Long-Distance Custom: Iron Butt Veteran

SS3000_RMNP-2During the winter of 2007, I was introduced to the amazing world of The Iron Butt Association (IBA). By 2008, I’d already done a few custom jobs on my Suzuki M109R and took part in my first IBA run called the Saddle Sore 1000 — a 1,000 mile ride meant to be finished in less than 24 hours. After completing the SS 1000, I was hooked. Two weeks later, I rode in the Bun Burner 1500. In 2009, I took on the Lake Michigan 1000, The Lower Lakes 1000, and the Saddle Sore 2000. The next year, I conquered the Lake Huron 1000 and upgraded from the Saddle Sore 2000 to the SS 3000.

In those three years, I had not only completed many rides, but had customized my Suzuki numerous times to create the ultimate IBA bike. But when 2011 rolled around, I had no time to take part in any IBA events. After a year of this, I found that I needed a break from my normal life and made plans to attend the 2012 IBA Spring Meet in Jacksonville, Florida on my Suzuki.

As you can imagine, I was out of practice. To prep myself, I rode the 1,100 miles down to the rally in under 18 hours. The next day, I took part in the Florida Mountain 1000 Rally where contestants ride 1,000 miles while looking for key points with the word mountain on them. Once found, participants then take a picture of themselves with the sign and their rally flags.

During the event, I found out that the Motorcycle Tourers Forum had a few riders participating in a 50CC — a coast-to-coast-to-coast ride in under 50 hours where bikers must also collect sand and water from both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A couple other riders were also doing a 100CCC. I was really pumped! I was already at the starting location and had everything I needed for the ride, so it was a no brainer to take part! The first thing I did was call work to take the next week off; my boss thought I’d gone loco. I then got a new front tire and decided to visit Bike Week in Daytona before the ride. But one drive through that mess was enough for me to want to head west, immediately.

Atlantic_StartOn Monday morning, I woke up at 4:30 am for the ride, put on my two-piece leather Aerostich Transit suit, and walked to the water on Jacksonville Beach to scoop up my start-point souvenir: sand and water from the Atlantic Ocean. I then headed back to the gas station where I found about 10 other contestants topping off their tanks and getting their start time printed on their receipts.M109_Mid-Atlantic Meet  

I looked around and saw BMWs, Gold Wings, and sport-tourers. Everyone was extremely supportive of my adventurous attitude and all the veteran IBA members offered invaluable advice, though none of them seemed eager about giving up their windshields. All of them were surprised when they found out that I had chosen not to ride my new Kawasaki Concourse 14. They also couldn’t believe that I’d chosen my Suzuki because I loved the feel of the wind on my chest and the road beneath me.

The ride soon began. Some bikes left in pairs; others rode solo like me. But everyone drove at their own pace, for they knew that this was an endurance ride, not a race. When I was able, I set the cruise control and found myself passing some of the contestants before we’d left Florida even though I was the last one to leave the station. After a little while, I started spacing out my stops about every 300-350 miles, programming my stations of choice into my zūmo 660, a device that also acted as my MP3 and phone access system through a Bluetooth connection.

I soon pulled into my first fill up statopm, where I found that one of the veteran riders on an ST was already finishing up. We wished each other a safe, fun ride, but focused on keeping our gas and restroom stop under 10 minutes. As we talked, I found out that we both planned on arriving at Van Horn, Texas by the end of the day. That would both give us over 1,500 miles in under 24 hours, also known as a 1500 Bun Burner Gold. When the 10 minutes were up, I left and made my way across Highway 10 where I found myself on the raised section above the bayous looking down at a group of fishing boats.01 Texas 

At each gas stop, I made sure to send friends and family a text update of my progress by telling them the town and state I was in. When I arrived at the Texas line, I saw a sign for exit 880 and just had to stop to take a picture of it with my bike. The thought of traveling 880 miles just to cross one state really put the size of Texas into perspective.

