My First Iron Butt Experience
Updated: Feb 7
The Iron Butt Association is a group of
75,000+ members…dedicated to safe, long-distance motorcycle riding. Although based in the United States, we have thousands of enthusiastic members throughout the globe! One of our more popular slogans is, "The World Is Our Playground." (Iron Butt Association, 2021)
I met one of the members when a friend and I had gone to a motorcycle rider gathering called “Rally in The Gorge” in late August 2021. The central meeting place was the Hood River County Fairgrounds in Hood River, OR. Riders, riding enthusiast, and vendors met there annually to fellowship, trade stories, and most importantly ride on some visually stunning and sometimes technically challenging roads that the central Oregon and Washington have to offer.
My friend Joe and I were to meet up with Jordan and his friend Garrett at the fairgrounds. Joe and I live in the Vancouver, WA area, which turned out to be about an hour ride for us to Hood River. Jordan and Garrett were coming from Seattle, WA. Jordan had left earlier than Garrett.
Joe and I have known each other for years as we worked together as motorcycle officers in
I had recently met Jordan online in 2020 after getting my motorcycle, a 2009 Kawasaki Concours 14 and joining a Facebook group for Concours owners.
The Concours 14 is the second-generation Kawasaki sport touring motorcycle. The Concours was the first. Kawasaki wanted
to make a bike for more mature riders that was more than just for fun. So, they took their famous KZ1000 engine, water-cooled it and attached a driveshaft to it, and added hard-sided removable saddlebags to make one of the best motorcycles ever. I had a 1990 Concours. It was more touring than sport. The improvements that were made to the Concours 14 put the sport into the bike.
Jordan had tried to get me to go on a ride with him earlier that summer, but my work prevented me. This time, Jordan had messaged me asking if I was going to participate in the Rally in The Gorge. I told him that I’d never heard anything about it, but I would be glad to go. I knew that Joe had just gotten a new motorcycle of his own, a BMW GSA1200, and he was looking to get it out on the road. So, I told him about the rally, and we planned to go down Thursday camp out and ride Friday then head back home Friday evening.
We got to the Hood River County Fairgrounds and found Jordan. He’d already set up his tent near the entrance. We introduced ourselves, checked in, and then set up our tents near Jordan’s. Jordan told us that Garrett had to work and was coming down to from Seattle via I-90 through Yakima. He would arrive sometime after dark on a Yamaha FJR1300.
The FJR is Yamaha’s sport touring motorcycle. It too comes standard with two hard sided panniers. Garrett also had a removable trunk mounted on a rack behind the seat. It’s a very nice-looking motorcycle, but what Joe noticed first was the license plate frame on the FJR. The writing on the frame read “Iron Butt Association, World’s Toughest Riders.”
Joe was quick to ask Garrett about the Iron Butt Association (IBA). Garrett told about how he got the license plate frame. We spent two days at the fairgrounds and the rally. I didn’t put much thought on the Iron Butt Association during the rally. I was enjoying the rides that we were taking during the days and the comradery during the evenings. Joe and I had originally planned to stay one day, and we ended up staying two days. We said our goodbyes to our new friends and headed home.
I went back to work the following Monday with stories and photos of my Rally in The Gorge adventure. Around Friday that week I texted Joe to see what he was up to and to my surprise his response was that he was on his way home after having lunch in Boise, ID. Boise is about 500 miles east of our town. My reply was “WTH,” and he then told me that he was about 900 miles into an Iron Butt 1000-mile challenge.
Over the next few days, he filled me in on the ride. He and Eric, another friend of mine and neighbor to Joe, decided to take on the Iron Butt Challenge. There are several challenges that are offered by the IBA, the entry-level rides are Saddlesore 1000 and the Bun Burner 1500.
You must ride 1,000 miles in less than 24-hours to certify for the Saddlesore 1000, and 1,500 miles in less than 36-hours for the Bun Burner 1500. There are a few rules that must be followed to maintain the integrity of the challenge. Their websites says that it could take 2 to 3 months to get processed because volunteers do all the work verifying the information that you submit.
For instance, you are required to get a computer time stamp when you start and when you end. You also need a timestamp if you make a “drive out and come back” route. Say, instead of going a straight 1,000 miles you go 500 miles out and come back 500 miles. Then you need a computer time stamp at the turn-around point as well as the start and finish. Along the way, you need to get and keep all fuel receipts. Any stop over 30 minutes is treated as a rest stop and it must be documented in a log that they have you fill out.
It is suggested that you use Google Maps to plan your trip and send the IBA the link as part of your packet. There is another app that they recommend called SpotWalla. SpotWalla tracks you using your cellular phone and it creates a route map that you can have route points as dense as you want. You can also share the URL so others can accurately follow your trip. There are some tricks to setting it up and I didn’t get mine set up properly before I set out.
I decided to take the challenge and do a 1000-mile run. Now the only question was where to go? Joe had told me that they had anticipated that the temperature would drop into the 40s maybe when they got out to eastern Oregon. The temperature as they went through La Grande was 28 degrees. 40 degrees on a motorcycle is not very pleasant without handlebar muffs, but 28 is torture!
Because of the wild temperature swings in eastern Oregon, I decided not to go that direction. I chose to go straight down Interstate 5 as far as I needed to go to get halfway and then turn around and come back. Google maps put Chico, CA at 518 miles away. That was perfect!
There was only one little problem with my run. In the summer of 2021 California had been getting a lot of forest fires. A couple from the Rally were from Cali, and they kept us updated about the smoke along the major highways as they traveled home. I decided to go and take my chances.
So, I had my route planned. I bought a FLY Racing Tail Bag. I took some ¼” thick foam sheets and covered them with duct tape. Then used them as insulation inside the tail bag. Just throw in a few frozen bottles of water and go. I had my departure date. All I needed to do was roll out.
Before I left, Joe gave me a lot of great information. IBA challenges were run using paper maps in the “old days”, and they still allow it. However, they have been encouraging the use of the digital mapping and tracking tools because it makes it easier to verify the trip and provides a quicker turnaround from submitting the packet to receiving your certificate. And one challenge the “Interstate End-to-End”, it’s mandatory.
Joe used SpotWalla on his trip and he showed me the route map that had been created. SpotWalla updates your location every few minutes, so you get a good track of your ride.
For my trip, I would leave very early Sunday and if all went according to plan, I’d be back late that same night. Joe met me at a gas station in the town. It was 1:41 AM in the morning when I filled up my fuel tank and got my first receipt. The receipt time and date stamp are what is needed as proof of your stops along the route of your challenge. I held the receipt next to the odometer on the Concours and snapped a photo then I headed south towards the freeway and Chico, CA.
A sport touring motor would be worthless if you had to stop every 100 miles for gas. So, it has a large fuel tank. It holds over six gallons. At 75 mph the Concours gets about 39 miles per gallon. So that gets me about 234 miles per tank or almost three hours of riding. The fuel stops were as just for fuel during the first 12 hours of my trip, but they became needed rest and stretch breaks on the last half.
I was using SpotWalla, but I didn’t take any practice rides with it as Joe had suggested prior to my trip. I did not know that my cellphone was blocking SpotWalla access to location data until well into the morning. I’ll get to that later.
At about 5:25 AM I made the second refueling stop. It was at a Love’s Truck Stop in Roseburg, OR. This was approximately 200 miles from the start. I made the time stamp at 5:33 AM. I was feeling okay but a little tired, so I decided to take a powernap at the Iron Butt Motel, my motorcycle seat. Under the rules you are allowed 30 minutes per fuel stop. Anything over 30 minutes must be declared as a stop other than fuel. I had refueled in 10 minutes, so I had 20 minutes extra. I rode the motor over to the edge of the Love’s parking lot near some parked cars. I set the kickstand, leaned back on the tail bag, told Google to set a 15-minute alarm, closed my eyes and started drifting away. Fifteen minutes later the alarm went off and I woke up refreshed. It was on to the next fuel stop.
I got another 150 miles to Yreka, CA. The sun was just coming up and now I could see what I was only smelling during the dark hours, the smoke. The smoke covered the morning sky so that it looked like a Pacific Northwest cloudy day. Those days don’t have a lot of distinguishable billowy clouds rather what you see when you look up is a light gray blanket. There was one difference. Clouds are thick so they totally block the sun. This smoke was not so opaque that it blocked the sun, so the sun looked like a giant round orange Dreamsicle. I worried that I was breathing in bad stuff, but nothing could have deterred me from completing my mission. So, I pressed on.
I stopped for a bathroom break and decided to check SpotWalla to see how it was working. I was surprised to find out that it was working, but only when I opened the app. I had a quick consultation with Joe and made an adjustment. Basically, I allowed it to use cell phone features like location. Everything was fine after that.
This story is about what not to do to ensure that your challenge will get processed as fast as possible. So won’t give you anymore mile-by-mile plays. I’ll talk about the significant stops.
I was making very good time. I pulled into Chico, CA just after noon. Total ride time was just under 10.5 hours. I was planning to have lunch at a place that Guy from Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives had visited. There were three in Chico, but only one was open. And it was packed! There was a line almost around the building. I guess Guy’s visit helped. The temperature was now at 90 degrees, and I was needing a break. I couldn’t burn the time it might take to get in that place, neither could I find a parking spot. I chose the best option, Starbucks.
I went a few blocks up the road to a Starbucks. I ordered a Venti Mocha Frappuccino with no whip and an extra shot of espresso. I sat down at an outdoor table and consumed the cold concoction. I spoke with a couple of locals who had sat down at a table next to mine. They were riding bicycles and mentioned getting where they were going before it got warmer. I said, “It’s going to get warmer than 90?”
One of them replied, “Yeah, we usually get into the 100s here.”
After that I decided to get the heck out of Chico. My total time there for a break and sustenance was just over two hours. Now for the trip home and the prize that awaited me. On the ride back I decided to stop every 90 minutes for fuel and stretching. There were not going to be any sleep breaks on this segment. By my calculations I could do it in under 12 hours.
My immediate goal was to get through the Siskiyou Pass curves and get to Grants Pass, OR before darkness was solidly upon me. I cleared the curves by sundown, at least. After more than half a day riding that motorcycle, I must say that I was not that beat.
On to Roseburg, Eugene, Salem, and finally, Woodburn, about 25 miles from Portland, OR. As I entered Portland, I became more acutely aware of my speed. I didn’t need John Law pulling me over and sucking up my time. I was close to finishing.
I crossed the Columbia River on I-5 and let out a big sigh of relief. Friends and relatives had been tracking my progress from the start. Jordan and Joe and my sons, Andrew and James, were all following me on one app or another. James, Andrew, and Jordan were using Google, while Joe had been watching me on SpotWalla.
I thought it would be cool if I pulled into the Space Age gas station that was my start and finish spot and see someone whom I knew. Aw, never mind, it was just a thought.
As I made the last turn of my journey, at the station next to the alcohol-free 92 octane pump was a big red Ford F250 pickup. It was Joe! He told me that when I got close to the end, he decided to come down to the finish to welcome me back. What a friend indeed!
Total miles: 1024 in under 24-hours.
Use the apps that the IBA suggests you use, Spotwalla and Google Maps. Get familiar with them before you start your challenge. Plan ahead. Remember, enjoy the ride.
So, what did I gain from this adventure? What I gained is knowing that I can do whatever I set my mind to do, and some cool swag to prove I did it.
I’ve gone on long motorcycle rides before. On my 1990 Concours I went from Vancouver, WA to Albuquerque, NM and back. However, I stopped overnight along the way. Then there was the time that I rode that same 1990 Concours out to Ennis, MT to a rally with the Concours Owners Group. That ride was straight through, 12-hours and 750ish miles. Call it a precursor to the Bun Burner 1500.
My next challenge is going to be a Bun Burner 1500. If I’m successful I’ll receive an extra patch and award called the Mile Eater.
Thanks for reading. Keep the rubber side down.
Iron Butt Association (2021) https://www.ironbutt.org