The First IBA Around Lake Huron Ride (second actually)
Originally written for the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club newsletter.
Many years ago I completed my first “SaddleSore 1000” ride on a Honda Pacific Coast (PC800), and qualified for membership in the Iron Butt Association. I.B.A. qualification entails riding over 1000 miles within a 24 hour period, and being able to prove it. It was actually quite easy (relatively speaking) on the plush Honda P.C. Unfortunately I also have a “dark Side Ride”. It is an all time Walter Mitty bike: an ’83 Suzuki GS450 Automatic! It is a delightful little bike with all the features for around town/short commuting anyone could wish for, light, maintenance free (practically, for a 20 year old bike), drive shaft drive. So in a fit of insanity (common amongst my family) I decided that it couldn’t be much harder to do another S.S.1000 on the Suzuki - could it? So......living near the great lakes and having to go to the Toronto area over the weekend I thought the “Around Lake Huron 1000” ride would just be a fine route. Said route being at least partially along non freeway type roads around the north shore, so I wouldn’t be hampered by the Suzuki’s limited speed potential (about 95mph tops with a slight wind, or about 80mph top cruise mode), then a relaxed early morning run down I-75 through Michigan to cross back into Canada at Port Huron/Sarnia and then 402/401 back to the north east side of Toronto. Sounds easy, I can do this - no problem. The ride went as follows: left Uxbridge, Ont. at midnight, north up regional roads (wow - is this ever dark, what the heck are those bright reflective looking things along the side of the road, looks like every once and a while they blink, hmmmm.....worry, worry) to Gravenhurst arrived in time to get gas at the only station open. Attendant said next gas would be North Bay - Say What!!! Immediately check official Suzuki GS450A specs. Hmmm... 3.4 U.S. gallons including reserve...oops, I may have a problem here. Good thing I brought along those little fuel bottles strapped to the pillion seat. Run onto reserve in middle of nowhere (unless you’re a mosquito, in which case it is a combination of Hong Kong and Times Square at midnight on you know when) and try to pour from small fuel bottle into tank while holding flashlight under chin and shoulder and at the same time trying to inflict grievous revenge on certain small bloodsucking insects who seem to consider me a good source of protein. Damn... where’s the wipe up rag? Even with this brilliant foresight I only just made it to North Bay on fumes, to find the only gas station open in town. This bike doesn’t get the kind of mileage that the PC does (sob!). Anyway...repeat this scenario on the way to Sudbury. After Sudbury I realize I’m in trouble (I did mention certain mental aberrations in my family, didn’t I?) as the next town of any size is Sault Saint Marie and it’s too far even with the extra gas sitting directly in the fire zone behind my no longer, at this point, iron butt. Fortunately however it is getting on towards dawn and perhaps some of the tourist trap stations (oops - I mean special visitor hospitality centres) will be opening up soon. Stopped about 100km (65mi) along at a station who’s sign said open - it lied. When went to start bike - nothing! Oh, oh, this could be a problem, for me of course, the mosquitos out for their early morning breakfast seemed to think all was swell. After some research and a certain amount (lots) of blind luck the correct loose wire was located and jammed back into the little metal thingie that is supposed to hold onto it for eternity, and we’re back in the Iron Butt’n mode. Just about then the station operator showed up and headed directly for the door without so much as a cheery northern hospitality “hello”. Being my usual rude pushy self I took the direct approach. “Hi, what time did you open” Answered by a gruff “nother hour” as the door was slammed shut. Looking wistfully at the open sign still glowing in the early dawn light I departed down the road. Fortunately just before the bike became one “Butt power” an opening station was found. No more adventures for a while. Beautiful countryside, great views of the lake and lo and behold I was smart enough to plan the route with the morning sun glowing merrily over my (by now somewhat achy) shoulder, instead of lazer beaming into the faceplate. You do believe this don’t you? Well, my mother did and that’s what counts. Next thing I knew It was time to cross into the U.S.A. at the “Soo”. No problems from U.S. Customs, the guy clearly thought “Iron Butt = Iron Head”, I could see it in his eyes as he sighed and wished me well. Not being sure wether he meant well as in recovering from the general family illness (I did mention it - didn’t I?) or if he meant just a friendly “good luck” Remembering the orange and apple (strictly verboten to bring into the U.S.) in the tank bag I didn’t enquire further and risk him changing his mind and deciding a search would be worth putting up with the olfactory results of the ride so far. At last, smooth pavement, four lanes, 70 mph speed limits - Iron Butt Heaven. Heaven that is, until THE bridge. Guess what the 5 mile suspension bridge over the straights of Macinac has? One lane of lovely asphalt. Funny how one’s perception of lovely changes as the ride progresses. The other lane is - you guessed it - metal grate. Just what an old Suzuki with a genuine 1980’s style ribbed front tire needs to follow the not so straight and