The Iron Butt run 2009


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Good morning Ladies and Gents.
I’m slowly trying to settle back into a daily routine after returning from my vacation.
I’ll mostly be talking about the bike part as that’s probably what you’re more interested in, but after an endurance motorbike ride followed by 6 days of my butt in the saddle I got home, unpacked and then rushed off to do a 6km (3.7 mile) run through the centre of London for Crisis, a homeless charity (umm, a charity for the homeless, not a charity without a home). It’s only the second time I’ve ever actually done any oragnised running, aside from a short dash to catch the bus, so I was very impressed to complete it in 35 minutes and without any major issues. However in the following days my thighs and knees were, and still are, in complete agony.
Anyway, after the evening charity run, I had to rush home and pick up a few friends to come stay over at mine, because at 3am we left home to fly off to Amsterdam for a stag party weekend.

So here I am Monday morning, with a sore back and butt from the 2400 miles in the saddle, aching thighs and knees from the run, and a sore head and severe lack of sleep from my weekend in Amsterdam!


Oh and by the way, this isn’t for the faint hearted… it’s a long one!
[I have to warn all the ladies that]

Before you start asking about pictures, I’m gonna put a few in here, but there’s 250 of them for you to browse at your leisure at:

Anyway, back to the bit you’re probably interested in: the Iron Butt End to End GOLD ride.
Carving a route of over 1000 miles within 24 hours from Land’s End, the Southern-most tip of England, up to John O’Groats, the most Northern point of mainland Scotland.
We did it… by the skin of our teeth, but we did it. 23 hours and 50 minutes to be precise.
The most frequently travelled route for the “End to End” from Land’s End to John O’Groats is only 874 miles, so to make our ride viable for the “End to End GOLD” ride of over 1000 miles, we had to detour via London and loop around Birmingham, which creates a sweeping S shaped route across the country instead of a simple direct line from SouthWest to NorthEast.

4 of us were to be attempting this feat. Myself, Steve, the youngest, better looking, and most bearded member of our group; Russ, our American friend and ride leader, veteran of various Iron Butt rides and an ex- Chief ride planner for his HOG chapter back in the US of A; Roland, the more jolly (large) member; and Mike, the bald one Cheesy
I know the 3 old timers from the North London Honda Owners Club, for which my Dad is the secretary.
Our journey began on Thursday morning (28th May) when 3 of us, myself, Mike and Roland rode from London to Penzance (of ‘Pirates’ fame) where we would sojourn for the evening before making the 10 mile trip to Land’s End on the Friday to commence our Iron Butt ride.

Just before leaving home, I took a photo of my odometer reading: 9343

Leaving the Kings Head pub in East London where we usually meet for our HOC social gatherings at 9am on the Thursday morning, we took the direct route on motorway M25 around North London to the (in?)famous Ace Café for a fried breakfast. After eating, we commenced our long scenic 361 mile route down to Penzance.

I didn’t want to rush the ride down, as I knew the Iron Butt ride would be pushing us to our limits, but I didn’t expect the ride to take us 12 hours!!
It quickly became apparent that Mike was not the most confident or comfortable rider. He’d owned his current steed (a Honda Deauville …think a slightly smaller version of the ST1300) for 2 years, but was obviously not one to do much riding. As such he found it hard to keep in a staggered formation and even ride to the speed limit! I’ve ridden with Roland before so didn’t make any assumptions about him, but having never ridden with Mike, I just assumed that he would be proficient enough to ride to the speed limit and confident enough in his riding…. Oh well. Anyway, we stopped a few more times than I liked and for longer periods than I liked, but I guess the oldies I was riding with couldn’t be expected to have the same kind of stamina as myself.
We arrived in Penzance around 8:30pm. Russ had ridden down the day before as he wanted to visit some local castles as shortly after our trip he would be heading back to the US indefinitely… By the time we got to our rooms in local Bed and Breakfast (B&B) lodgings, Russ was already dined and ready for bed, so Mike, Roland and I went out, grabbed a few beers to help our excited minds rest, and then went to a local fast food vendor for some delicious dinner.

