It can’t have been easy to make a video of an event like the Iron Butt Rally, which has been described as an 11-day, 11,000-mile, cross-country scavenger hunt. There’s very little of what you could call “action” during the course of the rally, unless your adrenaline gets pumping watching people ride down the highway. You can’t even really send camera crews to stake out more than a handful of the bonus locations where the riders might go to collect points—there are just too many of them.
And yet Hard Miles: The True Story of the 2007 Iron Butt Rally, is exciting, and not just because of the jaw-dropping scope of the event, but the sheer force of will it takes just to finish, not to mention place well in the standings. Hard Miles opens in the hours before the 2007 Iron Butt Rally with a segment on the riders, their plans, and their hopes—and their mistakes. “We announce, ‘Don’t go to Key West, it’s the dumbest thing you could possibly do,” says Iron Butt Association president Mike Kneebone before the start. “Yet a third of this field is going to Key West.”
It might appear as though physical endurance is the key to winning, but the IBR is a mental game, not a physical one. Riders are shown hunched over laptops into the wee hours, entering data from the printed bonus list into a computer routing program. And that’s not the full extent of the mental aspect. By the sixth or seventh day it’s all some riders can do to remember how to do simple tasks like pumping gas or putting their feet down at stops. As Kneebone says, “It’s not physical exhaustion, it’s mental exhaustion.”
Hard Miles includes a segment on the bikes of the Iron Butt Rally. In 2007, touring bikes, big dual-sports, a few near classics—like a ’72 Electra Glide, and a ’76 BMW R60/6 with 441,000 miles on the clock—and even a Harley Sportster took the green flag. Essential rally-bike gear includes everything from onboard computers, FM/XM/CB/weather band receivers, and Bluetooth helmet comms, to big rolls of duct tape. But the last word on gadgets comes from a rally volunteer who wryly observes, “I think what amazes me the most is that you have all these people, mostly men, with a great deal of technology, that cannot follow simple written directions without a GPS.”
The story of Hard Miles—near misses with wildlife, the bonuses bagged and lost, the delirious highs and the crushing lows—is told mainly by the riders themselves, and you meet every one of them in the DVD extras, which includes rider introductions and a detailed history of the Iron Butt Association as told by Mike Kneebone. The price of Hard Miles has recently been reduced from $50 to $29.95 plus shipping and handling. It’s a rare glimpse into a world of extreme riding that few riders will ever experience.
Hard Miles: The True Story of the 2007 Iron Butt Rally, available from Abracadabra Presentation Graphics, www.apgvideo.com/ironbutt07
UPDATE: Hard Miles 2: The Story of the 2009 Iron Butt Rally is now available, too, and you can save $5 when you buy both.