On Saturday October 6th, 2001, at 2:00am, four of Northern California’s finest Concours Owners Group members, well four of us anyway, assembled in Roseville, CA. We were going to Salt Lake City and we were going for gold. OK, we were actually going through Salt Lake City to Lyman, Wyoming, to visit the Gas-N-Go truck stop in pursuit of the Bun Burner Gold.
The team included Steve Viertell from Chico, Mike Wolf, COG Insurance Communications Officer, from Folsom, Steve Long, COG AAD – NE California, from Sacramento, and myself, Chad Olson, COG AAD – NW California, from Bay Point. The two Steves and I were on Kawasaki Concours and Mike was mounted on a Ducati ST2.
After official IBA witness Joe Denton signed our paperwork, we obtained our starting gas receipts at 2:18 am. The plan was to leave Roseville and go east on I-80 for about 200 miles, gas up, eat some nutrition bars and repeat about three more times until we got to Lyman, Wyoming. At that point, we would turn around and then see the scenery from the other side. If we were lucky, our plan would work out and there would be gas stations about 200-210 miles apart – the effective cruising range of the ST2. At 5.5 gallons, the Ducati finds itself two gallons short of the longer legged Concours, so Mike’s machinery was the determining factor in when we needed to stop for petrol. Well, not entirely. Steve Long’s bladder routinely required purging at 200 miles, as well.
The day’s route took us up over the Sierras to Reno. We would see two stops in Nevada, Lovelock and Elko, one stop in Utah, in Tooele, and the midpoint stop at Lyman Wyoming. The temperature was around 50 degrees when we started but dropped into the mid 30’s on the way up the Sierras and through the night into Nevada.
When the sun decided to finally grace us with its presence we noticed some dark clouds off in the distance barely hovering off the ground. Streaming down from those ominous looking clouds were very chilly looking trails of moisture. We all saw them but no one said a word except for Chico Steve Viertell. Did I mention his other nickname is the Snowman? Before our last Iron Butt ride in November, 2001, Chico filled us in on his frigid history. Apparently, his first Saddle Sore 1000 (SS1000) was met with a lot of snow and cold temperatures. Sure enough, the November SS1000, his presence assured us of a significant amount of snow over Tahachape Pass on the return leg of the trip. Well, Steve did not let us down this trip either. At dawn, we briefly encountered a snow shower that spattered a few flakes of snow on our windshields once again. Thankfully, the Snowman’s work was done. The temperature soon improved into the upper sixties with partly cloudy skies for the remainder of the daylight hours. It was perfect riding weather.
The second gas stop in Nevada brought some unwelcome news. After Mike fueled the bike, he checked the oil sight glass and didn’t see much oil. The motorcycle was already on the center stand, so he knew there was a problem. Sure enough, there were a couple drops of oil on the ground underneath the engine. Crap. This was not good. Mike went inside the adjacent store and purchased a quart of 20w50. After putting in maybe a 1/4 of the bottle into the crank case, a closer look revealed the source of the leak: head gaskets. Unfortunately, this was Mike’s fault as he did some piston work last April. We all hoped that the gaskets would mostly hold for the rest of the trip. As expected, Mike was not a happy camper. He finds oil leaks to be extremely annoying.
Pushing the bikes towards the next gas stop in Tooele, UT, Steve Long had to switch over to reserve. Unfortunately, his Connie didn’t like the change and began to sputter and cough. The FRS radio came to life and he gave the bad news. We all expected him to tell us everything was OK, but Steve finally keyed up and said, “She’s dead, I’m pulling over. Shit.” Mike pulled over with Steve and Chico and I went on ahead. The plan was to hook up at the next gas station. Steve tried a couple of times to get the bike started, but to no avail. He declared that he was going off to urinate and Mike was left to stare at the troublesome motorcycle. After a few seconds of listening to the sound of fluid hitting hard-packed salt, Mike decided to fire up the beast. Choke on, no throttle, jab the start button. Vrrrroooom! She breathed to life. Hearing the motor chugging happily, Steve stumbled up the hill and gave Mike a mighty slap on the back, nearly dislodging his eyeballs from their respective sockets. Yep, Steve was pleased.
After separating from Mike and Steve, a rare and unexpected event occurred. Chico and I were cruising along about 80-85 mph in a 75 mph zone and we came upon some slow moving traffic. I noticed a motor home in the left lane followed by a car. In the right lane I spotted the source of the slow traffic, a Highway patrol car crawling along at 62 miles an hour. “Uh, oh, I think were busted,” I thought to myself. We slowed down and became part of the motorcade. After a short time, the motor home passed the patrol car and got in the right lane. The next car in line did not speed up, though. It just kept plodding along at 62 mph just behind the highway patrol vehicle. We were apparently observing a classic case of “Blue Light Fever”. This went on for what seemed like an eternity considering the speeds we had previously been traveling at. Finally, the patrol car slowed down some more, turned on the yellow flashing lights and we dropped back a little more. We had no idea what in the heck this guy was up to. Suddenly, he zipped over behind the moron going 62 mph in the left lane, turned on his lights, and pulled over the poor, frightened driver. There is justice in this world after all.
After hooking back up with Mike and Steve Long at the next gas stop, our trek through Salt Lake City was uneventful. Traffic was light and the only road construction was to the on and off ramps in preparation for the upcoming Olympics. On the east side of the city the traffic crawled up the grade through sweepers to the ski resort area. Everything fell into place through some magical alignment of the planets, because the cars were perfectly placed like flags on a giant slalom. Rest assured, they were dispatched in short order.
