A student at a university asked on a web forum for people to talk about their experience with the IBA and IBR. The following was my open letter to him.
I’ve been around the Iron Butt Association since 1992. I’ve been riding motorcycles since I was around 3 years old. In the mid 1980s I followed the antic of some individuals very closely including the original Iron Butt Rally. I had actually exchanged letters (imagine that!) with Michael Kneebone a few times until 1994 when he sent me a package of one of the original Iron Butt Rally routes, information on the Southern California Motorcycle Association (SCMA) 1K ride, and some other items.
It wasn’t until 2001 that I actually did a few Saddle Sore 1K mile rides that were certified thereby gaining entrance into the IBA. That same year I was drawn for the Iron Butt Rally (IBR) but was unable to ride as apparently having twin 2 year old sons when you ride the IBR is not a good thing. Also I like to ride two-up with my wife and apparently being recently off bed rest and riding in the IBR are mutually exclusive. In 2013 I rode the IBR alone but successfully to a mid-pack finish. I had some excellent rides packed into 11 days of awesome fun. In the 2015 IBR two-up with my wife we had a lot of fun until our bike broke at the end of the first leg. Scrambling and spending money hand over fist we weren’t able to get back on the road again. That left us in the unfinished business category.
The community is diverse and becoming more diverse every year. The ranks of superior female riders specifically is growing rapidly. In general you are dealing with people who are able to spend a lot of time alone and persevere when something breaks, doesn’t work, or is uncomfortable. There are a horde of reasons to stop riding motorcycles and only a very few personal reasons to continue. That is likely why the ranks of riders are heavily populated by police officers, firefighters, military (former and current) and CEO/COO types. Adversity is seasoning to people who succeed at these types of jobs. The community is also over represented in international travel and ability to deal with the impacts of foreign cultures equably.
I’ve ridden through blizzards (hundreds of miles), hurricanes (Fran, and Hugo), blistering heat (over 120f), and through deafening lightning and thunder (Last day of the 2013 IBR).
Riding motorcycles is fun, but serious business. Driving my car across town is serious business. Most people don’t know about risk and are surprised when something bad happens. When you ride a motorcycle you have to acknowledge the risk in a way car drivers ignore. When you ride long distances you by time and mileage accept more risk and learn to mitigate and manage risk. If I had to give advice to a young adult male looking at motorcycling in general and long distance riding in particular. Don’t do it. Don’t even get close to this activity. These are activities that few understand and those that look at it from outside often misattributed to risk or adrenalin activities.
When you go on a really long ride, compressing time and space to the viewer from outside, and you do it taking all of the risks into account. It is very much like planning on going to war. I used to teach at the US National War College so I get to say over the top things like that. It isn’t going to war. The risk of nation state existential threat is not there. The planning, logistics, and personal assumption of ownership of the activity is there. The idea of logistics like food, drink, fuel, and preparation of the body are all there. My wife says it is like running an unsupported ultra-marathon, or swimming the English channel. Each has it’s own physicality but all have the same mental challenges. Sitting there and twisting that (long distance rider mantra) is not physically challenging but it is extremely mentally challenging.
Riding motorcycles is not a socially conscious, politically correct, or even logical endeavor. If you are going to do it. If you are going to chase the horizon it must not be a competition, it must not be an adrenaline fueled activity, it must be a passion.