The 2014 Scooter Cannonball Run (aka CBR) is a 10-day endurance ride from Hyder, Alaska to New Orleans, LA. I am #98, riding a 1987 Honda Helix CN250. For more information, see scootercannonball.com. Earlier and forthcoming Cannonball posts can be found here.
Scooter Cannonball Run Day 10: El Dorado, AR to New Orleans, LA; 347 miles
The morning of the last day, I was tired and slightly disoriented from lack of sleep (due to late-night carburetor cleaning session) and a long list of to-do items. A small group of friends and I had agreed to ride as a group and stick together so we could arrive as a group. I begged their patience as I inflated my still-low rear tire, loaded my bag onto the trailer and stumbled my way through the morning routine.
The day’s route would take us through Arkansas to Louisiana, then into Mississippi, essentially ending at the Abita Brewery, 44 miles from New Orleans. There, we’d be greeted by the Thursday Amerivespa ride and would then ride en masse into the city to the official finish line at the local Vespa dealer, Transportation Revolution. All riders who made it to Abita would get full points for the last leg.
Most of our group of six that departed together had ridden with each other several times over the past several years, though I was the only one who hadn’t done a long distance ride with them prior to Cannonball. Riding with a small group of friends who are all skilled riders can be one of the most enjoyable experiences in two wheels. No one holds the group back and we fall into a rhythm, moving like a finely-tuned machine.
Or we should have. I was struggling with fatigue for the first part of the ride and was concerned I’d have to drop out of the the group and take it easier. Pull over to do jumping jacks. Find a bridge to nap under. At the first gas stop, I loaded up on caffeine and downed a 5-Hour Energy. I hadn’t used that type of supplement before the Cannonball, and I’ve no idea if it wreaks havoc with your body. The stuff tastes awful but it works. I was immediately alert. The finely-tuned machine was humming along.
The scenery was varied but pleasant. The roads wound through wooded areas, over many creeks, streams and rivers. The navigator of our group seemed to have his own route picked out; it didn’t match the one the rest of us had in our GPS units. But it got us where we needed to go.
We rode quickly because that’s how we ride, but we weren’t rushed. We hit our checkpoints but the day was more about riding with friends than making up for any time lost the previous nine days. No amount of speed could affect our rankings at that point. In the end, it was one of our favorite days of the run.
Our group arrived at the Abita Brewery in the early afternoon, went inside to bask in the air conditioned cool and sat down to lunch. The Amerivespa ride had experienced delays and was still a couple hours from arriving. Once the big ride pulled in, we had to wait a couple more hours for the remaining Cannonballers to arrive.
Though several friends were there to ride the last leg with us and cheer us as we crossed the finish line, my small group didn’t seem eager to greet them and socialize. This wasn’t Cannonballer snobbery. I think we all appreciated the gathering, the work and planning that went into such a large ride, the eagerness of many to accompany us on the final stage.
But being around people — all those other people — felt weird. We were impatient and a bit worn out, unaccustomed to crowded, noisy environments. We weren’t used to waiting. We were restless, unable to relax. The heat we’d felt in Arkansas was now compounded by Louisiana humidity and it was tiring. The end of the journey was so close.
Once the ride to the city was underway, the Cannonball riders had to restrain ourselves and ride at the pace of more than a hundred other scooters. The gas stop seemed interminable, particularly since we’d trained ourselves to fuel up and go as fast as possible. (The group crossing of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway was a highlight of the weekend, however. Quite a sight, I imagine.)
For the first time in almost two weeks, we weren’t in control of where we were going, how fast we got there, how we rode.
We arrived at the finish and I felt a mix of jubilation and relief combined with a touch of disorientation and emotional deflation. We’d done it. Scooter Cannonball Run 2014 was officially over. No more routes. No more morning meetings, logging times, early wake ups, hurried mechanics. No more changes in elevation, dirt roads, gravel, freezing temperatures. No more riding our asses off every day.
