Iron Butt Olympiads

Athletes don't need to win gold in Athens to be medalists. Hit the open road on a motorcycle, ride 1,000 miles in 24 hours, and you can join the "Iron Butt" biker association — proof that your backside is more sturdy than gold, silver or bronze.

Last month, Iron Butt legend Gary Eagan of Salt Lake City set the new transcontinental record, by making the 5,632-mile trek from Alaska to Florida in 100 hours.

"I'm a little tired … a little bit bruised," said Eagan, upon arriving in Key West on his Ducati Multistrada.

A few hours after starting the epic journey, Eagan flipped his bike while trying to avoid a truck, smashing his windshield, rearview mirror and auxiliary fuel tank, but recovering in time to shatter the old record of 114 hours and 49 minutes.

Would-be Iron Butts should not be intimidated by Eagan's prowess. To join the 13,000-member worldwide association, all you need to do is ride 1,000 miles in 24 hours to qualify as a "Saddle Sore" member — or 1,500 miles in 36 hours to be a "Bun Burner."

Call it love of America or the challenge of doing what's never been done before, nontraditional athletes are finding new ways to cross the country, doing it on a skateboard and a lawnmower.

Is it possible to visit every single Starbucks? Can you drive across this great country blindfolded? Contemporary sportsmen are asking these questions and rising to meet the challenge.

With all eyes on Athens, The Wolf Files salutes these uniquely American road warriors.

1. A Caffeine High: Coffee at 4,200 Starbucks Given the sobering fact that 10 new Starbucks open every week, John Smith, better known as Winter, knows his life's ambition is a tall order — sipping coffee at every single Starbucks.

Nevertheless, Winter is currently seeing America on about 17 cups of coffee a day. "I may never do it," he said Monday, after hitting the 4,200 plateau in his bid to visit some 5,000 Starbucks locations, including those in foreign countries.

"I can visit them faster than they can build them," he keeps promising his growing legion of fans as he crisscrosses the country. In the last seven years, the 32-year-old freelance computer programmer from Houston has become America's most prominent java junkie.

This celebrated adventurer is now the Christopher Columbus of cappuccino, the Charles Lindbergh of latté. It's an obsession that began in Plano, Texas, in 1997, after a Starbucks employee told him the company had plans to open more than 2,000 locations. Winter figured, why not visit them all?

"My parents don't approve." Winter says. "I've got an undefined online relationship with a woman and she definitely approves."

To caffeine-addled motorists, Winter offers this advice: "Get off the interstate. You'll see more of America." And, presumably, more Starbucks.

2. Blindfolded Driver: Seeing Is Not Believing

Driving is easy, but it's not one of those things that you'd say you could do blindfolded — unless you're Jim Passé, who arrived in Los Angeles on June 6 after driving a car at high speeds with six layers of cloth over his head.

This must be some sort of trick, but Passé won't explain how he does it. "I'm a magician," he says, and he based this stunt on work originally performed by Houdini.

He's learned to drive with other impediments, and not by choice. He was paralyzed from the waist down nine years ago, when an 850-pound crate fell on him as a delivery crew was unloading a magic prop for his stage show.

His lawyer, John Edwards, now a North Carolina senator and the Democratic vice presidential candidate, helped him receive $4 million in damages.

But even Edwards' famed skill as a trial attorney would have been challenged if Passé had gotten into an accident while driving a car bearing a yellow sign that read: "Caution! Blindfolded Driver." "I obviously practiced to the point where I felt confident," said Passé, who made the six-day 3,000-mile trip with his wife and a stage assistant, who were barred from any backseat driving.

"My biggest fear was that other drivers would be freaked out. My wife took some great pictures of motorists passing the car, if you want to see some funny faces."

Passé, who uses a wheelchair on stage, still performs as a magician. He's also an intellectual property lawyer, and the legal ramifications of blindfolded driving did concern him.

"As it turns out, Alabama is the only state that expressly forbids blindfolded driving," he says. "Of course, we did meet some concerned policemen along the way, and they had a few questions."

