To try to answer that I am going to take you on a Motorcycle Ride. This is not your "Sunday afternoon, let's go for a ride". Everyone can understand that, even if they don't want to do it themselves. No, this is a test of endurance. It is not a race but it is far more than just a ride.
This is a tale of an attempt to ride fifteen hundred miles in less than twenty four hours. We are not talking about whether it should be done, all I am concerned about here is whether or not it can be done, and can it be done safely.
In advance I know it can be done, but I don't know if I can do it.
In every test of endurance you will find your limits. Leaving it all on the field is a time-worn expression to those who have pushed themselves right to the point that their mind and body says "Enough! I have gone this far, but no further". If you have never experienced that then, at least in that respect, you have yet to realise your own potential.
Whether it be triathalon, marathon running, hang-gliding or any other activity that requires a combination of mental acuity and physical endurance there will always be those who want to push it to the point where they reach the wall, then go a bit further. The acid test is to be able to do that while retaining sufficient judgement to understand when it is time to stop. What marks out the truly successful is the ability to know when the limit is reached and take away not the failure, but the lessons.
In one respect, twigg failed. Sad, but true. There is more to it than that, so let's go on a ride, and you be the judge.
On the other side of the Orange roadkill, is the tale ....
This was weeks in the planning. Along the way a couple of good friends have variously thought about joining me, wanting to but having to decline for good reasons. Routes had been planned and the bike prepared. In addition to the challenge of the ride, my bike has no business doing this kind of thing, just to add to the fun. No matter, we both have a willing heart and at 6.37 am Â on Saturday 17th March 2012 we left Owasso, OK with the aim of getting almost to Gallup, NM and returning before the clock struck 6.37 am plus one second, the next day. In the back of my mind I knew that the distance of 1580 miles, give or take, was more than I had to do and I had the option of ending the attempt about 50 miles early, and still giving the Verification Team enough miles to work with.
The first part of the ride was routine. A quick trip on I44, soon clearing Tulsa and, into the growing daylight, a ride south west through Oklahoma City and pick up I40. I have done this several times before and could use the early hours to build a time cushion that I might need later. To make this work you have to maintain an overall average speed (including stops), of around 63 mph. If your average drops below that, you will not make it. I had planned to stop for gas every two hundred miles. The first problem was that the first gas stop was needed well short of that point and what is worse, two hundred miles was a distance that should be well within my range, with plenty of wiggle room. For some reason the bike was drinking gas like it was going out of fashion! From the figures I now have there are two possible explanations, I'll get to that later. Meanwhile, this is not looking good. More stops consumes more time. Still, I fill up in Weatherford, OK, and press on. I also remember, thanks to a text message, to turn on my tracking unit so the folks back home can follow.
The ride is fine and I am warm and comfortable. A small rain shower doesn't threaten to turn into anything worse and I should be riding into excellent weather. The bike is running well, even if it is a bit thirsty. The wind is awful. Let me tell you about wind.
In a car, high winds are a minor irritant. Cars have four wheels and a great deal of lateral stability. It helps that you are completely protected, warm and can just wind up the windows and put the music on while you dodge around the swaying 18-wheelers. It is not like that on a motorcycle. You are pushed all over the road by the strong gusts. When the wind is not trying to push you out of your lane, or even off the road, it is trying to rip off your crash helmet. If it can't get that off, it sets about removing your glasses. In short, riding in wind demands total concentration. Did I mention that western Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle are prime sites for wind farms?
For hour after hour I fought with this. Passing 18-wheelers goes like this ... I am riding West in a strong southerly, so mostly I am leaning into the wind. When you get alongside the truck, the wind will die and it will try to suck you in, so you compensate. Then, as you pass, the wind re-appears hopefully from the same direction, and the bow wave from the truck hits you and you have to compensate. This goes on for hundreds of miles. It's safe enough, but it is disconcerting and it gets old very quickly.
Second stop is in Claude, TX. I am ahead of the game. My moving average is running around 71 mph, couldn't be much better, but I know that I will need many more stops than I have planned, and they eat time. If the planning holds good I know I have time for two hours stopped to get home with 30 minutes to spare. Those two hours will disappear fast. If you are really good, and can keep every gas stop to 5 minutes, then at this rate even just the gas will cost an hour. Unfortunately at this stop I get delayed. I wondered if the new ignition system was causing the poor mileage. Changing it back to stock would save me gas stops (and money), but cost me fifteen minutes. I decide to change it and then have the double blow of having to queue to get on a gas pump. It was not a good moment. Last time I was at this gas station was on my SaddleSore 1000. It was here I realised I had lost my wallet and, although that ride turned out well, I was going to avoid this place in future. Where did all those cars come from? And forgive me for asking .... but how long does it take one guy to wash a car windscreen? And just how clean does the damned thing need to be? Those gas pump cleaning brushes are just the right shape and length for a motorist to find one shoved somewhere painful! Eventually the guy leaves. His windscreen is sparkling, and I am under pressure.
