How long have you been at St. Thomas? Thirty years this fall.
First motorcycle? A 1965 Honda 50 Super Sport. I blew up four engines the first year. Loved it right away; think riding a bicycle downhill all the time.
Current ride? A 650 Suzuki V-Strom, extensively modified for long-distance rallies. The motor is quiet and tough but not very big (think of a 25-horsepower Evinrude on a fishing boat). It’s all I need.
How many bikes have you owned? About a dozen. That’s for 45 years of riding and two polar-opposite forms of competition. One was a really small bike that my sons kept in their bedroom. I also own a 1920 Royal vacuum cleaner.
Are you a rebel or rabble-rouser? Not rebel or rabble; how about rubble?
Most unfair stereotype of a motorcycle rider? They all live to make noise. In my world, stealthy is best. Besides, I’m afraid of loud motors.
Something we don’t know about the motorcycling community: Divisions within motorcycling can be as distinct as red-blue U.S. politics: Harleys, crotch-rockets, touring. I’ve landed in the microscopic subset of long-distance endurance competition. Most riders can’t relate to what we do; they think we’re from another planet.
Is it difficult to be a motorcycle enthusiast living in Minnesota? San Diego motorcyclists don’t savor spring like St. Paul motorcyclists.
Biggest benefit of riding a cycle? If you let them, they take you to different states. I don’t mean Iowa or Idaho. I mean inside places. I’ve only been allowed to go there on a motorcycle.
Explain the Iron Butt Rally: We ride a thousand miles a day for 11 days. Those miles might take us to the Arctic, Key West, Death Valley and Manhattan. At this level, riding is the easy part. Figuring out a winning route is the hard part. You need to be really smart and I’m really not. At the start they give the 100 invited riders a long list of “bonus locations” that are worth different points. You can only ride to maybe a third of them in the time allowed, so the possibilities are endless. The winner isn’t who gets someplace first, but who picks the best route and ultimately has the stamina to collect the most points. Think chess with North America as the chessboard. The sport has evolved to the point where computers are essential for analyzing the puzzle. About a third of the riders don’t finish.
What draws you to endurance riding? Flinging yourself through time and space on the ragged edge of human endurance for 11 days is a swell way to spend your vacation. A mentor once told me: The most fun you can have isn’t necessarily fun while you are having it. At the start, we know that things will go horribly and consistently wrong -- you get frozen and parched and starved and lost and beyond weary -- and you need to be able to giggle about it. By day eight or nine, the highs and lows are intense; there’s nothing quite like it. No matter what happens, I never get tired of it and I have no idea why that is.
But isn’t your bike rather small compared to the Gold Wings or Harleys that other racers ride? Oops, you said the “R” word. It’s not a race. It’s not about speed; it’s about not stopping. On freeways, for example, we generally ride no faster than the fast lane of traffic. Going too fast wears out you and your tires. I confess, however, that my secret evil pleasure is quietly swooshing past all the packs of pokey Harleys. It’s so much fun, I think it might be a sin.
How do you train for those rides? I work out every day. I spend hours polishing routing techniques on my laptop and more hours in the garage modifying and maintaining the bike. The cockpits of some rally bikes rival a 747. Most important is learning the mental part -- the willingness to dodge moose at 3 a.m. on a dirt road in British Columbia or battle rush-hour traffic in Brooklyn. We like to call it “rally mode.”
Oddest thing to happen to you during an Iron Butt? T. S. Eliot wrote: “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” One time I went there.
Worst accident? The most gross was getting rammed by a truck not far from St. Thomas and sliding down I-94 on my hands, knees and face. I’m a big fan of emergency rooms.
Ever been to Sturgis? Leather, chrome, loud pipes, bars and drinking are not part my world. I’m always glad to see people enjoying themselves on motorcycles, but that’s not me and I don’t miss it. I relish the solitude of endurance riding. Sturgis is not solitude.
Is there any destination you haven’t seen from the seat of a motorcycle? Heaven. If they don’t have motorcycles there, I’m going to ask for my money back.
Do you do any other competitive riding? I have yin and yang bikes because I also compete in the slowest of all motorsports: observed trials. We attempt to traverse obstacles and rugged terrain on ultralight machines. We go pretty slow except when they make us ride off the cliffs, then we go pretty fast. I’ve competed for more than 30 years, and my son Ben ’99 won a national championship two years ago.
Describe your perfect ride/route: The last 11 miles of an 11,000-mile Iron Butt Rally are life-changing. Far more people have climbed the last 11 feet of Mt. Everest than have ridden those last 11 miles of the Butt.
Can you explain your long-running fascination with squirrels? Yes. In previous lives, they rode motorcycles. They tell me these things.
“How We Work, How We Play” is a series that examines some of the intriguing pastimes of our St. Thomas colleagues.