After my motorcycle accident in July of 2000, I started making annual, long-distance bike trips to see parts of the United States that I’ve never been to before. Getting married and the birth of our daughter forced these trips to cease with the last being a ride from South Carolina to California in 2004. When my wife, Vicki, and I can, we’ll take day trips or weekend jaunts to the nearby mountains of North Carolina and Georgia. We have even attended the “Ducks Fly South” and “Ducks Along the Blue Ridge” rallies, but I was starting to feel a void in my riding. I never really thought of distance riding and super-slabbing as being enjoyable, but I started craving a long ride.
On February 26, 2007, I ran across a thread in a Sport-Touring.Net (STN) regional forum for a SaddleSore 1000 being sponsored by the Motorcycle Tourer’s Forum (MTF). The ride was to be on June 9th out of Charlotte, NC, and the loop would go through several states and end back in Charlotte. I’d thought about SaddleSore rides over the last couple of years, but never much of a serious thought. After a few discussions with Vicki about it, she started asking if I thought she would be able to finish it.
Over the next few months, I’d bring the ride up in conversations, usually accompanied with mentions of track-days, also. Sometimes she’s entertain the thought and we’d discuss it, and other times, it was as though she didn’t hear a word of what I’d said. After a couple of times of discussing the possibility of doing the SS1000, she started asking if I thought she would be able to finish a SS1000.
This may be a strange question for some, but for Vicki, it has a lot of validity. In June of 2003, she had a head-on collision that resulted in several permanent injuries, including a paralyzed left foot, yet, she still rides her own motorcycle. Where the SaddleSore is concerned, we’ve only been riding 200-400 mile days in the mountains with plenty of stops. Our regular riding is at the complete opposite end of the riding spectrum than doing a SaddleSore. Prior to this, Vicki’s idea of super-slabbing was riding from Asheville to Deals Gap via Hwy 23/74). Finally, with two weeks to go, Vicki said she wanted to attempt the SaddleSore with me. I was surprised, but felt confident that she’d complete the ride.
I made the hotel reservations, and we prepped our bikes for the ride. One thing I did was regeared my ’98 Ducati ST2 back to its original 15/42 from the 14/42 I’d been running in the mountains. I also left the panniers on it from the “Ducks Along the Blue Ridge” just few weeks earlier. Vicki was going to use her recently acquired, stock, ’00 Yamaha R1.
Fast forwarding to the morning of the SaddleSore, we awoke at 04:50 to meet some others at 6am outside of the BMW-Ducati of Charlotte dealer. There were four other riders that we’d arranged to ride with, but we warned them that we might have to separate as Vicki’s need for breaks for her leg and foot increased. Eventually, everyone had their paperwork witnessed for the start. We went to the first gas station for our official starting time. Vicki and I had a start time of 06:44……and we were off……..
The first stop was in Spartanburg, SC and about 90 miles from our starting point. It was an easy 90 miles, but being in the rear of the pack, we kept getting what I call the “accordion effect”. The lead rider was keeping a fairly steady pace, but as he would very by five mph or so, the second in line would try to compensating as he would drift further behind or ride up on the lead rider. Then, the third rider did the same, and so on. With each person, the speed swing got larger and larger until I caught myself swinging from 65 mph to 85 mph. It was really getting annoying. To top this off, I was so used to the higher rpm’s with my previous 14/42 gearing that it took me 45 miles before I realized I was running in fifth gear! Duh!
At this first stop, Vicki and I noticed that everyone was standing around and talking; some were even eating and drinking, again. With Vicki still fresh and not in much pain, we wanted to ride as many miles as we could before we had to start making more frequent rest stops. The next mandatory gas stop was only 50 miles away, so we told them to meet us there.
The next stop was in Arden, NC, and we knew we’d hit a few mild curves as we went into North Carolina….ok, I can’t really call them “curves” as being that they were a part of the Interstate, but at least we may get a little bit of a lean angle in. We sped up a little bit through this section, and traffic wasn’t too bad at all. Stopping in Arden, though, we noticed something that we were afraid of, but expecting. We were running the incorrect tire on Vicki’s bike for this application. We had her bike shoed with Pirelli Corse III tires, and at higher speeds, the rear tire’s center was rolling off rubber boogers. This was not good, as the tires already had close to a thousand miles on them, and we were only expecting to get around 2500 miles before it wound up with bald spots, as previous experience would dictate. We were going to have to slow down to save the tire.
