Why is it that sleep never comes when needed most?
At this hour, normal people are asleep, but then again most people don’t consider what I was about to do as normal. I felt like a kid before the first day of school, a hunter before the first light of opening day. I was feeling the feeling you get when the amazing is possible but not yet guaranteed. My mind was processing the journey ahead in a way that overpowered the need for sleep, so, as my alarm was just shy of reporting for duty, I eased out of bed and shuffled to the kitchen. Cooking in silence feels odd, but I try to begin each day with breakfast, and today was no exception. Besides, I knew the food would fend off the cold. Having prepared the bike the day before, I said goodbye to my sleepy family, started the engine, and began the process of gearing up.
I left home shortly after 4, my lights cutting the darkness and annoying the nocturnals that were returning to their dens. I was leaving later than planned but wasn’t concerned; the day would begin and end in the dark regardless of my departure time. A few minutes later I stopped to add fuel. I had the pumps to myself but had to go inside for the receipt, a necessary record of my official start time. Thus the ride began at 04:25:37 on the morning of October 6th.
I had been preparing the bike over the past few months: new fluids, new battery, new tires, new windscreen and a few other upgrades. Still, being a 9 year-old machine and lacking the technology found on newer models, some would call it crude. No ABS or other computer assist. No cruise control. No touchscreen. Crude perhaps, but at the same time… pure. Older machines possess a purity that becomes harder to grasp as technology marches forward.
Mentally, I was prepared, arguably over-prepared. I plan for even the shortest of rides but this ride required a bit of actual strategy. Being one who enjoys the planning stage, I had already logged many hours with Google, trying options, refining the route and ensuring my fuel stops would be open when needed. Although my bike is capable of longer stretches, I planned stops about every 2 hours. This would keep me somewhat active and I wasn’t trying to set any records. My main goal was to arrive in good spirits and good repair as the long ride was just the first of four days on the road.
Back to the ride. As mentioned earlier, it was cold, and minutes down the highway I found myself stopped on a ramp, alone in the dark, adjusting my scarf. Layers are quite like friends on a holiday trip: although wonderful, each addition hampers flexibility. I continued but stopped again 30 minutes later for a final adjustment. The temporary respite from cold was an added bonus.
In the world of long-distance riding, one foundational truth is that success lies not in your speed but in your stops. So far I had managed to stop three times in the first hour. Not great but still inconsequential as my plan allowed for almost 8 hours of margin. Truth be told, the ride I was attempting, 1000 miles in less than 24 hours, is the most basic of long-distance rides. Elementary for many but a feat for myself. Riding has been a way to confront a few areas of fear in my life, and this ride was no different: Would I even make it? Would my bike die? Could I handle any difficulties? Would I arrive too sore to enjoy the next few days?
I wasn’t worried about safety; I was worried about failing. Having people see me try and not succeed. Missing the time window. Having either a flat or mechanical issue that derails the ride. As it turns out, I had one of each. More on that later.
Despite proper layering, the wind chill was proving a formidable opponent to my comfort. I hadn’t considered how a sunless sky would suppress the temperature, and although I hadn’t been riding long, the tension that comes from cold was slowly creeping into my shoulders. My saving grace for those dark hours were the heated grips given me by my wife a few months before. As usual, her contribution was invaluable.
We travel for the destination but even more for the memories, and at some point along the highway one of my favorite memories from this ride began to form. A small sliver of light began growing on the horizon, pushing upward against the dark. As it grew I could see the Tennessee foothills, silhouetted against an orange-purple sunrise. It was beautiful, and it was all mine to take in. The sci-fi enthusiast in me reveled in that moment, the only sound being muffled wind and road noise as I hurtled through the dark, damp vacuum of the morning. I was equally excited because the growing golden horizon promised something most welcome: warmth.
Still cold but refreshed by the sunrise, I passed through Chattanooga. I wanted to spend minimal time in congested areas so I skipped the city and opted for an exit about twenty minutes beyond. This was my first planned stop. I filled the tank, documented the receipt, walked around a bit, then continued southward. The next city was the one I was most concerned about.
