The Up-Chuck 1000
...or how I ended up with George Zelenz's Sleeping Bag
Like half the field that started this sick and twisted SS1K, many of you will not finish reading this thread. So let's skip ahead if you please...
...as I cross the finish with about 45 minutes to spare, my motorbike which had begged to lie down at every gusty, windy TAPOT stop ("Take A Picture Of The something"), finally gets it's wish. Rallymaster George Zelenz walks over and says "Congrats, get off the bike, relax. I'll come back in a few minutes to read your ODO and check your photos." I went through the motion of putting my kickstand down, dismounted... and my motorbike slowly rolled forward, dropping gently nearly down to the ground at my feet...
At least we have that out the way now.
CHAPTER ONE - Discovery
Do you know about my mostly San Diego County SS1K coming up January 10th?
CHAPTER TWO - The Route
This route promised to be an all Southern California twisty madness, topped off with the icing of Winter. People often think of the beaches and palms, but those with an awareness of our geography know we have some formidable mountains inland from the coastal Mediterranean climate retreats. In fact George's first route iteration had to be scrapped because of dangerous icy conditions at night around Big Bear. It was a daunting challenge to work in a 1000 mile course in the constraints given, but his final presentation was a start/finish point at a coastal resort in Carlsbad that would keep us relatively low during the night and have us tackle the climbs and descents after day-break.
The final revision was 1019 miles in three California counties: San Diego, Riverside, and Imperial. To keep it for all intents and purposes off any typical freeways or Interstates, the route crossed over itself at several junctions and we had a number of cherry-stems to 'goes in to, goes out of'. It was definitely a high order route to program in for an SS1K, but with a number of back-tracks and crossovers I knew it would be a great way to monitor the progress of riders just ahead and behind you.
Streets and Trips did a fair job on the route, but Garmin Navigator NT didn't seem to like a "technically" private road called Sandia Creek north of Fallbrook, and a west-bound I-8 on-ramp to access Mountain Springs Grade in Ocotillo. The Ocotillo flaw was easy to correct because it threw the total mileage way off, but the Sandia Canyon glitch I admittedly did not detect in my electronic pre-running, as it only threw the total mileage off by a few tenths of a mile, hence it still provided a route that rounded to "1019 miles".
CHAPTER THREE - Fuel Planning
Being this was my first SS1K, and a rather aggressive one at that, I didn't bank on finishing the whole course as published. But I did plan to give it a serious effort, at least to the point I might fall behind the clock and have to finish the latter portion via the slab.
I figured that if I penciled out key milestones I could gage myself through the long night without using too much brain-bandwidth on road math. When I first examined the route for fuel availability, I quickly discovered mastering this could be the most important key to finishing. The first half of the ride had some serious stretches between fuel stations. My fuel plan was five stops, all under 200 miles: Ocotillo (172M), Ramona (134M), Borrego Springs (188M), Idyllwild (148M), Santa Ysabel (194M). The hook was Borrego Springs. Fuel pumps get shut off with the closing of the stations there, and the first pumps did not get turned on until 6:00am. My default pace put me there at 6:15am... but what if? If conditions lined up to beat my predictions then I certainly would want to take advantage of that gain, and arriving at Borrego Springs before sunrise with the expectation of catching a rest in the frigid high desert would have been counterproductive. I worked out an alternate fuel strategy to implement if I was on pace to arrive at Borrego Springs before 6am: pick up my 2nd tank in Santa Ysabel instead of Ramona, and fill an extra 1-gallon can. That theoretical 6.8 gallons would then get me to Anza (235M). From there I would do all the Riverside county roads and fuel up again in Anza on my way south (eliminating the stop in Idyllwild), still limiting myself to five total fuel stops.
I went over it dozens of times... old fuel records and worse case MPGs. It's been rare cases where I've ever recorded under 40MPG, and those could have been accounted for by bad top-offs, 2UP riding, headwinds, etc. The stretch between the 2nd and 3rd tank would be a test of wills on this ride - I even considered putting a piece of electrical tape over the prematurely "E" flashing fuel gauge. I really feared how this stretch would effect my psyche.
