Against the Wind: A Rider's Account of the Incredible Iron Butt Rally

By Ron Ayres


"If you have to ask, you wouldn't understand."

What compels a relatively sane, grown man with a loving family and who holds down a good executive level job to park his fanny on a motorcycle for 20 hours at a time? Over 11 consecutive days? Riding over 12,000 miles helter-skelter cross-country and depriving himself of the accouterments of civilization that most normal people take for granted -- like sleep, food and shelter -- in order to finish in an event that offers neither prize money, lucrative endorsement deals nor the promise of international celebrity fablousness? If you asked most of the riders in the Bi-Annual Iron Butt Rally, they might answer "If you have to ask, you wouldn't understand."

Ron Ayres, author of Against the Wind, doesn't cop out with flip answers, and his first person account of the 1995 Iron Butt Rally is an engaging attempt to explain to normal people what possesses certain men and women to embark on something that, on the surface, seems so inherently dangerous and pointless.

 

What seems to the uninitiated a meaningless, silly game between middle aged men sharing their mid-life crises en masse becomes, when told by Ayres, an elegant mental contest against the ultimate challenger, one's own will.

The Iron Butt Rally (1997's event starts this week in Chicago -- Ed) bills itself as the most grueling endurance test in all of motorcycling. Its riders are asked to travel to all four corners of the country within a prescribed period of time. Points are awarded by arriving on time at five different checkpoints. Points are deducted for every minute a rider arrives after the checkpoint window opens. Riders who fail to arrive inside the two hour check-in period are not awarded any points. At the finish, the rider with the most points wins. Sounds simple? It isn't.   For most riders, the object of the Rally boils down to basic, brute survival.At the start of each rally segment participants are provided with a dizzying array of bonus points, ostensibly in the same direction of the next checkpoint. Some are easy gimmees, others are sucker points designed to make it nearly impossible to make it on time to the next checkpoint. The fun begins after some serious sleep depravation and fatigue, when riders are forced to decide what routes are best and what bonus points are achievable. Near the end of the rally, most can't even read a map, and others are so loony from exhaustion that they stand at a gas station with a cheeseburger in one hand, a gas nozzle in the other, unable to remember which one goes into the gas tank and which one goes into their mouth.

For most riders, the object of the Rally boils down to basic, brute survival. Ron Ayres coaxes the reader through pitfalls, heartbreaks and innumerable breakdowns, both mechanical and mental, writing in a simple, sincere and enticing style that is neither droning nor pedantic. What seems to the uninitiated a meaningless, silly game between middle aged men sharing their mid-life crises en masse becomes, when told by Ayres, an elegant mental contest against the ultimate challenger, one's own will.

In the end, time is a heartless bastard, and the Rally bureaucrats, the rulemakers and referees who withdraw points with the callous gleefulness of Ivana Trump at an ATM machine, are even worse. But even bureaucrats can't remove the satisfaction that Ayres and the other finishers feel when pulling into the same Salt Lake City parking lot 264 hours after they left. They are comrades now, having been deranged enough to share an experience that rational humans would rather read about in the comfort of their sofas. They will meet and swap stories like war veterans, each tale becoming more fantastic as the years march on. And they will complain about how sore their asses become on the stock saddles of most new motorcycles.

Motorcycle Online Rating: ***1/2
Buy it at Amazon.com! Against the Wind: A Rider's Account of the Incredible Iron Butt Rally.
By Ron Ayres
233 pages, b/w photos and illustrations, paperback
ISBN 1-884313-09-4
Publisher: Whitehorse Press
Suggested price: $19.95

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