SteveHebert Posted November 11, 2007 Share Posted November 11, 2007 I have been a member of the BMW Motorcycle Owners of Alabama for about 5 ½ years now and recently have been more active in the club. With the kids now off to school, I have to find things to occupy the time that the constant band trips, football games, competitions, etc. once took up. The travel director of the club, the infamous Bob Steber, does a great job trying to get riders involved with riding. Those of you that attend BB&B might remember him. He created something last year that he called the Alabama Beemers’ Exploring and Epicurean Society, or ABEES for short. As an inductee to this fascinating group of epicureans, Bob passes along the coveted booklet that list well over 200 places in Alabama to visit. There are restaurants with suggested items to sample, historic sites, county court houses, etc. The goal again was to get as many Alabama riders to go see the hundreds of things in this state alone and just spread the love of riding. The mother of all of these rides is the Extremely Alabama challenge which includes all four corners of the state, plus the highest and lowest point, and the geographic center of the state. I started to think about this and I began putting together a plan. Many of you know of the previous Iron Butt rides that I have done with Uli, but once he moved back to Germany, I could not find anyone else crazy enough to do this stuff with me. I enjoy the company of another rider on the more difficult rides. I think it is an essential tool for the safety of it. Cross monitoring each other performance is key. That is where Jim Kalahan fits into this little story. Jim accompanied me to the spring El Paseo and was the co sponsor of the BB&B this year. Jim is also one of the riders of our “Mancation” trips that we do each year. We were sitting in the garage just having a good old time at BB&B when Vance Harrelson and Bob Steber of the Alabama club just happened to mention that Paul and Gail Thorne, other members of the club, had done the ride in just over 27 hours. The gauntlet had been set! I was convinced that I could beat that all though it would be tough. We starting talking a bit more about the Thorne’s ride and the challenges that they faced. A few of the points were not easy to locate and traffic gave them a bit of a problem. With the right amount of planning, I figured it was doable. The distance covered would be close to 1300 miles and the majority of it would be on 2 lane roads. At the last club meeting in October at the Little River State Park, Jim and I talked to the Thorne’s about their specific issues and asked them if they thought that it could be done within 24 hours. Both agreed it could be. Now to set the record straight, the 24 hour thing is just a personal crazy goal that I wanted to accomplish. The challenge is based on a 36 hour time limit that Bob established. He even has a note in the book that discourages riders from attempting it in under 24 hours. After the meeting, I started some detailed planning. I plotted all of the points and tried to get all of the addresses for the exact spots that I needed to find. Some of them like the Long Island Baptist Church and the Bayou La Batre post office where ones that I had to do more research on. The Cheeha rock pile was another one that I thought I could find without a problem. I researched the marker at Montevallo and had a good picture of the building, but again no address. I then spent hours plotting the route several different ways. I changed starting points and starting times so that I would not hit any of the major cities during rush hour traffic, and I wanted to get out of the extreme northeast corner and Mt. Cheeha during daylight hours. I wanted no more than 215 miles between gas stops as well. I would be on reserve at that point and planned on carrying a gallon of gas in the luggage anyway. The best start point and route that fit all of my criteria was to start here in Enterprise and work my way counter clock wise around state. It would be around 1275 miles and would take 25 hours and 10 minutes of riding time. Remember that I wanted do this in under 24 hours. It was looking grim, but I am always up for the challenge. I programmed the GPS to ride 7 miles per hour over the speed limit on all roads and told it to avoid dirt, ferries, etc. I wanted good surface major highways. I could not upload any of this planning into my SPIII. My card reader no longer works and one of the pins for the serial cable connection broke off. I use the SPIII as a direct to waypoint function and a picture of where I am. I made route sheets that were based off of departing at 0500. Each sheet would be good for the route to the gas stop. At each gas stop we would tear off that sheet and start on a new one. I wanted this to be as simple as possible. I panned the route using Mapsource and MapQuest. The numbers on the do not jive because I deleted many of the in between points. Jim and I are both retired Army helicopter pilots and still fly for the Army. We spent our career in the Air Cavalry and used detailed planning procedures for every flight. I carried a bit of that forward here. Jim decided to join me for the ride and we set a date for November 9th. We had the day off work because of the long Veteran’s Day weekend and we planned to leave at 0500 on that Friday morning. I borrowed a hand held CB and attached the mic inside the chin guard of my helmet with vlecro. I used my CEP ear pieces instead of the hard plastic one that came with this mic setup. We made sure the bikes were serviced and ready to roll. Jim rode “Black Betty”, a 2004 R1150R with a Parabellum Scout fairing. He still hasn't thanked me for hooking him up with Paul and getting Paul to send him pictures of his RT light. I rode the trusty and very comfortable “Louise”, a 1976 R75/6 that I purchased from Jim Dubick. The bike has been in the Alabama BMW club for several years and will remain so. The engine is so smooth and the