2021 IBR – Day -3

From Utah with Love

Yes, two years have passed even though we can pretty much forget one of those.  As the country starts to open up and the citizenry starts to dry out their wings, more than 100 long distance riders meet for our biennial group motorcycle ride.  Yes, it has snuck up on most of us as we had our attention on other things.  I could tell from the low volume of online chatter as the big day approached that participants and spectators alike were like sleepy Meerkats with blurry eyes just crawling out of their burrows to view the morning sun.   Now that it’s here – SURPRISE!!  You have 3 days left to get the sleep out of your eyes, the brain in top gear, and that set of Super Sevina aux lights on your bike.

We are here in Provo, Utah.  It is a beautiful location and friendly city.  Being the home of the BYU Cougars, it is a college town and as such has a variety of nice restaurants, hotels and all the services you’d expect.  Our hotel, The Provo Marriott Hotel & Conference Center is a bit more urban than past rally start locations.  Located in the epicenter of town it is a zero lot line building and all the motorcycle related activity will take place on the top floor of the adjoining Parking Structure (which is tight and confusing with cars going this way and that and reserved parking here and special parking there).  I was having flashbacks from my time in LAX and the hotel parking lots where I used to leave my car.

One bit of disappointment for staff AND riders, another covid side effect means we are missing every single one of our usually large international contingent.  We held their spots open, hoping for a miracle, but the sad reality became clear. These are some of the best people and watching them experience the USA is always fun.  They also provide much entertainment as they usually have rental bikes to prepare, or communications barriers to overcome or hilarious stories to share about their time in America, and always have an adventurer’s spirit and normally a wicked sense of humor. We really look forward to having you all back.

Lisa Landry arrived early this week and has been busy making preparations, feathering the nest for the incoming riders as she has done now since 2003.  It’s a lighter field, but chock full of excellent riders. Two past IBR winners, including the only two-time winner, James Owen AND the first female winner, Wendy Crockett. There will be 4 women entrants and 7 female pillions.  There are 46 returning veteran riders (those who have successfully completed a prior IBR) and 37 rookies.  The geographical dispersion of the riders looks pretty much like the USA census, TX, VA, CA, and PA lead the states with the most entrants. 

As we approach the start it’s also prudent to take a peek at the upcoming weather.  It appears from a quick glance that we might be sweltering a bit here at the hotel this next couple of days.  Nationally, we have the usual heat in the desert southwest and a splash of heat along tornado alley. That transitions to relatively moderate temps throughout much of the country as rally time approaches.  It is dry throughout the country with some rain in the east to start the week, but it moves out by midweek.  I know that Lisa has a reputation for providing challenging weather, but it is looking like this time she seems to be giving the riders a pass for the first week. That can’t possibly last.

Just a bit of a primer on the concept of a Long Distance Rally for the uninitiated.  The objective is to ride your motorcycle for 11 days in a row.  You are given a list of “bonus” locations where you have to perform specific tasks for which you are awarded various points. You meet back up together usually three times (two checkpoints and the finish) to have your score calculated. At each checkpoint, you are given another set of bonuses to form that next leg of your rally. There is no minimum mileage to be a finisher, there is a point total that should be achieved to be considered a finisher and that varies from rally to rally.  In achieving those points, the rider (and pillion) are generally going to ride miles in excess of 8,000 for the 11 days while some will ride over 12,000 miles.  The object is to see who has the highest score at the end of the rally (has collected the most bonus points less penalties).

It sounds very simple, and the concept is, but the implementation has become as complex as space travel, or as complex as the rider wants to make it.  Rallymaster Jeff Earls has masterfully assembled another brilliant rally puzzle and Monday morning we watch the riders engage in the chess game. In this rally we will see one of the very early riders Al Greenwood (IBA #16)** from an era where you “just sit there and twist that”.  We will see how or even if he has changed his system from the first rally he completed in 1986.  We will see airline pilots, motorcycle mechanics, skilled craftsmen, blue collar, white collar and retired.  It is amazing to see how they establish their own systems for prioritizing their target bonuses from a simple as saying I just want to go see “that”, to complex calculations of utilizing prioritization spreadsheets.

Anticipation is in the air as the riders filter in, their preliminary checks get complete and then they wait for Sunday night when they get their first look at the bonus listing.  Starting in Provo provides so much opportunity for riding experiences.  To the East, the Wasatch Range on the Western side of the Rocky mountains, climbing over that is just the start as you make your way over the Rockies to the continental divide.  Our hotel stands at the foot of that range, and I can see the peaks out my window.  To the West, the Great Basin, the largest watershed in North America, with the Wasatch forming the Eastern boundary and the Sierra Nevada Mountains the Western edge some 500 miles away, home of the 40-mile desert that tested many pilgrims looking for a new life in California.  To the South, Sin City and the heat of the Mojave.  It does not matter how pleasant the rest of the country is, the heat is rubber-melting hot in Death Valley after April, and a simple ride from Phoenix to Los Angeles during daytime can test the best of riders.  To the North lie the green prairies and velvet covered mountains of Montana, Big Sky Country with the bluest of skies punctuated by the fluffiest of clouds.  Some of the finest riding in the country is nestled in those valleys, along those rivers, and through those mountain ranges, and all under heaven’s watchful eye.  I say that because looking up there the sky just seems, “big”.  Like you are looking through it with a magnifying lens.  So I always thought we were being watched through the lens but we were looking back through the same lens making the sky look so big.

I cannot tell you what options they will have, and it is impossible to say what will sway a rider on Sunday night after they open that first set of bonuses but whichever direction they choose, there are just no bad choices when starting from Provo.


**IBA Numbers are assigned to each rider who completes/documents their minimum ride of 1,000 miles in 24 hours.  Those numbers are assigned sequentially and currently are in the 77,000s or so.  The first 999 numbers are reserved for people who have finished the Iron Butt Rally.  They are also assigned sequentially by finisher.  Being rider #16 means that there were only 15 riders who completed an Iron Butt Rally before Al Greenwood did in 1985.