Second place in Brit Butt Light Rally 2015


Hi Folks,

the rally is over and as I suspected, John has won it with a cracking ride. My planning was very good, I had spent a lot of time in the optimisation of it. It was based on a one hour buffer that should give me the possibility to bag a lot of points at the end of the rally. And if something should happen, I would still have the one hour buffer.

Yorkshire Dales - how to keep a 57 mph (91 km/h) average here???

Yorkshire Dales – how to keep a 57 mph (91 km/h) moving average here???

In the end, I was able to maintain the hour despite all the bonus location stops, text-in-bonus, spell-a-word-game, fuel stops. But at 4 p.m., with only three hours to go, my misery began. It was based on my lack of knowledge of the English geography. I had never been to the Yorkshire Dales and did not know that this was a „sucker bonus“ area. I did not know that Basecamp and the Garmin Sat Navs would would give me a totally underestimated travel time between the A66, the Tan Hill Pub (England’s highest pub) and the White Scar cave. I had never shouted the word „Bastard! BASTARD! BASTAAAAAAARD!“ with more fervour during a rally. But this only means that the rally master did a good job and laid out the trap. And I walked right in it. My buffer melted away and when my predicted arrival time was 5 minutes past the finish time without penalty, I decided to skip the nearby White Scar cave worth lots of points and went directly to the M6 to return as quick as possible.

The route. I realised after one hour I hadn't switched on the SPOT!

The route. I realised after one hour I hadn’t switched on the SPOT!

It was a good ride though, Rick the Rallybas….Rallymaster! did a very good job. This rally would have deserved much more attendees. John has restored British faith, I mean, a Kraut winning three British rallies in a row…. :-). Well done, mate!

Riding the Brit Butt Light Rally 2015


A couple of hours and I will ride this year’s BBL Rally, the little brother of the Brit Butt Rally: it’s only 12 hours instead of 36 hours, but it will be a short, but very demanding rally. At the moment, I am still the champion of the BBR15 AND the BBL14. Will I be able to defend the title? Rather unlikely, in this short rally, everything has to run perfectly and I miss the local knowledge.

you can follow my spot here:
https://spotwalla.com/tripViewer.php?id=e0a255a519aa250b0

It’s a long way from Tipperary….(days 9, 10 and 11)


I slept great that night. I got up late, had a long, relaxed breakfast and hit the road at 9:30 a.m. I went east on the same I-80 I rode west two days earlier. I entered Wyoming, but this time I crossed it under blue skies. In Cheyenne, I kept on straight and crossed the border to Nebraska. Nevada was arid, Wisconsin was hilly, but Nebraska was grassy. Only grass, grass, grass. And the road went straight forever. I basically stopped only for petrol every five hours and combined it with some food uptake so I could keep changing gears to a minimum. It was still a mess to get back in fifth gear, but I had regained confidence that I could make it back to the rally finish. I wanted to be there when all the riders would return. It’s a special atmosphere; no wonder the event attracts so many spectators. I estimated that I could arrive on the evening of the eleventh day; I had already my booking and I would be able to watch the arrival before the dead line of 8 a.m. the morning after. That meant two days of straight riding…..riding….riding….riding…..OMMMMmmmmmm……..

You think you would get bored a lot; you’d have a lot of time to think, to cuss and lament your past decisions. Or to drown yourself in self-pity.

None of all this. My mind was blank as I rode through these endless plains. Before the rally, I had set up the electronics so I could hear music while riding, but so far I hadn’t made use of it. And even now, I didn’t need, I didn’t want it. Just riding…..riding…..riding…..ommmmmmmm……

On day 9 of the rally, weird things start to happen to the riders. I had read all kinds of stories about this. I heard veterans talk of the weirdest things that happened to them. Apart from the physical effects that are mainly caused by sleep deprivation, it’s the mental effects that haunt the riders. Taking wrong decisions, confusion, unawareness and the like. Your internal battery is simply running out of energy.

But this was not a problem for me any more, wasn’t it? I was basically out of the rally and I could stop any time. Around 7 p.m., I got hungry and decided to stop in the next town. I was a bit exhausted, it had been a hot day and I felt like toast. Let’s enjoy the shelter of an air-cooled McDonalds and its delicious products. When I was sitting there, I looked at a counter opposite of me.

Hm, I thought, they installed it badly, it’s not vertical, but a bit tilted. Hm, actually, the whole wall is tilted. Wow, what a crap work. But how can a whole ceiling be lower at the right end than at the left end? I looked to the right. There it’s the same. And the left side? As well. Was the whole building tilted?

Wait. Again. Look straight: (skewed lines), look right (skewed lines), look behind (skewed lines), look left (skewed lines)…that didn’t make sense! All right corners were lower than the left corners!

I looked at the semi-transparent cup with Coke in front of me. The liquid surface level on the left wall of the cup was higher than the one next to the right wall….

This…..was….creepy. Very.….creepy.

I tried not to freak out. Let’s be logic. Unless the laws of Newtonian physics had ceased to exist inside this building (and I had no reason to assume this), there must be a proper explanation. Let’s see…in the past 9 days, I had ridden way more than 11000 km (6830 mls) with minimum sleep on a small bike, had barely had time to eat or rest, was roasted by the sun during the last three days, felt physically and mentally tired…what could possibly go wrong????