Waking at 8am for a traditional cooked breakfast of 2 fried eggs, 2 sausages, 2 bacon, toast, baked beans, some HP sauce and a pot of tea, I felt refreshed and relaxed and ready for our adventure.
The only one of our group not riding a Honda Deauville, I was restricted to just 2 saddlebags, whereas the Hondas had an additional topbox. My Saddlemen Extra Jumbo Cruisin bags didn’t feel too ‘extra jumbo’ but they sure weighed it with all the necessary motorcycle survival tools and necessary clean boxer shorts (and the customary condom (just in case -they can be used to carry up to 2 litres of water!)
Where was I? … oh, so I got packing and showered etc. then met up with Mike and Roland and we rode the short 10 mile ride to Land’s End where we met Russ, our ride leader.
Now, I have no idea how he does it, but somehow (and very, very annoyingly) Mike is able to rapidly decelerate mid-corner without any obvious tell-tale signs like, for example a brake-light flash, or a wild waving of his arms in the air in a crazed manner. I don’t know how he does it, it’s impressive, but at the same time, extremely scary when he does it on every corner, no matter how wide and clear.
No matter how far I held back behind him, I still managed to somehow rapidly come up to him. I would have ridden in the front, but I’m aware that my exhaust is extremely loud and my considerate side doesn’t like to have people I know riding behind me and being subjected to the beautiful ear-splitting rumble of my 900cc v-twin engine Smiley  So I stuck to riding at the back because I like it there, and I think that if I rode up front, Mike would have been left behind due to his awkward cornering and straight-line riding.

At the Lands End Hotel (which I think is pretty much the only thing in Lands End!), we met up with Russ, and rode our bikes down to the famous marker sign which designates the end of the world. Sadly you have to pay to be photographed next to the sign, as it’s cordoned off by a chain. But because we were doing our Iron Butt ride for charity, we were wearing monogrammed high-vis vests and as such we managed to get a discount on the photos because we were riding for a good cause.

I took another photo of my odometer reading to show the start of the ride: 9704

Sitting down for a coffee, Russ talked us through the ride, that we would be riding in a tight staggered formation, etc. etc.
If I had known what I know now, well, if Mike had told us that he wasn’t comfortable riding in close proximity and liked to ride at 10mph below the speed limit, then maybe the prep talk would have been different… but at this stage, we all assumed that Mike could ride. I’m sure Russ would have also reiterated to Roland that a 5 minute stop to get a petrol receipt doesn’t mean that you buy a coffee and call the wife…

I’m not sure I could give a minute-by-minute or hour-by-hour blow-by-blow account of our ride, I’m not sure you’d be interested to know that at 3pm I got an annoying itch that I was unable to scratch until we stopped in an hour’s time… or that despite not knowing any more than a few lines to ‘Born to be wild’ I still managed to sing the few words I know over and over for half an hour.

Our ride was planned to take about 20 hours. This gave 4 hours for any unforeseen circumstances. Thankfully! We had to ride via London, then Birmingham, and we did miss the worst of the rush-hour traffic, but that didn’t really matter because there were major roadworks on the motorways restricting our 3 lanes down to 1. Bummer. So for about 3 hours during the evening, instead of travelling at the 70mph speed limit, we were cruising at the warp speed of 20mph, between cars which may as well have been parked. We could have gone a little quicker, but I guess Mike forgot to inform us that he doesn’t like to filter through traffic… so Mike and I promptly lost Russ who was leading and Roland who was following him. We caught them up when I got frustrated and overtook him and shot off forcing Mike to keep up.
When out of the traffic we also learnt that Mike couldn’t ride in a staggered formation, he was finding it hard to stay in position in the lane and was being severely affected by ‘wind buffeting’ that no-one else felt.
Russ was riding at 70mph… Roland behind him was forced to do 65 so that he didn’t lose sight of Mike behind him who was doing 60… and I was sat at the back doing 55 contemplating overtaking him and leaving him behind.
I could tell Russ was getting annoyed. I was too, but I was less obvious about it. This would be his last chance to do the End to End GOLD and he didn’t want it to be as stressful as Mike and Roland were making it. I was trying to keep the peace.

There was nothing really of any noticeable excitement throughout the journey. We stopped at one petrol station and Roland was complaining of his gearbox making a funny noise, so we rode off slowly to let me listen for a clunking, and he either didn’t give it enough throttle or something went wrong, anyway, the engine died and the bike just flopped over onto it’s side. After some chuckling and mocking, we got the bike and rider up, no damage to either, and continued on.
At about 11 pm, we were pulling out of a car park from a service station break, and I didn’t give it enough gas either and I toppled to the left at less than 2mph. No damage to the bike whatsoever. The engine guard propped up the front, and the saddlebag kept the rear off the ground. Lots of blushing under the helmet, but it was dark and the car park was empty so no-one saw!

Riding up into Scotland around 3am, the sun started coming up! We took the beautifully scenic A9 road which winds up towards the north. Lots of wide stretches, plenty of overtaking opportunities at 7am with the beginnings of the ‘rush-hour’ traffic… Mike seemed to have trouble with that too. So much so that Russ was starting to worry that we’d miss the deadline and not make it in 24 hours. There were so many chances for safe overtakes, but Mike wouldn’t take them. Even when I would pull out and flash him and beep the horn, he’d still not budge. So I shot off and left him behind, hoping he’d catch up. He did, but as a mind-numbingly slow pace.
So much so that Roland was holding back behind Russ to keep us in sight, and he in turn lost Russ who was now very agitated with Mike. We arrived in Inverness, the largest town before John O’Groats at 9am… the time we planned to have arrived at the finish line. There were about 110 miles to go, but it was all single lane, twisties mostly at 60mph, but with quite a few small village areas at 30mph… coupled with the potential early morning traffic.

At the most inappropriate of times, Roland said he wanted to stop for a coffee… if this had been a cartoon, Russ’ eyes would have popped out and steam would have shot out of his ears as his face turned bright red….. somewhat unfortunately that didn’t happen, but Roland did go and get a coffee and Mike stayed with him.
Russ had actually done the End to End route before as part of a more complex Four Corners ride. He said it might still be possible to complete the E2E GOLD, but we’d have to leave now. I hadn’t come all this way to fail, so I left with Russ and we bid farewell to Roland and Mike.

The last 110 miles were at a great pace and in a neat, tidy staggered formation, just the way it should have been from Lands End, 21 hours ago. To get our mileage over 1000 miles, from Inverness, we had to take a specific route up to the small town or Thurso, and get a receipt there, before the last 20 mile dash to John O’Groats.
The roads were twisty, the landscape was beautiful, and John O’Groats itself was slightly disappointing. Not particularly attractive, very quiet and definitely not somewhere I would even remotely consider going if it weren’t for it’s landmark location.
Well Russ and I arrived at 11:40… had to get a form signed at the Seaview Hotel, and then make our way to the Post Office to get our final receipt to make the end of the ride. My final receipt shows 11:58am. My starting receipt said 12:09pm. … that’s a close call in anyone’s book!!
As Russ and I were getting our final receipt, Mike and Roland turned up! Congratulations to them for making it within the 24 hours, but Russ doesn’t think that their route would have taken them over the 1000 miles as they missed the important Thurso stop…. In the end, who really cares about if they made the End to End certification or the End to End GOLD certification. Either way, Lands End to John O’Groats on a motorcycle in 24 hours covering over (or just under) 1000 miles is still a damned impressive feat.

