Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I should have dressed warmer to go to Hell!

Well, the mission to Hell was a success. All arrived safely and more importantly made it back out safely.

For those who have not heard, I and six of my brother Guardian Knights took on an Iron Butt ride to Hell (Michigan) and back this past Saturday 9/11. We met at 1 am with great anticipation, at the Sheetz convenience store on Paxton Street in Harrisburg, PA. There we filled out the requisite paperwork to begin documentation of our journey. The requirement to meet the Iron Butt Association standards is that you must carefully document your milage, stops, route and times. You must complete a 1000 mile journey in less than 24 hours (this of course is done on a motorcycle). To the uninitiated, this does not seem such a daunting task, but as a two time participant and registered Iron Butt member (#41644), let me assure you that it is much harder to do than to talk about.

We gassed up and pulled out shortly after 1:30 am. The weather was great, about 62 and clear and all seemed well until we got to the first traffic light, literally 500 yards from our start point. Our fearless leader Big John had to jump off his bike to plug his i-phone into the audio system on his bike. This took like 3 light cycles. The rest of us sat there behind him patiently waiting for him to make this important connection. In retrospect it was amazing that this was not met with a flurry of engine revving and horn honking, but I guess everyone was still just psyched to be on the road. Finally, we were on the way again. Unfortunately, that lasted for about 3/4 of a mile when one of our other riders, Rich D, swerved to avoid a construction cone and knocked his i-Pod mount loose from his tank (suction cup mount). This necessitated another unscheduled stop along I-83 not 2 miles from out start. He quickly re-secured his i-Pod and then we were on the road for real.

As we traveled north along the Susquehanna River we noticed a steady drop in temperature. Within 20 miles the temp had dropped more than 10 degrees and by the time we had reached I-80 above Lewisburg, PA we were in the 40s and dropping. We ran a few exits west before making another unscheduled stop to don additional layers of clothing. While most of us had anticipated cool riding in those early morning hours, this was a bit beyond our expectations. I personally was wearing an underarmor cold gear shirt, with a t-shirt over that, then I added a fleece pullover to that and finally my leather jacket (with lining in). I also put on my Underarmor cold gear hood/mask and a knit cap. I added a second pair of gloves over the first and had my chaps on as well. We shivered our way across I-80 in PA with temps dropping into the 30s. Our first gas stop was in Bellfonte, PA where we pulled into a closed "Lykens Market". Luckily the pumps were left on over night for credit/debit payments. We were back on the road in fairly short order. As we headed west and gained altitude in the mountains the temperatures continued to fall. Big John decided that a stop would be in order in Clarion, PA. Thank goodness! I could not feel my toes by that time, and my fingers were numb as well. I was sooooo wishing that I had put my winter gloves in the saddlebags before I left. This stop was at a BP gas station. After filling our tanks, we went inside the store there to warm up and have a hot drink. The clerk seemed genuinely happy to have the company for a while and even broke out his atlas to see if he could find Hell on the map. Remarkably he did.

After a rather lengthy warm-up break we hit the road again. We were happy to see the skies brightening because we knew with sunrise would come warmer temperatures. As we continued our westward trek we realized what we had thought was fog was actually clouds as we passed up and down the mountains. We would pass up and out, then back down through. It was actually sort of cool had it not been for the very cold temps.. As we passed into Ohio the terrain flattened and was much less interesting. It did however start to warm up and we were glad to begin to be able to shed a layer or two of clothing when we made our next stop on the Ohio Turnpike. The weather was still excellent and with the rising temperatures things were definitely looking positive. We had traveled our first 300 miles in great time, and although we had lost time at our warm-up stop, we were easily on track to make our goal of arriving in Hell around 11 am.

Back on the road, we motored towards Toledo and our turn north. As we looked to the western sky it was apparent that a front was coming in and I had that funny feeling in the pit of my stomach that we would not get out of this trip without getting wet. The rest of the way to Hell was mostly uneventful.

