Scooter Cannonball Run: Days 4 & 5

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.


Whether “in it to win it” or just to make it to the finish, there’s a strategic element to riding Cannonball. What time you leave, where you plan your gas stops, whether you’ve arranged for a support truck, what you eat and when, when and how much you sleep, when to do maintenance, change tires, whether to crack open your carburetor or transmission, etc. All of these things affect not just your times when riding but how your day goes, your energy and alertness (important for navigating and identifying checkpoints and turns), whether you’ll make it to the finish at all.

Most Cannonball riders, by now, have established a daily routine. Mine was inherited, somewhat, from friends who are Cannonball vets. I’m up by 5–5:30am. I eat a little something, but avoid coffee or anything likely to result in a bathroom stop during the ride. At 7:00am, there’s a brief rider meeting to cover any questions regarding the route or conditions. By 7:10, I’m on the road. We ride about 350 miles per day, but the time involved depends on terrain, traffic, weather and other conditions. Generally, around 6.5 hours give or take half an hour or so for me. There are as few stops as possible, executed as fast as possible. Morning coffee is three caffeine mints. Lunch is an energy bar, scarfed while riding. We arrive at the destination, have a snack and usually have time to take care of anything else that needs to be done — maintenance, runs to the store, blogging, rest. We’ll usually have dinner. We’re in bed before 11pm. The one night I stayed up past 12:30, I regretted it the next day.

Of course, this varies quite a bit. Many get a later start after enjoying a leisurely breakfast. Some get out earlier, hoping to avoid traffic. (I may do this once we get into hotter climates.) Those who are less involved in the competitive aspect may actually stop for lunch or coffee.

I haven’t needed a pee stop in five days by trying to stay hydrated but not drinking too much from my pack. This has backfired on some in the past who have suffered dehydration or kidney infection from either holding it or not drinking enough. Hoping to avoid both.

Very early on, a sage veteran told me that we all ride our own Cannonball. Though I started riding in a small group of friends, over the days we’ve spread apart and tomorrow may be riding separately. In the end, we have no one but ourselves to rely on for navigating and riding, the condition of our scooters, making it to the end of the day and to New Orleans.

Yet I’ve witnessed several acts of generosity and camaraderie while on the Run. In the past, I’d heard about various hostilities, conflicts, accusations of snobbery or exclusion — all things that made me skeptical about participating. There may be a touch of that but for the most part, the atmosphere between riders is genial and with some exceptions we do what we can to help each other out, lending tools and parts and advice or suggestions when needed. The competition, however fierce, doesn’t trump the fact that this experience binds us more than it pits us against each other.

Scooter Cannonball Run, Day 4: Fernie, BC to Helena, MT; 356 miles

Scooter Cannonball Run, Day 5: Helena, MT to Pinedale, WY; 355 miles

Days 3 and 4 took their toll on many scooters. The motel parking lots became the of the legendary Cannonball maintenance and repair sessions. As many as half the participants changed tires, swapped transmission parts, chased electrical gremlins. Parts were overnighted to the hotels to complete some repairs. Not everything can be anticipated, which is part of the challenge.

This left a number of riders exhausted the following days or uncertain about the reliability of their scooters.

The Day 4 route wound south, taking us back into the United States (and, to our joy, domestic cellular data plans). There was a slow ascent through the Crowsnest Pass, zig-zagging our way past small towns and farms, up to the U.S. border and Glacier National Park.

Cold was a big factor again, something many of weren’t prepared for. It’s difficult to piece together forecasts for the whole route, particilarly since much of it is in between towns. I didn’t layer up and heavily as they day before but should have known better. Feeling comfy and warm in the parking lot before the ride is a poor measure of what we’ll experience at 70mph with winds at higher elevations. There was also a chance of rain in Helena.

Heading to Montana

Heading to Montana

As we neared the border, the geography began transmute from the rigid architectural mountains of British Columbia and Alberta to the soft hills and plains of northern Montana. The border itself was deep in a forest — with a good deal of snow still on the ground — near the apex of the day’s elevation, around 6,000 ft. I had to stop after crossing back onto American soil to add layers — more time lost. Fortunately, once we were down and headed into Helena, skies were clear and the sun warm.

Day 5 was a slow climb towards the jagged peaks of the Tetons, winding our way closer and closer. We could see them in the distance for much of the first half of the day, and anticipation built as we neared. We skirted the western edge of Yellowstone and across the northeast corner of Idaho. We then entered Wyoming and began our way up the Teton Pass and our highest elevation so far, 8500 ft.

I was a bit concerned about the Helix. At 7500 feet or so, carbureted (as opposed to fuel-injected) engines tend to become bogged down as the air becomes thinner, running slower and struggling uphill. Fortunately, the climb, though steep, was relatively short and the scooter handled it as well as any of its peers, topping out at about 35mph on the steepest parts — no slower than the cars making the drive up.

And back to the cold

And back to the cold

The Tetons were a sight to behold and a joy to ride. Once over the crest, we were treated to our third day of great downhill twisties that I was able to take at significant speed. Back in Jasper, a chatty young lady had asked me if my job was “my passion.” I have a lot of passions, and this kind of technical riding is high among them.

A taller, sportier bike may have been more fun for some of the sections, but overall the Helix has proven a good choice — so far. There are some very solid scooters on this ride that are needing much more maintenance. With the speeds and handling I’m getting on the twisty sections, I really can’t complain. Pushing any further would be reckless.

As is, there are a few drivers between Pinedale and Canada still cursing the guy on the grey Honda who rides like he’s still in Los Angeles.

Some significant milestones passed: We topped 1,000 miles, the most I’ve ever ridden in such a short period. I rode in three states in one day. And on Day 5, I started getting sore and could sense the creeping fatigue.

Day 6 brings another mountain climb and descent, a dirt section, another possibility of rain and our longest day yet, 380 miles. Planning to get out and on the road by 6:30.

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