The other four guys arrived a few minutes after we did. They were grabbing drinks and food, again, so we told them we’d see them at the next stop in Kingsport, TN. Once again on our own, we dropped our speed by 5-10 mph to save Vicki’s tires as we shot up I-26 to Asheville. Once on the north side of Asheville, the views got better with the mountains and the temperature dropped. The roads were a little damp in some areas, so we jumped back up a few mph, knowing that the cool, damp road would allow it without sacrificing the tires. Surprisingly to me, Vicki went this additional ninety miles without a break. At the gas stop in Kingsport, we discovered that our gas cards were frozen.
Since we were going to submit our paperwork to the Iron Butt Association (IBA), we needed receipts at each gas stop and each stop over 20 minutes in length. This was our third Shell station, and we were getting duplicate receipts, just in case we lost one, as we had read this as one of the suggestions on the MTF page. We would hate to do this ride, only to find out that it can’t be certified because we had lost a receipt! The multiple uses threw up a red-flag with the fraud department, as both Vicki and I would put $2.00 of gas in the tank, get a receipt, then top the tank off for the second receipt. When I called Shell I found out, much my surprise, their operating hours are on Monday through Friday, this was Saturday. We had to resort to another card and cash for receipts.
Discussing the “accordion effect” we were getting at the back of the pack and Vicki’s tire concerns with a ride leader, Vicki and I decided to try riding with them, again. Our next stop was about 220 miles away in Staunton, VA, so we were going to have to make an additional gas stop and maybe grab a bite to eat before arriving at the next mandatory stop. We left with the group and stayed in the rear until the “accordion effect” struck, again. We passed as we could, which seemed to be a bit more aggressively than some of the others in the group, and we wound up in the front with me leading the pack.
I set my pace at about 5 mph over the speed limit and held it as steady as I could. I was periodically checking my mirrors to see how spread out or compacted the group became and watched for faster vehicles behind the group. If you’ve never led a group before, it is an experience. It takes more effort and energy to constantly be aware of your surroundings and of the group’s dynamics to stay fluid and flowing. After about fifty miles, I was noticing the mental fatigue from leading. I was having difficulty maintaining a steady speed and was starting to swerve a little in my lane. It took a few minutes to settle back into a groove. I tried to get someone else to lead, but no one wanted it, so I stuck it out for another forty miles until we stopped for food in Wytheville, VA.
We didn’t get gas at this stop, but it was longer than twenty minutes. We still had to document the stop, according to the IBA rules. The run was pretty uneventful to Staunton, VA (with a gas stop in Salem), and we had our group dynamics to almost perfect. The accordion-effect was gone, lane changes and passing was smooth, and the feeling I got was that we were in perfect harmony.
Leaving the Staunton gas stop, one rider had a GPS system and found an interesting back-road route to I-64. It only saved us no more than five miles from the planned route, but it was nice to drive down a two-lane road with country scenery. That was short-lived as we started pounding the superslab, again.
Shortly after leaving the Staunton gas stop, we eventually got broken into two groups of three. Some cars got between us and then the separation kept getting larger and larger. After a few minutes, the first three riders were out of our site. Vicki and I didn’t mind, as they were going fast enough to heat her tires too much, and the third rider, Randy – a long-time friend of ours, is a truck-driver and didn’t want to risk his CDL to a speeding ticket in Virginia. We just plugged along at a steady pace while waiting for Richmond, VA, our next mandatory stop.
Vicki and I had simple, basic directions written out for the route, and we aren’t sure if Randy even had that, yet he was leading. He knew we had to go to I-95 when we hit Richmond, so he followed the first sign he saw for I-95 South. Vicki and I recalled I-295 being mentioned, and that was a few miles further up I-64, so we stopped on the side of the off ramp with Randy about a half mile ahead on the side of the road, waiting on us. I pulled the detailed directions out of my pannier and realized we did make a wrong turn and would be missing our gas stop if we kept going. I wanted to ride backwards down the ramp, but none of us really wanted to run the risk of a ticket, so we ran up this road, found another exit, turned back around, and got back on track…..or so we thought.