CHAPTER FOUR - The Riders Meeting
The routing had been difficult to decipher for some. It was not just a big loop, and it was apparently not such an easy set of dots to connect up for the riders from outside of the area. The meeting went nearly an hour and a half as each TAPOT was explained and re-explained, and each turn was clarified and re-clarified. Several late riders arrived during the meeting, each instance delaying the process further.
Despite the fact that he had emailed out GPS waypoints, George requested that riders bring a paper map to the meeting. One rider in particular seem to revel in his defiance of that request, and George gave him a friendly dressing down about his need to pay attention to some important instructions. The joke would be on me by the end of the ride, as I had no idea who this rider was. Since he is young and in good shape, I'll refer to him as "Bike-Shorts" for now.
Bike-Shorts was on an SV650. At some point I caught that his range was about 130 miles. I had discussed my fuel plan prior to arrival with Doug Barrett (VFR), the third rider in our apparent "Sub-liter" class, but in the mayhem of getting situated after the meeting I never got to confer with Bike-Shorts about the stretches I had investigated and how prepared he was to cross the desert stretches at night.
My impression of Bike-Shorts was that he definitely had the chops and the right bike to nail the roads on this route under normal conditions, but he was taking a long-shot on surviving the first half of them assembled as an SS1K at night. It was apparent he knew George from somewhere, so I had to guess he'd had a number of these under his belt like most everyone else there.
CHAPTER FIVE - Pre-Start GPS Error! Or was that a feature? Yep, a feature.
I don't run 'electrics' (heated clothes) and I don't hard-wire my GPS to the motorcycle power. Because I was on batteries only with my GPSmap 60Cx, I fired it up for the first time just after the meeting. I've been using a GPS for years (Topos and tracks), but am brand new to the street navigation software. When I loaded the route to auto-route I got an error dialog box that said it could only route 50 waypoints (the route was over 70 points). I thought, hmm, great... then route those 50 then and let's get going! Nope. Just the error. Being a bit hard-headed I attempted to load the route at least three more times. You guessed it, same error every time. I deducted from the repetitiveness that this would continue consistently if I didn't try another course of action. I found something in the menu to copy the file, then without any better method known to me, and time ticking closer to the start, I chopped the waypoints one by one off the end of one route, and off the beginning of the other, basically splitting them to Start-45, and 46-End. It worked! I would just have to load the second route sometime in the morning.
CHAPTER SIX - The Michelin Man
That's what I feel like layered up for the cold. Silk long underwear, non-cotton t-shirt, smart-wool long-john top, fleece pajama bottoms, fleece vest, motorcycle jacket liner, armored motorcycle jacket, motorcycle pants liner, armored motorcycle over pants, rain jacket, rain pants, balaclavas, winter motorcycle gloves and finally Hippo-Hands over the hand-guards.
I was a tad toasty through the Bonsall loop, but I really wanted to keep up the momentum and only stop briefly for fuel, until I could see where I stood against the plan on paper. Rather than adding layers as I got cold, I weathered the early warmth of the coastal mountains for the benefit of saving time later.
CHAPTER SEVEN - The Bonsall Loop
In the mayhem of getting out of the start... lane-splitting to the front of traffic-lights down Carlsbad Village drive... down a quick stretch of freeway... and more weaving down CA-76 it - was hard to determine how many were ahead or behind me. I knew my night time pace would not be too aggressive, so I would keep a eye on my "6" to let anyone around if they caught me in the twisty sections. On the Bonsall loop I chased some distance behind Peter Perrin on his RT. The only other rider I could positively identify that got ahead of me at some point was Bike-Shorts on his SV650.
Shortly after the first TAPOT in De Luz we had a beautiful overview of Murrietta/Temecula at night from Rancho California Road. At the junction of Sandia Creek Road and Rock Mountain Road the GPS alerted me to turn left onto a road marked with a warning sign that it did not go through. I was familiar with the written directions on the original route, so I ignored the GPS and it eventually re-routed continuing on Sandia Creek Road. After I got past where that road joined back up, Bike-Shorts popped up again on my "6" and I let him around. He later confirmed that he took the GPS directions down a few nutty-fun little dirt sections that connected back up, no doubt the reason I had briefly gained back his lead over me.
