IRONBUTT RALLY, 1997 - Part 1
by Robert E. Higdon
Subject: Iron Butt Rally: Day -1
The Curtain Rises:
They're gathered here tonight, these riders, from
cities as far
away as Hanover, Germany and places as strange as southern California, at the
Hilton Hotel for the start of the father of the mother of all motorcycle
endurance contests, the biannual Iron Butt Rally. Resurrected from the
ashes in 1991 by Iron Butt Association president Mike Kneebone, this is the
premier event of its kind in the world. If you don't believe that, ask one
of the 300 riders who was fruitlessly wait-listed for a place on the
The starters have paid a $750 entry fee for the opportunity to
have their heads kicked in by the merciless gods of chance, weather, and fatigue.
If the past is prologue --- and on the Iron Butt it always is --- then they'll
be running through temperature ranges of almost one hundred degrees,
altitude changes of 10,000 feet, and six time zones. The winner will
average better than 1,000 miles/day for eleven straight days. No ordinary
motorcyclist will ever experience such a ride.
But these people are far from ordinary. Take two of them, for example:
Tom Loegering and Eddie James. At the banquet that concluded the 1995
contest, Loegering and James stood in first and second place, the
tight-knit community of hard riders vanquished at their feet. Within a
week both had been disqualified for rules violations, a decision by
then-rallymaster Steve Chalmers which has reverberated through the
long-distance riding community nearly to this day. Stepping in like Mighty
Mouse to save the day was Mr. Kneebone, a fellow who modestly describes
himself as "the nicest guy who ever lived." With a diplomatic touch that
Metternich or Henry Kissinger could have applauded, Kneebone invited both
Loegering and James to appear at the rider's meeting today, to stand up, to
confess their sins, and to be absolved, if possible, by their fellow
For James this was for all practical purposes a non-issue. He had been
calling Kneebone for two years, begging to be allowed to enter this year's
event. If Mike wanted him to come to Chicago to repent in public, then
come to Chicago he would do. Besides, James' number had been picked
serendipitously from the wait list. He had nothing to lose but the
humiliation that was certain to be heaped upon him by anyone with a tongue
Eddie's sentence was short and swift: Kneebone required him to stand up
at the rider's meeting, admit what he had done wrong in 1995, state the
reasons why no rider should ever follow in his footsteps, and accept the
scarlet letter that would brand him for a long, long time. Eddie did it,
for the moment the utter soul of humility. And if you have ever met Eddie
James, you will know that humility is not one of his stronger character
traits. Then again, humility is something in short supply among these
riders. They know they're good. And they are.
For Loegering it was a closer call. Mike had told him months earlier
that grandmothers with a history of triple-bypass surgery were more likely to
start the event than would he. Even with no chance to enter the event, Tom
did appear at the rider's meeting this afternoon, recite his own prior
sins, and give the contestants a warning about side-stepping rules that not
one of them should ever forget. It was a wistful moment --- a man who'd
come to Chicago with no chance to run the rally, who knew that his earlier
actions had created a furor that had not subsided for two years, and who
recognized that nothing he said would change people's perception of him by
the width of an atom --- this small lecture by such an inoffensive and
mild-mannered man who exhibits such grimly and single-minded competitive
qualities. In my view Loegering showed more character today than I've seen
in a lot of my friends who've faced far less arduous circumstances than Tom
has ever endured. When someone writes the story of the greatest Iron Butt
rallies of all time, Loegering's name will feature prominently in most of
them, including the one he didn't run in 1997.
Loegering's sin in 1995 involved a conspiracy to alter the identity of a
rally towel, and here I use the prosecutor's terminology. Without going
into this much further, the details of which are contained on the Iron Butt
Association's web page, I merely suggest that the simple towel, or "toalla"
for the benefit of our Spanish-speaking readers, became overnight one of
the most hotly-debated and fiercely-contested issues of recent Iron Butt
memory. When the towels were handed out at the banquet tonight with all of
the catastrophic admonitions that have followed in the wake of the
Loegering incident, one rider questioned whether it might be possible to
have one surgically implanted upon his hip. At least that's what I thought
I heard him say. "Do whatever you have to do," Kneebone said. "Just don't
lose that towel."
When the festivities were over, I ambled back to the administor's
suite in the hotel. About ten people were huddled in the cramped space, talking
animatedly. Mike said, "Sit down. We have our first problem. DeVern
Gerber has already lost his towel."
Time. Roads. Weather. Numbing fatigue. It's the essential Iron
And towels. Those too.
Iron Butt Rally: Day 0
0430 --- The Iron
At 0330 this morning I am walking around the Hilton's parking
a cigarette, and nipping on a nicely-iced Bailey's from time to time. This
is my pre-flight inspection of the weapons to be used in the 1997 Iron Butt
Rally (IBR). Arrayed before me in the dim light of a waning moon and
hotel's crime lights are four score of the sorts of motorcycles that most
bikers would die for.
