2,023 miles in 24 hours: Carl Reese prepares to break the motorcycle endurance record
In a week and a half's time, Carl Reese is going to strap on a catheter, jump on a BMW K1600GT, start up a bunch of video gear and GPS trackers, pull on a helmet and try to ride more than 2,023 miles (3,545 km) in the space of 24 hours. And this ain't his first rodeo.
A humble tradesman by day, Reese spends his spare time and money planning and executing endurance driving and riding feats. He's the current unofficial holder of one of the most storied records in American history – the solo motorcycle "cannonball" record from LA to New York City – a 38-hour, 49-minute, completely illegal dash that the Guinness Book of World Records hasn't touched since 1966.
With his fiancee Deena Mastracci, Reese has also set several electric vehicle records, including an autonomous cannonball run in which his Tesla P85D did some 96.1 percent of the total driving, and another oddity just to get himself into the Guinness book – the shortest non-driving time to cross the United States in an electric vehicle. There are plenty of others.
But Reese sees this as the greatest challenge he's ever faced. The solo motorcycle 24-hour distance record is another kind of beast altogether. Riding around a monotonous 8.5-mile (13.7-km) track with nothing but mile-long straights and gentle, banked corners for an entire day will require superhuman physical endurance and mental clarity. There's no traffic, police or toll bridges to slow him down or break his stride. And to knock the record off, he'll need to maintain an average speed over 85 mph (137 km/h), even including fuel stops and tire changes.
We spoke to Reese 11 days out from his record attempt, which will go down on Saturday February 25.
What do you do in real life, when you're not chasing these records?
I'm a general contractor. Houses, I do repairs and construction for folks.
You must be a successful one, I can't imagine all these record attempts being cheap.
This one's the most substantial, for sure. We've looked to some sponsors to try to help out with some of the costs. But for me, this is probably the pinnacle of the records. To go the greatest distance in 24 hours on a motorcycle, as an endurance driver, that's my niche. I want to prove to myself and to anyone that's interested in motorcycles, that I've done it.
My whole purpose for this is to bring awareness to the Motorcycle Relief Project, a veteran's charity that raises money to take veterans that are suffering from PTSD out on motorcycle rides. But it's tough to balance, that's for sure, it's tough to budget for at least one record throughout the year. It's not easy and it's not cheap.
Now, Guinness stopped covering these Cannonball Run-style records, right? They didn't want to encourage illegal driving. Who's going to keep track of this record for you?
Guinness will cover this record, because I'm doing it on a track. Continental Tire has a proving ground in Uvalde, Texas. It's an eight and a half mile, big oval track. They've agreed to let me use it, with some conditions. I have to pay for EMTs to be there in case something goes wrong, and I have to have some insurances in place.
We're being helped by our sponsors – Clearwater Lights is helping out, First Gear, which is a motorcycle safety clothing company here in the USA, they're stepping up and helping with some of the insurance costs.
Who holds the current record?
The current record is held by a guy, he calls himself Bushy, but his real name is Matthew McKelvey. He's a South African. He set the record in 2013, and his total mileage was 2023.5 miles (3,256.5 km).
That's what, a 90 mile an hour average?
So how do you prepare to beat that?
OK, well, we're going to duplicate the same regimen that I did for the LA to New York record. I've already given up coffee, tea and sugar, eight weeks before I ride. I just want to purge all caffeine and stimulants out of my system. If you drink coffee every day, gobs and gobs of it, you can go to sleep right away after a cup. It just doesn't have any effect. Your body develops a resistance to that caffeine.
I'm not willing to take any stimulants. I even took a drug test after my motorcycle run coast to coast to prove it to any critics. If I'm dead and gone, and they write a book about me, they can print the urine analysis to prove I didn't have any stimulants inside my body.
When I did cross-country, I had to plan sleep stops. I had to sleep halfway across. Deena, my fiancee, is a nutritionist. She plans my food, it's all high energy, low sugar foods like nuts and salmon sandwiches on whole wheat bread, hard boiled eggs … I have a few handfuls of dried cherries, I drink straight water exclusively, with a little bit of organic apple juice to replenish electrolytes. And I will indeed have a coffee at some point during the run, probably at about 14, 15 hours in. It'll be my first cup of coffee in over eight weeks. That's the plan.
