There's a reason they call it "Iron Butt." Competitors agree to ride 11,000 miles in 11 days, sleeping just four hours a day, and stopping off at pre-designated checkpoints to verify that they are, in fact, honestly completing the run. Let's face it; it's freaking nuts. Which is why only a relative handful even bother to enter, much less complete such a competition.
In 1996, then 36 year old Eric Levy was a member of a San Diego motorcycle club where, at a meeting one evening, somebody came up with the bright idea of doing something a little more, well, manageable. Like, say, 1000 miles in 24 hours, which is still pretty gonzo, but at least do-able. They called it the "Baby Butt 1000."
For the inaugural run, organizers chose a relatively easy route; San Diego to Laughlin, Nevada. "There's a lot of freeway," Levy said. "Desert, straight roads, plenty of places to stop for gas. Even so, I was anxious. I'd never ridden more than 500 miles in a day. How was I possibly going to do 1000?"
Fully expecting to fail, Levy surprised himself by making it to the 350 mile mark in just under five hours. "I didn't even get off the bike," he said. "I just pulled up to the pump, gassed up and went."
By the time he got to Ely, Nevada, he'd been at it for nine hours straight and he desperately needed to chill. He went into a 7-11, bought himself a cold drink, and spent 45 minutes sitting on the curb to, as he puts it, "change the air in my head."
At 3 PM, he was back out on the road and feeling fine. Or so he thought. By the time he got to Caliente, Nevada, he was socked with a wave of road weariness so overpowering that he had to pull over and lie down on a patch of lawn. "Just being off my butt and out of the wind was therapy enough," he said. "I'd hit my wall. That was my personal limit right there."
He was back on his bike an hour and a half later, with 250 miles still to go. "I arrived at Laughlin at 8:30 that evening," he said. "You come over a hill and there it is, all lit up. You're back in civilization. I rode down Casino Drive with the neon lights flashing all around me, feeling like a real winner. There are people applauding and patting you on the back as you cross the finish line. It's a real feeling of triumph that lasts for about 15 seconds. Then the next guy pulls up and it's his turn. But after a day where you're lonely and alone, the combination of bright lights and acknowledgement was just a great feeling."
A job offer at Coors brought him to Denver in 2002. First order of business after he'd settled in was to join the BMW Motorcycle Club of Colorado. "They do a lot of events, but they didn't yet have a Baby Butt competition, so in 2003 I stood up in a meeting and asked if anyone was interested." The response at first was tepid, but eventually the club came around.
Levy has organized three "Colorado Classic 1000" rallies over the past seven years and will do so again this year. "We'll be going from Denver to Grand Lake over the weekend of June 21st and 22nd," he said. "It's a 1000 mile loop. You're not just sitting back and cruising either. It'll be an honest ride where you're shifting, leaning, braking, and accelerating, as opposed to just sitting on the Interstate with the throttle set at 70."
What kind of person willingly submits to such an ordeal? A good number are professionals in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. "We aren't bikers, we're motorcyclists," Levy said. "There's a difference. We wear full gear. There're mufflers on our bikes. There's no drinking, no carousing, no speeding or breaking laws...It's 3 AM. It's 38 degrees out there. You're wet. You're exhausted. You still have 100 miles to go, but you're not giving up. That's the kind of people we're looking for."
For more info:
BMW Motorcycle Club of Colorado www.bmwmcc.org
Iron Butt Association www.ironbutt.com
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