It is said that “A journey of 1000 miles begins with but a single step”. This is the story of a 1000 mile journey which began with a single idea, and grew to draw hundreds to the cause of helping a neighbor in need. The organizers were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support by the community for a young boy and his family.
It is a well established fact that bikers are a profoundly generous lot, despite some public impressions to the contrary. This story is but one of the thousands occurring every year, all around the country. As a member of a local LE motorcycle club (the Guardian Knights), I have completed innumerable motorcycle runs of every description. The greatest percentage of those were for charitable causes.
Several years ago another member of my club (“Big John”) introduced me to the world of long distance riding and the IBA (Iron Butt Association). Now, this type of riding is certainly not for everyone. It is physically demanding as well as mentally exhausting, yet, I and many others like me derive a certain odd satisfaction in taking on and conquering what is the very personal and individual challenge of riding a long distance in a limited amount of time.
An Iron Butt Run as defined by the IBA, is at minimum, a motorcycle run completed by 1 or more individuals, who complete a 1000 mile run in under 24 hours. Such runs are sanctioned by the IBA, who certify and record the run based on very specific documentation submitted by the rider. The IBA is very strict on the documentation and verification of all runs submitted. The “Saddlesore 1000” (1000 miles in 24 hours) is the minimum run that is certified by the IBA. There are many longer, some almost impossible variations that can be attempted for those seeking a bigger challenge, but for purpose of this tale, our Iron Butt Run was of the Saddlesore 1000 category.
As an organization we have sponsored several Iron Butt Runs for our members where the only goal was completion and the self-satisfaction that come with that. This year's event was to be quite different for all who participated.
It all started in the spring of 2012 when our resident Iron Butt veteran and organizer “Big John” and I were contemplating details for an Iron Butt event for our club for the year. We had kicked around several ideas for destinations, dates, etc., when his wife “Gemma” mentioned in passing that it would be nice if at some point we could put together some sort of fund raising event to help the family of a little 4 year old boy (Collin), who the club had sort of adopted a few years ago, just after his diagnosis of a rare form of brain cancer known as metastatic medulloblastoma. A re-occurrence of tumors in the past year has meant that the family has had to endure a lot of extended travel for treatments on top of the stress that goes with having a child suffering from such a disease. While much of the treatment costs are covered by insurance, all the travel and time away from work can put a real strain on family finances. Immediately a light bulb went off, and the Collin 1000 was born.
On past Iron Butt Runs, we never had a group larger than 10 riders. Early in the planning, I remember conversations where we discussed how great it would be if we could get 15 to 20 riders and raise a few hundred dollars from this years run to help the family. Boy, were we about to be run over by the train that was heading our way!
We chose our destination as Man-O-War Harley-Davidson in Lexington, KY. Google maps calculated the distance from Susquehanna Valley Harley-Davidson in Harrisburg, PA (our starting point) at 530 miles. The trip there and back in under 24 hours would qualify the participants for the IBA certification of a “Saddlesore 1000”. The routing looked relatively easy and hopefully trouble free. We set about putting the word out to our membership and published information in our e-newsletter and on our web site in the hopes that we could generate support from the community for this event. We had no idea what a response it would bring.
Almost immediately we started hearing from riders outside the club with an interest in being a part of this event. Some were certified Iron Butt Members, but, many were not. A brief discussion led to a quick decision to open the event to outside riders, as long as they understood and accepted the rules and requirements, and were serious about the mission. It was vitally important that every rider was motivated to see this through to completion and to do so safely.
We asked each rider to solicit sponsorship from friends, neighbors, co-workers and the community at large. Each rider was asked to raise a minimum of $50 that would go to the family. Road expenses, gas and IBA fees would be their responsibility separately. Each rider who raised at least the minimum sponsorship amount and completed the run successfully would be issued a specially designed patch, designed by “Big John” and donated by American Patch and Pin of Altoona, PA. Our hopes of 15 to 20 riders were quickly tossed aside as more than 40 riders signed on to make the run. Two other area groups, the Black Sheep HDFC and Harrisburg HOG joined in promoting and participating in the event. At our first organizational meeting we still had over 40 riders signed up to make the run, but, as is always the case, when it came time for the actual run not all were able to make it for various reasons. However, we were more than pleased and surprised that we had 30 riders and two additional passengers for the run.
