Scooter Cannonball Run: Day 6

The 2014 Scooter Cannonball Run (aka CBR) is a 10-day endurance ride from Hyder, Alaska to New Orleans, LA. You can follow the riders’ progress on followride.com. 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 Day 6: Pinedale, WY to Dillon, CO; 380 miles

It’s 9:30 am on a chilly Sunday morning and I’m riding down a red dirt road just south of the Wyoming/Colorado border. I haven’t seen another vehicle in almost an hour. A smattering of raindrops lands on my windshield, so I’m riding fast as possible on the Helix, hoping to make it through all 22 miles of dirt before the rain comes and turns it to mud. My fuel gauge is in the red; no idea where the next gas station might be. I tear down a slope and corner hard into a narrow canyon where winds seem to come from every direction, battering me and the scooter. And I think, “This is it. this is the Cannonball I signed up for.”

Day 6 proved to be the most difficult so far, fatigue notwithstanding. We were racing against time, against the map, against the weather. We knew there was a forecast of rains in Colorado, but planning for the weather has proven difficult. No forecast is 100% accurate and it’s hard to find them for the long stretches between towns.

Due to possible rain, we got an early start and were on the road at 6:30am. I’d neglected to get gas the night before and decided to take a risk and not stop on my way out of town. I didn’t want to lose any advantage from our early departure. If needed, I had one gallon in a spare Rotopax gas can.

The roads out of Pinedale were flat and straight. I was feeling a bit restless and, frankly, bored. It was a struggle to stay focused on my riding, even on such easy roads — I know well that this is when it’s easy to make mistakes. I became so focused on paying attention that I neglected to watch the GPS and missed a checkpoint by five miles, meaning I had to backtrack to hit it and track my time.

The small highway moved farther from populated areas, disappearing into the horizon until surroundings became desert-like. There was no traffic in sight. Eventually, I was riding alongside several mesas and rock formations. The ride began to feel like a trip to a post-apocalyptic world devoid of life, where roads and signs remained. My energy level perked up; I knew I’d be off straight, flat roads soon.

At the Colorado state line, the highway turned into a packed dirt county road. The sky was greying, the winds blowing a bit colder. I was blazing over the dirt, which was the easiest unpaved surface we’d ridden yet. There were some nice curves, which the Helix took well at speed, then a series of sharper corners as I entered Irish Canyon.

More dirt!

More dirt, and rain on the way.

By the time I emerged from the canyon, my gas situation was becoming dire. I reached the turn, back onto a paved highway, and rode until the tank was almost dry.

It wasn’t until I pulled over that I remembered that my spare tank was less than full. It had leaked quite a bit in the Helix truck due to a cheap spout I’d purchased in Canada, thinking it would save me time. I used what I had but once going again, the gauge showed less than half a tank. I scanned the horizon for signs of a town. When I got to a gas station in Maybell, my tank was almost dry again.

My mood was quite good, though. Over the preceding days, I’d learned to trust my scooter, my GPS (which would later betray me), my friends and support team. At worst, I’d have been stranded for a few hours and would have lost time.

Emergency fuel stop

Emergency fuel stop

With the amount of mileage we cover through such varied topography, the scenery seems dynamic, almost animated, as if it rises and descends around and beneath us as we ride. Soon, I was in the American Rocky Mountains, climbing in elevation once again.

I spotted two friends at the side of Highway 40 up ahead. One pulled back out onto the highway before I reached them and the other, who’d had transmission issues the day before, waved me on. I caught up to my friend before Steamboat Springs and we rode through the town together.

It was a fortunate coincidence that we reunited at that point, because I was happy to have company once we reached Rabbit Ears Pass. The sky opened up and the rain began in earnest — cold, hard rain. We were once again fighting cold; temperatures dropped to the 30s.

Cold, windy and wet

Cold, windy and wet (yet a great challenge)

 

Like many mountain passes, Rabbit Ears is a steep, winding climb followed by a rapid, twisty descent. On the way up, the rain was falling so hard that the right lane of the highway became a steady stream of water. We again rose over a snowline and I became worried about the possibility of snow and a freeze — in June.

As pretty as the Pass is, we concentrated on our riding and trying to keep warm. I’d only brought mid-weight leather gloves and silk liners. It was a constant struggle to keep my hands from going numb. At the peak, 9500 ft. elevation, we were hit with gusts of wind as well. My riding gear was holding up and keeping the water out, but the cold was seeping in.

On the far side, we made our way down and the rain let up. The ride into Lake Dillon, the day’s destination, was chilly but bearable.

We were lucky. Less than an hour after we rode through the Pass, it was shrouded in dense fog. Soon after, wet, icy snow began to fall. Many of the riders on slower scoots or who left later were pelted with it. Windshields were encased in ice; riders were meat popsicles. It was an exhausting and difficult passage.

At the hotel, I pulled my helmet off and proclaimed, “That was great!”
My companion leveled her eyes at me and replied, “That sucked! What part of that was great?”
“The whole thing. We’re here to be challenged, right?”

My attitude would change on Day 7, which indeed sucked, and not just because I crashed.

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