I trailed Bike-Shorts back out to CA-76, and followed him as far as the I-15 overpass. I recalled his range of only 130 miles and wanted to signal him to pull over and top off. He was a few cars ahead of me at that point and there was no hope of catching up as the road opened up. After the Bonsell loop we were already approaching 70 miles into the route with no gas available after Rincon (85M). I checked at each potential fuel stop but never spotted him replenishing. As the miles wore on to Morettis Junction I figured his only hope was to side-track to the 24-hour pumps at Santa Ysabel (if he even knew about those). Otherwise, if I ran across him up ahead part way down S2 there would be little I could do for him.
CHAPTER EIGHT - Stuff
Between Bonsall and Scissors Crossing I saw a Coyote and a Shooting Star! Thought I could work that into the report better, but there you go...
CHAPTER NINE - Momentarily First
I had no one in sight until after Agua Caliente Springs on S2 where I saw Peter. He flagged me down to see if I had gotten my TAPOT there. I had found it some miles back, so he had to then double-back about 5 miles more from where we were to get it. A few miles later at the Border Patrol checkpoint on S2 I asked how many bikes had just come through in the past hour. Surprisingly they said I was only the 2nd through so far, idicactng that I was about 30 minutes behind another motorcycle.
Honestly, that was about the time I pretty much wrote Bike-Shorts off. Having not run across any motorcycles besides Peters, I could only gather that Bike-Shorts had left the route to find fuel somewhere. I was pretty certain with only one bike ahead it was one of the BMWs or FJRs that I had seen scoot ahead of me on the CA-76 before the Bonsall loop. Whoever it was they had a half-hour lead on me. I just chuckled to myself and figured that is the last I will hear of them until the halfway checkpoint.
I fueled in Ocotillo and then roared up Mountain Springs Grade. What a boost to be about 25 minutes ahead of the 'paper' plan at this point!
Up on Old Highway 80 and CA-94 the wind and debris was putting on a real show! It had kicked up good along CA-76 earlier, but with the added dust and dry bits of vegetation and tumbleweeds galore swirled all around... I got curious how my air-filter would look after this ride. I was also thankful at that point I had opted for glasses over contacts with a long dry windy night still ahead of me. A CHP cruiser was positioned with lights flashing at a tree downed across the road, and I used the hesitation of a driver ahead to scoot around on the shoulder to get past the scene and leave me a path clear of traffic ahead.
A complete shock to me was catching up to Ken Meese at the end of CA-67. Of all places that I figured someone would catch up to me... rather than the other way around! We bagged the Barona TAPOT at the same time, and I actually got ahead of Ken momentarily with a tricky little U-turn bypass. Figuring his pace had gotten him far ahead of me at one point, I waved him past before we turned back on to Wildcat Canyon Road. Sure enough, I chased for a while... but he eased further and further ahead and disappeared into the night once more.
At Ramona I checked my milestone notes and realized I was on pace to exit Borrego Springs long before 6:00am when the fuel pumps opened. I implemented my alternative fuel plan and fueled up in Santa Ysabel. Having the notes of times and distances proved invaluable on this trip, as it was near impossible to gage progress from simply going over the numbers continuously in my head. The road speeds varied so greatly that one would not want a false sense of security of thinking they were doing better than they were on the overall course.
As I dropped into the desert the second time, I would soon be able to start gauging the rest of the field as I entered the " backtracking segments" of the route for the next 12-hours or so.
CHAPTER TEN - 4x4
The longest backtracking section in the desert was over an hour and ten minutes for me. In that section I was still unable to account for more than three other riders. Ken Meese up ahead, Peter Perrin staying within 5 minutes ahead or behind me, and what looked like Bike-Shorts gaining ground on me about 30 minutes or so behind. I was pretty certain it was him, but still convinced fuel management was going to stall him in Borrego Springs until 6:00am.
At the checkpoint at the junction of CR-S22 and CR-S2 I got word that indeed the only rider ahead was Ken Meese. George peaked at my fuel gauge and remarked I might have trouble reaching Anza. Sticking to my calculations and trying not to let the fuel gauge stress me out, I shook off the warning and said it flashes when I still have two gallons left. None-the-less I was worried. I was still 38 miles from fuel in Anza and my gauge was on empty-box flashing now. Not throwing all caution to the wind, I babied it into Anza. When I filled up the tank I put in 5.4 gallons. Forget the published capacity, I likely rolled into Anza with little more than 0.2 gallons. The headwinds in the desert had taken their toll and I had luckily not been enticed to go faster than my normal rate out there.
