Interviewer: Jim Martin | Photos: Bob Lilley
This transcript has been created from the original audio episode released January 11, 2018. This transcript may have been modified to make reading easier. As Adventure Rider Radio shows are meant to be listened to and not read, the following script may contain some grammatical and other errors. You can also listen to this interview by downloading the episode.
Jim (narrate): You know, us motorcyclists, are very lucky. We have so many disciplines that we can get into as far as motorcycling goes. There’s off-road racing, trial riding, trail riding, cruisers, of course, adventure motorcyclists, and many more. But the one that may leave you scratching your head in wonder, if you’re not into it, is long distance riding. I’m talking the time distance kind. There’s an organization called the Iron Butt Association that’s all about that. They have a long list of time, distance and point collection challenges for their members. And they've got a lot of members. It says on their website over 60,000, (I assume that’s worldwide). Now, for instance, one of them that you commonly hear spoken of is called the Saddle Sore 1000. That’s riding 1,000 miles in 24 hours or less. Now the next one up from that is called The Bun Burner 1500. That’s 1,500 miles in 36 hours or less. The list goes on from there with more challenges. But, where is the thrill and the reward in riding for perhaps thousands of miles, stopping only when necessary, pushing yourself to stay awake, to stay alert, to ride through all kinds of weather, all kind of traffic, and even, at times, cross borders to gain more points? Why risk pushing yourself so hard? Well, the best way to answer these questions is to speak to someone that can’t seem to get enough of those types of challenges. Bob Lilley lives in Pennsylvania and absolutely loves long distance riding. So much so, that last year, he rode for 11 days straight both day and night with very little sleep to gain his second place finish in the 2017 Iron Butt Rally.
Bob: My name is Bob Lilley, and I’m from Easton, Pennsylvania and I currently am a motorcycle salesman for Hermy’s BMW Triumph in Port Clinton, Pennsylvania.
Jim: How did you start out with motorcycles? Is this something that happened when you were a kid, or more of an adult thing?
Bob: Now, I was- it’s a great story, and I had magical childhood because I grew up in a rural area in the hard coal region of Pennsylvania. And, you know, we really didn’t have any paved roads. And every kid in the neighbourhood had a minibike, or a dirt bike, and I basically started because my folks moved next door to a guy who was a RUPP minibike dealer- he sold them right out of his basement. And I mean, I pestered them, probably drove them pretty much to the brink of insanity, and they were forced to basically buy me a minibike. So, and that was it. I got the minibike, it was a red RUPP Hustler. I believe it was a 4 horse power Briggs and Stratton, you know, pull start engine. But it had suspension, and you know, I was off and running. And then through the years it was bike after bike after bike, and you know, higher levels or competition; motocross, enduro, hair scramble, and so on and so forth. Living in that area, so close to you know, deep woods and really, the strip mines from the coal mining industry, just wide open, and go ripping around through that soft coal silt... I became quite the accomplished off-road rider. So that’s pretty much how it started.
Jim: Well, and RUPP was the real deal back then. Like you said, suspension.
Bob: Yeah, RUPP was, I mean... there were many bikes you could get from like, some of the old automotive stores way back in the day. Like, Dean Fitz, or I think even like, Grant’s department stores would sell ‘em. And you know, they’d be hair tail frames, no suspension. But the RUPP, I mean, it really did have a fantastic suspension. And it had, you know, the torque converter drive on it, so you basically just twisted the throttle and went, there was no clutch. And I mean, I hammered that thing. I mean, honestly, the guy who sold it to us, the dealer, it was constantly in his shop getting repaired for like, broken shock mounts, everything like that. I think that’s why my dad, eventually, it was a birthday surprise, my mom and dad got me a Kawasaki. A KX, what was it, KX100 or KX90, I can’t remember anymore. Which was a much, you know, higher end off-road machine for the time. But, yeah the RUPP was solid as a minibike for sure.
Jim: Oh yeah, it makes all the difference. I mean, mine was just that. It was a no suspension frame and, so it was so limiting. I mean, you pretty much stayed on hard packed dirt and do anything crazy. And, of course, it was powerless. You could crack the throttle and just hold it there- like, you almost had to want to go to get the minibike to actually move.
Bob: Yeah, for sure, for sure. And you know, now that I said Briggs and Stratton, I think the RUPP might have even had a Tecumseh engine, cause they were (I think they were) manufactured in Wisconsin.
Jim: Yeah. So what got you into adventure riding? Like, fast forward to where you are now, because your’e working at a BMW dealer. Is it adventure riding that brought you there?
Bob: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, through the years, riding in the dirt, we would get up in the morning as kids and just go all day long. We’d pack lunch, we’d go ride into the deep woods, ended up getting to organized, you know, hair scramble and endurance events, motocross. Kept right on going through my age of 16. I got my motorcycle license, to operate a motorcycle on, you know, public roads. And, it just, you know, the road riding became my commute vehicle for school, my commute vehicle for my job, and on top of that, I mean, we were riding to get back and forth to school, but we were riding all weekend, either racing or just ripping around in the woods with buddies, you know. And adventure riding, I mean, it started for me as really, pure off-road riding. But then as I gained the motorcycle license, it became, you know, a big dual sport bike to run a few hundred miles to some place new to find the dirt roads and the off road parks to go play around in there.
