Day 10 - Iron Butt 4810

Iron Butt 4810 - Day 10

I guess when someone goes on a quest they shouldn’t expect it to be easy. I knew we would come home different people, but I didn’t actually plan on the quest part. I wanted adventure. Adventures are different than quests. Adventures are fun and scary. Every kid dreams of having an adventure. A quest is a grown up version of an adventure. A quest is where it crosses your mind that this time when you pirouette on the edge, you just might fall off. A quest is where you reach into the deepest part of your state of being and hope to God when you get there that you find something. And no one knows. Until you get to your core being, your center, nobody knows what they will find. Could be courage. Could be panic.

When we woke up on Day 10, in Nevada, we knew we had a long grueling day ahead of us. But we’d become fit on the road – conditioned to 1000 miles runs. It was only 44 degrees at 5 a.m. and we knew it would be high 90’s later on. Time was critical. We knew how many hours we had left and how many miles. There was no grace period.

We hit good highways all the way through the rest of Nevada and thru Utah. The Utah Mountains weren’t like any others we’d seen. Very barren. After awhile they started looking like gnarled old men standing around chewing the fat. The temperature started climbing quickly. By the time we hit Salt Lake City, we had to peel off our liners and extra layers. But the road stayed in our favor and we couldn’t complain about the time we were making. Everything was going great until we hit the Four Corners area. That’s when it happened. We lost Colorado.

Every time we crossed a state line RD would put his left hand on top of his left shoulder, palm up, and we would clasp hands. It was our official “add another state to the list” victory handshake. But after the third time we crossed the New Mexico border the handshakes stopped. We were lost. Our GPS had not been delivered in time to make the trip with us. We had traveled through the last 9 days using a street atlas. The maps were useless without a coordinating road sign. There were no signs. Just desert and mesa. The atlas doesn’t explain “how to find yourself using the geography.”

RD was the most frustrated I’ve ever seen him. We were losing daylight fast. We pulled off the road twice to turn around. And the leader of a small herd of horses decided to challenge us. There were two babies by their mama’s sides when we came roaring over their hill. We could tell that much. What was harder to see was which side of the fence they were standing on. Only to realize there was no fence! Free range. We didn’t know until that moment what those two words could mean to motorcycles.

The closer we got to the herd, the more agitated the horses became. We’re old racetrack people. Because of our experience we knew one glaring fact – when it comes to horses - expect the unexpected. This was a fight or flight animal. They react. Every race tracker learns to respect the “loose horse.”

As we got closer the stud stomped his feet, ducked his head and swung it in a tight arc like he was trying to head butt us – a sure sign of anger. Just before we were side by side with him, he tucked his rear end and jumped. Up in the air he went, pawing at us while standing on his hind legs. He was 6 feet from the road and us. RD punched it and we sped by, leaving him and his mares behind, hoping he wouldn’t chase us.

We finally got directions at the only gas we could find and now had our Arizona and Colorado receipts. But we weren’t done fighting the wilderness yet. We just could not get our directions right; we were racking up lost miles. We had already driven over 900 miles for the day. We kept getting turned around and the sun was setting. We didn’t know if our confusion was from fatigue or dehydration. We finally stopped outside of Shiprock, New Mexico.

RD tried hard to settle himself, but frustration was wreaking havoc with his emotions. I could tell he was pulling from the deepest part of his being for guidance. All I could do was be quiet and wait. All of a sudden I saw his back straighten. He squared his shoulders, looked at me and said, “Get on the bike.”

I asked what we were going to do. He told me because the sun was setting and we needed to go east the setting sun should be on our backs not in our faces. So we turned around. Whenever he came to a crossroad, he navigated according to the position of the sun. Within 10 miles we were back on track and knew our road, but we had lost precious time and used almost a full tank of gas.

We stopped in Bloomfield, New Mexico for gas and got the best news we’d heard in hours. Highway 550 to Albuquerque was 4 lanes, fairly straight, little traffic and about 30 miles shorter than we thought. Once we hit Albuquerque, we could pick up I40 all the way to Texas. After riding 900+ miles – counting our being lost – we still had 400 miles to go to finish.

