Charles Dickens wrote “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ...” in “A tale of Two Cities” and it so perfectly sums up my CCC100 with Hoagy’s Heroes.
The “best of times” came with new friends and old friends and the “best of times” came when we hit the road and I got to ride with some of the best riders in the world.
The “worst of times” came when we hit rain in Ozona; When we struggled to see 50 yards ahead of us as we left San Antonio because of the rain and “It was the worst of times” when we sat on I10 for two hours while a major wreck which had blocked I10 was cleared away, and we thanked our respective higher powers that it wasn’t one of us being put into the helicopter and being taken away from the scene of the accident.
But I am getting ahead of myself …
Everything was in place and set to go when my riding buddy had to drop out due to finances. Being a little tight on finances myself I decided to save a few bucks and run the CC50 with Hoagy instead of the CCC100. This would save not only on gas but also on two nights in motels.
My revised plan was to set out on Tuesday morning and run a BBG1500 to SD where I would hook up with Hoagy and the rest of the CC50 riders and two CCC100 riders (Anthony and Kirsten) for the ride back to Jacksonville.
With a BBG in mind I left my house in Houston at 9:30 on Tuesday morning and, despite heavy rains, made great time and was on pace for a 22 hour BBG when I arrived in Deming, New Mexico. By this time I had been very fortunate to skirt 5 or 6 major storms. It seemed that just as I was to run straight into a storm the road would take a turn to the left or right and I would miss the major rains by a mile or two. AT Deming my luck looked to be running out. I was surrounded by major lightning and called my wife and then Hoagy and told them I was pushing on but if the storms got any worse, or the lightning (which was my real fear) got any more violent and closer, that I would call it for the night, find somewhere to bed down for the night and then head into SD early the next day. “Better safe than sorry” is my LDR Motto. The decision to cancel the BBG attempt and settle for a BB1500 was made for me just outside Wilcox when lightning struck the ground directly in front of me and within a mile.
An Aside … There are two types of long distance rider. There are the true “long distance riders” and then there are fakers like me! I love to ride for mile-upon-mile and will gladly and happily run 1,000 miles a day … BUT I like to do so only when I fell comfortable and safe. You could refer to me as a “Fair Weather Long Distance Rider”. I do NOT like lightning and do NOT like rain. I consider my riding to be a hobby and I have to feel that I am having fun and am as safe as riding a motorcycle can be. If either condition is not met then I am going to quit the ride. It is a promise I made to my wife the first time I ran a long distance ride and it is a promise I will always keep. Other long distance riders like Hoagy will ride for mile-upon-mile in ANY conditions and truly enjoy every mile they ride. They are accomplished riders who feel just as safe riding in adverse conditions as they do in perfect conditions. My hat is off to these riders but it is just not me and I feel no shame in calling a ride short if the conditions exceed my riding proficiency.
So at about midnight I decided to call it quits and found a cheap motel in Wilcox. As I pulled into the parking lot of the motel I discovered I could not down shift. I was stuck in high gear. After checking in I limped the bike over to the room and unpacked. After getting everything off the bike I checked the gear shifter and discovered the retaining bolt which holds the rocking shifter onto the shaft had very nearly fallen out. It was still connected to the bike but by only a couple of threads! Had I ridden just a few more miles I am convinced it would have fallen off and I could have been miles from the nearest town with no way to change gear and no easy way to fix it. In the motel parking lot a quick tighten with an Allen wrench and everything was back to normal working condition within 30 seconds! Do you think that lightning strike was a sign?
Now at the end of a long ride I can normally sleep very well but this motel (Motel 8 in Wilcox) had “plastic” pillows with cotton slips. In this case ‘Slips” is the appropriate word because as soon as my head hit the pillow it flew out of the slip and I ended up waking up to a pillow suctioned into my ear! I should say that I did not notice a ‘By-The-Hour’ sign when I rode up but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t one there.
Up early with very little sleep I was very happy to leave Wilcox behind me and get back on the road. The only ‘event’ on the ride to SD occurred as I entered Gila Bend. Approaching an over-pass over I10 I noticed a dust storm. You know the kind … they look like small tornadoes of dust swirling. Since it was directly in front of me and covered the road I had no option but to ride through it but how bad could it be after all it was only 15 to 20 feet wide? Well the darn thing knocked me sideways and I swerved literally 4 or 5 feet. It was just like hitting that sudden cross wind when you pass a big rig only worse. I will be sure to avoid any of these I see in the future!
I arrived at the Vagabond Motel in San Diego around two in the afternoon and was met by Hoagy and three or four other riders who were jaw slacking out front. What a welcome. It was like a home coming. After a big hug from Hoagy he introduced me to the rest of the guys. There was Doug on his Harley and Wade, Keith, Ray, Bill and Mike all on various years of Honda Goldwings with Rays being the oldest - 1996. The guys had just finished ‘flushing’ Bill’s Goldwing after he had accidentally filled up with Diesel. (As the gas companies move to more and more pumps dispensing BOTH diesel and gas they need to do something to make this less likely than just making the diesel dispenser green!). Of course I promptly forgot everyone’s name but it didn’t matter. They were all such nice guys. Anthony and Kirsten were coming in from Florida and would be arriving at the hotel sometime Thursday morning and Greg would meet us at the Gas station on Thursday evening so there would be 11 of us setting off for Jacksonville. I had Hoagy sign my ending witness form for the BB1500 and then checked-in and unpacked the bike. Hoagy and some of the guys left to go Kayaking and I stayed behind. I just could not see my butt sitting on a plastic seat in the middle of the sea for an hour and a half after sitting on my bike for 10 hours and 700 miles earlier in the day. Wednesday evening we rode a couple of miles to a wonderful Mexican restaurant and upon returning to the motel we spent an hour or so chatting in the hot tub before I retired for the evening; exhausted but very happy.
Fortunately the Vagabond is a wonderful motel with regular pillows and I slept like a log. At 7:00AM I was up and out and met Hoagy outside the hotel reception area where we waited for the CCC100 riders.
First to arrive at the end of the first leg of the CCC100 was Anthony on his “new-to-him” FJR. He arrived safe but very, very tired. This was only the second long distance ride that Anthony had attempted. He had completed the required SS1000 just the week before and was now attempting over 4,600 miles in 100 hours on his FJR! I am amazed that anyone would choose the CCC100 for just their SECOND LDR ride but he is a very strong rider and had completed the first leg in just over 37 hours proving that he certainly has the skill and fortitude for some serious long distance riding. He had only one mishap on the way to San Diego when he had pulled over onto the shoulder while in the mountains for a brief break. California road work had decided that day to “oil” and “re-chip” the shoulders and as Anthony came to a stop he lost his footing on the recently oiled shoulder and laid the bike over on a camber. Too exhausted to right the bike himself he managed to flag down a passing motorist who gave him a hand. For a while the rear brake would not function but after some pedal pumps it came back so an air bubble must have been introduced into the system when the bike went over.
About an hour after Anthony had arrived, Kirsten rolled in on her beautiful 1200RT. If I had not known she had just ridden from Florida I would swear that she must live just around the block. I have no idea how anyone who has sat on a bike for nearly 40 hours can look so fresh. After a ride of just 24 hours my wife is insisting I take TWO baths and leave my clothes and boots outside! I would love to see Kirsten enter the IBR. She certainly has the riding skills to compete on a high level and I would love to be able to say that I rode once, albeit very briefly, with the first female winner of an IBR! Go Kirsten.
Anthony and Kirsten checked in and pretty soon everyone had retired to try to catch some sleep before departure time.
At 6:00PM we were all packed and rearing to go. All that is except Hoagy who I swear could sleep on a razor blade side ways and still insist he slept like a log. 6:30PM and Hoagy is up and 15 minutes later we are on the road and heading towards the starting point at the Exxon gas station where we are met by Mikes Daughter who is witnessing for everyone. A big “thank you” to Mike’s daughter from all of us … Thanks!
Greg arrives at the station on his Harley and several riders leave and get a quick snack before the start. Kirsten visits the beach for her vial of the ‘Pacific’ and Mike visits with his daughter while Hoagy and Ray are admonished by two SD police officers for smoking in a gas station! After a group photo, taken on at least 6 different cameras (Thanks Greg’s friend) and at precisely 8:00PM it is kickstands up and Hoagy is leading us back to I8 and out of San Diego. We are finally on our way.
Now Hoagy is a true rider’s rider and we do not take much time at all to exit San Diego and head into the mountains. It is here that the first rider ‘split’ takes place as those more adventurous amongst us go for the gusto and enjoy the sweeping curves. As Hoagy leads the way several riders keep up with him and some fall further back preferring to sit back and relax rather than a stint of semi-canyon carving. I am behind Kirsten who decides to pass two slower riders ahead to keep up with Hoagy. I am immediately on her tail as she sweeps around the curves on her RT and I try to keep station on my Yamaha Royal Star! Boy that girl can ride! It is not easy to keep up but I don’t lose too much ground and we are still together (now just six of us) as we hit the desert floor and head for our first stop in Yuma. The ride through the mountains is the highlight of my riding career so far and here is why: I have ridden a bunch of times on “group” rides and really do NOT like to ride this way because of the various levels of experience and skill inherent in a bunch of dissimilar riders associated with this type of ride. There is always a constant nagging thought that someone in the group is going to do something stupid or beyond their skill level and it is not going to turn out well, but this was different. This was a “group ride of one”. This was 10 riders with years and years of experience and super high skill levels who knew what they were doing and better yet, knew what each other was doing and what each other was going to do because of those same skill levels. Watching the tail lights of those 5 bikes in front of me snake lazily through the curves on perfect lines and in perfect harmony with the road and the dark night sky was poetic. No loud pipes disrupted the soft humming of the motors and everyone and everything was “one” with the ride. Perhaps some California rubbed off on me but words really cannot do justice to the feeling I had of ‘the perfect ride’ taking place. I hope one day to be able to experience this same feeling at least one more time but if I never do then I at least was fortunate enough to experience it once and that is one more time that most riders. Thank you to all my fellow riders on this trip. You truly gave me the most memorably experience of my riding career so far. Thank you!
By our second gas stop we were down to five riders in our group; Hoagy, Myself, Doug, Mike and Bill. Anthony was just too tired and stopped for a couple of hours nap to recoup and several other riders had decided to go it solo. I think we left Kirsten at the second gas stop still getting gas. As we rode through the next 24 hours or so we would meet up with, and then leave behind (or be left behind by), most of the riders but this group stayed pretty much together for the entire 24 hours.
I always carry my GPS on long distance rides as do a lot of riders. Not only are then a convenient ‘map’ of your route but they have the added benefit of letting you know when you go the wrong way. Hoagy needs a GPS! Leaving a gas station just east of Tucson Hoagy decided we needed to be traveling west … back to San Diego. Of course there were 4 other riders screaming at him to turn around and we did so before we hit the freeway but it is this sort of human error that can take a ride south in a hurry and even though the ‘Re-calculating … Re-calculating … Re-calculating’ can get a bit obnoxious it certainly can save the day!
Another farkle I do not have is a CB radio. Most of the other riders, and all of the ones in our group except me, did have CB radios and were constantly chatting back and forth and with big rig drivers down the road. I am sure this made the time pass much more quickly and also gave a sense of really being a member of the group. I think my next bike MUST have a CB capability built in. (Goldwing?).
Anyone who registered and paid for the ride early received a gas can from Hoagy’s Heroes as a thank you. I took mine along for spare gas despite having an auxiliary tank in case someone else did have gas problems and I know one rider … Hoagy … who is very glad that that several people brought theirs as he ran out of gas not once, but TWICE! I think he was just trying to make a point of important it is to have spare gas with you on a long distance ride.
We had all watched the weather station back at the hotel and knew that the weather in Texas was iffy to say the least. For once the weather service was, unfortunately, right on target. At Ozona, TX some 200 miles west of San Antonio the sky turned dark and it was obvious that rain was in our future. Now Hoagy LOVES the rain. I am not sure if he likes to be wet or whether it cools him down or whether he thinks it will make him grow but he just loves it! I, however, as I said earlier, HATE the rain so I put on my rain jacket despite Hoagy’s protestations. As a small acquiescence to Hoagy I did decide to not put on the rain pants. This was a huge mistake as 30 minutes outside Ozona there was nothing but black sky ahead. I pulled up along side Hoagy and motioned that I was going to stop on put on the pants. Hoagy shook his head ‘No’ but I had made my decision and pulled off on the next exit, once again my safety first approach to all things riding as I refuse to stop on the side of the road or under an over-pass. Unfortunately this is another mistake as this is one of a very few freeway exits in Texas which does not have corresponding ‘on-ramp’. Instead I was routed about 10 miles through back roads before I could get back onto the freeway. Had I known this I would probably have entered the freeway from the ‘off ramp’. By the time I got back onto I10 the rain was falling so hard that I could barely see. It seems that the Royal star leg guards are designed in such a way as to deflect the wind into a perfect upward direction so as to force rain drops up into your helmet from below and onto the inside of the visor AND glasses. I am in effect looking through 5 layers or rain drops! Now do you understand why I hate riding in the rain? We had rain off and on all the way through Kerrville and on into San Antonio which we hit just in time for rush hour. At times the rain was little more than a drizzle and I was able to dry out the inside of the visor enough to restore some semblance of vision but at other times the rain came down so hard that visibility could only be improved by traveling fast enough to use the wind to blow the rain off the visor at least off the outside. This is not my preferred way to ride … To INCREASE speed in adverse conditions seems counter-intuitive to safety but the only alternative was to stop on the side of the freeway and this would have been, in my opinion, much more dangerous.
By the time we reached San Antonio we were all soaked through and through. We could not have gotten any wetter if we rode naked through a swimming pool. The rush hour in San Antonio proved to be not as bad as we expected and the weather cooperated by being a light drizzle while we rode through town. That all changed when we left San Antonio to the East as the weather gods made up for our respite from the rain by throwing it down. Now I have heard of “Toad/Frog Strangler” but this was a “Duck Sinker”! (My wife gave me the nickname Big Duck, as in like Baby Huey, because of my klutziness at home which is why Duck Sinker is such a good fit). It truly sank my spirits.
By the time we reached Flatonia we were only 110 miles from Houston and 150 miles from our BBG end in Wallisville and, despite the weather, we were still on pace to complete the BBG in 22 hours but I had had enough. I did not want to ride a mile further than I had to. I did not feel safe anymore and my attitude towards riding was not conducive to a safe and fun ride. I told Hoagy that I was going to pull out of the BBG and that completing the CC50 would depend on the weather forecast. I had accomplished the most important goal and that was to meet Hoagy and the rest of the guys in San Diego and then get to ride with them. Adding a BBG would have been a bonus and I was really disappointed to potentially be missing the CC50 but the iron butt certificate(s) were not now, and never would be, a goal in itself. I live just 15 miles south of I10 and I was going to turn off at Katy and head for home where I could dry out and sleep in my own bed. There was a certain amount of Déjà vu as the first time I had tried to hook up for a ride with Hoagy I had also had to pull out half way through as I ran into Gustav trying to get to Hoagy’s house and ran 400 miles in torrential rain before throwing in the towel.
I told Hoagy that I would check the weather in the morning to see if I would continue on to Jacksonville but that if the weather was more of the same (which I would have to contend with both going to, and then returning home from Jacksonville) then I would call off my CC50 attempt. It was a very sad moment for me but also very freeing. It is a testament to Hoagy and to his understanding nature that he never once tried to convince me to continue with the ride.
We left Flatonia and for the first time in 300 miles I saw and end to my misery. I would soon be home, have a nice hot bath and some good food and then be sleeping in my own bed with my own non-plastic pillows and my beautiful wife warming my cold, cold bones. Tomorrow would come and I would check the weather forecast and it would dictate where I laid my head the next night but for tonight I would be safe and warm and DRY!
All these thoughts were running through my head as I saw the brake lights up ahead. Everything came to a complete stand still. Somewhere ahead of us there must be a wreck. If we could not get passed this mess fairly quickly the chances for a BBG for the other riders would be in jeopardy so I suggested riding the hard shoulder. Hoagy said he would if I would lead so that’s what we did. We did not get more than 400 yards before the road was totally blocked and there was no going any farther. We turned off the bikes, put down the side stands and prepared to wait for who knows how long. As we stood on the side of the road the weather gods smiled on us and stopped the rain. We found out through a trucker and some CB communications that a tanker had jack-knifed and taken out a car and was completely blocking the entire eastbound side of the freeway. We also saw the life-flight helicopter come in for a landing about a mile in front of us. Seeing the helicopter brought home the current situation and although I am not particularly religious I did say a little prayer in thanks that it was not one of us being taken out of there on a gurney. With the weather and conditions as bad as they were earlier it so easily could have been any one of us. The wreck must have been very bad as we sat/stood on the side of the ride for over an hour before we got moving again. By this time the BBG was a mere memory of the past. There was no way that anyone could ride the remaining 90 miles in 75 minutes before the deadline passed. I felt very sorry for the other riders but we all agreed that it is the ride and company that counts and not the certificate.
I arrived home just before 10:00PM CST (24 hours after leaving San Diego) and confirmed with heavy heart that the other guys could not make the BBG as they had 90 miles more to travel to get the 1,500 miles than I had to get home. After un-packing and having the required two bath minimum after a long ride I called Hoagy to let him know I was home safe and to make sure that they were safe also. They had stopped for a final receipt at the 1,500 mile mark but did not make the 24 hour deadline. They were going to continue on to Beaumont where they would find a motel and rest for the night before continuing on to Jacksonville on Saturday morning.
On Saturday morning I awoke and checked the weather forecast. It showed a single storm running all the way from Houston to Jacksonville. I would have to deal with this storm both going to Jacksonville and then coming back home to Stafford if I were to continue my attempt at the CC50. I did not want to ride in the rain anymore and called Hoagy with my decision. I then sat down to write this report and track Hoagy and the others through the rest of their journey to Florida. Go Hoagy! Go!
After the ride I found out that Ray had a flat and did emergency plug repair on his wing on the side of the road and made it safely to Florida. All of the other riders also made it safely all the way so I was the only one who dropped out but then again I was also the only one with a home less than 15 miles off the route!