During the lead up to the rally, riders have an opportunity to participate in a private IBR forum, located within the IBA Forum, and for registered riders and senior staff only. This is a place to discuss rally topics, ask questions of staff and veteran riders, speculate on the rally, share farkle ideas, discuss routing methods, and generally get to know those who will be sharing the upcoming 11 days with you.

Sharing information is great, but there is more involved. A camaraderie is developed among the participants and the forum facilitates this, months before everyone gathers for the event. Many lasting friendships are created. Beyond the latest farkles, riders share thoughts and feelings, along with the anticipation, stress, elation, disappointment, goals, and pressure involved in rally preparation. Hopefully, the rookies will also share in the tranquility, satisfaction, and celebration of successfully attaining a finish in the World’s Toughest Rally.

Rookies who utilize the forum become better informed and better prepared for success in the rally. As always, there are several IBR veterans willing to share their knowledge and experience with rookies. It has always been an interesting exchange with good information and revealing insights provided by the participants. The 2023 participants continued that tradition.

This group of riders has widely varying careers and interests, but their reasons for competing in the rally are similar. Their riding histories are usually somewhat similar. Their rally skills self-assessments are similar. Their humility, at least for the most part, is similar. There are some amazingly interesting people, who have done some amazing things, although most seem to feel they are not interesting or exceptional at all.

“Big Dogs” is a term used in this sport to denote those who have demonstrated the ability to successfully push for the edge of the envelope, to explore what could be done at the edge, develop a plan to do it successfully, and most importantly, return safely from that accomplishment. The term is not to be applied to oneself, it is an honor conferred on those deserving of it by their competitors.

One of the traits I have frequently discussed is the quiet humility of those who reach the top of this sport. Typically, they will not be heard pounding their chest about what they have done. They will share stories, if you have the time and interest to pull the details out of them, but they are not in the parking lot telling everyone who will listen about all their great rides or their expertise with routing.

Completing a few interstate certificate rides, reading about the successful exploits of other riders until convinced being a top finisher is a walk in the park, having all the latest and greatest farkles on a motorcycle, these things do not a Big Dog make. Neither does being a rookie boasting to anyone listening the evening before your first IBR.

Before the start of every rally, it is not uncommon for a few rookie riders to fail to understand the culture of the Iron Butt Rally. For those who have never rallied at their best effort for 11 consecutive days, the rally will be quite a learning experience. Of those who fail to understand the IBR culture, or perhaps fail to respect the challenge they have signed up to attempt, a few may find some way to become finishers. Putting in the best effort possible for 11 days on a motorcycle can be a humbling experience. If the past is any indication, not many, if any, of the riders who achieve finisher status will have the same outlook on life at the finisher banquet as they had while sitting at the start banquet. It is often a life changing experience.  

Riders who have won the rally, as well as many of the top finishers, have set great examples of what it takes to be a Big Dog in this sport. Riders like Tom Loftus and Peter Behm, who were both quiet and unassuming, but always set a high bar for effort, integrity, kindness, and humility. They were both great examples for less experienced riders when competing in the IBR and other rallies. Both were also quintessential Big Dogs, but neither would have claimed that moniker. They are both fondly remembered and missed by many – cancer sucks.

There are some Big Dogs competing in this rally. There may be a few others who will earn it and perhaps have Big Dog status conferred upon them during this rally. But they will not be the ones telling everyone how great they are. Their results and demeanor will speak for them.