Who are we? I am Jeff Oravec. My riding partners were Norm Frey and Larry Cheske. We are all members of a riding club in the Chicago area called appropriately, the Chicago Cruisers. We started talking about doing an Iron Butt ride several months ago. Norm first proposed the idea and asked the members of the Chicago Cruisers if anyone was interested. A group of us met a couple of times to discuss possible routes and general Iron Butt information. We had originally talked about doing the ride in August, but because of a few conflicts with personal schedules, plus the thought that an August run might be a pretty hot ride, we decided to do the ride in September. We chose the second Saturday in September, the 13th, because we did not want to do the Iron Butt ride the weekend after a Chicago Cruiser scheduled ride to the Boomerang Resort in Missouri over the Labor Day weekend.
Norm and I both rode to the Boomerang Resort over the Labor Day weekend and rode through rain most of the trip there and back. Hurricane Grace was devastating the Gulf of Mexico that weekend and creating copious rainfall throughout the Midwest region. The day I rode there started at 4:00 am and I did an Iron Butt training ride on the way there. I kept moving as much as possible, kept the gas stops as short as possible, and rode through the rain for several hours. It was a training all right. I didn't realize then how closely the training would resemble the real Iron Butt ride.
We started watching the weather reports about 10 days before the Iron Butt ride. They were predicting rain for the entire weekend, but it looked like it might be just scattered storms. As September 13th approached, the weather reports were looking worse and worse. The rest of the nine people who were planning to do the ride had to cancel; some because of personal conflicts, others because they felt the rain threat was more than they wanted to endure for their first Iron Butt ride.
In retrospect, we should have postponed the Iron Butt ride, but the three of us felt that we could endure a little rain and hoped that a last minute rerouting would keep us dry for most of the ride. Since the rain front was basically running a very narrow North-South pattern that was moving slowly to the East, we planned to head straight West from the Chicago area, get behind the front, ride most of the ride in rain-free weather there, and hopefully the front would have moved far enough East by the time we were heading back that our ride home would also be rain-free.
We all met at Denny's in Hanover Park at 4:00 am. Since I live 27 miles from Denny's, I started out at 3:15. My wife, Joyce got up to see me off and signed the start form. I headed to my first gas stop a few blocks from my house and I was on my way. We left Denny's a couple of minutes after 4:00 am and headed West on Route 20 a couple of miles to the first joint gas stop for our ride together. We rode West to Route 59 and then North to the I90 Tollway. The rain began before we got to Rockford and pestered us until we were most of the was across Iowa. So much for our effort to get behind the front quickly. The front had stalled and widened.
We took the I90 Tollway to Rockford where we switched to Route 20 West. The Chicago Cruisers know Route 20 very well. It is a favorite way to get to the Galena area and features some of the best winding hilly roads in Illinois. Of course, that's not really saying much, but imagine riding on a winding, hilly road; in pitch black darkness; in heavy rain; passing slow moving semi-trailers that are spewing clouds of rain from their wheels. Let's just say it was not fun.
Just about the time we reached Galena, the sky began to lighten. The sun was rising, but the clouds were so thick we could not see it. We could, however, see the heavy fog that was settling in along with the rain that was no longer a heavy downpour, but a light drizzle. Fortunately, the fog did not last long. The light rain, on the other hand, started and stopped again and again and pestered us for the next couple of hundred miles.
We rode Route 20 across Iowa to I35 South. At Des Moines, we switched to I80 West and rode to Lincoln Nebraska where we stopped for lunch. Norm had spoken to Gary LaTelle, who contacted his brother, Randy, who lives in Lincoln, about us stopping there for lunch. Randy very generously accommodated us with freshly barbecued hamburgers and all the fixings. It seemed like we just ate and ran, even though we spent about an hour and a half there. I can't thank Randy enough for his hospitality.
We headed West on I80, fighting heavy Northerly crosswinds, to Route 81 South where we found the only enjoyable section of the ride. The Northerly winds were behind us now and the rain was nowhere in sight. Route 81 becomes I135 in Kansas and we rode that to Wichita, where we switched to the Kansas Turnpike North. It is I35 and I335 in sections, and we rode it into Topeka where we headed East on I70.
I passed the 1000 mile point about 20 hours into my ride before our gas stop in Kansas City. Missouri. We were discussing who to get to sign the witness form when two carloads of girls came in to gas up. We asked one of them to sign and she agreed. Many thanks to Janelle Nichols who gave her address and phone number to three nuts on motorcycles in the middle of the night.
We stopped for a meal in a Kansas City Perkins restaurant a little before midnight and then headed East on I70 again. Shortly after Kansas City, the drizzle began again. Once more, we were pestered by on and off drizzle and heavy rain, this time for most of the trip back to the Chicago area.
The next couple of hundred miles of travel was very slow going. It was the middle of the night and we had been up for almost 24 hours. We were feeling the effects of the lack of sleep and the lethargy that follows eating a big meal. We could only travel 40 to 80 miles at a time without stopping to rest.
About half-way across Missouri, we got too tired to ride. It was about 4:50 am and what started out to be a ten minute rest laying down on the sidewalk in front of the gas station turned out to be an hour and a half sleep break. It's amazing what is comfortable to sleep on when you're tired enough. I'm sure we made quite a sight for anyone who stopped to fill up during that time. Three crazy motorcyclists sleeping on a cement sidewalk in their rain suits and helmets in the drizzle. I can also imagine how silly we must have looked when we awoke and tried to gather our senses about what planet we were on and why we were here. Larry even did a Three Stooges scene when he awoke by stepping backwards onto a broom that was leaning against the wall. Sure enough, the broom shot forward and cracked him in the back of the head. What could we do but laugh. Nyuk, Nyuk.
Minimally refreshed and back on the rainy road again, we continued East on I70 to St. Louis where we rode the I270 bypass into Illinois and turned North on I55. We road together until Braidwood, where only Larry gassed up. I separated from Larry and Norm a few miles later to head directly to Berwyn, instead of heading up to the Elgin area with them and riding the additional unnecessary miles. I completed the 1500 miles before getting to my last gas stop in Berwyn, about 32 hours after I started. The entire ride lasted about 34 1/2 hours and covered either 1,655 or 1,611 miles depending on whether you believe my odometer or my GPS.
All in all, it was definitely an adventure. An adventure I will never attempt again. An adventure I would suggest no one ever attempt. I am not saying I will never do another Iron Butt ride. I am saying that I will never do another one if the weather forecast is not good. It's hard enough to ride that many miles in good weather, but adding cold, rainy weather to the equation makes it that much harder. You cannot relax and enjoy the ride when you are focused on fighting the environment and most of this ride was done in less than ideal conditions. Other than that, it was a blast, and I could not ask for better riding partners. Norm and Larry hung in there even though they were more tired and miserable than me. I had the luxury of a windshield, a full fairing, a Gerbing heated jacket, heated grips, and a Russel custom seat that they did not have. Kudos to you guys. We endured a major trial together that I know none of us will ever forget. I'm sure we will be bragging about this for many, many years to our friends, coworkers, children, grandchildren, and anyone else who happens to ask.
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