riding position is very natural. It does have a Corbin seat that is very comfortable. I have had several Corbin seats that I did not care for, but this one is great! Here is a picture that I posted before of mine and Jim's bike. In the middle is another friends bike that Dudley calls "BURT" or butt ugly reliable transportation. Dudley usually accompanies us on rides, but thought that riding 24 hours and not leaving Alabama was pretty darn stupid. I e-mailed Bob Steber the night before we were to start and he wisely gave me some advice about stopping if we felt tired and getting a motel. I assured him that we would do just that. Again, safety has to be number one when attempting these crazy rides. Jim and I planned to meet at 0440 on the highway near our house and head to the BP station for the start. We wanted to depart as close to 0500 as possible. We headed out for the first point with a brisk pace. It was 38 degrees and I was on a 31 year old bike with a minimal fairing at best that directs air at my chest. I was cold to say the least, but it looks great. I figured the sun would be up in an hour or so and I would start getting warm. My fingers were the worst, but it was manageable. We found Chatahoochee State Park in the south east corner of Alabama with no problem. The next point was to be the highest elevation in Alabama at the top of Cheeha Mountain. The fastest route was to head out of Alabama into Georgia and north up through Columbus before turning back east into Alabama near Westpoint. That was the first gas stop as well. We had a very short stop and continued on our way. I decided to look at the GPS instead of read the road signs and ended up wasting about 3-4 minutes getting back to the route. Of course the GPS tells many lies as well all know. This will happen a few more times on the route. We were doing great on time and the temps were gradually getting up there into the upper 50’s. It was sunny and beautiful. The entrance to Highway 281 that goes to Cheeha Mountain is not marked when coming from the south on County Road 24. We passed under the road and I saw the right turn too late for Jim to stop. He went down the road and turned around to find the sign clearly marked from the north while I waited at the turn. We turned on 281 and made our way to the top of Alabama for the picture. At each stop we drank a small amount of water and ate a bit of jerky or granola. We headed back down the mountain to find the northeast corner of the state. The point was a Baptist church in Long Island. Another member of the Alabama club named Tommy Arnold gave me some very good advice about this portion of the route. My planning kept showing me to go up towards Chattanooga to pick up Hwy 156 towards Nickajack Dam. Tommy advised me to take a small county road up over the mountain and then direct to Nickajack Dam. This saved us at least 20 minutes. We found the church very easily as it was marked way out on Highway 156. Feeling very good about our time as we were about an hour ahead of schedule, we headed to the far northwest corner of the state to get the required photo in Waterloo. The great feeling of being ahead of schedule was soon diminished as we approached Huntsville. It was plenty early, around 1430 and I figured that rush hour traffic would not even be a thought. The GPS route and my printed route sheet started to differ. Highway 72 branches to an Alternate south of Huntsville and through Decatur. The GPS said go that way as it was faster. I should have known better. As we made the slight turn to the new road, the GPS started doing it’s around the block trip. It did this in Anniston as well and later in Pensacola. Those of you that use one know what I am am talking about here. It gets confused and starts telling lies. I immediately turned back to the written directions that I spent so much time on and found a way back to the main Highway 72. We probably lost another 10 minutes there. Back on the route and headed to Waterloo was refreshing. We passed Florence as Jim’s reserve light came on. I planned on getting fuel back in Florence after getting the picture in Waterloo. The worst that could happen is run out of gas. He carried 2 gallons and I had one. We continued on and found the spot I had planned. The route into Waterloo was very nice. County Road 14 parallels the Tennessee river there. We were making great time and I wanted to be in Florence before 1700. The goal was to get to I-65 before it was too dark so we could make up some great time. We arrived Florence right at 1700 with plenty of fuel. Jim had about ½ gallon left in the tank. Because we were doing so well with time and because we had only been off the bikes for a short time at Cheeha, we decided to take a coffee brake and relax for a minute. We were now 1 hour and 20 minutes ahead of schedule which really meant 10 minutes ahead of our crazy 24 hour finish time. It got dark quick, very dark! We left Florence enroute to Cullman to pick up I-65. Highway 157 was nice and freshly paved, but dark as heck. We did ride by a high school football game that was right next to the road we were on. That was pretty neat to see. I did not want to go through Birmingham during rush hour either and this planning allowed us to arrive at the very end of it. We sailed through there without a problem and were on our way to the geographic center of the state, Montevallo. I was trying to hold 80-82 mph to get back the time lost in Florence. The traffic was very cooperative to allow this and we felt comfortable that we would not incite any “performance awards”. The GPS again wanted me to go a different route than I had planned and I ignored it. It wanted me to leave I-65 just outside of Birmingham and take Highway 31 down towards Montevallo. We stayed on I-65 for another 20 miles before exciting on 31 and the County Road 11 to Montevallo. I had no idea where the campus was. I figured there would be a sign helping us out. We rolled into town and found the sigh we were hoping for. We