We woke up to the sound of the forest surrounding us and headed out in search of some excellent Ecuadorian coffee to start our day. The staff set up a scrumptious buffet of eggs and breads that filled us up. Adrian and Anthony, the two Canadians that had rolled in about an hour after we did last night, sat with us and we planned our day to right together down to the next lodge. There were a couple of off bike activities planned for the day so we were packed up and ready to head out by 8:30 am.
In the parking lot with all our gear loaded
As the ride in the previous night had demonstrated the low available clearance on the bike with both of us on it, Karen insisted on walking out the 300 yards to the main road. I can't say that I minded as I was still getting used to the bike and the different handling characteristics from my regular road bike. The Canadians were patient and waited for us and we proceeded out to the main highway where we were to continue east towards the coast.
Our first stop was a little over 30 miles away at the Cascades Verdes park, a private park that included 2 swimming holes below waterfalls. We pulled in an paid a paltry entrance fee and bought a round of beers before hitting the trail down to the first swimming hole. The dirt path was well maintained and included rustic steps that made the steep descent bearable. I was just dreading the climb back out.
Karen and I claimed the first swimming hole while the guys continued on to the second which was an additional 25 minute hike. The water was cold at first but that quickly passed and we thoroughly enjoyed having the spot all to ourselves. Hell yeah, I'm swimming under a waterfall in the middle of the jungle in Ecuador. Who would have ever thought such a thing!!
After about an hour of enjoying our spot of paradise, we packed up and headed back up the hill. Not long after we reached the entrance pavilion, the guys arrived from their long round trip. They said that they had about 10 minutes at the other pool before starting their journey back. We took our time changing back into our riding gear and proceeded back out to the highway to continue our journey east.
Next stop was lunch at a recommended resort situated on an island in the middle of the river. This is where we would have to cross a narrow single lane suspension bridge to get to the island. Upon arrival at the La Isla Resort, we enjoyed an incredible fresh fish lunch in the open air restaurant/kitchen. When it was time to leave, Karen volunteered to cross the bridge and video each of us as we crossed back over.
Back out on the highway the Canadians took the lead and set a rather brisk pace that we managed to stay up with for the most part. Until, of course, we hit the town of Puerto Quito and the guys misread their GPS and turned off on the road that led through downtown. It was obvious that they did not have much experience with GPS units where I had the advantage of using them extensively in my rallying adventures. Karen and I took the bypass and pulled over on the other side of town to wait for them to make it through.
After a few minutes they zipped by and we pulled out to follow. Not far down the road we encountered one of those "conveniences" of living/traveling in a Latin American country, the random police checkpoint. The Canadians whizzed by but, of course, the officer turned and pointed us over to the side of the road. The tour staff had prepared us for such an occurrence and I played my role as the dumb tourist as best I could. "Sorry, no habla espanol." I finally showed him my license and I guess the proof of my motorcycle endorsement was sufficient so he waived us on. Nothing like being interrogated by Police in a foreign country to get your heart pumping.
The Canadians had pulled over a few miles down the road to wait for us and we all enjoyed a good laugh at our expense before continuing on our journey. Karen had indicated that she was a bit uncomfortable with the pace so I told the guys to go ahead and we would just meet them that night at the hotel. We saw them once at a gas station as we passed by and that was the last that we saw of them until that evening.
We finally reached the coast in the small city of Pedernalas which is the largest shrimp market in Ecuador. Shrimp is one of Ecuador's biggest exports and the coast was lined with shrimp farms for miles and miles. Turning south along the coast the temperature had made a noticeable drop from the upper 80's into the low 70's which made the ride much more comfortable. We were about 60 miles from our destination and the sun was slowly dropping in the sky. After a brief stop at one of the shrimp farms for a rest, we scurried along the coast road to get to our destination. We were warned about animals on the road after dark so we made haste but we still ran across a REALLY REALLY large Brahma bull who had decided he wanted to take a leisurely stroll across the highway. We both just sat frozen on the bike while we waited for him to mosey his way to the other side. I was a bit tired at that point but it sure woke me up for the rest of the journey.
Path to the beach at Canoa Suites
After 9 1/2 hours of traveling and activities that day we rolled into the parking lot of the Canoa Suites located about a mile south of town. Darkness was falling quickly as the sun sets everyday at 6:30 pm in Ecuador. Our hostess met us in the parking lot and led us to a very large family suite right near the bikes. The room had a separate bedroom with a queen bed and two double beds in the main room. A large bathroom with a comfortable walk-in shower was wonderful after a long day of riding. After cleaning up a bit, we walked out to the beach. It was amazing how flat the beach was as we had to walk nearly a 1/4 mile out just to get water up above our ankles. For dinner we were able to catch up with Arian and Anthony and met another couple of guys who were riding on one of the tour company's other routes. We sat around and had a few beers and enjoyed a tasty meal provided by the staff in the hotel restaurant. That night it was wonderful to drift off to sleep listening to the ocean not far away.
A quick dip in the Pacific Ocean before dinner. It was sooo flat!
Finally!!! The day had arrived for us to start our adventure. The stress of having to pack and re-pack, do I take this? Do I leave this behind? Will they have this? etc. It was a crazy morning at the hotel. We took a break from our preparations and headed down to get our included breakfast. Oh man, what a good way to start the day. Great breakfast!
Our instructions were to be at Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental at 9am. Amazingly, we were able to gather all of our gear (helmets, jackets, etc.) and our luggage and make the short walk down the street to the tour company offices by 8:45.
The big beautiful Suzuki Vstrom 1000 was rolled out front and we quickly attached the saddlebags and loaded a few light items into the top case. A pair of Canadians, Anthony and Adrian, were departing on our same route that morning so we stood by while they took care of their paperwork before we sat down for the pre-ride briefing. First the packet of daily route sheets and vouchers were distributed before Court started his briefing. And what a briefing it was. Super detailed as I was scratching away notes on our route sheets. We all kind of looked at each other as Court described how all Ecuadorian 2 lane roads have an invisible 3rd lane down the middle. Believe it or not, the traffic system, as chaotic as it may seem, works. We wrapped up just before 11 am and we headed out to the bikes for last minute pre-adventure pictures.
The first challenge of the day was exiting Quito to the north which involved paying attention to the provided Garmin Zumo XT GPS units on each bike. Gabriel N. led us a short way down to the large traffic circle where we had to quickly transition to the inside lane to catch the tunnel out of the Carolina section of town. After Gabriel peeled off we followed the Canadians out through the tunnel where they promptly missed the first turn-off and ended up God knows where. Karen and I proceed on the correct route and found ourselves breathing a little easier as traffic began to open up as we headed north.
Wrong Equator (circled)
Our first stop was the Intinan Museum where we paid our $5 each to enter. Court, during his briefing, suggested that we ask for the 20 minute abbreviated tour and the guides were happy to oblige. Interestingly, the French had surveyed the area to lay out the Equatorial Line and build a large plaza and monument to celebrate their achievement. Unfortunately, they got it wrong and declared the equator to be about 400 yards south of the actual equator.
As our guide led us down to the REAL equator line, she showed us a series of
demonstrations highlighting the oddities that occur on the equator. For instance, ancient sundials were mounted vertically and were read on one side for half a year and the other side for the other half of the year.
Of course they had a demonstration of the Coriolis Effect that makes water swirl in different directions. First she placed a sink directly over the equator and dropped some leaves into the water. When she pulled the drain plug, the water didn't swirl and emptied straight out the bottom of the sink. She picked up the sink and moved it about 5 feet to the south and repeated the experiment. As expected, the water swirled clockwise as it drained. The same experiment performed 5 feet north of the equator had the water draining in a counter clockwise direction.
The last demonstration had each of us attempting to balance and egg on the head of a nail that was placed on the equator. Supposedly it is very, very difficult to do this either side of the equator but due to the balanced forces there, it makes it possible. I wasn't able to do it but Karen was able to do it right away and received a certificate to prove it.
As our time was getting tight we continued on our tour where the guide wrapped up showing us some exhibits of early tribal life including a real human shrunken head, a practice that didn't end until early in the 20th century.
A kiss from half a world away
Leaving the museum we turned east and after a few miles we turned off the highway and began to climb up to the edge of the Pululahua Volcano Caldera. The story is that this is the only volcanic crater in the world where people actually live inside the Caldera. We couldn't really tell as the cloud layer that day obscured any attempt to see the crater floor.
After leaving the volcano, we continued east on a beautiful winding highway as we descended down through the Cloudforest. Traffic was light and we really enjoyed the relaxed ride and the views. The tour operator had recommended the Los Armadillos Cafe for a lunch break. As we closed in on the waypoint on the GPS, a small cinder block home/cafe? appeared on the edge of the dropoff. This is where we were to have lunch. Capital OMG. How impressed we were. Once inside the open air seating, we had spectacular views across the valley and were immediately surrounded by dozens and dozens of hummingbirds of all shapes, sizes and species imaginable. And the food!! It got a second OMG! This meal set the bar for the rest of the trip as most everyplace that we went was just as good.
Wrapping up the short ride for the day, we continued down the road for our turn-off to Mindo where our lodge was for the night. We had the option of an off-road route but we were getting tired and stayed on the highway. Talking to the Canadians later that night proved to be the right choice as they said the gravel road was quite rough. The El Septimo Paraiso Eco Cloudforest Lodge was short ways off the road in the middle of the Cloudforest. It was nice to get to our room and get out of the riding gear and relax before heading down to happy hour and dinner. We enjoyed several beers and laughed with the Canadians while enjoying an awesome pair of pizzas. I think the dinner and drinks set us back all of about $25. We were so happy that the staff found us a fan for our room as it was a little stuffy in there. It didn't take long for us to drift off to sleep.
Welcome to the Jungle
Oh, what a great start to this adventure. We had an early start the next day as it would be our longest day on the bike in terms of miles. The route sheet showed it to be 187 miles but it would be all paved. What we would normally cover in about 3-4 hours was expected to take almost 10.
Through the next few posts I hope to capture what I have said is indescribable in words. One must experience in person what Karen and I have done to fully understand the entirety of these 9 days. Words are inadequate and the pictures simply cannot do it justice. None of this could have happened without the efforts of the first class people at Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental.
The idea of this trip germinated about 10 years ago when I saw an advertisement in Rider Magazine for a tour company that offered on and off road tours in Ecuador. "That would be interesting" I said to myself back then. Then earlier this year Karen asked me what I wanted to do for my 60th birthday. Without too much thought I said, "I want to go ride a motorcycle in Ecuador" and I set about to do the research. The previous month some fellow Iron Butt Association friends had gone down to Ecuador and ridden the same self-guided tour that I had my eye on, the Cloudforest, Coast and Craters tour, aka the CCC. This is advertised as a 60% paved, 40% unpaved tour with the options on most days for 100% paved routes. The price was right and flights from Washington Dulles (IAD) to Quito, Ecuador (UIO) were reasonable and within our budget. A special shout-out to Bob and Cheryl Woodsom and Minna Case for the inspiration and tips to make this trip a memorable one.
