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The Iron Butt Association prides itself on having the world’s toughest motorcycle riders.

Wendy Crockett of Rapid City might be the toughest of all. In June, she became the first woman ever to win the Iron Butt Rally.

The Iron Butt Association hosts a variety of long-distance rides for its 50,000-plus members, but its rally is the longest ride with the biggest bragging rights. It challenges riders to travel 11,000 miles or more in 11 days.

On June 17, 102 bikes and 109 riders left Greenville, S.C., on a journey to collect points and bonuses and stop at designated check-in locations. Crockett's was one of 71 bikes that completed the rally. According to Iron Butt Rally final tallies, the riders collectively traveled more than 828,000 miles.

“It’s a North American-wide scavenger hunt. Each rider plots to accomplish what they want. If you want to finish well, you go for bigger bonuses,” Crockett said. “Winning is based on who gathers the most points. It’s a game of strategy with a whole lot of luck in it. You can have a lot of good riders, but if you have somebody end up in a construction zone or stuck on a two-lane road, that can throw a wrench in the plan. You have to plan a good ride and be able to pull it off.”

Crockett rode her 2005 Yamaha FJR 1300 on a 12,998.9-mile loop from Greenville around the outer perimeter of the United States into southern Canada and back to Greenville. She described the route as a puzzle.

She traveled to the Everglades, across the southern U.S. to Arizona, north into Washington state and through the Canadian Rockies. She rode — with the help of five ferries — to bonus locations on islands around Vancouver. She returned to Washington state and rode across the northern United States to the Great Lakes, Niagara Falls, and to the end of the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec. She rode to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, then headed back to South Carolina, arriving on June 28.

“I’ve seen and smelled and felt such incredible things. You have to be out in the world for (those moments) to find you. Rallying gives me a silly excuse for seeing places I would not otherwise have an excuse to see,” she said.

Crockett prepared for the rigorous trip with a training regimen.

“I’ve been walking and hiking nine miles every morning and being really particular with my nutrition and that made a huge impact,” she said. “The dynamic of the puzzle changes every year. This year there was a lot of hiking and physical activity you had to participate in to collect these bonuses. You ride, and then you’re off your bike on a five-mile hike to take a picture of a waterfall somewhere.”

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“(Exercising) also gave me core strength for sitting for such long periods of time. It helped with sleep management and overall fatigue,” Crockett said.

While riding, she stretched her muscles to keep her blood flowing and to stave off back pain. The rally route this year was planned to encourage all the riders to get more activity and prevent swollen legs, Crockett said. She equipped her bike with hydration jugs so she could keep just over a gallon of water with her, and she took riding gear that could help her adapt to hot, cool or wet weather.

Crockett was shocked when she won, though other riders predicted her victory. “A lot of people were coming up to me saying, ‘This is your year. You’re going to win.’

“I felt like the place just erupted when they figured out that I had won. Everybody felt it was time that a woman won,” Crockett said. “They were celebrating. It was a neat experience.”

In the Iron Butt Rally’s 35-year history, Crockett has ridden in it five times. Simply being chosen to participate is significant; there’s a lottery to get into the event, she said. As the winner, Crockett took home a trophy and, more important, bragging rights.

“This is a unique thing to have a woman win for the first time, and the winner always has unique bragging rights. By and large, each rider is in competition with themselves. It’s a tight, fun community. We’re looking to see what we can set out to accomplish, how good of a ride I can plan … to optimally play this game,” Crockett said. “Half the time nobody remembers if you finished at all, but you’ll have some great stories and great camaraderie.”

Winning is a thrill but, for Crockett, the Iron Butt Rally’s biggest appeal is the chance to get out on the open road and indulge her passion for motorcycle riding.

Crockett bought her first motorcycle at 18, and she now works as a mechanic at Sturgis Motorsports. She and her husband, Mike Loomer, owned Cyclesmiths in California before relocating to Rapid City a year ago. Between them, the couple owns eight motorcycles.

“My husband doesn’t do long-distance riding, but he is my biggest cheerleader,” Crockett said.

“I don’t know where the passion for motorcycles came from, but it just seemed like so much fun and freedom,” she said. “There’s nothing like it. The destination is just an excuse, which is why rallying is so great. I just like being on the road … and being out there experiencing sunrises and sunsets and beautiful moments you can’t put in a GPS.”

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