Friday, March 5, 2010

The Jacksonville Experience - Part II

I arrived at the hotel in Jacksonville early in the afternoon on Wednesday by design: Get there early enough to get off the bike and relax for the afternoon before the "big ride" tomorrow. There will be a SaddleSore 1000 tomorrow, put on by the Iron Butt Association (IBA). It will be a loop starting and ending in Jacksonville with a route that stays entirely in the state of FL to qualify it as an in-state SaddleSore.

As I unloaded my things I spied a small group of folks I knew who were standing around chatting a few parking spots down the row and so I joined them for a bit. W.B., who I haven't seen in a long time; Kit, who I haven't seen since San Diego in 2008; Steve, who I saw last at the IBR check point in St. Charles IL.

After getting unpacked I headed over to the bar to see who else was there and joined a small group of MTF'ers for a beer. I had eaten a late lunch at Steak 'n Shake when I arrived so I skipped supper and hung around waiting for the mandatory 8:00 PM pre-ride meeting. I was surprised at the number who had registered for the ride: 90 riders! There were many folks in the room that I knew from MTF. It's going to be a really fun ride!

The SS1000 is going to be unique in a number of ways. First and, in my mind, most important is the addition of checkpoints, 7 of them. These checkpoints will be manned by IBA "Legends," big names in LD riding and Iron Butt Rallies. The second most important point is that, with these checkpoints positioned at key turn points on the route, the usual gas receipt requirements for documentation are being waived on this ride. I'm lovin' it! No log and no receipts to keep track of! The day will be long enough with the addition of 7 checkpoints. All of these checkpoints will be restaurants, not gas stations, and this will necessitate making extra stops I wouldn't ordinarily make when doing a SS1000. I'm factoring this into my timing, as I estimate my ETAs at the various checkpoints.

I had mapped out the route as given to us by IBA staff, and plugged it into my GPS. I also printed out the narrative turn-by-turn of the route, penciled in the ETA's for each stop and for each planned gas stop, and put this into my tank bag map pocket. I would be in the second departure group - leaving at 6:20 AM - and had therefore estimated my completion time as 11:30 PM, based on the Streets & Trips route.

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I had set multiple alarms for 5:00 AM Thursday morning, but I awoke on my own at 4:55 AM and felt that I'd gotten a pretty good night's sleep. I dressed and, after getting my bike uncovered and ready to go, went down to the lobby where there was a light breakfast waiting for us and a check-in procedure for the ride. A few other riders were sitting in the Comedy Club area chatting and eating a light breakfast so I joined them for a bit before visiting the group outside who were staging for their 6:00 AM departure, greeting those that I knew and wishing them a safe ride. Soon they were released to start their ride and I walked back up to my room, got my jacket and helmet and headed down to my bike to move it to the staging area. It would be a cold start, in the high 30's for the start.

Our bikes were recorded - odometer reading, license plate state/number - and then a few minutes later, at 6:20 AM, we were turned loose onto I-295. It would be about an hour's ride down I-95 to the International Speedway exit and the first checkpoint - at the McDonald's. There were 5 or 6 bikes there already and as I got the first of the Legends - Bob Higdon - to sign my certificate, a few more bikes pulled in. I needed a quick potty stop...and made it very quick....then continued west on International to I-4 and our next checkpoint in Tampa. The sun was getting higher in the sky but the temperatures weren't rising any too fast. Another SS1000 rider who lives in the Tampa area sat with me in the bar the afternoon before and mentioned the rush hour traffic on I-4 through Orlando. He suggested taking 417 - a toll road - around the south side of Orlando to avoid possible stop-and-go traffic. I didn't have my Sunpass with me, but opted to take the road anyway in hopes the tollroad authority would match my license plate with my Sunpass account. It was 20 miles longer but might save that in time, or at least aggravation. Sure enough, as I merged back onto I-4, I saw a pale yellow R1100GS that I recognized as having left the previous checkpoint ahead of me, pulling out as I was walking inside to use the bathroom.

I stopped for gas in Plant City before continuing down I-4 to Hillsborough and the next checkpoint at Denny's. I ignored the GPS for some reason when she told me to turn left at a light, because I knew the Denny's was just ahead, but what this meant was making a u-turn at a light that refused to turn green. I watched, as other bikes that I knew were behind me, including the Honda 50 that I passed on I-4, pulled up to the intersection on my left, took the right turn onto Hillsborough and proceeded to the Denny's while I sat there stuck at the light. Guess I shouldn't have ignored the GPS!!

Dave McQueeney was the Legend who was manning this checkpoint and I pulled into the parking lot, found a level spot after some jockeying of the bike, and got the paperwork out for his signature. Hillsborough would take me back to I-4 and then I-75 north to Ocala and the next checkpoint.

