2008 Back to Back SaddleSore That Never Was!
Story by:Bob "Bigduck" Tobitt
So Where to begin. I suppose I should start with how I met Hoagy in the first place. It all starts in January 2008. I had done a couple of IBA rides, an SS1000 and a BBG1500 in 2007 and was surfing the web looking for information regarding long distance riding. I had already decided that I would ride Stafford, TX to Jacksonville, AFL in March for the IBA ride-in Pizza party when I found the Hoagy's Heroes website and contacted Hoagy through email. Hoagy doesn't like email so we started conversing by phone and when I told Hoagy I was riding in for the IBA Pizza party he immediately said that if he could get the time off work he would be there also just to meet me and a couple of buddies! After all it was only 900 miles from Hoagy’s home to Jacksonville. A mere jaunt for someone of Hoagy’s LD prowess.
So March 3rd arrived and I setoff with a couple of buddies for Jacksonville (with a small detour south at Lake City to Gainesville to make it a full 1000 miles). I wasn't sure what to expect of Hoagy except that I knew I would be meeting someone with a common interest and a seemingly boundless energy for the kids and veterans his organization supports. It is funny how you mind applies pictures to people you have never met. I was sure that Hoagy would be a big man and I was totally correct except ... he is a big man, with a big heart in a surprisingly small package. It wasn't very difficult to pick him out from the crowd, even if he hadn't been wearing his Hoagy's Heroes tee shirt. Hoagy is just Hoagy and no-one is quite like him.
Anyway. That is how I met Hoagy originally and it was at the IBA party that Hoagy talked about his SS2000 mile he was running in September and was I, and my two buddies, interested. Sure Hoagy! I was looking for an excuse to add an SS2000 to my list of rides and other than a RAT I had organized for May 2008 I had no other LD rides planned.
When I got home I checked with the better half and she had no problem since I would be going with a couple of buddies up to Hoagy's and then joining Hoagy for the SS2000 and then I would ride back with the same buddies. In fact I planned a route from Stafford (home) via Jacksonville, Florida and up to Hoagy's and then a pretty straight shot back so that I could get in an SS5000 (5,000 miles in 5 days) while at the same time doing the SS2000 with Hoagy. Well the best laid plans of men and mice as they say...
The first thing that went awry. Some 6 weeks prior to the ride both of my buddies bowed out. The price of gas had increased so much that the ride I had planned was just too expensive. My wife was not very excited about me riding 5,000 miles on my own to say the least but some gentle persuasion (from both me and Hoagy) and the purchase of a SPOT tracker so she could track me on the entire ride, and she finally acquiesced to let me go. I also decided that since this would be my first solo LD ride I would also invest in a very in-expensive GPS unit. No bells and whistles, no way points, but it would let me know if I took a wrong turn. This is quite important to me as I have been known on more than one occasion to miss a turn and ride for 5, 10 or 50 miles before I realize my mistake!
As the weeks started to slip by I got more and more excited, and nervous. This would be my longest ride by far and it would also be the first LD ride I would do solo (at least 3,000 miles of it would be solo). Then at the end of August the weather gods sought to conspire against me with Hurricane Gustav which at times was predicted to hit South East Texas and at other times was predicted to miss the area by hundreds of miles. At this time I was talking almost daily with Hoagy and trying to apologize in case I could not make it. Hoagy, gentleman and friend that he is, argued that I could not leave my family with a potential disaster on the Horizon. I felt terrible and started to plan alternate routes just in case the Hurricane missed us in Texas and instead went east to Louisiana but I wasn't too hopeful. This alternate route would take me from home in Stafford, TX to Waco, TX then Oklahoma City and on to Saint Louis and then over to Hoagy’s via Louisville and Charleston (so that I did not have to run I70 multiple times.
Hurricane Gustav was nice to me and veered off and hit close to the Louisiana/Texas border but far enough away that we did not get any real storm. It then headed off north in-land and was predicted to take a right hand turn to the east just south of Dallas. My 'New' route would clear Gustav easily and I was back on for the ride. I called Hoagy and told him I was setting off at 2:00 Wednesday morning. I then spent the next day after the storm packing, un-packing and then re-packing for the trip. According to the weather forecasters I would avoid Gustav completely but I would have the potential for some showers! SHOWERS they say!
Tuesday evening I am in bed by 7:00PM and trying to sleep. I have everything packed on the bike, I have checked and double checked the SPOT, my cell phone and, of course, my Ipod (I cannot ride anywhere without some music).The alarm is set for 1:30AM and despite my excitement I fall into a deep sleep. My fantastic wide stays up and has a cup of tea (very important to an X-Pat like myself) ready for me when I wake up. At 1:55 I am on the road and down to the local Shell station for my first fill-up and first receipt (Remember I am going for an SS5000 as well as the SS2000 with Hoagy).
Everything is going fantastic and I am making great time. I see no deer and I am convinced this has more to do with my accompaniment of the music on the Ipod than to the Deer Scarer (attractor?) I have on the bike. By the way I ride a 2006 Yamaha Royal Star which I have modified with extra tail lights, Driving Lights, PIAA Spot Lights (I like to be seen) and a TourTank 2.5 gallon auxiliary gas tank. My Ipod, Spot and GPS are in the map pocket of the tank bag. At Waco I stop to fill up and grab a quick smoke. The wind has picked up quite a bit since I left but the night is clear and cool.
As I head north on 35 from Waco the night is beautiful and with the exception of the wind the riding is just about perfect BUT ... by the time I get to Cleburne, just south of Fort Worth, I have to ride at a fairly steep angle just to keep the bike in a straight line. The wind has really started to pick up and I really have to muscle the 750lb Yamaha. I continue on and cross the Oklahoma Border and on to Ardmore where the first few rain drops hit the windshield. It's probably just a passing shower (remember the weather forecasters?) and it will pass, or I will be through it, very shortly.
In the perfect world, good thoughts should lead to good conditions but it is not to be. Less than 5 miles north of Ardmore I have to pull over to put on wet gear. Well it can't last long can it? YES! The rain just got harder and harder and by the time I got to Oklahoma City I could barely see more than 50 yards ahead. I missed my turn onto the OK Turn Pike (44) but my GPS comes to the rescue and a couple of right hand turns followed by a left and 5 miles and I am back on track. I stop for gas and reluctantly put the tank bag cover on. This means that I have no GPS but I still have music. The rain is still falling in sheets. I am cruising at about 70-75 MPH and I am being passed continually by 18 wheelers. Every time one passes I am blinded for a few seconds by the spray. Then The IPOD quits working but I cannot fix it because it is under the tank bag cover and since this is a toll road there is no where convenient to pull off/over. Now long distance riding is supposed to be both fun and safe. This ride is not the fun I was expecting and now it is becoming down right dangerous. The am not convinced that the 18 wheelers could even see me. The only thing for it is to speed up to make sure they do not pass me. This works surprisingly well and avoids the danger I have been feeling but I am not exactly a daredevil and riding at high speed in the rain is not something I would recommend to anyone. Still, I have given my word to Hoagy and I am determined to make it to Hoagy's home. Just south of Sapulpa I have to pull off and change gloves. Although the temperature is not too bad the constant wet on my hands is making my hands go numb. I get back on the road but after just 50 more miles I have to pull off again to put the rain mittens on that I had forgotten to use back at Sapulpa. 50 Cents to get off and save the receipt so that they give you 50 cents back when you get back on. Easier said than done when wearing full MC gear, Rain gear, Wool gloves covered by leather gloves with rain proof mittens over these (Why didn't I put the mittens on earlier ... I have no idea).
Back on the road and the rain just seems to get thicker and thicker but I finally make Joplin MO. I try to find a 'covered' gas station with no luck but I eventually find some cover under the eaves next to the station. At least here the rain is not driving straight at me.
While I am trying to decide what to do a trucker engages me in conversation and asks where I am heading. When I say to Moundsville, WV via St. Louis he lets me know what I am in for. From here to Saint Louis there is nothing but rain. Its a shame, he says, that I am not going the other way as I would be out of the rain in just a few miles! I am tired. I am cold. I am wet to the core and I am not having any fun at all dodging the 18 wheelers who seem intent on driving me off the road. I have over 780 miles to go to get to Hoagy's. I am only half way there. I decide to call it quits. I have ridden 765 miles since I left home this morning and over 500 miles of that have been in torrential driving rains and wind. I am just not meant to make it to Hoagy's for the SS2000 today. I feel totally defeated and, even worse; I feel I have let down Hoagy. I call the wife to let her know I am turning around and will probably stop at here brothers just south of Fort Worth for the night if he will have me. I then call Hoagy and with a lump in my throat let him know I cannot make it. I do not mind admitting that I was pretty choked up about my decision. The gentleman that Hoagy is he completely understands. He is sad that I won’t be there but understands immediately that to carry-on with the weather and my current mind set would just not be safe.
SO I turn around and head back towards Oklahoma City. As I near Tulsa the rain has stopped and the sub is almost trying to peak through the wispy clouds that remain. Riding on and into sunshine some hour later and riding is fun again. I am still wet but I am drying out slowly. At Ardmore I call my wife's brother, plug his address into the GPS and set off. I make it back to his house just after 11:00PM. When I get to his house I have ridden nearly 1,300 miles in just over 21 hours. Very nearly a BBG pace despite (or because of) the weather.
The next day I get up to a cooked breakfast and then head off home (the long way) on a bright, sunny, warm Thursday morning.
When I get home I got on the Internet immediately to find out what happened and why I had such nasty weather. Hurricane Gustav had come on land and headed north just like expected BUT instead of turning right at Dallas the tropical storm headed further north and had, in fact, mirrored by entire route. I had ridden into and then in the middle of, a tropical storm for 500 miles!
Epilogue: They always say that the wise rider knows when to call it quits and I like to think that I made the 'wise' decision even though I felt like a quitter at the time. Hindsight is 20/20 and I can honestly say now that I did make the right decision. To continue on when it is not fun is not the right thing to do and I am more convinced each day that passes and each day that I get to enjoy riding, that to continue would have only ended in disaster somewhere. Like they say, the wise guys live to ride another day. Hoagy will continue to setup rides and continue to raise money for worthy causes and, when the planets align, I will be right there with him. Hopefully on the CC50 in 2009. See you then Hoagy!
Thanks for reading this.