narrow. “Piece of cake”, I thought. Ha Ha - I’ll just bide my time and stay in the inside lane on the asphalt. Hey! What was it that sign said? Construction and lane closures on the bridge? Naaa.... couldn’t be. According to the toll taker however, it could be, and in fact was. The asphalt lane was the one being worked on and was closed. Quickly reviewing all I remembered about riding over metal grate bridges that are long and about five miles up in the air, I discovered that I remembered not much further than the blind panic procedure. Memory is not enhanced in situations like this by an 18 wheeler driver who was obviously so fascinated as to how I was going to handle this that he just had to get as close as possible to the olde Iron Butt so as to get a better view. The fact that I had slowed down to 30mph in anticipation of prolonging my life until the metal grate, probably also added to his anticipation. He even beeped a friendly horn of encouragement...several times. On the other side of the bridge, when the old heart slowed down to under warp factor 10 and I opened my eyes I, continued on down the beautiful northern portion of Michigan. Alas I also found out that old Suzukis have to be WFO for quite some time to get away from those admiring truckers backed up behind. Nothing else just north of beautiful downtown Saginaw. Having just gotten gas for the 12,584th time I returned to the freeway and after about a mile realized that the motorcyclists dumb move of all time had been made. I’d left the petcock on reserve. Thus ensuring that the next time it started to cough up air and I reached down with that smug smile to turn onto reserve. Lo and behold it would already be on reserve. What luck, I mean oops. I did mention certain problems in my parentage did I not? In any case being still of sound mind if, not butt, I promptly turned the petcock to the run position ensuring future happiness. Not to be. About one minute after this all happened the bike decided that 80 mph in the fast lane was too fast for an old girl and she started to slow down. Quickly deducing the potential of slow speed and fast lane scenario, I quickly dove for the slow lane. Boy oh boy, do Michigan drivers ever take offence at the silliest little things. Upon exiting I-75 after a leisurely 30mph jaunt along the shoulder amongst various old bottles, disposable nappies and one almost new running shoe, I was able to exit to a side street. Realizing that my new top speed of 40 kph would make it difficult to finish on time I sought assistance at the earliest opportunity. Luckily however there were other bikers in a doughnut shop and upon enquiry informed me of the local Suzuki dealership just up the (busy, fast, four lane) road a few miles. After a few more helpful horns and cheery waves to encourage more speed, I made it to the dealership. There I found that they had no mechanical services on Sundays but referred me back down the road to Yamaha dealership and even phoned to make sure they were open and fully staffed. The Yamaha dealership was most helpful at informing me that they only worked on Yamahas “no Suzukis”. The motorcycle business in Saginaw surely must be good to afford such fine specialization. Especially since I only wanted him to look at it and ......oh never mind. Perhaps I’m just getting just a bit grouchy at realizing that I’m probably not going to make it home in time and that I would get to repeat this great adventure (yes I did mention it, I’m sure I did). To make a long story short - a miracle happened. After trying some fresh gas I continued on my (slow) way promising several impossible and improbable actions to all and sundry deities that I could think of. I am after all not a hard nose when it comes to any religion, firmly believing in trying whatever works. To this day however I’d love to know which one worked, as right after another tankful - it happened. ZOOOOOOM (well, sort of.....in a GS450A sort of way) and away she went just like new again. Hey! Must have been bad gas. Now why didn’t it occur to me to try just draining the float bowls right away. I know, I know, but I already mentioned that, so forgive and forget would you. The rest of the ride, about 5 hours went uneventfully except for having to refuel another 14,854 times. I arrived back at Uxbridge Ontario with an elapsed time of about 20 hours. It would have actually been about the same or better time than on the Honda PC except for the wire and the gas problems costing about 3 hours. Lesson learned about long distance speed: “it’s not how fast you ride, it’s how fast you stop” After doing this ride on an automatic bike with a 3.4 U.S. gallon tank and lousy mileage, I consider myself to be among the fastest of all “filler uppers” on the planet, if not elsewhere.Conclusion, I now feel that I’m no longer a poser in Iron Butt guise. Having fully earned my Butt the hard way. Not like the first time on that cushy Honda P.C., I finally did it on a REAL BIKE and now I’m surely a REAL BIKER.Thanks for helping with my therapy for reading this.
End of ride, ouch!
Bob Munden, Windsor, Ontario
Sore Butt in 21hours 12min. - 1032 miles - 1661 killometers avg speed door to door including all stops 78.3 kph.
P.S. It took about 4 months but this ride was eventually accepted by the Iron Butt Association and was posted on their Web Site at http://www.ironbutt.com/rides/rideslogin.cfm
actually - about a year after this was completed another rider submitted documentation for a ride around Lake Huron from a few years previously. Thus I am in fact only the second!