Passé arrived accident free, and his odyssey raised more than $25,000 to benefit medical research for paraplegics. The hardest part of his trip: "Getting out of New York," he says. "Everybody there drives like they're blind."

3. Bicycle Comic Pedals Jokes Everywhere

Pardon the schtick, but stand-up comic Tom Snyder works a lot on the road — and that's not just because he's been homeless for most of his adult life.

Snyder has been biking to every gig for 18 years, logging 126,000 miles between comedy clubs — enough to cross the country 40 times.

"It all started by accident," says Snyder, "a car accident."

In 1987, when his beat-up jalopy died outside of Las Vegas, Snyder strapped what he could onto his bike. Flat broke, the 25-year-old fledgling comic parleyed a $10 chip coupon at the Tropicana casino into $200, just enough to convince himself that he could bike 1,600 miles to his next show in Omaha. Here's the punch line: 200 miles from the venue, Snyder found out that that club burned down. Luckily, the comedy club circuit was booming. He just biked to the next gig.

"I didn't think I'd be on the bike so long," he said. "But the other comics said it was such a great gimmick, and it just worked out."

For a while, he jokingly tried to sell billboard space on his handlebars, posting a "Your Ad Here" sign, space that Drew Carey once offered to buy.

At 43, Snyder is still biking most of the year, although he's got a winter place in Key West, and he's just released a photo collection of curious road signs in National Lampoon's Big Book of True Facts.

Among Snyder's favorite signs: "Die Seven Miles Ahead" on a road near Die, Pa., and a posting that can be found outside several prisons: "Warning! Hitchhikers May Be Escaped Inmates."

4. Lawn Mower Man Ready for Another Cut

You'd think that people would learn your name once you've become the first man to cross the country twice on a lawn mower. Nevertheless, lawn legend Brad Hauser is not the guy who was featured in the David Lynch movie The Straight Story.

In 1999, Richard Farnsworth earned an Oscar nomination for his role in that film, based on the story of a 73-year-old man who drives his lawn mower from Laurens, Iowa, to Mount Zion, Wis., to visit his dying brother.

That same year, Hauser made his first transcontinental lawn mower ride, from Beaver, Utah, to Washington, D.C., raising $200,000 for Keep America Beautiful.

Last year, Hauser again mounted his trusty 18-horsepower Yard-Man mower, raising another $175,000, and basking in his celebrity.

Well-wishers lined up on sidewalks throughout America, holding out cups of water and flowers as he cruised at a top speed of 25 mph. Among them: music legend James Brown, newly pardoned on drug and assault charges. "Keep doing what you're doing, I dig it."

5. 65 Pairs of Rented Bowling Shoes

Talk about sparing no expenses: Mike Walsh, a 27-year-old Chicago marketing manager, quit his job and borrowed his mom's car for a cross-country bowling adventure.

Maybe it wasn't a very good idea, but, as Walsh admits, he's not a very good bowler. Even after playing in all 50 states, logging 25,211 miles on his mother's 1994 Honda Accord, his bowling average is a modest 132.

Being on a limited budget, Walsh stayed in the homes of 53 people across the country, and rented 65 pairs of bowling shoes without ever developing a foot fungus.

A low point: Bowling with an ex-girlfriend and her current boyfriend in Virginia. "She asks, 'How it going?' " Walsh recalls. "What do I say? 'I quit my job, and I'm hanging out in bowling alleys. Want some nachos?' "

Yet Walsh somehow talked Miller Beer into underwriting the triumphant final leg of his journey on March 5, 2003, when he bowled in Anchorage, Alaska, and Hilo, Hawaii, on the same day.

Now, back at his old job, he boasts that he consumed about 840 beers and 63 orders of nachos in six months, while gaining seven pounds — and bragging rights.

"I'm almost certain that I'm the only person who's ever bowled in those two states on the same day," Walsh says. "I'll be crushed if I find out otherwise."

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.