LDX Voyage 01 – Early Bird from the East

Southeast MA – Ottawa IL
Sat Jun 18
(~1055 miles)

The painful drawn-out demise of the epic Butt Lite long-distance endurance rally series reached it’s final heart-breaking conclusion during the Covid pandemic. When Team Strange had originally announced their intent to retire the event following the tenth iteration, we were – all of us – sad. Then in fall 2019, to the delight of LD riders across the country, rumors about a new 6-7 day endurance rally were leaked out over Internet forums and email lists (yes, they’re still out there). This event might possibly be supported by (or organized in cahoots with) the Iron Butt Association. The idea was to fill in the calendar gap vacated by Butt Lite, during off-years from the Iron Butt Rally, There was joy in riders’ hearts again – a passing of the torch was in motion!

Then struck the long rally hiatus and lockdown. Butt Lite IX was cancelled, an inauspicious end to such a well-loved dynasty, and we were denied even that last poignant gathering and chance to compete. Smaller rallies were being cancelled or retired left and right. It wasn’t until the IBA Jacksonville party in 2021 that additional news finally surfaced of this “vaporware” replacement event. It was announced that Paul Tong, fourth-place IBR finisher and rallymaster of the popular Heart of Texas rally, would be the patsy…er, rather he would be taking the reins of the new multi-day event, which would have its inaugural running in June 2022. And riders saw that this was good!

LDX logoA lottery-style signup was announced in July 2021 for the newly christened “LDX” rally. To quote Paul’s announcement:

The Long-Distance X. What is X for? Since we do not like to nail ourselves down to any one set structure, it could be a 5-day event, 7-day, more, less, etc. Riders could anticipate riding 5k, 7k, or more or less miles.

You get the gist. The event was previously named the ‘IBX’, but let’s be honest, it’s too much like ‘IBR’ and the Big Show will always be the pinnacle of LD riding.

A few days later, after checking with work and wife, I threw my name into the hat, glad to have another multi-day rally to look forward to at last.. As it turned out, the spots filled up quickly, but tapered off right at event capacity, so that a drawing wasn’t necessary after all. Everyone who applied would be riding the inaugural LDX! Paul confirmed this with an email in mid-August along with the assurance that this rally would take place, come hell or high water (or Covid restrictions). They had already worked out contingency plans for handling all aspects of the rally in a safe and limited-contact fashion if necessary, as might be dictated by local pandemic requirements.

In September, we learned that the rally would start and finish in Cheyenne, Wyoming, with a single checkpoint in State College, Pennsylvania. Cheyenne’s just under 2000 miles from my house by the most direct route, so I figured on two travel days to get there, and booked my vacation time accordingly at work. In the intervening months, I planned out and experimented successfully with telecommuting from the road. Eventually, I arrived at a plan to ride out to Cheyenne the weekend before the rally, conserving two vacation days. As an early bird by a few days, I’d work remotely from an AirBnB (my first!) and explore the local area a bit until rally time.

fuse panel corrosion

Fuse box corrosion!

Prior to last year’s IBR, I’d gone through the ST pretty thoroughly in term of big maintenance tasks, so I required less bike preparation time for this trip, besides the normal stuff that comes with owning an “experienced” motorcycle. I dealt with leaky fork seals in the late summer. In March 2022, after the Jacksonville trip, I chased down an electrical gremlin affecting the horn and brake lights (I had neither for part of that trip apparently!). That turned out being some nasty corrosion under one of the main fuse panels.

I replaced a broken lens for one of my ADV60 fork lights, pirating one from a spare set I’d bought off a forum member in Florida. In the weeks prior to leaving, I changed the coolant, oil, filter, and final drive oil, had new rubber installed, and was pretty much good to go.

Everything was packed and on the bike for an early start, before I hit the hay on Friday night. I was rolling out of the driveway just before 0300 and filled up my tanks at the local 24-hour station. The temperatures were pretty comfortable in the 50s, with my heated liner on low, and the night skies were clear. I took the Mass Pike out to I-84 and down through Connecticut, savoring the lonely roadways. The waning moon was bright and almost-full overhead as I crossed over the Hudson River, where the feeling of “away” begins.

I stopped in for breakfast after sun-up at a McDonalds just into Pennsylvania, with about 240 miles done. Shortly after, I picked up I-80, which would be taking me clear across the country to my destination. The riding passed by easily enough, without too much traffic. I had fuel stops in Mifflin PA, Broadview Heights, OH, and Elkhart IN. Afternoon traffic was still a bit heavy around Chicago, but never stopped moving.

cornfield by hotel in Ottawa

Room with a view in Illinois

The Quality Inn in Ottawa IL is close to the interstate, but tucked up a side road next to a cornfield, of which I had a nice view outside my window. I’d stayed here before on my way to Provo last year, and am likely to do so again, as it’s just over 1000 miles from home, a good spot for ending a first long day’s ride to the west, getting a big chunk of mileage out of the way.