turned and then rode through one of the Iron gates that define the campus. It is very nice and the streets are all brick. I remembered the picture of the residence hall and the building directly in front of me looked exactly like it. We parked the bikes on the road in front and I grabbed the camera. It was time for the very long ride down to the southwest corner to find Bayou La Batre. We needed fuel and planned on Prattville for that. Five miles from the gas stop Jim mentioned he was on reserve and all of a sudden “Louise” gave me the tell tale sign to switch to reserve. We were doing 80 mph in moderate traffic, in the left lane. I could not get the right side changed over quick enough and she started sputtering. I moved to the right lane and switched the petcock up. The bike was not happy and I could not accelerate. I had to slow to about 65 mph and ride the next 3 miles to the gas station that way. “Louise” then started to stall at every stop I would make unless I kept on the throttle. I can only assume that some nasty crap from the bottom of the tank was sucked into one of the filters. I also noticed that the left side muffler sounded a bit rougher than the left. We fueled up and she ran fine again at 80 mph so I shrugged it off. We were on I-65 headed south when the lines on the highway started to converge and get a bit blurry. That is not a good sign. I also noticed Jim riding a bit different than before. He would fade way back and then catch up. My CB would not transmit any more for some reason so I could not ask him if he was okay. I mentioned before that cross monitoring each others performance it key. I decided to pull off in Evergreen and take a quick stretch and grab a small cup of coffee. I headed for the golden arches of the McDonald’s. After stopping Jim asked if I was okay. I told him what I was feeling and what I had thought, so he agreed to stop as well. French fries sounded great to him. So did an apple pie. Of course we picked the wrong time of day for fast food. The crew was putting together many meals for the post game crowd here as well. Friday is a big football day down in the south. The schools all play under the lights. We ended up spending 40 minutes there but really began to feel better. The spare we had was pretty much gone at this point. We would be lucky to make it in less than 24 hours. I figured that we could do it with a couple minutes to spare. Back on the interstate and enroute to Bayou La Batre we decided to stop for fuel a bit earlier than planned. “Louise” was not happy going these speeds and did the rough running thing again when I switched to reserve. We quickly fueled and got were at the exit we needed to be to pick up US 90 west. Of course I looked at a road sign that said Bayou La Batre this way. I should have ignored it, but it was too tempting. We started down this little country road and after a few minutes I stopped to see what Jim’s GPS said. I loaded the route into his the day before, but Jim is still a novice at using it. He figured it out pretty quickly though and got us back to where we needed to be with little time lost. We rolled across the draw bridge and into the town to find the post office that does not exist. I had the address from Mapsource and a waypoint on. We were driving through some pretty shady neighborhoods for about 10 minutes and finally said the heck with it. I rode over to one of the shrimp boats and introduced "Louise" to “Miss Loraine”. The next stop was the lowest elevation in the state and our last point to find before heading back to the starting point in Enterprise. We made our way back up to Mobile and around the bay to Gulf Shores. The schedule was extremely tight and getting tighter by the mile. We were headed to 137 Gulf Court, the street address for the Pink Pony Pub in Gulf Shores. We got to the intersection of Highway 59 and Highway 182. We saw the sign for the public beach and turned right to follow the route out onto the sand bar. It was about 3 miles down the road. We found Gulf Court, but there wasn’t a 137 Gulf Court or a Pink Pony Pub. Everything around us was beach houses or condos. We were tired and frustrated and spent the next 30 minutes looking for the place. It was desolate. Everything was closed. We tried to find a human to ask, but could not find anyone. We then decided to go back to the public beach sign for the picture. We sat there for a minute pretty upset that we had come this far and could not finish the challenge. There was no way we would beat the 24 hours either so we decided to just take a nice leisurely stroll back home along the beach road to Pensacola. I then looked up across the parking lot and saw what I thought was a pink building. Low and behold, the frickin place was right there in front of us! That was unnecessarily frustrating to say the least. We were happy that all of our efforts were not in vain though and began the ride back to Enterprise. The GPS did it’s thing again in Pensacola and got us into the grid pattern neighborhood streets for a few minutes where I got to test the braking power and sliding characteristic of "Louise". Damn those hidden stop signs. We made our way out of there and to I-10 to Crestview for the turn north to Florala. We needed gas again because of the short stop before Bayou La Batre and decided to chill out and have another cup of coffee. At this point we just wanted to finish the ride and beat the previous record held by the Thorne’s. We road the rest of the way back home and stopped at the BP. To celebrate the momentous occasion, we rode over to The Coffee Kettle and had a big ole plate of LBJ taters. These are similar to the scattered, covered, chunked, sliced and diced served by the Awful House, but much, much better. So there it is. We finished in 24 hours 57 minutes. We are the new record holders of the Extremely Alabama Challenge for the short time until some other worthy competitor attempts to beat us. Link to comment
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