With 22 Minutes to Spare by Steve Snoen

The 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 Northwest, USA.

Myself and the Norton Commando, 1973,    850cc.

The Route

Bellingham 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.

Saturday 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 Oregon.

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.

Animals 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.

Another 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.

Shortly 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

Gasing 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.

Two 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

Diagnosing 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.

It 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 situation.

 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.

Thinking I 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.

Why 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?

On 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.

I 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.

According 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.

Thank you 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 miles.

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 all.

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. :-)

Steve Snoen
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada

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