Yamahaulin': 2200 Miles on a Motorcycle in 44 Hours

In 2200 miles and 44 hours on a used—and reasonably cheap—Yamaha YZF-R1 motorcycle we put the "Sore" in the Iron Butt Association's SaddleSore 2000. By Aaron P. Frank

There are plenty of highlights on the road between Los Angeles and Madison, Wisconsin: natural wonders like the Grand Canyon and man-made marvels like the Hoover Dam, quintessentially American cities such as Las Vegas and Denver, a dozen-odd national parks, even historic highways like Route 66 and the Pony Express Trail.

I saw none of this on my latest trip between these two cities. What did I see instead? An awful lot of gas-station bathrooms, usually late at night. A statistically improbable number of deer carcasses. An army of orange traffic barrels. And no less than three vehicles (none of these Jeeps, mind you) being operated with at least one door absent. I ate gas-station burritos for breakfast and ibuprofen for dinner, and I drank more Red Bull in two days than Eric Bostrom in two years. I felt my ass turn seven different shades of sore, rode until I couldn't pull in the clutch lever and killed more than 2200 miles in less than two days, all on a bike most consider inhumane for any trip longer than two hours.

Call it Ancient Japanese Sportbike Torture, only this was voluntary. It started a while back when I bought an "executive driven" (read: run-in on the dyno and flogged like a Tijuana taxi for 3000 miles) YZF-R1 from Yamaha's press pool&151and balked at paying $600 to ship it from California to Wisconsin. Six bangers is a lot of money; at least three track days...um, I mean...at least two months of food on the family table. So I got an idea. I did some quick math (my first mistake; as an English major, numbers ain't my strong suit) and figured I could ride the bike back more cheaply (and more quickly) than shipping it. And maybe get a good story out of it, too.

So I pitched the idea to Boehm: I'd knock out an official Iron Butt Association SaddleSore 2000 on a superbike, sort of a single-serving Cannonball Run. None of this existential "inner journey mirrors outer journey" crap. Let's drown out that inner voice with loads of caffeine, speed and pain. (Never mind that the longest I'd ever ridden in one day was 600 miles, and it sucked. And that was on a proper touring bike. Details...)

Of course, Boehm latched on immediately. It's not for nothing that they call him The Butcher.

A few days later I roared away from Huntington Beach, California, at 6:45 a.m. riding a fully loaded Yamaha R1. I arrived in Madison, Wisconsin, just 44.5 hours later.

I spent 36.5 hours in the saddle, stopping only for an eight-hour power nap in Boulder, Colorado. Total distance traveled was 2202.7 miles, which, when divided by the 36.5-hour saddle time, yielded an average speed of 60.34 mph—including all gas and food stops, road construction, potty breaks and a one-hour spree on The Strip in Las Vegas for some hot slot-machine action (I left $7 up!). Here are the sordid details.

Huntington Beach, California. 6:45 a.m., May 12. 0 miles

The actual trip started in the garage of Yamaha Press Manager Brad Banister. And it started ugly. Banister had been a willing accomplice from the beginning, "encouraging" me with the same sinister enthusiasm as Boehm. So far, Banister's "assistance" had consisted of selling me a euthanizer on wheels, picking me up at the airport and then trying to maim me with various motorcycles lurking in his garage. He finished my preride prep by taking me "carbo-loading" at one of Newport Beach's finer establishments, then deposited me on his couch at 2:00 a.m., a mere four hours before my wake-up call. Thanks, buddy.

Wake-up came at 6:00 a.m. sharp, with Banister blaring the Dandy Warhols from the stereo and making schedule-1-strength coffee. Forty-five minutes later I was in the garage giving the bike one last check. It was an absolutely box-stock YZF-R1 that was, according to Banister, Roadracing World's former test bike, engine cases track-beveled for no charge.

Pre-ride prep was shamelessly brief. It consisted of attaching the battery lead for the electric vest, jacking tire pressure up to 42 psi (a futile attempt to make the shagged D207 on the back last to Wisconsin) and strapping on a tank and tail bag. I thumbed the starter and nothing happened. (Cue ominous sounds.) It seemed that when I had turned the key on several minutes earlier to activate the electric odometer and take a mileage reading, I'd left it on and ran the battery dead. My SaddleSore actually began under human power, with Banister pushing me down his cul-de-sac in his bedroom slippers.

Yermo, California. 9:45 a.m., May 12. 140.9 miles

Is it even possible to get a speeding ticket in California? Just how fast do you have to go? The posted limit on U.S. Interstate 15 is 70 mph. I had the needle pegged at a number that in Wisconsin would land you in the back seat of a Crown Victoria faster than a box-cutter at airport security, and I was still passed by every last minivan, SUV and trailer-towing duallie on the road. Heck, a clapped-out Suzuki Samurai, duct-taped ragtop flapping in the breeze, dusted me! I tucked a little tighter against the tank bag and fed my right fist, making time while I could.

Las Vegas, Nevada. 11:45 a.m., May 12. 302.6 miles

"Oooh, Las Vegas!" One of the three women (disturbingly teenish, I might mention) in a Jeep Cherokee that just passed flashed her breasts. See, it's true: Literbikes get chicks. Proceed to your local house of motorcycles immediately!

Joseph, Utah. 4:45 p.m., May 12. 583.1 miles

In case you're wondering, the reserve-tank range on a YZF-R1 is 36.4 miles&151exactly 36.4 miles. I was wondering about it for a while, and as the bike stalled out coasting down the exit ramp into dust-bowl Joseph, I knew it was true. It turned out that 36.4 was the number I should have been running back in Las Vegas; Joseph was the first fuel stop in 75 miles and, well, hoofing 400-plus pounds of super-tourer over the Wasatch Plateau under my one measly manpower would hardly have been the way to commemorate the halfway point of my first 1000-mile day. What's that saying about the biker gods watching over fools and drunks? Count me among the former.

Green River, Utah. 6:45 p.m., May 12. 725.9 miles

"Power corrupts—and horsepower corrupts absolutely." I ran across this quote from travel writer John Hillaby in, of all places, an article about walking in United's in-flight magazine. Truer words and blah, blah, blah, but I really enjoyed the bottomless pit of steaming horsepower they call the YZF-R1. It'll tug the slack out of your panties, as the man likes to say. I dug the nice, progressive power wheelies that pressed the tank bag into my chest down every freeway on-ramp, or even just rolling on in sixth and wallowing in booster-rocket thrust. Not bad for a touring bike. I also enjoyed those deserted and arrow-straight Utah interstates, where short blasts up to utterly unpublishable speeds helped annihilate miles. Try that on your BMW or Honda sporty tourer, Mr. Iron Geek!

Parachute, Colorado. 9:10 p.m., May 12. 879.7 miles

Is there anything better than an electric vest (set on high) and a spotless faceshield? Actually, there are quite a few things&151a big cup of coffee and a newspaper in bed on Sunday morning being two. But right there, pulling away from the Flying J in Parachute, 15 hours and 900 miles into the first day, jacked up on Red Bull and Powerbars, there was nothing that compared with that vest and clean shield. The road was approximately 4000 feet above sea level and beginning to climb into the Rocky Mountains; before I dug the Widder out of the tail pack the chill air did a hell-for-stiff number on my tired joints. But blasting off into the darkness with the vest slow-roasting my internal organs (and the bloody mayfly mess scraped from my shield), I was rockin' and rollin'.

Somewhere in the Rocky mountains, Colorado. Midnight, May 13. 1050.2 miles

I was pretty sure I was nearing the Continental Divide, as I'd seen two polar bears standing on the glacier I'd passed a few miles back. My North Face zipper thermometer read 21 degrees, but methinks its little mercury heart was a tad optimistic. The uterine warmth of the vest had long since dissipated, and I had pulled over a few miles back to pile on every last bit of clothing I had&151including a balaclava, extra-thick socks and winter touring gloves. This did nothing to positively affect my core temperature, only reducing my effective range of motion to that of a granite slab. I could no longer feel the pegs with my feet, and I'd been banging clutchless upshifts for miles because my wrist was too stiff to pull in the clutch (though I'm not sure if this was from the cold or the YZF-R1's medieval bar placement). I would have gone to a hotel, but I couldn't find one up here in above-the-tree-line hell; I couldn't even find a bathroom, and even if I could have, about the last thing I wanted to do was unzip and put a frozen perma-claw betwixt my legs. And I still had almost 100 cold, twisty miles to go.

I planned to be in Boulder by 8:00 p.m. Despite high speeds and Daytona pit-stop-style breaks, I was way off schedule. A thousand miles doesn't sound like much sitting on the couch at home. Heck, if I had Jay Leno's rocket bike and a long stretch of Southern Nevada-type interstate, I could knock it out in a few hours. But when (if) you actually do the math, you realize that averaging 100 mph, with no stops, you're going to be in the saddle for a full 10 hours. That's like watching the entire Godfather trilogy in one sitting, only less fun and barely (just barely) less profane and bloody. Riding like I was, averaging close to 65 mph, you're in the saddle nonstop for 16 hours. I couldn't wait to do it all over again tomorrow.

Boulder, Colorado. 9:15 a.m., May 13. 1111.1 miles

I finally made it to my friend Victoria's house in Boulder at 1:00 a.m., more than 18 hours and 1100 miles after leaving Huntington Beach. I crashed (literally) in her spare room, gobbled down all her ibuprofen and vitamin E and was back on the road eight hours later. Shortest nap I'd ever taken, and I felt none too good about it.

My hands and feet had thawed, but I wasn't sure if this was a good thing. Last night's chill had masked a lot of transient joint hell and generalized muscle ache. And my ass... Might as well slap a Ducati sticker on it, it was so red. Had I actually ridden this bike yesterday, or was I dragged behind it? Shoulda got that FZ1, my body screamed, or why not a Royal Star Venture&151with a stereo! Hell, screw motorcycles; I would've cashed it all in right then for a Geo Metro from the local Rent-a-Wreck.

Actually, all things considered, a bone-stock YZF-R1 made a surprisingly capable sport-touring mount; hey, I was 1100 miles deep and still going.

Still, there were a few features my R1 desperately needed: a Euro-style finger trigger to flash the lights for passing, bar risers, an aftermarket saddle (heated, as long as I was dreaming), a Double Bubble-type windscreen, a throttle lock, an on-board MP3 player packed with Queens of the Stone Age albums, a GPS with a special program to help me locate an open bathroom in Edwards, Colorado, at midnight, bar risers, a morphine drip, a sleeping cabin, a morph button that would transform the R1 into a Gold Wing, bar risers, a Kevlar-sheathed, anti-flat-spot rear tire, stealth-radar-deflecting paint, and don't even get me started on my perfect helmet, with its electromagnetic antibug face-shield buffer (EMABFB), inboard snot trough and intermittent lip-balm mister incorporated into the chin bar. Are you listening, Arai?

Crook, Colorado. 11:30 a.m., May 13. 1282.5 miles

The name of the town was not insignificant, as it appeared I was now some brand of fugitive on the run. After being shut out at two gas stations in a row, I called up Visa and listened to honey-voiced Quinn tell me my credit card had been temporarily deactivated following "suspicious activity" that suggested a "stolen or otherwise misappropriated credit card." Suspicious activity...if she only knew. Between the speed-checking aircraft, gas-station security cameras and brief-but-dynamic exchange of gestures with some truckers back in a construction zone near Brush, I was surprised my driving privileges weren't temporarily deactivated. Anyway, a few more quick calls and credit was reinstated (financially, if not morally), Red Bull was procured and forward progress, at a rapid clip and in an easterly direction, was restored.

Gothenberg, Nebraska. 2:50 p.m., May 13. 1436.9 miles

Hey, another SUV came up on my left side with another young hottie giving me the eye. Oops, my bad—old enough to call "Gram." Better stop for more caffeine.

Waco, Nebraska. 5:15 p.m., May 13. 1593.1 miles

Two sure signs you've entered the Great Midwest: bad roads and bad cops. One of the greatest distinctions of roadways west of the Continental Divide (aside from the utter lack of any respect for the posted speed limit) is their uncanny smoothness—so much that even a track-ready YZF-R1 feels Lincoln Continental plush. But what felt yesterday like plush suspension was today a Radio Flyer wagon ridden bare-assed down a ski slope. Frost heaves, tar snakes and potholes big enough to host their own ecosystems brutalized my lower back and hampered progress. I might have considered pulling over to futz with the suspension settings if only the clip-ons-cum-wrist eviscerators hadn't banished all semblance of fine motor control from my fingertips.

My forward progress was also being killed by cops. A rare sight on yesterday's route, cops in the Midwest were heavy and humorless, especially in the ever-present construction zones, where huge placards warned, "Speeding Fines Double in Construction Zones." Yesterday the digital speedo seemed stuck at 95 mph; today it rarely exceeded 75 mph and all too frequently read 45 mph in bumper-to-bumper, single-lane zones. This slowdown showed on the clock—dinnertime already and I was still 500 miles from home.

Atlantic, Iowa. 7:45 p.m., May 13. 1758.4 miles

Another great-looking girl, this time in a Chevrolet Cavalier—wait! That was a cocker spaniel! Definitely time for a rest.

Waterloo, Iowa. 12:00 a.m., May 14. 1998 miles

"Son of a bitch!" I was parked on the edge of U.S. Interstate 380 at the top of a long hill looking at the lights of Waterloo spread out before me. I was almost crying, and trying hard to resist the urge to give my expensive helmet a good pavement bounce. I looked at the odometer and noticed I was just two short miles from accomplishing a SaddleSore 2000: 2000 miles in less than 48 hours. But any satisfaction was bittersweet, as it was midnight again, freezing cold, and I was still 200 miles from home. What was worse, I had taken a wrong turn a few miles back and was now about 75 miles (one way) off course. I had checked the map at the last gas stop in Williamsburg and memorized my directions (it was too dark to read the map): 16 miles north on I-380, then 65 miles east on U.S. Route 151. But somehow I'd transposed the numbers in my head and went 65 miles on I-380 in the wrong direction! Instead of being home at 12:30 a.m., I was looking forward to two more hours on the road. Addendum to the list of items my YZF-R1 absolutely must have: triple-clamp-mounted map light.

Dubuque, Iowa. 1:20 a.m., May 14. 2103.5 miles

It was raining, the first moisture of the trip. Trying to get from U.S. Route 20 on one side of Dubuque to U.S. 151 on the other without a map, I got hopelessly lost. And I guess there was something suspicious about a guy on a fully loaded YZF-R1 trolling residential streets in first gear at 1:30 a.m. because I noticed a City of Dubuque police cruiser tailing me a half-block back. I paid special attention to speed and proper turn-signal use, and tried not to let my shaking-from-cold-and-fatigue upper body make the bike wobble in its lane too much. I considered stopping for a moment to ask the cop for directions but didn't—I didn't want to waste any time with what I'm sure would've been a variety of interesting questions from said officer of the law. All I could think about was getting home.

The cop finally left me alone when I hit the on-ramp for U.S. 151. I blasted across the big bridge over the Mississippi River and found myself back in Wisconsin—some two hours later than planned. For the first time since I started riding almost two days ago in California, I found myself on a two-lane road. U.S. 151 from Platteville to Dodgeville, Wisconsin, was about as fun as a numbered state highway can get, bobbing up and down the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, tempting me with sweeper after sweeper arcing around the base of the bluffs. It's the kind of road that is great fun early in the morning before traffic picks up. But come too early—say, 1:20 a.m., for example—and many of the rises are blind, and the sweeping corners, especially in the inky, out-in-the-sticks darkness, are impossible to see through. This, and the ever-present specter of a white-tailed deer wandering into my single-track path, had me riding well below the posted limit of 65 mph.

I'd felt a lot of sensations over the course of this trip—most notably pain (from the damnable clip-ons and ass-paralyzer of a seat) and anxiety (frequently sighting cops while in flagrant disobedience of the posted speed limit)—but I hadn't yet felt really tired or unsafe. There was something about the constant stimulus that came with riding on the outside of my vehicle that kept me uncommonly alert. Until now, that is. The rising challenge of this two-lane road, the late hour and the intermittent rain allowed two days of successfully repressed fatigue and exhaustion to sweep over me. Visual hallucinations—flashes of light on the periphery and imagined obstacles—began to appear.

After a few minutes I noticed an interesting pattern. Two hallucinations dominated: phantom police cars in the median and iridescent eyeballs in the underbrush, signaling a deer about to leap. My two greatest fears were tickets (male, less than 30 years old—insuring a literbike, need I say more?) and deer collisions, and my brain played these fears against me in a desperate attempt to keep alert. The pattern was this: I droned along relentlessly, using every last ounce of remaining brainpower to stay on task. Inevitably I tired and began to lose concentration. My brain responded to this threat by producing a hallucination of something I feared (cops and deer), producing a spike of adrenaline to my system that hyper-alerted my senses for the next 10 minutes, when the cycle was repeated again. This mini-lesson in evolution and the body's biological response to stress continued for the next 75 miles until I saw the well-lit capital dome and Madison skyline in the distance.

Madison, Wisconsin. 3:15 a.m., May 14. 2202.7 miles

My hometown of Madison was strangely deserted that morning. It was finals week at the University of Wisconsin, and most of the campus' 46,000 students were home asleep or studying. Unlike in Dubuque, I traversed the entire city without arousing even a single officer of the law. I rolled into the driveway at 3:15 a.m., 44.5 hours after leaving Huntington Beach. I could barely move my wrists and ankles, and it would be more than a week before I could sit on the YZF-R1 without pain. Save for a five-inch-wide flat spot on the rear tire and a shellacking of bug guts on the fairing that took a half hour to scrape off, the bike was hardly the worse for wear.

One thousand miles in 24 hours on any bike is a huge accomplishment. Doing it two days in a row was silly and should probably be illegal. Doing a full Iron Butt Rally, 11,000 miles in 11 days...well, those folks must be androids. Me, I'd rather eat broken glass or be hit by a train. So congratulate the next person you see with an Iron Butt Association license-plate frame; the maniac most definitely earned it. As for me, next time I need to cross the country in less than two days, I'm taking a plane. The bike can walk.

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