or all of the Blue Ridge Parkway and/or the Skyline Drive, and make it home safely by Friday.
Let’s talk about “safely” first. I hadn’t even left my Mike’s house yet when I had my first “incident”. While attempting to help with a house project, I slipped with my (very sharp) pocket knife while trying to cut a wire tie, and sliced the tip of my left thumb off. STUPID!!! It wasn’t really a big piece, or even that nasty of a cut, but it did warrant seeing a doctor. I wanted to find a way to secure it from bleeding and re-opening somehow, and prevent it from getting infected on the return trip. The complication of me now being self-employed didn’t help either. Lastly, I didn’t want to spend the rest of the day in the emergency room of the local hospital. What to do? I called Mike, and he gave me the name of the clinic that his workplace uses. They were great, and had me butterflied up and out in no time, albeit with a large, goofy, conspicuous bandage on my thumb. Oh well. A minor setback.
Tuesday morning arrives. I get the bike loaded up, bid farewell to my brother, and head north. I tried to avoid the interstates that I road in on (I-20, I-285 and I-85) but found myself frustrated in commuter traffic and construction in the towns surrounding Atlanta. It wasn’t until I was well north of the city and almost into North Carolina that I broke free from the drudgery and began to enjoy the ride. The weather was picture perfect. The bike was flawless. It was shaping up to be a great day.
At a scenic turn out near Clayton Georgia overlooking a gorge, I met a fellow rider coming south. He gave me some pointers about the Blue Ridge Parkway, and noted a couple of sections that were closed due to damage from Hurricane Ivan. He also recommended getting over to the Smokeys and trying to run “The Dragon” and getting over to Deal’s Gap. I thanked him for the advice, but didn’t know if I was going to have time to head west to catch the Smokeys, and then turn around and head east to jump on the Blue Ridge.
I made better time heading north than I thought, and decided that I would give it a go. In Franklin, NC, I jumped on S-28 and found motorcycling nirvana. If you have a mapping program and can zoom in on this stretch of road, you will know what I mean: a serpentine road that winds through the mountains of North Carolina, the likes of which I have never seen before. This is serious peg-dragging, no chicken strip kind of road. I know that I was wearing a grin from ear to ear as I went from switch back to switch back, working to find the best line through the turns, constantly shifting, breaking, and rolling on power through the turns to execute them the best way I knew how. However, the road finally beat me. Whether it was a moment of inattention rapt by the amazing scenery, or my skills and experience having met their match, I cannot say. What I do know is that I exited a right hand sweeper to be met suddenly by a very sharp left hander and I realized I was going in too hot. I didn’t feel at the time that any amount of peg scraping was going to get me around that turn, so I opted for a controlled ditching. Actually, I was fortunate in that there was a good amount of shoulder at this particular section of the road, and so I grabbed hard on the binders and scrubbed as much speed off before going cross country. I had the bike slowed down, almost to a stop (I am guessing I was still doing 10 – 15 mph), when my front wheel found and got caught in a washed out rain rut, and over I went. I jumped up immediately and realized that I wasn’t hurt, but wanted to get the FJR upright and check for damage. In my furious haste to remove my gloves so that I could get my helmet off, I tore off the gob of bandages on my thumb. STUPID! STUPID!!!!
To hell with my thumb, though, what about the bike?! Fortunately, there wasn’t any mechanical damage. Only cosmetic scratches to the right side fairing and saddlebag. I count my blessing every day, and twice that day. It could have been far worse. I pushed it to the limit, and just a wee bit more, and paid for it. ‘Nuff said. Now I had to ride home with the embarrassing scars of a ‘dumping’. Nothing I can do about that for now. Of course, you know what they say: There are two kinds of motorcyclists – those who have gone done, and those who are going to. For nearly 20 years I have counted myself among the latter. No longer. I guess I am a due, and I won’t soon forget the experience.
Needless to say, I had a bit of difficulty enjoying the rest of the afternoon. I did take in a bit of the southern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway that was open before calling it a day. I found a place to stay that evening in Boone, NC. Home of the Appalachian State University, and not much else. Still, it seemed like a nice town. There must be some good barbecue here, right? Well, if there was, I didn’t find it. I did find a promising restaurant, but the food was served partly cold, and it was a disappointment. Still, it beat a chain restaurant, and did knock off one of the goals I had set for the trip.
The next morning I tried to get an early start, but it was a foggy one. I thought that this might hamper the view on the Parkway, but as I rose a bit in altitude, I was witness to some spectacular foggy morning sunrises (actually, early morning – I can’t take credit for being there for the sunrise). My pictures can’t possibly do justice to the majesty of the sun streaming through the morning clouds, blunted by the fog below as the peaks of the Appalachians stretch to reach the sky. In the southern reaches of the Parkway, the leaves were only beginning to change, but the further north I rode, the more color I was greeted with.
I had visited a small portion of the Parkway many years ago in the fall and forgotten how beautiful it is. Endless miles, free of commercial vehicles, with a liberal sprinkling of twisties (watch out – the park rangers WILL ticket speeders), and countless scenic turn outs. I couldn’t possibly stop at them all, or I would still be riding. In fact, after a few hundred miles, you almost become numb to the stunning beauty of it all. It seems criminal to simply ride through, but I knew I had to if I were ever going to make it home.
I was successful in completing the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline Drive before ending up in Front Royal. It was really only a little over 400 miles of riding, but you work for it, and at slower speeds, it was a long day. I spent the night in Front Royal, VA.
The next morning I got up knowing that it would be a long push home. From Front Royal, VA to Wales, ME would be over 650 miles. Long day, but obviously, not my longest. I made a point to call and track down my college roommate, Joe Lightfoot, while passing through Carlisle, PA. It had been far too many years since we had gotten together, and I was in luck – he was in town. He travels frequently with his company, so catching him in Carlisle really was a fortunate. We grabbed a coffee and spent nearly an hour together, catching up. As always, we parted vowing to stay in touch.
Back on the road. Time to put the miles down. I had been blessed once again with good weather, and had no doubt that I could make it home for (a late) supper. I expected to be home by 7:00 or so. However, my hopes were dashed when I started running into the homeward bound commuters. Starting in Waterbury CT, I found myself in one slow down after another as minor fender-benders had traffic slowed down in both directions (the ‘gawker’ phenomenon is one that I still can’t get). It didn’t get any better in Massachusetts, but I was hopeful that once I got onto I-495, I would sail around the normal traffic that constipates the greater Boston area, particularly Route 128. How wrong I was. I had the misfortune of being stuck a couple of miles behind a severe accident that stopped traffic in its place for over an hour. Obviously not as unfortunate as the people involved in the accident – some of which had to be Medi-vac’ed out by helicopter. Still, after 9 or so hours on the road, this was not what I was looking for. It did finally break up, and I made it home for a very late supper at 9:30 PM.
Reflecting back on the trip, it was certainly worth while. I needed the break between my old job and starting my new business. It was my first long solo adventure, and I missed my longtime riding companion, Tim Flack. It is always more fun to share these kinds of experiences with others, although going alone is much better than not going at all. I am disappointed about the damage to my bike, but it can be easily fixed, and my thumb is healing. This probably won’t go down as my favorite trip, but certainly an unforgettable one.