Thursday, June 29, 2017

Checkpoint 1

 The Leg1 Results show that Kirsten has ridden a monster 3,395 miles over the past 3 days, but the point spread is not what was hoped.  Checkpoints are quick-moving places.  Especially when you get in “on the bubble” as they say and have to stop the clock, get yourself ready for scoring, find something to eat, and prepare to rest.  Then route your Leg 2 and get underway.  I spoke with her briefly while she was at Rally HQ – TX and the overwhelming feeling was: it’s a good day when the air doesn’t hurt.  She hit temps of 122 degrees on Leg 1 and melted through more than one 10 lb. bag of ice (i.e. motorcyclist air conditioning).

The trusty R1200RT, which has carried her through many thousands of miles in many rallies, is running well. One huge shout out to George at Beemer Uber Alles (a.k.a. the motorcycle whisperer), who got the RT all tuned up a few weeks ago for this ride.  She began on Monday with over 174,000 miles on the odo.  She had to put some oil in, but Mr. Happy, the duck, and the Irish sheep are keeping watch as the miles roll on.   

Those of you joining me in watching the Spots descend last night noticed a few tracking in right as the clock chimed 8:00 p.m. in Allen, Texas.  Kirsten came in 3 minutes, and 30 penalty points, after the final chime.  We’ll take it.  She didn’t lose any points at the scoring table – and that’s cause for celebration.  Also celebrated, the comfy air conditioned room at Rally HQ…. however too much comfort makes it that much harder to climb back into the saddle.

Friends and supporters at the checkpoint report a range of other issues for riders on this leg – Spot Trackers on the fritz, a tire that needed to be plugged, and Mexican Felipe Salman got blown over in high winds, breaking his windshield.  He has a new shield and was in good hands with a checkpoint parking lot install to get back on the road.  He completed 2,753 miles on Leg 1.  And experienced rider Rob Nye has announced that he’s pulled the plug on this rally at the checkpoint after completing 2,658 miles.  This safari is keeping everyone on their toes.

So Kirsten was in, and now she’s off onto Leg 2.  Her mom had me tell her, “If your knee is still sore, kick butt with the other leg!”  Penalty points for Checkpoint 2 will begin at 8:00 p.m. Texas time on Saturday night.  Here’s hoping for a second leg to stand on.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Birch Trees and Squeaky Cheese

After the rider pack left Minneapolis on Monday, we’ve watched the ebb and flow of Spot Trackers move, literally, to all points of the U.S. and part of Canada.  If you’ve been playing along at home (and I know many of you are because the Public Spotwalla link on the IBR site keeps blinking out), you’ve watched this movement and thought – what are they seeing?  For those who headed east and north from MN, like I did, wonderful signs of the delicacies abound – pasties, cranberry wine, and my favorite ~

The weather was also nice and cool, with a few rain sprinkles.  The national weather map over the past 36 hours has shown severe storms and brutal heat in other areas where our riders are.  Among the birch trees in the UP (Upper Peninsula of Michigan), rally dogs Bela and Riley were proud to sniff out a hotel with a large concrete moose!  Safari bonus points for us! (I’m sure you too are collecting rally watcher bonus points by photographing huge roadside animals where you live. Admit it. You know you're seeing them everywhere now.)

At the moment, we are about 60 minutes away from penalty points for the end of Leg 1.  All the Spots not already parked at Rally HQ – Texas are lined up on the approach.  Kirsten (as usual) is cutting it very close.  So tune in and watch as they descend, or read today’s official rally report.  Because really, what else do you have to do in the next hour on a Wednesday night?
The Straights of Mackinac, and Mighty Mac!  (The Mackinac Bridge)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Starburst – IBR 2017 Launch

Jeff Earls popped the anticipation balloon on Sunday night with the words, “You are going on a photo safari!”  As the poster foretold, animals of all varieties, but all of them undoubtedly huge and along scenic American roadways, will capture the attention of our IBR riders for the next 11 days.  There are a 107 riders on this rally.  And when they all started their engines yesterday, co-safari master Karen said, “Isn’t it amazing to have 100 bikes start up and barely be able to hear them.”  One must be stealthy on safari…
Kirsten and Routemaster Jeff (sporting his holstein fleece) 

The rider field is about 50% IBR veterans and 50% rookies.  It is an international ride, as the World’s Toughest Motorcycle Rally should be, with riders from Switzerland, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Africa, Portugal, Japan, Mexico, Tasmania, and Texas. :) But the start is in Minnesota, Team Strange Territory.  And the honor of the 01 flag was given to our friend and 2011 IBR winner Peter Behm.  His wife Paula accepted the rally flag to a standing ovation.  “Ride your ride!” she said.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.    

All the waypoint locations for the ENTIRE rally were given on Sunday.  (You’ll find more details on the rally and the full rider list in Sunday’s official daily report.)  The points for each of those locations will likely change, and increase in future legs, if past rally protocol continues. IBR veteran Chris Purney exclaimed, “Well, they pretty much cover entire North America.”  After a night of plotting, and a morning of bouncing on their toes, the riders rode out of Rally HQ at 10:00 a.m. on their way to – everywhere.  You can watch the starburst pattern of riders expand from the IBR Public Spot page as they spread across North America to ride their ride here in Leg 1.  

Always aware that safety is a priority, rally staff have admonished riders to go dark on all things social media – no e-mail, no live streaming, no live reports.  Riders need to be focused on the task at hand.  Rally watchers, who love our riders as much as the entertainment they provide, understand.  Therefore, I will not be providing much detail about Kirsten’s ride while she is underway.  She is doing well and in good spirits.  She was excited yesterday morning, and it made me think of another start line we were at (with considerably less pressure) just last month. 
Jennifer and Kirsten at Malin Head (northernmost point of Ireland) along the Wild Atlantic Way

In May, we rode an incredible trip with several other IBR veterans, organized by IBA – Ireland President, Chris McGaffin.  In addition to seeing incredible views and from the pillion seat of a BMW GS, I was constantly amused by the spring crop of lambs that wandered the Irish roadways.  Whenever they’d hear the bikes coming, they’d jump and twist and kick up their heels, running to find their mama.  I don’t know if there are any huge sheep boni in the IBR rally pack, but riding along with Kirsten now is a small fuzzy lamb.  It’s a little Irish talisman to keep the way clear.  The little lamb rides near her MD 20-20 rubber duck (from her very first rally) and Mr. Happy (still smiling after all these years).

MN Rally HQ is packing up for the next few days to relocate to the Leg 1 checkpoint in Texas.  Penalty points begin for tardy riders at 8:00 p.m. Wednesday night.  We are now 24 hours into this rally and likely the first 1,000 miles of the famed 11 days, 11,000 mile ride.  Oh the critters they’ll see.
Kirsten heading out on safari at the launch of the IBR 2017

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Dialing It In

Life looks better with a new foot peg.  And a longer fuel cell vent hose.  And for Erik Lipps, a planned new tire, and an unplanned but now also new shock, brake pads, and some electrical wiring. The weekend before rally start (and preferably BEFORE tech inspection) is full of tweaks, jiggers and sometimes all out replacements on bikes, gear, and supplies as riders finish dialing it in.

Kirsten in her tech (Trek) inspection shirt
Kirsten was at Leo’s South before the doors opened. They completed the foot peg replacement and gave assurance that the scrapes were only cosmetic.  Then it was back to Rally HQ to begin the multi-stop process of final inspections. The day turned longer than planned when staff realized a paperwork problem and she had to make a trip to the notary, after running the odo check twice because her GPS didn’t zero out the way it was expected.  She wasn’t the only one. UK riders and IBR veterans Kevin and Lynda Weller also had to run the odo route twice because of a snafu but were relaxed and ready at lunch. (The odometer check compares the actual mileage of a known route to a bike’s odometer reading to see if a bike runs high or low on mileage – key to determining close standings and efficiency at the finish.)  Japanese rider Yohinori Ishii, after receiving some engineering assistance getting his scooter’s fuel cell up to snuff, followed a staff member through the odo route. The written directions were a challenge without having the time to translate.  Ishii is already drawing fans among rally watchers for attempting this on a Bergman 400, never mind the language barrier.

Mark Crane arrived by mid-day to begin his check-in process, everyone exclaiming, “Mark!  You’re a day early!”  His infamous leisurely pace through past check-ins preceding him.  Nancy Lefcourt, adjusting to the time difference, took advantage of some extra sleep and cruised through the check-in by mid-afternoon.  After they came out of the final check with Rally Route Master, Jeff Earls, Troy Martin and Eric Bray exclaimed, “Well, I’m as ready as I’m gonna be.”  Lisa Erbes (a.k.a. Rally Master of the Butt Lite) is READY to roll.  Her dream to ride the IBR for the first time about to come true as co-pilot with Jim Winterer, who is a multi-time IBR and Butt Lite veteran.

Tom Loftus rode to Minneapolis with the intention of starting his 10th Iron Butt Rally.  The ride out however convinced him that his body, just a few weeks after surgery and recovery, is not quite up to 11 days in the saddle.  He’s looking at routes to the Texas checkpoint, and planning ahead for an international ride in a few weeks.  You can’t keep a great man down (although I did promise to hold his arm on Monday as the riders launch).  Long-time rally veteran German Gerhard Memmen-Krueger gave rally dog Riley a pat on the head yesterday.  (See more photos at the IBR Start Photos link, including a shot of rally ambassador Riley.)  Gerhard’s characteristic wide smile is fully in place as he looks ahead to Monday.  Aussie Olaf Moon arrived with his bike repairs made early Saturday morning.  He was last seen grinning and striding purposefully through the HQ lobby with after completing his check-in process.

The rookie riders’ meeting is happening now.  Later today is the required all riders’ meeting.  And tonight, the full rally pack and the bonus locations for the first leg will be released.  There is A LOT of speculation around Rally HQ about the theme of IBR 2017.  Looks like animals, real, imagined, and extinct are all part of the plan for this journey – leading some to try and google small butterflies in the poster to see what their native range may be for a routing clue.  All will be revealed.  And in the meantime, just make sure you know where your towel is.    

Friday, June 23, 2017

Rally HQ – Minneapolis

Anyone who has been on social media for the past month could not help but notice the buzz as riders prepped for the Big Dance.  With Eric Bray posting helpful reminders like, “Keep Calm, Only 14 Days to Go!” who could forget?  He was one of the first to arrive at Rally HQ.  Irishman Chris McGaffin is on his way, after riding the 1,000 mile loop around Lake Superior.  It’s only fair as he just hosted our loop ride around his native Ireland (more on that fantastic rally-prep ride later).  Tina Venters made a trip to MN a few weeks ago, dropping off her bike in preparation to ride her first Iron Butt Rally (YES!!), making a smart trip to the start this week via airplane.  Troy Martin, after being trapped by flooded roads at work, then adeptly stuffing his 10 lbs of crap in his 5 lb. bag and driving all night, has arrived.  And Chase Van 2.0 arrived this afternoon after passing an IBR rider with a tell-tale high vis helmet (faded on the top) outside Madison, WI (I’ll get your photo to you!).

We had a small kerfuffle off-loading the bike, which now requires a new right front peg and an inspection of the valve cover, though it just looks scraped with no leaks.  We’ll take care of that in the morning.  Leo’s South said they will grab a peg off an RT they have; and we’ll be there bright and early.  However, we are currently icing Kirsten’s knee (which I’m SURE would not be happening if I wasn’t here) while enjoying a cup of coffee and a ginger cookie (which probably would occur regardless).  
The R1200RT with a shiny sheared off peg.
In the spirit of getting bike troubles done early, sounds like Aussie Olaf Moon is making progress on his bike repairs.  As of 3:00 p.m. Friday, he’s hoping all will be complete and he’ll arrive at Rally HQ early Saturday morning.  We are pulling for you Olaf!  And in KY – Jeremy Loveall has Plan B all loaded up on the trailer and ready to bring out if needed.  There is another bike waiting for him in Minneapolis if needed and Hammy had Plan C ready in Philly.  And just as we were discussing options in the Rally HQ parking lot tonight, another rider loading his bike on a trailer mis-judged and road it off the end.  Ten or more rally riders ran over to help stabilize him and the bike, avoiding another top-down dump (check out today's IBR report for another tale of woe).  Deep breaths and strong backs got the bike back on the trailer and settled…and a scrape on Jim Owen’s elbow for his helpful efforts.  You guys, springing into action to assist wherever you are, doing whatever you can….somethin’ in my eye already….

A few riders are still filing in and the parking lots of the Minneapolis Marriott and the La Quinta have sprouted motorcycles.  IBR staff and volunteers are prepping for the big day tomorrow – packing the swag bags, tech inspection dry runs and the million other things that need doing.  Like every pro sport – it’s the staff that make it work for the rest of us!

And the official daily reports have begun T minus 3 days out!  Friend and IBR veteran John Harrison is this year’s scribe.  To follow along with the Iron Butt Rally 2017 dailies, visit the swanky new site with loads of good info:

Thursday, June 22, 2017


Things are always interesting the night before heading out for a rally.  This Tuesday’s conversation: “Do you want to go out to dinner, or I could make something.  I don’t want to disrupt your preparation flow,” I said. 
“Ha, what flow?” she said.  “It’s more like desperation.” 
Well, preparation by another name….

Actually, we’ve been preparing for weeks. Important things, like getting the bike serviced, completing electrical work in the bathroom to change out three light fixtures, cleaning out all the stuff under the kitchen sink and installing a water filter… you know, rally prep.  This rally (which we’ve been thinking about since the end of the IBR 2015 if you review our retro post!), had to be tackled a little differently.  For one – with our Chase van off to new owners, we devised a new method of temporary transport for the rally bike, pups, and myself (for the first time) to the IBR start.  Also new this year – Chase van blogging!  I’ll be in transit throughout the rally, a change from my usual stay-at-home rally spouse location.  Along for the ride in “Chase Van 2.0” will be Bela (new to the family) and Riley (aka pro rally dog, a veteran of many Mason-Dixon 20-20s, Jacksonville, Denver, Red Lodge Unrally and the 2015 IBR in ABQ).  There was a lot of tail wagging as the van was loaded – including Kirsten’s excellent ride up the ramp with a duck of the helmet at the door to bring the rally bike onboard. 

