An Iron Butt
I hadn't done an Iron Butt ride since February 2006, a few months before the accident. Could I still do it? For some weeks now, I'd been contemplating doing an Iron Butt run somewhere in South America, to see whether my body could handle it. North through Chile seemed like a good opportunity, as the autopista (freeway) runs from Puerto Montt, 1000kms south of Santiago, to Coquimbo, some 400 kms north of Santiago and then it is good single lane the remaining 300km up to Vallenar, which would be about 1700kms all up, slightly more than the required 1610km. It's wise to travel a little more mileage for verification purposes, to allow for discrepancies in the odometer reading. And I had previously ascertained from some Chilean bikers I'd met that 24 hour fuel would be available along the whole route.
From frequently checking the weather for the route on the internet, it looked as if Sunday and Monday would be cooler with perhaps a little rain at times. That sounded good, for long distance riding. However I decided to begin the ride about lunchtime, and ride through the night to get the benefit of the coolness, knowing that my back would probably play up if it was hot weather. I estimated that if I began about 1.00pm, I should finish by about 7.00 the next morning, all going well. And, as luck would have it, there was a Swiss/American couple staying in the hotel, who were willing to act as starting witnesses. I didn't fancy trying to explain to Spanish speakers the rigorous witness requirements of the Iron Butt documention, so their presence was a Godsend.
Documentation completed, I checked out of the hotel and rode down into town, to fill in a little time before I started the ride. Time to go. Into the Esso service station to refuel (I'd previously checked that they accepted credit cards), as a computer generated timed receipt is required as the starting time point. So then the unit wouldn't print a copy. I insisted I have a copy. All the attendants tried to get it to print one, with no luck. In the end, they gave me back the original! But after riding about 50 metres, I had second thoughts, stopped and checked it. It had scrunched up coming out of the printer, and the station's address wasn't properly visible, so I decided to get a bank withdrawal slip as backup proof.
Finally, at 12.36pm, I set off on the ride - the wrong way out of town, as it turned out! I ended up back south in Puerto Montt, but at least I knew where I was, then, and got back onto the highway. But that extra 30km roundtrip back to where I should have joined the freeway near Puerto Varas won't count in the final analysis. Oh well, I have enough spare km to cover it!
It was cool and overcast weather, perfect for riding, and there was not too much traffic until about 200km south of Santiago. I'd not ridden parts of the first 300km up to Victoria, where I'd turned off to go across to Argentina back in December, so it was interesting to watch the changes in the uses of the landscape along the way. But the autopista was wonderful, so easy to cover distance on a ride such as this, with a posted limit of 120kph. Darkness fell about 9pm, but for the most part, there were street lights all the way from about 150km south of Santiago. Santiago appeared, and disappeared rapidly, the wheels spinning round at 105-110kph all the way through the city. What a great road system they have!
Out to the north of the city, and the traffic volume diminished almost instaneously. Time was passing, and I felt great. There was no pain in my back at all, which was a huge relief. The bike was running well, sitting on 115-120kph (by the GPS) easily. The GPS had caused my heart to skip a beat as I pulled away from the first refuelling stop, 350km into the ride. It blacked out, then immediately rebooted itself! Phew! Thank heavens it did. It had happened intermittently over the past couple of months - a fault with the wiring apparently grounding out (or something technical like that!). No more glitches after that one, thankfully.
I was making good time, keeping above the required 100kph overall average I had set myself, including stopped time. But this meant that I'd end the ride about 5-5.30am. What on earth would I do, in the town of Vallenar, until the hotels opened and I could get a room? So I slowed down a little bit, and took longer on my refuel stops, even taking an unnecessary refuel/food break for 22 minutes.
The actual night riding was easy. I'd fitted 2 30watt HID (High Intensity Discharge) driving lights before leaving Oz, although one of them (the flood) had sustained a direct hit from a rock sometime during the trip to Argentina, and was no longer operable, but the spot still worked - brilliantly! It has been said that the 650 has good lights anyway, and I agree, but the HID lights up the road ahead REALLY well. And there are no 'roos to worry about over here. I saw only 4 dogs, on footpaths in towns, and one tawny fox scrambling up the bank beside the road, far ahead. Oh, and 2 donkeys, ambling along slowly, keeping religiously to the far right side of the berm in a hilly curve, with not even a head turn as I zipped past. No other animals at all, luckily, although there were a few deer caution signs, but neither hide nor hair was seen of any deer. Easy riding.
Vallenar appeared from the darkness. I refuelled, and the receipt said 6.13am, but I wasn't sure about the information it contained (in Spanish, of course), so while having a celebratory cup of tea, I used the cash machine in the servo's cafe to get another bank withdrawal slip as further proof. I'd done it! I could still do an Iron Butt ride.
I sat, watching the dawn slowly break its golden glow over the mountains surrounding the town, while sorting out all the fuel and toll receipts. Did I mention the tolls? Heaps and heaps of them along the length of the autopista, but I'd planned for this eventuality, by filling my jacket pocket with suitable coins so that I could just scoop up a handful to offer to the attendant, thus not having to take off my gloves each time, which wastes time. This procedure worked well. The odometer distance travelled was 1736.2km. The GPS read 1709.6km, more than enough leeway for verification purposes.
Eventually, I rode down into the town from the highway bypass above, located a likely hotel then retired to a park bench in the Town Square, until a time I could decently rouse up the hotel staff. The town slowly started to come alive on this the first day of the school year, with parents taking their tiny ones off to their first day of school. It was good to see the children proudly wearing their uniforms, complete with shirts and ties, for both boys and girls. At 9.30am, I walked back to the hotel and booked in, thinking I'd sleep the sleep of the dead, but was still so hyped about completing the ride that there was no way I could sleep! So I wandered around the town, taking photos, eating a "meal of the day" in a tiny cafe where the locals eat (good stuff, too) then resting during the afternoon, but still I couldn't sleep.
Night fell again, and finally I slept, content in the knowledge that I had successfully done another Iron Butt ride.