I do not intend the pun about motorcycles versus life. Of the riders
sleeping tonight as I review their bikes, there is not one among them who
believes that he (or she) might not live to see the conclusion of this
event. That is because motorcyclists are the most optimistic sorts of
people one could meet. They need to be in the face of crushing statistical
data that proves not one in four of the riders today will make it out of
the parking lot in one piece. Yet they will soon sally forth, smiling and
confident, on a ride that many would consider terminally daunting. They
trust these machines not to kill them.
There is decent reason for that optimism. If you like transcendent focus,
you should see these bikes. In this parking lot I am at the apex of the
designer's and machinist's art, motorcycles which laugh at the feebleness
of their own grandfathers. Just over a year ago, in an article that
commented on the brilliance of one of BMW's new two-wheeled creations, I
suggested that the mechanical advances of motorcycles in the past thirty
years had outpaced the development of every other technology except that of
clocks, computers, and cameras. I stand by that even now, especially when
I see what is resting in this lot tonight.
Since these riders can routinely hang onto their bikes until the gas runs
out --- hence the name "Iron Butt," duh --- they like big gas tanks,
metastatic versions or their forefathers. Morris Kruemcke, on the short
list of favorites in this rally, can carry 39 gallons on his Gold Wing and
has a documented straight-line run of over 1,200 miles without his feet
hitting the ground. He solved the rest stop problem with a drain tube.
And besides, with enough gasoline on board to incinerate Dresden all over
again, he has more to worry about than where to take a pee. As someone
pointed out during the rider's meeting, if you're going to work on Morris'
bike, you really should be wearing gloves.
But if the Iron Butt was about nothing more than measuring the guy or gal
with the biggest gas tank and hardest ass, we could do that in the hotel
parking lot with a volumetric tub and a hammer. The rally restricts
on-board gas capacity to not more than eleven gallons and reserves the
right to impound finishing motorcycles to check for compliance. To date
there has been no minimal requirement for butt hardness, something that
tends to be self-revealing over the course of eleven days and five
The iron sits, waiting. They're in beautiful shape. When this
grueling trial is through, most of the bikes will still be in better shape than
1045 --- The Butts
Mike Kneebone is going to hand out the last section of
in five minutes. Seventy-eight riders, upon receiving that envelope, will
be free to depart at any time after 1100. They then have thirty hours to
reach Gorham, Maine just west of Portland. For each rider there seems to
be three or four well-wishers. The parking lot is packed. The video crew
is grabbing final interviews. Local reporters scurry for last moment
quotable quotes. Kneebone alone seems unpreturbed by the almost palpable
tension surrounding him. Yet I may be the happiest person here, content in
the knowledge that I don't have to compete in this brain-bruising rally.
Sometimes it really is the little things in life that count, even
"Number one!" Kneebone yells.
Rider #1 edges through the crowd. He's Gary Eagan, the winner of the '95
Butt following the disqualifications of Tom Loegering and Eddie James.
That he is here at all is surprising. That he is actually competing is
unbelievable. Fifteen months ago he had a horrific crash. When I heard
about the extent of the injuries, I predicted he'd be lucky ever to sit on
a bike again, much less ride one.
Van Singley, my BMW instructor at the American Motorcycle Institute, steps
up with his usual big smile. He's a rookie with more than a million
motorcycle miles behind him, sponsored by Motorcycle Consumer News
magazine, and riding an F650ST, a bike provided by BMW of North America.
And if along the way the bike should be brazen enough to stop working, Van
is capable of tearing it down to its atomic components and straightening
out its problems with his bare hands. Some rookie, huh?
The list goes on. Fran Crane, a co-holder (with Kneebone) of the
record for the shortest time through the lower 48 states and the only rider here
whose picture is in the American Motorcyclist Association's museum; Marty
Jones, a DEA agent who will win this event before his career is through;
'91 IBR winner Ron Major; the hard-riding Kruemcke with more than 100
thousand-mile days in his log book; the chastened and uncharacteristically
somber Eddie James; Ron Ayres, author of a book detailing his trials and
tribulations on the '95 rally; Asa McFadden, who once rode from Key West to
Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in less than seven days; Canadians Herb Anderson, Horst
Haak, and Peter Hoogeveen. A win by any of these riding animals would
shock no one
And if they're not riding in the event, they're working on it ---
'86 IBR winner Ross Copas is waiting at a bonus stop in Ontario, Dave McQueeney in
southern California, and four-time IBR finisher Gregg Smith in Florida.
You can't swing a cat in this crowd without hitting a legend.