It's been a long year leading up to this. Karen went on an incredible African Safari trip in April with her sister, Kathy. I travelled out to Cheyanne, WY and participated in the 7-day LDX Motorcycle Rally. In September I had plans to ride down to Texas to see my mother, then participate in the IBA Rideapalooza Ride Around Texas event, and finally ride back to Nashville, TN for a software conference. Sadly, my plan to visit my mother turned into attending her memorial service as she passed shortly before I was to depart. Oh how I wish she could see the pictures of this trip. She would have loved it.
I spent most of October telling everyone in my company that I would NOT be available for system support during my trip. I had underestimated the level of connectivity that I would have in Ecuador. It turned out that almost every stop provided a good and reliable wi-fi service so I could keep up with emails and some chats.
Day -2 - Travel Day to Ecuador
Our flight out to Quito would depart IAD at 9:42am so this called for a VERY early morning commute up I-95 and around the Beltway to arrive at the airport the prescribed 3 hours ahead of departure. Ugh, that was an early drive. Karen had figured out my surprise that we would be flying Business Class so we had plenty of baggage allowance to accommodate our motorcycle gear and street clothes. I dropped her off at the departure doors and headed out to the economy lots where I was to use my pre-paid parking voucher (travel tip, do this if your airport allows). When I got back the Copa Airlines ticketing desk was just starting to open up and we checked in our really, really heavy bags. Since we were flying Business Class we were directed to the Turkish Airlines Club room where we enjoyed a light breakfast and some much needed coffee!
Copa Airlines is the flag carrier of Panama so we were set to connect in Panama City. We had hoped to see the Panama Canal but, unfortunately, the airport was situated on the opposite side of the city and we were not able to catch a glimpse. Karen did, however, snap some good pictures of the HUGE ships that were sitting offshore waiting for their turn through the locks. After landing we were able to relax a bit in the Copa Lounge in the air conditioning and grab a snack.
Our connecting flight from Panama to Quito was on one of Copa's newest planes, a 737-900, where they had new lay flat seats in Business Class. Oh, the joy of having some decent leg room! We both drifted off for a bit during the 2 hour flight into Quito. Arrival in Ecuador was a non-event. Immigration and Customs were very friendly and efficient. When we exited the secure area after Customs, we walked into pure chaos as an enormous crowd was waiting for arrivals just outside the door. I was approached by several unlicensed "cab" drivers but they were quickly shoo-d away by airport staff.
A word about Ecuador cab drivers, they are awesome! Most do not speak very much English but they know how to use the translators on their phones. The airport is a pretty good distance from our hotel but the cab fare was only $25. It would have easily been triple that in the States. The key to any cab ride is to settle on a fare BEFORE closing your door. Traffic is what you would expect in a foreign country, pure chaos. But....it worked and it worked fairly well.
We arrived about 6:30 pm at the Hotel Finlandia which is one block away from the tour company property. The hotel was nice and clean, but like most hotels in Ecuador, there was no air handling equipment in the room so it was a bit stuffy for someone accustomed to sleeping with a fan on.
After settling in as best we could, we headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant for dinner and a welcome drink (the drink being part of our booking deal through Hotels.com). This was the first of one of the biggest surprises of our trip, just how good the food would be all week long.
Getting to sleep that night was a bit troublesome with the city noises going late into the night and the lack of any air movement. Cars honking, dogs barking, and people shouting is just not something I'm used to.
Day -1 - Acclimation Day in Quito
The tour company recommended that you arrive a day early to Quito so that your body could get used to the 9,000 ft elevation. This meant that our Friday would be spent doing some minor touring around the city. Little did we know but that Friday was a nation holiday for the "Day of the Dead". The tourist spots were going to be crowded.
Our breakfast was included in our hotel package so we headed down fairly early to enjoy the buffet and some really good Ecuadorian coffee. Afterward, we caught a taxi out front and headed to the TeliferiQo Cable Car a few miles away (Taxi $3).
We arrived about 9:15 am and a good number of visitors were already at the site. The ticketing line moved fairly quickly and we got in line for the ride up the mountain. We started at just under 10,000 ft and the 18 minute ride dropped us off at the top at 13,000 ft. Fortunately, the morning fog was lifting and we were greeted with sunshine up top but we still had to deal with some clouds obscuring the views.
Out of breath at this altitude
It's hard to believe how large the city of Quito when viewed from 3000 ft up. From the cable car station we ventured up the trail a few hundred feet but at that altitude, every step was exhausting. Of course, Karen ran across a lady resting at a table who had on an Alabama sweatshirt so Karen had to engage in some smack talk about the game a few weeks prior.
After a short time enjoying the views, we headed back down to the loading area for the trip back down the mountain. As we descended below the cloud layer, the views opened up to show the enormity of Quito. I even saw a giant condor sitting on a power pole near the tram line. Magnificent!
When we reached the bottom and departed the tram, we congratulated ourselves for arriving early as the line now extended out to the parking lot. One warning that we had heard before our trip was to only use yellow painted cabs. Unfortunately, none we are the taxi station. We chatted up a fellow in his broken English and my broken Spanish to use his non-yellow painted cab. It was actually a fairly late model SUV that was clean and clearly had cab features and signage so we took a chance. He was a joy to ride with to our next destination in the old downtown Quito area.
We were dropped off just outside the Basilica del Voto Nacional, a giant neo-Gothic church constructed mostly from large cinder blocks. The church charged a small fee to tour the structure but it was so worth it. We entered in the middle of a Mass but were ensured that it was OK to walk around.
I don't have space to place enough pictures here to do the building justice. It was beautiful.
As we made our way around the main sanctuary, we stumbled across a secondary sanctuary that was even more ornate. It must take an incredible amount of dedication to maintain such a magnificent structure.
Our next destination was about 10 blocks away so we decided to walk instead of a taxi. Note: Quito is a large city with a LOT of people in it. At no time did we ever feel threatened as we wondered the streets standing out as obvious tourists. Karen's blond hair was of interest to a few kids but otherwise we felt very comfortable.
