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A Thousand Virgins in South Dakota

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Four AM arrived far too early. The alarm clock’s piercing tone rang out through the entire Red Roof Inn, shattering the silence and ruining a really good dream. My first coherent thought as I returned to semi-consciousness was, “Wha?,” followed closely by, “Why?

Of course my riding buddy Abi was already up and packed. He always is. I don’t get it, but I guess there isn’t much to get. He’s ready, I’m not.

“Dude, seriously, why are we doing this?” I was whining more than usual that morning, but that’s because I stayed up late writing a ride report on how we got where we were, while, wisely, Abi was sound asleep. “One thousand miles in one day? Why? Is there some sort of prize for this?”

Without even pausing, Abi replied, “Yes. There will be one thousand virgins waiting for us at the end in South Dakota.”

Good enough for me. I’m up. Let’s go.

The rules for certifying a SaddleSore 1000 are strict, but not unbearable. Here are some of the rules, from the Iron Butt site:

In order to document your ride, the Iron Butt Association requires that obtain an eyewitness to document the start and finish of your ride. Witnesses for the basic SaddleSore 1000 and Bun Burner 1500 may be a friend (but not one on the ride with you), spouse or even gas station attendant willing to answer a letter from the IBA about your start or end time. Fill up your gas tank and obtain a computer printed gas receipt with a legible date and time stamp. You may also elect to use a bank ATM receipt with a time and date stamp for your start time but please leave with your tank full.

At the end of your ride, before the 24 hour time period is up, obtain a computer printed gas receipt with a legible location, date and time stamp.

There are other rules too, but these are the most important.

OK, so it’s five AM, and we need a start witness. A group of Harley guys were getting ready to head to Milwaukee on the other side of the hotel, maybe they’d sign the form? As I walked closer, I could hear one of the Harley guys shouting, threatening to commit a fun reproductive act on another’s mother. We decided to have the desk clerk witness our start instead.

And we’re off!

Normally, when starting a ride, I don’t have an exact idea how far we’ll be going. The destination might change five times during the day, which is the beauty of never making reservations. An interesting detour might present itself at anytime, so I rarely look at the ‘Dist to Dest’ box on the GPS, as that ‘Dest’ is usually somewhat optional. But this day was different. We had a reservation in Rapid City, which lay a mere 1016 miles from our current location.

Finally, after procrastinating as much as possible, our attempt to break our own personal long distance riding records was underway. To date, Abi’s longest day was 660 miles, mine was a tad longer, at 730. Now, it was time to put ourselves to the test and find out if we could really go the distance.

After whet felt like a sufficient time and distance passed, I glanced down at the GPS. 985 miles to go. We’ve only ridden fifteen miles? That’s IT?!? Ugh.

Trucks. Like vampires, trailer trucks own the night. A convoy of thousands of trucks disappeared behind us in a blur of lights and diesel fumes in the pre-dawn gloom. The majority of these vampire trucks seemed to vanish at dawn, leaving the entire highway to us.

Trucks may own the night, but we owned the morning, at least until we reached Chicago. Then we had to share with thousands of people trying to get to work on time.

But even Chicago wasn’t that bad. The realization that this traffic jam would be our last of the day was comforting.

Less comforting was the sky; a dark, brooding mass of clouds blotted out the horizon ahead. 177 miles into our attempt, Rain Cloud Follows was about to enter the storm, along with… some boats? What the hell were we in for?

As the first fat drops of rain started to fall, we pulled off to prepare for the impending onslaught. Right there, in the parking lot, I started yelling at my motorcycle. “Dammit! I’m sick of this shit! Every time, every ride, it rains! If you don’t quit it, I’m sending you to the car crusher!”

Then it occurred to me. We were only 177 miles into this ride, and I was already talking to my motorcycle. That can’t be a good sign.

However, the threat worked. The storm never fully materialized, and pretty much gave up after fifty miles. While the temperatures remained in the 60’s, that was the only rain of the day.

The two lane highway stretched on in an endless ribbon of asphalt.

By 11 AM, we had already ridden 364 miles through Indiana, Illinois and were deep into Wisconsin. What little scenery there was quickly became redundant.

Lost in my thoughts, I left my turn signal on. For about twenty miles. Unable to take it anymore, Abi raced up next to me, and indicated his displeasure with a single upraised finger. I noticed a rest area ahead, and, leaving the signal on, pulled in.

“Dude, what’s your problem? I was just trying to tell you I wanted to take a little break. It’s not my fault the rest area was so far ahead.”

It was already mid-afternoon, but we still felt reasonably good.

