The Iron Heart 1000 is simple in concept: ride 1000 miles in 24 hours. Its organizers, Bill Davis and Michael Moorhouse, first put the event together in 2004 as a fundraiser for cardiac research. Riders from Phoenix, Tucson, San Diego, and Ontario (CA) start out simultaneously on a whirlwind tour of the desert Southwest, stopping at a checkpoint in each city to verify mileage.
Rolling out at 6:20 with Bill in the lead, we headed south on the Loop 101 out of Scottsdale under hazy skies. Boy, traffic's sure a lot lighter at that time than during my daily commute! Heading east on U.S. 60 we left Phoenix behind and cruised into the golden Sonoran desert morning, the Superstition Mountains looming ahead. As we ride through Gonzales Pass, the saguaros give way to trees and scrub. Past Picketpost Mountain we head into Superior where the sun starts to burn through the haze. Finally on the other side of Queen Creek Canyon as we pass Oak Flat the sky turns that bright blue for which I love Arizona.
Hmm. It's sunny now, but someone forgot to turn on the heat.
Early forecasts predicted temperatures in the high 80s. Someone got it wrong. The Buell eats up these curves like my kids do Halloween candy, but it's cold even in my full leathers. More on this later. Much more.
Dropping out of the mountains we pass through the near ghost town of Miami, once a booming mine town. Little left but a few antique shops among the abandoned and boarded up storefronts. Just beyond is Globe, a still-active town with quite a bit for tourists to enjoy. It's our first checkpoint of the day and we're feeling pretty good, despite the cold, to have knocked off the first 100 miles.
Can't dally, though. After topping off our tanks (or frames in my case) we headed south on AZ 77 into the Mescal Mountains. I'd never been on this stretch before, but will definitely return. Miles of lazy turns wind through Capitan Pass then the road drops down to follow the Gila River past a couple old mines to Winkelman. Turning to follow the San Pedro river along a lush riparian valley, AZ 77 twists back westward through the towns of Mammoth and Oracle, skirting the Santa Catalina Mountains on its way into Tucson. Weekend traffic has picked up by the time we get to town, and I'm finally starting to warm up as we idle our way through the stoplights to the Harley dealer...our second checkpoint.
We are to discover, as we go along, that the checkpoints are staffed by very helpful and friendly volunteers. They offered us snacks and drinks, including bottles of water to take with us for the dry stretch ahead. Fortunately for us, this checkpoint was, as I mentioned, a Harley dealer. Rodney's bike was making a rather unpleasant sound (no, not the normal HD noise). Within minutes the guys in the shop had his bike on a lift for a look. It took longer than we'd hoped, though, and armed with cell phone numbers, Rodney told us to go ahead. He'd call and catch up if possible.
So we headed west on I-10 out of Tucson, the sun shining brightly by now and the temperatures up in the low 70s.
Comfortable, but still not warm enough for this desert rat. This next leg will stretch my bike's gas to the edge unless we stick pretty close to the speed limit, so I get to lead this time. Why couldn't I lead through the twisties? Until we hit Casa Grande we play an endless game of passing trucks and weekend cagers, but then we turn west on I-8 and pretty much have the highway to ourselves.
For anyone who hasn't taken I-8 across southern Arizona to Yuma, this is dull road! There's literally nothing to look at but miles and miles of open, empty desert. When you hear me talking about how much I love the desert...this ain't it! But I've got the tunes cranked on my iPod Shuffle to pass the time, and there are still much worse things I can think of doing right now. Yard work comes to mind. Finally we reach Gila Bend for lunch. After 300 miles a Subway sandwich sounds pretty good. David calls Rodney's cell phone to leave a message with our location. A few minutes later he gets a call back...the folks at Tucson HD got him back on the road (for free) and he's actually about 30 miles ahead of us trying to catch up!
So it was off through the wasteland again. We picked Rodney up around Sentinel and headed to Yuma. I'd removed the winter liner from my leathers and finally felt warm. Unfortunately, still bored. Did I mention this area is almost entirely uninhabitable? After what seemed like forever we climbed through the small pass through the Gila Mountains and pulled into Yuma for a short gas stop. Sitting in the shade under some trees by the pumps, a young guy came over to talk about the bikes. OK, that's being generous. He was interested in the Buell and had never seen one of the newer models with soft saddlebags and a tail trunk. After our chat I think we may have another Buelligan on our hands soon.
We hit the 400 mile mark in El Centro, California after riding through the Imperial Sand Dunes. Lots of folks out on their quads and dune buggies, whipping the sand everywhere. Man, did that look like fun! After an even shorter gas stop we headed out across the Imperial Valley, one of the nation's largest cauliflower-growing areas. (Ask me sometime about dodging cauliflower at high speed.) Half an hour west of El Centro, I-8 climbs into the Coyote Mountains. Literally climbs. One minute you're cruising along the valley floor, and the next you're pulling hard between boulders as big as your house on the way up to an eventual 3000 foot pass. This is accompanied by nice high-speed sweeping turns and, as luck would have it, I was in the lead again. Keeping it in top gear I just rolled on the throttle and took off. Couldn't resist, really, but I was nice enough to slow down for the group when I got to the top.
3000 feet elevation. Cold again. We pulled over so David and Rodney, who had ditched their jackets earlier, could gear back up. I left the liner in my saddlebag, thinking it would warm up as we dropped back down toward the Pacific coast. How wrong I was! Passing through the Manzanita and Campo Indian Reservations (can you say, "Casinos" boys and girls?) the wind picked up, threatening to drown out the iPod. It got even colder as we approached Alpine through the Cleveland National Forest and started the descent into San Diego.
All of a sudden, or so it seemed, we were smack in the middle of traffic again. Trying to keep six bikes together to make the turn north on I-15 was a challenge, but Bob and Bill were up to it. See? I knew there was a reason we brought along the rolling Barcaloungers...they have CBs! So with Bob in the lead and Bill at the tail, we fought our way through multiple-lane changes and unfamiliar (to me, at least) off-ramps until we were...smack in the middle of traffic again on I-15. Hey, at least we were headed in the right direction. A couple miles down the road, I see Bob waving for me to take the lead. What? You don't know where we're going? Great. Up ahead in the dark were two exit signs: Miramar Way and Miramar Road. Which to take? I (correctly) guessed the latter and we rolled into our third checkpoint at the Holiday Inn.
Bill Davis himself was manning this checkpoint, and recognized our group when he saw my bike. Guess I was the only nutjob on a Buell this weekend. He waved us over and helped us get checked in. Recommendations for fine dining, though, were hard to come by. It appeared to be a choice between riding another half hour and Carl's, Jr. This was the halfway point and we were hungry, so burgers it was. Accompanied by a couple steaming cups of really bad coffee, heavily laden with half-and-half. At least it was hot.
This time before taking off, I returned the liner to its proper place in my jacket.
Bob led us off up I-15 toward Ontario. Funny how southern California seems to be completely overrun with people. From San Diego northward, there are neighborhoods, shopping centers, etc., seemingly the entire way up to L.A. along this freeway. Looking at a map I know this impression can't be accurate, but it remains. The traffic thinned out somewhat, but never quite disappeared for the next couple hours, and thickened again as we approached the city.
Bob waved me ahead again, and this time I was prepared. I'd looked over the printed maps of the checkpoints right after supper and picked the right exit by design. After checking in we played a bit of gas-pump shuffle, as a number of the truck stop credit card readers didn't appear to be working. Not really anxious to get back on the road, but we have less than 400 miles left down I-10 to home, so the stop is pretty short. This is an odd intersection, so I get the short straw again and get to lead us out. After putting on a fine demonstration of how not to read a local street map and leading the group on a brief detour across the overpass and back, we make it onto I-10 east. By agreement, Bob takes the lead and we turn up the speed a bit.
The remaining legs are short enough that my limited range isn't a factor. We just want to get home.
Pulling into Indio for gas I wonder why it was I wanted to do this. At the gas station we run into another group of Iron Heart riders, also heading toward their final stop in Phoenix. This time we take a longer break, grabbing a drink and quick snack. My brother and I pop a couple ibuprofen as the wear on the knees begins to show. Oddly, other than my arthritic knees and the beginnings of monkey butt, I don't hurt at all. Riding this little XB has been compared by some to wearing a motorized thong. After 700 miles I can tell you Erik Buell and his boys have quite the creation here. Unlike other sportbikes I've ridden, this one doesn't hurt my hands, wrists, shoulders and back even after this many hours in the saddle.
Back on I-10 the night becomes pitch black and bone-chilling cold. The Mojave Desert may be scorching by day, but it's freezing in the dark. I'm glad I donned a sweatshirt at the last stop, but it's not enough. And it is dark. I don't know about the others, but I'm starting to play a lot of mental games to try to stay alert. We've still got a few hours ahead of us, and in the dark it's just too easy to drift off. There's no civilization to speak of from here to Phoenix, and the only light you see comes from your bike.
Finally we hit the Arizona border and pull into the first truck stop, across the Colorado River from Blythe. Our second long break, and I'm glad we have the time. More beef jerky, peanuts, and water. We stand around and talk a bit, but it's just a way to keep from getting back on the road. Eventually we do. More miles. More darkness. Even singing along with the iPod isn't enough at this point. There's no traffic, so I amuse myself by slipping over and riding the centerline, trying to keep both tires on the paint. Did I mention it's cold? My fingers are starting to ache a bit, but the pain in my knees keeps that at bay. I'm looking forward to the next stop just so I can pop more ibuprofen.
When we get to Tonopah, I do. So does Aaron. This is our last stop as a group. We're just west of Phoenix, and when we hit town, Aaron's heading home down I-10; Bob and Bill will get off in north Phoenix while David, Rodney, and I will continue to the final checkpoint...our starting point. This is our longest stop, as well. We gather by the door to shoot the breeze with the kid running the gas station, sipping hot drinks to get some of the feeling back in our hands and bodies.
The final leg is, mercifully, the shortest. We're cold, exhausted, and sore but we've made it. As the three of us pull into Rawhide, Michael Moorhouse is there to greet us and do the final checkin. The other group we'd met in Indio pulls in just a few minutes later. They're the last ones, so Michael can tuck in for the night after we leave. I'm a bit envious, since I'm ready for sleep, too. Not much to say at this point, so we all climb on our bikes to head to our homes, another half hour away in the East Valley.
In all, we did 1200 miles in just over 23 hours. I wouldn't say the Buell was exactly in its element, but I learned a lot about it overnight and have to say, "Thank you, Erik!" for a wonderful little machine.