We then had a nice cooked breakfast and a pint (yeah, I know, I don’t usually drink and then ride, but I felt this was a special circumstance) … then we went to the John O’Groats landmark signpost and paid to have our picture taken there too. The photographer at this end wasn’t as friendly, and I’m not sure why he chose to take it in ‘portrait’ mode, but it’s still a nice souvenir. (There’s only 3 bikes in this one as Mike didn’t like the idea of riding up the short gravel path to the post)

And the final odometer reading of: 10723

I really enjoyed the experience and I know the idea of an endurance ride isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I think that it’s something that everyone should attempt once in their life. It's definitely one which separates the men from the boys!

Sunday morning was the beginning of my tour around Scotland with Russ. Roland was going home as he had to be at work on Monday evening, and Mike was going to ride down to the centre of England to ride through the scenic Lake District. In fact, Roland only made it to Manchester (360 miles) until his gearbox packed in and he had to get towed all the way back to London. As far as I’m aware Mike had a good ride and got back safely.

The idea of riding around Scotland was one that I couldn’t miss. I was up there anyway and didn’t have to be back in a hurry, and I knew that with Russ we’d cover some ground and see some interesting sights. He doesn’t own a Sat Nav, and is more of the old fashioned… look at a map, plan a route and see where you end up when it gets dark and find a place to sleep. Sounded like an adventure to me!

I’m gonna use this map I found online to give you a rough idea of the roads we travelled so you can see the route we took.

Before you start asking about pictures, I’m gonna put a few in here, but there’s 250 of them for you to browse at your leisure at:

Lands End to John OGroats 2009 pictures by steve_cky_uk - Photobucket

Conveniently, at the tip of mainland Scotland, Thurso is in big capital letters. This is where we stayed on Saturday night and you can see how close it is to our final destination of John O’Groats.
Russ and I were coincidentally both staying in the same B&B in Thurso, so we talked about routes for the next few days and looked at a few maps over breakfast. Starting at 9am, we got back on the bikes and headed for Castle Mey, which is a short ride west along the north coast. Castle Mey is a beautiful castle purchased by the Queen Mother, and a regular holiday spot for members of the Royal Family. It was very modestly decorated inside and the history and knowledge of the tour guides was impressive.

Once Russ was happy with his castle photos, we back to Thurso and then down the scenic A882 down to Wick, and then a short blast down the A9 to a town called Helmsdale, which isn’t actually on that map, but it’s at the junction of the first road (A897) which runs back up to the North coast through Kinbrace. Wow! I’m sure if we didn’t bring any cameras, then we could have travelled further, but we were literally stopping every 5-10 minutes to take a few photos! The scenery is truly breathtaking. And you’ll take a picture, then expect not to have to stop for 30 minutes because you’ve just seen the most beautiful panorama you’ll ever see… you come round a corner and BLAM!!… you thought the view before looked good? Pah!… I’ve seen prettier alleys in the dingy part of London compared to this new view.. gotta stop and take a pic.

And that carried on for the majority of the day, so much so that you forget about lunch and other unimportant things like that.

Actually, I’m glad Kinbrace is on that map, because it’s at Kinbrace that we took the scenic route up the B871 which sadly isn’t on the map. It’s just a single lane strip of tarmac which winds it’s way up north through stunning scenery. There’s slightly wider sections every 100-300 meters for cars to pull over to let other cars pass (or to stop and take a photo).

We took the B871 all the way up and met up to the normal roads at Tongue on the A836 then rode a very, very narrow back road which loops around the Kyle of Tongue who’s number/name I can’t remember and can’t find it anywhere… it’s barely even printed on any maps. We joined back on the A838 and ended up in Durness for the night. We arrived at 10pm and found a lovely little B&B with good size rooms for a reasonable price, and it was next to a hotel/pub who were still serving food. We mainly stopped here because they had a petrol station (which was closed, being a Sunday night), and I had covered 190 miles since the morning fill up and didn’t want to risk going any further and running out of gas in the dark.
This wouldn’t have been an issue though, as we soon discovered that this far North, it didn’t really get properly dark until about midnight, and then it started getting light again at 3am!!
Monday morning and after another hearty breakfast we went to the petrol station which was pretty much a fuel pump and a shed. You had to pay for the petrol in the shop across the street!!