We passed through the town of Pinkney, MI a nice historic small town with a quaint main street full of shops. When we reached the middle of town, there it was, the signpost for Hell. We made the turn knowing that our destination was a couple of short miles away. As we rounded a bend on the road to Hell, we first encountered the official weather station at hell followed by the Hell General Store, Ice Scream Shop, and our target the Dam Site Inn. That was the extent of Hell, MI.. I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed. It really didn't live up to all the hype. It was chilly, cloudy, and just not all that menacing. The one humorous note was a Dead End sign right next to the entrance to the parking lot. The initial plan was to have lunch at the Dam Site Inn then head back. Unfortunately, our prolonged gas stops along the way had put us about an hour behind and bad weather was rolling in. We checked the place out and determined that the service was not going to be fast enough to accommodate our needs so we had our documentation signed by a manager, a couple of guys got t-shirts, took some pictures and we left for McDonalds in Pinkney.

We ate a hurried lunch at McDonalds, but not quick enough unfortunately. By the time we were done it was just starting to rain. It was funny when one of the McD's workers on her smoke break ask if we just wanted to wait it out. The reply... We have 500+ miles to go and we gotta get ahead of this thing. Most of the time the rain was light, but we did not run out of it until about 30 miles west of Cleveland. We stopped there for gas, and before we left it caught up with us. We raced it east pulling away with every mile. We were exceeding the posted limit a bit, but luckily the weather was not. By the time we made it to Snow Shoe on I-80 we were pretty confident that we were sufficiently ahead of the weather. It was at this gas stop that RoadKill realized that he had left his wallet at our last gas stop in Mercer, PA some 100+ miles back. Needless to say there were a number of phone calls while he had his wife take care of cancelling credit cards etc..

It was now dark and time to change back from sunglasses to night glasses. We continued across I-80 to Rt. 15 some 70 additional miles. It is an interesting run in the dark at 80 mph. I know I strained my eyes trying to look for the deer that I know were there along the road drawing straws to see who would jump out to take one of us out. Luckily I never saw any. Big John said that he did see a couple run across the road pretty far ahead once. I believe we were fortunate on that front.

We made one last stop in Lewisburg to double check that everyone was OK since the fatigue was really starting to set in. We had been on the road about 19 hours by this time some of the guys were reaching the end of their five hours of energy from their 5 hour energy drinks. Everyone was good and we started our final leg. At one point we did have to contend with a drunk driver in a maroon Scion who thought it was funny to pace us in the right lane, but was obviously under the influence as he was incapable of driving a straight line or keeping a steady speed. We finally just picked up the pace and left him to hopefully find his way home without killing somebody.

The end found everyone tired but very happy about our accomplishment. There were handshakes and hugs all around, and big talk about the next run. Everyone did an excellent job and I was proud of them all. The celebration fizzled quickly and most took off for home and bed in short order. I did take a little time to hang out with Big John and Weebles after the others left to just enjoy the fact that it was over and feel the sense of accomplishment from having completed my second Iron Butt challenge.

It's a funny thing. People have asked “why would you put yourself through that?”. I am not really sure how to answer that. There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that you have done something that many do not have the will or drive to do. Long distance riding is something that takes a certain mental strength as well as physical stamina to complete. I love the challenge of pushing myself just a few more miles when my back or shoulders or legs think it is time to stop. Is it hard? Absolutely! Would I do it again? In a minute. I have never had the compulsion to climb mountains or swim the English channel, but for some reason riding hard across country is very appealing to me. I think if you are not a rider, you cannot understand the feeling of you and your machine against the elements and your own mind. The hardest part is overcoming your own mental limitations and that's what I think I find so satisfying. It's the ability to go on when you're not sure you can.

In any case, for whatever reason, I did it... one thing is clear. I and my 2003 Honda Valkyrie GL1500C have been to Hell and back and I have the documentation to prove it!

Here are the pictures from our trip.

1 comment:

  1. Nice job. I can sympathize with the unexpected cold. The same is true of the high Nevada Desert at night. Scott and I rode beside each other with our high beams on to watch for Elk until we couldn't take the cold anymore.