My thousand-mile day

Lake Superior Circle Tour

Preparing to leave for the Circle Tour around Lake Superior on the Suzuki Bandit 1200S in 2002. The 1,000-mile day came a few days later, and was totally unplanned.

You won’t find my name on the Iron Butt Association list of people who have done a SaddleSore 1000 ride, which is riding at least 1,000 miles in 24 hours. I could say that’s because I’ve always been more interested in having the experience of things than gathering the credentials, and that would be true enough. But the real reason my longest ride (which may or may not have been a little short of 1,000 miles) wasn’t IBA-certified is because I never planned to do it. That lack of planning is also why I did it in the hardest possible way.

In 2002, I took part in the Wolf’s Head Rally in Two Harbors, Minn., on the shore of Lake Superior, the greatest of the Great Lakes. Before the rally, back then, the organizers also had a five-day Lake Superior Circle Tour. Riders rode around the lake alone or in groups, as they preferred, meeting at the beginning and end of each day. I was writing about the ride and rally for American Motorcyclist magazine and was riding a Suzuki Bandit 1200S, a big, fast and relatively comfortable motorcycle that was well suited to the task. The big Bandit’s only drawback was that those early models burned oil faster than a malfunctioning McDonald’s french fryer, so I literally had to carry an extra quart with me at all times and check the oil level regularly.

After the leisurely ride around the lake and a couple of days at the rally, my plan was to start for home in Ohio, spend the night somewhere along the way, and arrive the next day. My 24 hours of riding began at 8 a.m. when I left my hotel room in Duluth and rode north to Two Harbors. I hung around the rally until about 2 or 3 in the afternoon, then decided to start my ride home.

Since I was planning to make the trip in two days, I was less concerned about taking the shortest route than about avoiding Chicago traffic, so I rode through Wisconsin in the evening and took a roundabout route through Illinois. Late in the evening, I decided it was time to stop. At the first interstate exit, the hotels were full. It was a summer weekend night. Lots of people were on the road, and almost all of them had called it a day earlier than I had. The next exit yielded the same results. As did the next one.

By that point, I was more annoyed with the time I was wasting than I was tired of riding. I didn’t love the seat on the Bandit, but other than that it was a good bike for the purpose at hand. The ergonomics felt natural and the fairing provided decent wind protection. The bike was kind of heavy, but that wasn’t a bad thing when powering through the wakes of semis on the interstate.

Approaching midnight, I decided I’d just press on through to dawn.

Near Indianapolis, I made the mistake of stopping at a 24-hour Denny’s for a rest break and an extra-early breakfast. A mistake because it was too early, and instead of the early-morning breakfast crowd, I found myself among the late-night, tipsy-with-the-munchies crowd. Seeing how long I was going to wait for the understaffed waitresses to get me to a table, I abandoned the Denny’s and pressed on. A truck stop another 50 miles down the interstate provided a fast breakfast with no waiting and refreshed me for the final push home.

If you’ve ridden Interstate 70 through western Ohio, you can understand why the last part of the ride was the hardest, in terms of fighting off drowsiness. With the sun rising in my face on a warm morning, and the monotony of that road, I had to start shouting at myself to stay alert.

Around 8 a.m., 24 hours after I left my hotel in Duluth, I rolled into my driveway at home, much to the surprise of my wife, who wasn’t expecting me for many more hours. The Bandit’s odometer claimed I was close to the 1,000-mile mark, but mapping software suggests that’s optimistic. So truth be told, I probably haven’t done a 1,000-mile day. But I definitely did more than 900 miles in about 17 hours, after spending the first part of the day sitting around. That’s not the kind of clever planning that would make the Iron Butt Archive of Wisdom.

Wolf's Head Circle Tour

Leaving for one of the short days of riding around Lake Superior on the Wolf’s Head Circle Tour.

Digging through some old files, I found the two photos with this story, which were taken by a photographer at the Wolf’s Head Rally, and that’s what made me think about this ride from 12 years ago. That 2001 Bandit was not a bad mile-munching bike, except for the oil-burning issue, which Suzuki fixed on later models. By chance, that Bandit is the one motorcycle, not owned by me, that I’ve ridden for the most miles. In addition to the Lake Superior ride, I rode it on a camping trip to Valley Forge, Pa., and many other shorter trips, as well as days of commuting. I prefer something lighter and more sophisticated in feel than the big, rough-edged Bandit of a dozen years ago, but I do love the quarter-fairing look above all others.

I don’t know if there’s still a faint imprint of my ass on the seat of that old bike, wherever it is now, or if it’s the other way around, and the Bandit left its mark on me. Either way, that night running with the Bandit, eastbound and down, was the closest I ever came to a SaddleSore 1000.

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3 Responses to “My thousand-mile day”

  1. Really appreciable that you completed 1000 miles distance in 24 hours

  2. Austin Express says:

    Why was it burning oil? Does the new 1250 do that?

    • Lance Oliver Lance Oliver says:

      This was just an issue with certain 1200 Bandits built in 2001 and 2002. It had to do with the design of the pistons, which was letting oil past the rings and into the combustion chamber. Suzuki changed the pistons and the problem went away. But not until they installed new pistons under warranty in quite a few Bandits.