So most of the preparations are physical for you?
That's correct. Sitting for a long period of time isn't good for your body. I try to occasionally slow down to 90 mph so I can stand up on the pegs and get some circulation going.
I take a page from the book of the Baha guys – I wear a catheter so I don't have to stop for restroom breaks, and I kind of fast myself the day before, so I can purge my body and I don't have to take a full restroom break.
And since Deena is a nutritionist, she taught me the best way to eat, so I nibble throughout the entire run. I have a modular helmet, so I lift it up while I'm riding and I shovel in a couple handfuls of peanuts. I snack all day long. If you wait all day and have a big meal, you become lethargic afterwards when all the blood rushes to your stomach to digest that food.
I had an opportunity to do a podcast last year with a neurosurgeon who had done a study on caffeine. The host invited the neurosurgeon to partake in the interview, because they wanted to find out if what we had planned, as basic non-doctor types, if what we were going for was accurate.
He said purging my body of the caffeine in the lead-up to the ride was very good, but he had some recommendations. He explained it this way: when you're fatigued, your brain releases a chemical, and that chemical plugs into a receptor in your brain, and it uses the same receptor that caffeine would use. So if you wait too long before you drink the caffeine, and all those receptors are already plugged full, the caffeine has nowhere to plug in, and it has no effect on the body.
So his study shows that you need to drink the caffeine before you feel the fatigue. I know for me that on a motorcycle, fatigue will start to set in after about the 16- or 17-hour mark. So I know somewhere around 15 hours into the ride, I'll start having half a cup of coffee to get me through those last few hours.
That's an amazing amount of time. I'd guess that less than 1 percent of motorcyclists have ever sat on a bike for 15 hours at a time. That's extraordinary. How did you find out you were good at this endurance stuff?
I guess as a kid I always used to enjoy taking trips with my grandfather, and he never seemed to stop anywhere. He'd pass right by Disneyland in Florida and just wave to it out the window as we drove by. That was just the way he traveled.
I always said to myself that when I got older and started traveling, I'd stop and enjoy things. But it turned out that I took a job when I was 19 in upstate New York, six hours from my home town. And on my weekends, I'd ride home to hang out with my friends, and on Sunday afternoon, I'd ride my motorcycle back up to upstate New York. Six hours straight, just stopping for gas. I guess at 19 I realized that it was fun to go long distance.
It seemed to ignite something in me, because I enjoyed going further and seeing different roads. I think it's the same thing for anyone that rides motorcycles. To discover new things, I have to get further and further away from home. I think that's where it started.
Let's talk a bit about the bike. You're riding Beemers at the moment?
Yep. I only have one stallion in my barn at the moment, the BMW K1600GT. I call it "the Spirit of Cannonball Baker."
A terrific bike.
It is! And I wouldn't have found it if it wasn't for a neighbor of mine. He rides the R1200RT. He said to me "hey, you're gonna do this motorcycle record, you're looking at a whole bunch of motorcycles, go down to a BMW dealership." I was like ehhhh, I'm not a Beemer fan, the boxer engine doesn't appeal to me. But he convinced me to give it a shot, so I went down to a local dealer just to appease him.
And they had a used GT sitting there, and I jumped on for a test ride, and I said "holy cow." It was like it was made just for me, it fit me like a glove, and I was like, well hey, I'm getting older, I'm 47. Maybe I can't afford a motorhome, but maybe I can afford this bike, maybe we'll just do some camping, Deena and I can ride together around the country.
So I financed a new GT. But it didn't work out like I thought. In June of last year, Deena went and got her own license, and we left the DMV parking lot where she passed her test, and went straight to Deadhorse, Alaska, and then across to the East coast. She did 11,236 miles on her first motorcycle journey, with no prior motorcycle experience apart from a precision cornering class she took before she got the license.
So that was the first time she rode on the street, and she went 11,000 miles before going home.
Yeah, but it squashed all my dreams of having her on the back of my bike and riding the rest of the United States. Haha!
She's got more experience now than some guys I've been riding with for decades. She takes a lot of classes, and soaks up the information, and she can exquisitely negotiate a delayed apex – she's very safe in her riding.