We took the A838 south and pretty much stuck to the west coast, working down past Laxford Bridge and Ullapool to Braemore, stopping every 5-10 mins to take more pictures.

We took a few deviations down roads who’s names/numbers I can’t remember, basically if it look interesting, we’d take a detour and ride down it. Our final destination for the Monday was Loch Ness and Inverness.
From Braemore, we made our way to Inverness and after stopping for another tank full of petrol, we set off to ride around the famous Loch and see if we could spot Nessie, the Loch Ness monster.

Well, sadly we didn’t spot Nessie, but the fantastic weather made for some more beautiful photos of the Loch and the narrow winding roads were a joy to ride. So much so that when I was leading for a few miles I was enjoying the roads so much that I missed a turn we had planned to take at Fort Augustus, and we ended up going all the way towards Fort William! As the sun was setting and it was on my right, I soon realised my error and got out the Tom-Tom to figure out exactly where on earth we were. I’d shot about 20 miles off target, so we turned around and tried to continue our lap of the Loch. It was getting darker by the second as we were about 3/4 of the way around, so when we came across a hotel, I went inside to enquire about rooms. When I came out, I had a small crowd of locals stood around my fly-covered chrome beauty, an eerie blue glow illuminating the engine and the road beneath the frame. CheesyA few took photos with the phones and I chatted with a couple of them, before we were pointed in the direction of a large house hidden in the trees which was a B&B in the most idyllic surroundings. We spoke to the owners and they offered us significantly cheaper and significantly more comfortable lodgings for the night. They even let us park our bikes in their (large) garage!

Tuesday morning saw a misty start, so very different to the beautiful sunny days before, but it also made for some dramatic photos of Loch Ness as we finished our ride around it, before stopping at the souvenir shop for some gifts for the lil’ lady and family. When returning from the shop I was told by one of the parking assistants (telling coach loads of tourists where to park, etc.) that at one point he had caught some tourists letting their kids climb over my bike while taking photos of their precious darlings clambering over it!! Man that made me so mad! The freakin cheek of them!! I guess the only good thing is that I didn’t catch them doing it! What a frikkin disrespectful thing to do to someone’s property. That was a quick way to get me annoyed in the morning to I had to take a little while longer to calm down before getting back on the bike. … Kinda makes me wish I had one of those “If you value your life as much as I value my bike, keep your hands off!” stickers. … I wouldn’t have minded if they’d have asked… it’s that they did it when I wasn’t around. I bet if their little angel had scratched or damaged it, they’d have scurried away like the insects they are!! …. Anyway, back to the happy smiley fun motorcycle trip

It was at Loch Ness that Russ and I parted ways, I had to start making my way home, and was set for a 360 mile ride down to Manchester where I would stay with my Dad’s cousin for the night before heading the rest of the way to London on Wednesday.
The ride was pretty much all motorways and was quite boring after such a scenic few days in the Highlands. I left Loch Ness at 12pm and made it to their house at 7pm where they had a BBQ waiting for me!
A hot shower and some food followed, then some catching up and chatting until 11pm when I hit the hay.
My longest night’s sleep followed, clocking in 10 hours of well earned sleep! A light breakfast and a little more chatting saw me leaving them at 10am for the final 170 mile ride to London.
Taking my time I got home at 2pm and then spend the next 2 hours cleaning off half of the flies in Scotland and giving my baby a good bath and polish.

I took a final photo of the odometer when I got home: 11804

Compared to the 9343 miles I had before I started my ride, I clocked a total of 2461 miles over the course of the week.

hehehe, well thanks for reading it all.

I had a great time.

-Insolent Minx