The Iron Butt Saddlesore 1000: Salt Lake To Denver and Back

I had been thinking about doing an Iron Butt for a few years, it just sounded like something that would be challenging and fun to do. This year I convinced Kelly to join in the insanity and earlier this summer set out to ride from where we live in Salt Lake City to Denver and back—roughly 1,100 miles. Unfortunately, about 100 or so miles in, in the wee hours of the morning, a cam bearing failed and my cam box basically detonated requiring me to tow my bike home.

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This was a couple of weeks before our scheduled trip to Deadwood and was probably good it happened then rather than in the middle of a tour. There was no way the bike was going to be ready for a tour in a couple of weeks. I ultimately ended up purchasing another ride and ended up with Kelly and Chris on an absolutely great tour of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The Saddle Sore 1000

The tour was so successful, and the 2017 Road King performed so well, the Iron Butt was back on the table for me. Labor Day weekend wasn’t far away and the Saturday before the holiday seemed like as good a time as any to give it another shot. I didn’t know whether or not Kelly would be in for another go, but he was , so in the wee hours of the morning of August 31st we were heading to Denver.

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Documenting the ride is an integral part of an Iron Butt and starts with the departure and the first fuel stop. Sue was up with the dawn patrol to witness the start of the ride and the first fuel stop was at a local gas station at about 5:00 am. We decided to get an early start, with an hour or two in the dark heading down I-15, making most of the ride in daylight, and wrapping up with a couple of hours at the end of the day in the dark on I-80.

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In addition to keeping a log of fuel stops and milage, printed fuel receipts that include date and time photographed with an odometer reading make it pretty easy to document the trip. Doing this added a little extra time to every stop, but an iPhone makes it pretty easy so it became the ritual at every stop.

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Several years ago I had purchased a SPOT GPS device. I spend a lot of time several hundred miles away from home (often alone) and the SPOT can send an emergency signal to first responders, via satellite (which I’ve not had to use so far), should I need help. It also allows me to send a short text message to Sue to let her know I’m in good shape along with an email with a GPS map and coordinates. I usually send her a ping every hundred miles or so—a small price to pay for her piece of mind when I’m alone somewhere on the highway.

Anyway, because I get a copy of the text and email, I thought an hourly ping (or there abouts) would be a good way to capture the GPS coordinates along the ride and provide even a little bit more validation for the Iron Butt Association. I figured I’d just print the GPS maps and submit them with the rest of my documentation (I’ll let you know if it was helpful when I hear back after I’ve submitted all my documentation).

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The route you take is up to you. You can approach it as a point-to-point ride, an out and back, or a loop. We opted for a loop.

Since this was our first attempt, spending most of the day on the Interstate seemed to be the safest way to ensure we would be able to pound out the miles (and what the Iron Butt Association recommends). I’m not generally a big fan of riding the Interstate, but I-70 to Denver is a pretty ride from Salina, UT, so I figured it would be a good ride during the daylight hours. I figured we would get most of the return via I-80 done during the day and only need to spend two or three hours in the dark through Wyoming into Salt Lake.

It worked out just about how I thought it would.

I-15 to Scipio, UT

Salt Lake to Scipio was in the dark as we worked our way south. The sun was just starting to rise as we fueled up ready to turn the corner toward Denver.

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We were supposed to fuel and document on the corners of any loop we did and Scipio made the most sense before we headed east on Hwy 50 toward the sunrise and Salina.

Hwy 50 was one of the first east/west transcontinental US highways from New York to California. There are a few sections still intact in Utah and across Nevada it’s called the Loneliest Highway in America. A few years ago Phil, Kathy, and I took a trip down the Oregon Coast and returned via Hwy 50 across Nevada. It felt like the way I remembered parts of the movie Vanishing Point out in the middle of the desert.

Most of these old roads have been consumed by the freeway now, but there are sections like this little piece of Hwy 50. We caught I-70 and pushed west, with a short stop for Breakfast in Green River, UT.

I-70 Across Colorado

I’ve ridden parts of this highway before and although I avoid the Interstate whenever I can, I-70 into Denver is one of the few stretches of Interstate I enjoy. A few years ago I stopped at a rest stop in Rifle, Colorado and commented to the hostess that whoever picked the route had done a good job. She replied, “It’s the only route they had.”

The ride up over the mountains and into Denver was uneventful, but was bumper-to-bumper traffic going the other way, away from the city. We were glad we had decided to tackle this highway first instead of saving it for the traffic heading the other way.

Denver to laramie

We stopped for fuel just outside of Denver in Georgetown, CO. We were going to try to skirt as much of the city as we could.

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We decided we would take I-25 north out of Denver until the junction with Hwy 287 and cut the corner to Laramie, Wyo. We saw a little rain on the two lane out of Livermore, but it was nice to spend a little time off the Interstate before we hung left and headed west back into Utah.

Traffic was light, but we did share the road with a few RVs heading into the mountains to escape the heat for the Labor Day weekend. It was 50 deg at our fuel stop in Scipio, but the thermometer was pushing up near 100 by the time we hit Denver. Needless to say, we were glad to get that behind us.

Most of the day was a pleasant 75 to 80 degrees, which is about right for pushing through a lot of miles.

Laramie to home

Laramie was the last corner before we headed home, so we stopped again for fuel.

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I wish I had taken the time to take some photos, but didn’t. That’s why I’m including the fuel stops on the corners to add a little visual interest to the travelog.

Unlike I-70, I-80 across Wyoming isn’t anything to write home about. That being said, if you squint your eyes and think about the vastness of the landscape it’s not without merit—but it’s definitely not the prettiest stretch of highway. That also includes crawling across Nebraska. I spent a week doing that one day.

After what seemed like a couple of hours staring into the sun low on the horizon, we finally got to ride into the sunset like an old western movie. We had skipped lunch after the late breakfast in Green River, so decided to stop in Rock Springs to grab something to eat before the last few hours heading home.

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The only other photograph I took besides the Chevron station as we departed, was a selfie I took waiting for my crisp meat burrito at Taco Time. I didn’t look quite as constipated in my mind when I took the photo, but my friend Jim pointed out that it looked like I had been on the road for a few hours when he saw this. It had been 12 or 13 hours at this point and he was probably right.

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We stopped at just about the last place we could stop for our last fuel stop and to finish the ride. We’d spent roughly 18 hours on the road and put in a little over 1,100 miles. The 1,000 we needed plus a 100 or so cushion. The bikes performed well. I was tired, but not as worn out as I thought I would be. We were on the road a couple hours longer than we anticipated, but learned a few things about long-distance endurance riding and had a good time.

lessons from the Iron butt

First off, probably because we regularly ride 500+ daily miles on a tour we were both used to spending long days in the saddle, so although the ride was challenging, it wasn’t as difficult as I’d expected. We were probably around the 800 or so mile mark before I started to notice that it had been a particularly long day.

In other words, if you’re game and willing to spend around 18 hours in the saddle, this is totally doable for you. If you don’t regularly ride big days you should probably work up to it with a few 300+ mile days, move on up to 500+ miles, and throw in a 700 mile day for good measure. However, if you can do 500, you can do 1,000.

With that said, here’s what I learned from my first Saddlesore 1000:

  • Don’t be afraid to turn around or stop if you’re hammered. It’s not worth risking life and machine just to say, “I did it.”

  • I enjoyed doing the ride with Kelly, but I feel pretty comfortable that I could do it alone if I didn’t have anyone who wanted to tag along.

  • Stay hydrated. I don’t think I drank enough water. I felt pretty dry by the time I got home and should have had something to drink every time I stopped.

  • Wear your comfortable riding gear. This isn’t the time to test out a new piece of riding gear. Wear what you always do. Be comfortable.

  • Prepare for changes in temperature. I spent the beginning of the day and the end of the day in a typical motorcycle jacket (I prefer textiles). I spent the bulk of the day in mesh. The temps fluctuated between 50 deg and near 100 deg and when the sun went down I was glad for the warmer jacket and the hoodie I wore underneath it.

  • Make sure the bike is in good working order. You don’t want to be stranded 100+ miles away from home because you’re bike broke down. I had to learn that lesson the hard way. I did get a new bike out of it though.

  • I don’t like riding at night. We purposely planned to spend the bulk of the time riding during the day, but even doing that we spent four or five hours in the dark. I have since made a commitment to do more riding at night and have been out two or three times since then to get a better feel for riding in the dark. You get better by doing it, right?

Having ridden for many years and with well over 100,000 miles under my belt, I felt comfortable on the bike and enjoyed it. It was challenging, but not as difficult as some of the guys on YouTube videos had said or some of the articles I’d read. If you’re prepared and have the right mental attitude, you should be able to do this without much stress.

A lot of guys tend to spend the lion’s share of their Iron Butt riding through the night. I think that might make it a little harder than it needs to be because there’s nothing really to see beyond what your headlights light up. I prefer the way we did it.

I think I’d do it again.