At the age of 50, to conquer your fears and decide you want to ride a motorcycle, and then take your test and go straight to the hardest road possible – the Dalton Highway, which is dirt, mud and rocks through 247 miles of Alaskan wilderness – it's something else.
Good on her! So obviously since you picked up the K16 you would have made a few mods to make it more distance friendly?
Well, so I don't outrun my headlights at night, I've put 30,000 lumen of lights on the front. The stock bike has that cornering headlight, but it's useless to me at night. Even on high beams, you're outrunning your headlight at 55 mph at night. I couldn't see more than 50 yards in front of me in the desert where there's no streetlights.
For the New York run, I put 15,000 lumens on, which basically lets me see up to 3/4 of a mile like it's broad daylight. Clearwater Lights has a CAN bus communicator that'll communicate with the scroll wheel on the left grip. You can spin it up and down to set it so it won't blind oncoming traffic. But when you hit high beam, it goes to 100 percent.
I doubled those lights for this one. I can see comfortably at least a mile down the road, 20 feet either side of the road, 20-40 feet off the ground, so it lights overpasses as you go under them – you could land aircraft with these things. They're LEDs and they're just phenomenal.
The second thing I did was I put a lightweight lithium-ion battery in, which dropped seven pounds (3.2 kg) of weight off the bike.
Then there's the fuel – I carry 8 gallons (30 L) behind me on the pillion seat, and there's a 7-gallon (27 L) tank between my legs.
What sort of tank range will that give you?
About 400 miles (644 km) at triple digit speeds. And I put a smaller windscreen on to lower the wind resistance and aerodynamic profile of the bike.
Brock's Performance has graciously loaned me a set of carbon fiber wheels. They're way out of my price range, those rims go for US$4,000, they're BST, I guess they come out of South Africa. They look gorgeous, I'm going to install them on Thursday. They've got tires on them but they're not mounted to the bike.
What tires are you using for something like this?
I'm using Continental Road Attack 2s, EVO GT, because they recently won an award for wet traction. There's a 30 percent chance of overnight rain and 39° F (4° C) is the weather prediction as it stands now for Saturday night. I've got to be ready for some slick surfaces.
Oh, and one of the other things to prepare for the bike is a GPS Tracker from GPS Insight. That's a third party out of Phoenix, Arizona, that'll monitor my position as I go. There'll be a live map on CarlReese.net where people can click on my icon as it goes around the track, and see my speed.
We'll also have a live radio broadcast so you can hear what's happening with my crew. We're also going to broadcast some stuff to Facebook, using a 360-degree camera. People will be able to see when I pull in for a fuel stop.
I bet you'll be looking forward to those fuel stops.
I've got to be honest. I. Love. Coffee. The last few days have been the most difficult. Deena drinks coffee, and I can smell it brewing in the morning, and it just drives me nuts!
There are very few things you get pleasure out of in this world. Motorcycle's one, holding the hand of your woman is another, and drinking a great cup of coffee is right up there!
Is this just the deprivation talking here?
Haha! Yeah it's the deprivation!
So describe the track to me a little more.
It's an 8.5 mile oval, it's got one mile stretches on the straights, and a one-mile radius on the turn. So you have three miles at either end that's doing a slow, soft turn.
It's three lanes wide. In the outside lane, it's 70 mph hands off. So if you hold 70 miles an hour, with your hands off the wheel, a car will track straight through the corner. It has a mild banking on it. Nothing like Daytona or something like that.
Visualization is part of my preparation. Meditating and visualizing myself going around the track. So I took a rental truck and drove it two or three times around the track so I could record it and view it at home. Anytime I have a spare minute, I pull it up on my phone, and put my phone in front of my face and just visualize myself going around it.
One of the things I found out by going down there was that it's very coarse. The track is a very aged surface. It may be on purpose, so Continental can scrub tires and see how they're gonna wear, and what kind of longevity they can get out of them. But that's one thing that's not going to benefit me, because it's going to require that I do a couple of tire changes to deal with that texture.
We talked about Matthew, the South African that currently holds the record, but before he held it, it was a gentlemen by the name of Rusty Vaughn. Did it on a Harley-Davidson, on the same track. I got a chance to talk to Rusty, he was very gracious with information – told me the barbed wire fence keeps the cows out, but not the wild pigs and rabbits.
