Brit Butt Rallymaster
I am easy to spot on the IBR 2023 Leg 3 animation. Like Dopey following Snow White, I’m the one headed up north, trailing behind everyone until, at long last, I rejoin all the other dwarves converging on the IBR cottage in Pittsburgh.
Animation: 2023 Iron Butt Rally - Leg Three (spotwalla.com)
So why did I choose to go to Yellowknife? Well, pretty much like the last time I completed an IBR in 2001, when I went to Alaska with the Ozzie duo of John McCrindle and Derek Sutton, I had never been to the Northwest Territories before and would probably not have a reason to go there again; I hate hot weather, and I did not want to spend time stuck in traffic, so for me, it was ideal.
As I figured it, day one would be a fast run through Wyoming and Montana, two allegedly speed-tolerant states, then a more sedate pace to Edmonton for some rest. All was going well until I stretched Montana’s speed tolerance a little too far, which led to a 20-minute unscheduled stop on the roadside, a lecture on the perils of speeding, and a $120 fine.
After negotiating my way past a rather fussy Canadian border official, I carried out the plan and found a triple-eight motel in Edmonton, where I discovered my first problem. The T-Mobile ‘valid for a month’s unlimited calls, text and internet sim card’ that I was assured would work in Canada didn’t, so apart from at the motels, there would be no comms or internet for the next three days.
I had put 1200 miles behind me on day one, so I had travelled more than halfway, but the next 1000 miles were likely to be much slower. Banks of fog interrupted the early morning trek north, and I began to have doubts. Was this such a good idea? It may still be okay to adjust the plan, so I stopped at a gas station, pulled out the laptop and looked at the options. There were none; I had gone too far into the bonus wilderness to change now. I got back on the bike and ploughed 300 miles further north towards the honeybee statue and 6831 points at Fahler (ABFA).
After collecting the bonus and filling up at the local Co-Op, I checked the bonus book and spotted that the CALL3 was open, but I needed phone access. Luckily an elderly gentleman started to talk to me about all things motorcycling, so after a bit of banter, I persuaded him to make the call on my behalf. It took him three attempts, but once I heard the answerphone message kick in, I grabbed his phone and submitted my WHO/NUMBER/ WHERE/LAST/ NEXT monologue, doing my best not to be plucked out for ridicule in the daily report.
The road north went inexorably on, although I was pleasantly surprised at the number of towns and gas stations I came across; consequently, when I passed through a town called High Level, I confidently expected that the fuel left in the bike would get me safely to the next gas station. It very nearly didn’t; 200 miles later, I trickled into a Petro-Canada garage at Enterprise with one bar left on the fuel gauge and 398 miles showing on my odometer since the last refill.
It was now 8 pm; Yellowknife was still nearly 300 miles away, and it would take me almost five hours and several million dead horseflies to get there. The roads were bumpy, but all surfaced, so the FJR gobbled up the distance at an increasingly rapid rate, unencumbered by traffic or lack of daylight. After I crossed the Mackenzie River, the sun moved close to the horizon, giving an epilepsy-inducing flicker through the trees as the bike skirted around the Great Slave Lake.
Despite being halted by a herd of road-going Bison, I took 45 minutes off the original GPS time estimate and arrived at the outskirts of the Northwest Territories capital city just before midnight. It was still daylight; kids were cycling around the streets and playing football. I found the standard IBR triple-eight motel and spotted a suspiciously Iron Buttish GS parked outside, but they had no rooms left at the inn, so I had to go and find a stable elsewhere.
When I finally entered my room, I slumped onto the bed and stared at the ceiling. It was moving; the light fittings were sailing through a sea of textured paint. Who needs fentanyl when fatigue can do such a good job?
This is what twenty thousand points look like at four in the morning.
I slept for four hours, then collected what I had come here for, the 20818 points at Sombe K’e Park (NTYK). I knew from looking at the Spotwalla track in the hotel that my fellow trailblazer had already departed, so after filling up the bike, I headed back around that big lake to pick up the 6304 points at Hay River (NTHR).
After photographing the bike in front of Hay River Fisherman’s Wharf (NTHR 6304 pts), I made what proved to be an error and became fixated on returning to Pittsburgh. The distance was over 2700 miles, and I had three days to do it, but I ignored the perfectly doable options at Thunder Bay (ONTB) and Mackinac Island (MIMI).
I was now fully aware of where the gas stations were, so there were no further dramas in retracing my route, taking time out to pick up the bingo bonus at Tim Horton’s, where I discovered the universal availability of Wi-Fi in all their outlets.
It was dark when I drove through Edmonton's impressively modern road system before being spat out onto the murky eccentricities of the Trans-Canada Highway. It was foggy, and my sleep-addled brain could not determine why this road continuously went left. I exited the highway at Vermilion, picked up a receipt at a gas station, and checked into a motel.
When I approached the bike in the morning, I immediately saw why it looked like I was constantly turning left. A bolt had vibrated out of the GPS shelf support, and the left side had collapsed. Two zip ties later, all was back in order, just in time to discover problem number two; the battery was flat, so I could not start the bike. I had a similar occurrence on day three, so I knew I had to find a set of jump leads and a donor battery to get it going again.
I found a local gentleman and explained my problem; he said he would see if he could help. Ten minutes later, a two-tone rust and rust pick-up pulled up alongside the FJR. The owner got out of the cab, climbed into the bed, and re-arranged the debris until he successfully produced a set of jump leads that were man enough to fire up a tank. I pointed out that something more delicate was required for the battery on the bike. More kicking and shuffling in the back of the pick-up took place before a piece of copper wire was produced, and the sheathing stripped off with the belt-mounted multi-tool.
Ten minutes later, I was on my way across the tedious prairie landscape, interrupted only by the occasional beam pump and the smell of oil; ah yes, Edmonton Oilers, now I get it.
Late in the afternoon, the GPS directed me off the highway and toward the border crossing at North Portal. After ensuring that I really would be leaving the country in a few days, I was allowed back into the US and the third-world road network of North Dakota. Twice I had to wait to be escorted by a pilot vehicle through roadworks before I came across an orange sign that said “Bump”. This word did not adequately describe the two miles of wet slippery mud that I had to traverse on my 150-mph road missile, and inevitably I dropped it just before the end of this section.
That road in North Dakota.
A driver stopped to help me lift the bike out of the mud, and I picked up the piece of fairing that had broken off before finally exiting the muddy section. The following 1500 miles were going to be far less comfortable.
Unscheduled windshield modification.
I zig-zagged my way across the state until I reached the relative safety of the I94. Shortly before 04:00 on Thursday morning, I rode the bike into a rest area, put it on its side stand, sat down with my back against the warm engine and fell immediately asleep. When I woke up, it was light, and the traffic had built up considerably.
The remainder of the ride was unmemorable. Chicago was a traffic hell hole; the Ohio Turnpike was the longest 300 miles of the rally, and the desire to be in bed without any reason to wake up in the morning was overwhelming. I arrived at IBR HQ at midnight, eight hours before penalties kicked in and ten hours before the rally ended. Nobody was there to greet me.
After waking up at 06:30, I returned to the bike and rolled it over the official finishing line. Scoring was completed without any issues, and then the in-mind post-mortem began. I should have got those extra bonuses, and how did I screw up my sleep bonus on leg 2? Could’a, would’a, should’a, we all know the process.
At the banquet, I collected my plaque for coming 68th and then joined in with the congratulations of the progressively more worthy finishers. When they got to 7th, Ben Ernst was announced, to vigorous applause, as the first IBR rider to ever go to the Northwest Territories. My good friend Robert Koeber turned to me and said, “So now you know what it’s like to be the second man on the moon”.
And just like Buzz, that doesn’t bother me at all.
I have two more things to say. Firstly, a big thank you to the Iron Butt community for welcoming me back with such open arms; participating in this wonderful event was and will always be a privilege.
And finally, there is the bike; it was a 2014 rally-prepped FJR 1300. Two years ago, having not spoken to him in twenty years, I contacted Todd Witte and asked him whether he would help me purchase and store a bike for the rally. He agreed without question but then took it further by suggesting I use one of his. His generosity far exceeds his taste in shirts. I picked up a pristine red Yamaha, and two weeks later, I left him with the same bike hidden under a layer of filth and dead flies. Thank you, Todd; I hope to return the favour someday.