Friday, June 22, 2007

My First SS1000

In May of 2001 I read a trip report by someone who recently finished his first Saddle Sore 1000 (SS1000). An SS1000 is the Iron Butt Association’s most basic ride. You must travel on a motorcycle 1000 miles in 24 hours or less and have witnesses and documentation to validate your accomplishment. I was amazed that anyone would put themselves through such a grueling ride and could not comprehend ever wanting to do such a ride myself.

In June of that year I was having dinner with a group of fellow Shadow Rider Forum members at a get-together at the Honda Hoot in Knoxville, TN. The subject of long distance riding came up and I started to talk about the Trip Report I had recently read. I remember telling those at the table how I would never be able to do such a ride given how I felt after my 2 day trip down to Knoxville… about 700 miles. I was in serious pain and couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to put themselves through that. I expressed my opinion that, “you’ve got to be nuts to even attempt such a thing.”

“That was my Trip Report you read…” came a voice from across the table. I think I said something like “What??? You’re that guy???”… Sure enough, I was sitting across the table from the guy that I thought was nuts. His name was Alan Leduc.

Ever since that day I wondered what it would be like to be able to ride 1000 miles in a day. I’m a large (i.e. fat) guy and my Shadow Spirit just wouldn’t be big enough for me to be comfortable for such a long stretch in the saddle. This year I was fortunate enough to take ownership of a Yamaha Venture – a bike that was meant for touring. Also this year, the Motorcycle Touring Forum was putting on one of their regional SS1000 rides in Wisconsin and my brother Mark was acting as the coordinator for the ride.

I looked over the website that was set up for the ride and studied the route that I would need to take for an out-and-back SaddleSore1000. It was 100% Interstate riding and I knew that my new Venture loved the Interstate. I thought about it and decided to go for it. I clicked the Register button and was signed up for my first SS1000.

I started prepping for the ride long before the event. I made lists of what I needed to bring along; made sure I had the mandatory stops programmed into my GPS; reviewed the route several times on-line; and used Google Earth to take a virtual ride once or twice before the day came.

The night before the Wisconsin SS1000 I made sure my bike was all setup and ready to roll out of the garage for an early morning start. Everything was set to go.

On the morning of the ride, I got up at 4:00 a.m.; made sure I had my fully charged cell phone, filled up my ice water and put a few bottles of frozen water in my saddle bag. I kissed my wife goodbye and she said something to me that I’m sure was very sweet. Unfortunately I couldn’t hear her because I already had my ear plugs in. I walked out the door, and I was off.

I got down to the starting point (Suburban Harley in Thiensville, WI) a little after 5:30 a.m.. After Bill Schneider signed my starting witness form and validated my starting mileage I headed off to get my starting receipt at the required gas station just up the road. I got my receipt, made the required entry in my fuel log, got my picture taken by Matt Milanowski and headed off on my ride.

The skies were blue and the temperature was perfect. I thought to myself… this is going to be a great day. It was - for about 3 hours. Then, as I approached the west side of Wisconsin, the skies turned an eerie grayish black. It wasn’t raining, but I felt like I was in the middle of something that was about to turn ugly. I rode a few more miles into hills that run along the Mississippi and then it happened… It was as if somehow I made a wrong turn and ended up going through an automatic car wash. I was getting drenched. Fortunately I was near an exit. I got off the interstate and pulled over to put my rain suit on. One thing I failed to do during my ride prep was to make sure my rain suit fit over my Joe Rocket Phoenix Mesh jacket. I was able to squeeze into it, but it wasn’t pretty.

The rain let up a little as I approached the Wisconsin/Minnesota border, but as I crossed over the river, the skies opened up again. The clouds were hanging low in the sky. I knew this would be the best scenery of the entire trip, but because of all the rain and the low ceiling, I couldn’t enjoy it.

At this point I discovered a problem that would cause me troubles during the remainder of my SS1000 attempt. The stock windshield on the Venture is way too tall. I needed to look through the shield, and with all the rain I was going through, it was like looking through Wax Paper. This was bad!!!! I needed to stretch to see around the left side of the windshield if I wanted to see what was in front of me. Fortunately after about 10 minutes I had passed through the worst part of it and was able to resume looking through my windshield which was now covered with a bug-splattered gray film.

At the start of the ride my brother told me that I would get extra points if I came back with a can of Spam from the Spam Museum in Austin, MN. This being an SS1000 ride and not a rally I knew that he didn’t really have the power to actually give me points but I figured what that heck, I’ll bring my brother back a can of Spam. As I neared Austin I watched for a billboard or some other informational sign that would tell me which one of the 7 Austin exits would bring me to the Spam Museum. Either I missed the sign, or they didn’t have one. I passed the Hormel plant and with it the exit that would probably be closest to the Shrine of Spam. I was able to get off at the next exit and tried to head back to where I thought the Hormel plant was. I got turned around and ended up in some sort of Downtown Days festivities in beautiful Austin. I maneuvered around the barricades blocking the street and luckily picked the right direction that brought me to the Spam Museum. I knew I did not have time to walk through the entire museum to get the full Spam story so I headed right to the gift shop.

Maybe it was because it was lunch time or possibly the fact that I was surrounded by everything Spam, but all of a sudden I had this incredible craving to eat some Spam. I bought a can of Hot & Spicy Tabasco seasoned Spam for my brother and a single serving pack of Turkey Spam for myself. As I walked to where my bike was parked I ripped open that single serving packet, reached in and grabbed that pale pink looking slab of slimy, gelatinous meat product. I took a large bite and instantly remembered why I don’t make it a habit of packing Spam in my lunch. I finished the entire single serving slab and was able to re-enjoy the flavor several times throughout the afternoon as an occasional burp would bring small pieces back into my throat….

I continued heading west through Minnesota. I made fuel stops when necessary and filled out my fuel log as required at each stop.

As I was nearing the South Dakota border, the skies were again looking bad. This time I found an exit and put on my rain suit before I got dumped on. As I listened to the radio, reports were coming in of heavy rains with hail and strong winds on the west side of Sioux Falls. I thought I was going to be OK since the turn-around point was on the east side of the city. I did get rained on but it wasn’t all that bad. I was able to get my gas receipt at the required stop in Sioux Falls and then decided to go into the store and buy a quart of Gatorade to cool off and boost my energy. Somehow I picked the wrong line at the Flying J gas station and found myself being waited on by someone who obviously did not like her job and wanted to make sure everyone suffered as much as she was suffering. The time I spent stuck at that gas station was long enough for the storms outside to start building into a Hellish Fury.

I got back on the bike and started heading east. About 5 miles into my travels I noticed lightning hitting all around me. I wasn’t getting rained on so I kept moving thinking if I could just get past the lightning I would be fine.

Soon it seemed like the lightning had stopped and everything was over. I was wrong. The wall of water I hit was unbelievable. I found it hard to breath with the updraft bringing sheets of water under my face shield. This was bad! The rain was coming from the right and then from the left. I felt small hail hitting me and it was impossible to see through my shield. Cars were pulling over and some were stopping in the middle of the road. 18-wheelers were taking this opportunity to use the left lane to pass everyone and blind them with the spray from their tires.

For a short while I was thinking that I should pull over but there was no where safe to do so. I kept going and after about 15 minutes I was finally out of the storm and heading home at freeway speeds again. What a relief.

I kept heading east and was surprised at how good I felt. The Venture was running great and I was not uncomfortable at all. The cruise control helped me keep a steady speed and the radio helped pass the time.

As I neared the Mississippi River I noticed that I was getting close to needing fuel. Unfortunately every exit I approached did not have any gas station signs. I was starting to get a little nervous but finely approached an exit that had a sign that simply said “Gas”. It did not mention a brand, but at this point I would settle for anything. I needed gas so I got off at that exit. As I approached the Gas station I could see two very old looking pumps next to a run down building. The price per gallon listed on the pumps said $1.19. I knew that I wouldn’t be getting any gas from those pumps. Right next door was a tavern. I went in and asked the bartender where the nearest gas station was. He gave me directions to a station 8 miles away. I headed down some country road and turned right here and left there. This was not good. I was hoping me reserve tank would be large enough to take me to where I needed to go. I made it to the gas station and noticed that is was right next to the interstate. If I would have just stayed on the interstate for a few more miles, I would have found that same station on my own.

I crossed over to Wisconsin and was now in familiar territory. It was now dark out and I was noticing several Deer Smears on the highway. I didn’t like the looks of that but I needed to push on and get back to where I started this ride so long ago. I kept alert and tried to follow behind an SUV with a lot of light illuminating both sides of the road.

Before I knew it I was entering Milwaukee. I got to my final mandatory fuel stop, got my receipt and finished my first SS1000 in about 18 hours. I got back to Suburban Harley, handed my brother his can of Spam and watched as Roger Barnes, Jim Szudajski and Bill Schneider validated my fuel log and receipts. That felt good!

Back in 2001 when I first read about Alan Leduc’s adventures doing his first SS1000 I never thought that one day I would be writing my own SS1000 trip report. I’m glad I gave this a try and happy that I was able to succeed.

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