My favorite rides are usually on the Blue Ridge Parkway by way of the connecting back roads that bring multitudes of motorcycle riders to the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. My home in Mayodan, North Carolina, is just 50 miles from the arterial ribbon of asphalt up on the Blue Ridge, and the North Carolina license tag on the back of my KLR650 is testimony to where my machine likes to go.
Riding this dual-sport on those country roads has proven to be therapeutic for this 51-year-old man who battles rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic autoimmune disease that causes pain, stiffness, swelling and loss of function in joints. Those mountain journeys are always beneficial and they provide a sense of emotional, physical and spiritual healing.
When I leave home to take a ride, I usually head west to the mountains, but one recent Saturday morning I went to a local convenience store to fill my fuel tank in preparation for a journey in a different direction. The receipt from the gas pump showed the time of 1:04 a.m., the official starting time for the SaddleSore 1000 that I was undertaking.
The SaddleSore 1000 is one of the rides specified by the Iron Butt Association, an organization of riders who are dedicated to long-distance motorcycle riding. They sanction several rides, with the most prominent being the 11-day, 11,000-mile Iron Butt Rally. This group comprises the World’s Toughest Riders, and to earn membership, one must successfully finish one of the rides they sanction.
I decided to challenge myself by attempting to complete a SaddleSore 1000 (1,000 miles within 24 hours). To be successful, I had to plan a route and follow the IBA rules, which include getting a starting witness, collecting receipts while maintaining a trip log and getting an ending witness. The receipts would be used as verification of the ride locations, and the starting and ending receipts would be the most important, because they show the beginning and ending date and time.
I decided my route would be from Mayodan, North Carolina, to St. Augustine, Florida, and back. I had never been to St. Augustine and it happens to be located about 525 miles from Mayodan. I figured it would be advantageous to take a longer break at the halfway point of my trip, and St. Augustine seemed to be the ideal place to stretch my legs, walk around and sample the scenery that America’s oldest continuously occupied European settlement could provide.
My chosen route was very simple. I would travel U.S. 220 south (I-74 east) past Greensboro, North Carolina, to Hamlet, where I would take NC/SC 38 to Latta, South Carolina. From Latta, I would head south on I-95 and continue through South Carolina, Georgia and on to Florida. Just south of Jacksonville, Florida, I would take U.S. 1 to St. Augustine, the halfway point of my journey.
My wife was my starting witness and I was soon on my way, listening to the single-cylinder engine thumping along in the cool early-morning hours. After several hours of riding in darkness, I was glad to finally watch the sun come up while traveling through South Carolina. Everything became bright and colorful and seeing the palmetto trees made me feel like I was on an excursion in a distant land, since there is no such flora near the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The occasional fuel stop gave me the opportunity to have a snack and move around. Those short breaks were very welcome, but I mostly stayed in the saddle and on the move. Before long, I had traversed the Georgia marshlands and was riding in Florida. I rolled through the river city of Jacksonville and left I-95, heading south on U.S. 1. My pace then slowed considerably and I took pleasure in riding with other motorcyclists who were rolling down this historic road. I looked a little out-of-place riding my KLR at the back end of a formation of helmetless cruiser riders, but everyone was friendly and I felt welcome to be riding with the group.
When I arrived in St. Augustine, my parking receipt read 10:32 a.m. I walked around in the downtown historic district after a quick visit to the educational Visitor Center. Although I was only able to sample a few cultural and historic sites during my short visit, this small city impressed me as being extremely interesting and charming. I hope to return some day when I have more time to really enjoy everything in detail.
I noticed horse-drawn carriage tours departing near the Bridge of Lions that crosses Matanzas Bay. Trolley tours were also available and the city was very easy to explore on foot. The Old City Gate is at the entrance of St. George Street, which was the main thoroughfare during colonial days. This pedestrian area is picturesque and is considered to be the cultural center of the city. Attractions in this area include the Spanish Quarter Village and the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse, which was built in the mid-1700s. I walked around Castillo de San Marcos, which was built in 1672 by Spain and is the oldest masonry fort in the United States. A soldier carrying a musket behind the coquina stone walls waved at me as I left the historic National Monument.
After spending about an hour walking in the city, I was back on my motorcycle crossing the Bridge of Lions over to Anastasia Island. I rode by the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and over to see the St. Augustine Lighthouse before turning around and cruising back through town to begin the second leg of my journey. I rode by The Fountain of Youth (I should have stopped to drink the water) and I departed St. Augustine heading north, returning home exactly the same way I rode down.
Although I was beginning to get tired, the ride home was enjoyable and I began to sense that I would successfully finish my SaddleSore 1000. I took my last break at the North Carolina Visitor Center on Highway 220 in Randolph County. The sun was beginning to set and it cast a red glow on the clouds in the western sky. I was surprised at how good I felt and I knew that I would be in Mayodan in a couple of hours. Darkness enveloped the land as I continued up the highway and soon rolled up to the gas pump at the same convenience store where my journey began. I filled the fuel tank and the receipt showed my official ending time as 9:57 p.m. My odometer indicated that I had ridden 1,071.7 miles, which was close to the mileage verified by Google Maps. My wife was my witness, as she had been at the beginning of my challenge.
It is difficult to explain how I felt when I got home. I was very tired, but I felt great. I’m not a young person and I struggle with a chronic disease. I rode a low-budget motorcycle that many would consider to be less-than-ideal for such a long, time-sensitive journey. Yet I had successfully earned my membership among the World’s Toughest Riders. This ride was among my favorites and is certainly one that I will always remember.
(This article St. Augustine SaddleSore: A scenic 1,000 miles on a Kawasaki KLR650 was published in the December 2012 issue of Rider magazine.)