The last hundred miles of Interstate 80 into Lyman was an unremarkable stretch of interstate. Apparently built for speed, this section of our trip would test the limits of Mike’s speedometer. Let’s just say that the max speed on his GPS was way above the posted limit of 75 mph. By time we reached our turning point at the Gas-N-Go truck stop we were 1-1/2 hours ahead of the pace to complete the ride in 24 hours. We had planned on grabbing some lunch at the stop but it wasn’t much more than a shack with some gas pumps. There was a large building with the word “CAFÉ” blasted across it, but we weren’t too confident about the potential for good food. After refueling and choking down some more nutrition bars we turned tail and headed our trusty steeds back towards the west.
The back side of Salt Lake City brought some interesting observations about Utah motorcyclists. There is no helmet law requiring a helmet there, but by the number of helmet-less riders were saw, you’d have thought that there was an anti-helmet law. In the presence of a freedom of choice, we all would have expected more than a few motorcyclists to choose to protect their noggins. That is apparently not the case in Utah. Not only do helmets provide crash protection, but they also provide insect protection. Mike was thoroughly grossed out by the thought of all the dead bugs on his face shield being on his teeth and face in the absence of his full face helmet. Blech.
Since we already knew where our gas stops were located, we decided that in order to maximize our chances for success we would stop for gas at the same places during the return trip. We were making such good time, so at out next stop in Tooele, we felt we could afford to splurge and grab a meal. We experienced the finest dining that Travelcenters of America had to offer – Taco Bell. We all recited our new motto: “Get the runs at the border.”
We left Tooele and headed towards the Nevada border. While crossing the salt flats for the second time that day we pondered what the hooligans were thinking that left the tire tracks in the salt. Little did we know that moments later we would find out. The Sirens of the Salt Flats were calling to Mike. He suddenly declared over the FRS radio, “I’m one of those guys that hates to say ‘what if’. I’m gonna do it.” I couldn’t believe what I just heard. Somehow the sirens convinced Mike that his Ducati ST2 would be a good dual sport and he heads off the road and across the salt flats. Mike and his Ducati came through unscathed, however, we now know what we knew all along – he needs therapy.
After Mike’s distraction in the salt, we continued our journey into the setting sun. The Nevada border quickly came and went as nightfall settled in. At our last stop in Lovelock, NV, the gas station attendant recognized us from the morning before and asked if we were doing some kind of test on the highway. I guess she was right. We were testing our will, endurance, and sanity. Then, it hit us. Lovelock would probably be our last stop before we swiped our credit cards for our final gas receipts in Folsom. We were on the home stretch. It was a good thing, too, ‘cause we were whipped.
The ragged group set off towards Reno. All of us were suffering from some sort of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Our wrists were killing us. Those of us with aftermarket seats had the advantage of comfortable butts. Steve Long was suffering through the ride with his stock seat. Ouch. We hit the lights of Reno and we were all like thirsty horses sniffing water. We were almost home! First, we had to deal with the late night alcohol-hazed traffic of downtown Reno and then the construction on I-80 down the hill towards the Sacramento area. The traffic turned out to be a snap, but the construction was another story.
As soon as we passed the last Casino, the roadwork began. It was night, the road was pitted, rough, uneven, and the lanes were narrow and often lined by unforgiving concrete barriers. Left, right, left, right. Normally, this would have been fun. After 1400 miles of nearly non-stop riding, though, this road was downright intimidating. The FRS was constantly in use as we helped each other down the hill. The miles counted down to Auburn, and yet as we got closer, each mile seemed longer and longer.
We finally arrived in Auburn, exited I-80 at Highway 49, and headed towards Folsom on Folsom-Auburn Rd. We needed twisties like we needed another 500 miles, and yet that is what we got. The road winds between Folsom and Auburn and we might have been better served if
we had simply avoided it. The GPS at this point, was over 1500 miles, so all anyone wanted to do was head towards Folsom. The road finally spit us out of the curves at Douglass and we continued our southerly route. The FRS was active and everyone was awake as we anticipated our finish. We passed Folsom Dam Rd, and Mike let everyone know that we were almost there. Just as we rolled into the parking lot of the Union 76, the GPS read 1510 miles. Close, but plenty of miles. We were done.
Well, not quite done. We needed to get our Police witness to finish the Iron Butt Association requirements. The group saddled up and Mike led us across the bridge and the two miles to the police station. Wow, what an ordeal it was to simply dismount the bike. We were sore. Mike walked up the steps to the station and picked up the phone. He called Friday morning and set the stage for us to have an officer witness our return. Unfortunately, the message didn’t get
passed and he had to explain our situation about four times. Apparently, she was too busy or she didn’t care about four motorcyclists at 1:30 in the morning. Finally, she understood what we need and agreed to send an officer. “You’ll have to wait a while,” she said to Mike. “All my officers are busy. In fact, it’ll be a LONG while.” Mike gave us the bad news and we
spied the Circle K up the street. The IBA says in the guidelines that three regular citizen witnesses will work in the event that a police officer, fireman, or authorized IBA witness cannot be found. Well, it was worth a shot.
As luck would have it, there were three people in the Circle K. Two obviously intoxicated young ladies buying beer and trying to make it back to their bar’s last call, and the store clerk. Amazingly, they all agreed to witness our return and signed our paperwork. After many thanks and slurred goodbyes, we saddled
back up and headed to Mike’s house. We rolled the bikes into his garage and invaded the house. Four beers were held high and we all toasted our successful, safe return. Steve Long stretched out on the floor, turned on the TV, and promptly began to snore. The remaining three of us looked at Steve, then looked at each other. Grins began to appear on our faces and we finished our well-deserved beers. I looked at Wolfie and asked, “Wanna ride some more?”