After riding nearly 9,700 miles on her 2001 Honda Goldwing motorcycle all over North America, Cathy Davies was one of 71 riders to complete the World’s Toughest Motorcycle Competition, the 2019 Iron Butt Rally. The 11-day motorcycle event started June 17 in Greenville, S.C. and ended there June 28.
“It’s been on my bucket list forever,” said Davies, who trained for 14 months to prepare for the trip.
A Minnesota native, Davies and her husband, Larry Johnson, live in Atlanta, Ga. After finishing the Iron Butt, Davies went home for just a short visit to quickly collect her thoughts before she traversed another 1,200 plus miles to join Johnson and her parents on McAvity Lake north of Grand Rapids where she has spent nearly every summer since childhood.
This Monday, just three days after crossing the Iron Butt off her list, Davies rolled into Grand Rapids in the same gear and on the same bike that accompanied her on the adventure that took her from coast to coast, with stops at such iconic destinations as Mt. Rushmore, Old Faithful, Beartooth Pass, Vancouver Island, Canada and many more. On Monday afternoon, Davies could nearly taste her next destination - a jump into the clear water of McAvity Lake.
Davies has been riding motorcycles for 52 years. She said her parents, George and Dody Davies, dated on a motorcycle but sold their Harley Davidson when she was born. However, the Davies family’s passion for two wheels did not end there. In fact, George and Dody still ride motorcycle everyday at age 87.
As a young girl, Davies got her first scooter at age 12. Since then, she’s ridden motorcycle through all 50 states and Canadian provinces as well as most of Mexico “with my mom on the back.”
From 2010-2011, Davies and her husband went on a world motorcycle tour through 31 countries to celebrate her husband’s successful battle against stage-four cancer.
Davies grew up in Willmar but with a teacher for a father, the family lived on McAvity Lake all summer and many weekends throughout the year.
“My parents have spent 67 summers at the lake,” she explained. “My husband and I built our McAvity Lake home (four doors from my parents) in 2005. Since my 3M retirement, Larry and I have enjoyed summers here since 2011.”
The Iron Butt Rally was also a celebration for Davies, marking her retirement from 3M.
“You gotta have goals,” she said. “Look at how you envision down the road - what you want to do with the rest of your life.”
Since 1984, riders from all over the world have competed in the Iron Butt. This year, Davies said 102 bikes started on June 17 and 71 completed it. The Iron Butt is not a race, but instead a motorcycle event held every other year dedicated to the sport of safe, long-distance motorcycle riding. It is broken into sections (or legs), traversing a large section of North America. Finishing positions are determined solely by points obtained by riders at individual checkpoints in five categories: Arrival, tracking, rest, location bonuses, and call-in bonuses. In total, the riders covered more than 828,000 miles during this year’s adventure. For the first time in the rally’s history, a woman was the top winner. Wendy Crockett was also the first mom to ever win the Iron Butt.
“It really forces you to get out of your comfort zone,” said Davies of the rally.
According to the Iron Butt Association rules, the ability to plan an optimum route is key to success in the Iron Butt Rally. Riders may not be transported to the immediate vicinity of any bonus location or checkpoint except by riding their motorcycle or traveling with their motorcycle while it is transported on a commercial ferry.
The association’s rules continue to illustrate how this grueling event earned its title of the World’s Toughest Motorcycle Competition: “The Iron Butt Rally may remind you of a scavenger hunt. It isn’t. If we tell you to pick up a gaming chip from Las Vegas, our intent is that you ride to Las Vegas and pick one up. Do not stop at the California border and ask returning gamblers if they might have a souvenir chip to sell you. That will not get you any points, but it will get you disqualified from the rally.
“Be prepared for anything. Bonus locations will be in a variety of settings. In the past we have sent riders to police stations, morgues, museums, private homes, caves, the tops of mountains, and the ashes of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.
“Don’t forget to account for the weather when planning your route. Should you reject a ride across the hot desert in favor of bonuses located in the mountains, you will be responsible should bad weather move in and block your path. We remind you that the Iron Butt Rally is the World’s Toughest Motorcycle Competition and no latitude is given for bad weather.”
Davies told of a storm she rode through in Wyoming.
“The rain was horizontal and extremely intense. I pulled off near a hill but there was lighting all around me and it was hailing. An 18-wheeler pulled up and let me in. You’re very vulnerable and exposed.”
Another time, in Canada, Davies had a run-in with a bear. While she carries bear spray, she did not have to use it that time.
“The adrenaline keeps you going,” she said.
The Iron Butt has traditionally visited national parks, monuments, and recreation areas around the United States, including Alaska and Canada. Riders may use either paper maps or mapping/routing programs running on laptop computer. They also carry cellphones and GPS devices.
Davies has no intention of resting from riding anytime soon. Next week, she will travel to Casper, Wyo. to participate in the 33rd all-female Women on Wheels Ride-in July 9-11. Then, she’ll be back at McAvity Lake to focus on her horticulture hobbies and prepare for the Itasca County Fair.