So far the weather is great. A bit overcast, decently warm and my gear is performing well. One very brief shower but I know that better is just around the corner. I am crossing the Texas Panhandle, steadily climbing in altitude and headed for Tucumcari. I had already heard my GPS announce that I should "Drive five hundred and thirty nine miles on I40". Okay, whatever you say, just make it a splendid view.
Then something wonderful. It's almost like you just turn a corner, maybe lose your concentration for a second and "poof". Gone are the high, desolate Plains of Texas, and you are in the desert. Who put that there? I have never seen a desert before yet here I am. A displaced English guy more used to lush greenery and dry-stone walls, and now I am riding my motorcycle, a beast I built with my own hands, across the desert in the Western United States! I half expect to see Clint Eastwood and Lon Chaney come riding towards me, but all I get is tumbleweed. Did I say it was windy?
So how do I deal with this. The tumbleweed is going to cross the highway and I can't judge quite where, because it is tumbling erratically, and I am doing 75 mph. In the end it doesn't go in front or behind the bike. It goes under. You just can't rely on tumbleweed to do the right thing. This is just freakin' awesome and although I do not know it yet, this is just the appetizer.
So, high plains behind me, even higher desert laid out like a quilt in front, and in the distance I can see the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains. For a moment I quite forget the intransigent political climate, foreclosures and unemployment. This is the America of my childhood movies and I can see it, feel it, even taste it. Even better, I am making decent progress and my overall miles per hour is rising again.
Several mesa and much splendid stuff later, I drive though some wonderful rock formations and there, down on the flat desert in front of me lies Albuquerque, the city with the oddest yet strangely romantic name in the whole country, and I can spell it.
Albuquerque is, I feel confident, a wonderful place, but appears bereft of gas stations. Really, there may be some but I'm buggered if I could find one. I can't simply stay on the Interstate and hope. Hope will get you killed, or stranded, so I pick an exit and leave. There is every motel and food outlet imaginable, but these desert people clearly all drive Chevvy Volts. Eventually I find gas, right next to an On-Ramp for I40. Okay, but another ten minutes just went south when it was supposed to be going West.
Next stop is my chosen turnaround point. I have the gas but time is tight. I had hoped to turnaround in eleven hours. Twelve was the absolute limit made possible only because the Pilot Truck Stop was a bit over halfway. I ride on through more stunning scenery and finally hit Mile Marker 39, my exit. The gas receipt is time-stamped 17.46 Mountain Time. I am nine minutes over twelve hours. It looks like a very nice place to spend thirty minutes. I take ten, and don't even go inside.
At this point the GPS is telling me that I have covered 787 miles. It is showing an overall average of 65.4 miles per hour. That is not the 68 mph I wanted for the trip to be comfortable, but it is still doable, just.
By now I am feeling the effects of the ride, the wind, the many hours cramped in one position. I have been doing the stretching and exercises that I can, but a motorcycle seat is not the best gymnasium, and it is beginning to feel like a long day. I do not think too much about quite how far I still have to go, but I am mourning the loss of the break I had planned. I text Jodie and simply tell her "I am coming home, I may be a while". It was going to prove to be later than expected.
The ride back to Alburquerque was simply awesome. I know that I use superlatives fairly liberally but frankly, there just aren't really enough to describe that part of the journey.
We come from the Earth, and it is the Earth to which we all will return. As I ride across this place I have the bright, orange-red sun sinking behind the mountains to the West of me. I can see it in my mirrors but the effect in front is truly stunning. The whole desert is lit up red, the mesas casting shadows on a landscape that keeps changing color. It is orange, yellow now with hints of blue. Those rock formations are sharply defined and they appear almost ready to rise and claim back all that is their own. This ribbon of highway seems to flow through a kaleidoscope, iridescent and fluid.
Why do I do it? Well there is the answer, right there, this is why I do it.
When my kids ask me "What did you do today, Dad?" I could tell them that I watched Desperate Something on TV, or did yardwork .... or I could tell them that I rode my motorcycle across the Rio Grande, at sunset.