Now for the most amazing occurrence of the entire trip. Bear with me as it takes a bit of explaining. Here we are walking down a street in a city of over 2 million people on a national holiday meaning that the streets were packed. Karen tells me that she needs to find a bathroom. At that moment we were walking by a sign that read Centro Comercial and it looked like it was large enough to have a public bathroom so we turned it. It turns out that it was, indeed, a small "mall" if you could liken it to something familiar. We walked past a beautiful beer garden and made a turn left and a turn right where we entered a moderate sized courtyard with a fountain and tables. On the other side of the courtyard was the public restroom (banos). I plopped at a table as Karen made her way over to get in line (15 cents to use the bathroom, 25 cents with a few squares of toilet paper). Just as Karen is returning to me at my table, I point across the courtyard and say, "Is that..." and Karen says, "Yes, it is."
Just as this man is about to sit in a chair I yelled, "James Owen! Are you lost?!" I thought he was going to jump out of his skin. Here we are, in a city of 2 million+, in a small market with a public restroom, and I run into my friend and someone that I idolize in the long-distance motorcycle community. For those that don't know, this is the Micheal Jordon, the Peyton Manning, the Hank Aaron, ... of the long distance motorcycle rally world. James is the only 2-time winner of the famous Iron Butt Rally and is an absolute beast on his bike. After a few minutes, the lovely Janet Owen returned to join us for some chat and photos before their tour group was departing. James and Janet had just arrived the day before from Peru and were on their way to the Galapagos Islands the next day. The saying "It's a small world" just doesn't hold a candle to how incredible of a chance meeting it was.
After we parted Karen and I continued our walkabout and made our way to the Iglesia del la Compania de Jesus (Church of the Society of Jesus), an elaborately gilded baroque church where, sadly, they did not allow pictures to be taken. I've never seen anything like it. The ENTIRE interior was covered in gold leaf. Truly a sight to see with your own eyes.
We ended our tour with another entertaining cab ride back to our hotel where we spent most of the time using the driver's cell phone to translate our instructions. One tip that I wish we had listened to was to purchase a readily available SIM card for our phones so that we could have a data plan to use while out and around. It would have come in handy.
With our city tour complete, it was now time to head down the street to our tour company's office to check in and complete much of the necessary paperwork. All was in order and the tour company gave us our 35 liter soft saddlebags that we would attempt to stuff a week's worth of gear into. They took us outside to size up the motorcycle that we would be renting for our trip. Karen and I hopped on and all parties sort of bought off that it would indeed carry the two of us plus our gear for the week. More details to follow in tomorrow's story.
To complete the day, we returned up the street to our hotel and transferred our gear and clothes for the week to the saddlebags and put our other items into our suitcases for storage at the tour company the next day. Running out of energy from the day, we decided to just eat dinner in the hotel restaurant and I'm glad we did. The name of the establishment is Senso Cinco (Five Senses) and it hit all of them. Karen has a risotto dish that was to die for.
Like the previous night we didn't have a real comfortable sleep with all of the city noises. It may have been the anticipation of starting our trip the next day as well.
Thanks for staying with me through this long prologue. Tomorrow, WE RIDE!!!
This series of posts will describe my experience with my rookie attempt at the 2019 edition of the Iron Butt Rally, an 11 day endurance scavenger hunt on a motorcycle. Since my first taste of long distance (LD) riding back in 1985, I have been hooked on swinging my leg over a motorcycle and chasing the sun across the sky. That first ride, from Lyons, CO to Ft. Worth, Tx aboard my beloved '83 Yamaha Venture, instilled the passion for seeing the most that I could see in just a single day. It was on that run that my riding partner, Will Ferrick of Rider Magazine's Touring Association, introduced me to the Iron Butt Association.
Only years later, and a couple of wives, did I finally make the effort to run my qualifying SaddleSore 1000 to become an official member of the Iron Butt Association, #42146. Since that time, I had it in my mind to run the Iron Butt Rally but life always seemed to get in the way. Fortunately, in 2016 my situation settled into a pattern where I could make an effort to qualify for the IBR. 2017 was out of the question so I set my sights on the 2019 edition.
I knew that the motorcycle that I was riding at the beginning of 2016 was not suited to the sport. I had used it in my first scavenger hunt rally, the Run for the Hills event in Kingsport, TN in October of 2015, and it was clear that a Triumph Rocket III was simply too large and used too much gas to be a competitive mount. So in January 2016 I picked up a left over 15 model Triumph Trophy and proceeded to add all of the items (aka farkles) that a well equipped rally bike normally has. It was a full 3 year project to get all of the farkles the way that I wanted them.
To qualify for selection to the IBR one has to build a riding and rally resume. The 2016 season consisted of a focus on the Tour of Hour rides and building up on "cert" rides including several SaddleSore 1000 (1000 miles/24 hours) and a couple of BunBurner Gold (1500 miles/24 hours) rides. For 2017 I switched my focus to scavenger hunt rides so I signed up for some of the "sprint" rallies including the Rock-n-Ride Rally and the Mason-Dixon 20/20 rally. I scored a 2nd place finish in the RnR and a 5th place in the Mason-Dixon, a fantastic start for a rally rookie.
Since the checkpoints for the 2017 IBR were in Allen, TX, less than 40 miles from where I grew up, I made a point of being at the checkpoint to soak up information about what happens. I was an awesome experience seeing the riders arrive. At that point I was sure that I was ready and would throw my entry into the hat for the 2019 IBR a few months later.
It seemed like it was a really short time and the application window opened for entering the 2019 IBR. With a silent prayer I clicked the Submit button and my entry was sent. Now to wait...and wait...and.