At that point I honestly could not identify my emotional state. I was standing on a razor blade. Did I tell RD to stop; rest and we’d live with hitting 47 states in 10 days? Or did I spur him into action with a pep talk. And if we continued then got in a wreck because he was physically exhausted, could I live with that? The Iron Butt Association riders pride themselves on finishing their rides, but not at the risk of safety. Standing on a razor blade was mild compared with what I was feeling.

We stood on either side of The Mistress and just stared at each other. No words. Just eyeball to eyeball. RD and I work well as a team because we lay it on the line with each other.

“RD, listen to me. We have 47 receipts to prove that we just came through 47 states in 9½ days. No on can say that we didn’t try. This is not worth dying over.”

His jaw started to jut out. His brown eyes started flashing. “I will not get you killed.”

On the inside I was dancing the happy dance. I had found a quote before the trip by Goethe, “Be Bold and Mighty Forces Will Come.” He was so mad at himself that he had the adrenalin of a prizefighter running through him. The mighty forces had come.

“I’ll get us to Albuquerque and then we’ll decide what to do from there, but I will not get us killed. Now get on the bike.”

“You got it,” I said, “let’s finish this thing and check into a hotel with room service.”

I knew this man. I’d seen him fight before. I’d seen him buck horses in and out of barns with everyone on the track throwing wheelbarrows and hay bales out of his way. And he’d hung on. I knew for a fact, when we hit Albuquerque and the realization hit him that we only had 200 miles between our goal and us; he would reach deep and hit the mark.

We were in high elevations in the middle of the night and pushing ourselves beyond any limits we’d hit before. I kept nodding off and hitting RD’s helmet with mine. The wind kept slapping me awake. I tried to make my brain work. I counted trucks; I counted stars; I counted mile markers. Counting wasn’t working.

So I did what I do best. I started writing this story in my head – our story. RD’s and mine. The story we would tell our grandchildren if we lived to have any.

“One day your Grandpa decided to see the world. Only he didn’t want to sit in a box the way other people do. He wanted to experience the road. He wanted to smell every smell, see every detail, feel every change in the road and breathe it all in…”

I was on a pretty good roll there for a while, but the cold was getting to me. RD was not talking. I was not talking. We were flying. I knew if I was cold, he had to be colder. Whining was not an option. Then I remembered a video I’d seen in my World Religion class at Oklahoma City University. It was about Buddhist monks in Tibet that would sit in the mountains day and night wrapped in nothing but sheets. It was a quest for them. They were concentrating so hard on praying that they became oblivious to their surroundings.

I kept seeing that video in my head of those monks sitting cross-legged in the mountains, snow all around them, wrapped in white sheets – steam coming off their backs and dissolving into the air above their heads. I started picturing myself the very same way. I wasn’t a Buddhist monk, but I borrowed their steam.

My Mother-in-Law, Nancy, had given me a cross-stitch picture years ago that said, “Reach up as far as you can, and God will reach down the rest of the way.” So I reached up to The Big Guy. And I kept thinking of steam coming off my back. Suddenly I was warm. I had to stop to recheck all my vitals: heart pumping, check; wind roaring in ears, check; no feeling in my fanny, check, check, check. Am I warm? Or dead? Dead and warm don’t usually go together in the same sentence. My whole trip crystallized as the realization that I was warm, when it was impossible to be so, hit me like the wind gust from a semi-truck pulling three trailers.

I didn’t need to find my courage – I never lost it. I was a storyteller. It’s what I do. What I’ve been since I was 9 years old. My job is to tell such a good story that people forget the multitude of details they have to handle just to survive. I’m the one who makes up stories so that, hopefully, people forget their tragedy and their hardship. I’m the one who takes people somewhere new and exciting, forgetting everything for one sliver of a moment except the adventure I’m leading them through.

Life became simple again. I’d gotten off on a tangent these last few years. It was nobody’s fault but my own. Because I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that this world needed another storyteller. I had gone to the best university and studied writing with the professionals. I had let my professors pull my brains out of my ears and put them back again. There was no reason to fail except for me. I was fighting myself. I didn’t need a quest. I was one.

And in that moment, on the back of The Mistress, the stars streaming by, the cold wind slapping us and the miles screaming past, I knew one thing and one thing only. We were alive! And this is what life is all about. There was no failure. Just continual practice. Some practice sessions were perfect and some were disasters. Right this second I had no idea on God’s green earth what kind of practice session we were experiencing. Then I realized. It didn’t matter.

In two hours the whole show would be over. Whether we made Texas or not, our ride, our race, our quest, our adventure would be completed. I was experiencing first hand what every creator realizes. There are 3 rock solid parts to every story: a beginning, a middle and an end. We overcame our fear of the beginning. We survived the practice sessions of the middle as we learned the road. We were dead off in the completion stage. I was warm. This was life. And it was perfect.

Suddenly RD grabbed my thigh and jolted me. Up came his palm, right on top of his shoulder, exactly like he’d done 47 times before. I saw the Welcome to Texas sign through tears as I grabbed his hand in our 48th victory handshake.

We had a little over one hour to get our final receipt. We were home safe or so we thought. The miles kept streaming by and we saw nothing. Lots and lots of nothing or as the song goes, “miles and miles of Texas….”

The panic in my gut started bubbling up, and I started burping. RD rule #357. Because of the microphones burping on The Mistress is not allowed. I was going to be unplugged if I didn’t get it under control. I kept looking at all the semi-trucks around us and thinking they had to have gas. Lots of it. There had to be a gas station close by the trucks.

Thirty miles later we saw the Shell station. We pulled in and I started to congratulate RD. He held up his hand and said, “Don’t. Not until we have the receipt.” We got $12 worth of gas. The machine asked if we wanted a receipt – yes or no. RD pressed “yes.” The machine said, “See attendant.” We both turned to the closed store behind us. We had 42 minutes left and no receipt.

“Get on the bike,” RD barked.

Back on I40. Town #2. 30 minutes to go. No gas station. Nothing.

Back on I40. Town #3. Two gas stations across the street from each other. We pulled into the closest one. Bought $1.00 in gas. Hit the “print receipt” button. Out it came. No address. No time. No good.

“Damn,” RD yelled, “can they make it any harder on us?”

“Go to the other station,” I said.

“Why? It’ll just be the same thing,” he replied.

“You don’t know that,” I yelled, “You don’t know what that station has until you go over there and see for yourself. Do it!”

RD cranked up The Mistress and drove across the street. Our routine was so rehearsed in the last 10 days; he didn’t have to think anymore. Insert card. Pull key from ignition. Flip up tank bag. Unlock gas cap. Wait for approval. Lift nozzle. Press.

We bought 26 cents of gas. 5 minutes to go. Print receipt? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Out came the reason for the last 10 days of our life. Out came the end of our whole adventure. Out came the results of 48 United States of America, 8,500 miles and 4 minutes short of 240 grueling, beautiful, amazing hours. And it was perfect.

With sincere appreciation and gratitude to family, friends and all those who lived the last 10 days with us. We couldn't have done it without your supporting comments and phone calls.

See you on the road,

RD and Donna


  1. That was a great story. Days 1-9 were good ride reports. Day 10 was an epic, moving tale told by a master storyteller. It's a keeper. Congratulations on your quest.

  2. Thanks so much for your kind reply.

  3. Have been reading your story in bits and pieces. You are a gifted storyteller. A pleasure to read.
    Don Cooke

  4. Enjoyed reading your 48 states blog again. I past it on to a guiy that wants to do teh 48-10. I stopped and visited with RD last week at the shop. Hope we can get together some time to share our adventures tales. I tried to interest RD in riding the Grand Tour Of Oklahoma. It's a flower sniffing ride to some neat towns in Oklahoma. Regards Jack Shoalmire

  5. You made me want to cry when you thought that you wern't getting the reciept. I was right there with you and enjoyed the whole tale. Any one that didn't know you might think that this story was just fiction because only you can get yourself into and out of so many tight places.

  6. Wow, quite the adventure.48 in 10. That is Iron Butt yes indeed. Thomas