Scooter Cannonball Run: Day 7

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 I am #98, riding a 1987 Honda Helix CN250. For more information, see Earlier and forthcoming Cannonball posts can be found here.

Scooter Cannonball Run, Day 7: Dillon, CO to Ulysses, KS; 367 miles

Leaned against the wind in Kansas

Leaned against the wind in Kansas

It should have been one of the easiest days of this year’s Cannonball. One last mountain pass —a cinch compared to what we’d already done — then a descent into the plains of southeast Colorado. From there, it was flat and straight, east and south and east, making our way across Kansas. Those plains had something else in store for us.

The cold and rain the previous night had left us in an unexpected situation. The roads, and our scooters, were coated in ice when we awoke. I spent a half hour in the morning just lazing in bed, a welcome break from the daily routine. The day was sunny and soon the roads were clear. We knew there was a chance of ice at the upper elevations, but figured most of it would have thawed by the time we reached the highest point of the Cannonball, more than 11,000 feet. We decided to leave, but were aware of the possibility of ice in the shaded areas, overpasses and black ice on the road.

A friend and I left Lake Dillon at 8am, heading out through Frisco and Breckenridge. As we entered Hoosier Pass, I started seeing cars come down with inches of snow on their hoods.

We did, indeed, encounter patches of ice and slush on the way up and over. We rode slowly, cautiously, up to the peak and on the far side found nothing but sunshine, dry roads and traffic. As we made our way down, I lamented that I wouldn’t see mountains or ride sharp curves again until back in California.

Slow going over ice and slush in Hoosier Pass

Slow going over ice and slush in Hoosier Pass

In fact, as we continued winding down from mountains to prairies, I became a bit melancholy. There were only a few days of Cannonball left. In less than a week, we’d all say goodbye and I’d go from sitting on the Helix, gazing at the road ahead to sitting at my desk, staring at the computer. I found myself wishing that the road would just keep stretching out in front of us, an infinite blacktop cutting through an ever-changing landscape.

Pueblo, CO was the largest city we’d been through in over a week and I couldn’t help thinking, after all we’d seen, that human civilization could do better than this and the hundreds of similar cities across the US. The shopping strips, chain restaurants and urban detritus are such an ubiquitous part of everyday life that I’d forgotten how garish it all is until spending a week away from it.

The winds picked up as the horizon flattened and we approached the Kansas state line. Once across, we were hammered by 52mph gusts from the north. The wind was constant and relentless, pushing against us for hours and hundreds of miles.

Unlike the prairies of Montana and Wyoming, there were no hills, trees or other features to hinder the gale. Looking up the road, I could see other scooters, all leaned 5-to-15 degrees to the left. It was exhausting. Unlike challenging terrain, rain and ice, there was no way to ride it out, no hope that it would end.

The only break we got was when a semi truck would pass going westward. The wind would let up for a moment, then we’d get hit with the one-two punch of the truck’s wake and the wind smacking us again, like an invisible 8-foot hand.

In addition, the further we got into populated areas, the more complex the routes became. Because Kansas is essentially a grid, we stair-stepped our way diagonally to the south and east. Highways would become streets with names in small towns then turn into highways again. The numbering would overlap in parts and was difficult to keep straight.

Separated from my friends, I hunkered down through the winds, navigating to the checkpoints. Soon, I was convinced I’d somehow strayed off course and decided to pull over to check my routes against Google and other maps.

And this is how I crashed. I pulled over onto the shoulder, hit gravel, and slid out. Not blazing down twisties, ice, rain, dirt roads or any similar conditions we’d encountered in the past week, but something I’ve done hundreds of times. When giving pre-ride instructions when I lead a ride for or local scooter group, I always warn against this very thing.

I may have become too comfortable in the saddle after a week of solid riding. I may have been fatigued. My rear tire, I later discovered, may have been very soft and lost traction. Whatever the cause, no one to blame but myself.

The Helix slid several feet and I rolled off towards the grass. I quickly did a physical inventory: head and neck okay, could move fingers and toes, breathing okay, no severe pains. Then I slowly pushed myself up. Sore, but not bad. My gear had done its job, though some of it was trashed in the process (see below).

By the time a friend caught up to me (she’d had trouble with the route as well), I was ready to get riding again.

Total damages, Helix: Cracked windshield, cracked front plastics, broken plastic on right side, dinged-up mirror and brake lever, right front turn signal lens broken.

Total damages, gear: Icon 1000 Rimfire glove wore a hole at one cuff, FirstGear TPG pants shredded on right leg right down to kevlar, Rev’it Horizon jacket has some scuffs, toe of Danner boots has cracked leather, small hole in my Osprey Syncro hydration pack.

Total damages, me: Abrasions on left hand (I already had my glove off when I went down), abrasion and bruising on left hip, sprained right ankle and sore right calf. Could have been much worse all things considered.

The winds were still blowing when we pulled in to the hotel in Ulysses, KS. Many of the scooters spent the night parked on the sidewalk, up close to the building, in hopes they wouldn’t blow over.

In the parking lot, I turned to my friend who had remarked that the previous day was awful (while I said it “was great!”) and said, “Okay. Today… today sucked.”

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