On April 1st (yeah, April Fools Day) I was in the middle of a SS1000 ride for the Tour of Hour when a VIP email notification popped up on my phone. A bit eager I opened the email while rolling down the highway. I'm sure other motorists were surprised to see a fatboy jumping up and down on his motorcycle at 70 mph rolling down Interstate 81. I'd been selected!!!
Now the fun really begins. Although the rally would not be for another 14 months, I got started right away on my prep. "Practice your routing method" was a mantra we received from the Rally Master Lisa Landry.
I also wanted to participate in as many other rallies as I could. Next up was Rock-n-Ride 2018 followed shortly by the Mason-Dixon 20/20 over Memorial Day weekend. The real test would be the Butt Lite IX rally based out of Lexington, KY in July. It would be my first true multi-day rally as it is billed as the 6-day version of the IBR. If we believe that you learn from your mistakes, boy I had a lot of lessons learned from Butt Lite. Lastly in 2018 was the Void Rally based in my hometown of Fredericksburg, VA.
As 2019 rolled around, things started to get serious and more of my time was dedicated to rally prep. My Father passed away in March which re-directed my attention for a while. Not a month later my Mother fell and broke her hip. I'm grateful for my brothers and sister who were able to help her as I am 1200 miles away. I was able to run Rock-n-Ride in April but had to sit out the Mason-Dixon 20/20 as my wife retired from the school system that weekend.
Retirement Party over, it was time to focus on me again says Karen. I had just a few weeks to get things together and pack. I sent out multiple emails at work instructing people to not call me because I would not answer. Karen and I got wills, advance directives and powers of attorney signed off on. I was ready to go.
As one would expect most riders spent the day Friday sleeping after completing check in and scoring. I know that I hadn't placed very high but I was good with that. Finishing was this year's objective. That evening everyone gathered in anticipation of the banquet where the results would be announced.
After a few announcements, Lisa Landry took the stage and began announcing the finishers. In all there were 25 riders that DNF'd (Did Not Finish) which seems oddly high compared to recent IBRs. It stood testament to the difficulty of this year's rally. Finishers started with 71st place and as each rider was called, they would come forward to receive their finisher plaque and have a picture taken. I was so happy to hear my name called in 55th place. I'd done it and had the proof to show for it!!
When it came time to recognize the Top 10 finishers, Route Master Jeff Earls took the stage and called forward the Top 10 riders in no particular order. My good friend Steve Gallant and fellow Trophy rider Paul Meyer were both included along with long time big dawgs Jim Owen (2x winner), Eric Bray, and Wendy Crockett. Paul was announced as the 8th place finisher followed by Jim Owen at 7th. Eric Bray took 5th. The question remained did Steve hold on to his lead position after Leg 1? It wasn't meant to be. Despite a massive Leg 2b run and a couple of missed bonus opportunities, Steve took 3rd place in his rookie season. It was so awesome to be there and cheer his success.
Now there were only two, Mike Heitkamp and Wendy Crockett. Excitement filled the air with the possibility of a first time female winner. The room erupted in joy and ovation as history was made and Wendy Crockett secured the win with an epic final leg. It was an honor to have witnessed history being made in our sport.
2019 IBR Winner Wendy Crockett and her Yamaha FJR
The Day After - June 29
Saturday broke bright and sunny promising to make today's ride home a steamy affair. Karen and I made our way downstairs for breakfast and farewells to the people that made this such a wonderful experience. Karen's cough that she had had for 3 months was bothering her a bit more today. And for the first time she expressed concern that she was having trouble catching her breath. This allergy season had been particularly rough on her and she had already been through one round of antibiotics for bronchitis.
Packing up I bid farewell to my trusty old riding boots. Karen had brought my other pair down to the finish so instead of stinking up the car, we just left them in the room.
I hopped on the bike and Karen started up her car and we hit the highway for the trip home. It was mostly uneventful and we made it home safely. Karen said that she was going to go back to the doc on Monday so we retired for the evening.
The Aftermath - June 30 and on
Waking up late Sunday morning we went out to breakfast and Karen was really having a hard time breathing. She kept insisting that it was bronchitis due to her allergies. I said enough is enough and we went to a nearby satellite emergency room associated with our main hospital. The ER Doc came in and said her lungs were clear sounding, her BP and heart rates were good and that they were going to send her home with more antibiotics. I spoke up and told Karen to tell the doctor about the pain she felt in her calf and her groin. When I said that the doctor's eyes looked like saucers and immediately ordered sonograms and a CT scan.
A few hours went by as the tests were run and finally a nurse came in with a syringe. "Is that an antibiotic?" Her reply was, "Oh no. You have a blood clot in your lung and this is heparin." Shortly after the ER Doc came in and told us that Karen had blood clots in both lungs and up her right leg. Double Pulmonary Embolism and Deep Vein Thrombosis, she called it. She informed us that Karen was being immediately transferred by ambulance to the main hospital downtown and a cardiologist was waiting for her.
I jumped in the car and ran home to get some supplies for her hospital stay. Arriving at the hospital they had her in the cardiology unit.
The next day Karen was wheeled down to the surgical unit for a catheterization procedure. 3 leads were inserted into her neck and run down into both lungs were a fairly new drug was used to break up the largest of the clots. She spent 2 days in the Intensive Care Unit but as you can see she was in good spirits.
The Cardiologist who performed the procedure came in the day after surgery and explained to us that the one clot in her right lung should have killed her. She was extremely lucky.
Obviously, the IBR was the furthest thing from my mind during this time. As Karen jokingly said, "It was about her now that the IBR was over." The rally, the trophy, the accolades meant nothing. Getting her well was the only priority.
