An Iron Butt Association 50 CC Quest
The General Is In the Club
By Mark “Buck” King
The Iron Butt Association titles this ride as a 50 CC Quest. Conversationally most riders simply refer to it as a 50 CC, dropping the Quest part of the title. I think that is rather tragic because this ride is all about a Quest. Most dictionaries define a quest as: (1.) the act or an instance of seeking or pursuing something; a search; or (2.) an expedition undertaken in medieval romance by a knight in order to perform a prescribed feat: the quest for the Holy Grail. While a 50 CC Quest may not be as romantic as a quest for the Holy Grail, it is still a challenge to perform a prescribed feat. The feat: Going from one coast to the other coast in 50 hours or less on a motorcycle.
Three of us signed on for the Quest this time: Ron Chandler, lovingly known as “Stinky”, Bob Lee whom we call “The General” and me. I had done this ride two times before successfully and Stinky once before. The General had never made the ride before but had dreamed he would someday make it. His dream was about to come true.
The weeks leading up to the ride are filled with preparations. Bikes have to be in top notch condition, a plan must be formulated, a reservation made at hotels and the documentation the Iron Butt Association requires must be readied.
We left Tennessee on Thursday, April 23, 2015 and rode all the way to Jacksonville Beach, FL. This is a nice little warm up ride of approximately 615 miles.
Our plan was pretty simple:
- Ride to Jacksonville Beach on Thursday.
- Chill out on Friday.
- Start across the county early Saturday morning. Crossing the country on the weekends allows you to avoid rush hour traffic in the big cities.
- Ride halfway across the country to Junction, TX and take a nap there.
- Get up early Sunday morning and ride the rest of the way to San Diego, CA.
The Thursday morning we left was a little chilly, but that did not dull our excitement as the day had finally come for the Quest to begin. The day was bright and sunny.
Chattanooga was just a formality as we drew a bead on Atlanta. Getting through Atlanta without getting stuck in traffic can be challenging but we sailed through by taking advantage of the HOV lanes.
We crossed the state line into Florida and began the discussion of dining at Clark’s Fish Camp that evening. In Jacksonville we looped to the south side of town and headed for Clark’s even before we even went to our hotel to check in.
If you are in this area and don’t eat at Clark’s Fish Camp you are missing more than just great seafood. This place is a real experience featuring so many big game trophies that you can’t take a seat without having close encounters with them. Check them out at this web address:
After dinner we waddled out to the bikes and made it to our motel which was actually in the community of Neptune Beach. It was the Days Inn there – nothing fancy but it was adequate for our purposes.
The next day, Friday, is built into the plan as a day of rest. Plenty of time for any last minute adjustments to the bike, a nice afternoon nap after a visit to the Atlantic Beach Fire and Police Station to get our starting witnesses. We actually got both a fireman and a police officer to witness our forms. Our witnesses were interested in our Quest and we had a great conversation as we described to them what we were about to attempt.
And we made a trip over to the beach to get sand and water samples from the Atlantic side. Hopefully we would be doing the same thing on the Pacific side only a few hours later! These samples are not required by the IBA, but to us it seems to be an emotional ingredient in the Quest that we would not think of leaving out. For us the act of touching the water and sand on both oceans is a critical and spiritual part of the Quest.
For dinner we decided to go back to Clark’s Fish Camp. Yes, it is that good!
This day of rest is good, but we have often compared it to horses being put in the starting gate only to wait and wait for the bell and the start of the race. The illustration is particularly appropriate as a week from our Saturday start the horses would be lining up for the 2015 Run for the Roses, the Kentucky Derby.
We set our alarms for 3:00AM. I think the General was so anxious that he was up earlier than that. By 4:00AM we had our time and dated gas receipts and we were heading west with Horace Greeley’s charge of “Go west, young man!” echoing in our heads.
Weather reports were warning of strong thunderstorms that were heading into Jacksonville later in the morning. We knew we were on a collision course with them, but there was nothing we could do but go and hope because the storms were heading east and we were heading west that we would blow through them quickly. And being optimists, we had some hope that the storms would be north of I-10.