At 1100 CDT precisely the starting flag dropped. Just one rider, Ken
Hatton, was sitting at the line, staring fixedly in front of him, a picture
of impatience. He holds the record, under 42 hours, for the fastest time
from New York to San Francisco. As soon as the starter nodded, Hatton's
Kawasaki ZX-11 shot out of the box. There are three basic routes to Maine;
it is almost a certainty that Hatton will be taking the hardest one.
That's what they do best, these people. They don't look back.
Iron Butt Rally: Day 1
A Good Start, Eh?
The eight Canadian male riders in the '97 IBR represent
just 10% of the
starters but 50% of the top four places at the first checkpoint in Gorham
ME. This isn't a novel position for our friends from the Great Frozen
North. In 1986 Ross Copas of Cornwall, Ontario, arguably the greatest of
all endurance riders, took the lead at the first checkpoint and never
relinquished it. That was the usual Copas style in his heyday. If he
entered an event, he won it. To competitors, Copas must have looked the
way Babe Ruth did to American League pitchers in 1927.
It's the short riding season, I think, that accounts for the Canucks'
remarkable success rate, a season that usually starts in the second week of
July, when the spring muds recede, and continues until the first snowfall
about ten days later. But for those ten days the guys with the maple leaf
license plates are pure hell on wheels. My guess is that some of the U.S.
hopefuls in this year's Iron Butt will be praying for some snow soon. It
may already be too late for such divine intervention, however: the rally is
now on its way to Daytona Beach for checkpoint #2 on Thursday. August
blizzards in Florida, I'm told, are not common.
Mike Kneebone and rallymaster Ed Otto designed the course for this rally.
They are fond of setting up different routes from checkpoint to checkpoint,
forcing the riders to choose among visiting different bonus sites. The
first leg from Chicago to Maine consisted basically of a Canadian section,
a northeast U.S. section, and a throwaway ride with bonuses in the midwest
and Alaska, a choice that no one in his right mind could take and, as it
turned out, that no one --- not even Ken Hatton --- did.
This style of rally construction is similar to eating in a Chinese
restaurant. If you like the egg rolls in Column A, you can't have any
wontons in Column B. A rider opting for the ride through Canada can pick
up bonus points only from that route. And if, along the way, he came
within ten feet of a staggering bonus belonging to the U.S. route section,
he'd have to pass it up. The contestant is forced to make difficult
choices about route planning before leaving the checkpoint, knowing that a
minute spent looking at a map right now could save two hours tomorrow. It
isn't easy. It isn't supposed to be.
Sometimes a poor choice made in haste can make or break a rider. That
wasn't the case on this rally's first leg. The potential bonuses on the
Canadian and American sections were rougly equal, but the presence on the
Canadian ride of a 700 point bonus in Madawaska at the northernmost tip of
Maine was alluring to nine riders. Those who took that route now occupy
the top nine positions on the leader board today.
But the score differential between them and the riders who follow isn't
much. Indeed, the gap between the top and bottom finishers on the first
leg is just 1,241 points. That might seem substantial, but the fact is
that the bonuses will increase in value with each leg. On the final run
from Yakima WA back to Chicago next week, there could be bonus sites that
will make Madawaska seem like child's play.
Still, if you want to make a statement about your intentions, Leg #1 is
the place to do it. You guarantee that for a couple of days at least you
are the one to be chased. That day arrived today for Canadian Peter
Hoogeveen, one of the finest riders never to have won a major endurance
contest. Not that he hasn't come close. He finished second in the '91
IBR, missing the winner's platform by two points. This year he lost the
Utah 1088 by not much more. So heartbreaking have these losses been that
stories about Peter's ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory are
the stuff of Iron Butt legend.
This could be his year. He has the machine for the long haul, a Honda
Blackbird, the fastest street motorcycle ever made. He has the
sponsorship, judging by the decals that are plastered over the bike's
bodywork, of every motorcycle dealer east of the Canadian Rockies. At the
rider's banquet last Sunday night, I said to him, "Not that this should be
much cause for pressure, Peter, but it looks as if the national pride of
Canada is hanging on your success." He just smiled.
Behind Hoogeveen, tied for second, are Colorado's George Barnes,
winner of last year's California 1+1 and the Utah 1088, and Texan Morris Kruemcke.
Canada's Herb Anderson, the victim of a 150 point lateness penalty that
knocked him from second place to fourth, survived a broken sub-frame on his
BMW. He said that he could have lived with the bike's abnormal flexing,
but when the broken end of a large diameter pipe began burrowing through
the bike's seat and into his own --- thus giving new meaning to the
expression "Iron Butt" --- then it was time to find a welder. That took
some doing in rural Quebec. Anderson spent more time finding someone who
spoke English than the welder did gluing the frame back together.