These feelings continued throughout the Amerivespa weekend. Maybe it was the knowledge that within a few days, I’d be back at a desk, in an office, essentially stationary. That roaring down open roads would no longer be my everyday life but once again relegated to weekends. That Los Angeles traffic was waiting to swallow me and my scooters.
None of this overshadowed our sense of accomplishment, of course. The camaraderie bubbled over past the finish; we were enormously proud of each other. For days, I heard Cannonballers boasting not about themselves but about the achievements of our peers. He rode out early onto the ice. She had never endured such cold. He rebuilt his engine numerous times. And so on.
Still, I had to wonder if the others — particularly the other first-time Cannonballers — also felt that we’d crossed the finish, but we weren’t yet done. Is this the feeling that drives those who returned every two years? Had I already gone into Cannonball withdrawal?
The Wrap Up
Withdrawal is apparently a common experience among those who finish the Scooter Cannonball Run. A day after I returned to Los Angeles, a friend who had done the CBR in 2012 asked if I’d started suffering yet. He commented, “It took me more then a week to feel normal again.”
Almost everyone we met while attending Amerivespa in New Orleans was curious about the ride and our experiences, but most (in my opinion) asked the wrong questions.They tended to focus on the difficulty and endurance aspects. “Was it hard?” “Are you sore?” “I heard it was freezing!” “How far was it? I could never ride that far.” “Ice and dirt and gravel sound kind of scary.” I don’t mention this as criticism; I might have asked the same. But it’s indicative of how hard it is to grasp what the Cannonball is until you’re part of it.
I thought back to the question I posed to a friend on Day 2, in the Icefields of British Columbia: “How can we possibly explain this to people?”
Yes, Cannonball is hard. It’s designed to be hard. As I’ve become fond of saying, not all miles all earned equally; Cannonball miles can be pretty rough. This year may have been the most difficult route and conditions of any Cannonball Run. And yes, I’m sore. Once across the finish, I gave myself permission to feel the pains that had been gathering for days. My neck and shoulders and back all ache. Worse, I was a bit more banged up from my crash than I’d noticed while in the thrall of adrenaline or focused on completing the ride. And yes, the ice was treacherous and the gravel and dirt tough on the scooters.
Other common questions are essentially variations of “Should I ride the Cannonball?” I think that I’ve given a fair account of what it was like to ride this one. It is tough but it’s not torture. The 2014 roster included riders of various ages, physical conditions, experience levels, mechanical abilities and socioeconomic statuses. There are some who rode this year who I doubted in the beginning but who performed well throughout. Anyone can learn what they need to know to do this. You don’t need an expensive new scooter. You can find the time, save the money, make it happen. Some experienced Cannonballers say that the hardest part is getting to the start. Depending on your disposition and personal circumstances, this is mostly be a matter of will and discipline.
But it’s not for everyone. Some will try and fail. Some probably have no business trying to begin with. How to know who falls into which group? Maybe the more experienced Cannonballers have a better idea. Ask at scootercannonball.com.
The questions I rarely heard but was more eager to answer: “What did you see?” “How did it affect you?” “Would you do it again?” and “How freakin’ cute are those bears?”
While we weren’t the first people to see and experience everything the 2014 Scooter Cannonball Run had in store for us, I’m willing to bet that few have experienced them the way we did.
Riding small, relatively light machines and sticking to the less-travelled roads provides a deeper connection with your surroundings, even in sub-freezing temperatures.
Following the land — from mountains to plains to mountains — gives a stronger sense of the dynamic topography and variety of the world than visiting these places separately, over a longer period of time.
Visiting places in a way that fosters curiosity and questions is a great way to meet and interact with the locals.
And to challenge and push yourself every day — as a person, as a rider, as a Cannonballer — can be one of the most rewarding things any of us do in life. This isn’t the sort of introspection or feel-good attitude encouraged by platitudes on inspirational posters and memes. This is visceral and real, physical, mental and emotional. I only hope that when the aches and pains have faded away, when the images and memories are no longer fresh in my mind, that this is the feeling that persists.