After 3 days in the hospital Karen was able to walk out, a little sore, but well enough to walk out of the hospital. I'm grateful to say that her recovery is going quite well but most likely she will be on blood thinners for the rest of her life. No reason was found for why this happened.
Not to be outdone, it was my turn. A week after all this happened I ended up in the same ER thinking that I had a kidney stone or a blocked gall bladder. Tests and scans revealed everything was in order except for my diverticulosis was acting up. I missed a few more days of work before finally being up to move around. I've been seeing a chiropractor as well to deal with back pain brought on by the IBR.
The first time I really got to celebrate finishing the IBR was when a small package arrived in the mail. This made it real.
There are so many people to thank that I could fill up pages and pages of blogspace. Mike Kneebone, Lisa Laundry, Jeff Earls and all of the IBR Rally Staff made this rookie effort so memorable. Congratulations to old friends and new friends on completing such an awesome rally. If all goes well, I hope to make another run at the IBR in the future where I won't be that wide eyed rookie being conservative.
Thank you, Reader, for taking part of your valuable time to read my text. Safe travels everyone.
Way too early it seemed the alarm went off so that I could make my way downstairs for the 4 am check out with Lisa Landry and IBR Staff. This completed the requirements for the 23k+ bonus points for returning to Kennewick. Since my ride plan was not too ambitious, I had allowed time for me to return to bed for a few more hours of sleep.
Waking up a few hours later I made ready to depart. Part of the routine is to reinstall all of my tech gear on the motorcycle including the GPS units, my iPad and my Spot device. The Spot is a satellite tracking device used by the IBR staff to keep watch over all the riders and means to provide assistance should the need arise. Significant bonus points are awarded for having and using this service. My routine is usually to install the Spot device first, plug it in, and turn it on which I did. I continued with my other devices and made ready to leave.
The goal today was to simply get to Telluride, CO where I would be staged for collecting some time restricted bonus locations the next day. Leaving Kennewick I headed east on I-84 towards Salt Lake City, UT. About 200 miles into my journey I check my dash to make sure all is well and notice that I had neglected to start the Tracking feature on my Spot device. Ugh! I was hopeful that the IBR Staff would allow a 200 mile gap out of a 10,000 mile journey.
View of Southern Idaho from the bike
Nothing real exciting happened most of the day. I did have my first fan photo taken somewhere in northern Utah. Cool. As I reach Salt Lake City, it is approaching the evening rush hour and sure enough the pace slows to a crawl. I'm certainly missing that California lane splitting about now. The heat is taking its toll and I get a case of the nods. I really scared myself as I drifted off for only a second and shocked awake to see the rear bumper of the car ahead getting real close. The shock woke me up and I was able to make my way out of the city and catch my turn on US-6 south of Provo. US-6 merged with US-191 which would take me into southeast Utah where I would turn due east for the transition over to Telluride.
By now it was dark and being a bit paranoid of critters, I slowed my speed down to a comfortable pace. I arrived at my destination about 11 pm and found my room key and documents in an envelope at the front counter of the small hotel. The room was large and comfortable and made for an excellent rest stop. I took the opportunity to do a little repair work on my riding boot. Several rounds of duct tape worked wonders and would allow the boots to make it through the rest of the rally.
Total miles for the day ended up being just over 950. It felt good to be staged for the next day's effort.
Day 9 - Telluride, CO to Carlsbad, NM
The big bonus of the day was in Silverton, CO with the time restriction beginning at 11 am. This allowed me to get a few more hours of sleep which I desperately needed. Leaving the hotel about 7 am, I made my way into Telluride to capture a bonus picture of a unique train used back in the day.
I had to laugh as the Garmins are telling me that Silverton is only 12 miles away. Being familiar with the area, I knew better than to fall for the trick as Black Bear Pass is about as treacherous as one can get. Google Maps even lists the road as closed from Jan-Dec (when is it open?).
View of Black Bear Pass looking down on Telluride, CO
So I turn around and exit Telluride back to the west before turning north on CO-62 bound for Ridgeway. It is an absolutely gorgeous sunny morning with cool temps as I enjoy the pristine asphalt leading out of the area. Arriving in Ridgway I turn back south on US 550 (aka the Million Dollar Highway) and head towards Ouray. This is one of my favorite places in Colorado as it has a rich history, an awesome hot spring fed pool and sits at the end of a box canyon where the highway goes practically straight up. As I am passing through town I'm looking for a breakfast spot but decide against stopping as there is not anything resembling a level spot to park anywhere. Also, this is the tail end of Colorado's "mud season" and the road is covered in a layer of dirt that could be a challenge.
Leaving Ouray you ascend the San Juan mountains to reach the 11,010 ft Red Mountain Pass. The scenery is beautiful. The descent from the pass ends in the town of Silverton where my next bonus is. I'm a few hours ahead of schedule so I take the opportunity to go in a local restaurant for a big sit down breakfast. What joy it is to have some real food.
As I finish up breakfast, some other riders are starting to show up for the bonus. The requirement was to take a picture of the Durango to Silverton Steam Train at the Silverton location. The bonus allowed an alternative if the train had not arrived by 11 am. A rider could obtain a receipt from a local business at 11 am and then take a photo of your motorcycle in front of the area where the train is supposed to be.
As 11 am rolls around most of the other riders and I take the option to get a receipt and move out. Fellow rider Steve Snell hung around for the train (the rally book as a little ambiguous about the receipt alternative) as a safety measure and reported later that the train didn't arrive until 11:50 am.
Now is time for a big confession. I'm embarrassed to report it but it explains my weird spotwalla track. When the rally poster was first shown on the Saturday before the rally, I noticed the bridge in the middle and recognized it as the Royal Gorge Bridge that I've visited several times growing up. From that moment I had it fixed in my mind that we could be going to the Royal Gorge sometime during the rally. It just so happened that my plan included visiting the RGORGE bonus. Without taking much notice of my GPS units, I hopped on the bike and made my way back over Red Mountain Pass into Ouray and Ridgeway before turning east on US-50 which would take me directly to the Royal Gorge.
After about 2 hours I notice that my gps units are saying that the RGORGE bonus is several hundred miles away but I know better that the Royal Gorge is only about 60 miles in front of me. I pulled into a rest area on the large Gunnison River Reservoir for a bio break and decide to check the rally book. It took a minute for it to click as I read over it several times as the bonus said Rio Grande Gorge. What?! I've never heard of the Rio Grande Gorge. It's down in New Mexico due south of me and here I am heading east to the wrong gorge!
Fortunately, this was not too terrible of a mistake as I calculated that I had only really lost about an hour of travel time. Just silly to have fixated so much on the familiar that I completely forgot to run the rally.
Trying to recover from my mistake I make good time down to the real RGORGE bonus. It requires 2 photos. The first is a marker located up in the rest area near the bridge and the second requires a short walk out onto the bridge for an overwater photo. Anyone that knows me well that I don't do well next to edges and I'm absolutely terrified in the photo.
Now my bonus locations are complete for the day and I need to get to Carlsbad, NM. The Garmins had me go east about 15 miles into Taos where I could pick up NM-68 south and get back to US-285. As I'm leaving Taos traffic comes to a stop with NM Highway Patrol blocking the highway. Apparently there was a fatal accident up ahead and it will be hours before the road is open. Trying an alternate route the gps was showing a gravel road up ahead, however, the road abruptly stopped with a 100 ft drop into a dry creek bed. No warning. Just 4 short posts at the end of the road. Backtracking into Taos my second option was to take the Taos High Road towards Sante Fe. Beautiful but a real time suck.
Rolling into Sante Fe I got a little bit of Interstate before peeling off to continue south on US-285. At Clines Corner I stopped for a delicious and nutritious gas station hot dog (x2) that I stuffed into my jacket pockets and ate on the road. After what seemed to be forever I pulled into Carlsbad about 12:30 and got a good receipt in case I wanted to use this as my rest bonus. The hotel across the street looked like it catered to oil field workers but was otherwise comfortable. Getting a shower and crawling in bed was a blessing. Total miles today was near 755.
Day 10 - Carlsbad, NM to Houston, TX
Since Carlsbad Caverns wasn't open until 8 am, I was able to get a few extra hours of sleep before heading out. The hotel breakfast was sorely lacking but I had to make do. About 7:45 am I rode back across the street for a rest bonus ending receipt and headed out to the Caverns. It's barren desert and not my favorite landscape. Pulling up a small hill I veered into the parking lot where, amazingly, there was motorcycle only parking and several machines that I recognized. Steve Snell, Nancy Lefcourt and the pride of Lindale, TX Bill Cumbie were waiting at the door. As the doors unlocked our group hustled to the ticket office to learn that the first elevator down in the Caverns would be at 8:30 am. I forgot to mention that the bonus for Carlsbad Caverns was a lot of points. To get it, the rider would have to make the 3/4 mile hike through the Big Room to the far end to take a picture of the marquee for the Bottomless Pit. Of course, the return trip was also 3/4 mile back to the elevator. The 4 of us chatted and enjoyed the air conditioning until we were transported down. With the task complete we all said our good-byes and headed our separate ways.
My original plan at this point was to make the long journey across Texas to Galveston where I would overnight and capture the Bolivar Lighthouse bonus at dawn. However, as I pulled out of Carlsbad I punched up the nearest bonus locations and saw that Presidio was only about 160 miles away and that Big Bend would not be far off as well. I made the command decision to drop the Lighthouse and add the 2 bonuses in southwest Texas. Heading south I made good time towards Presidio. With the heat building I stopped for fuel at Van Horn and was going to grab a Wendy's burger but the line was way too long so I again settled for a couple of gas station hot dogs stuffed in my jacket. Just a few miles south on US-67 I saw my first Border Patrol truck sitting on the side of the road. Not soon after I spied a CBP blimp off in a field. I know that I'm getting close.
The Presidio bonus was really easy as it was a picture of the Post Office with my motorcycle. Now to head east along the border towards Big Bend. Farm Road 170 parallels the Texas-Mexico border between Presidio and Lajitas.
It was interesting in places where I could look down into the gorge made by the Rio Grande River and see the tall grass on the Mexico side. Every once in a while would be a path cut out in the grass for passage down to the river where one could walk across with ease.
In the picture the cliffs to the right is Mexico and the green path in the middle is the Rio Grande River.
The temps were really starting to soar so I stopped at the Lajitas General Store for a bio break, some water and most of all some air conditioning. The ladies running the store were so nice and accommodating as they said that a lot of motorcycle riders stop for the same thing throughout the summer.
Back on the road I rolled through Terlinqua made famous by their Chili Festivals and the restaurant chain Chili's. Not much to see but now I can say that I've been there.
Entering Big Bend National Park the speed limit drops to 45 mph. WTH? There's nothing for a hundred miles and the limit is 45? You've got to be kidding. I tried my best to keep the speed down and only got flashed by a Park Ranger once to slow down. Ugh. Arriving at the bonus location Boquillias Canyon Overlook, a couple of hikers agreed to be my muses and hold my rally flag for the bonus location. Hopping back on the bike I noticed the temp gauge reading 105. Wow.
I have to say that growing up in Texas our family never made the trip out to the Big Bend. I can say with confidence that I have been there and never need to go back again. Just my opinion. I want my trees.
The final objective of the day was to get back up to I-10 and haul buns across Texas and get at least to the east side of Houston before stopping. Moving on I-10 was not too bad in the heat until I hit the Texas Dry Line near Kerrville. It was like someone hitting me across the head with a baseball bat. The humidity instantly went from 10% to 85% with the same temps. I soon hit some moderate rain with lightning popping all around. Looking at my iPad I saw that I would be out of it before hitting San Antonio so I continued on. After San Antonio I was really starting to hit the wall so I called my brother Scott and talked to him for almost an hour as I continued moving eastward. He suggested a few places for hotels and I was able to book a Motel 6 in Channelview which would put me on the east side of Houston and set me up for the run tomorrow. I arrived at the hotel about 2 am for a much needed shower and sleep. I covered about 1044 miles today.
Day 11 - Houston, TX to Greenville, SC
This is it. Day 11 of my rookie IBR. Feeling good and ready to finish this sucker. I got a quick shower to wake me up and loaded up the bike for departure just after 7 am. I had made the effort to get to the east side of Houston so that I could avoid rush hour traffic. As I pull onto the service road for I-10 my heart drops as the traffic eastbound is at a standstill. Looking at my iPad I see that there's no way around as I-10 crosses the Houston Ship Channel just a few miles up the road. Sticking to the service road I'm able to weave my way up a good bit before I'm forced onto the highway just short of the bridge. Slowly, ever so slowly, I make my way up the bridge and descending on the other side I see what the problem is. Someone on the west bound side has stopped their car in the middle of the highway and is threatening to jump from the bridge. Law enforcement is everywhere including a helicopter above. Saying a prayer for the troubled person I'm finally past the situation and able to get back to highway speeds.
Moving into Louisiana the temperatures are rising as fast as the humidity. I exit in Lafayette and head south to the home of Tabasco Hot Sauce for a fairly large bonus. The requirement was to take a photo of the pressed penny machine AND make a pressed penny with the Tabasco logo on it. There were 4 options for the pressed penny and only 2 of them had the Tabasco logo! As I finished my photo I wandered back into the main room of the general store and the a/c hit me. I just had to invest 5 extra minutes just to cool down. It was wonderful.
Back on the road I was heading for my last bonus of the rally. The reward was over 9000 points but it involved riding south to the very, very end of the Mississippi River delta where the road simply runs out. I saw several riders including my friends Lisa Rufo and her dad, Martin Cover, and Ken Andrews heading back north from the bonus.
Venice Marina is a very popular deep sea fishing port and there was a crowd sitting nearby enjoying seeing all the farkled motorcycles stopping by to photograph the fish cleaning station. At willing volunteer helped me out to hold my rally flag.
Heading back north I was amazed at looking up at the cargo ships docked on the other side of the large levee holding back the river. My gps told me that I was riding on a road that was 5 ft below sea level so I was thankful the levee was doing its job. I passed by a beautiful new high school building and had to stop as it was unique in having been built up on stilts. You do what you gotta do, I guess.
Unfortunately, I was going to hit New Orleans right at 5 pm and get caught in traffic. As I'm standing waiting for traffic to move, the temp gauge on the bike reads 100 degrees. It's absolutely miserable. I finally make it through the traffic but notice on my iPad a line of nasty looking thunderstorms moving south towards Mobile, AL. It's going to be close but I'm trying to get there and around the storms before they hit.
It wasn't meant to be. As I exited I-10 onto I-65 a new cell had formed right on top of the highway and it was delivering everything it had. Torrential rain had me slowed down to about 45 mph and the wind would first blow me to the right and the next second blowing me to the left. I haven't ridden in that harsh of a thunderstorm in many years and thankfully would only last a short time. Punching out of the storm the daylight was starting to fade as well as my energy. I had until 8 am the following morning to reach Greenville, SC and the finish line but I needed to stop and stop soon.
I stopped a few times to fuel and stretch but after making my way through Atlanta I just had to stop for a short nap. Eyeing an empty parking lot to a Best Buy, I exited I-85 and circled around to check into the Iron Butt hotel for a break. Setting times on both the phone and iPad I laid down next to the bike and instantly was out. 30 minutes later the timers did their jobs and roused me from my slumber. Not feeling totally refreshed, nevertheless I swung my leg over the bike and continued on. My goal was oh so close.
About 4:30 am I made the exit for the hotel in Greenville and the reality started to hit me. I was going to finish the Iron Butt Rally, a decades long goal. Crossing over the highway I moved to the right lane to turn down the parkway for the entrance to the hotel. The tears are already starting to flow. I need to focus and not get ahead of myself. I made the turn for the hotel entrance, passed the Michelin Man welcoming all of us home, and turned down the lane to the finish line. A small crowd is out front with signs and cheering. I couldn't hardly hold it together.
After having my time and odometer reading recorded by IBR staff I made my way over to an open parking area and shut down the bike. I've made it. As I step off the bike Karen is there and I can't hold it in any longer. I literally sobbed for a good 5 minutes. I was so relieved to have made it back safely. My first goal was achieved by making it back to Karen. Now it was time to achieve my second goal and successful get through scoring. Today's effort encompassed 1,130 miles of very hot weather riding.
Packing up my materials I headed inside to prepare for scoring. I took a quick shower as Karen placed my destroyed riding boots outside the room door as the funk was just too much. As she drifted off to sleep I gathered my materials and headed downstairs for scoring.
I was assigned to Pat Blewett for scoring and sat down to go through my list. First thing Pat informs me that I was being denied my tracking bonus due to my lapse of 200 miles on Day 8. Ouch, that was 4500 points. At that point I was thankful that I had changed my route and captured the Presidio and Big Bend bonus locations. Everything else was good and I finished with 88,274 points and had an adjusted distance of 10,040 miles.