He gave me a great tip. He said at 1,600 miles (2,575 km) he had a tire change, because the center portion was totally bald. But to give you an idea of how tough this record is, Rusty Vaughn did it in 2011, he made it to 2,019 miles (3,249 km), and when Matthew went to break his record, it took three times on three separate attempts, and on his last attempt he only beat the guy by four miles (6.4 km). So it's a hard nut to crack, I'm not fooling myself. This is going to be the toughest thing I've done yet.
So you've got this giant, open proving track, with hardly any cornering to speak of. Are you just going to sit on the top speed of your bike?
There's a guy that teaches a class out here called Street Masters Motorcycle Workshops. The guy is a Daytona 200 veteran, he's probably in his mid-60s now and a great source of information. He's been helping me out with some calculations.
He's saying it's better that I don't put up against the top limits of the bike, or I'll just wear tire, and lose time in the pits changing the tires. So I could do 155 (249 km/h) around the track, but then I'm probably looking at three or four tire changes, where if I just settle in at a lower speed, I can maximize my fuel economy and tire changes.
So I have to submit to these smarter gentlemen with their sage wisdom. They've been there before. I've got to be clear, I don't know what I'm doing! Haha!
So what speed are you going to sit on?
My bike runs real comfortable at 127 mph (204 km/h). It behaves really well, and I don't get a lot of buffeting on my helmet at those speeds. I've had it up to 155, and it'll float there just fine, but it's a battle. You get this negative pressure behind your head, and you get a speed wobble in your head. It's just not a comfortable speed over a long ride.
So I'm shooting for around the 133 mph mark. I just want to give myself a little bit of room in case we need to work on the bike, but I think that's where I'll keep it.
My bike's getting a little old now, I think it's got about 27,000 miles (43,452 km) on it, so I don't want to push it too hard, either. If BMW wants to sponsor me with a new bike, I'll gladly go break it in before the run!
Your mind can go to some pretty dark places in 24 hours of solo riding. What are you going to do to stop yourself from going bananas out there?
Ah… that's a good question! I was down in Ecuador when they had the earthquake down there. April last year. The Minister of the Interior invited me down there to raise awareness for their relief effort.
They opened up Chimborazo, which is the closest place on Earth that you can get to the Sun. I mean, we all know that Everest is 27,000 feet, but at the Equator bulge the Earth is 26 miles wider. So it places Chimborazo about 7,000 feet closer to the Sun than Everest.
Anyway, during that run I got sick. I got deathly ill. I was vomiting the night before, I really didn't think I could do 17 hours, even with a police escort.
But in my mind, I just go to this void. It's not happy or sad, neither dark nor bright, it's just… this is where I need to be to accomplish this task. I try not to leave that space in my brain until the task is completed.
It's very similar in my construction business. Even if I'm working in a high attic, pulling electrical wires, or installing radiant oil stapled to the attic on a hot summer day, and it's 110 degrees outside and 140 in the attic, and there's no air movement, and you're sweating 'til your clothes are soaked. If I have a few hours to go, I just keep stapling and I keep pulling the wire, and you kind of get into a place in your head where you shut out the pain and discomfort and just buckle down to get it finished.
I could very easily have backed off in Ecuador, and just said let's put it off for a couple days until I'm feeling well, but the Minister of the Interior had like two buses of police officers lining the street, and a mini parade with a marching band and a police escort, half the country they shut the road down. You can't just tell them you're not feeling well!
You just smile and I ended up doing 17 hours. I was a zombie when I got to the end. I couldn't eat, I was severely dehydrated. I was just absolutely drained. I think I even surprised myself. You can't help but be humbled by the effort that these people have gone through to set that up.
We're just trying to bring awareness to people that are suffering. Twenty-six thousand lives were lost in that earthquake, and 650 homes were lost. I talked to a lot of people about their rebuilding efforts and how they're coping. That little bit of suffering I did on a motorcycle, compared to the real suffering that they're dealing with, it doesn't even come close.
A little bit of external motivation there for that one. But you've got none of that for this attempt.
You should call in and do an interview with me while I'm on the bike! We'll do a live broadcast.
I'll call in and tell you some jokes or something. Anything I'll say will sound fascinating to a bloke that's been on a bike for 17 hours.