Bob Higdon is a former IBR scribe and the most entertaining writer I have known. In the forward to Ron Ayres 1997 book, Against the Wind, Bob attempts to answer a difficult question: Why do we ride the Iron Butt Rally? The following is an excerpt from what Bob wrote to answer that question:
“The answer could be, in this most sublimely solitary of sports, ironically a question of companionship. The riders rarely see each other, dancing as they do across the country in chaotic, Brownian motion.”
“But think of the end. Think how glorious it will be to get off the bike and not have to count the minutes until you have to strap yourself onto it again. When you turn off the key for the last time, there aren’t 100 people on earth who can seriously appreciate what you have undergone. About 40 of them will show up at a motel west of Salt Lake City, looking as pounded as you do. The rest of us can only guess. You ride this endless ride to be one of them.”
Bob wrote those words in reference to the 1995 IBR. At the time, Bob had not yet completed his own IBR. He would eventually become “one of them” by finishing his first IBR in 2001, along with Lisa the RallyMom and your current scribe. These days, a 1, 2, or 3-digit IBA number and $8 might get you a fancy coffee with additives and a swirl in the cream, but being “one of them” has little meaning outside of a very small community of LD riders. It is, however, a point of respect among serious riders. IYKYK.
The 1995 IBR was the first IBR start I attended. After the riders departed, I was riding east on I-80, to continue my vacation trip, in the company of “one of them”. As we shared a lane with an IBR rider heading for their first bonus of the rally, I spoke to my wife through the intercom. I simply said, “I have to do that one day.” Her response was equally simple, “Why?” Some folks understand, but some never do.
I became a member of the Iron Butt Association in 1996, completing a Saddlesore 1000 (1000 miles in 24 hours), a BB1500 (1500 miles in 36 hours), a 50CC (Coast to Coast in under 50 hours – Jacksonville Beach, FL to San Diego, CA), and a 10/10ths (10 consecutive 1000 mile days) during that year. I did not have the words to give an answer at that moment back in SLC, nor did I have them after doing all those certificate rides in 1996. But when I read Bob’s comments in Ron’s book in 1997, I realized he had finally put into words much of what I felt back in 1995. I would go on to become friends with Bob, as well as enjoy BBQ picnics at Ron’s home in Plano, Texas. I would do more certificate rides and even convince Mike Kneebone to allow me to enter the 11 Day 11,000 mile Iron Butt Rally, which I would go on to finish with gold status, twice.
While I have never been one of the elite ‘Big Dogs’ of the IBR, I have certainly pushed my personal limits in the rally. I have never been content to just ride around and finish. Each time, I have reached into the deepest depths of my being, searching for the fortitude to continue. I have stared down that fierce inner voice clawing at me to give up, relentlessly pounding inside my brain, attempting to coerce me into admitting that my goals for Day 8 or 9 might simply be beyond my tired (and no doubt odorous) reach.
Some call it luck, but I do not believe in luck. Through an unexplainable granting of grace and strength, I was somehow able to overcome the deep, lonely depths of darkness to actually “ride that endless ride to be one of them”. I persevered to the finish line. Becoming a finisher, no matter what position, and knowing deep down in your soul that you gave it everything you had for 11 days, is something very special. Something shared by those few riders who have become “one of them”.
Mike, Bob, Ron, Lisa, and countless others have had a hand in many riders achieving finisher status, yet the total number remains very small in the world of motorcycling. There are a number of rookies out there on the last leg of the 2023 IBR, entering a realm of effort few have attempted and fewer still have completed. There are also a few riders with the proverbial “monkey on their back”, trying once again to become a finisher. They are all trying to see their way through the depths of darkness to become “one of them”. There are also vets pushing through the night who cannot get enough of this pressure cooker and believe they can catch lightning in a bottle once again.
If you are so inclined, say a prayer, or send some good thoughts their way tonight. We hope they all make it safely to the finish to reach their goals. We hope the rookies have what it takes to withstand the heat and finally become “one of them”.