I won’t get into the details, but when we got off of I-95, there were a couple of wrong turns made, to the tune of about four miles of extra driving. We got to the mandatory gas stop in Richmond to find the other three guys still sitting there on their break. Here I found out that another credit card was frozen, so I switched to another one. We were now past the halfway point at mile-566 of the planned route. Randy wanted to run a little faster with the other three guys, so after reassuring him that it wouldn’t hurt our feelings, he left with them…..and two minutes later, we were leaving, also.
We had 160 miles to make it to the next gas stop in Kenly, NC, and Vicki and I knew we weren’t going to be able to make the full distance without stopping. Vicki had me lead, and I was going to try to split the mileage in half. Somewhere in that first half the fatigue was starting to show. My left knee started to kill me and my right wrist was getting sore from the throttle. I would try to stretch my knee, but it only worked momentarily. Switching from using my whole hand to just my palm or just my fingers with the throttle helped with that, but the real setback was that I was starting to wonder if this was really worth it. I mean, we were only doing a huge loop. It wasn’t like we were sight-seeing, or even going on interesting roads that I’ve never been on before, but I felt it was worth it. It is an accomplishment that not many people can say they have done, and I was thinking it would be satisfactory becoming a member of the IBA.
Vicki and I have various hand signals that we use when riding to make sure she is doing well, and she constantly signaled that she was fine…..even though my knees and wrist were starting to kill me. We went another eighty or ninety miles before stopping at a rest area on the side of the interstate for a five minute break and a power bar, then back on the road for the other half of this leg to Kenly, NC….where we met up with the other four riders enjoying their break.
Vicki and I departed before the other four riders and just tried to get as many miles closer to the next gas stop as we could without stopping. Columbia, SC was 200 miles and the sun was going down. We went about another eighty miles before having to pull off to stretch Vicki’s leg. It was dark, we chose an off-ramp with no businesses, and just parked at the top off the ramp off to the side. We talked for a few minutes and then heard, then saw, the other four riders going down the interstate. They were talking about stopping at the midway point between Kenly and Columbia, which they estimated to be South of the Boarder. Vicki and I thought about stopping to see if they were still there when we went through there, but decided to just keep going since she was feeling better. I seemed to hit a “second wind” as all my aches and pains were becoming less noticeable, and mentally, I was feeling better because we were getting much closer to the end of the SS1000 with several hours to spare. We made it as far as the rest area in Florence, SC before we had to stop. Sitting here, we watched the other four riders go past us, again.
We still needed gas before hitting Columbia, so I was starting to think that the other riders would hit Columbia and try to finish the last leg to Charlotte with a short gas stop. Vicki and I stopped in Timmonsville, SC for gas at a station that was closed, but they left their pumps on so you could still fill up by paying at the pump. We were now in my old neck-of-the-woods as I was trying to remember the different roads and where they went to-and-from. I helped pass the time as I-20 seemed a bit desolate and dark as we headed toward Columbia.
We went straight to the mandatory gas stop in Columbia to find the other four riders, and several others, standing around and socializing. Vicki was getting tired and sore and I was ready to get this last bit over with so we could get some sleep and hopefully hit some nice twisty roads the next day. I don’t think Vicki even got off of her bike at this stop. It was purely a gas-and-run stop. We weren’t there more than five minutes before we were back at it.
These last hundred miles went quite quickly. The traffic was very thin and we both knew we were in the home-stretch. I kept watching my mirrors, waiting to get a glimpse of the other riders that we had just left at the gas stop. As the miles kept clicking away, I was estimating the time that we rolled the 1000th mile. I was wondering at what point the other riders were going to catch up with us. It wasn’t long, and we were on the I-485 loop heading to our original starting point for our last gas receipt. We pulled into the gas station with not another bike in sight. Our official times were 19 hours and 43 minutes. Vicki’s time was actually nineteen seconds faster than mine, so I got a ribbing about how much faster her Jap liter bike was than my Ducati.
Overall, this was a terrific experience and Motorcycle Tourer’s Forum did a terrific job of planning the route and gas stops. It made the SaddleSore-1000 feel more like a scavenger hunt than a 1000-mile ride. Also, BMW-Ducati of Charlotte was real supportive in letting us use their parking lot and facility for our initial morning meeting location. They even had some the store open and were helpful if we needed anything. I was trying to get Vicki to let me trade my ST2 for the yellow 1098 they had on the showroom floor, but I guess my sales-pitch to her wasn’t good enough.