By stepwise exclusion of the more unlikely explanations (I skipped the assumption of a crack in the space-time-continuum very quickly), I came to the conclusion that something must be wrong with me. Hmmm. Assess yourself! What’s your name? Where do you live? What’s your birthday? Why are you here? Etc etc. The answers I gave to myself seemed quite reasonable so it must have something to do with my perception or vision. For the rest, I felt quite OK, it was just that I had the impression that everything leaned a bit to one side. Like on a ship that rolls to the right. OK, maybe it was a good idea to call it a day soon.

I mounted the bike and went back on the I-80. The next hotel stopover is the only hotel of the whole three-week stay in the US and Canada that I can’t remember any more. According to my spot, I must have stopped in Ogallala one hour later. I remember that I noticed on the road that all posts were leaning 2 to 3 degrees to the right and all bridges over the highway were higher at the left side than at the right side. I had concluded it was time for a rest.

The next morning, after a long, refreshing sleep, I woke up and I studied the ceiling of the hotel room. Hm, it seemed to be vertical. A good sign. I had a relaxed breakfast and left again at 9 a.m. There is little to report from day 10. The only change in the landscape was the arrival to Iowa: suddenly it turned into green farmland with occasional trees. I hardly remember anything of that day apart riding on a straight highway.. After a while, the optical illusion came back. As it was better in the morning, I concluded that it must be a stress symptom or a bad posture on the bike. The effect wore off after the rally so I guess it was a matter of brain overload. After the rally I had dinner with two other riders and told them this story. They confirmed both that they had observed similar effects.

I passed Omaha, Des Moines, Davenport…at 8 p.m. I entered Illinois and one hour later, I stopped at the Hampton Inn in Peru. No, not in South America. Peru, Illinois. I had a relaxed dinner and I knew I could make it back to the rally finish the next day: only 810 km (520 mls) left.

The next morning I got up even later than the other days. At 10 a.m. I left the hotel. As I knew that I would pass Chicago, I finally switched on the iPad and my head set and listened to The Blues Brothers when I passed Joliet and Chicago. This was the first time I listened to music. But the landscape was not monotonous any more and I had only a few hours to go. However, a well-known effect occurred: if you are not under pressure and you know you’ll arrive in time, the final stretch gets eeeendless. I stopped for lunch at a rest area and found this interesting place cover on the table:

A funny advertisement...the largest ancestry group in Pennsylvania is German....however, the language has apparently undergone some transformations...

A funny advertisement…the largest ancestry group in Indiana is German….however, the language has apparently undergone some transformations…

At 4 p.m. I crossed the border to Ohio, 440 km (275 mls) to the finish. The remaining miles seemed endless….Hello Pennsylvania, only 77 km (48 mls) to go….So in the end I would make it back to the finish! Bravo, little XBR! I had done it! I rode the toughest motorcycle rally in the world! I would not be a finisher, but I knew that without the transmission problem, I would have made it. Of course there remains always a certain bitterness about the bad luck, but this is part of LD rallying. Failure doesn’t bring you down, but it teaches you a lesson about modesty. It draws your attention back to what your priorities are, in life and in rallying.

When I exited the I-76 with only one mile to go, I thought that the shuffle mode on the iPad had selected the most appropriate song for the finish: „nada de esto fue un error“ (none of this was a mistake). Laughing and giggling, I sang the song full-throated. At 8:29 p.m., I arrived back at the Marriott in Cranberry Township, after 10.5 days and 8596 miles (13830 km). Nobody was there to cheer and welcome me. But this was no surprise, I was almost 12 hours too early. When I parked my bike on the parking, I saw the little green Ninja 250 standing there. Poor bugger, I thought, so we share the same fate in the hopeless class. While I write this, Kurt Wolden is still going in Leg 3 of the IBR2015 with 24 h to the finish – let’s hope he makes it this time!

I checked in, had a shower and went to the restaurant where I had an entertaining dinner with the rally’s daily poet Bob Higdon who could not believe it when he saw me there eating my large chunk of steak accompanied by a glass of nice red wine:

„Robert went missing a few days ago after he began to experience gear
box problems with his Honda XBR. Imagine our surprise last night when we went
into the hotel’s dining room and found one of our favorite German riders
contentedly eating dinner and having a glass of wine. Excuse me? Where did
you come from? He explained that he had never been able to get the bike
repaired, so he just learned how to jiggle the shift lever around enough to keep
rolling toward Cranberry Township. He’s a non-finisher, but he’s here and that’s
all that matters to us.“

A whole paragraph in the final concluding report of the rally. For the wrong reason, though…LOL.

From there on, I was able to blog again, so I don’t want to repeat myself, but I just want to refer to my posts from that time:

Back at the finish

The riders are coming back

After the rally…

So, no IBR for me this year, but as I still have some unfinished business there….what about 2017? 😉

I hope you enjoyed the reports over the last days. I surely have forgotten a lot of the details in the last two years, but the great moments did not fade.

After the long ride to Sacramento

After the long ride to Sacramento

 

The Ironbutt Rally 2013 on a XBR500

The Ironbutt Rally 2013 on a XBR500

It ain’t over till it’s over (day 8)


The IBR riders have reached the second checkpoint hotel in Tennessee in some extremely bad weather. By this time, they have already left the checkpoint, starting Leg 3 to end the rally back in Albuquerque.