Atlanta is notorious for traffic, and having made my fair share of trips there, I wasn’t thrilled about passing through during the morning rush. Turns out my concern was unfounded. I was armed with a transponder for the Florida Turnpike that afforded access to the Atlanta express lanes as well. It begins well before the city, gives you a VIP pass high above and around the gridlock, and spits you out unharmed on the far side. Crisis averted. I stopped about 40 miles later in Jackson, Georgia for my second planned stop.
This ride is a commitment to endless hours on the freeway, and to describe each minute or mile would be a misuse of time. Still, as the miles themselves are a character in this story, I’m compelled to give them a few lines. Riding has a way of gently overcoming the thoughts that battle for attention throughout the day, those small thoughts that can be a barrier to larger victories. When you ride, the immediate becomes paramount: speed, trajectory, and obstacles are given such consideration that most other matters fade. This absence of thought leaves the mind rested and renewed. Still, room does exist for thought, and modern technology gives me access to music or books or even conversation if I so desire. I mostly do not. In fact, I consider motorcycling a superb hobby for introverts. It is a solo pursuit, your helmet protecting you from both physical harm and the danger of too much interaction. Put simply, twenty hours was a glorious blessing.
I passed through Macon and around Valdosta before crossing the Florida-Georgia line. Interestingly enough, the border was a near-exact halfway point. Next up: Jacksonville.
I took a short detour to a cafe called The Urban Bean, a cool spot where I ordered a smoothie and something they call a waffle boat. Yes, that’s a lot of carbs but I was riding 1000 miles, so I gave myself a pass. I refueled, cleaned and lubed the chain, and set off again, emboldened by the food and a full hour off the bike. I was struck by how I had just ridden more miles than ever before… and how I had another ride of almost equal distance still ahead of me.
The sun was setting as I approached Deltona (I guess the name Daytona was taken) so I stopped and traded my tinted visor for a clear one. I was taking longer at each stop and was now several hours off-plan but I wasn’t concerned. I was well within my margin.
Next came Orlando, the spires of Hogwarts, and a noticeably murkier climate. Shortly thereafter, I changed course and took the Florida Turnpike. The turnpike was less direct but I needed the extra miles and was glad to avoid Miami at midnight.
The Turnpike has service centers all along the way; these exit to the left and allow you food and fuel without leaving the highway. I made four more stops that night, each one less than 100 miles from the previous. I felt great but knew frequent stops would hold any fatigue at bay.
I pulled into a Circle K in Key Largo, Florida at 1:30 am. A few minutes later I was holding my final receipt, proof that I had indeed ridden over 1000 miles in less than 24 hours. Thus the ride ended at 1:34 am on the morning of October 7th. I took a few photos and rode a few miles more to my AirBnb.
I was riding down to Key West the next day, but at the moment I was coming to grips with the fact that I had just accomplished a bucket-list ride. With no issues.
I didn’t know it, but everything challenging would happen the following day
At the moment, all was well. I unpacked and secured the bike, carried my gear into the Bnb, and took a much-needed shower. I texted my wife and climbed into bed. I didn’t set an alarm.
***the ride was as perfect as one would wish for. My trail-jack somehow worked it’s way off the bike somewhere before the halfway point, and my yellow aux light suffered damage somewhere around Miami. The V was flawless.
The next day I rode to Key West, stopping at Bahia Honda State Park and a few other places. As is my custom, I found a new taco truck, this time the one as far south as you can go in the US. I took a photo by the Key West buoy then found a quiet pier. I dealt with a flat and tried to sort some electrical gremlins.
I broke the return trip into two days, riding through the Everglades and up the west coast of Florida. More on that in a separate post.
One regret: not documenting the Iron Butt portion of the ride with photos/video. I was so focused on documenting my fuel and rest stops, I neglected to do much else. Determined to not do that again.
Bike is packed. 03:25 and time to gear up. These are the essentials: notebook, knife, watch, GPS, helmet.
The aforementioned Smoothie and Waffle Boat. Waffle, banana, caramel, chocolate, whipped cream.
Jacksonville, the midpoint of the ride. As I grabbed what I needed to lube the chain, I discovered my (home-made) trail jack was no longer along for the ride.
West Palm Beach service center, 10:45 pm. Fuel receipt #8. Looking more tired than I felt.
Key Largo, 01:38. My final fuel stop. 1045 miles from my starting receipt.