The long ride

I mentioned previously my strange interest in long-distance motorcycle riding and my plans to eventually complete a 1500 mile ride in less than 24 hours. Well, the day has come. I just got home yesterday from riding from Philly to Chattanooga and back, just a bit over 1500 miles, in 22.5 hours.

Needless to say, I didn’t stay up ’til midnight on New Year’s Eve to watch the ball drop.

I earned my first Iron Butt Association certificate, 1000 miles in 24 hours, about five years ago. I’ve since ridden a few other rides of that length, but have never managed the next one up, the dreaded 1500 miles in 24 hours.

I’ve made lots of plans over the years to do this but obviously things always fell through — life gets in the way, you know. This year I promised myself that I’d do it, but throughout the year life kept getting in the way, again and again. Finally a month ago, with the continued warm weather here in the Philadelphia area I realized that the winter holiday break would be an ideal time to do the ride; I’ve got a week and a half off from work (my company has a “use it or lose it” vacation hours policy), so I’d have the time and be well rested. But would the weather hold up?

Obviously a southern route would be appropriate for this time of year. I initially planned a circular route starting in the west Philly suburbs where I live across the Penn Pike to Harrisburg, then south on I-81 to Chattanooga, then to Atlanta before turning north and back home via I-85 and I-95. That would give me 1600+ miles — an adequate margin of error that I could complete in just over 24 hours. But after driving the 95/85 route during the Turkey Day holiday to visit family in North Carolina I decided that wouldn’t be a great idea; just too much traffic though the DC area. But if I did out-and-back to Chattanooga, or more specifically a point just south of there across the Georgia border, I’d have 1514 miles. Close enough to the 1500 mile requirement, but no room for error. I checked on three different online maps just to make sure I got the mileage right; they all said the same thing.

I didn’t make the final decision to go until a couple days ago. The east coast Christmas blizzard, which the press was calling “Snowmageddon”, initially canceled my plans, but after the storm pulled out I saw that the snow had hit mostly along the coast, while my route would be inland, and as long as the roads were clear and the temperatures okay then I was set. The forecast looked good.

So on the day before New Year’s Eve I hit the road right after an early lunch. I had just barely started when I hit a problem: the gas station receipt used to certify the start of the ride had the wrong time; their clock was a half hour early. That meant that I would absolutely have to return to this same station on my return so I could compare start and end times. (But what if they fixed their clock in the meantime?) This shouldn’t be a problem, really, but just another restriction, and I had wanted to keep things as simple as possible.

Next problem: I hate I-81. Oh, the road itself is fine, it’s just the traffic on this mostly two-lane highway. Specifically the trucks. Way too many. And the huge number of cars with Florida plates slowly driven by, well, older people. In the left lane. And the trucks in the left lane. Taking forever to pass. And the numerous other members of the Left Lane Owners Club (LLOC). In the left lane. Refusing to budge. So, as the saying goes: “adopt, adapt, and improve” and start aggressively passing in the right lane where there are fewer vehicles.

I lost probably an hour to the traffic. Despite my keeping my every-200-miles gas stops short and quick, and with only one short meal stop, I didn’t arrive at my turnaround point just across the Georgia border until an hour after originally planned. There wasn’t any time to celebrate, and I look pretty stupid doing the happy dance anyway, so I just climbed on the bike and headed back north.

It had gotten dark at about 5:00pm, only halfway down Virginia, and it was now past eleven. And getting cold. In Tennessee the temperature wasn’t too bad; the overnight high in the mid 30’s was the same as the daily high elsewhere, and with wearing multiple layers including an electrically heated Gerbing jacket, and my R1150RT’s heated grips I was quite comfortable — so far. But once I started heading north I started to get cold. Lesson learned: next time get electric socks. My toes were starting to complain badly.

The ride was going smoothly. Past midnight the traffic started dying down, so I was able to increase speed to make up for some lost time. But the further north I went the colder I got. While the Gerbing jacket was previously capable of keeping me warm it was now starting to lag. Was something wrong with it? But when lifting my visor to push my glasses up I realized: It’s pretty damn cold out there! And it was getting worse. The temperature was in the high 20’s, but the wind chill was at a brisk highway speed. I was far from thinking about quitting, but I needed to keep an eye (or toes) on the situation; without enough heat I could be in trouble. I’ve experienced hypothermia before and know the signs, so promised myself that once I started shivering I was going to quit. It never got that bad, but was quite uncomfortable.

Late in the night, or rather early in the morning, the Mountain Dew from the previous gas stop was wearing off, and I needed the sunlight to keep me awake. I was thinking that the sun would come up by 6:30 or so, but it didn’t happen until almost 7:30 when I hit the northern border of Virginia. But here’s an alternative to caffeine to consider: adrenaline. Specifically, the adrenaline that results from a trucker very nearing running you off the road by swerving into your lane without signaling to pass another vehicle. You can bet that he got the finger — and I was now fully awake.

The last few hours were just endurance. The ride was pretty uneventful; just a lot of miles. Throughout the night with the traffic thinned out I could make good time. I just needed to survive the cold, the boredom, and the aching shoulders, neck, elbows, and the cramped right hand.

But I made it home, safe and sound. I finished the ride of over 1500 miles in 22.5 hours including stopping for gas, food, and restrooms. I can check it off my list and have something to brag about when I go back to work on Monday. I’ve earned a certificate from the Iron Butt Association, the everlasting admiration of all of my fans, and questions about my sanity from my detractors — you know who you are.


About pininforthefjords

I'm pinin' for the fjords. That's all.
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