I was in the mood for Chicago-style pizza, but the front desk clerk recommended a local place called Alfano’s, though it wasn’t deep dish. I ordered delivery and got a bit of work done while waiting for my dinner. The pan pizza was pretty good, though the cannoli turned out to be mass-produced. I’ll try to find a real deep dish joint next time through here.

map of todays ride

 


Ottawa IL – Cheyenne WY
Sun Jun 19
(~917 miles)

It would be another long day’s ride to Cheyenne today, so I was KSU at 0350. It was cool in the low 50s, and I layered up to stay comfortable with my heated liner for the remainder of Illinois and across Iowa. Approaching the Moline/Davenport metroplex area, I elected to stay on the I-80 northern loop.

My Zumo XT GPS was up to it’s old tricks, trying to keep me circling back at every exit to take the I-280 around to the south, even after I’d gotten several miles into the northern loop and it was clearly shorter and faster to simply continue onward. Now familiar with this particular bug, I ignored the GPS recalculation prompt for a while until I hit the next interchange with I-280 after which the device picked up my trail again.

The burnt-yellow sky was gorgeous, and I managed a quick couple sunrise snaps while crossing the Mississippi River. A couple of early-bird boat captains were already cutting wakes through the glass-like water.

yellow sunrise over the Mississippi

Mississippi River at sunrise

I enjoyed the ride across Iowa as usual, the hilly farm and grazing landscape serving as a mental oasis between the less interesting flatlands of the Midwest and Nebraska. By 0700, I was feeling a bit peckish, and hoping to find a nice local diner or breakfast café for a hot breakfast. I’m not sure what made me even attempt it, but I decided to pull up restaurants on the Up Ahead feature of the Garmin XT (which is notorious for having outdated data on commercial businesses). It found a likely candidate, Midtown Cafe, in the small city of Newton, so I added it to the route and followed that magenta line for a couple of miles away from the interstate, into a pleasant looking but deserted downtown area, due to the early hour.

mural in Newton, IowaI pulled up to the waypoint for the restaurant and …nothing. No restaurant, no sign of any activity at all indicating people eating breakfast anywhere in the vicinity. I double-check the address against the street sign and numbers on the building. Nope. Should be there – isn’t there. *Sigh* – stupid Garmin.

I cruised through town and back out to I-80, keeping an eye out for any other restaurants along the way, to no avail. Later research tells me that I missed out on a good breakfast by six months – Midtown Cafe apparently closed down in December 2021, and there’s a sad little story about it from the local paper.

Approaching Des Moine, I figured there had to be some decent chow somewhere around the edges of such a large city, so I poked around on Yelp a bit and selected a highly-rated restaurant called Early Bird Brunch, just a couple miles off the interstate in West Des Moines. Perfect! Even the name seemed appropriate given my trip timing and today’s early departure.

Early Bird restaurant exteriorThe morning was warming up by now, close to 70 degrees as I pulled into the parking lot of a modern and non-descript strip mall. There were a lot of cars in the parking lot here, all close to the restaurant on the corner, with an outdoor dining area featuring brightly colored umbrellas in the morning sun. OK, the locals are all eating here, this has to a be a good sign! I stripped off my extra layers, knowing the cool part of the day was about done, then went inside to find food.

Early Bird restaurant interior

The interior was cheerful and airy enough, but I was looking forward to a nice slow meal out of the saddle, while enjoying what remained of the coolish morning air. I was shown outside to a small table in the shade, where I requested coffee and a glass of their fresh-squeezed OJ. The menu was filled with all sorts of tempting dishes – I mean, Cinnamon Roll pancakes? C’mon now! And something called Hash Holes made me strangely reminiscent of driving in New England…hmmm.

Not wanting to deal with a sugar rush/crash with long miles still ahead, I decided on an omelet with chorizo, gouda, onion and tomato. Oh, and a side of bacon, please and thank you.

As I waited for my meal, more and more larger family groups were being seated, and I suddenly realized that today was Father’s Day. Several dads looked like they were celebrating their day with the most decadent-looking dishes from the menu, and my thoughts drifted a bit as I thought of my own father’s passing last year. I think he would have enjoyed a big meal at a place like this.

Iowa coffee mug

The food looked and tasted delicious. The bacon was especially tasty. I was thoroughly relaxed and enjoying the entire experience – the food, the sun, fresh morning air, and being on the road headed across country. It was just one of those “in-the-moment” moments that comes and goes on a road trip where everything just feels *right* and happy. Maybe I was just really hungry? Anyhoo, I will plan on repeat stops at Early Bird in the future to sample more of their menu.

Omelet breakfast plate

After this superlative meal experience, this early bird mounted back up, sans extra layers, and hooked back up with I-80. I fueled up in Stuart, then finished out Iowa and made the long slog across Nebraska as the temperatures continued to climb. My final fuel stop was in Gothenburg NE, where I soaked and donned my cooling vest as temperatures were climbing through the mid 90s and showed no sign of stopping. I was glad for the vest, as it leveled out right at 100 degrees for most of the remainder of the ride.

Just past the exit for Ogallala, a major construction zone brought east and westbound lanes together on one side and traffic came to a grinding halt. Looking up ahead, I could see easily over a mile of mostly stopped semi trucks just sitting and not moving. There was no shoulder to ride, and I wasn’t happy about sitting in stop-n-go in this heat.

I zoomed out on the GPS and looked for options. Making a u-turn through the cones into the eastbound lane (when it was safe), I rode the mile back to the exit and found my way onto US 30 in the center of town. A bunch of vehicles were doing the same thing, including a large group of local Harley riders who managed to get in front of me on the way out of town before the highway went down to two lanes.

state highway in Nebraska

All my shots of this stretch were like this. I’m NOT giving Nebraska the finger… I’m NOT. 🤪

I settled back and just enjoyed the scenery off the interstate, but luckily the bikers ahead of me weren’t shy about passing slower vehicles on the open stretches, so we made good time westbound, parallel to the jammed interstate just south. Most of my fellow detour-ees  turned south back to I-80 near Big Springs, but this road was deserted and high-speed, so I keep on zipping due west to finally rejoin the interstate at Chappell. Not a bad little scenic detour to sharpen my attention!

There was another construction zone just past Sidney, but this one kept moving and I had no further delays to the Wyoming border and into Cheyenne. On the approach, there were some evil looking rain clouds to the west and north of town. I exited to grab some Subway for tonight’s dinner, and verified on radar what those colorful blobs were doing. Luckily the cells were drifting further north and moving quickly. I stayed dry, though the wind was kicking up fierce – something I’d get more used to over the course of the week!

storms north of Cheyenne

My accommodations for the week were at a private residence on the northern outskirts of the city, and I’d very much been looking forward to my first experience at an AirBnB. Once you’re out of the city, the landscape quickly opens up to steppe/grasslands terrain, and there aren’t really residential “neighborhoods” so much as very loosely clustered patterns of homes, small farms, and ranches spaced out on hillsides set far back from the main roadway, on a network of gravel side roads. All quite visible for miles since there ain’t no trees!

The instructions I’d received from my host were spot-on, and I followed their driveway around back of the house and up a short hill, right to the door of the little studio apartment I was renting, in an attached wing off the main house. The wind was blowing hard and I took a few minutes to ensure my bike wasn’t going to tip over once I got off it. The view was big, open, and peaceful.

bike parked outside AirBnB

The apartment was perfect for my needs, and exactly as described/shown on the website. It was small, but clean and homey, with cowboy hats and other western knick-knacks decorating the walls, natural wood plank shelving, and a sliding barn door for the bathroom entry. My hosts had stocked the small kitchenette with coffee, condiments, and some small snacks, saving me the worry of getting to the grocery store right away. I got my luggage inside and ate my sandwich as I set up my work laptop on the tiny old desk, where I’d be spending the bulk of my daytime hours working for the next few days.

my AirBnB studio rental

AirBnB interior viewMy windows looked out onto my hosts’ fenced in patio area and they had warned me ahead of time that their dogs were quite noisy upon being let out-of-doors. They have two older wiener dogs and a medium-sized mutt that did indeed feel the need to announce their exit to the world every time they came outside. It was pretty funny, actually.

When I heard the family eating outside on their patio, I went out to say a quick hello. The host is a lifelong Cheyenne resident, so I picked her brain a bit about restaurants while attempting to make friends with the pups through the fence (the dachshunds gave me sniffs while the mutt remained aloof and suspicious). After thanking them for hosting me, I went back inside – that would be my only face-to-face interaction with them for the entire stay.

LDX Voyage 01 – Early Bird from the East

The wifi was solid, so I got online and did some work, wanting to bank up some hours to ensure I’d be able to put in a short day on Thursday, when I would transition to the rally host hotel in town. My window also faced the sunset, which was quite beautiful and kept changing every 15 minutes or so. Throughout the course of the evening, as the wind died down, I frequently stepped outside to take it all in again and snap another photo. I was really happy with my choice of lodging, and felt able to relax after two long riding days. I’d made it to the West!

sunset 1

sunset 2

sunset 3

map of todays ride

7 comments on LDX Voyage 01 – Early Bird from the East

  1. As always, I really enjoyed your writing. I can relate to the *charachter* of the XT.
    😉

    It almost looks like a tornado in your storm clouds photo, and the sunsets were beautiful. And now I want to ride across Iowa just for some of that bacon!
    🙂

    1. Thanks for reading Greg! Yeah, character – that’s it… 😀

      I noticed the resemblance to a twister after the fact as well and am thinking there would have been some sort of warning issued, but who knows? I’ve always wanted to see one (from a distance).

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