The rally packets for the Maine-to-Florida leg were handed out at 2000
Tuesday night. There are two alternatives, a straight shot down to Florida
or a more circuitous route to Daytona by way of Springfield MO that is
possibly doable by anyone willing to take a real chance of being
time-barred in Daytona. Upon receiving the bonus packages, rallyists
normally sit down with a large map, a Magic Marker, and any support crew
they might have on hand to assess the route's possibilities. Karol Patzer,
the top female finisher in 1995, huddled with a couple of her backers from
Minnesota. And Peter? He was seen consulting with Ross Copas. If you are
going to ask for advice --- there's no prohibition about receiving such
assistance, since the entrant still has to it ride those pesky miles ---
it can't hurt to take it from The Man himself, eh?
Oh, Canada . . .
The top twenty at Checkpoint #1 (30 elapsed hours of 264 total):
Rank Name Miles Points
1 Hoogeveen, Peter 1,654 5,241
2 Kruemcke, Morris 1,614 5,107
2 Barnes, George 1,639 5,107
4 Anderson, Herb 1,711 5,091
5 Ayres, Ron 1,721 5,084
6 Hatton, Ken 1,619 5,020
7 Gottfredson, Gary 1,644 5,006
8 McQueen, Gregory 1,655 4,888
9 McFadden, Asa 1,599 4,748
10 Morrison, Rick 1,588 4,694
11 Major, Ron 1,494 4,586
11 Crane, Fran 1,414 4,586
11 Hogue, Brad 1,390 4,586
11 Young, Boyd 1,477 4,586
11 Johnson, Mary Sue 1,488 4,586
11 Stockton, Michael 1,489 4,586
17 Keating, Keith 1,377 4,541
18 Johnson, Gary 1,394 4,485
18 James, Eddie 1,395 4,485
20 Mann, Philip 1,734 4,471
Note: Complete standings and other information concerning the Iron Butt
Association can be found at the Iron Butt Association's home page,
Iron Butt Rally: Day 2
Room at the Inn
When Mike and I rolled into my driveway this morning at
0905, Bud, my
ex-female cat, wandered over to the car. She's seventeen this month.
Occasionally she exhibits some signs of advancing age, though not nearly as
obviously as I've begun to do in the last four days. This idea of shoving
a rental car from checkpoint to checkpoint seemed like a good idea once.
As we left Chicago last Monday, it didn't take long for us to realize ---
an hour maybe --- that it indeed was one of the most massively ridiculous
ideas either Mike or I had ever devised.
The long-suffering Susan, my significant other for so long that the memory
of man runneth not to the contrary, came to the front door with the usual
relief in her eyes. She's not a fan of big rides, especially ones I take.
She and Mike hugged. I just sat down, stone weary. Bud looked at me,
probably wondering if I'd brought her something to eat from Maine. A crab
leg possibly? Part of a fish?
"We saw something this morning," I began, "that would have brought real
tears to your eyes. It was at one of the service areas at the northern end
of the Jersey Turnpike."
"Was anyone hurt?" she asked. It's always her first thought when
motorcycles are mentioned.
"Not in any real medical sense," I said. "I think they were beyond what
we think of as true physical pain."
It was an archetypical Iron Butt tableau. Mike spotted them first as we
rolled into the parking lot.
"There are a couple of our guys," he said, pointing to a dimly lit area.
I looked. Then I saw them, two people flat on their backs on the
sidewalk, lying about fifty feet apart. Their motorcycles, a Gold Wing and
a BMW K-bike, rested on their sidestands a few feet from each owner. One
of the riders had folded his left leg across his upraised right knee,
almost as if he were relaxing calmly in a chair, except that he was supine
on a concrete sidewalk, his hands lying on his chest, his helmet still
strapped on, stretched out in a service area of the NJ Turnpike at five
minutes after four in the morning, sound asleep. I've slept on the side of
the road before, but I don't think I ever looked quite so professional
while I did it.
"It's Morris," Mike said.
It was. I grinned at Kruemcke's quiet body. Maybe for once I could gain
some ground on him.
The other rider looked dead. His legs lay straight out, not bent like
Morris'. His hands were also folded neatly upon his chest, the way
morticians arrange the dearly departed. And he too was wearing his helmet,
though a leather jacket had been thrown across his face, as if he had been
in a catastrophic accident and the ambulance had not yet arrived. I walked
to the back of his BMW. A Florida plate. I looked up at Mike.
"Asa McFadden," he said quietly.
Right. The guy who'd made it from Key West to Prudhoe Bay in
under a week.
"I have to take a picture of this," I whispered to Mike. Why I whispered
I'm not sure. Tractor-trailers thudded by on the nearby turnpike, jarring
the earth as they passed.