The Iron Butt association is very strict. Especially when it comes to speeding and reckless motorcycling (understandable) and the use of stimulants (somewhat less understandable):

Please remember that the Iron Butt Association is dedicated to the sport of safe, long-distance motorcycle riding. It does not condone nor will it tolerate unsafe activities such as excessive speed, reckless motorcycle operation, riding while fatigued or otherwise impaired, the use of stimulants to maintain alertness, or any other activity that results in riders exceeding their personal limits. Any rider found to have engaged in these or other unsafe activities, as determined in the sole discretion of the IBA, will have their certification refused. If the certification is already issued and we find out about these infractions after the fact, the certification will be revoked (if you read Motorcyclist Magazine, you may have seen them burning an IBA certification when we revoked the certification of a noted staffer’s ride). For these purposes, the IBA will consider as an admission of violating this policy any public statements made by the participant that describe participation in unsafe activities during a ride subject to certification.

I remember reading that article a few years ago. The Motorcyclist magazine journalist in question was disqualified for admitting he drank a cup of coffee during his SaddleSore attempt. I would like to publicly admit that while I was jonesing for a hit on the ol’ java crack pipe, in the interest of following the IBA rules, I abstained from the unsafe activity of drinking a Grande Redeye.

Corn. Farm. Corn. Barn. Corn. Silo. More corn. There’s a lot of corn out there. Then, we stumbled onto a farm of a different sort. They were growing what appeared to be gigantic Mercedes logos, probably for all the new Smart Car dealership popping up nationwide.

Yeah. I know. Lame. Well, you have to make your fun when you can. Part of my fun was working on my new camera technique.

After many crap pictures of the sky or the road, I finally figured it out. Press the shutter button, count to fifty, and the camera will usually take a picture.

The long day started to take its toll.

With a little less than 500 miles to go, Abi and I stopped in a town called Blue Earth, Minnesota for a stimulant-free lunch in my favorite Irish restaurant, McDonald’s. A very elderly, very sweet looking couple sat down at the booth next to us. We must have been looking a little less-than-fresh by then, judging by the look on their faces.

“What have you boys been doing?”

I wanted to impress them with our tale. “Well, we left Elkhart, Indiana at 5:30 this morning, and we’re not stopping again until we get to Rapid City, South Dakota,” I bragged.

The woman smiled and said, “Well, isn’t that nice? You don’t have far to go now, boys.”

Stunned, I had no answer.

Distance, now judged by the tankful, became irrelevant. I became a part of the motorcycle, my hands became the grips, my feet became the pegs. Thoughts swirled, music blared, and the day progressed.

Two tanks later, we entered South Dakota. The end, a mere three-hundred and sixty miles away, was in sight!

The thought of finishing, or, more correctly, of getting off these damn bikes energized us both.

The next hours became a race with the sun. I didn’t like the idea of riding these dark, deserted South Dakota roads at night, so we set off in a very un-reckless manner to put as many miles behind us as possible. A photographic bonanza celebrated the sunset.

The darkness enveloped us, and we rode on. The miles between us and the end of the road ticked down, 60… 50… 40… Suddenly, the bright lights of Rapid City erupted out of the darkness. A surprising swell of emotions overwhelmed me for a moment, fortunately it was too dark for a picture of my swelling. Eighteen hours after leaving Elkhart, we made it!

With 1021 official miles added to the odometer, all that was left was getting our end time stamp and a witness. I pulled up to a gas pump at a Flying J rest stop for my final tankful.

And, no receipt came out. Of course. I went to find an attendant to get this final, most important piece of paper, and was doubly stunned. When Jethro BillyBob Gasguy printed out my final receipt, the one thing I needed to prove I finished in less than twenty four hours from when I started this foolhardy attempt; when I tiredly looked down at the piece of paper in my hand, there was NO TIME STAMP to be found anywhere on the receipt! Every single station we stopped at the whole day provided us with everything we needed, so naturally the most important one didn’t.

Oh, what the fuck?!? After eighteen hours of riding, I didn’t need this. I withdrew $20 out of the ATM in the Flying J, which would definitely have a time stamp receipt, so I thought I would be covered. Abi, who noticed my increasing frustration, didn’t bother fill his tank. We went down the road to a Mobil station, where Abi was able to get his final receipt. Knowing the Iron Butt rules are fairly strict; remember, something as harmless as drinking coffee can get you disqualified, I put $1 of unleaded into his tank, so I would also have a final, time stamped fuel receipt.

And when it was all said and done, I knew one thing for sure. Abi lied. The thousand virgins were nowhere to be found, but at that point it didn’t matter. All that mattered was sleep. Off the motorcycles, we quickly congealed. The desk clerks at the Fairfield Inn were happy to sign our ‘end witness’ Iron Butt forms. To honor our accomplishment, we changed our traditional ‘Best Day Ever’ toast, and officially finished the day by hoisting a hefty glass of Macallan to in a toast to the ‘Longest Day Ever.’ And that, as they say, was that. Heading to the comfort of clean sheets, we were silent in the elevator, then I looked at Abi and said, “I don’t ever want to do that again.”

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