Jim: You mean to say that, living in the area that you grew up in, you’d never ridden on the street until you got your license?
Bob: Uh, well, not legally. We did, we used to laugh about that, because we had... all the streets in our neighbourhood were pretty much unpaved until you got down to some of the state routes, and the county routes, and often times, they were a very quick short cut to get on to like a rail road bed where you could run that out to like, a coal hole. But, yeah, there were some challenges occasionally. And I was brought home to my dad in the back of a state police vehicle, Pennsylvania State Troopers, probably, you know, maybe 9 or 10 times between the age of say, 10 and 14. But, the upside was, we knew all the police and all the other kids were getting in the same kind of trouble, and it was kind of harmless in the long run. But, I mean, we always made a dash for it and sometimes we made it, sometimes we didn’t.
Jim: That’s a lot of incidences. Were you brought back….what did they do? Did they put your minibike, or your motorcycle, in the back of the trunk and take you home?
Bob: Yes, and sometimes, other times, it would just have to stay, you know, wherever it was and they’d drag me home and go back and get it with a pick-up truck.
Jim: What’s the deal though? They’re taking you home so you get in trouble, they didn’t charge you with anything. They’re taking you home so your mom and dad can deal with you.
Bob: Totally, yeah. I mean, there was no paperwork. We knew most of the guys, my grandfather was a Justice of the Peace, which was kind of a small town mayor if you will, in the area that I grew up. So, I mean, we knew all the police. It was harmless stuff, but there was no way for us to get to the really good riding spots without touching a paved public road when we got a little bit older, and had to branch out some. I mean, we had to get there somehow, and we weren’t going to be denied, of course. It was probably, it was Pennsylvania Route 61, and we had to cross that and PA Route 43. Literally, they’d be half a mile. But, it was a very crowded piece of the road at the time, and you were, more often than not, [you] would see a local law enforcement officer, sitting there having a coffee or something, and you’d sort of be stuck.
Jim: I’m sure you added some grey hairs to your grandfathers head.
Bob: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
Jim: Especially being the Justice of the Peace, I can just imagine him going: oh no, not again.
Bob: Yeah, I think he rued the day that my folks got me the minibike, honestly. But he was a good guy, and my dad as well. When I got the RUPP Hustler, my dad originally bought a used RUPP Roadster, which was a little bit faster and little more high end than the Hustler. It actually, I believe, had a headlight on it, instrumentation, and everything else. He bought one of those preowned so that he could go riding with me. You know, just so I’d get my chops up. And that lasted, probably a month, and I was off and running by myself without him. So, but it was, I said this one time to somebody, I had magical childhood. If you are somebody who loves motorcycles like I do, my childhood could not have been scripted better. I mean, we just rode constantly. All summer long we were gone somewhere, and we just really loved it.
Jim: Your parents must love it when they hear you say that.
Bob: Oh, absolutely, yeah, they do. I mean, and I was fortunate like I said, to grow up in an area with ample riding. And all my friends had dirt bikes, and minibikes. We all grew up together, riding, improving, chasing each other around, getting into competitive motorcycling. And, I mean, if you’re a 2-wheeled motorcycle enthusiast, there was no better way to grow up.
Jim: So, with this love of motorcycles going right back to when you were a little kid, you know, our most influential times probably, especially (in particular) as you get into high school. What did you end up doing for a living?
Bob: Well, actually, I was an electrical engineer and working in the telecommunications and IT industry for, probably 25, 30 years. But, about 4 or 5 years ago, I think it’s 5 years ago now, I had enough. I was in New York City, Metro New York, New Jersey area, on IT sales. It was a St. Paddy’s Day, it was a crazy day at work, and I basically walked in and said to my manager, you know, I’ve had enough. And I left. And, I think they were stunned, I think my family was stunned, but I came home, and the first thing I did, ironically, was I jumped on my motorcycle and took a ride to my dealer, Hermy’s, to clear my head. And, you know, you’re always supposed to be, I think in this life, exactly where you’re at. I went to Hermy’s that day, and I said to Herm, I quit my job. And he said, you know, Tom, one of our sales guys is retiring at the end of the year. Why don’t you sell bikes? And when he said it, I thought, well, you know, the income issue and going from a high paying high power sales job in the New York area to, obviously no one gets rich selling motorcycles. But, at that point in my life, I really didn’t need the money because I had done well in my previous career and I had some money saved. And I thought, well that sounds like a perfect thing for me- and Herm agreed. He said, you know the products, you’ve been riding a long, you’ve been a customer here forever, you know; give it a shot. So I did, I came on part time and when my associate Tom Murray retired at the end of that year, I came on full time, I think it’s been about 4 years now. And I tell you what... what a fantastic life and career move because it’s just been fantastic for me.
Jim: So no regrets.
Jim: Because often, you do a big career move like this... you do hear this a lot where, somebody will decide, you know, I don’t like what I’m doing... maybe they’ll go off on a motorcycle trip, they’ll have sort of a big change of life but sometimes, a lot of times I think, people end up gravitating back to what you know.
Bob: Yeah, I mean... I’ve got two daughters that are through college now, I just wrote the tuition cheque for the last semester for my youngest daughter, so, I mean, I have zero regrets. And I gotta tell ya, I will do this job until I am ready to retire for good. And, when I retire for good, the plan is to retire somewhere where it’s warmer, and to be able to ride year round. You know, I have a fantastic companion, she loves to ride on the back, she’s a pillion, and we just want to see everything that we can see on two wheels. And I’m kind of going through a really great period with her, because she’s new to the sport, and I’ve been around the country…I couldn’t tell you how many times on my motorcycle; around North America, over seas…and it’s all new to her. It’s like watching a kid open a present on Christmas morning, every time we go out somewhere different on the bike. She’s a real nature lover, she loves the outdoors, and she has taken to motorcycling like a fish to water. So, between the job and having the time..also Herm is great. He gives me the time to do things like ride an Iron Butt Rally, and do certification rides. You know, it’s just perfect, it’s a perfect match for me. I think it was meant to be, and you know, way back when in the cards, somehow I was supposed to end up doing this prior to, you know, getting out of work for good. And I’m just happy.
Jim: So, the Iron Butt (The Iron Butt Association) and your involvement with it, or at least your running of different Iron Butt’s... that comes from, you know, obviously, and we can hear this, a deep love of motorcycles. And I suspect it’s that early competition thing that you did, you mentioned that you were entering competitions for different motorcycle events, that sort of carries on. Is that how you got into…was that the attraction again to the Iron Butt thing? Because they have quite difficult tasks set up for people to do if you want to get certain awards for it. Is that really the drive, or the attraction rather, to the Iron Butt Association for you?
Bob: Yeah, I mean, I had been researching the Iron Butt Association for years, and I was simply in awe of the amount of miles some of these people would cover in an Iron Butt event. Particularly the rally. And, you know, I kept looking at it and kept thinking that someday I’m gonna do this, someday I’m gonna do this…and then, 9/11, the terror attacks on 9/11, 2001 happened. And, I decided then... something clicked in me that day, as I’m sure it did for a lot of people, especially those, you know, close to the New York, New Jersey metro area that day... I just said, you know, life’s too short. How many people went into work that day, and never came home? And I said, you know, if you’re gonna do something, you gotta do it. So, October of ’01, I decided to do an Iron Butt certification ride. I did it on a Suzuki Cavalcade, and I did, I think it was 1,037 miles. And it took me just about all 24 hours to get it done. But, when I did that, I gotta tell ya, I was hooked. I started planning the next ride, you know the higher mileage rides, the Bun Burner, the Bun Burner Gold, the Coast to Coast rides, back to back Bun Burner Golds, you get hooked. It’s almost…you become addicted to it. So, you know, the rally was a natural progression for me from the certification rides I started doing. The 1 and 2 day rallies, the local rallies on the East Coast, like the Void, the Cape Fear, the Mason Dixon…all run by long distance riders themselves. And you know, you start… when you do your first endurance rally, you almost always finish way down, because there’s so much more to it than meets the eye. And you really gotta polish your skills and you gotta get into an efficient rhythm for how you do things, and you can’t break from it, or you just add time. But, the first several you do, you finish usually way down in the pack, and you start thinking, you know, start watching the big dogs who know what they’re doing, and you learn and you grow. For me, that meant eventually winning a few of those events. And that gets you on the radar for the Iron Butt Association’s Rally, the IBR. And, you know, you throw your hat in the ring, it’s a lottery system, but I think they do look for people who’ve done well in the smaller endurance rallies, because they do want to see people who have a shot at doing well in the big games. So, I entered, back in 2009, after winning a couple of the local rallies. And my hat, I got picked outta the hat, and that was my first rally in ’09.
Jim: Going back to... you were saying... that first Saddle Sore, I assume it was the Saddle Sore 1000, that's what they call it? The 1000. What was the thrill in that? What got you all excited, when you were done that? You said it took you almost the whole 24 hours, you almost, you almost didn’t get it. You took the maximum amount of time, or pretty close to it; what was the thrill?
Bob: I mean, the thrill was, it was just…You had a goal. I mean, you had a clear goal, a timed goal that you had to meet. And, I just, I took off for New England. I rode all the way up around Vermont, New Hampshire, came back down through Connecticut; but I was stopping at gas stops, I was getting off the bike, I was stretching, and I was getting a candy bar, you know. Shoot the breeze with somebody who would ask about the bike. I stopped at a diner and got lunch. I didn’t realize just how much time I was gobbling up by doing those small tasks. And, you know, it took near towards the end, I realized, geez... I might not make this thing. I was really shocked. And, it was just the thrill of knowing, you know, I’m gonna ride this motorcycle 1,000 miles in 24 hours. And at the time, I have to admit, it sounded like something that you’d be out of your mind to want to try. And now, I say this, you know; I could rip off 1,000 miles in about 16 hours. And you know, my bike had been adapted, the equipment has been upgraded. I’ve got everything right where I need it on the bike. I have a fuel cell, I mean, the gas stops are much fewer. And, it’s amazing to see the transition from a green horn coming in and doing something like this on basically a stock motorcycle to eventually doing it on a motorcycle that you’ve adapted purely for long distance endurance competition. I mean, you really, really, really do shave down the amount of time it takes you to cover the kind of miles you need to cover.
Jim: So, it’s almost like you have just a goal. Because you could go out, and like you’re saying right now, you could go ride 1,000 miles right now in 16 hours, and maybe it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But, as soon as you put a goal in…and the reason that I’m sort of leaning to this, is because I often think that when people do a ride, if you have some sort of plan or a goal, it seems to make the ride just that much more exciting. You know, you’re planning to do a loop or something like that. But there’s something just about you tracking the fact that you’re gonna do 1,000 miles in 24 hours, that’s the thrill. You didn’t need the Iron Butt Association behind you, there was nothing really there, except for the concept of what your trip was about.
Bob: That’s correct; and I think you’re exactly right about that. I mean, even when you’re going on a trip, like for example you said, if you have a destination. You know, let’s say you’re going to Oregon, or Washington State to see like Columbia River Gorge or something like that. You get there, when you know you’re going some place like that, the excitement level is way different than just taking a Sunday afternoon. And then endurance stuff. Especially the competitive level of it. When you know there are other people chasing the same goal that you are, and you get the competitive nature of it (it also on top of the ride), it’s just truly addictive. I don’t…if you ask anybody who’s done an Iron Butt Rally, they will tell you... you can go from the highest emotional high, to the lowest emotional low, in a matter of seconds. And that, combined with the fact that you kind of take comfort knowing that you’re doing something you love, while at the same time you’re competing against people that also are doing something they love. And they’re running in sometimes the same types of problems you are, and you don’t wish, you know, bad for anybody in an Iron Butt Rally. But you know, I think any competitor would tell you, you know, if you got a flat tire, you’re thinking, well, maybe somebody else got a flat tire, too, and I’m gonna be okay. So, you know. It’s just... you don’t want it to happen, but you know people are running into the same level of nonsense you are and anything can and will happen in an Iron Butt Rally. Anything. The sky is the limit.
Jim: Let’s talk about the rally for a second. For those who don’t know what a rally is, and what it’s about: how does it run, what’s it all about?
Bob: Well, the Iron Butt Rally, it’s basically, it’s an 11 day event, you… it’s been called a scavenger hunt on steroids. Basically you’re presented with a list of bonuses, I think it was somewhere in the neighbourhood of like 340-350 bonus locations in this past rally (the latest one, 2017). And, usually there’s a theme. This past year it was animal. Prehistoric mythical water or land based animal sculptures. And you had to go find these things. Basically, each of these bonus locations requires you to take a picture of your rally flag in front of it, with or without your motorcycle, and they’re worth point values. Your goal is to pick your own route. They had a starting point, they have an end point, and there’s a few check points in between. You have to get as many bonus points as you can and get to the check points without being timed barred, and then get to the finish without being time barred. Usually, the higher point value bonuses are further off the beaten path, and require a much longer and aggressive ride to get those points that might be something that might be, you know, very close to the various routes that people take.
Jim: And some of these things you’re looking at to get points for, they can be out of the country as well.
Bob: They can. Anywhere in North America. In past rallies, I think there were bonuses in Mexico, obviously Canada, Alaska, this year in fact, Newfoundland there were a bunch of bonuses. Yeah, pretty much anywhere in North America.
Jim: It’s bizarre, because... the thought of someone going around and tracking this out. Because, if you’re gonna take something specific like these sculptures, someone has to go find those. Are they doing internet search? Or are they doing internet search, and then riding as well?
Bob: Yeah, I mean, it’s both. You’ve got a whole team of scouts that go out and support the rally. The rally master this year is a guy named Jeff Earls. He is a former second place finisher in a rally. He was the rally master, so it was his responsibility to put the bonus list together. He hired, you know, he managed rather, I should say, an entire team of riders. Like, the long distance riding community. People are so happy to go out and scout bonuses and get the GPS coordinates locked down. Get a picture of it, get a good description of it. It’s really a big family of people who love long distance riding. And there’s a whole background of volunteers out there, helping to support the administrative staff at the IBA, who actually put the rally on. And, this year in particular, it was Jeff Earls, the rally master. So, he did a hell of a job. And he put a rally together that, the bonuses were far flung, they were interesting to see, and he added some multiplier complexity into it where, if you strung your bonuses in certain order you got additional points. It was... it was quite the... quite the puzzle.
Jim: The way I see it, as far as a general concept is... that they’re setting out these different sculptures in this case and or any sort of points where you can gather or places where you can go visit, get a photograph, gather points... they lay them all out there, they tell you, these are all of them. You make your choice which ones you want to go to, and I guess a lot of it is in choosing your route. How are you going to get to, from this point to that point, and do the least amount... is it the least amount of mileage or the least amount of time?
Bob: No, well, the mileage…I mean, ironically, it’s your routing that’s gonna dictate your mileage if you’re going for big points. And, I’ve said this to many people about the Iron Butt Rally: The Iron Butt Rally sounds like it’s a fun event, but if you’re vying for a top spot, I think any of the top 10 people would tell you, there’s really nothing fun about it. It’s nerve wracking, it’s stressful, it’s anxiety producing. I mean, you are going…I think there were 117 people in this years rally. And, you know, you could throw the rally book out there, and out of say 117 people, you might see 117 different routes. Everyone picks and chooses what they think they can safely get to and what they can handle (you know, with sleep and down time). Get those points, and get to those check points on time. Like anything, like any competition, you have a group of people (the big dogs so to speak) who will go after more and more points, and you know, go further and further off the beaten path to get them and push themselves to the limit on time management, and their rest capabilities, you know.
Jim: You say nerve wracking, and stressful. I think most people listening would think, why would you bother doing something like that? But, that’s part of the thrill you get in a race, isn’t it. Just about with any sort of thing, if you competed in anything at all, those are normal feelings.
Bob: Yeah, absolutely. And you really, when you start, I’d tell people, you’re probably running on pure adrenaline for the first 5 days. Especially after the first check point. You get in there, and you see that you’ve done well, and the adrenaline just kicks up another notch and you run, you run strong. And it really is, you are hyped, you are completely focused, and I like to say it’s probably…there was a movie one time with Patrick…no, no- Bradley Cooper, I’m sorry. It was this movie where he was taking this illicit, illegal drug that made him sharp and focused. Like he could speak different languages, and his hearing and vision became so acute that he didn’t miss a trick in the book. It’s almost like that when you start this thing. You are so just focused and intense on going for the things you wanna get. And the real trick is, as you get further on into the event, try and keep that focus and keep that energy level up. When you get into day 8, 9, 10, it’s hard. I mean to manage your time and to keep going safely is extremely difficult. It takes a hell of a lot out of you. Emotionally, and physically.
Jim: Is it dangerous? I mean, you mentioned danger there and I’m just thinking, you know, when you’re talking about miles and pushing yourself on a motorcycle, you know, it’s something you have to talk about.
Bob: Oh I think, I mean obviously anything you can do in life has some element of danger. So, yeah I mean, riding a motorcycle 13,124 miles in 11 days probably has a little bit higher element of danger. But, the rally staff, they incorporate safeguards in there to make sure people are, you know... Mandatory rest bonuses and, you have to stay in a certain location for 6 hours, and you have to get rest and, I mean, you push yourself to what you alone are capable of. And it’s all on you. It’s personal responsibility, which is one of the other things I love about the Iron Butt Rally is, it’s all on you. There’s no help. It’s you, and you alone. And, if you screw up, or you hurt yourself, you’re the one responsible. But, the staff and the administration over stress safety and getting back in one piece over, you know, riding dangerously to get points on the very cusp. But, I think human nature being what it is, real competitors will always push themselves to the limit. No matter what it is they’re doing. And I don’t think any of the people doing these types of events are any different. So, yes. It’s dangerous at times, for sure, but I think the risk for me is certainly worth the satisfaction and reward I get from doing it.
Jim: 11 days is a long time do anything, especially when you’re working at your peak. So, to try and keep yourself motivated, 11 days is a long time. Especially because, we don’t do this everyday. Very few people have something in their life that they’re actually pushing themselves hard at. So to go out and do this for 11 days, I can hardly imagine that. That’s a lot of stress and that’s certainly a different way of living for that period of time. What is your... what have you found is the method for this? Like, there has to be a method that almost everybody would choose, and I’m sure that, like you said, there’s those people who are very serious about it, they’re gonna go that extra bit on everything and maybe get into much more advanced techniques. But what, sort of, what is the method for driving these long distances and doing it comfortably?
Bob: I think one of the things you have to do immediately is, before the first rally…now, granted, I’ve done four. The first rally I did in ’09, my prep was ridiculous. It was 18 months of just insanity. Where I’ve gotten away from it a little bit, because as you become more familiar, more of a veteran with these things, you know what you can kind of, chip off of your regimen. But, basically what it boiled down to for me is, you eliminate all of the stimulants. No caffeine, no chocolate; you know, I like to have a drink every now and then, so I cut alcohol out completely about 6 months before the rally starts. No caffeine, no chocolate, no alcohol. And, when you get within about 3 months of the rally, I start training myself to sleep less. And, US Navy actually released a declassified study they did to see how long a pilot could fly an aircraft and retain a cognitive ability to work a complex weapon system. And, believe it or not, one of the Iron Butt Rally finishers years ago was a Surgeon General named Admiral Don Arthur. Don gave a presentation on this information when it was declassified, and it’s amazing how it works. The navy figured out that you could fly a plane for 24 hours and you can take a nap... you can take a nap for 45 minutes to an hour, but you could not sleep more than an hour. Because if you allowed your body to get into a deep REM sleep, it was hard to get your body to get up, shake off the groggy condition you would be in, and start out again. But, it’s unbelievable how well it works if you force yourself up after 50 minutes. First of all, your’e so tired, you’re going to fall asleep near immediately. Set your alarms. Get up 50 minutes later. Pop up within 30 seconds to a minute... you feel fresh as a daisy. And, I was very skeptical until I tried it myself, but it works. So I practised that routine along with, you know, really crazy time management, you know, pulling into a gas station on the motorcycle, not shutting it off, filling it with fuel. I can get in and out of a gas station and put 11.5 gallons of fuel in my bike in about 4 minutes. And sometimes that even includes running in and filling my hydration bladder, or even going to the bathroom. But for me the key is, the bike doesn’t stop for anything but fuel. I don’t stop to go to the bathroom, I don’t stop for food. I stop for fuel, and I make sure I fill my hydration bladder and my tank bag with snacks, where if I go to the bathroom, I do it then. And, unfortunately I mean, if I leave a gas station after filling for fuel, and had to you know, urinate or go to the bathroom at all, and I didn’t do it, unfortunately for my body, I’m holding it for 350 or 400 miles until I need fuel again. Because I minimize my down time, like, unbelievable.
Jim: Why leave your bike run when you’re fuelling it?
Bob: Because, believe it or not, it takes time to go through that start cycle. And you’re fuelling it so rapidly, it almost doesn’t matter. And on some bikes, of course, you have to shut the bike off and open the gas cap with a key. What I did was I took my spare key, I put the cap in the unlock position, and I would either cut the key off in there and leave it, or I took the factory fill cap off and just put like a screw type cap on it or an aircraft plug. Because, when you think about it, Jim, over 11 days, every time you waste... say 30 seconds or a minute or two minutes or three minutes... over 11 days that adds up to hundreds of miles that you could have ridden but didn’t.
Jim: Ah, so that could put you behind somebody. Because, you know, you think about how many times you stop for fuel, add a minute or two to each one of those and you’ve got yourself behind somebody just from that.
Bob: Exactly that, and I learned that in the first couple of rallies that I did. Now, I’d pull into the bonus, get off the bike, stretch, take my helmet off, take a picture, shoot the shit with a couple of guys who pulled in. And then you’d see a pro pull in, who’s been doing it for years, like a Jeff Earls or a Jim Owen, they’d pull in, they wouldn’t even shut the bike off, they’d hang their flag on a magnetic clip out in front of them, take the picture from the saddle of the bike with the flag hanging from this magnetic pole and have the rally book in their tank bag, open it up, write in the information, put the flag and camera back in the tank bag and be gone in like 40 seconds. And I realized, that’s what it takes to do good in the Iron Butt Rally. You have to keep the motorcycle moving, and you have to minimize your time down to a science otherwise you’ll never break the top ten.
Jim: What’s the flag for?
Bob: The flag is the identifier. You get a rally flag in every event and they want to see that flag, a picture of it, time and date stamp, in front of whatever bonus it is that you’re seeking. You know, it might be, you know... for example up in Newfoundland this year there was a selection of bonuses. One was a giant squid in Roberts Arm, I think it is, and you had to just take a picture of it. So, the easiest way to show you’ve been there, is to take the picture with the time and date stamp and you know you correlate that to your odometer, write it on a book, and bring it back to rally central. They take all your information and they run it through a software program to make sure that you in fact were where you said you were.
Jim: This is really high tech. So, getting back, you’re not gonna be able to tell where you’re at until the computer is done crunching all the numbers.
Bob: That’s correct. And in every competitive event, probably since the dawn of time, you always get a couple of people who try to game the system. And the Iron Butt Rally has some really infamous stories about guys that had done that and gotten caught. Stupid things like, the bonus was, you know, ride to the Sands Casino in Las Vegas and you know, get a 20 dollar gaming chip. One year there was a guy in the rally who, instead of riding all the way to Vegas decided to buy a gaming chip off somebody who was coming from Las Vegas. I forget how he did it, but I think he actually held up a sign looking for a gaming chip or something and he just, he bought one and didn’t do the miles, but got caught. So, the key is, it’s become very high tech over the years. SPOT tracking devices, that’s the other way, too. We have to have a SPOT track for the entire rally so they can see your route, everywhere you are, whether you're moving or whether you're not. And if you don’t keep the SPOT pinging, you lose points. So, between that and the software they use to look at your odometer mileages and where you’ve stopped for fuel, and the bonuses you collected, they can basically figure it out down to a few tenths of a mile whether or not you’ve done what you’re supposed to.
Jim: That means you’re riding 24 hours a day. So, you mean, you’re arriving to some of these sites in the dark.
Bob: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, the bikes become adapted to the level of competitor that you want to be. And my motorcycle has lots of auxiliary lighting on it. Because I wanna light the road up at night in a desolate, you know, unknown destination or road like it’s daytime and that’s what I do. So, yeah. You ride a lot at night. You get to see some beautiful things when you're riding in the daytime, but that’s the one downside to the Iron Butt Rally is, you traverse really beautiful country in the middle of the night and you don’t really see anything.
Jim: The night also makes it dangerous, because we’ve got the animal thing and you know, a lot of people just won’t ride at night for that. I mean, those of us who do ride at night, like you, have a lot of lighting to try and see animals. But you found that in Newfoundland, didn’t you?
Bob: Yeah, Newfoundland. When we… I rode from Dallas, Texas, through Manhattan, up to Nova Scotia to get to the Marine Atlantic Ferry Terminal up there to take the boat over to Newfoundland. And when we were sitting on the terminal to get onto the boat, five competitors from the rally made it up there to do this, the ferry workers noticed us on motorcycles, went out of their way to come over and tell us... you know, if you’re going over to Newfoundland and you’re gonna ride at night, you gotta watch the moose. And I think I must have heard it fifty times. And, then when we were getting off the ferry... we got off the ferry, I believe in the morning... we had full daylight, but they were still warning us: watch the moose, watch the moose, watch the moose. I thought to myself, there must be something to this moose thing. Sure as hell that night when it got dark, I was on my way back from St. John’s heading back towards the ferry terminal, I think we rode about 1,220 miles in a little over 21 hours or so on Newfoundland itself to get all the way out to St. John’s, get all the bonuses in between, and get back to the terminal at Port Aux Basques. But, I saw five moose. And, honestly, I’ve seen moose in Canada, you know, New Hampshire, the North Eastern United States/Canadian areas, and they’re really big animals obviously... if you’ve never seen one, I can’t tell you how big they look... but people told me the moose in Newfoundland are bigger. And I thought, that was probably just braggadocio nonsense until I actually got a look at these animals up close. I had seen…the first four I had seen were well off the road, you know looked huge, I think I saw two bulls and a couple of cows and one smaller one. But, in the middle of the night, I had stopped to go to the bathroom, I just pulled over on the side of the road and took a leak, and I got back on the bike and as I was pulling back out and going up through the gears, you know I think I was in second or third gear, and at first I absolutely thought I was hallucinating. Because, you know, I’d been tired and I’d been riding all night- and I heard this clippity clop sound, similar to what you would hear if you were taking a carriage ride in downtown Manhattan, and I looked over and there was this cow moose. Pretty much just galloping next to me right on the shoulder of the road and I was sitting on, you know, an R1200 GS Adventure which is a pretty tall bike to begin with and I’m 6’1” and I've got a Russel saddle on the bike pushing me up even a little higher. She was maybe 15 feet off to my right, and I was looking up at her. I could not believe the size of this animal. And I thought, you know man, if you hit one of these on the road at night broadside, I don’t think you have a chance of walking away from something like that. I saw her, I backed off, I slowed down, I edged over into the other lane a little bit and I tooted the horn a couple times and she gracefully just jumped over a guard rail and ran down out into a field and I’ll tell you what; it was a magnificent sight to see because the moon had been out and it was just…I remember thinking; how cool is that? But, so grateful that that was the closest encounter I had had. We have a couple of people, not hit moose but, a couple of people had deer strikes or animal strikes, I think it was deer, in the event that happened. It happens every event. It’s just one of those things that’s part of it.
Jim: Yeah, like I said, a lot of people don’t want to ride at night just for that reason. And it’s probably good advice, you know, unless you have a strong desire for it, or a need to ride at night. We’re extremely vulnerable when it comes to animals, even small animals. You get a racoon right out in front of you and that can certainly cause problems for you as well. But the moose are huge, and that moose that you went by very likely was on the side of the road and it spooked as soon as you went by it, and started to run. That’s why it’s running, it’s thinking that you’re, sort of, chasing it somehow and it’s just bizarre to think that something that big could be on the side of the road and not have you see it. But they are difficult to spot. And if you don’t spot the tapetum in their eyes, which reflects your light, you know, so you can actually see the eye light up, if you don’t spot it, if it’s head is down and the butt is toward you or something like that, they blend.
Bob: Yeah, they’re so impossible to see because their hides are so dark. And in the middle of the night, I mean, they absolutely blend into the dark horizon as you go down the road.
Jim: Now that’s not the only thing you have to deal with at night, you have to go to places that are maybe somewhat unsavoury, at least at nighttime. You had an incident where you had to take photo of a particular statue in, I think it was New York cIty, wasn’t it?
Bob: Yeah, correct. It was Central Park. And before I tell you about that, you hit on something there, that when you’re riding at night for those kinds of long periods of time, and you’re going to places that you’re unfamiliar with, and you know, I can’t explain it other than for me personally, you get anxious. You have a level of anxiety that, at least for me, comes over you when you’ve been riding for, you know, 7 or 8 hours in the dark, in unfamiliar territory, perhaps some really awful weather. It’s unbelievable how down you can get and how things that normally otherwise wouldn’t even give you anything to think about can get under your skin and just wrack your nerves. So, it’s weird how the sun, when it’s finally come up, even if you just see pink in the horizon, it’s like getting an adrenaline shot right in the neck. I can’t tell you how it lifts you. But, to get back to going to unsavoury places in the middle of the night, one of the bonuses happened to be a statue of Alice in Wonderland that was in the middle Central Park. Now, Central Park in New York… if you’re a New Yorker, you’ll know what I mean... if you’re not and never been to New York City... Central Park between daytime and nighttime takes on a whole different look and feel. Daytime, it seems relatively safe. Though there are sections where I probably would say, it’s not as safe as it should be in broad daylight… still, relatively safe. You go there at nighttime, and it is a completely different animal. And in this particular case I got there in the middle of the morning. It was pitch black yet, and I had to take a picture of this statue, and there were, I’ll say, there was a lot of unsavoury types hanging out, vagrants, you know… people who look like they were involved in one illicit activity or another. And obviously, you know, I don’t know that for sure and they could have been completely fine people- it just didn’t look that way. And you get a gut feel for things. Your gut is the one thing you should trust no matter what. And my gut told me this wasn’t a good place to be at this time of night. But, I went down there. And I rode up on the motorcycle, I rode it right up on the sidewalk, and I had to walk maybe about 200 yards down a path to get to the statue. And there were quite a few people around, and the motorcycle itself.... I mean, with all the blinking gear on it, GPS’s, radar detector... I myself was wearing a SPOT track on my left arm, I had a blinking bluetooth system on my helmet... the bike looked like it rolled right out of Star Wars. And I got off the motorcycle and I basically looked at some of these people who were staring at the bike like it was candy…I don’t know if I was out of my mind, I wasn’t thinking properly, but I basically got off the bike and proclaimed to every one of them that I was a New York City Police Officer, this was New York City property, and if anybody laid a hand on this motorcycle, they’d find their ass straight in the pokey. As the words were coming out of my mouth Jim, I almost couldn’t believe I was saying it ‘cause I think I was gonna get shot or knifed, as soon as I said it, the people just kinda looked at me like... this guy means business. And I saw some more weird things going on down by the statue as I wandered through the path to get to it, and to fever pitch the competition, I didn’t want to have to take everything off it and lock it away because I was trying to get up to Nova Scotia to the ferry terminal. And I think I made it with 20 minutes to spare. So, you can see in the end how I could not take the time anywhere to do something that didn’t really need to be done.
Jim: And when you were on your way back from the statue, going towards the motorcycle, you remembered at that point your phone is on the bike.
Bob: Yes, and I almost had a heart attack because I realized, oh my god... if you lost your phone in an event like the Iron Butt Rally, it’s almost like a lifeline... it’s the the lifeblood. I mean, you need it. You gotta have it. So, that would have meant going to another, you know, cell carrier store and buying a new phone and going through all that nonsense and that would have just killed me. But, I left it on the bike. I realized that maybe 150 yards from the bike and could see people walking around up there. And I thought, oh my God, I’m gonna get back up there and my phones gonna be gone... and I sprinted. Now, I’ve been on the road, now this is the last of the rally, and you know, you’re kind of, you’re kind of tired and you’re wearing all the gear. It was hot and muggy, and I bolted for the bike and by the time I got there, I think my heart rate must have been about 200 beats per minute. I rounded the corner and got around a hedge, and looked straight at the bike and the tank bag initially obscured the cell phone mount. And at first glance my heart sank because I thought it was gone, and I ran another 5 or 6 feet around the tank bag and saw a phone... and nobody touched a thing. And I gotta tell you... it was like winning the lottery, man. I just, I felt so good that nothing had gone wrong there. I could not wait to get the hell out of there. I went downtown, picked up three more bonuses before daylight which was nerve wracking as well. And it’s funny, too, I’m looking at the clock and it says that I’m gonna be in North Sydney, Nova Scotia for the ferry at, you know, whatever the time was, and I’m watching this thing, and you’re waiting for daylight because you couldn’t take the next bonus pictures unless it was daylight. They were daylight only.
Jim: You mean they tell you that you can’t take a photo in the dark of that particular one?
Bob: That’s correct. Bonuses, some are daylight only, some are time restricted like between 9am and 5pm, and daylight defined by the Iron Butt Association is, there has to be enough daylight in the background of the photo for you to pick up things beyond the bonus itself. So, like, there has to be enough skylight for you to see things in the distance. Perhaps trees, or perhaps some lawn, or something like that. Usually coincides with about what they call US twilight time for the different time zones. So once twilight time get there, the sun is high enough, just about ready to break the horizon, where you have enough light where you can do things like that. But, when you’re sitting, and you’re waiting for daylight and, you know, you have whatever mileage it was to get to Nova Scotia from Manhattan and you had to be there, and you’re looking at your time window, and you gotta wait for this daylight... you wanna talk about nerve wracking and stress producing. It’s like, you wanna tear your hair out.
Jim: What do you learn from all this, Bob?
Bob: Well, I think I earned that, my family says I’m insane, but I think I’ve learned that there’s a lot of insane people out there with me. I learned that I have an absolute ability to discipline myself beyond what I thought was possible in the past. You become a very patient person when you’re doing an Iron Butt Rally. You also become, I think the honest truth is, you’ll almost have to be a type A personality to get into this in the first place, but even I think I could be described as Type A. But when you’re in the middle of something like that, even at the fever pitch you usually run, you find a way to operate within that level of performance, at a lack of a better way of putting it, at a more calm rate. Your’e still pretty high strung, but you’re making good decisions and you’re managing your time in a fantastic fashion. So, you don’t make mistakes. I think I always knew I was a competitive person by nature. I mean, my whole life I’ve been that way. Can’t say it’s taught me anything about myself I think that probably I didn’t already know. But it has taught me a lot about the competitive human spirit, and what people will go through to meet a goal.
Jim: You got second place out of 106 people starting, you covered 13,124 miles, you went 28 states, 5 Canadian provinces, all in 11 days. Are you going back? Or have you had your fix?
Bob: You know, this has been an ongoing discussion in my family. They’re all dead set against me doing it again, particularly my companion. And, I haven’t ruled it out, I haven’t ruled it in. You know, and the argument is, well you could get in it and you could not finish, or you could get in it and you could crash, you could get in it and finish second again and I’m like, that’s true... but, you don’t know that unless you get in it. Though, I might do it again, I can’t say. And the truth is, when I finished the last one, I’d have told you there was no way I was doing another one. So, I don’t know. I’m gonna give it some thought in the coming weeks and see. Like, I love it. I love the sport, I love riding, obviously. It’s a great way to combine your love of riding with your love of nature and competitive nature you have, too. And no better way to see the country. I say, you could see more in 11 days, even riding at night half the time, and you’ll see more of the country in 11 days than most people probably see in years. It’s amazing. I guess the answer is, I don’t know if I’m gonna do one again. I’m gonna think about it for another few weeks and go from there.
Interviewer/Host: Jim Martin
Producer: Elizabeth Martin
Transcriptionist: Natasha Martin
*Special thanks to our guest Bob Lilley
Find out more about Bob & the Iron Butt Rally at http://ibr.wvi.com/