Logistically it was a challenge to put together a group run of this size. Many said it couldn't be done, and I have to admit, there were times in the planning stages where we wondered if we could pull it off. The main sticking point with any run of this nature is the gas stops. Past experience has taught us that the larger the group of riders, the longer the stops tend to be. Most Iron Butt Runs organized for large groups, break them down into smaller groups, not larger than ten. We were attempting to move three times that many as a single group. The gas stops are pretty much the only opportunity for restroom breaks as well. With 32 individuals and 30 bikes to re-fuel, these stops were going to be the make or break of this run. We stressed the importance of efficiency and speed at these stops with all the riders. The first ones in, hit the pumps and re-stage, then the restroom. The last ones in, hit the restroom, then the pumps and re-stage. It must be said that these people did an incredible job and worked together like a well oiled machine. Every rider took care of business and followed instructions in amazing fashion.
|Our Chase Vehicle|
Several months of planning went into the event. “Big John” made calls to coordinate gas stops, our turnaround point and our start and return location. He also worked directly with the IBA to get full sanctioning for the event. So many in the community stepped up in support of this cause that we are still in awe of the generosity of the people of central PA. Our local Harley-Davidson dealer Susquehanna Valley H-D provided outstanding support, from opening their doors for us after hours on the day of the run for our departure and return, to setting up a display just inside the front doors where donations could be dropped off. There was a huge photo (about 3'x5') at the display were donors could sign their name. That picture would be presented to the family along with a check for the funds raised to help with the expenses for the travel and treatments needed by Collin. SVHD also led the way for other businesses in the area, making a very generous donation to the cause. One of our local TV stations (ABC27-WHTM) picked up the story a week before the event and another flurry of donations poured in. In all, over $(amount being held until presentation) was raised. While area businesses did contribute generously, it was individuals who really made this event a success. Hundreds of individuals reached into their wallets during tough economic times and gave what they could to help a local family in need, and the results are still staggering to those of us who worked on this from the beginning.
While many doubted our ability to make this run as a single large group, in hind sight, it is my belief that we could pull off a run of this nature with up to 50 riders, so long as they displayed the dedication and discipline that each member of this group did.
|"Big John's" Bike|
As one of the organizers, I arrived quite early to find that many of the riders had done the same. I went straight to the Sheetz gas/convenience store located directly across the street from our staging point and saw even more riders topping off their tanks, as I was there to do. There was a certain festive feeling in the air as the riders anticipated the adventure that lay ahead. The uninitiated were particularly optimistic, while those who had some Iron Butt experience were more intent on their preparations, double checking their bikes, gear and snack supplies. There were a surprising number of friends, family and other supporters there to see us off considering the late hour.
The first order of business was to get the bikes staged up and document each rider's starting mileage. As each rider arrived they were lined up, their documentation (provided previously at a planning meeting) was verified and their starting mileage was recorded. Once that was accomplished, the group was brought together for last minute instructions and rules of the road.
|The C1000 Group at the start|
|Ready to Roll|
It was a cool clear night as we made our way to the interstate ramp. For the first time in my Iron Butt experience, there was no rain in the forecast. As we roared off into the darkness, there was a feeling of anticipation, excitement and just a little concern. We had never attempted to run so many bikes for such a long distance in such a short amount of time. We did spend a lot of time in preparation, trying to anticipate every possible issue, but now, it was reality. Would it all come together as planned?
|Fog in the morning light was not nearly as |
thick as in the dark
We ran the first leg comfortably down I-81 to Hagerstown MD, where we picked up I-70 west. As we made our turn west and started into the mountains, we began to encounter fog. It was patchy at first, but became more prevalent the further we went. This made the going a bit more difficult, and ultimately lead to our only real mishap of the run.
|Coming out of the Fog. This was not much|
compared to the fog before daylight
We continued to I-68, making our first gas stop in reasonably good time, even though the gas station had only 4 pumps which allowed us to fuel 8 bikes at a time. Besides the possibility of encountering more dense fog, I knew from experience that as we approached the early morning hours in the mountains, the temps would drop further. I began to add a couple of layers to my clothing, as did “Big John”. One of our novice Iron Butt riders, “Big Dawg”, commented, “If the veterans are layering up, I am too!”. I had experienced the pain of not being prepared with enough clothing for changing conditions several year ago, and now travel with enough gear to hopefully cover every possible climate change. At this point, most in the group had added a layer or two.
As we continued our trek, we could see lightning to the north and west over the mountains. The periodic flashes revealed ominous clouds from a storm that while at quite a distance, gave me a little cause for concern. As it turns out, the concern was unnecessary, as we never hit any rain. We did however, get a bit wet from the denser pockets of fog.
Murphy's Law and Locked Bathrooms!
Our next scheduled stop was at a gas station on I-79 between Fairmont and Clarksburg WV. We had preselected our gas stops based on location, availability and where possible, a large number of pumps that could speed the fueling process. This stop promised to be one of our fasted stops. The station known as a Gas-n-Go boasted 23 gas pumps, and as we rolled in at about 4 am, every one of them was free. Theoretically this meant that 23 bikes could gas up at once leaving only 7 plus the chase vehicle to wait their turn. Have you heard of “Murphy's Law”?
We rolled in, 23 bikes at 23 pumps. 23 riders tried to scan 23 credit/debit cards at 23 pumps at the same time generating 23 system errors and bringing down the entire pay at the pump system. Now, if bringing down the entire pay at the pump system wasn't bad enough, when riders approached the store to see what the problem was with the pumps, they found the doors locked with two attendants inside who refused to unlock the door for any reason. The only way to get the pumps to work, was to select “pay inside”, then pay the attendant through what looked like a drive-up bank drawer in the front of the building. So much for the record fast stop. Now 23 riders stood in a line, to pay for 23 pumps, 1 at a time, and those waiting behind them could not pump until the rider before them had paid. On top of that, since the doors were locked denying access to the restrooms, the bushes behind the store got a little extra watering that night. Finally a kind lady who was arriving for her early morning shift (apparently a manager) opened the doors allowing access to the restroom which was of particular benefit to our female riders.
Our record breaking quick stop turned into the longest stop of the run. It would not have been quite so bad, had we not called weeks in advance to check that they would be open and have facilities available. Needless to say, we avoided Gas-n-Go for the rest of the run.
By Dawns Early Light
We continued south through the mountains, encountering more fog along the way. As dawn began to make it's way over the mountains, it became much easier to see, and the fog began to lift. Still on I-79 just north of Charleston WV, we made our next scheduled stop. It was a smaller gas station with about 8 pumps, but the riders really kept moving and we were ready to roll in no time. It's amazing how a little daylight and properly working pumps can brighten spirits.
It was at this stop, that one of our riders realized that his face was almost completely black (and no, there is no racial connotation here). It seems that someone in front of him was blowing out something black which had covered his face almost entirely. A quick inspection revealed that “Goose” was blowing oil from a damaged breather tube on his bike. No one had noticed because of the darkness and fog, but now that it was light, “Animal's” face was covered in a black film. (yes this is the same “Animal” who hit the “road gator”). It was determined that the leak was minor and “Goose” could continue, though those following him kept their distance after that. So, we moved on to make our run through Charleston WV and pick up I-64 to make the run west to Lexington KY.
The last leg was uneventful aside from a missed turn into the dealership which necessitated a quick U-turn. Man-O-War Harley-Davidson is in a Commerce Park with little traffic, so it was a minor thing. The staff at Man-O-War H-D were welcoming with characteristic southern hospitality. Riders were given one hour to rest, eat, buy souvenirs and be ready to saddle up for the return trip.
|The C1000 Crew at Man-O-War H-D Lexington KY|
The Halfway Mark in the C1000
As the time approached for our departure, “Goose's” bike was still on a lift in the shop. As with all things, when deadlines are short, they were having a problem with some hard to reach bolts. “Goose” missed the group picture because he was in the service department trying to get his bike back. We did not want to jeopardize the entire run because of the issue. Each rider had agreed that we should not hold up the entire group for 1 bike/rider as long as they were safe and they were being taken care of. It was decided that we would leave 3 riders with him (volunteers). Hopefully they would be able to catch up along the way, at one of the gas stops, or at least make it back before the 24 hour deadline.
The rest of the group staged up and began the return leg. We slowed the pace slightly to afford our delayed riders the best chance of catching up. At this point we were easily on pace to complete the run with time to spare.
At our first gas stop “Big John” announced that we would allow an extra 10 minutes or so to improve the chances of our missing riders to at least gain on us. We had no more than gassed up and begun to re-stage, when we heard a group of bikes getting off the exit. It was our lost sheep who had already caught up. I would not care to speculate on how fast they may have been running to catch up so quickly. They said we had a 20 minute head start and they rejoined us not 10 minutes after we got off the highway, so, suffice to say, its fortunate that they did not happen to meet any of Kentucky's finest along the way. Everyone was pleased and relieved to have the group intact again as we began the next leg.
“Country Road, Take Me Home”
It was early afternoon and the 450 or so miles left to go began to seem like a very long way. I know this was the leg where I personally hit the wall. The temps were in the 90s and the sun was beating down on our helmeted heads. There always seems to come a time during these runs, when it seems like maybe it all wasn't such a great idea. While for each rider it is different, as a long time night shift worker who is accustomed to sleeping in the day time, late morning to early afternoon is always my toughest time. I pushed through and got my second wind by our next gas stop on I-79 north of Charleston WV. After a cool drink and a 5 hour energy shot, things were looking up. We were moving into the mountains and the temps were moderating a bit.
|Unscheduled Stop on I-79|
Waiting for "Pebbles" and "Bam Bam"
|Girls enjoying the ice cooler|
When it was time to go, everyone dutifully mounted up and fired up their bike. While spirits remained good, it was clear that the run was taking its toll. We continued north connecting with I-68 east at Morgantown WV. We had only one more scheduled stop between there and victory. As we headed east toward that final stop, our only problem became the quickly fading light. Most everyone was wearing dark glasses and of course in the mountains dusk can come much more quickly, but, we really did not want to make another unscheduled stop unless absolutely necessary. Even with the quickly fading light and reduced visibility, this leg was a breeze compared to the fog we had encountered on the same stretch earlier.