By Anza I was 1 hour and 25 minutes ahead of the paper route. I wasn't overly concerned about everyone else's pace, because my paper plan showed you could leave Borrego Springs for the final time at 6:40am and still finish the course in 22 hours and 45 minutes. But I found it hard to believe the majority of riders weren't at least within 30 minutes of my time. Chuck Hickey was with George at the checkpoint and made mention how twisty-packed the second half the course was. I pondered that and realized I had made up a paper gain in the desert, but there were no more wide open sections like that from now on. I would have to be careful to not let my average speed drop too soon.
CHAPTER ELEVEN - Nourishment and Bewilderment
Descending to Palm Desert I could see Ken Meese was maintaining his pace ahead of me. Peter Perrin was trailing by at least 30 minutes, and Bike-Shorts if I recall was within a few minutes of Peter one way or another.
I particularly enjoyed CA-74 from Mountain Center as it dropped towards Hemet. I can't recall having taken this route for nearly twenty years. I will definitely try to get back to ride this road again soon.
Once into Idyllwild, Turbo Dave's warning at the ride meeting about sand spread over the road was no exaggeration. Gusty winds and sandy spots plagued me to the bottom of CA-243 in Banning. It was so exhausting in fact that when I got to the bottom I knew it was deal breaker if I didn't stop for something more than just a cold snack out of my pack. I was still nearly 1 hour and 5 minutes ahead of my paper route, but I had to exchange some of that for comfort and encouragement. I was clearly the slowest rider of the top four, and there was no one within an hour of us. Whether I gave up a little time now or later was inconsequential, I would need to do what is necessary to arrive safely back, without giving up too much of a buffer for unforeseen traffic coming back into town late. Okay then, so Jack in the Box in Banning it would be then!
Well the JITB down there was the slowest in recent memory, but the whole detour only took me off course for 35 minutes. It turned out, with just one more sunblock break on the way up, I got my second wind on the way to Idyllwild. By Idyllwild my gain was down to 25 minutes -- but by taking a break in Banning I was also able to then witness Doug and Jack Backer on their way to Banning which showed me at least two more riders with a shot to finish!
Refueling once more in Anza, my lead over paper had only moved up 5; to 30 minutes now. I was pretty certain I would need that time later to shed some gear and change my GPS batteries, so I motored on.
CHAPTER TWELVE - Palomar Madness and the Early Bird Special Shuttles
Peter (652, 700, 701) was the first to reach Mother's Kitchen, but Bike-Shorts (653, 669, 670) was close behind and took his final lead while Peter stopped there for some food, while Ken (687, 688, 708) made his way up shortly after.
I had stopped a few minutes earlier to ditch my Hippo-Hands some where along CA-76 by Lake Henshaw. I recall at least one rider passing me there, likely Ken. I came across Bike-Shorts coming the other way on CA-76 as he was well on his way to doing East Grade Road.
I stopped at the bottom of South Grade Road do a battery swap and then headed up the hill hoping the higher elevations would get me cooled off again. After my run up and down the South Grade, then back up the East Grade to the observatory I had to stop again and shed off a few layers. I just could not risk being too warm at that point and it was definitely not turning out as cold as the day before.
On my way back from the observatory I spotted Doug's VFR (738, 760, 761) and pulled in to say hi. Jack (739, 740, 762) was outside with the bikes and I asked him to pass on my well wishes to Doug. I was still on schedule to make it in with an hour and a half to spare, so I didn't worry too much about them, but I was an hour ahead of them and I think Jack realized at that point their buffer wasn't very conservative. As the day progressed and my paper gains diminished, I kept hoping they weren't letting the clock make too many gains on them.
By my last fueling at Santa Ysabel I had a paper gain of just 10 minutes over my planned schedule. Traffic was getting heavy and I got caught behind a full length semi-tractor trailer and a line of cars coming down Banner Grade. I was fuming-mad watching that tractor rounding the switchbacks halfway across the oncoming lanes. Madness to see a long tractor-trailer on a tight grade like that!