All the rides loaded into Chase Van 2.0 for the trip to MN
This year’s Iron Butt Rally (IBR) will begin in Minneapolis, MN on Monday, June 26.  Between now and then, there are many things on the To Do List: tech inspections start at 7:45 a.m. on Saturday after rally registration; vehicle insurance, registration, personal / medical information needs to be checked, as do SD cards for rally cameras; confirmation is needed for emergency contacts; and there will be the usual eyeing of other rally bikes, fuel cells, cockpits, and gear.  Speaking of gear – Kirsten will be riding with cushy new gloves, newly refreshed (i.e. TechWash and waterproofed) pants, and a brand new jacket that arrived the day before we left after several tries for a replacement for the old red rally jacket (which carried her through well over 100,000 miles!)  A new phone and new GPS complete the kit, although all the old equipment is also onboard as functioning backups. 

Still – gathering all this together to “stuff it in a sock” on that last evening required several trips between staging areas in the house and garage.  As I was making the pasta, I heard her mumble on her way by, “I’m getting all my steps in today going up and down these stairs… why do I reinvent the wheel every time?”
“On the plus side,” I said, “you’re writing my blog post for me.”
“Oh.  Crap.”

As this first blog for IBR 2017 is posting, some riders are already at the start hotel…wondering what they got themselves into if social media can be believed.  And there are a couple riders already having issues GETTING to the start hotel who hope to make it in time for tech inspection.  After all, desperation is rally preparation by another name.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Featured Retro Read (original post date July 18, 2015)

T Minus 97 Weeks to IBR 2017

The week after the Iron Butt Rally is always a little weird.  In 2011, we sat around the house re-watching “Hard Miles” and “Hard Miles II.”  That done, we watched “Long Way Around,” “Long Way Down,” and finally, “Race to Dakar.”  We called it re-integration.  I think it was withdrawal.    

This year, we went to a mineral springs spa with friends north of Santa Fe and soaked out the stress… and then got on a plane (Riley and I) and back on a bike (Kirsten).  Then, bam, back to work for me.  I was restless.  Feeling like I should post another blog update.  Starting to refresh my notes for a rally spouse article I’ve been mulling around since last summer.  Watching, again, the little green motorcycle move its way back across the country.  By Thursday, I wanted to ask one of my slugs (a.k.a. DC commuters) to drive my car home for me – I was exhausted.  The rally time warp had finally caught up to me. 

Kirsten rode out from ABQ Monday afternoon, stopping to see ranger friends at Ft. Union, and then Iron Butt-ed it through terrible rain (it never ends) the length of TN and into VA.  The total: over 16,000 miles, from the Mexico border to Canada and nearly everywhere in between, in 24 days.  She rolled in after 2 a.m. on Wednesday, then slept for two days.  After getting new brakes (the RT, now with the 2011 and 2015 Iron Butt Rallies under its wheels, is just shy of 150,000 miles), Kirsten wiped off the red grease pencil calendar from inside the windshield and washed the rally grime off the bike.  And tonight, just for fun, she is going to do an evening run in town.  Because, you know, she wants to try and finish the Race Timing “Grand Prix” series of foot races this year.  Also, she needs to jump back into her training for the Marine Corps Marathon this fall – rally miles unfortunately don’t count as foot miles in that training program.

Re-integration also means gathering with those who do understand, or at least who have been SPOT watching for weeks and are also trying to re-integrate with life.  Gaggles (prides…hurricanes….?) of LD riders are eating delicious BBQ all over the country this weekend.  People are already posting about the IBA regional meet in TN this fall.  We looked at our calendars and started thinking about the next trip.  I always take that as a good sign- return from a trip and immediately start planning another. 

In ABQ, some people took off their helmets at the finish and said: done.  Some people took off their helmets and said: maybe.  We are already thinking forward to the next rally, you can’t help it.  But it’s two more years of “what if,” two more years of “where?” and two more years of “what would I do differently?”  I don’t know if we’ve got another IBR in us, but I’ve also learned to never say never.  Plus, just LOOK at where this rally took her!

65 parks – 26 states + the trip out and back

It’s hard not to get excited thinking about the other places you might see, the other stories there might be.  On Thursday night last week, as she was riding in from Duluth, she said sadly, “but when I get there, it will be over.”  I saw many similar sentiments in the IBR reports.  It’s a wide world with so much to see.  And I hear that 2017 is the 150th anniversary of Canada…think of the rally possibilities. 

People wonder how LD riders can ride these distances.  This is a big part of it – they’re explorers to the hilt.  So much to see.  So many places to BE.  It’s a slow roll back to the work-life/ play-life balance.  I’m travelin’ down a road I’ve been on before… thinkin’ about my home. We’ll get there, but not in a hurry.