The sky was pitch black; the fog created misty trails of light through darkness as the fuel pump slowly spat out my receipt. Relieved, I took it and carefully folded it away into the ziplock bag that held my odometer log and a couple of pens. I double-checked the contents of my tank bag and the fit of my gear before throwing a leg over my 2005 BMW R1200ST to face my longest ever planned riding day.
I first discovered the existence of the Iron Butt Association six years ago, when riding my Honda Scooter twenty miles to the beach via a San Luis Obispo County backroad was an epic adventure and generally a highlight of my month. Awed, I read the reports of motorcycling legends who crossed the continent in one sitting. I pored through accounts of the infamous Iron Butt Rally on Usenet and later eagerly hit refresh to track the progress of riders in the 2003 and 2005 rallies..
The *easiest* way to join the Iron Butt Association is by fully documenting (with witnesses and fuel receipts) a grueling ride of 1000 miles in 24 hours, also known as the Saddlesore 1000. Endurance riding certainly isn’t what I got into sport-touring to do, but glimmering somewhere in the back of my mind from the day I brought home my battle-scarred 1983 Honda GL650 Silverwing was the thought….Someday.
On January 13, 2007, Someday had finally arrived.
I had agonized over my route. I-10 west from Houston seemed like the strongest contender. I knew the road all the way to Los Angeles, with no surprises. For exactly opposite reasons, east on I-10 seemed like a good choice. I’d never taken I-10 past the Louisiana/Texas border. Could the new-to-me scenery make an ordinarily boring interstate run more of an adventure?
The forecast was sobering. Houston was in for some nasty weather, with an ice storm scheduled to arrive by Sunday night. Saturday seemed safe, with a 30% chance of rain in Houston and clear skies with warm 80 degree temperatures all the way east.
Sure of my choice, I decided to check another state off my list and told my parents and friends that I was going to go on a nice Saturday lunch ride…to Pensacola, Florida.
Cypress, TX to Lake Charles, LA
6:10 AM to 8:56 AM
175 miles (175 running total)
Fuel Used: 3.93
Surprisingly fresh after 6 hours of sleep (I’d been WAY too excited), the first segment of my journey passed quickly. The lights of Baytown’s refineries glowed in the mist. My relatively new HID bulb replacement burned through the darkness, providing more than enough light to guide me through several construction areas on I-10.
The mist actually turned out to be helpful. I was heading due east, but the sun had risen well into the sky before it burned off the fog enough to focus into a visible point of light. Under this wan light, I crossed the border into Louisiana.
I had heard several accounts that the interstate in Louisiana was a bumpy, pitted, wheel-rim destroying mess. Braced for the worst, I was surprised and relieved to find only three very short sections of bad pavement. I relaxed my arms and let the R1200STs suspension float me over the road surface.
Many people map out their stops in advance. I decided to leave some semblance of adventure to my ride. My only criteria for the first gas stop was that it be less than 400 miles from my turnaround point in Pensacola. I exited the freeway for the first time that day at a likely place just past Lake Charles, LA.
Lake Charles, LA to Lacombe, LA
8:56 AM to 11:33 AM
197 miles (372 running total)
Fuel Used: 4.12
The gas station was drab and run down, but had what I needed. After fueling and a quick stretch, I was back on I10.
One highlight of this segment of the trip was crossing the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest swamp wilderness in the country. I knew that I was in for something special when I started seeing signs with “Trucks use right lane next 18 miles.” The views from the elevated highway crossing were a welcome break from the piney woods.
Garth Brooks’ “Callin’ Baton Rouge” was in my head but strangely not playing on the Xm radio as I rolled over a large bridge at the entry of the city. I took a few shots of the skyline before concentrating on navigating the I-10/I-12 interchange.
Crossing well to the north of New Orleans, I began to see signs of hurricane devastation. Some businesses along the interstate were boarded up. I also saw lots of small homes with damaged roofs.
I don’t like to fuel up in large cities, so as soon as I saw my “miles to destination” drop below 190 miles (or less than a full tank), I found a likely exit. This, my second stop of the day, was just before the mess of Slidell, LA and the I-12/I-10 intersection.
Lacombe, LA to Pensacola, FL
11:33 AM to 2:22 PM
173 miles (545 running total)
Fuel Used: 3.69
I’ve learned in the past to minimize potential distractions when riding distance. My stomach had been gnawing at me for the last half hour, so even though I intended to eat “lunch” in Pensacola, I knew that I needed to get a snack before continuing. Some peanut butter sandwich crackers washed down with a bottle of juice hit the spot and I was ready to go.
It was shaping up to be a beautiful day. The morning fog had completely cleared and temperatures were in the 80s. Bright blue sky welcomed me to Mississippi.
The dramatic cloud formations near Mobile, AL had me going for my camera.
The camera stayed on as I entered a tunnel under Mobile Bay.
Shortly after crossing into Florida, a loud voice boomed in my helmet “Earth to Becca!”
Before leaving that morning, I had posted on my blog that I would have my phone connected to my Starcom and would love to get calls of encouragement. My friend Rebecca was calling to see where I was. I spoke with her for a few minutes about how my ride was going and my hopes for the return trip. Curiously invigorated from the phone call, I arrived at my turn around point and fueled up.
The next order of business was finding “lunch.” Being in Florida, I felt like seafood. The road I was on had lots of restaurants and motels. I soon found a likely candidate and sat down with an order of grilled fish and crawfish etouffee at the Shrimp Shack. (mmm…Cajun).