In 2013, the morning rider meeting was similar to the one of the first leg, but Tom Austin made a surprising announcement: to be a finisher of the Ironbutt Rally 2013, you needed to have at least 60.000 points! I had expected a threshold of only 45.000. That was a huge blow to my aspirations to become a finisher. I checked the standings: I dropped from 36th to 74th place (out of 90 riders that were still in the game). The reason was that I missed the huge points (>8000) from Pikes Peak. The ranking was not the problem: I had 30362 points at that moment which meant that I needed almost another 30000 points! My hopes were that I could choose a northern route back to Pittsburgh to avoid the heat in the south. I had followed John’s advice to cut the lower part of the fairing to prevent overheating, but still I preferred to avoid the big heat. When I checked the rally book for Leg 3, I learned very quickly that the northern route via San Francisco and Vancouver would not give me enough points. In a frustrated mood, I built a southern route that would give me enough points, but would be difficult to arrive in time:

Planned route for Leg 3

Planned route for Leg 3

I needed to go down to New Orleans and it was clear that a similar effort like in Leg 2 would necessary to achieve this goal.

In retrospect, I made a a horrible mistake in my planning: in order to speed up the selection of locations in the GPS program, I took all locations from all three legs and deleted the locations from leg 1 and leg 2. As a result, I would have all the locations from Leg 3, wouldn’t I? It did not come to my mind that point from Leg 1 or 2 would be re-used in Leg 3 with a higher point value. This error I will never commit again.

All I needed was to leave. It was a nice and sunny morning with moderate temperatures (the previous afternoon had been very hot). In the parking I changed some words with a spectator that was interested in my bike. I mentioned that I should have got me lighter gloves for such a hot climate – he said „wait a minute“, went to his car and came back with some used DIY gloves. He insisted that I should use them instead my warm leather gloves. Thanks, mate! I still have the gloves.

I left the checkpoint at 8:45 a.m. Los Angeles, here I come! My plan was to bag four big bonuses going south in California. I was riding on a freeway with a 60 mph limit in some congested traffic, when suddenly Giel Kerkhof passed me. In the US, filtering/lane splitting is forbidden, except in California. I remembered this now and I thought „it’s still cool, let’s have some fun!“ and tried to follow Giel. His huge Harley zoomed through the line of cars and I tried to follow. Not an easy task, but I managed. This was indeed fun and lasted about 20 minutes when we needed to take an exit. When we went on a ramp, I wanted to switch down gears, but I couldn’t! What was this? I managed to get over the ramp with a sliding clutch, but then I had to stop next to the road. The fifth gear would not move. Yes, this has been a quick ride, but not faster than usual and the temperature was still moderate…I couldn’t shift the gears any more.

There comes a moment when you know: „that’s it. It’s over.“

I knew that the rally stopped here. I would not be a finisher of the Ironbutt Rally 2013.

But there was no time to be disappointed. My brain switched directly from „rally“ to „survival“ mode. I had to fix this. How could I do this? Where’s the next Honda garage? I asked two guys with a pick up truck who told me an address. Later they even offered me to take the bike there after they had delivered something. I tried to shift gears again. BANG! Fourth gear! It worked! BANG! Third! BANG! Second! First! Hmmm, maybe the thing healed itself? (Desperate escapism, isn’t it?). I wanted to give it a try…after 1 km, I stopped again…the first three gears worked, but I could not engage the fourth one. All right, that’s that. I made some phone calls and informed my lady at home and Lisa the rally master. I wanted to go back to Sacramento to find a garage. With MJ’s help, I planned to go to a dealer on the way back. Lisa had warned me that on Monday, dealers would be closed.

I went back to the freeway and rode in third gear to that address. Of course, it was closed. What now? Let’s go back to the rally hotel…John responded to my text message and phoned me, so I pulled over and talked to him. I never will forget the moment when a motorbike cop stopped next to me, his facial expression motionless behind his aviator sunglasses…“John, wait a second, there’s an officer that wants to talk to me….yes, Sir?“

„Is there a problem?“

„Er, no Sir.“

I was afraid I had broken some unknown law by phoning on a bike on the side walk, but apparently I didn’t, for he rode off not without giving me this „I’ll remember your face, boy“ look. So I went back north to Sacramento. In third gear. The rally was basically over for me, but that was not the problem at the moment. The problem was not to get back to Pittsburgh, the problem was to be at Toronto airport in seven days! That was my goal now. What would I do if the bike would break down? A 27 year old bike that was never sold in the US? Even if I would find an open garage, what could they do? Was this caused by overheating? Well, the rally was definitely over, I would not dare to cross the Mojave desert with this problem.  And there weren’t enough bonus points on the way back to the finish. So Toronto airport became my objective. What’s the direct route? 2500 miles (4000 km)…six days and nights….if I would go in third gear, I could do at 70 km/h (43 mph)…that would be tedious, but possible. Crazy, though. But what options did I have? I needed to take that plane, or otherwise I’d be confronted with a massive financial and logistic disaster. Maybe I should try the fourth gear?….I tried it, but the fourth gear wouldn’t stay in it’s position….until it worked! The fifth, gear, however, would not remain in its position. But at least my riding speed was increased to 100 km/h (63 mph)!

Some minutes later, I tried the fifth gear again, and after some jiggling, the fifth gear stayed in it’s position! Yes! Let’s roll. But when I had to switch down gears with some terrible noise, it was difficult to install the fourth and firth gear again. But this was less of a problem: after Sacramento, I turned eastbound on the I-80 again: the sat nav made a distance calculation to Pittsburgh I’ll never forget: „follow the road for 2489 miles“.

I went back on the road that I came from the day before. Up in the mountains, I took one of the few pictures on the way back.