By the time I reached Houston, I was ahead of schedule and started scoping out El Paso as the new goal for the day, which would put me over 1,600 miles. It started getting dark when I headed out of San Antonio and saw lightning in the distance. Maintaining a good pace with the new Texas speed limit, I soon went head-to-head with the storm. While my waterproof Transit suit left no concerns about getting wet, I hadn’t considered that the temperature would drop more than 20 degrees. Even in leather, you feel that. Using the next exit near Kerrville, I pulled under a station’s canopy to put on my heated jacket and glove liners under my suit. Once I was all sealed up, I went back out onto the expressway to El Paso.SS3000_RMNP-2

Continuing at a more conservative pace in the rain, I found myself continually reducing my speed as the wind gusts hit 50 mph. When the rain started to feel like hail, I looked down, and saw hail bouncing off my chest and onto the tank. I swiftly dropped to 35 mph with my four-way flashers. But something else happened. I felt my rear tire slip, forcing me to hastily slow to 20 mph. Before I knew it,  I was riding with a semi-trailer — flashers on — in front of me and a car behind me with lights also flashing, all the while being pounded by the wind and rain. In retrospect, maybe I should have stayed under that station canopy where I changed my gear.

Despite these conditions, I bypassed a rest stop, pushing through the storm to my next gas stop near Sonora. There, I took a longer break to get some weather updates, finding out that there was now tornado warnings where I’d just come from. I got some food, collected my thoughts, and then headed back on the road. It was now in the low 40s and my heated gear was doing great for my chest and hands, but doing nothing for below my waist. After a few more unscheduled stops because of the cold, I calculated that I’d lost more time than what I’d gained earlier and therefore refocused my destination to Van Horn, which was not out of reach.

As I watched the miles click away — and the temperatures drop to 38 degrees — I wanted nothing more than to just get my gas receipt and end the day. By 3 am,  I’d been cruising at about 75-80 mph for awhile and could now see the lights of Van Horn in sight. To prep myself for the stop, I started to move my toes, feet, and legs so that I could actually stand up once I got there. With my joints warmed up, I soon saw the station and headed straight for it, pulling closer to the pumps and dragging my feet on the ground to steady myself before coming to a complete stop. I sat there for about a minute and then slowly picked up my left leg to rotate down the kickstand. I finally felt sure enough to dismount, and got my fuel and receipt. Thank God!Finished_2011-1









I checked into a hotel and got to sleep at about 4 am. I woke to my alarm at 7 am and gazed out at the frosted world before gathering up my things. So as not to disturb anybody, I pushed my bike away and then fired it up in the frigid, 36-degree weather and got back on the road. As the sun was rising, Van Horn was still in the shadows of the mountains. As I drove west, I actually got to see the purple mountain effect with the rising sun on my back. Beautiful! As I climbed in elevation less than 50 miles from the day’s start, I found a few inches of snow lining the road.

El Paso welcomed me with a seven-mile rush hour back up. New Mexico and Arizona introduced me to some relaxing scenery. After going through some illegal alien check stops in California, a few people warned me that there was still snow in the mountains before San Diego. They were right. There were several inches of snow along the sides of thePacific Ocean_2 road with some wet road conditions. I even saw some people making little snowmen and putting them on their cars to take them back home to San Diego. When I was about 2 miles from the water, I felt my rear end shift to one side followed by a horrific grinding sound. I immediately stopped my ride and checked my rear tire. I discovered that my right side bearing cover was floating on the axle shaft with little left of the bearing behind it. I pushed the dust cover back in and continued to the water with my weight shifted to the left side.

I pulled into the lot, parked the bike, grabbed my souvenir bottle and camera, and headed to the water in full gear. I approached the beach and was met with a cement wall about 3′ high that was meant to route the flow of people to the beach. I hurdled it without hesitation. Wanting a photograph, I later asked some college kids if they’d take my picture. They cautiously agreed and inquired of my unusual beach attire. After sharing my story, they took a few photos with me. Yah, it was awesome posing with some California Girls on a beach in full leather, but all I could think about was getting my bike fixed.

I went to the designated hotel and checked in. The veteran ST rider was there and we started researching my options for repairs. The hotel even joined in and helped by printing out a list of bike shops in the area. With the advice of the ST rider, I singled out a particular shop, but it was closed for the evening, so I decided it was best to get some sleep.

03 Replace Bearing02 Bearing Remains 








I was awake, packed, and ready to go by the time all the shops were open. The shop best equipped and willing to work with my time constraints was actually the one recommended by the veteran: National City Motorcycle, which was about 10 miles south. As I cautiously rode my bike to the location, Mike from the shop had already sent his parts guy to pick up a wheel bearing and dust cover, but still lent me everything I needed to remove the rear rim. He then had his guys replace the bearing, determining that we should probably replace the dual bearings on the left side, which had taken extra abuse after the right side had worn out. Fortunately, the left bearings were automotive style and a local auto parts store had them available. When Mike went to get the parts, I rode along so I could get some food before starting my ride back. With my bike ready to roll in a little over three hours, I was now only seven hours behind schedule. After a few calculations, I found that it was still possible to get back to the Atlantic Ocean in under the 100-hour round trip time limit.Smokey MTNS

I was now in full mission mode: fuel stops were kept to 10 minutes with around 350 miles between them. Continuing through the night, I found that the weather was taking its toll on my lower body and decided to stop for sleep in Ft. Stockton at about 5 am. After requesting a wake-up call for 7 am, I lay down on the bed with only my leathers and boots removed to get my precious two hours of sleep. I would later find out that the ST veteran had left that hotel minutes before I got there.

I woke to the ringing wake-up call and quickly got ready. With no time to warm up the bike, I left immediately, but as quietly as possible, and soon caught up with the same storm I’d pushed through before around 9 pm near Covington, Louisiana. However, the storm was only comprised of light rain showers with winds reaching 20 mph, so it was still possible to maintain a good pace.

By the time I got back to Marianna, Florida, I’d accomplished my SS 2000 Gold — 2,000 miles in under 36 hours. I was definitely feeling the trip’s effect on my body and ended up taking a few unscheduled stops along the panhandle for stretching, jumping jacks, or whatever else I felt would keep me alert enough to safely reach the Atlantic. Looking back, I’d probably have been better off taking a two hour nap than taking all those stops, but at the time, I was too afraid of not making my goal. A guardian angel must’ve been watching over me.

Atlantic_Finish_SunriseAs I got closer to Jacksonville Beach, I could see the morning sun poking its head up in the distance. With my adrenaline pumping, I pulled into the same parking spot I’d used just four days before and headed to the beach  for my last souvenir. I then fueled up at the starting station and met up with the veteran ST rider where I thanked him for his help and support in San Diego. After having survived on trail mix, Cliff bars and water, the eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes and fresh fruit at breakfast made meAtlantic_Finish feel like I was living in luxury.

At this point, I knew I needed some sleep, but seeing as it was almost 7:30 am, I couldn’t get a room for a nap. Luckily, I found a conference room, but was awakened 15 minutes later when hotel staff came in to start setting up for an evening event.  I gave up on trying to sleep and decided to meet up with the witness for the end of the 100CCC. Once the paperwork was completed, I started for home by maneuvering through a different route in Georgia than the one I’d ridden on my way down.

With less than one and a half hours on the road, I felt like a bobble head and knew I needed to get some sleep. I got to a rest area just a few miles down the road and found the most comfortable picnic table — also known as The Iron Butt Motel — under a nice shade tree. With my bike covered, I used my jacket for a pillow and set my phone alarm. I got a nice one-hour-and-fifteen-minute nap, waking 45 min before my alarm was set to go off. Feeling rejuvenated, I got moving, deciding to ride until I got tired. With a SS 6000 in my sights, I headed toward Newport, Tennessee, putting me in a nice location to finish up the next day with a big cushion of time available. I hit more rain showers around Columbia, South Carolina, and reached Highway 40 between Ashville, North Carolina and Newport, Tennessee with bad showers. On a section of highway I’d usually have enjoyed, the heavy truck traffic and horrible weather conditions made me wish the day’s ride was done.Dragon_3

Pulling into Newport, I happily anticipated the sleep I was going to get. A hot shower and full stomach later, I found myself crawling into bed. Before I forgot, I grabbed my phone for that day’s text update to my friends and family. I woke up to my phone vibrating on my chest nine hours later. Apparently, I had fallen asleep before I could even send my first text. After going through several concerned messages to ease their minds, I was soon back on the road and homeward bound.

The rest of the ride was wet with temperatures in the low 50s, which was comfortable when compared to the Texas storm still fresh in my memory. When I pulled into the Lapeer station for my final fuel and receipt, I’d logged over 6,100 miles in six days, totaling 8,500 miles from when I began. It was truly an adventure of a life time. RB

Story and photos by Russell Swett

To read about Russell Swett’s detailed custom jobs, check out our June issue on newsstands 4/9, which is now available digitally on Zinio!



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  1. Wow!! I am going to be reading this one over and over again. I can’t stop thinking about how awesome this would be. I don’t think i could ever do in a Year what Russell did in 6 days!!!

    • I’m amazed of the interesting event, he had. It kept me, at constant reading to the very end. Great job.