West of Tallahassee the collision with the weather could no longer be avoided. We had heard the warnings on the weather radio but again our plan called for riding through whatever we hit. It grew darker and ominous as the wind and rain hit us hard. Traffic slowed to a crawl on I-10 and we had to focus hard on the trailer lights of the semi ahead of us. Normally, this would be a time when you would seek shelter, especially when on a motorcycle. But the Quest had only begun and it was too early to either throw in the towel or burn hours in a delay.
Perhaps smarter men would have quit but we have never claimed to be smart so we kept our right hands on the throttle. After thirty of the longest minutes I have ever spent on a motorcycle we broke through the storm. The western Florida panhandle was cloudy but storm free.
By the time we crossed into Alabama we actually had broken into some sunny weather. Riding through Mobile we got a nice look at the Battleship Alabama docked in Mobile Bay. My boys who are grown now still talk about the scout trip we made to Mobile when they got to spend the night on the ship. Only scout groups are allowed to do this.
We made short work of the Alabama boot heel and were in Mississippi.
The opposing boot heel of Mississippi went fast as we skated by St. Louis Bay and then crossed the Pearl River.
As the Louisiana border came into sight so did some dark clouds on the horizon to the west.
We took the I-12 bypass to keep from going the extra miles on I-10 that drop down into the Big Easy.
By the time we got to Hammond, LA where we had a scheduled stop for fuel and some lunch food, the front edge of the storm hit while we chomped down Subway sandwiches at a truck stop. This storm was not as severe as the one we hit in Florida, but we rode in it for at least a hundred miles. By the time we hit Texas we had clear weather again.
Your mind has a tendency to wander some when you spend this many hours in the saddle. (At least when you’re not in a storm using all your
faculties to keep from ending your Quest in a very bad way.) In the clear weather of Texas,being able to relax a little, I have to admit that my mind kept pulling up memories of those old margarine commercials that featured Mother Nature and the slogan that went, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!” I kept thinking that she must have been mad at us for attempting this Quest and had thrown the storms in our way to teach us a lesson.
In east Texas I thought the lesson was over but we were to find out the next day that she wasn’t quite done with us yet.
From the time you cross the Red River and enter Texas it is almost 900 miles to El Paso and the New Mexico border.
It takes a long time to cross the Lone Star State.
To the Texas Border we had covered about 770 miles but we still had 430 miles to go to Junction, TX where we had a motel room and a 5 or 6 hour nap waiting for us.
On the east side of Houston we stopped for gas and some food in Baytown. It was about 4:45PM Central Time.
Going through Houston is just as formidable a task as going through Atlanta. But we hoped on Saturday evening we would be OK. There was only a slight glitch around Waco Street as the interstate was closed for work and all the traffic was detouring on the service road. But we only lost a few minutes and considered ourselves lucky as we headed full steam ahead for San Antonio.
At about 7:30PM we made our last gas stop before Junction in Luling, TX. Now we were only 175 miles from Junction. The sun set in front of us as we made these last miles into Junction, TX. Junction is famous in sports history as the place where Bear Bryant took the Texas A&M football team for a camp. As the new coach he felt the team was weak and lacking in toughness. At the time of the camp, Junction was experiencing an epic drought and heat wave. From all reports the camp was pure hell. Something that could never be done in today's overprotective world. It was 1954 and noteworthy survivors of the camp included Gene Stallings and Jack Pardee.
We made it to Junction at about 10:00PM Central Time. We were in bed in five minutes. No one had to rock us to sleep.
After weathering the storms and still making it to Junction on schedule we decided to reward ourselves with a 6 hour nap instead of just 5.
While the day had been tough on us in-between getting our weather reports we heard the news of the massive earthquake in Katmandu, India. Thousands were feared dead. This put our Quest in a proper perspective. While important to the three of us, it was insignificant in the world view.
We were one the bikes and made a quick coffee stop leaving Junction at 4:30AM Sunday, April 26, 2015.
