ZP. Running with the Big Dogs

Posted 7/13/2014

In late September 1997 I joined a group doing Rattle Can Keith’s “Oregon 12-hour Memorial Run,” a ride he announced on several places, including WetLeather. Rattle Can Keith earned his nickname because he repainted his motorcycle flat black using the spray paint cans with a small steel ball inside that rattles when you shake it.

Starting and ending in Albany, Oregon, RCK laid out a route he claimed was 576 miles, which went from Albany west to the coast, then south along the coastal highway, east over the Cascade Mountains into to the Oregon high desert, then back. I had read about this motorcycling specialty called “long distance riding,” and was curious. The apex of L.D. Riding was the notorious Ironbutt Rally, a week-long test of distance and endurance. When I was in my 20s I had always enjoyed long hours in the saddle so I decided to see what I could do at the slightly more advanced age of 48.

RCK’s route contained only 11 miles of Interstate travel; the rest was on two-lane blacktop including a mix of just about everything from tight, twisty mountain roads; fast, straight desert roads; and busy coastal highway.

We met for breakfast at the ungodly hour of 6:00 AM and departed at 7:00 on the dot. RCK gave us a pep talk at 6:45. I was awake enough to pay attention to him saying that it would be tough to complete the entire route in 12 hours, and the key was to keep in the saddle. Minimize your stops, he said. Don’t take a leisurely lunch, he said. Eat an energy bar or something like that when you stop for gas, he said.

“This isn’t a mini-Ironbutt; there are no points to earn, no bonus stops, no reason to get extreme. All you need to do is complete the route within 12 hours,” RCK concluded. We would gather at 7:00 pm at a pizza joint in Albany when the allotted 12 hours was up.

I took a quick look at some of the bikes parked at the restaurant and saw some Honda ST1100s, a couple of BMW R models, a couple of Gold Wings, a Honda VFR, a Kawasaki Concours. There were more than a dozen bikes, all with large capacity engines and wind-cheating fairings except two. One was an un-faired Suzuki GS1100E and the other was my HawkGT. My 650cc V-twin looked kinda shrimpy in this group.

The first bit, south on highway 99E to Junction City, was flat and straight and not very interesting. Hwy 36, from Junction City over the coast range to the seaside town of Florence, was much better; I vowed to ride it again when I could see it, as we hit very thick fog in this stretch. A damp road, a misted face shield and cold weather had me focusing on the road ahead, straining to see the next curve in time. I passed a lake at one point.

The fog burned off as we approached the coast. The full group had split up into smaller bunches by then, and I got separated from the bunch I was riding with when I stopped for gas at Mapleton. I caught up with a quartet from the group at Reedsport where they had gassed up, and joined them on the run back over the Coast Range to Sutherlin via Highways 38 and 138.

I was following a Honda Goldwing Aspencade with hard saddlebags, a top box behind the rider, and floorboards. The road was mostly straights or fast sweepers, with a few tighter sections here and there. When we hit a tight section the Aspencade rider would drag his floorboards on the pavement in the corners, sending out a shower of sparks. It was hard to pay attention to the road with the fireworks right in front of me, so I would go around the big bike in these stretches, in self-defense mainly, only to have him motor back past me when the road straightened out again. My HawkGT didn’t have the acceleration to keep in front of him.

These guys really hauled ass. One way to cover a lot of ground is to go fast. Minimum cruise speed was an indicated 85-90 mph, about 15 mph above my comfort zone. My smaller bike could do the speed, but the extra 15-20 mph really added to the wind blast hitting me. I’d only gone about 130 miles and I was getting a pain right between my shoulder blades, but I hung with the group until I had to make an unscheduled bathroom stop at Sutherlin. I shouldn’t have had that second cup of coffee at breakfast.

From Sutherlin to Roseburg was 11 miles south on Interstate 5, the only freeway part of the route. Another unscheduled stop just outside of Roseburg to fix an earplug that had come adrift allowed a trio from the group to catch up to me; I recognized the grey leathers of the Suzuki GS1100E rider from this morning. The other two were on big sport touring bikes. The route from Roseburg went east on Highway 138 into the Cascade Mountains. I joined them for the stretch east through the Cascades, again running 85-90 mph to keep pace with the trio.

The HawkGT started to sputter with 160 miles on the trip meter. Strange. With my expanded fuel tank I normally got to at least 185 before having to switch to reserve. The 85-90 mph pace was killing my gas mileage. I switched to reserve and dropped to 65-70 and tried to nurse it to the next gas station. I was east of the Cascades in rural Central Oregon and the towns are farther apart than on the earlier part of the ride. I didn’t make it to the next town, but was rescued when a couple from the ride spotted me and stopped. They took the time to ride ahead, get some gas in a plastic can and bring it back. Fine folk they are. My error added at least 30 minutes to their ride.

After that I decided to stick to my normal open road speed, which is an indicated 70-75, and not try to run with the big motors. I seemed to be in a vacuum at this point, with no other members of the rally in view, so I had no one to keep up with anyway. For the rest of my trip I saw only one other rider from the rally, and he waved when he passed me, doing about 15 mph over my speed.

The eastern-most place on the route was Silver Lake, Oregon. From there the route headed northwest into the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains, then south on Highway 97 to Highway 58, northeast on 58 and over the Willamette Pass to Oakridge. I got into Oakridge about 2:15, stopped for gas and ate the sandwich I had packed. The pain in my shoulders had worsened and I did some stretching to try to ease it. The route from Oakridge included Forest Road 19, the tight and twisty route where I earned my WetLeather nickname a year previous (see “Fun With WetLeather Part 2”).

FR19 is a great ride, although this day had far from ideal conditions. It had rained a lot in the previous two days, and the shaded parts of the road (of which there are many) were still wet. Instead of trying to blitz through I tried to establish a rhythm that would be quick AND safe. After about 10 minutes, I noticed the pain between my shoulders was gone.

My approach worked — I had a great time for 60 miles. FR19 ended too soon and the rest of the trip out of the Cascades and down into the Willamette Valley was on major state routes, very wide radius curves connected by straights. As soon as the twisty road stopped the pain in my upper back returned. Foo.

I got near Albany about 5:30, too early for the scheduled pizza dinner, so at Lebanon I cut west to home to rest up a bit and take some Tylenol for the back pain. Let’s see, home at 6:00 pm, 11 hours with just over 600 miles tallied on my speedometer gave me an overall average of 54.5 mph. Not bad but nowhere near Ironbutt averages.

At the dinner, many were giving Rattle Can Keith a good-natured ribbing about his mileage calculation. His announcement said it would be a 576 mile trip, but actual odometer readings from those who had completed the route were well over 600 miles. There’s talk about having a 1,000 mile 24-hour rally next summer. Hmm…should I?

These guys are serious riders. Some of the attendees were from Wetleather, and some were from the Long Distance Riders list. The LDRiders are the serious Ironbutt types. One rider decided the planned trip was too short, and added the loop around Crater Lake.

There were 16 riders in total, which added up to nearly 10,000 miles ridden in the 12 hours. Casualties included three speeding tickets and one guy running out of gas (blush). No crashes, no flat tires, nobody got lost. It was fun. No really, in spite of the body abuse, I had a great time, saw lots of pretty countryside, and met some really nice people.

After the rally I wondered if I wanted to continue doing this style of riding. I would have to add a sport-touring bike to my stable; the HawkGT was just too small. In the end I decided not to for a number of reasons, but mostly I didn’t want to give up the HawkGT and at the time I couldn’t afford another motorcycles.

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