Around Albuquerque is where the Bun Burner Gold attempt finally bit the dry desert dust. There was construction on I40. The construction wasn't the issue, I had already been through quite a bit. The problem was the several mile queue of traffic filtering down into one lane. Whatever the later figures show, I mentally gave up right there. Maybe that was a mistake, but if so, it is one I can live with. The traffic slowed to a stop, then it was moving. Start, go slow, stop, restart, go slow .... My bike, any bike really does not like that. We do not have the large radiators with big fans. Our engines can cope, but they get hot and they protest. Also, stop/start is tough. It's feet down, then inch forwards and my bike does not like going slowly. The front end on these elderly Tourers is weak, and it wobbles at parking lot speeds. I had to keep moving to keep safe so I took to the emergency lane. I wasn't seeking an advantage, not trying to cheat the queuing motorists of their rightful place in line. I was simply trying to stay moving, and stay safe from falling over, or being shunted from behind. This had already happened once today, at an intersection, and the risk was too high. In the UK I would simply have "lane-split" the entire line. Here I wasn't sure how the other drivers would react, and it was pretty narrow through there.
No one seemed to mind. I puttered along as slowly as I decently could risking punctures and who knows what, because at the time it seemed the safest course. I will take the criticism if there is any coming my way, but I was there, and you were not.
Gas stop in Edgewood, NM then on to Tucumcari. At Tucumcari I ran the numbers. The traffic holdup hurt me badly. The GPS was showing an overall average of under 64 mph. That was not good enough. If I rode like the wind, and kept the stops for gas under five minutes then maybe ... only maybe. By now it was dark, I was tired and aching all over. I was facing four hundred and fifty miles of hard riding to make the BBG mileage. In daylight I would have gone for it. I had been averaging 72 mph moving, but it was dark and try as I might I didn't feel at all confident that I could keep that speed up and stay safe. I have a greater responsibility than a certificate in a drawer, so I called it and found a bed for a few hours. I bough a pint of milk and a candy bar. Drank the milk, still have the candy bar, and between me flicking the switch, and the room going dark, I was asleep.
McDonalds really does sell very nice coffee. By 6.30am MT, I was up, gassed up, breakfasted and back on the road. I now had eleven hours to get home, and a Bun Burner Certificate. I can live with the lack of Gold. Easy street.
The rest of the trip was remarkable only for the wind. It just never let up. I could though. The pressure to stay on the speed limit was gone, I could slow down a little. I rolled into my driveway a little after 3.30pm. Tired ... exhausted actually, but happy. I had done something few ever attempt, and that is cause to be quietly proud.
In thirty three hours I had ridden 1575 miles. I had seen deserts and mountains, I had five hours sleep and I had relaxed the last 500 miles. I had covered 1080 miles before my rest stop, a SaddleSore 1000 in about seventeen hours which, given the delays, is really not bad going.
The above picture does not include the time off the bike resting as the unit was switched off. Ignore the "Max Speed" on Garmin Units, it is meaningless, my other unit is showing a max speed of about 700 mph. The "Moving Average" had been held at around 72 mph, right up until the final traffic hold-up.
The early delays and extra gas stops had put me right where I didn't want to be ... behind the clock with the night riding ahead. I learned that a BBG is tough. The riding is difficult enough but there is another, critical factor going on here.
It is simply not good enough to consider only this one objective. Never let yourself be blinded by fixating on a sole target, You have to retain your critical awareness, and make sound decisions. I decided to stop. Had I not made that decision I may have made the distance but for me that is not the point. I would have been forever with the knowledge that I should have stopped. That carrying on was reckless, and I will not do reckless.
I swore, when I arrived home, that I wouldn't try that again, yet twelve hours later I was thinking "What if I did this, or that, next time".
I have now looked at the gas mileage figures. I generally expect the bike to maintain about a 35 mpg average on a longer run. On the run out West it was averaging Â low to mid twenties. I thought that it was running on three cylinders, which would have explained this, but on the way home it managed low to mid thirties, with a best of 36mpg. That's not brilliant, but I can work with it.
The average speed was a bit higher on the run west and that would account for some of the difference. I guess the rest was the wind. If I was riding into wind with any "headwind" component, and the ride back had even a small "tailwind", then that would explain the disparity. Looking at the elevation and speed data it is also clear that the journey west climbed 7000 feet, and the return descended the same. That would be a significant factor. Something I need to be aware of because my four gallon auxiliary tank never seems to actually deliver more than 2.8 gallons, and I may change it for the next size up.
The Elevation and Speed chart demonstrates why the Max Speed should be a pill taken carefully. This chart is a live recording of the ride as it happened. You can see how the blue line hovers around the Interstate speed limit, with a small, but noticeable tail-off as I slowed the last 500 miles.