“Let's Win One for the Gipper!”
While none of those words removed the sore muscles or stiff joints, it most certainly gave each rider a new resolve. When the call came to mount up and roll out, there wasn't a grumble or complaint, at least not out loud. They may have worked a little harder to throw their legs over their seats, but one thing was sure, we were all going to finish together. As we made our way back onto the highway to complete the final leg of a very long journey, it was with resolute determination. We could not, would not fail. There was plenty of time and any thoughts of giving up were dismissed. One rider remarked “We could average 40 mph and still make it now...”, he was right.
By now it was dark and the cooler evening air was welcome. It was interesting how the temperature would rise and fall as we crossed mountain ridges and valleys. As we crossed the Cumberland Gap and came into the valley at Cumberland MD, it was amazing how hot air had been trapped in that valley. It must have been 15 or 20 degrees warmer just in that area. As I saw the stadium lights from the local Friday night high school football game, I almost felt sorry for the players who were playing in the hot humid air.
At Hagerstown MD we connected with I-81 north. Before we knew it we were being welcomed to Pennsylvania by a big blue sign. The closer we got to our final destination the higher everyone's spirits climbed. At one point a white sports car went screaming by us in a construction zone. It was quite amusing when a PA Sate Trooper appeared from behind a large pile of dirt and gave chase. Go get'em boys!
A Hero's Welcome
As we closed in on Harrisburg and were approaching an overpass in the Summerdale PA area, I noticed movement. There on the overpass was a lone individual holding a sign over the side which had the C1000 logo on it, and he was shining a flashlight on it. We would later find out that it was the same individual who gave a very generous donation in lieu of participating in the run and who also arranged the police escort for our departure. Now, we were really psyched. The last few miles flew by in a blur and the next thing we knew we were taking our final exit of the run.
As we started up the ramp I realized that there were a couple of bikes on the roadway ahead. It was members of another local club who were not able to participate but had come out to make sure that we had no problems with traffic as we got off the highway. As we pulled up the to last traffic light to make the turn into our final destination, Susquehanna Valley Harley-Davidson, we looked across to the parking lot and saw a crowd of 50 or 60 people cheering and waving signs. I had the privilege of leading our group into the parking lot while “Big John” made a quick stop at the Sheetz gas station across the street so that he could obtain his final time/date stamped receipt to document our official return time.
There were lots of high fives, hugs and very tired faces. The final official act was to document everyone's ending mileage. We called the group together and gave them the congratulations they were due. Collin's Dad was on hand again to say more words of appreciation and take a few pictures to send to the rest of the family who of course were still in Texas. I then had the honor of shaking the hand of each rider, thanking them for their extraordinary effort and presenting them with the very hard earned C1000 patch. At that point the crowd faded away rather quickly, as is usually the case as the euphoria of completing a difficult task gives way to fatigue. Very shortly it was “Big John and I standing alone in a dark, quiet, parking lot discussing the good and bad of the day, and of course, plans for next year. It seems almost every Iron Butt Run ends the same way, the two of us standing around reflecting on what was done and the last to leave.
It was an amazing adventure which for us started many months before, at a time when we could not have even dreamed of such a successful day.
Here is a video record of the run created by "Big John"
using photos from several different participants. Enjoy!
using photos from several different participants. Enjoy!
At this writing, Collin and his family have returned home, having completed his radiation therapy in Houston. Their lives continue to center around Collin's ongoing treatment. They are waiting to see what the outcome of the radiation therapy will be. We had the honor of giving the family an escort from the PA state line to their doorstep upon their return. One can only marvel at the outpouring of support for this family by the community. Riders willing to ride 1000+ miles in a single day, businesses and individuals who gave their hard earned money in difficult economic times, and even those who made time in their busy schedules to come out to see us off at midnight and welcome us back at 10:30 pm when most people are comfortably at home or in bed. It has renewed my faith in my community and mankind in general. Thank you to all who made this unique undertaking an unqualified success.
To find out more about Collin and his fight you can check out http://littleprinceyfellow.blogspot.com/
The author, Rick “Poppa Bear” Cagno is the president of the Guardian Knights MC of Central PA. For more information on the Guardian Knights visit http://www.guardianknightsmc.org .