A Honda never gives up: gear box sick XBR in California

A Honda never gives up: gear box sick XBR in California

On my way through Nevada, I had a lot of time to think. I went at some 65-70 mph (105-112 km/h) as I was not in a hurry any more. What had happened? I still have no answer. Gear box problems of XBRs are basically unheard of. Well, my first gear box lasted 232.000 km (144.000 mls) until the second gear died. I had expected that something similar would happen one day to this gear box as well. Since I had placed it, it never had the smoothness of normal gear boxes and lately, the second gear would jump out a little bit too often. But problems with fifth AND fourth gear, out of the blue?? That doesn’t make sense. Was I riding too hard? Not really, I was going faster than usually during the rally, but in Europe, I ride a lot harder than that. The temperature was still cool in the morning, so overheating is unlikely, the oil temperature was hot, but in a normal range. I categorised this as “simply bad luck”.

The gearbox was tricky to use, but slowly I learned to engage the fourth and fifth gear. The bitter thing is: the bike made it back, and I was riding it a couple of thousand kilometres in Europe afterwards. I still haven’t replaced it to this day. It’s tricky to shift gears, but it’s possible. Should I have tried to continue the rally? In retrospect: yes! But you have to assess the situation always under the light of the moment. I had taken the right decision. Would this rally have taken place in Europa, I would have risked it. But not on a different continent.

So I went slow, but steady and at half an hour past midnight, I arrived again at the Hampton Inn in Salt Lake City. The lady at the desk was surprised again. „You’re back? from Sacramento??“. This time, I was not in a hurry, I did not set the alarm clock….

On that day, I was mentioned in the Bob Higdon’s daily bulletin of the rally: „Robert Koeber lost the top gear in his Honda XBR500. Since his initial report we have heard nothing further from him. Something makes me believe he has an international following. I got an e-mail today from a fan of his in Sweden.“ Unless you are a top rider, it’s usually not desirable to appear in Higdon’s brilliant reports. It means something unlucky, terribly stupid or very embarrassing has happened to you.

Day 6 and 7 – „the long ride to Sacramento“


The riders are heading east. It’s interesting to follow the spots and the bulletins from the rally HQ. Day 6 is an intermediate day, time

to go for the big mile. Day 7 means getting to the checkpoint in time. In a couple of hours, the riders will arrive in Kingsport, Tennessee.

My planned route for Leg 2

My planned route for Leg 2

I started my night shift from St. Louis. I followed the I-70 to the west. The cone of my 22W LED headlight illuminated the highway. The traffic got more and more quiet and soon I was in a steady-state mode: the road, the dark night, the humming XBR and I. This monotonous rhythm was my companion for the next hours. Thanks to my Russell seat, I did not have any pain, it was like sitting on your sofa at home. I was going at 80 – 85 mph (130 – 138 km/h), that means at a speed that was over the speed limit, but would probably not cause the road police to act. At least this was the recommendation I got from the IBR veterans. I was not carrying the radar warner and at that speed, it did not seem to be necessary.

I noticed that another bike was catching up. It followed me for a while and I could feel the curious looks of the rider in my back. Then the bike passed me slowly, the rider greeted me and then he opened the throttle. Wroooooooom. The bike disappeared into the darkness. Whoa. I looked at my speedometer. 85 mph. How fast was this bike?? I had recognized the bike, it was one of the top riders (no name revealed here). OK, so this was how it worked.

I still was not tired so I continued my ride. I passed Kansas City and the big plains welcomed me again. After half an hour, I did note that I got tired. Well, I was in the middle of nowhere. The only chance was checking in the „Ironbutt Motel“, i.e. sleeping by the side of the road. But there was no rest area. I continued, slowly fighting against the upcoming sleep. I had slept only a couple of hours the previous night, fix the tyre problem and had ridden about 900 miles (1450 km). No wonder I was tired. On the other hand I had still at least 1800 mls (2900 km) ahead of me. And only about 40 hours left. On a little XBR 500.

It began to dawn on me that there was no time for a stop at a hotel. OK, the Ironbutt Motel  then. Finally, at a quarter to 1 a.m., I stopped at the Topeka service area and looked for a quiet place. I found a dark spot under a tree. I set my „screaming meanie“ 120 db alarm clock and laid down in the grass, leaving the helmet with my earplugs on. I was really tired, but I needed my time to come down. Approximately 30 min. After another 30 min of sleep, the infernal alarm clock went off. A powerful power nap. I felt refreshed. I continued my ride.

At 3:20, I needed to stop for petrol and had a light breakfast. I was still tired, but I had to push on. Finally darkness faded – but bad weather turned up. I stopped and put on my rain suit. I considered to stop at a motel but again, there was nothing out there. I was tired, but I had some distraction: I needed to fight against the rain and the wind. And where was a toilet when you needed one? Finally I tried my luck in the open desert – assessing the right wind direction is essential! The rain vanished slowly, the arid landscape got a little greener again. And the I-70 continues in a long line. At a quarter past eight, I stopped for another fuel stop. What, another 500 km have passed? I took another real breakfast. It was sunny, a lovely morning, but I felt very tired. Probably I needed another power nap.

At 10 a.m., I gave in and stopped at a parking area and looked for a spot in the shadow of a tree. The same story. 20 minutes to come to rest, 30 min of sleep. But again, the nap was refreshing. Soon I left the I-70 and took the Highway 24 towards Colorado Springs.

Airplane Restaurant, Colorado Springs

Airplane Restaurant, Colorado Springs

Around noon, I got to the first bonus point location since 18 hours ago. It was the airplane restaurant. I met Kurt Wolden there; he and his Kawasaki Ninja 250 were even more „hopeless class“ then I was. Respect! I went north to Denver and I wondered why the XBR showed signs of lost power. Was there a problem? But then I had an idea…I checked the altitude on my GPS…I was riding at 1800 m (6000 ft)! Whoa! No wonder the XBR rode a bit sluggish. I t would have been the moment to opt for Pikes Peak, but this convinced me that this was no match for my 498 cc, one cylinder motor with carburetor.

In Denver I visited the Forney Museum of Transportation, i.e. I took a picture from the exterior. I was impressed by a rider who had a peli case as a top case wich a connected laptop inside. He opened the case and checked quickly his route. And I felt like a geek because I was simply carrying a laptop in my luggage…There was some bad weather approaching. I looked to Rocky Mountain range….bad weather! If I had chosen to go to Pikes Peak….oh dear! The next stop was not far away. The Colorado Railway Museum was a few miles to the west. When I got there, I met Giel Kerkhof exiting the site. He shouted the directions to me and was gone. I knew he was in true rally mode for he shouted in Dutch. No problem for me though…

Railroad Museum, Denver. Strange contact with locals.

Railroad Museum, Denver. Strange contact with locals.

I entered the site and followed Giel’s instructions. I could see building where I had to take a picture of. There was a family car in front of me that just stopped. I waited for a while, but then I passed him on the left and parked my bike to the right in front of him. I needed to be quick as the thunderstorm could break loose any second. I took out my camera and had a look the rally book.

„YOU FUCKING MORON!“

Hm! What?

The driver of the car seemed to be particularly unhappy about the fact that I parked my bike on the last available parking space. He was foaming at me and kept yelling. Well, why was he hesitating so long? Under different circumstances, this would have been a good start for a fight. But sorry, I didn’t have time for that. So I chose a totally different strategy. Without even looking at him, I said in a relaxed voice:“You have not flashed your indicator“.

He gasped. He was not prepared for this. It took him totally by surprise.

„Well, um, OF COURSE I DID!!“

No, you tosser, you didn’t. Why would you?I didn’t speak out my thoughts but took my picture, checked its quality and put everything calmly in my tank bag, still not looking at that guy.

„Well, I couldn’t see any flashing light…“

He gasped again, this time he was speechless. I mounted my bike, left the irritated twat behind and within a couple of seconds I was gone.

Not a moment too early because now the heavy rain started. I went back to the main highway and continued north.

I crossed the border to Wyoming visited an old train in Cheyenne. It was 5 p.m. and I needed to arrive in 27 h in Sacramento that was 1100 mls (1760 km) away. This seemed feasible; I had made some good progress. I check my maps. It seemed wise to plan a stopover in Salt Lake City, this would be the perfect timing. Only 440 mls (710 km) to go. Not bad, for an „evening ride“…

The land got hilly now, after all I was crossing the Rockies. It turned also more dry and arid. Many times during Leg 2, I had to think of that particular episode of the iconic old Bavarian TV series „Münchner Gschichten“. The episode was called „Der lange Ritt nach Sacramento“ (The long ride to Sacramento): „only two days to Sacramento“

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjG6lnxExTA

(best scenes: 1:53 – 3:20; 27:54 – 29:30).

The long ride to Sacramento

The long ride to Sacramento

Slowly, some clouds came up. It was indeed a long way to Sacramento, but for this evening, I had no more bonus point to collect and the only stop would be at a petrol station. I rode on the I-80…Laramie, Rawlins, Red Desert, Rock Springs….I had to stop for fuel and it was right on time, a strong wind blew a massive thunderstorm right in my direction. When I wanted to fill petrol at the pump, I had to grab the bike with one hand. The wind was so strong that the bike would have toppled over! I was hungry, but under this circumstances I wanted to move on, it would get dark soon and it was still far away from Salt Lake City. I returned on the I-80 and then hell broke lose. The wind and rain made me slow down a lot. Sometimes I had the sensation that my front wheel was lifted in the air. But also this massive thunderstorm passed by.

I entered Utah and got to a lower altitude again when it got dark. I was really looking forward to staying in a hotel again. I had covered 3400 km (2125 mls) in 36 hours since my tyre change – this was a true BBG (Bun Burner Gold) pace – on a XBR 500! I checked in at a Hampton Inn hotel for I had made a very good experience with them: they provide check-in and check-out tickets, both of them carry a time stamp. That means I needed not to look for electronic tickets to document my rest stop.

The lady at the desk asked where I came from. Why didn’t she believe me when I said „Pittsburgh“? The restaurant was closed, but I purchased some snacks, I didn’t want to leave the hotel so I had a rather simple meal in my room. I planned to have a long 8 hour rest break, it would even give me some extra points. I slept very well that night.

Bonneville salt speedway

Bonneville salt speedway (under water)

The next morning was a sunny one. I had a real breakfast at the hotel and left at 7:30 a.m. What a luxury! But I had more than 12 hours and 1050 km (650 mls) to go. The next bonus point was easy: it was just around the corner. Piece of cake. I joined the I-80 again and two hours later I reached the Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway. A small point in the salt desert. Actually it was not completely dry at the moment, but a salt lake was still present. The next location was about two hours away, an old hut of the Pony Express. The Pony Express combo definitely a must for the top ten riders, they had to visit more than 30 location for this huge combo. Before the stop, I had been overtaken by Kevin and Lyn, but after it I was off first – I was working well that day. Of course, I was overtaken by them after that. Nevada is a very dry place – hardly any green around. And not very populated: there came a moment when I was running out of petrol! An enormous range, but almost no fuel left in the tank! I rolled slowly towards Battle Mountain and luckily, I made it to the petrol station, pffffffff. At 1 p.m., I stopped in a town called Winnemucca, a generous 30 min rest break at a Jack-in-the-box. This was OK, I had 300 mls (480 km) ahead of me and more than 9 hours left. This meant I was a bit ahead of my plan. Great! This meant I could collect some smaller bonus around Sacramento before arriving at the checkpoint hotel. It was hot now and the hot air from the motor was directly deflected on my legs.

North of Sacramento

North of Sacramento

Three hours later I passed Reno and soon I crossed the border to California. The road climbed up the Cascade Range Mountains and soon the Nevada desert changed into some very lush, green pine forest. After a bonus point stop near the Donner Lake, the long descent to the Pacific began. This was a good feeling, I had four hours left and only 45 mls (70 km) to go.

In the next three hours, I visited nine (nine!) bonus point locations around Sacramento. Finally some small bends again and as I’m quite quick at the bonus point locations, this was quite some fun. I even passed the checkpoint hotel before making another loop around and through Sacramento. At the last location, I met Matt Watkins who had left first at the start of the rally as he had won the „haircut contest“ – he had ridden a hell of a leg 2 and had done the complete Pony Express and Pikes Peak – impressive! With 20 minutes to spare, I arrived at the checkpoint.Sacramento1 The parking was already full of people. I grabbed my stuff and my arrival time was registered. I was lead to a large where also other riders were already preparing their scoring. I got me something to eat from the buffet and filled in the my scoring sheet. I forgot to include a stop in the right order and corrected it. Finally I was ready and after some waiting time I could enter the scoring room. This time, I was scored by veteran Jeff Earls who gave rookie meeting. This was a different atmosphere now than in the first meeting: everything was taken with a grain of salt. The corrected bonus point? Minus ten percent penalty. But then he wanted to strip me off a huge bonus – I can’t remember what it was exactly, I guess it was a general bonus like fuel log or something similar that did not have a particular time. However, he stated that without a claiming time, the bonus would be lost. I protested. This did not make sense. But Jeff acted so self-assured that I started to hesitate. Then he asked how this was handled in the first leg and we looked it up….it was done in the same way as I proposed it….he mumbled that there would be a problem. Finally I insisted in a clarification. We called co-rally master Tom Austin and explained the situation. Without any doubts, he confirmed my opinion. Phew! Losing these point would have made it very difficult to become a finisher.

I didn’t have to fix anything at the bike, so I could spend my time preparing my stuff for the next morning. I had made it to Sacramento! In the hopeless class! I had hoped for that, but Leg 2 was really the test for me and my small bike. If it could do this, I could also survive the next and final leg. I had already achieved quite a lot and I was on a good way to become a finisher. The only thing that was worrying me was the heat of the deserts in the south-west. Would the bike survive it?

Starting Leg 2 or changing a tyre can be challenging…


The riders have left for the second checkpoint in Tennessee. But that’s not it; many bonus point locations need to be visited. After all, this is not a flower-sniffin‘ trip. From now on, the real thing starts. Leg 1 was just a warm-up. The mental and physical stress will slowly come creeping in during this leg…

I woke up at 5 a.m. and I knew immediately that this was not a good night. I should have rested well, but instead I got only very little sleep. I shambled to the breakfast room where the riders were already under tension. An atmosphere full of energy. I talked to Bob Lilley at the table and learned that we had done the same distance – except that he did it in miles, not in kilometres! Very soon some announcements were made and President Mike Kneebone announced the standings of the first ten riders.

We had received the rally books for Leg 2 and everybody rushed to their rooms to start the planning. In contrast to Leg 1, the planning for Leg 2 had to be done while the rally clock was ticking! On the way out, the standing after Leg 1 were provided on some lists. Everybody needed to have a quick look…I expected myself to be in the lower quarter, as I deliberately had chosen to ride a very relaxed Leg 1 and to get a lot of sleep before I would start the challenging Leg 2. And anyway, I was not compatitive; with this small bike in the „Hopeless Class“…I couldn’t find my name…. I looked higher in the ranking and there I saw it…place 36! 36! Out of 94! That was a nice surprise! But this leg was more the „European type“ part of the rally, the next two legs would include more riding on long highways, with increasing speed limits from 65 mph to 70 to 75 mph. But anyway, this was reassuring.

I started the planning in my room. The basic route was from Pittsburgh, PA to Sacramento, CA. Some gruelling 2500 miles (4000 km) and only 64 hours to go…And this did not include the stops, visiting the bonus locations, rest breaks…I picked some bonuses along the basic route. I knew I had some points buffer from the first leg, but for it was also challenging to reach the minimum points in the end to be classified as a finisher. The biggest chunk of points was going to the top of the notorious Pikes Peak. A massive amount of points could be earned here. In retrospect, I am not sure if I took a wrong decision here, but at that moment, it just seemed right. I decided not to get there. Firstly, I thought it would be too far away from my route and cost me too much time: the way to the top, taking the picture of the cable car, all the way down…remember, I was under time pressure anyway. I overestimated the distance from my basic route, it wouldn’t have been very far from it. Definitely less than I thought. Secondly, and this was maybe seemed more important to me in that moment, the altitude was tremendous: a (literally) breath-taking 4267 m! The road started at 2800 m, that’s the altitude of the highest pass in Europe (Col de la Bonette). There, the XBR has lost a lot of its power, coughing its way up to the top. How it would react at 4000 m? I preferred not to know. So I left Pikes Peak out. Today I think that I should have given it a try, but the prime objective for me was to play it safe and to arrive at the finish.

So my route was designed quickly and I left already at a quarter past seven. I realised that I was one of the first. Well, that was no surprise, because I had chosen a very simple route. But I needed still to change the tyre. I went to the near-by tyre shop I had spotted the day before and asked for their service. 7:32 a.m.: „No, Sir, I’m sorry, the mechanics arrive much later, we can’t help you, but try another garage north of here….“ 7:42 a.m.: „No, Sir, I’m sorry, we don’t do motorbike tyres, we can’t help you, but try another garage north of here….“ 7:52 a.m.:“No, Sir, I’m sorry, we don’t do motorbike tyres, we can’t help you, but try another garage north of here….“ 8:05 a.m.: „No, Sir, I’m sorry, we don’t do motorbike tyres“. „But it’s not different from car tyres“ „Naah, wouldn’t touch that stuff! And no, there’s not another garage north of here, maybe you try the ones in the South.“ I thought I heard the sound of galloping panic coming closer. Was there no darn garage that could change a simple tyre??? I decided to return the 15 miles to the hotel where I could access internet. I searched for motorbike garages, but the only one that could help me was the BMW garage in Pittsburgh, but they would only open at 10 a.m.! And I had already lost 3 hours of my 64 hour time window! So I decided to start the rally, maybe I could find something along the way. I texted my buddy John Young if he could search for a garage along my route and then I took off…almost at 9 a.m.. By this time, most of the riders had already left.

Lindberg's landing - hope for my tyre problem

Lindberg’s landing – hope for my tyre problem

My first stop was in Moundsville, West Virginia. It was the place that Charles Lindbergh visited after his Atlantic crossing and where he was welcomed by 140.000 spectators. I arrived after one hour and was surprised that two spectators were already waiting there and welcomed me. As I said, the IBR is a big thing in the US. After I had taken my picture, I had an idea. Why not asking them if they knew a place to change a tyre? So I asked one of them and they considered the options. The other one rode a Gold Wing and knew a Honda dealer and was convinced by the first rider to escort me there. What I didn’t know at that point was that the first rider was nobody else than the famous LD rider Robert „Hoagy“ Carmichael, founder of the „Hoagy’s Heroes“ charity organisation.

I followed the other rider who brought me to the Honda dealer and explained my situation to the shop assistant. OK, they agreed to change the tyre immediately. Yes! YES! I thanked the Gold Wing biker and had high hopes that I would be back on the road very soon, probably in half an hour. Weeeell….it went slow….veeeery slow. The mechanic worked in a kind of slow motion way. I had time to call home and explain the situation and I also informed John to stop searching for a garage. In the end, I helped the clumsy mechanic because I could feel the time running away…when I got close to him, I could smell the reason why he was so slow. I had to watch out and lend him a hand so he didn’t drop my bike off the platform. Finally the tyre was changed and after one hour, I was back in the saddle. One HOUR! I hand only 58 hours left and 2450 miles (3950 km) to go! The challenge got just bigger and bigger….

Two hours later I arrived at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in Pickerington, next to the I-70. I was lucky: I didn’t have to look for an old BMW in the museum, I just needed the printed confirmation that it was temporarily not on display. I went back on the highway and turned south-west. I took my picture of the old boat museum at the Ohio River, right on the border between Kentucky and Ohio. Before, I had enjoyed some small bends and showed another rally rider what a little XBR is capable of, hehe. Unfortunately, most roads are different there… I spotted a fuel station and decided to fill up the bike and the rider. In the station, some delicious fried chicken was offered and I did not miss that chance, who knows when I could get some hot meal the next time.

I crossed Cincinnati and entered Indiana. At a moment when I was riding at 80 mph (130 km/h), I was passed by Bob Lilley who gave me thumbs up when he spotted me. This showed me clearly that the XBR could easily keep up with the low speed limits and beyond, but played in a different league than the cracks. I passed Indianapolis. Hello Illinois! The weather was fine, the XBR hummed and I was making good progress. I continued on the I-70 again and by 8 p.m., I crossed the Mississippi in the light of the setting sun. There are moments in your riding life when a picture is carved into your memory. This was one of them. „I’m a poor lonesome cowboy, and a long way from home…“ I felt like Lucky Luke on his Jolly Jumper.

Monster truck in St. Louis

Monster truck in St. Louis

I had to take a picture of a monster truck in St. Louis and of a train. The latter was in a museum that was already closed but I spotted it and with my zoom lens I could take a picture before it got too dark. I had to fill up the bike again. Well, again…with my auxiliary tank, I had now a range of 600 – 700 km (370 mls – 440 mls). That’s quite impressive. So I planned to stop for petrol and have some food before I would start my long night shift riding through Kansas. Due to the many hours lost already on that day, I decided not to stop at a hotel yet, but to try to ride as long as possible. But first I bought some snacks in the station and munched them in the cool building. When I spotted the name of the station attendant, I needed to ask him where he was from. And indeed, as I had supposed, he was an immigrant from Iran. The next 15 minutes, while munching and choking my dinner, I told him of my trip through Iran 5 years earlier. This was a surreal, but funny situation: there were a German and an Iranian in a gas station in St. Louis, Missouri, discussing my trip through Iran and the general situation there, while the Americans were paying their fuel. Another memorable moment.

I was ready for the next challenge. It was 10 p.m. and I started my ride into the dark of the Kansas plains…my first real riding after midnight in America…how far would I get before I needed to stop for sleep?

Day four – end of Leg 1


In a couple of hours, the riders will come back to Albuquerque and finish Leg 1 of the Iron Butt Rally 2015. This was only the beginning, but already at this early stage, first riders will have dropped out. Actually, when I watch the spotwalla page right now, I wonder if all of them will make it in time. Hurry up, boys and girls!

In 2013, in the morning of the fourth day, I could leave late before 7 a.m. because I had plenty of time to arrive at the Ford Museum in Detroit. On my way there, I stopped at the Buick Gallery and Research Center in Flint. Yes, THE Flint that was in the centre of „Roger and me“, the film which started Michael Moore’s career as a documentary director.

Detroit, at the river

Detroit, at the river

The closer I came to Detroit, the more the decline of the automotive industry with its impact on the cities became visible. Take the potholes in the road, for example. I took a picture of an anchor at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle. The funny is, it is actually visible on Goggle Earth! My next stop was nearby, a memorial at the banks of the Detroit River. I did not want to enter the pedestrian zone, even at this early hour, so I had to walk a bit. I wouldn’t care too much in Europe if I don’t bother any people, but in the US…

A couple of minutes later, I arrived at the Henry Ford museum. It was THE location to visit on Leg 1, giving a massive amount of points. The twist was: we had to take pictures of 25 artefacts! 25! And the trouble is: you have to find them in that big museum! In the next 90 minutes (after a hefty 20$ admission fee) , I had quite some fun, this was a real scavenger hunt now. At least a dozen riders were running around in the museum trying to find all the cars, motorbikes, planes, trains etc. This had a certain slapstick touch to it. But like on the road, riders help each other. So we managed to find the iconic artefact somewhat quicker. The European connection with Kevin and Lyn worked quite well.

Some of the stuff to be found the car in which JFK was shot, the first bike to cross the USA, the first „Otto“ motor (it looked more like a steam engine), classic car models, the bus where Rosa Parks set the spark of the black civil rights movement, speed record rockets, a replica of the Wright Brother’s plane, an entire DC 3 hanging in the air (!) and and and…

Kennedy's car

Kennedy’s car

An old VW"Käfer" (Beetle)

An old VW „Brezelfenster Käfer“ (Beetle)

A DC 3

A DC 3

Ford T

Ford T

This picture made me hungry, but the snack bar was still closed...

This picture made me hungry, but the snack bar was still closed…

Finally I had my pictures together and I could plan the rest of the afternoon. I concluded that I had enough time to follow the Lake Erie up towards Cleveland and beyond. I took a picture of a horse carriage in Ohio and wondered how I could pass by all this places in only a couple of miles: Milan, Berlin Heights, Florence, Birmingham. Again, where was I? I went up to Erie and took a picture of a ship in the harbour.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Erie

Tricky, if there’s a fence in the middle and the flag has to be on the picture as well. I met Phil Weston, IBA UK’s president and we exchanged a few words.

I still had some buffer left and decided to go to the first oil well drilled in Pennsylvania somewhere in the hinterland. I arrived well on time at the hotel in Pittsburgh, registered myself and went to my room to prepare myself for the scoring. I had to wait a while because many riders did the same. First anecdotes were exchanged and the waiting time was used to get some hot meal from the buffet. Finally it was my scoring time. In the big hall, many scorers were waiting at the tables. Impressive. First, my pictures had to be extracted from my card. It was a rally rule that the resolution of the camera had to be very small. I had particularly bought a small camera that still had this possibility, but it turned out that these settings were lost after I had used the zoom for the first time! Gulp! And now? Luckily all my pictures were accepted despite the large size. I moved on to my scorer who was also my technical inspector before the rally. Everything went smooth and in the end I leave the scoring table with all my points! None lost! I had successfully finished Leg 1! Everything I hoped for after my fuel problems. We would only get the rally books for Leg 2 in the next morning, but the preparations started right away.

My Leg 1 - 4700 km (2920 mls) in some relaxing 80 hours!

My Leg 1 – 4700 km (2920 mls) in some relaxing 80 hours!

I went to fill up the bike and discovered a tyre shop that would open at 7 a.m. the next day. Perfect! To my surprise, my rear tyre was already worn! After half of the estimated distance! I couldn’t explain this, was it the rough tarmac? Only later, a lot later, I discovered back home (I carried the tyre always with me, as a spare tyre, just in case) that my tyre dealer had made a mistake and sold me a front tyre instead the needed back tyre…..Truth is stranger than fiction. I needed to prepare all my stuff for the next day and to quickly take care of my bike. I wanted to fix that throttle problem, so I took off the throttle rubber and cleaned the handle bar. From now on, this should be solved. It was already dark and I still needed to prepare everything, including some personal hygiene. I realised that there’s not a single minute to relax in the IBR – you’re under stress during 11 days. Time was flying and finally my luggage was packed and my rally planning devices prepared for the next morning. Finally I crawled in my bed. Now, get some sleep for the alarm clock will go off at 5 a.m.

[…]

[…]

No way. The brain would not come to a rest. Sleep! SLEEEEP!

Brain says: no.

This went on for a while until I finally fell asleep….until I was woken up again at 1 a.m. by the !*^%“?£!!! iPad that makes an annoying noise when it’s fully charged. The same game again. My conscience did not make the situation any better: I knew Leg 2 was a killer. 2500 miles in about 60 hours! From Pittsburgh to Sacramento, California in one go. For a small bike like the XBR, this was really the ultimate test. So, get some slcchhhrrrrrrrrrrrr……