With 22 Minutes to Spare by Steve Snoen|
Following is a story about riding a Norton Commando, 1500 miles in less
than 24 hours. The ride took place July 14 - 15th. 2007 in the Pacific
Myself and the Norton Commando, 1973, 850cc.
to Seattle then east to Spokane, further to Missoula, then south to
Idaho Falls, west to Baker City, ending in Union Gap, Washington, just
south of Yakima.
According to Maura Gatensby's calculations, it
worked out to about 1510 miles. Unbeknownst to me at the time Maura was
in the middle of her Iron Butt Rally preparations. She took the time to
figure out the distance anyway. Thanks, Maura.
afternoon and evening was spent resting and sleeping at Motel 6 in
Bellingham. Finding witnesses for a 10pm start was easy: front desk
lady at the motel and a waiter at a nearby restaurant. The Norton had
the extra gas tank installed and was raring to go. Lots of food in the
tank bag and two hydration systems: one gallon of ice water on the bike
and a quart of apple juice in the chest-pocket bladder of the Darien
jacket. This was mid summer so it was expected to be hot in Idaho and
The start receipt was obtained and double checked for
the required information. The ride south to Seattle, then east to the
first gas stop in Moses Lake was un-eventful. Kind of cool over
Snoqualmie Pass and it was good to have the Widder electric vest.
Spokane can be hot in July, but coming through there at three o'clock
in the morning was no problem and very little traffic.
are always a danger but none were to be seen. Good thing, as the Norton
only has a 60w H-4 headlight. The speed was kept down to about 65mph
until sunrise. A Bun Burner Gold(tm) ride requires an average speed of
62.5mph. The pace was slow but I was determined not to over-ride the
headlight. If I missed out on the BBG by going too slow at night, so be
it. I have no intention of becoming a deer-slayer.
Montana, where traveling at the speed-limit is considered slow.
gas-receipt was obtained in Missoula, Montana and happily I was right
on schedule. A credit card was used to pay at the pump so the engine
was kept running while fueling (against regulations, yes I know). This
is a kick-start only bike. I did not want to take any chances. Then
hastily writing down odometer reading and back on the freeway in four
minutes flat, smiling. This was going good.
If I was going to
make good time somewhere, it would be through Montana. I was riding
along at the 75mph speed limit, heading south to Idaho Falls, when a
police cruiser went by at a very elevated speed. Oh my, that officer
was really hauling. There was nothing to worry about on my part but
still, instinctively I nailed the brakes. It is kind of funny, after
nearly four decades of riding, the sight of a police car makes me
automatically hit the brakes. Surely this must be a source of amusement
for law enforsement officers.
Not even five minutes later, a
similar looking police car came racing northbound (the same one
maybe?). He (or she, I couldn't tell) just kept on going in a hell of a
hurry. That day at least, the officer was not going to bother a
slow-poke like me. It was common observing cars and trucks going 85+
mph. It was as if passing motorists were asking: "'What do you mean,
doing just the limit?". Wonderful state, Montana.
thereafter I saw the one and only deer on this ride. Lying on the
free-way shoulder it was dead as a door-nail. A certain gentleman and
well known deer-hater in Tri-Cities, WA, would be pleased.
800 miles done
up at a Chevron station in Idaho Falls was quickly done. This was
approximately the half way point and the original plan had called for
half an hour rest. Checking the watch gave not so good news: I was 20
minutes behind schedule, which had me arriving at the final destination
23 hours after start, leaving one hour for construction slow downs etc.
This was going to be tight.
Munching down a chicken sandwich and
a couple of apple pies did not take too long. My stomach was protesting
against receiving this not properly chewed food but oh well. On a ride
like this, standing still is a waste. Shortening down this stop proved
later to be very fortunate. The air-temperature was rising steadily,
approaching a toasty hundred degrees Fahrenheit. With frequent fluid
intake, it was perfectly manageable.
Out of luck? Maybe.
hours later, west of Twin Falls heading for Baker City, Oregon, the
engine rpm suddenly went up, the engine screaming madly and the
motorcycle slowed down.
Unsheduled stop west of Twin Falls, Idaho
the problem was easy: the primary belt had broken. Not good. This was
my third attempt at a BBG and my mood went straight into the basement.
Some rather choise expletives were said.
Broken primary belt. What a mess.
would have been oh so easy to call it quits, get the cell-phone out and
call for help. I started thinking: Just a minute, the guys in the Iron
Butt Association(tm) are ever so proud of the license plate frame:
"World's toughest riders"(tm). Well, I have never thought of myself as
a "tough guy" but damn it: I am not a quitter. Ok fine, let's start
swinging some wrenches.
For years I have carried a spare
primary belt and naturally, riding an old British bike, the tool kit is
more substantial than on modern motorcycles. With traffic going by at
70-80mph, the freeway shoulder is a terrible place to do repairs but it
had to suffice for now. A friendly trucker by the name of Ralph,
stopped and queried if he could be of assistance. I thanked him but
simply asked if he would watch the traffic. Working on scolding hot
engine parts and simultaneously being scared of traffic, is not a good
Trucker Ralph stopped and wondered if he could help. Bless his heart.
(in this photo the new belt is in place. Just the primary cover has to go back on).
Ralph rambled on about the old Triumph he owned and was a really nice,
talkative guy which lifted my spirit considerably. Truckers are good
people. Fifty minutes later I was back on the road.
had blown this BBG attempt too, the pace was more sedate towards the
next gas stop at Glenns Ferry. Looking at the schedule however, it
started to dawn on me: if everything went perfect, it was still
possible to make it to Union Gap before the 10pm deadline. Barely mind
you, but do-able.
The gas stop went really well
and the pace was increased somewhat but certainly nothing that would
attract the attention of any police officer. Most definitely there was
no time for roadside conversation. Maybe some people find it strange
but I started talking to the bike: "Come on buddy, we can do this". I
have owned this Norton for fifteen years. It has been ridden many
places in the United States and Canada and a certain bond has developed.
ride such an old British motorcycle? After all, they are well known for
being un-reliable, vibrating, temperamental beasts. With kick-start
only, no fairing, a paltry 180w alternator, no cruise control, no gps,
no stereo system (imagine!), many riders today simply shake their heads
and walk away in disbelief. I still get tongue-tied trying to answer
the question. Simply put, riding the Norton makes me happy. However, I
am not a brand fanatic and looking at the bigger picture: the make of
motorcycle is not important. It is the riding itself that gives such
joy and happiness. I suspect some people who read this story can relate?
the last few miles towards the final stop, all feeling of tiredness
disappeared. It started to sink in: I am going to make it. The
adrenalin rush (or endorphins, whatever it is called) gave a wonderful
natural high. Rationally thinking, of course I knew I was tired but it
sure did not feel like it.
Finally, it is over.
had barely put the side-stand down at the Arco am/pm gas station, when
the pre-arranged witnesses Lisa and Tobie Stevens pulled up in their
car. What a relief it was to see them. No worries about finding
end-of-ride witnesses. Both Lisa and Tobie are Iron Butt Rally(tm)
finishers and they knew how to take care of the formalities.
to the receipt there was twenty two minutes to spare. Feeling very
happy, it was as if starting another ride right away would be no
problem. I found out othervice half an hour later checking into the
motel next door. Sleep came easily.
to the person (people) who does the verifying work for the IBA. I do
not know who you are and chances are we will never meet but your work
is very much appreciated. The IBA verified the distance to be 1508
Thank you Lisa and Tobie Stevens for doing end-witness
duty. I knew you were waiting so that gave an extra "push" to go on.
Also thank you to trucker Ralph for your encouragement. Good Americans
Post ride thoughts:
If I put some better lights on the bike, up the pace slightly and avoid
breakdowns, I can ride the same route and arrive in Union Gap two hours
early, sleep four hours and then ride the route in reverse, resulting
in a double Bun Burner Gold. Oh yes, this is absolutely nuts. :-)
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada