As motorcyclists we’re no strangers to a long day on the road. Whether it be an ambitious waypoint or an impending storm, at one point or another we’ve sat in the saddle logging mile after countless mile. But for a select few, hitting daily quadruple-digit mileage is an exciting challenge rather than a chore. These Iron Butt Riders put their mettle to the metal in the gauntlet of tarmac that is the Iron Butt Rally. We are excited to share with you the firsthand accounts from this year’s rally, as told straight from the father/daughter duo Marty Cover and Lisa Rufo.
But before we delve into the dialogue, here is a crash course in all things Iron Butt. Those who ride 1,000 miles in a 24-hour timeframe gain the designation “Iron Butt Rider’ from the IBA. This loose-knit organization verifies the completion through gas receipts at a maximum of 350-mile intervals. As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, the IBR Rally amps up the ante with a goal of riding 11,000 miles over the course of 11 days. Along each leg of the route are a series of scavenger hunts and bonuses for the riders to score. At the end of each day their scores are tallied up, and the points they accumulate help determine the winner. Marty and Lisa shared their experiences from the 2021 IBR Rally with the team at Bob’s.
What was your first introduction to long distance riding?
Lisa – In 2007 I bought a BMW F60GS used from Bob’s. On literally my very first trip anywhere, Marty and I rode to the RA rally in Asheville NC. We went there in two days and made the 500-mile return trip in one day. All I remember when we got home was dad asking “do you want to come for dinner? Their house was 20 minutes further down the road than my house and I said “I don’t want to see you anywhere. I don’t want to ride my bike. I’m going to go in the house”.
Marty – The irony is that was a 530-mile day, and nowadays I think “what am I doing with the rest of the day?” 530 miles is just getting warmed up!
Lisa – So that was my first trip, and my second trip was with Bob up to the Finger Lakes rally for Labor Day weekend. Bob’s used to have a newsletter saying that If you wanted to go to the rally you could let the dealership know. Bob was going to lead a small group to ride to the rally. I had bought my bike in April and the email about the ride went out in August. People are replying about going and I wrote back that I wanted to go because I hadn’t been that far from home by myself. Like I wasn’t comfortable enough to go to New York by myself and Bob said “didn’t she just buy this bike?!”
Marty – She hadn’t had her driver’s license a year yet, man!
Lisa – So he took me with him, and there were five other people that rode in the group. And on the very first day he said “I’ll lead you guys up there but you have to get home by yourself”. I thought, “Alright, I can probably do it. I’ll be alright.” So we get there and he’s like “You’re a better rider than some of the group members who’ve been riding for 30 years. You and I can ride home together.” I was like, oh thank God!
What’s the appeal of long-distance riding to you?
Lisa – I hate stopping honestly! Marty was rallying already when I started in 2010 and when he was explaining to me that you rode to a place and got off the bike to take a picture or answer a question for the Scavenger hunt part of the rally, I was like “I’ll go with you but I’m not getting off the bike, why do we have to stop?”
Marty – And she complained about stopping for a long time. But in the fall, we were doing a ride together and I said “we’ll get home on Sunday afternoon” and she says to me, “No I’m going to Texas and riding this one by myself.” And that was the start of her thinking, “okay I can go and do these things by myself.” For me the appeal is I don’t like to stop, and solving the problem of time, speed, and distance. You have a Chinese menu of bonuses you need to find, and you can only do so many. The challenge is figuring out what’s the most efficient way to score the most points?
Lisa – So they give you a GPS file with all these locations, bonus spots, and different times of availability. Some are 24 hours, and some are daylight only while some are nighttime. And then each spot has a different point value. So, depending on the length of the rally, you have to figure out how many hours in that time frame can you ride and how much time do you need for your gas stops. If it’s multiple days, how much sleep do you need in that time frame? And then you try to put together a route that will get you the most points.
Marty – And there’s no “It was raining” and “we couldn’t get there,” or, “we got there and the gate was closed,” or “there was traffic.” When they say you must be back at 8:00 AM, if you’re there at 8:01, you’re a DNF (did not finish).
What’s it like planning these routes?
Marty – When we put these trips together, we ride with each other so much that we have our own system. When we get our information, I will plan a route and then she’ll plan hers out and then we’ll do what she says! Except for this year. The first two legs I did and then the third leg was all her, she figured it out.
Lisa – So the plan was to make a big circle around the country from Provo Utah to Kitty Hawk NC, then back to Provo. But they threw us a big curveball with the route. They basically told us that Leg One was to the west and north, followed by Leg Two down the east coast. The first check point was in Indianapolis. So, legs 1 and 2 were concentrating on a 48 and 10, where you visit 48 states in 10 days. Each state had a bonus with a smattering of other bonuses. So mostly we did states to pick up what bonuses we could get.
What were the longest days mileage wise?
Marty – We did an 1100 mile day and on the last day we did 995 miles. Averaged out over the 11 days, we did about 800 miles a day and rode 8700 miles total. Part of the reason we rode what some would call a “low number” was because of what we learned from 2019. At the end of Leg Two we went for a 1,000-point bonus which totally wrecked our sleeping pattern. When we woke up the next morning we were 2 hours behind everyone and couldn’t make any of the stops that we wanted. So this year we threw out a 1000 point bonus and got to the next checkpoint 5 hours early. That way we could get out of scoring and get a nice 8 hours of sleep. That way we started Leg Three as fresh as can be 6 or 7 days into the rally.
Lisa – The guy who won rode over 14,000 miles, that’s 5,000 miles MORE than we rode. All I could think was, “I’m not sure we could have done 500 miles more.”
Marty – We scored 101,000 points and he scored 177,000 points. We did as well as we had ever done in any sort of competitive rally. And with the rally being invitation-only, we were riding with the big dogs, so to score 36th and 37th is an accomplishment. We were Bronze Medal finishers, which is better than we’d ever done. And there were only three women riders, and all three of them finished with Medals.
What were your favorite moments from the trip?
Lisa – Having a good time together! When we first started rallying we always did it together, and everybody’s like, “Oh, I can’t believe you guys ride together, you should separate.” The whole point is to be there together.
Marty – What they did for this rally was “firsts” around the country, like the first roadside picnic table. It was a place in Michigan, and the picnic table isn’t there it’s just a sign. But that was still an interesting thing to see. We also saw the first Greyhound Bus Station in Hibbing Minnesota. Then of course we saw where the Wright Brothers flew in Kitty Hawk, as well as their bicycle shop in Dayton Ohio. There were some very interesting and clever things that they had you do, like seeing where the Trans-Continental Railroad came together in Promontory Point Utah. You’ve known about this place for 70 years and I finally got to see it!
Lisa – With a lot of places you’re not there long enough to see other things. You see your one bonus and then it’s time to get back on the road.
Marty – I have to admit most of the time I don’t even read the historical marker. We are efficient – get off the bike, take the picture, do the paperwork, and back on the bike in about 3 minutes.
Lisa – So I’d get home and my husband would say, “Oh you got to go here!” And I’m like, “what was that? I rode past it at 75 mph.”
What were some of the hardest moments on the trip?
Lisa – Probably going into Savannah Georgia through a Tropical Depression. It had rained so hard that the water on the road just off I-95 was up to our footpegs. At one point it was pulling my feet off the pegs.
Marty – And what’s interesting in Savannah is when it pours rain, you have all this standing water then you stop for 5 minutes and it all drains away. You can see the water level go down, so we must have been there in the 5 minutes before it went down. For me the hardest was on the last night when we had a couple of hours to get to Provo Utah. You have to go over two mountain passes on a road with absolutely no light.
Lisa – It was like riding the Tail of the Dragon in pitch black with nothing to give you any indication of where the road is going. And it had 18 wheelers on it coming the other way blinding you. The speed limit was 65 and there was no way we could do that, but the trucks were going that fast.
Marty – We were coming around turns and going, “Oh sh*t, where do I bail out; where do I go?” It was probably a great road in the daytime, but we’d been on the road for 16 hours and everyone behind you wants to go faster and you can’t see…
Lisa – The GPS said we were 60 miles from Provo and so I said, “Oh we’ll be there in an hour!” And in the end it took almost two.
Marty – It’s definitely a mindset, and now we take pride in the fact that we go out and do 1,000 miles in 16 hours and say, “Ehh what’s that?” When I ride out to visit her sister in Laramie Wyoming and do two 600 mile days and a 500 mile day I think, “Why did I stop so early?!”
Are there any accessories or pieces of gear that are critical for these long rides?
Marty – Well we each have two GPS’s plus a phone for going through traffic.
Lisa – We were going through Chicago on Leg One during rush hour, and each GPS is telling us to go a different way. And Marty’s are all telling us different routes as well. So I finally use my phone and Waze gives us a fourth way! Buy it’s really helpful to beat traffic.
Marty – So we run one GPS with the whole route to show it day by day, and the second GPS loaded up with waypoints. This helps with point-to-point navigation and running ‘What if’ drills for alternate routes.
Lisa – Our Clearwater Auxiliary Lights are a must. On that road in Utah they were almost worthless, so I can only imagine how bad it would have been otherwise.
Marty – The OEM auxiliary lights that come with the GSA are useless, so you must use something like the Clearwaters so you can’t outrun your headlights.
Lisa – Waterproof gear is crucial; my dad is wearing KLIM and he doesn’t have to stop. From the minute you get on your bike you’re good to go. You don’t need to stop and change gear if it rains.
Did you have any preferred tire when you run these rallies?
Lisa – We ran Michelin Anakee 3’s which we had put on when we got our bikes serviced at Bobs. The bikes were trailered out to Utah so we didn’t use up tread to get to the start. We were able to run the entire rally on the tires and would have been able to ride home with the tread that was left.
Marty – With our bikes serviced here and fresh fluids, we could run 10,000 miles on the synthetic oil if we needed to. So that way we don’t have to plan for any service throughout the entire trip. And we were here just last week to get them freshly serviced again.
Was there a reason why you went with the R1200GSA Instead of the K1600GTL?
Marty – The big reason is the weight of the bike. At the end of the 2019 rally I was beat. Pulling into gas stations you’d think I was riding a Harley because I would stop short of the gas pump and paddle walk it up because I was afraid to drop it. Someone came up to me at one point and I said, “You’ve got to get away from me because I don’t know if I can hold myself up.” There’s a significant difference in 200lbs of weight all day every day. It really makes a difference over the course of 11 days on the road. It’s also helpful if you run into gravel trying to find a place to park for a bonus.
Lisa – And when he dropped the K1600 in 2019 he broke the foot peg, which cost us time because you cant ride without a foot peg!
Do you have any tricks for sustaining yourself on such long days?
Lisa – Snickers Bars and lots of gas station sandwiches
Marty – I eat the McDonald’s Egg McMuffin and the McDouble, because it can sit in my stomach and not be a lump. Over the 13 years of rallying I’ve found what foods I can eat without feeling totally uncomfortable.
Lisa – 9 of the 11 mornings we ate McDonalds, and sometimes had it for dinner.
Marty – You don’t want to see another McDonalds after the trip. Her favorite restaurant is Chickfila, but as decreed by the father we cannot eat them on the ride because their drive thru is too slow! It’s about how quickly you can eat a cheeseburger, drink a coke or ice tea, and be on the road again.
Lisa – And he tells me that I eat slow!
Did you have any time saving tricks?
Marty – On this trip we would pull up to the pump at the same time and one of us would pump while the other would run inside and grab snacks. We needed to keep our stops as short as possible.
Lisa – I have two cards that I use, one for gas and one for everything else. That way I keep all my gas on one card. But if there’s an issue with the card at the pump, I can just use the other one.
Marty – And the nice thing with the KLIM Badlands jacket that you sell is the emergency card pocket on the sleeve. My gas card lives in that pocket throughout the whole trip, in fact I just took it out yesterday.
Do you have any more rides planned?
Marty – I just did a ride this past weekend from here to West Virginia, up to Pittsburgh, then across PA to Shippensburg, then back down to Annapolis. By the time I got there I had ridden 920 miles in 16 hours. My plan was to deadhead across the bay bridge to knock out the last 80 miles, but I was surrounded by lightning! I said, you know what, I know I can do it but I’m going to bed. I don’t need another certificate to prove that I can. Everyone here knows me and that I can do an Iron Butt, they don’t care! And there’s a 10 hour rally in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in August, and a Senior Butt Rally in Texas this September. You must ride as a team and if part of the team drops out you both lose. The rally is for riders over 55 to ride and to get the older riders out of retirement.
Lisa – I was going to do a 1000-mile Ice Cream ride this past weekend, with each stop having to be at least 150 miles apart. But the weather turned to crap and I didn’t want to leave my dogs at home in a thunderstorm!
The Iron Butt Rally is a shining example of the diversity that exists in the motorcycling community and the unique motivators that inspire us riders. While some hit the road in search of the slow scenic route, others get their thrills by racking up quadruple digit days on the odometer. I personally plan my trips around challenging trails, famous roads, or where I might find photographic inspiration. While I’ve had my fair share of ambitious days, the consistent amount of miles Marty and Lisa crank out is awe inspiring. And what’s even more impactful about their experience is how it became such a significant part of their father/daughter relationship. Listening to them regale even the most challenging moments with a sense of lighthearted fondness made me realize how much fun they were having during the rally. Even the most arduous day on the road was still conquered as a team, working towards their shared goal and experiencing it on two wheels.