May 13-18, 2007 It is Sunday, May 20, 2007, I am home. The quiet is all encompassing. There is no roar of the wind, road or engine. There is no smell of gasoline and diesel fuel. The burns on my arms are fading, the calluses on my palms are not so painful, though the blood blisters on my finger tips remain the thought of pounding away at the keyboard does not send painful shivers down my spine. After almost 3 days home my weight is slowly inching back, though as with most of my endurance rides I doubt it will all come back as each time I ride my body destroys more muscle and that takes months to recover if at all. The puffiness under my eyes that was so bad it looked as if I had been hit is diminishing with the help of two nights of sleep and a little cosmetic goop. There is still a strange throbbing near the kidney on my left side that does not seem to wish to fade and I fear internal damage, and hope that is not the case, though I have heard many a case of bruised kidneys from riding such as I have been doing, I can only wait and see. It is now that I sit back and get ready to impart my ride home story that I wonder again what the point is. I wonder how healthy it is for me to continue to do this both physically and mentally. I ponder if any one really gives a !@#$. I wonder if I give a !@#$. I suppose only time will tell. On Sunday when I pulled into the hotel parking lot in Annapolis, I did not have that sense of euphoria I had experienced the first time I completed this ride. The joyous sense of completion I have sensed throughout my entire being on all my previous rides was eluding me. I don’t know if the lack of feeling was shear exhaustion, surrender or just the feeling that I had failed somehow. All I knew was the ride was over and now I had 3000 miles to ride home alone. After checking in, I text messaged friends and family I was done, took the long awaited shower and brushed my teeth both of which I had been unable to do for now going on 50 hours (gross I know). Standing under the hot shower spray enjoying the feeling of cleanliness, something I so cherish, I wondered why I would put myself through this when I won’t even going camping? What is the difference? I can’t shower, sleep on my bike, and eat food that most would not even consider ingesting even if they were camping. I know astronauts probably have more luxuries then I do when I do one of these rides, and they don’t have to man handle a bike that with a full pack weighs four and one half times what they do. I can’t seem to get rid of the nagging feeling but I manage long enough to get about four hours of sleep. I don’t want to sleep too much as I know my clock is already way off and if I sleep too much now I will not sleep tonight, so up and out the door I go for a walk. I can feel the tightness of every muscle, they have been battling for 49 hours attesting to the fact that I have done the right thing by working out as much as I do and caring for myself as best as I can before and after my rides. Many doubt and belittle my working out, throwing in my face all the men and woman who have done Iron Butt rides with little or no training, but I know very few my size who have done/do what I do and after checking the list on the IBA site I see no other woman since my last run at this ride completing one successfully. This is astonishing news to me and I wonder if it is simply because the list of finishers has not been updated or if my name will truly appear twice before any other woman completes this ride. There is one other female non-passenger rider who I know completed this ride Fran Crane, a woman who is more then famous amongst IBA riders she is respected and almost considered the end all be all of female IBA riders. Fran was/is a woman to whom we are all compared too, or in some cases held to her standard; but that is another story unto itself. So I walk. As I walk I call friends and family to talk briefly about my ride and how I am doing. Checking in to make sure everyone is safe and sound, just as they want to know I am ok. The relief I hear in their voices amazes me, I am not familiar with the sense of dread they seem to experience every time I ride like this, I suppose because no one else I am close to is involved in an extreme sport. Of course being the only one doing something has never stopped me before and will not now. Today I will have my first real meal in days, and I have chosen this hotel and area to come back to just for that reason. The market within walking distance of the hotel provides one of the best salad bars I have found to date, with a huge variety of greens, real grilled meats, cheeses, and glorious fruits. Though I can not normally justify the expense of real fruit and vegetables when I am on my trips I splurge, thus I walk to the checkout stand with three containers filled, a huge cheddar roll and two tea cookies covered with thick frosting; calories be damned it matters not right now, though no scale was to be found at the hotel I can tell by what looks back at me from the mirror in the hotel room I have lost at least 5 or more pounds and it is not pretty. I do not want to eat too early in the day, so I place my loot