We were hoping that the storms were far in our rear view mirrors and we would have smooth sailing from this point on. This was proving true as the remaining 500 miles of Texas began to melt away. And melt quickly as the speed limit in West Texas jumps to 80 miles per hour. Our stops included Fort Stockton and Van Horn before El Paso.
At Van Horn we completed 1,500 miles in less than 36 hours which the IBA classifies as a Burn Burner – very appropriately named.
We stopped for gas and lunch food in Anthony, TX which is the community just north of El Paso and is right on the border with New Mexico.
It had been sunny and pleasant up to this point. As we rode through El Paso we were seeing the gray sky ahead and in our heads reliving the storms of the day before. When we made the gas stop in Anthony the cross winds were so strong that when we stopped the bikes we had to brace carefully for them to keep from being knocked over by the wind.
There was a Wendy’s at this truck stop so we had lunch there and then debated our course of action. Weather radar showed two fronts, one almost on top of us and another that would follow in about 45 minutes.
We waited while the first front passed over, mostly because of the warning of winds gusting up to 60 mph. We didn’t want to wait the second out for fear of losing that much time. So in the gap between the two we hit the road.
At this point I-10 is almost running due north into New Mexico. So for 25 miles until the interstates turns to a due west heading near Las Cruces we had cross winds that required our full attention to keep the bikes on the road.
After the turn we headed straight into the wind and it was much easier to handle. The remainder of New Mexico (about 140 miles) we fought the wind and some rain mixed in from time to time.
By the time we crossed the Arizona state line the weather had significantly improved.
About 85 miles into Arizona we made our first gas stop in the state in Benson. It was 1:20PM Pacific Time.
About this time you start thinking that the Quest is nearing a successful end, but you dare not think that too much and certainly do not dare to say anything out loud that would jinx it.
As we made time across Arizona we heard of the aftershock in Katmandu. Thousands more were feared dead.
In Eloy, AZ we had traveled just over 2,000 miles and earned an IBA award called the Saddle Sore 2000 for riding that many miles in less than 48 hours.
Eloy is the last town before the turn onto I-8 to take us right into San Diego. Along here we began to see the Saguaro Cactus. At first only a few, but by the time we hit Gila Bend we saw thousands. To us it was a sign that we were close to accomplishing our Quest. The Saguaro is often humanized in cartoons with its branches becoming waving arms. We could imagine that they were waving us into our victory lap.
Yuma, AZ is right on the border with California and we made our last gas stop here. It was 5:37PM Pacific Time. The Quest would be complete in only 185 more miles.
We thought it only fitting that the General lead us into San Diego.
Leaving Yuma the road climbs almost deceptively at first then by El Centro the rate is more pronounced as you climb to around 4,000 feet above sea level. Yuma, AZ is only about 75 feet above sea level. And of course from this height you descend into San Diego itself.
While dark it was still early in the evening as we made our way through San Diego proper and on into Mission Beach. At this point we were literally praying that nothing would stop us this late in the Quest. How tragic it would be to have something knock us out at this point.
In San Diego near Mission Beach, our time stamped gas receipts read 8:26PM Pacific Time. It was done. In spite of everything that Mother Nature threw at us we had made it in great time - well under our 50 hour allowance.
After gassing we went straight to Fire Station #21 on Mission Beach Boulevard. Upon ringing the bell at the station and explaining we were there to have our Quest witnessed, we had no less than a half dozen fire fighters out in the street helping us celebrate the victory. That was a sweet, sweet celebration.
Over the years Stinky and I have enjoyed and shared Far Side cartoons. We still miss them now that Steve Larson has retired them. One of our favorites has been this one of the dogs congratulating “Rusty” on becoming one of the members of the elite dog inner circle by darting across the traffic filled road.
Therefore, we are celebrating the General’s completion of his first 50 CC and his entrance into this exclusive club made up of the World’s Toughest Motorcycle Riders.
This is a copy of the log that the IBA requires each rider to keep during the ride: