Well … here we go again. The 2023 Iron Butt Rally (IBR) is about to get under way. The IBR is known as the “11 days, 11,000 miles” motorcycle rally where riders are challenged to route to bonus locations which will allow them to collect the most points possible during each of the three legs of the event. There are no allowances for weather, traffic conditions, mechanical failures, mishaps, performance awards, or being time barred for being late for a checkpoint window. One could think of it as a type of scavenger hunt on steroids. The more difficult a bonus is to collect, the more points it is usually worth. The rider has to consider a multitude of factors, including their personal limitations, physical and mental stamina, sleep requirements, and the condition and capability of their motorcycle. They must determine whether a bonus is a “sucker bonus”, where the points look great, but the time required to collect the bonus is excessive. In addition, there are rest bonuses which make sleep more valuable than riding, in the interest of riders getting enough rest to stay mentally sharp. The IBR is a complicated puzzle which very few riders have successfully solved.
Rally staff and riders are converging on Pittsburgh and bikes are filling the taped off area of reserved parking spaces at the Airport Marriott. It almost feels as if no time at all has passed since we all left Provo on July 2, 2021. Seeing old friends, picking up those friendships where you left off, months or even years ago, is one of the coolest things about being a part of the Iron Butt Rally.
However, for a few riders who were drawn for the 2023 rally, time may have passed too quickly. Some are finding they are not as ready as they need to be for the start at 10:00 am local time on Monday morning. Some things never seem to change.
Unfortunately, riders get sick, or injured, or just have life get in the way, and are forced to drop out at the last minute. Some procrastinate, finally realizing they have no chance to get all their “stuff” in one sock by this weekend. When facing such a reality, it is often wise to withdraw, rather than attempt to ride big miles for 11 days, not fully prepared for the required mental and physical demands, not to mention crazy weather and road conditions.
Marty Cover, going for his fourth IBR, had an unfortunate get off recently and despite wearing protective gear, suffered multiple injuries, including 14 broken ribs. No one needs to start this rally in that much pain, but he is here to support his friends and family. He told me he would probably be crying in the parking lot around 10:08 Monday morning. It’s another type of pain to watch everyone else roll out on their new adventures while being unable to go himself.
Dace Raven had great plans to join the fun. Unfortunately, she had a faceplant (her words) on the way to Pittsburgh. She is tough and will recover, but not in time for Monday morning’s start. Other rally favorites were also forced to call Lisa to lament circumstances arising which simply won’t allow them to go dark and focus on competing for two weeks. Fair enough. Doing well in the Big Dance is difficult enough without trying to complete it the mental gymnastics while your focus is somewhere else.
It is inevitable … some riders will always wait too late to start getting ready. When the Rally Mom has been emailing riders for well over a year with advance notice and directions on everything they need to be doing, but they call staff member and IBR vet Chris Sakala just four days before the rally start to ask for help with how to use Spotwalla for tracking, the answer from Chris is unlikely to be what the rider wants to hear. He has been available for consultation on this critical issue for the past three months, including a pinned thread reminder on the IBR rider forum. Shoulda, woulda, coulda, didn’t.
IBR veteran and staff member Brian Roberts is handling the fuel measurement and sound testing. The limit for fuel capacity is 11.5 gallons, including fuel lines. Riders who have a system which exceeds this limit at this point in the process have few options. One option is to add ballast to displace volume in their auxiliary fuel tank. In the past, riders have found themselves adding several feet of heavy duty steel chain to displace the excess fuel volume. Not the ideal solution on an already heavy bike. If a bike has an aftermarket exhaust, it must be tested to verify it does not exceed SAE J2825 standards under specific test conditions.
We are excited about one particularly notable and wonderful difference with the 2023 event. Covid travel restrictions are mostly behind us and our non-US riders have returned. We could not be more excited to have them back! The rally just wasn’t the same without them while the travel restrictions were in place. We currently have over a dozen non-US riders scheduled to start the rally on Monday.
Do not underestimate the challenges of making travel arrangements from another country, getting your bike and gear into this country, navigating roads and signage in unfamiliar areas, riding on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, and just grasping the sheer scale of distances, especially in the western states. Our out-of-the-country riders bring great flavor and a unique vibe to the rally. The rally staff is thrilled to have so many of them back in the mix this year.
There are always rumors and attributions regarding the Rally Mom or Rally Architect having mysterious powers to manipulate the weather or road construction delays around the country. Apparently, Lisa and Jeff have returned to their usual rare form somewhat early this time around. Last week, after the news reports aired with photos of a collapse of a major bridge on I-95 in Pennsylvania, creating havoc on a major eastern corridor, this was their email exchange:
Lisa: “We must be losing our touch; it’s so far away … “
Jeff: “It was just a warning shot across their bow …”
Jeff: “You’re in charge of the weather. Roads are on me.
Maybe it’s me, but it sure seems like they’re having far too much fun anticipating what lies ahead for unsuspecting rallyists. I do know Jeff has cooked up another menu masterpiece designed to challenge even the best rider’s abilities. The 2023 IBR has all the ingredients for another epic rally! Stay tuned to see how it unfolds for the riders who are up for the challenge… and those who are not.
Iron Butt Rally©
Photos by John Harrison and Tobie Stevens