in the sink with ice and meander to the pool to lay in the sun, read and chat more with friends and family, fighting desperately to stay awake just a little longer. It is not too long before my body starts to loose the battle, back in the room I look over my maps and decide to take a back road tomorrow through Virginia just because. I am asleep by 6 pm EST. Monday, the weather is glorious for miles around according to the Weather Channel which is all I will watch on the way home, so as to avoid storms if at all possible. Only watching the Weather Channel when you have full access cable is incredibly hard for one who does not have that luxury at home, my old favorites the Food Channel and Travel Channel beckon relentlessly, but I must abstain or I will get roped in. I manage to get in a short run as I will all but one day, the last day, on the ride home. It will take weeks to rebuild my lost muscle and cardio, but the longer I delay the upward battle the worse it will be. I am on the bike and out the door early in hopes of avoiding Monday rush hour traffic in and around Baltimore and DC. I head south on I-95 quickly down toward Fredricksburg. I make one stop for gas prior to my turn off. As I stand by the bike drinking my small cup of coffee a man on a crotch rocket pulls up along side me so close I am almost pinned to my bike. He is handsome and seems friendly asking me where I am from “Washington” “Oh so you are headed north” “No I am headed for Route 64, taking the long way home” “I am headed to the first exit want to come with” I say thanks but I will be a bit as I am just finishing off my coffee and a little food. I am not fond of riding with those I don’t know, especially having just seen on the outskirts of DC a young man on a crotch rocket going at least 90 mph almost rear-end a school bus as he veered dangerously through traffic. (I don’t think I have ever screamed that loud in my helmet, I thought for sure I would be a witness to a horrific death) The rider some how managed to brake hard enough to do a small stoppie (when the rear wheel comes up off the ground as the front brake has been hit so hard it has no choice), place the bike down and veer to the left around the bus almost hitting a truck in the next lane before pulling out and around again throttling up to some unknown speed. He seemed disappointed and I felt bad but this was my ride home and I really was not up to rushing through traffic with a speed demon, of course I didn’t know that for sure and I should not judge but I felt it best to go with my gut feeling this time. Riding away from the gas station I thought back on our conversation and realized I might have missed a chance to meet a nice man, silly girl. Worse I realized he must have thought me completely insane as I forgot DC is Washington here and that he thought I was from DC not “Washington” no wonder he looked somewhat confused when I said I was headed south and had not ever been that way before! Note to self when on the East Coast qualify Washington as a state when talking with others. Oh how I love the East Coast, the smells are different the people are different; ie not once has another rider pulled up along side me in a gas station and asked if I wanted to ride together in the PNW! The houses are just the way I like them, filled with history, large yards, huge deciduous trees, and just a feeling of home. I make the turn for Route 3 taking me west toward Route 29 south. I have been on 29 several times so no excitement there, but scooting over to 64 I glance again at the map and decide to take my chances on a small red line labeled Route 250 through West Virginia. Here is where I congratulate my brethren of the East, what a road! Not by any stretch the kind I like but I know many a guy out this way that would pay money to ride this stretch. There were so many 15 -25 mph switch back turns this road made our local roads look like child’s play. I am not one for this type of riding especially with a full pack and barely recovered from my long ride, but that is not to say I didn’t appreciate every moment of riding and sight seeing. Pulling around one tight turn I was fore warned of upcoming road maintenance something that had challenged me almost every day this entire ride, this time I was not on a timed event so it would matter not for the most part. I was the first in line at the stop waiting for a pilot car to lead us through I wondered how bad it would be. I asked the flagger how long he said about 10-15 minutes so I turned the bike off and put the kickstand down to rest. I small pick up with trailer in tow pulled in behind me. A few minutes latter it was pulling up beside me and my initial reaction was what is going on. Too funny the old couple inside shouted to me “You really all the way from Washington?” they had seen my license plate “Yep” “Oh, my gosh it’s a girl” he old man driving yelled to his wife; it was all I could do not to crack up laughing. We then bantered back and forth seems they had a niece they had visited not too long ago out in Seattle and they had eaten lots of apples, how funny what people will tell me when they and I have the time to chat. Soon enough we were parting ways, me thankful they were directly behind me as it meant they would block fast drivers from coming up on me as I took my time through the hair pin turns. I noted time was running short, having seen a major storm barring down toward the east I knew that taking 250 was probably not the smartest thing, but was glad I had. In Elkins I decided it was best for me to hop more main roads and try now that I had had a little fun to make good time in the direction of the storm. Gassing up in Elkins a man approached me and asked if I was not hot in my gear, I was gearing down as it had definitely warmed up and I said yes but I could take it off. Just then a Harley rider appeared and yelled out some folks just don’t get it, me I just smiled at both men having heard both sentiments many times and not judging either negatively. Here is shout out to “Big Daddy” and the woman who was riding with him, they stopped to chat about riding and how impressed they were to see a woman out alone riding, even more so when they learned I was from Seattle. He handed me a card which I will hold forever dear as it states “Ride for those who can’t” meant to represent Vietnam Vets, in my heart it represents all those I have met over the years who now for whatever reason can no longer ride. Big Daddy mentioned the storm I was headed toward and I said I was trying to ride into it as far as I could before stopping and then I would hopefully sleep through it. We parted with smiles and ride safe. I took 119 out of Elkins hooking up with I-79, the remainder of my ride would be freeway, but I knew it was the right decision as I made my way north. St Clairsvile, Ohio is where I would stop tonight. I was tired and had tried to stop in Pennsylvania but could not find a hotel room, it was riding through PA that I realized I really wasn’t a big fan of this state; it just seems really dirty every time I come through. Ohio, though a mid-state is actually quite nice with very kind people. After 11 hours of hard slow riding and 507 miles under my belt, I managed to secure a nice room at a hotel, but ran into the dilemma of finding food and water. I asked at the front desk if there was somewhere I could walk to and the woman behind the counter balked, seems they wouldn’t dream of walking to get groceries and me I can’t imagine not. They told me there was a Kmart across the small freeway and I could just run for it. Quick gear down and I was running in the direction they mentioned when not only did I see a CVS much closer but a Panera Bread – yippee good food again tonight! Grabbing waters and a few other items at CVS I quickly scooted over to Panera to grab a glorious salad with grilled chicken, Assiagio bagel and a chocolate chip peanut butter cookie (I was disappointed only in the cookie, it seems no one makes them as well as I do any more – crunchy cookies should be disposed of in my opinion all cookies should be as moist as brownies and as big as your fist). I had seen a well dressed motorcycle in the parking lot and as I turned to leave saw the rider sitting at one of the tables, as I walked by I said hi and asked if he had come far, he said no he was just out for a short jaunt today. He asked what I rode and I said a Ducati, and that I had come from Annapolis and was on my way back to Seattle, he seemed amazed but no overly so; I had not expected him to be noting he most likely was a fellow IBA rider based on his gear, and small laptop in front of him. Another “Safe riding” and I was off. Back across the freeway, to learn the women behind the desk were having trouble with their computer, I asked if I could help and was commencing to assist when a man came up behind me and started walking me through a different way to get the IP address then I was used to; cool I learned something new! Further conversation and I found out he was a motorcyclist as well, and that he was part of a group who were about to run a Saddle Sore 1000 for our troops in Iraq, how incredibly cool is that! Check out www.hoagysheroes.org. Back up in my room I was once again glued to the Weather Channel and it was not looking good. The storm that was coming this way from the south was about to hit a storm coming down from Canada which was going to cause a major ruckus right where I needed to ride to get home. I succumbed to the truth, no matter where I was going to ride tomorrow I would hit that storm at some point. Tuesday morning, and I took full advantage of the treadmill and stationary bike, rather then run along side the small freeway in front of the hotel. I was on the road by 2 am PST, having acclimated to EST within 24 hours as usual. I figured I would need to make some serious time and that heading north and west were my best options, but hating the Chicago area would skirt it by taking I-70 to I-74 and onto I-39 north. This would take me near a few of the smaller major metropolitan areas but none that I knew had serious traffic issues. Passing by Columbus without a problem, moving on toward Indianapolis I am always enamored by this city. I have visited the area but a few times but this small city has grown to be one of my favorites, something about the architecture and the cleanliness it exudes, I consider I could move here and figure sure if I didn’t have to live here in the winter; I don’t do snow and cold well any more. During one of my morning stops as I stood drinking a little coffee a man approached and suggested that I take another route to avoid the upcoming construction, especially with the storm coming and did I know about it. I mentioned that I really was just trying to make good time as I did know about the storm, but I appreciated his help and wondered if I had more time how nice it would have been to try the route he suggested as I have found often locals know the best roads to ride. Not too much further along, pulling in to gas up I noticed two woman on huge BMW’s. How jealous am I! They both picked up conversation with me, reminding me of the storm I was headed toward and that if I needed help to just call, we exchanged cards. Here’s to you Dixie and friend! Thanks so much for chatting, I only wish I could ride bikes such as you two had. Continuing on my ride I note the skies have been blue and the weather pristine, so much so I wonder if the storm had changed course or if I just wasn’t as close as I thought originally to its path. No sooner then I started to wonder then I noticed the clouds building all around me much too fast. Having been glued to the Weather Channel for days last I had heard there were to be no tornados associated with this storm, having been in several states when tornado warnings were issued I knew better. When you have been close to a tornado you get a second sense for what they feel like or I should say the electricity that seems to fill the air, there is a weird turbulence that mixes with what you would normally associate to a thunderstorm. Watching in my mirrors the storm building behind me as I flew up I-39 I wondered how much further I should go, how fast I needed to go to stay in front of the storm and whether or not I wanted to chance it. I had hoped to get much further today then I had yesterday, but I was not willing to risk life and limb now that I was no longer on the timed event to do it. Thus when I saw the Holiday Inn ahead of me, close enough to several gas stations to provide the necessary food stuffs, I pulled in. Not being a fan of Holiday Inns I was pleasantly surprised to find not only one of cleanest hotels in long time but pillows labeled firm and soft, full cable, a gym and pool, as well as free internet, cool! Checking in I asked if they had heard anything about the storm, nope nothing new. I figure I have some time to waste before I need to go find food, so I check email, and call family and friends. It had not been but 20 minutes before I looked up and noticed the skies had definitely darkened and that I better go find food before I wouldn’t be able to leave the hotel. Just then a couple drove up in a Suburban, almost shaking with fear, they asked for a room as they were afraid to get back on the road, they told of the wind and debris they had encountered while driving, further justifying my decision to stop riding. If a couple in a Suburban were scared imagine a girl on a motorcycle. I ran out the door to go find food and was unsuccessful at the first two gas stations, ending up with the nasty packaged stuff in the third. As I was paying for my dinner and supplies, a woman ran inside saying the storm just hit, ok my luck ran out, I now had almost a ¼ mile to run in a torrential down pour to get back to the hotel. By the time I ran into the lobby I was soaked from head to toe. I wondered why I had even bothered to take a shower now that my hair was soaked again. Asking at the front desk I was pleased to learn there was a laundry for guests which I took full advantage of, having had to end today’s ride after only 8 ½ hours and 552 miles. Sitting watching the Weather Channel while eating dinner, I frantically text messaged and emailed friends and family, I had done the right thing by stopping, over 30 funnel clouds had been spotted so far, an unconfirmed tornado touched down outside Chicago and my county was under a tornado watch. I had stopped for the night just in time in Oglesby, IL. Wednesday morning, out for my run, though the wind had not died down too much I knew from the Weather Channel that the storm was heading due east and I was clear to ride for at least the next two days, though the temperatures would be significantly colder it would be clear. On the road at 1:30 am PST, now knowing I was fully under the spell of EST, I would make good time today taking all major freeways, I-39 due north to I-80 to I-35 to I-90. Most of this riding was just flat nothingness, and it would be most likely until I hit Montana again, so be it at this point I just wanted to get home. I would make it to Murdo, South Dakota before exhaustion would take me, 12 hours and 798 miles will do that. Tonight would be the first night I would remember only too well that around here smoking is still acceptable. Though the room was labeled non-smoking there was a smoking room right below me so by 6 pm my room too was filled with smoke and I was unable to breathe but too tired to find another hotel. I figured I would just manage a few hours sleep and then head out in the morning making sure to find a better hotel the following night. Arriving too tired to explore too much, but Murdo sounding familiar to some part of my overstuffed brain I was thrilled when it all connected on my morning run. Murdo has the largest old car/truck museum in the US! Oh my gosh how I forgot that I have no idea and the fact that I missed the opportunity yesterday to visit it completely bummed me out. Note to self make sure to remember to come back at some point. All of this was made worse by the fact that for sale out front was one of my all time favorite old Chevy five windows in the deepest midnight blue (and I don’t even like blue), my heart was in my throat as I ran by dreaming of buying it and putting the bike in the bed to bring home. Ok girl get a hold of yourself, you don’t have the know how to do work on that truck and until you have a house that dream will just have to wait. It is Thursday, and I am off and running at 1 am PST. I am determined to make it home today, little did I know how far out I still was. It was darker then dark on the road, the new moon had come making the skies blacker then I was used to. The road I knew would be boring in the best of light here in the middle of South Dakota, having spent many hours on it many times before, but still it did not make me any less nervous. The darkness and lack of any visible light for miles, whether from structure or vehicle taxed my nerves. I wondered briefly what would happen if I broke down out here, and went over everything I had with me that I could use to provide light which eased my mind until traffic picked up and I was joined by the ever present roar of 18 wheelers. To fill my mind I thought of things I had seen on the road, the rest stops reminded happily me of all the road trips my parents had taken my sister and me on, the meals we had picnic style at these stops I now so carefully avoided for safety reasons were once Mecca’s to my sister and me. Memories of the food from those trips would most likely send shivers down my parent’s spines now that my father was a pseudo gourmet chef and we had lived all over, experiencing only the best; even my niece at the ripe old age of 5 fell in love with Brie! But I could almost taste the Wonder Bread, Yodels and Astronaut Sticks. I remembered the Shakey’s pizza signs I had seen in the east and what a big deal it was to have a birthday party at a Shakey’s when I was a kid, with a stage to play and sing on long before Karaoke became cool. I thought of the large station wagons we all grew up with, how none of us thought twice about pilling into the back completely free to climb back and forth over the seats, playing games; now you can get a ticket for unsecured children! How naive and happy we were, if only we could hold onto just a portion of that; and how many times has my mother said to me in my adult years that I am still so naïve, is that such a bad thing. By day’s end on Thursday I was none to happy to realize I would not make it home today. I tried to make the best of the fact that it would not be safe for me to continue after 12 ½ hours on the road and 873 miles, through the upcoming passes of Montana and Idaho. As such I stopped for the night at one of my all time favorites cities Missoula. As much as I wanted to sequester myself downtown, I knew it would only depress me more to know I was too tired to enjoy the beautiful town and carousel, so I forced myself to the out skirts of town to a strip of hotels and gas stations for the night. As exhausted as I was and depressed with the prospect of one more day on the road, I was not in any mood to get slapped by a fellow female rider. I had just checked in and must have said something about being on the road since 1 am that she had over heard. I was on the elevator ready to push the button to go to my room when she asked about my bike and what I thought about using it for long rides. I said I really wasn’t the one to ask as I had been doing it for years on that bike and that I it was not comfortable since I had had to remove all the padding from the seat. Her response was the slap I didn’t need and it was all I could do not to jump down her throat when her comment bubbled forth “When you learn to be a better rider then you can ride a taller bike” I was livid! I am sure she got the look my sister claims I have perfected that pretty much tells you beware you have crossed a line that you didn’t want to cross. But I kept my wits about me looked her straight in the eye and said I had been riding for almost 15 years, raced for 3 years and had been doing Iron Butt riding for about 5. That after riding for hours non-stop I needed every ounce of strength I had to hold the bike up and to do so on tippy toes would not be possible. I told her I had another commuter bike at home that I did ride tippy toed but that in this case it was not possible. She responded with didn’t I know there were other things I could do to the bike to lower it, yes I said and I had; dropped the forks and different rear-spring. At that point I simply said I needed to get to my room not to mention there was another woman on the elevator with me waiting too. I will forever remember that woman’s face and the fact that she would belittle another female rider in such a horrific way. I will also remember that she was at least 3 or more inches taller then me and had a good 40 or 50 lbs on me, it seems these are the women who find it as difficult as men to understand what it is like for woman of my stature to do what I do. May I remind you all now that my bike weighs 4 ½ times what I do, an average man weighs about 165 lbs, meaning he would have to ride a bike that weighed almost 700 lbs to encounter what I do. I will also mention that on the Iron Butt Rally I ran in 2003 at the third checkpoint my entire family and every one present watched as more then one very large male (over 200 lbs) rider came into the stop area and either dropped their bikes, or were saved from dropping them by volunteers, due to shear exhaustion. I suppose on every ride I have to encounter one bummer of a person, but for it to be a female rider was more hurtful then I really needed or wanted to encounter. I can only hope that one day she will rethink what she says and how she judges others. I will never claim to be the best rider, or to have learned everything I needed to, and I will always take advantage of the knowledge of other veteran riders, but I will always refrain from telling someone that they need to “learn to be a better rider” as it is a hurtful unnecessary judgment from one who knows nothing of another’s circumstance. I lamented to my parents on the phone about the encounter, both of them were stunned, but we all realized that once again this woman “assumed” and one should never “assume” anything. I suppose too that my emotions were a mess between the hours on the road and the fact that I had killed today did not help me when it came to looking on the situation rationally. It is hard for me to explain, I have killed before not on purpose mind you but when you ride as much as I do you are bound to encounter various animals at some point. There was one year that I had hit so many squirrels people teased me every time we saw one. I know I have hit birds before with the bike, but this time it was different this time it was me. I saw the flock of Sparrows playing and quickly realized that they and I were going to cross paths, this happens all the time but never have I hit one. I saw it was too low, but there was nothing I could do, I prayed it would rise up quickly in time, no such luck. I felt it hit my leg, the soft body crushing against my thigh and I knew it was gone; nothing could survive a hit like that at the speed I was traveling. There was nothing I could do; the emotional pain was excruciating the tears rolled down my face I was filled with sorrow. I tried to tell myself it was just a bird but I could not that is not who I am, I can still even now feel the feeling of it hitting my leg and the tears well up, I did not mean to do it but it will haunt me I am sure for many days, months, maybe even years. I will hope for safe passage whatever that may be. Tonight I would get lucky, the gas station I chose for my evening meal turned out to be family owned and run thus providing real sliced Roast Beef, yes you heard me right the kind some one’s mother makes in the oven! Huge slices of thick homemade banana bread and a glorious blueberry buttermilk muffin to round out my dinner! Though a salad would have been nice on my rides I am lucky to have this much of a bounty. Friday, and I can not sleep another minute I am too close to home. It is 12:30 am and I am on the road. I am not happy to have to traverse the passes in the dark I love this part of the ride too much, but I want to get home more then I want to ride in the daylight; and I know this ride is close enough I can come back any time. I don’t recall much other then the road, the dark and the construction pretty much non-stop from Missoula all the way to Coeur D’Alene, but I was making good time. It was 7:45 am PST when I pulled into the drive having completed the last 481 miles of the ride for a total home mileage of 3197. Home I was home! The kitty was so pissed she completely ignored me as I rushed to clean the house; though I had cleaned it thoroughly before I left one week with the kitty and kitty care person meant it was dusty and musty smelling so clean I must. I put a special treat of wet food out for her which she proceeded to ignore, further shunning my peace offerings. Finally while I was out washing the bike she succumbed to the treat then proceeded to toss it up as if to show me her displeasure that I had left her alone for so long. But nothing could prevent her from finally giving in to the fact I was home and her purring was so loud I could hear it throughout the house and her constant batting at my legs to pick her up, rekindled our loving relationship. Calls to family, friends, the motorcycle dealer to set up the drop off, and food shopping for real food yeah! For the next week there will be no ride story the bike is in the shop having been pushed to her limits, she needs a spa treatment just as I do, she will get hers me I will ignore the pain as much as possible and continue on with my life.