I unlocked the car. Instantly all hell broke loose. The horn began
blasting away intermittently, headlights popping on and off. Somehow I'd
tripped the alarm on the rental car. For forty or fifty seconds we
desperately tried to halt the racket. Finally Mike did something with the
door lock and the din stopped. I was stricken with unbearable
embarrassment of having awakened two people who needed sleep more
desperately than I did. Slowly I turned to look at them.
Neither had moved a millimeter.
"You see these guys here," I said, "and you see some homeless guy wobbling
down the street. And you wonder if there's any metaphysical difference
"Homeless guys don't own $14,000 motorcycles," Mike said, heading
for the bathroom.
For five minutes I looked at Morris' inert form. I've known him for a
long time, have slept on his couch often, have gone to dinner with him and
his wife a dozen times, and have written a story about his "project bike,"
a motorcycle so aerodynamically perfect that it delivers better than 100
miles/gallon at 60 mph. I'v seen him in many different ways, but I'd never
seen him quite so vulnerable.
Suddenly he moved. The left ankle came off the raised right knee,
planted itself flat on the sidewalk, and the whole body shuddered slightly.
Morris, a bear-like human except shorter, was coming out of hibernation. I
was transfixed by this scene from rawest nature that was reeling out before
me. He sat up, then saw me.
"Well. Hi," he said. No surprise or shock. It was almost as if he had
been expecting me.
Yuppies call it a power nap. Long riders call it the Iron Butt Hotel. No
one can ride forever. You have to sleep. And when you wake up in Room 42
of the Iron Butt Motel, you're liable to see anything. Morris knows that.
They all know it.
* * * * *
The Oddball Files: Part A
----- Mary Sue Johnson, a truck-driving teamster for Roadway
wanted to run the 1991 Iron Butt on her Harley but Jan Cutler, the
rallymaster that year, told her to go away. "Insufficient experience," Jan
said. Mary Sue's not that large a woman, but I wouldn't want her angry at
me. She applied again in 1995 and was accepted. She finished respectably.
Then she got serious. When her Harley was stolen the day before the start
of the "8/48" last year, an event requiring the contestant to touch the
contiguous states in eight days or less, she immediately bought a big BMW,
headed into the sunset, and returned in third place overall. That's faster
than I did it ten years ago by about three days. She is currently in a
six-way tie for eleventh place after the Maine checkpoint, along with Ron
Major, the winner of the '91 rally that Mary Sue wasn't good enough to run.
----- A rider rolled up to the start line in Chicago. Safety-pinned
the left lapel of his Aerostich jacket was a 5" x 2" sign enclosed in
weather-proof plastic: RECEIPT PLEASE. "That," I thought, "is a guy who
knows what he's doing." A receipt on the Iron Butt, any receipt, is a
ticket to ride. It proves you were somewhere. Receipts are the ultimate
currency in this strange and twisted land, and you ask for one everywhere
you go. But if this rider forgets to ask, a cashier seeing that sign walk
in isn't likely to forget too.
----- One of the riders coming in to the checkpoint in Maine
gas receipts and other papers to Mike. Then he showed Mike another piece
of paper with a National Park Service passport stamp imprinted upon it.
"There aren't any bonuses on this leg that require you to get a passport
stamp," Mike said.
"It's the Martin van Buren birthplace site," the fellow said.
"But it's not a bonus location," Mike repeated.
"I know," the guy said, "but I needed it for the passport hunt."
"You have time to do that on this rally?" Mike asked.
The guy just laughed. A lot of riders are running around the country this
year getting passport stamps at national parks, monuments, and historic
sites. It was Kneebone's idea, a better one than driving a rental car from
checkpoint to checkpoint on the Iron Butt Rally.
Iron Butt Rally: Day 3
Daytona Beach FL
When Manny Sameiro awoke yesterday morning, he dressed,
sticking the baseball cap on his head. The stitching reads, "Iron Butt
Rally/World's Toughest Motorcycle Competition." They had been handed out
to all the starters back in Chicago. Sameiro glanced in the mirror. A
wave of disgust rippled through him when he saw his reflection.
"If I'm not good enough to finish this rally," he thought, "I don't
deserve to wear this hat."
He sat down on the bed, reached for the telephone, and began to make some
calls. His movements were deliberate. Gauze bandages covered both of his
upper extremities from forearm to mid-biceps.
Manny had a few problems. The biggest one was that his bike was in ruins,
the victim of a crash the afternoon before at a velocity the New Jersey
attorney later described as being "somewhat in excess of the speed limit."
He'd been hurrying to make the checkpoint at the Reynolds Motorsports
checkpoint in Gorham. He didn't make the checkpoint. He did make the
emergency room of the Houlton hospital, 260 miles north of his goal, with
abrasions on both arms. His Tour Master riding coat had shredded.