When we checked in at the hotel early this morning we were each given a wrist band, visible proof of our legitimacy for the Legends who were at the checkpoints. I got a good grin every time I fished that wristband out from beneath my riding jacket and many underlayers to show the Legend at each checkpoint. You see, it was blue with yellow smiley faces. Very cheery!

Once on I-4 I caught up with the Honda 50 and passed him and then caught up with a pair of riders from our group and stayed with them to the exit for the Taco Bell in Ocala. This was Ardys's checkpoint and she already had a gang pulled up to get her "autograph" on their certificates. I parked my bike and walked over to her with my helmet on and certificate in hand. she greeted me as one would greet a stranger but when she saw my name on the certificate she lit up with a smile and gave me a hug. Others were waiting in line and I didn't want to tie her up, so I headed back to my bike, mounted up, and headed off to the next checkpoint.

The route took us off I-75 at the next exit, onto US 27, a secondary divided highway. It had very little traffic and I made good time over to US 19 in Chiefland. I had a gas station waypointed in my GPS but when I got there it was closed. So I pulled back out onto US 19 and headed a block north to the next checkpoint, a McDonald's. I pulled in and rode around to the back of the restaurant where Jim Owen, winner of the 2009 Iron Butt Rally, was "holding court" and signing certificates. The parking area was jammed with motorcycles, to the point that cars trying to pass through were nearly obstructed. Many of these riders I recognized from the first group, the one that departed twenty minutes ahead of me at 6:00 AM. A few others were in my group and we were obviously maintaining a similar pace.

Somewhere along US 27 my right rearview mirror decided to come loose, no doubt from all the miles of bucking stiff headwinds, so at this checkpoint I took the extra time to fish out the right sized wrench and tighten it. I had already worked the little rubber boot up to expose the nut, so the only delay was removing the seat to get at the toolkit. That bit of business taken care of, I tossed the tool kit into a sidecase and proceeded back onto US 19. I still needed gas, but it wasn't urgent, so I waited until I got to one that looked promising as far as pay-at-pump and bathrooms go. Each stop was an exercise in patience, what with all the layers of clothing and cables to unplug. Before I mounted to head back out, I made sure all of my bundling against the cold offered no leaks for the cold to sneak in, tucking in the neck buff under the helmet, making sure the gloves and glove liners were fully covered and cinched beneath the sleeves of my riding jacket. And then it was a few minutes of teeth chattering and teeth clenching until the Gerbing jacket liner heated up again.

I've ridden US 19 several times - to Wizard's Wild Weekend three years in a row in December, and to Cruzin' Al's FLC2C rides which start in Tampa or north of Tampa every year. So I know what to expect, including speed limits and speed traps along the way. Aside from that, I made good time and was soon up onto I-10 and just 20 miles away from the next checkpoint at a Waffle House on the east side of Tallahassee. This checkpoint was staffed by Shane Smith, another IBR veteran and winner. Like all of the other Legends so far, he was cheerful and friendly and seemed genuinely happy to see all of us. He handed each of us riders a blue bandanna, telling me that he always wears one, and was passing the tradition along.

I took a few additional minutes at this checkpoint to eat a power bar and drink some water, before getting back on the road. I was making very good time and was staying very close to my ETA's at the checkpoints and gas stops, maybe 5-10 minutes behind at one or two of the stops. But I knew that I'd make that time up once on I-10. A good-sized group of riders were also using this checkpoint as a break, and there were anywhere from 15-25 bikes congregated at this checkpoint: at the gas pumps, in front of the gas station, in front of the Waffle House next door.

I pulled out just behind a couple of other riders, and got onto I-10 westbound to the next checkpoint which would not be until Pensacola. I had scheduled a gas stop for myself in Marianna and as I neared that town, was passed by a yellow BMW R1200GS. It was the first rider I'd seen since leaving Tallahassee. He exited just ahead at an exit a few miles before my planned exit. Once at my exit - and the TA gas/truck plaza - I gassed up and used the bathroom before getting back on. As I was pulling back onto I-10, who should I see but that same yellow BMW GS, coming up behind me. He got ahead and I didn't see another rider in our group until I got near the Denny's on Davis Highway in Pensacola.

I was beginning to see riders heading the other way as I rode through the Milton area. I passed two cruisers as I was crossing Escambia Bay Bridge, and they pulled in behind me as I exited on Davis. Into the Denny's parking lot, I noted that there was the yellow BMW GS again. There were only 3 other bikes there, all three BMW's: two R1200RT's and the GS when I pulled in. The two cruisers followed in behind. I was surprised that there weren't more bikes, but I began to suspect that I was near the front of the pack of riders at this point. The Legend at this checkpoint was Marty Leir, winner of the 2007 Iron Butt Rally.

