Riding 1,024 Miles in 24 Hours for Buffalo Chicken Wings
By Steve “Hot Wing” Lita and “Buffalo” Tricia Szulewski
S: It wasn’t long ago that I thought an Iron Butt endurance ride was outside my capabilities. I didn’t follow the concept. I just figured that’s what “those” guys do — good for them, I’ll show them respect. I’ve driven four-wheelers (and more-wheelers) long distances, but, alas, there is no Iron Butt award for automobile motoring.
My mindset changed entirely in late June 2008, when I pulled off what might have qualified for an entry-level Iron Butt certification. The epiphany came after riding a safe and enjoyable 850 miles in 14 hours while returning from the ’08 Honda Hoot. That’s when I realized that, yeah, I can do this. I can ride 1,000 miles in one day.
The next day at the office I wondered: who was I going to recruit to be my wingman? (And at that time little did I know the term wingman would fit so well.) Who would want to? Who could do it logistically and physically? Who would I want to ride with? As I fished around the office for supporters, we discussed “Where are we going for lunch?” I think it was me who suggested the Buffalo chicken wings.
T: When I first heard Steve talking about doing an Iron Butt ride, I was completely uninterested. No thanks. But when I overheard him discussing hot wings, I butted in, in my usual style. My hometown happens to be the great city where it all started. And not only that, but it doesn’t take much to convince me to ride for one of my favorite spicy entrees. So over my cubicle wall, I blurted out “Let’s go to the Anchor Bar, home of the original Buffalo chicken wings!”
Because I’ve traveled to and from the city of Buffalo, New York, countless times over the years to visit family, I knew that it would take roughly 400 miles to get there. So while I didn’t really care much about obtaining that certificate, I told Steve that if he did all the planning and prep work, I would join him on his quest — so long as we were headed to Buffalo.
S: But why stop there? Why not throw down the other gauntlet? I remembered visiting an upstart rival restaurant back in the ’90’s on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border that billed itself as the “King of the Wing.” Quaker Steak & Lube served wings so hot that no one was able to finish a plateful. That was my one and only visit to Quaker S&L, but it left a burning memory, if you know what I mean.
A little Internet surfing to ensure that both the Anchor Bar and the Quaker S&L were still thriving revealed another interesting detail: in 1977, Buffalo mayor Stanley M. Makowski proclaimed July 29 “Chicken Wing Day,” in recognition of the originators of the chicken wing, Frank and Teressa Bellissimo. “July 29th? Oh, this is too perfect,” I thought. “It’s a weekday. I wasn’t previously committed to work travel … but I am now!”
And that is how our WingFest took shape. Anchor Bar was Trish’s idea, and she had the next best bike in the office for making an Iron Butt ride: a shiny new Triumph Tiger. It didn’t take much for me to convince her. I twisted her arm without ever touching it.
After some careful pretrip planning, we determined that a ride from southern Connecticut to Buffalo would put us there just in time for lunch, then a turn south for the Ohio-Pennsylvania border would land us at QS&L in time for dinner. Then we’d point the bikes east and cut straight across Pennsylvania to head home. We’d clock well over 1,000 miles in 24 hours, which we needed to become duly baptized SaddleSore club members.
I did some pretrip marketing as well, contacting the principals of both the Anchor Bar and Quaker Steak & Lube. Ivano Toscani is the executive chef and host at the Anchor Bar, and, as it just so happens, is a dyed-in-the-wool motorcycle enthusiast. He was excited to hear about our big ride, and said he would have a huge plate of wings waiting for us. Carrie Longstreet, field marketing manager for the Quaker Steak & Lube chain, supported our efforts as well.
I visited the Iron Butt Association web site for guidelines. There’s quite a bit of preparation in an effort such as this. After all, why should the IBA just trust anyone’s word? This is a difficult feat that not everyone can, or wants to, accomplish. But it’s not impossible to do. Eyewitness forms and log sheets are available online, so I printed out what we needed.
My home television set was locked on The Weather Channel as the day approached. Nothing but clear skies showed in the forecast. Houston, we are a Go. Maps in hand, suited up for a full day of riding, we met our staff photographer, Bob Feather, at a gas station on the Merritt Parkway in Fairfield, Connecticut. Bob would witness our 5 a.m. departure.
Mistake #1: It wasn’t until we arrived that we discovered this roadside gas station has no specific street address. So we recorded mile markers and nearby exit numbers to most closely approximate our actual starting point. As per official IBA rules, we gassed up and made sure to obtain time-and-date-stamped computer-generated receipts to go along with our starting point witness forms. It was 5:08 a.m., pitch dark, and we were off.
Morning flew by; Trish and I were doing great. We beat the morning rush and got out to the suburbs with clear road before us. The route we planned was a lightly traveled stretch of New York 17 to take us toward Buffalo. A few hours in, we were ready for breakfast and gas. That’s where Mistake #2 happened. Remember, everything has to be properly documented. Naturally, the gas pump I picked was out of receipt paper, and the clerk seemed annoyed when I asked her for a manually written receipt with as much information about our location as possible.
T: I originally suggested this route, which follows New York’s southern tier, for a few reasons. First, it’s scenic. There are lots of hills, valleys, rivers, and farms to keep the spirits up. Second, it’s well maintained, and fast. We could ride all the way past Corning, New York, on this route, without being bored or slowing down.
S: We were still in New York and the sun was up. But we were headed west, so the sun was on our backs. However, some things were still in front of us. Just then: Thwap! Buzzzzz! Ouch! I’d opted to wear an open-face helmet for all-day comfort, and already I regretted it. Something hit my forehead, and man, it hurt. I shoved my gloved hand up between my head and helmet, and retrieved a squished, half-dead, pissed-off bee. I flicked him away and felt a stinging pain. Time for a rest stop and my first dose of aspirin of the day.
T: After we passed Corning, Steve asked me to take the lead into Buffalo. We turned onto Interstate 90 north, toward Rochester, but decided to stay off the highways whenever possible. Passing my sister’s college in Geneseo, New York, I made Mistake #3 when I chose a rural country road to take us west for the next 60 miles. We motioned to each other that our stomachs were growling as we got stuck behind farm equipment and coasting four-wheelers on the 45 mph road. We’d hoped to reach Buffalo by noon, but it was already 1:20 when I finally led Steve into the Anchor Bar parking lot.
S: Upon our arrival, we were greeted by none other than Ivano himself. He told some great stories as he showed us around the House of Wings. License plates from all over the country decorate the walls, and some of them have great stories behind them. Examples of Ivano’s personal collection of motorcycles are perched over the entranceway. The main dining hall is wallpapered with pictures of famous football players, musicians, actors, and Buffalo dignitaries. Ivano said he had a special appetizer planned for us, and returned from the kitchen with the tastiest marinated eggplant focaccia I’ve ever had. Of course we gorged on the appetizer, almost forgetting why we were there. Next came the reason for our visit, the heaping plate of wings. Not too hot, not too bland, just right in my book, and we weren’t about to leave one wing uneaten.
After a few obligatory photos, I realized we had spent over an hour and a half at Anchor Bar. Oh, man, that wasn’t gonna help our timetable. But we couldn’t be rude to our gracious hosts, and the meal and atmosphere were well worth the ride. After a quick gas stop and directions to the highway we were southbound and down, with Lake Erie to our right, headed for Pennsylvania and the Ohio border. Heavy construction traffic conspired to delay us a little more in Erie, Pennsylvania, and I was starting to second-guess that long lunch stop. Once we were rolling at more than a snail’s pace again, I decided to hold off on the next gas stop until we were traveling south on Ohio Route 11 — Mistake #4. After all, we needed to prove that we were on all these roads and a receipt from our most distant state would be good for evidence. Little did I know that as we turned off I-90 and headed south on Highway 11, we were entering farm country. Cornfields spread out as far as the eye could see, but no gas stations. Running on reserve and conserving throttle, I motioned to Trish that we might have a problem.
No, we definitely had a problem. I coasted as far as I could and almost reached the Interstate 87 exit. I was out. Trish’s fuel warning light had just come on. Then came this pearl of wisdom from my cohort’s lips, “This is gonna put us way off schedule, isn’t it?”
“Only if you stand here and don’t go get me some gas,” I replied. She was off like a shot. I killed the time by sending a fake rescue call to a buddy back in Connecticut and laughing my head off. Here I am, halfway into my big quest, and I’m out of gas.
T: As I found myself frantically searching the long, straight country roads for a fuel station, I was secretly resenting Steve.
I pictured him laying there, having a nice nap, while I put on miles that didn’t count, and I desperately needed a restroom. The only good thing about Steve running out of gas, was that at least he made it close to the exit ramp. Once I finally found a station (with no restroom for customers!) and got a small containers-worth of gas for him, I returned to the scene of the crime.
S: Back on the road, we weren’t far from our dinner stop and wing overdose number two: Sharon, Pennsylvania, and the Quaker Steak & Lube restaurant. There was no fanfare for us upon arrival — actually there was a waiting line to get in — but we found a table and didn’t waste any time in ordering. There was more motorsports paraphernalia than you could shake a stick at. There was a custom Harley chopper on a rotating beam just over our table, neon signs, and NASCAR posters all over the place. The joint was packed and loud. Time wasn’t on our side, but at least we got the two major accomplishments out of the way. Next up — the trek east across Pennsylvania to get back home.