He needed to get to the Reynolds dealership in a hurry, buy another bike,
and somehow make it to Florida before the Daytona checkpoint closed. He'd
already missed one checkpoint. If he missed a second, his rally was
finished. He had about thirty hours to make everything work.
And he did. I don't know how. We may never know, but at 2:52:42 p.m.
today Sameiro showed up at the American Motorcycle Institute checkpoint in
Daytona Beach, took a 10,000 point penalty for switching motorcycles,
received a 3,000 point bonus for making the Florida checkpoint, and now
stands in dead last place with -7,000 points. It is the lowest, ugliest
running total of any rider at any time in the history of the rally.
Manny Sameiro is too busy smiling to care..
* * * * *
Joan Oswald was dying. Indeed, if she could have
found a cemetery to lie
down in, she'd have taken it. But it was a small town in North Carolina,
darkness had fallen, and she was well beyond her last legs. She saw an
"Please help me," she told the owner. "I'm falling asleep on the bike.
I need to find a town park or somewhere to lie down for ninety minutes. Do
you know of anything?"
"Follow me," he said, leading her through a filthy storeroom. Joan
shuddered. A door was shoved open. "This OK?" the stranger asked.
A bed, a shower, a lamp. A promise that she'd be awakened on time. It
would do. It would do nicely, thank you.
* * * * *
Crossing the border into the U.S. from Canada can be a
when you're a British subject like Phil Jewell, have a resident alien
status in the U.S., and are riding a motorcycle. But the problems grow a
bit worse when you find that you don't have any identification because when
you stopped for dinner an hour ago, someone stole your wallet out of your
tankbag. The English have a word for it, but it's probably not printable.
Somebody found the discarded wallet and called the cops in Atlanta where
Phil lives. They called Phil's wife. She called Phil. Someone called
Federal Express. I call it the blind luck of mad dogs and Englishmen. He
zeroed Maine with a miss, crawled into Florida before the checkpoint
slammed shut, and is tied for 73rd place. But he's grinning from ear to
ear, as usual. He's 10,000 points ahead of Sameiro.
* * * * *
Dennis Cunningham prayed nightly to make the cut for the
starting field in
this year's Butt. He didn't. Undaunted, he called Dave McQueeney, a guy
who has major league clout with Mike Kneebone. "This guy will do anything
to get in," Dave told Mike. "He said he'd even bring a sidecar."
"He's in," Mike said.
The crab cakes were just settling down in Cunningham's stomach as walked
out of the restaurant in Ocean City MD yesterday. He was feeling pretty
good. The rig was getting a steady 29 miles/gallon, the Ocean City bonus
was hefty, and life couldn't be rosier. Well, maybe just a little rosier
when the waitress came running out of the front door waving Cunningham's
"Hey, mister! Do you need this?"
* * * * *
The lives of Rider A and Rider B --- those are not their
real names ---
intersected along Interstate 95 last night at a photo bonus. Rider A, a
rookie, was happy to see a fellow Butt. And Rider B is a big Butt, a pro.
How nice, Rider A thought. A close encounter of the human kind, too often
a rarity on this long, lonely event.
"Are you following me?" Rider B snarled. Rider A sat back, momentarily
speechless. "If you're not following me, what the hell do you want?"
"I just thought I'd say hello."
"Got no time to talk," Rider B shot back.
"And I was wondering if you knew if there was gas at the next exit."
"I'm not riding with you," Rider B hissed irrelevantly. "I don't ride
with anybody. Understand?"
Rider A understood.
Rider B reached for his camera. One quick shot. Wouldn't take a second.
Nail a few points. Rider A began to speak, but the words stuck somewhere
south of the larynx. The flash went off and the Polaroid film oozed out of
the camera. Rider B examined the picture, apparently approved it, stuck it
in his tankbag, and turned back to Rider A.
"I told you not to follow me," he said angrily, popping his throttle. A
moment later he was gone.
Nearly all bonuses that require a photo for proof of the rider's
appearance at the location also require that the rider's identification
towel, imprinted with the rider's number, be seen somewhere in the shot.
It's an ingenious solution to a nagging problem. Without the towel in the
photo, the opportunities for cheating are boundless. That's why the loss
of a towel is nearly always a catastrophic event. A rider without a towel
is often deprived of what would otherwise be an easy bucket of points.
Rider A was sitting at a photo bonus that required use of the
identification towel. Rider B had forgotten to use his. He would later be
reminded of his mistake at the checkpoint when the scorers would refuse to
give him any points for the picture.
"In my whole life I have never once refused to come to the aid of a fellow
motorcyclist," Rider A would later say. "I guess this time I just forgot."
* * * * *
You cast bread on the water. Sometimes it comes back
wet. Sometimes a
bread truck arrives at your doorstep. Blanche Dubois knew. In one of the
indelible lines of the American stage, she says, "I have found that I can
always rely upon the essential kindness of strangers." I think that was in
one of Tennessee Williams' plays, "A Motorcycle Named 'Desire'."
Riders hoping for an early snow to stop Canadian Peter
disappointed today. It was in the low nineties in Daytona and Hoogeveen
increased his lead slightly over the unflappable George Barnes. Morris
Kruemcke, claiming to be taking it easy in preparation for the ride west,
dropped to fifth, just behind the fast-rising Ron Ayres and Fran Crane.
Shane Smith, a rookie from a town in Mississippi so small that even
residents can't remember its name, rode in lockstep with Crane, something I
wasn't aware that anyone below the master rank of Hot Zoot could
accomplish. He came out of nowhere to take over ninth place. The biggest
points grabber of all on the leg was the human bear, Gary Johnson.
Bonus locations literally were to be found all over the map. Some riders
went to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod. Others were seen at the
Montauk lighthouse at the end of Long Island. A group of riders took the
ferry south from Cape May. Three others --- modesty forbids me from naming
them --- actually showed up at the infamous Gary Hart townhouse on Capitol
Hill in Washington, D.C., the place where Hart's dreams during the 1987
presidential primaries for occupying the White House evaporated in erotic,
Many of the current leaders headed instead for locations in south Florida
like the Kennedy Space Center and the biggest bonus spot on the leg, the
Miami houseboat where spree killer Andrew Cunanan committed his final sin.
The Iron Butt organizers love ghoulish sites --- the ashes of the Branch
Davidian compound had barely cooled before riders were heading for it in
1993 --- and if they can't find an actual murder scene, they'll take a
fictional one. In an alley in San Francisco, there's a memorial to mark
the spot where Sam Spade's partner was shot in "The Maltese Falcon." Yeah,
they've been there, done that.
The Top Twenty as of Florida (73 total elapsed hours):
Rank Rider Miles Points
1 Hoogeveen, Peter 3,710 10,771
2 Barnes, George 3,729 10,260
3 Ayres, Ron 3,502 10,115
4 Crane, Fran 3,572 10,092
5 Kruemcke, Morris 3,500 10,085
6 Johnson, Gary 3,546 10,066
7 Anderson, Herb 3,692 10,043
8 Hatton, Ken 3,536 9,924
9 Smith, Shane 3,339 9,891
10 Johnson, Mary Sue 3,593 9,850
11 McFadden, Asa 3,499 9,700
12 James, Eddie 3,160 9,678
13 Major, Ron 3,427 9,565
14 Young, Boyd 3,383 9,564
15 Morrison, Rick 3,213 9,548
16 Hogue, Brad 3,132 9,522
17 Ferber, John 2,867 9,485
18 Keating, Keith 3,028 9,462
19 Ray, Bob 2,862 9,453
20 Brooks, Harold 3,182 9,388
20 Clemmons, Jerry 3,145 9,388
Iron Butt Rally: Day 4
Swamp Thing's Last Stand
I hate this place. In the jungle on each side of the interstate
things that have arrived here directly from the Paleozoic era in undiluted
form --- 500-foot death adders, 9,000-pound alligators, spiders the size of
compact cars, and other nightmares that zoologists are too afraid to
examine. At any time of day coming through the Atchafalaya Swamp is eerie,
but at dawn and dusk it's positively frightening. Louisiana is the Land
That Time Forgot, and with good reason.
Fortunately, Mike and I are squeezing our way through while
daylight. The traffic is heavy on the eve of the Labor Day weekend but
manageable. If we can average just forty miles/hour for a while, we should
be able to get out of here alive. Not everyone does. The movie "Dead Man
Walking" was in part about a vicious double homicide that occurred not far
from where we are.
Even if Louisiana doesn't kill you, it can change your
life. It changed
No one has ever loved the Iron Butt Rally more than Rick
Shrader and no
one has ever done worse competing in it. Any athlete can have a bad streak
--- Hall of Fame Dodger Gil Hodges once went 0-21 in the world series ---
but Shrader's slump is now in its seventh year. With his latest strikeout
yesterday, surely a new Swamp Thing Rule will be formulated: three whiffs
and you're out.
In 1991 he was a rookie Butt aboard a dishevelled, thudding
BMW R65. As
pets and owners begin to resemble each other with age, so had Rick and his
rat bike melded imperceptibly into a single, dramatic unit. He had the
mien and carriage of a pre-homeless person, the look one gets about a week
before the eviction. Sporting a variety of Druidic tattoos, a vengeful,
wiry beard, a thousand-yard stare, and a rich supply of doomsday theories
interwoven with dark veils of conspiracy and meta-voodoo, Rick Shrader was
not about to be confused with any physician, lawyer, saintly grandmother,
or CPA on the starting line of an endurance motorcycle rally. But in
truth, if you could withstand Rick's initial over-the-top impression, you'd
discover a quite remarkable, good-hearted character.
Three-quarters of the way through the '91 IBR, Shrader
Apparently falling asleep, he ran off the road into a Louisiana bayou and
sank. Rescuers pulled him out. He was unhurt, but from that moment he
carried a new name: Swamp Thing. And although he didn't know it at the
time, that spectacular exit from the rally marked the high point of Swamp
Thing's IBR career. Never again would he run so flawlessly or for so long.
Most of us celebrate victory. Rick celebrated the disastrous '91 Butt by
adding another tattoo to his arm, the logo of the Iron Butt Association.
Mike Kneebone was suitably impressed by that unusual display of dedication.
When Shrader applied for a slot on the 1993 Iron Butt, he was honored with
being named Rider #1.
Though details are understandably sketchy, by most accounts
Rick went into
orbit on about the third day of the '93 IBR, wandering around in Nevada's
high desert on a random trajectory for a day or so until someone at mission
control nudged him back into a path for re-entry. Englishman Steve
Attwood, the eventual winner of the rally, came across Shrader during one
of Swamp Thing's low passes near the earth and tried to talk him down.
Rick went home early with his second DNF. That year is known as The Year
Swamp Thing Didn't Crash.
At night in the Grand Canyon during the '95 Butt, he judged
the object in
front of him not to be a curb. It was a curb. Again he was unhurt, but
he'd bent both wheels, a terminal condition that produced a third straight
DNF and a record that as of yesterday stood unbeaten and untied. In spite
of himself, Swamp Thing was nearing the very apex of comic immortality.
But no one's laughing today. Rick had an accident
yesterday --- one in
which he didn't even fall over --- on the way to the Florida checkpoint.
He was admitted to the hospital in Daytona late yesterday afternoon and
underwent surgery on his right knee. We don't have any further word on his
condition but we do extend to Rick and his wife Jean our most sincere hopes
for a full recovery. He may be gone from the rally but he is sure not to
be forgotten. You'd be more likely to forget a typhoon coming through your
It's inevitable. Bikes will break, riders will tire,
and someone will
fall. But behind those raw truths are some awesome statistics. In the
first three days of this event contestants have ridden in excess of 212,000
miles. An average motorcyclist covers 2,000 miles in a year. Ten Iron
Butt riders surpassed than that in forty hours on the leg from Maine to
Florida. When one has an accident, as Rick Shrader and Manny Sameiro did,
the safety Nazis begin to swarm, forgetting that between them those two
guys probably have more than one million miles in their wake. They go down
sometimes, but it's an uncommonly rare event when they do.
It's the bikes that normally take it in the chops on a
big ride. This
year is no different. Jim Barthell's Kawasaki ate its sprockets on the
first day. Dr. Dan Cooper's BMW croaked with a fuel problem. Marty Jones'
Kawasaki ground to a halt with a charging system failure. Marty recovered,
but missed the first checkpoint. The transmission on Jim Geenan's Moto
Guzzi went south. An electrical problem on Frank Parsons' Honda finished
his rally. Leonard Aron's 1946 Indian, a DNF in 1995, fared no better this
year. It went out with a massive oil leak on the way to Florida. Today an
unspecified case of bike angst sent Bob Grange's BMW home early, while
engine problems on Ken Hatton's Kawasaki wiped him off the potential
finisher list. It's a fast bike, that ZX-11, almost as fast as Hoogeveen's
Blackbird, but it has failed Hatton now in three consecutive IBRs.
I caught up to Karol Patzer as she was packing up her bike
yesterday in the AMI parking lot.
"California's that way, Karol," I said, pointing toward
She smiled wanly. I think she's feeling a little
blue. Two years
ago, as a rookie, she was the top finishing woman. Three days into this event
she's in 38th place overall, well behind Fran Crane (4th) and Mary Sue
"Hey, stop worrying," I said. "Remember that the
race is not always to
the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor fortune to men of
understanding, but time and chance happeneth to them all."
"This isn't a race, and I'm not a man," she corrected.
"It's from the Book of Ecclesiastes, kid. I speak metaphorically."
She'll be all right. She can ride with anyone.
Last June she left
Minnesota on Friday, got to Oklahoma in time for a two-hour Iron Butt
Association meeting on Saturday, turned back home, and was at work on
Monday morning. Two days later she rode back down to the middle of Texas
for a motorcycle rally, spent a day there, and rode back home. I grow
weary thinking of it.
Get on the bike, ride into the sun for a few days, hope
working, and don't fall off. And if you do fall off, try to do it in a bayou.
Swamp Thing tells me that, up to a point, water is easier to smack through