The GS and I left together, onto a very busy Davis Highway with a median which complicated the turnaround back toward I-10. I noticed that the rightmost lane became a right-turn-only lane at a light up ahead and that it turned into a big shopping center. Perfect! Right turn, U-turn across the median on this shopping center approach road and then we had a protected light to make a left turn onto that busy Davis Highway. the GS rider pulled up next to me at the light and made the comment "Excellent Idea!" I told him I would be exiting in Milton where there was a Shell Station and Subway (just in case he was interested). "By the way, my name is Karl," he said. "Mine is Barb," I replied, before the light turned green and we headed back toward I-10 and the long eastward leg of the ride.

Crossing Escambia Bay again on I-10, I saw many riders I recognized heading west. The Shell gas station with the Subway is at the first exit just past Escambia Bay. The break was most welcome and, since I was well ahead of my ETA's at this point, I didn't feel I needed to rush. I ordered a foot-long sandwich and ate half of it along with some potato chips, and washed it down with a bottle of water. I wrapped up the other half, half of the chips, and a cookie and put them into my sidecase with the intention of eating them later that night once I arrived at the hotel.

Now it would be a long "leg" to my next stop and last checkpoint, at the same Waffle House I was at earlier in Tallahassee. There was very little traffic and I made good time to the next checkpoint. It was now dark and, with the sun going down, getting colder by the mile. I was really regretting leaving the quilted pant liners at home on this trip. What was I thinking?? There were at least a dozen motorcycles at this checkpoint, most of whom I'd been seeing all along the route at the previous checkpoints. I pulled up to a gas pump, got gas and then, leaving my bike in place, ran inside to use the bathroom and then next door to the Waffle House to get my certificate signed by the last Legends, husband and wife riders Ross and Jean Copas. Jean was a sweetheart! She gave me a hug and seemed excited that I was the first female to reach their checkpoint. I asked if they'd be at the dinner the next night, as I hoped I have a chance to talk to her again. As I was leaving I saw a fellow MTF rider and IBR finisher Steve walk in. I had passed him not too far west of Tallahassee.

I went through my usual cold-weather ritual getting back onto the bike, and I was headed out again toward I-10 eastbound and the final stretch to Jacksonville and the finish. It was dark. It was cold. It was dark and cold. Getting very cold. And there were deer grazing along the side of the interstate. I switched my XM channel to the Laugh USA station and cranked the volume up. Anything to take my mind off of the bitter cold. I was getting temperature readings in the 30's much of the way. Those 145 or so miles seemed like an eternity with no visual distractions in the pitch blackness, with only the XM radio to keep my mind occupied.

But then...finally! I was just 8 miles away from the turn onto I-295 which would take me south and east around Jacksonville toward the hotel. The temps began feeling warmer, too, and a quick check showed it had risen 10 degrees from 32 to 42 due to that "concrete effect" around cities. Hallelujah! I was nearly done!

Soon the exit I needed was in front of me and I was down the ramp and turning left then straight, then right toward the hotel. I pulled up under the canopy where the IBA staff were waiting to sign me and the other riders back in. A photographer was snapping photos while Dean and Bill of the IBA staff signed me in, checked my odometer and checked my certificate for all of the signatures. Arrival time was 11:06 PM, more than 20 minutes ahead of my projected arrival time. Not too bad!!

Just as I was pulling away to go park the bike, Steve came walking up and asked me if I'd join him for a late night dinner at Steak & Shake. Sure! That sounded better than the half a Subway sandwich residing in my sidecase. I rode around to the side of building, parked the bike, and we walked over to the restaurant together. First thing we did was wrap our hands around cups of hot cocoa to warm up!!

It was an interesting twist on a SS1000, and created a keepsake suitable for framing and hanging alongside the SS1000 certificate. It was cold, it was repetitive for half the distance, but it was definitely fun, especially knowing there were 73 of us out there on the roads, doing it together.

Stay tuned for the IBA Party report...

2 comments:

  1. It was great meeting you at the IBA in Jax. I know we ran into you at least twice on the ride...I was on one of the "cruisers" you talked about above. That last leg from Tally to Jax was definitely a bear.

    Hope to see you again somewhere down the road

    Ron "CoachA" Allan

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  2. Loved the report. As I was reading validation summary reports, change control documents and training records for our ISO 13485 audit, you were having FUN. Love it. I hope my day comes where I can put the job aside and ride, ride, ride.
    Mike

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