The sun set soon thereafter; we trudged along and racked up the miles. Rest stops were more frequent now — to freshen up, stretch, fuel up, and shake off fatigue. It had gotten so late that even some of the gas stations were closed.
T: The toughest part of this 24-hour journey was what happened once the sun had set. With nothing to look at besides Steve’s dim taillight, and the dashed lines going by in a sleep-inducing rhythm, it became a challenge to stay alert. Luckily, I’d saved my iPod battery, so that helped.
S: It was early morning when we actually decided to take naps at a truck stop. Trish found a cold stone picnic table, and I lay on a cement slab. I couldn’t get over how warm the concrete was in the middle of the night, after soaking up the sun’s rays all day. It was as nice as a bed linen heater. I set the alarm on my watch, and we were both out like lights. This was what we needed to refresh and boost the batteries. When I awoke, I did some calculations, and figured we still had time to make our 1,000-mile quota.
As the minutes ticked away, the 24-hour mark approached.
I was worried we wouldn’t be able to find the three things we needed to complete and document our trip — an open gas station; a computer-generated, time-and-date-stamped receipt; and an eyewitness willing to vouch for two total strangers on an odd journey in the middle of the night.
I knew there was a 24-hour gas station up ahead, near the Palisades Mall in West Nyack, New York, so I gunned it for the exit, with the clock ticking in my head. We pulled in and filled up with minutes to spare. We both got receipts with valid dates and times within 24 hours of our start time and the trip odometer on my bike was reading 1,056 miles. Trish’s Tiger logged 1,076, but she had some extra miles on there for chasing gas back in Ohio. Just as Trish blurted out “All we need now is for a biker to ride in here and sign our witness forms,” off in the distance we heard the rumble of a big American V-twin. I couldn’t believe it. This guy came riding into the gas station and pulled up to the next pump. I walked over and explained our dilemma. His name was Robert, and he had no problem signing our witness form, but he had to hurry and get to work. Our hero.
I can’t believe it. Despite our little slipups, dawdling, and sidetracks, we’d done it. We’d done something that not everyone can or will do. With proper preparation, planning, and safety in mind: fun, adventure, a memory stick full of pictures, and a whole lot of laughs were our rewards. Not to mention more wings on ice for lunch tomorrow. My suggestion to anyone contemplating an IBA run is to plan ahead and don’t push your luck. There’s no shame in not finishing, and safety comes first. But most of all, do it for the fun. I’m thinking that I need to go for some real Maryland crab cakes next time, with Georgia pecan pie for desert — in Georgia, of course. RB
Burn, Baby, Burn - TS
We couldn’t possibly take a day away from the office to do this “lunch ride” without bringing some wings back to share with our coworkers. So Steve prepared by bringing a Küryakyn cooler bag, which we stuffed full of frozen Anchor Bar and Quaker Steak & Lube wings. I brought my toaster oven, celery, and blue cheese dressing in to work for the tasting. (Please don’t even get me started on those who dip their wings in ranch dressing. It’s just plain wrong, and I wouldn’t allow it.)
Many people commented on the lack of “heat” in most of the wings, except for the few Atomic QS&L wings. I myself prefer a pretty spicy wing, and was disappointed in this regard, even at the restaurants. Luckily, I bought a bottle of the Anchor Bar Wings Sauce while at the restaurant, so I was able to doctor up the wings a bit. Besides that, the group was split pretty evenly about which restaurant’s wings they preferred. When asked, I commented that after riding over a thousand miles for chicken wings, my favorites are the ones I make myself on the barbecue, marinated in Frank’s Red Hot sauce.
The Official Iron Butt web site is a library of long-distance riding knowledge. There you’ll find a list of 29 points of wisdom.
Here are but a few of our favorite tips:
1. Know your limits and plan your trip around them. If the longest ride you have ever taken is 300 miles in a day, don’t plan a trip with a string of endless 500-mile days.
2. Get gas before you need it. You only have to run out of gas one time, or take
a five-mile detour in search of gas, to blow the time you saved by not stopping. When gas is handy, stop and get it.
3. Carry aspirin for aches and pains. Aspirin enjoys an almost cult-like following in the riding community; riders claim it alleviates a variety of pains and helps prevent muscle spasms.
4. Pack wisely; keep personal supplies handy. Sunscreen, skin lotions, eyewash, a flashlight, a tire gauge, maps, and other essentials should all be kept in a handy location.
5. Learn how to avoid boredom. Carrying an MP3 player with your favorite music can prove invaluable.
Originally printed in RoadBike January/February 2009