Turning on to Sunrise Highway I saw Bike-Shorts coming out, followed a few minutes later by Peter Perrin. That put them at lease an hour ahead of me and gaining. Sunrise Highway was full of people looking for the last vestiges of snow. I stopped at the horse trail-head on the way back out to take care of some business. As I was approaching Julian I saw Doug and Jack heading down for Sunrise. Still at least an hour behind me and not apparently gaining at all.
By the time I tracked back through Julian the traffic became unbearably annoying. One crawling car after another. With clearly enough time to make a finish I patiently settled into the flow of traffic, now was not the time to turn it up. Not for me at least.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN - Oh You Devil
Highland Valley Road at the end of a route like this is like doing the MSF box with monkeys throwing feces at you. The one saving grace was the lack of traffic. Not the same can be said for Del Dios Highway which I aptly renamed Del Diablo Highway on this occasion. Settling in with the traffic had taken its toll on my gain, but I had it in the bag at this point so it seemed prudent. As I reached for the last transverse up I-5 back to Carlsbad Village Drive I was down to an ETC of 45 minutes. At least if the freeway came to a halt I could split lanes back. The traffic was moving well, but it was a very long 14 miles. After I was able to closely estimate my finish I started to get a little concerned about Doug and Jack's time. If they had settled into the flow of traffic they would surely come in too late to finish. To get in early they would have had to gain on me by at least 15 minutes.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN - This Wasn't So Easy After All!
So in the end Bike-Shorts came in a full hour and 45 minutes ahead of me. Peter and Ken were not too far behind him. As mentioned before, I came in with 45 minutes to spare... and drum roll please... Doug and Jack finished with 7 minutes to spare!! Whoopie!! Doug was still sitting like a zombie on his bike with his helmet on 5 minutes after his photos checked out. Tough ride folks.
So who was this guy I referred to as Bike-Shorts who took just 21 and a half hours to do this course? Well, an IBA ringer of course! It was Mark Kiecker: three-time Iron Butt Rally competitor, youngest ever to compete in an Iron Butt Rally, 2nd highest miles every logged in an Iron Butt Rally, etc, etc, etc... Look him up! I laughed at the impressions I had of him throughout the night. Great performance Mark and you helped validate that this was no slam-dunk for a noobie like myself.
On top of one of the best IBA riders ever not getting in under 21 hours, half the starting riders did not finish the specified route in time. Without question this was one tough SS1K. Many of these riders have done the Iron Butt Rally (2UP even!), 50CCs, Bun-Burner Golds, you name it. No one was scoffing at this route after the finish. I'm not sure how to top this one, but I have a feeling some sick and twisted mind will come up with a way to try...
CONCLUSION - Yea, I learned
It paid to study the routes thoroughly and closely examine every auto-routed turn on the GPS software (and have preferences set the same on your GPS as your computer if pre-checking on different systems).
Regardless of what you think you might need, if the rallymaster says bring something to the meeting/rally -- bring it! It could be a precaution or it could be a qualifier. You just don't know!
The tank-bag notes I had available to reference relieved a lot of stress, made it easy to cross-check my GPS ETA, and answered a lot of what-ifs along the way. Besides the obvious need of having confidence in the reliability of your motorcycle, any and every possible deficiency you can eliminate puts more focus on operating with safety as the number one priority.
In hindsight I probably should've taken my first pee break a bit earlier. I have a strong bladder, but it was a much bigger relief on the saddle than I estimated, and it would have paid to take that kind of break sooner. One thing about all the overlapping layers I was wearing in the cold - it takes a good extra minute to get put back together correctly!
EPILOGUE - Some More Info
Unfortunately, very early in the ride there was a high-side in one of the tight turns. The rider was able to ride home with another rider escorting him, but in addition two other riders who stopped to help lost too much time to try and make up. That accounts for 4 of the bikes that did not finish the course. In addition several others bailed on the designated route to make it back in time to celebrate Chuck Hickey's party. Tom and Rosie Sperry left the designated course at about 800 miles to make it back for pizza. One rider, Chris Ogden, deviated early from the course, but completed 1000 miles by another route.
The finishing rides:
Doug Barrett's Up-Chuck Reports: Iron Butt Forum / FJR Forum
Mark Kiecker's Up-Chuck Report: SVrider.com
Rick Clemson Photography: