Butt Lite IX – Part 1: Crack Fries and Tellin’ Lies

Southeast MA – Lexington KY
Wed July 4 – Thurs July 5, 2018
(~1066 miles)

TeamStrange (aka TeamStrange Airheads) started as a local bowling team in Minnesota and somehow or other morphed into one of the premier US-based long-distance motorcycling communities, based on the whims and favorite hobbies of the founding members, including LD legends Eddie James and Adam Wolkoff. Sometime around the turn of the century, eighteen years ago, they decided it would be a good idea to host an endurance rally of approximately half the length of the famous 11-day Iron Butt Rally (IBR), and hold it in an off-year (since the larger rally is held every two years). The “Butt Lite” rally was born and has been a mainstay of the LD rally community ever since, serving as a 6-7 multi-day event positioned between the more common 24-36 hour rallies and the toughest of them all, the IBR, where adult riders go to cry.

When I first started riding in these events, I had no ambitions beyond just completing the next rally in front of me best as I could and seeing how things progressed. I couldn’t really picture myself participating in the bigger events like Butt Lite or the IBR. But as many LD riders know, the more of this riding you do, the (somewhat) more manageable it seems and the more you want to challenge yourself. Each ride you do provides you with additional tools and experience for completing the next rides. Having completed a good dozen or so day+ rallies, some longer certification rides, and gotten a taste for multi-day with the BMRx in 2016, riding in Butt Lite seemed the next logical step to take, and I’d read nothing but positive reports from riders who had participated in TeamStrange’s first-class flagship event over the years. Following my friend Ken online in the 2017 Iron Butt Rally last year really set a fire burning, and I sought/received the support of my wife when Rallymaster Lisa Erbes first sent out word last summer of the upcoming Butt Lite IX registration date in September. I was ready at midnight when registration opened, and just like that, I was registered for the biggest rally I’d yet to run. The event had only 100 slots available and was sold out later that same morning. The 2018 event would be based out of Lexington KY…see you next summer!

Although I’ve been gradually upgrading and farkling my bike over the months and years, I spent a good portion of the first half of 2018 focused on some “final” preparation of both the bike and myself. All due maintenance was done, including new front/rear brake pads, clutch fluid and coolant, oil/filter change, final drive oil, front tire change, etc. I finally secured a working auxiliary fuel tank solution, giving me a reliable range of 350+ miles. I “upgraded” one  of my GPS units to a Zumo 595, mostly for the tire pressure monitoring system that is included. I swapped out my radar detection to a Valentine1 with bluetooth comms to an app on my phone, which finally provided me with radar alert audio (I’d been making do with just visual alerts up until then). Just a couple days prior to the rally, I modded my swingarm and installed a fresh and more durable darkside rear tire.

For my own preparation, I worked on some physical conditioning (somewhat successful) and weight loss (not). I also completed several rides to get back into riding form after the long cold winter we had here in the northeast this year, including a Saddlesore ride to the IBA Jacksonville meet, the Rock n Ride Rally, the MasonDixon 20-20 rally, Great Lakes Challenge Gold ride, and last week’s Saddlesore in New York. I reviewed and revamped my rally planning tools and data-crunching process to try to allow for various rally book scenarios. I did some practicing using the source files and rally book from the previous Butt Lite in 2016.

I decided to take a couple days to get down to Lexington, to unwind a bit on some nice West Virginia back roads. I wanted to have some time around the host hotel to settle in before this rally and socialize a bit, which meant leaving on July 4. I left late morning after taking care of some chores and running through my packing checklist one last time.

I felt as ready as I could be, and the bike felt ready as well. It was another humid day that would reach into the 90s, but there were clear skies and clear roads down the interstates through Connecticut and the NYC area pinch point (used I-287). In fact, this had to be the least traffic I’d ever encountered getting out of New England and through Pennsylvania – everyone was most likely chilling out for the holiday at their final destinations.

I stopped on the side in Lebanon NJ for a Melting Pot grand tour photo, and then again for another photo and my first fuel stop in Fort Indiantown Gap PA.

It had gotten quite hot and I was feeling it, so decided to at last try out the HyperKewl cooling vest I’d purchased a couple years ago when heading out west. Using the sink in the store restroom, I thoroughly wet the vest, which seemed to absorb the water more completely than a sponge.

After a quick wring, I couldn’t get any more water to come out, though it remained wet to the touch. It went on over my tech t-shirt, and I donned my jacket back over everything. Already I could feel the coolness on the skin of my torso as the water wet my shirt through and had a feeling this was going to work out nicely with an evaporative cooling effect as air moved through the jacket vents.

Shortly down the highway, around Carlisle PA, I began to see some dark clouds off to the northwest. I knew I’d likely be in for some pop-up thunderstorms in this kind of weather, so I called Charlotte to chat and get a weather radar check. She confirmed what I was looking at – a bunch of yellow colored radar readings just north of I-81 and crossing ahead of me. Well, now’s as good a time as ever to test the weatherproof box I’d fashioned for the V1 including the Flex-Seal coating on the remote display module. Sure enough, getting close to the Maryland line, the sky opened up hard and highway speeds dropped down to about 45 mph with flashers on for 10 minutes or so. The V1 remote display began flashing oddly, but I wasn’t too concerned as this used to happen with the Passport detector’s module as well when it got wet. The temperature dropped around 20 degrees following the storm, which was a nice break.

Just west of Hagerstown MD, I detoured briefly on US 40 to seek out a town limit sign for Indian Springs, but could find nothing usable for this small crossroads community. The rest of the way down to Elkins WV was fairly uneventful, with just a few more occasional showers. I left the interstate on US 220 and enjoyed more curvy riding on US 50, WV-32, to US 33 into Elkins.

Thurs July 5

The next day I awoke to a coolish morning of clear skies with more heat and humidity predicted. The cooling vest had worked great, but I decided to wait until it was needed. At 07:30, I headed west from Elkins on US 33 and proceeded to have an absolute wonderful morning of riding twisties on WV routes 20 and then 16, heading south. I noticed that my radar bluetooth wasn’t connecting today, but figured I’d have to deal with it at the hotel. Despite many photo opportunities, I was in the riding mood and focused on simply enjoying the heck out of those roads all the way down to the town of War WV, where I turned west on WV-83 and crossed into Kentucky on US 460.

I chose my route across Kentucky on 460, KY-119, and KY-9009 based on how squiggly and interesting the line looked on the map, as well as being fairly direct to Lexington. I was hoping for some nice curvy blue highway going across the state. However, in reality, I had chosen a pretty major thoroughfare, part of which is currently in the process of being converted into yet another Kentucky “parkway”. Hence, despite the squiggles, these routes moved me along fairly quickly, when there wasn’t ongoing construction to deal with. To tell the truth, all the morning twisties (along with the heat) had fairly worn me out and I was *almost* glad to have a bit of straight road to follow for a while. 😉

I made one more short detour on the outskirts of Lexington, looking for a sign for the apparently defunct community of Chilesburg, which led me on a beautiful side road scenic byway through some gorgeous horse farms with electrifyingly green bluegrass fields. It was a bit too busy to stop for a photo, so I just enjoyed the views and continued on when I couldn’t find my quarry.

Credit: Rick Corwine

When I pulled in to the Griffin Gate Marriot in Lexington, I easily found where to park in the lots gated off for motorcycles only, with several bikes of early arrivals already lined up. No sooner did I dismount and remove my earplugs, when I heard my name being called from a high balcony – my friend and fellow Butt Lite rookie James was peering down at me. Mysteriously, I also seem to arrive at a lot of places at the same time as Lisa Hecker and her family/entourage (this has happened several times during rallies) – this was no exception as they pulled in right after me, and we exchanged greetings.

I saw more familiar faces as I lugged my gear through the hotel to check in and a few of us agreed to meet in the lobby after I settled in to catch up and see about dinner.

I tend to be a Choice Hotels kind of guy when on the road, so the Marriot was a very swanky upgrade for me at a very fair negotiated group rate similar to what I might normally spend. The beds were VERY comfortable.

After settling in a bit, I headed down to the lobby and met up with James, Rick, and Gerry. As there was nothing within walking distance to the hotel besides a lackluster Denny’s, we decided to use Uber to get us downtown to a restaurant recommended by the hotel concierge called Hopcat (“be sure to order the crack fries!”). OK sure.

I’d never used a ride-share like Uber before (even hailing taxis is odd for me, not being a city boy) and the whole experience was impressive and very convenient. When traveling by motorcycle like this, it can be tough to put your gear back on after a long to go out for a bite, and I won’t drink alcohol before riding. This provides a great solution to solve both problems in the right circumstances. 10 minutes and dollars later, we were in downtown Lexington, chatting the entire way about the rally and our preparations, etc.

Hopcat has a huge menu of all craft beers, none of the major brand names. The waiter was relaxed and helped us navigate the choices.  I ended up with a brown ale that was alright, though I switched to a wheat brew for my second round. My hamburger was cooked nice and rare as requested and the fries were absolutely amazing, coated with a seasoning that includes cracked pepper and probably more addictive substances!

Gerry, Rick, James

Meanwhile, back at the bat cave, I think Rick Corwine, the TeamStrange official photographer, must have given my bike a covert wash and wax, because his flattering photo shows all the sparkle and almost none of the dead bugs and road grime.

Credit: Rick Corwine
We hung out with a few other riders in the hotel bar for a while that evening, telling lies and asking questions of some veteran riders about what to expect for this rally. It goes without saying we were all extremely glad to be there, enjoying this brief time we had off the clock and with no rally responsibilities to fulfill until tomorrow. Soaking in the experience with fellow riders turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of the entire trip for me. A lot more folks would be arriving tomorrow, for registration and the afternoon rookies meeting. It was nice to arrive early in the calm before the storm.

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