Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Non-Iron Butt Tour

It has been raining steady for a few days now, so I'm going to write about a crazy ride that I took long ago.

The Iron Butt rally is a long extreme endurance motorcycle ride, that first ran in 1984.

Since then, they have expanded their activities to many "self guided" rides. During these rides, the rider must complete a certain distance in a certain time, and document the result with gas receipts and witness signatures.

I have often read of the exploits of the Iron Butt riders, and I am quite amazed at the number of people willing to go on these runs. But I have never wanted to participate myself.

Except for the coincidental similarity, this trip has nothing to do with the Iron Butt association. I have no documentation to even prove I took this trip. It predates the first Iron Butt rally by one year.

In 1983, I bought my third motorcycle, a Honda Silver Wing GL500. I was 35 years old and living in Kitchener, Ontario. It was a hot August, and a plan formed in my mind to take my new motorcycle on a long solo trip to Baie Comeau Quebec, my home town, located about 800 miles away to the northeast. I packed my bike and left home at about 1:30 on Friday afternoon, Aug 12, 1983, planning to be back by Sunday night. This was already quite an ambitious schedule. It was my first ever long distance motorcycle trip on my own. I figured I could make more miles a day alone than with a passenger.

The journey started off quite normally on a hot sunny afternoon. I rode the ever so boring 401 heading east. I planned to stop and stay with my sister in Quebec City for the night, but I didn't phone ahead to let her know I was coming, that is something my passenger might have done, if she was coming along with me. Anyway, Quebec City is a good 11 hours from Kitchener, driving non-stop except for gas breaks and the occasional burger and coffee. I arrived there at about 11 PM, and it was a bit too late to drop in unannounced. But that was where the interesting road began, as I left the freeway and entered the mountains. I was psyched up to hit the mountains for the very first time on a bike over 250 cc, and unencumbered by the weight of a passenger. So I just kept going into the darkness.

By this time there was a bit of a chill in the air. I was getting further north and the sun had set. I had no windshield on this bike, and I had not thought of bringing my cold weather gear. As the night wore on, I stuffed some papers in the front of my jacket to help insulate me. Right now I forget where I got those papers - maybe free papers at some roadside tourist stop. By about 2:30 AM I had reached the ferry over the Saguenay River and I was cold. So I appreciated being able to warm up in the lounge and also grabbed a hot chocolate from a vending machine.

I was still wide awake and keen to ride on. I enjoyed watching the stars, and in fact there was a meteor shower going on that I could watch with fascination as I drove through the night.  Also, in the moonless night, the northern lights were visible.

Soon after I left the ferry, I saw the bus behind me. This would be the Quebec City- Baie Comeau bus, that I had taken as a passenger a few times. It stops in most towns to see if there is someone to pick up. And I knew that it was fast. I was going about 110 kph on the straights, and the bus kept catching up. But each time we reached a town, it had to drop back and look for passengers. I was driving as fast as I dared in the mountains in the dark, but gradually the lights of the bus gained on me between towns. It was a close race. Finally at about 5 AM, I was still ahead, but too cold to carry on. I was beginning to shake. So I stopped beside the road right near the Outardes river as the sun was coming into view. I started jogging to build up some body heat. Within less than two minutes, the bus roared by, leaving me in a wind vortex. Right behind the bus, looking like it was being towed, was a police car. I was glad he wasn't following me. The sight was intriguing enough that I got back on the bike and tried to follow to see what would happen, but I couldn't catch up.

Before long I had reached Baie Comeau and I wasn't really sure what to do next, because my plan didn't go that far ahead. I was hungry so I went to a restaurant for breakfast. Back then, there were no Tim Hortons or MacDonalds in Baie Comeau, so I went to a real restaurant and got a huge breakfast. I don't remember what I had, but I still remember it as one the best breakfasts ever.

Still without a plan I rode around town looking at the houses I used to live in. Then I decided that I had seen enough and I wanted to do more riding. So I turned around and headed back home. I knew I would need sleep at some point, and I would deal with it when I got tired. By about 8:30 AM it was starting to hit me, so I pulled off into a picnic area on a beach. There were some big flat rocks, so I laid down and immediately fell asleep. I woke up about an hour later with an itchy mosquito bite. I got back on the bike and started riding again, this time I was warm and actually felt rested.

Passing through Quebec City again, I stopped at a tourist information to find out how to get to my sister's house. I had not been there before, so I asked for instructions on how to get to "la rue Des Tours". The girl at the counter said there is no Rue Detours in Quebec city, perhaps I was mistaken and it was a "detour" sign? No, I insisted. And then I said it is located near "La Rue Larue". At this point the tourist information girl began to become suspicious that I was pulling her leg, "rue" being also the French word for "street"). I left without any instructions, and so continued on towards home without stopping. Later on, I found out that it was not "Rue LaRue", it was "Avenue Larue". Excuuuuuse me, and anyway, both those streets are in Beauport, not Quebec City, and so not on the Quebec City map, even though they are right next to each other.

Somehow I kept going through the rest of the day and well into the night again but in southern Ontario the night was warm - over 25c. My final pit stop was a 401 service centre just east of Toronto, about 200 km from home. While I was sitting drinking a coffee outside another motorcyclist came over to talk, and wanted to know where I was from. "Kitchener" I said, and he said "Man, you are far from home."

So I continued on and made it home just after midnight, for a total distance of 2650 km. There was no one home, so I just fell asleep until the alarm went off at 6:30 AM, I guess I forgot to turn it off for the weekend.

Picture: That's me (The Lost Motorcyclist) in 1983 pumping up the air shock on the rear of the Silver Wing. The picture is also on my Microverse website, along with a review of the bike.

1 comment:

  1. Good yarn - I enjoyed that. Thanks.

    'rue Des Tours' ... just like that incredibly long town of 'Sortie,' just off the Transcanadienne, eh?

    Regrettably, over the past thirty years, the 'iron' content of our butts has diminished somewhat, n'est-ce pas? :-(