Cannonball Dreaming….becomes a reality!
Previously I have discussed my dreams to do the Cannonball Run event. Careful what you dream about as it may become a reality. I was thrilled after completing my application (and sending in the fee), I was selected to participate (1 of 123) in the 2018 Cannonball Run. Words cannot describe the elation when I read the email. The pressure was now on to complete my restoration and get 500 miles on my 1911 Excelsior (EX) before the actual event.
I continued to work nightly and every weekend to do something on the EX. My crew was all set; Dan Rognsvoog, Brent Thompson, and Dennis Worthy. We met a few times to work out the supplies we would need to bring along and who would be responsible for what. All good! Then we received some devastating news that Dennis would not be able to come along due to serious health issues. I picked up an enclosed trailer and with the help of a great friend, transformed the trailer into a portable workshop.
On September 2 the three of us met at my place to load up the trailer and EX for the ride to Portland, Maine. Brent was all set to leave and picked up a hitchhiker (Morgan Williams) at the last minute to keep him company on the two-day trip to Maine. Worked out perfect. Dan and I chose to hop on a plane and fly out due to maximizing our available vacation days. We all met up in Portland on September 4th to begin preparations for the big event the next day. On the 5th we set up out “workshop” in the parking lot and met with a lot of the other riders and teams. We fired up the EX and drove around the parking lot to get in the spirit. The excitement was building knowing we MUST be all set! Things are as good as they can be at this point.
On September 6th we had the option of going on a 19-mile “practice run” using the paper scroll route sheet and navigating Portland. This would allow us to get used to using this navigation system before the event. I gladly took advantage of this and set off on my little practice run around town. The pressure was on, and I had to be able to use this system perfectly to ensure there were no hiccups. All was going smooth, but I was noticing a “grabby” brake. At one point the brake did lock up but released quickly. This was concerning to me. As I completed the practice course, and was turning into the hotel, the brakes locked up solid as I skidded to a stop. They did not release, and we had to lift the wheel and push the bike to our parking lot shop.
We triple-teamed the bike and quickly had the wheel and brake assembly out and saw the damage to the brake “shoe” (a brass cylinder drum inside the rear hub). It was heavily damaged and distorted. We did not have a spare. Any the official event was starting the next day. YIKES! I called my Muscleman brake expert in California and he was able to ship one out next day air so we could install on the morning of the 7th so I would be able to participate in the required 10-mile Prologue ride. This ride went off perfect and we all had a chance to mingle with the public and line up for a group photo. An excellent experience. On the morning of the 8th the official roster was posted and we were in first place! Tie breaking rules rankings start with single cylinder bikes, then age of the singles. So with my 1911 (oldest in the run) and being a single I was in first place.
The morning of the 8th was the start of the “Stages”; 15 in all (not including the Prologue and Grand Finale). Varying in mileage from 51 to 313, averaging 240 per day. The goal is “to get all the miles”. This was the greeting by all riders at the end of the day, or in the parking lot later that night. Getting all the miles meant you accomplished riding (or pushing and/or pedaling) your machine on the exact route within the allotted time. If you did you received an ACE sticker the following morning as you picked up the day’s new route scroll sheet.
Each morning followed a similar schedule: Up at 5am, pack up all belongings in the room, unplug all items being charged (batteries, lights, and the Garmin odometer/speedometer), and meet the crew at the bike. Roll the bike out and do an inspection consisting of: air pressures, top off oil and gas, check tool kit for all items, hook up battery and all lights, set up the Garmin, and load up jacket with quick access items (beef jerkey, trail mix, and oil change kit). We then waited to pick up route sheet (limited to no sooner than 45 minutes before official departure time). Once we received the route sheet we rolled into the holder and I glanced the first several turns to ensure I had a good understanding on the initial route to get out of town. Also to check for distances between gas stops to see if I needed to carry extra fuel. Then Single cylinder bikes were off first, riding into the pre-dawn hours several days. This was my favorite part of the day. Solitude as the few single machines were spaced out and you were riding alone; loved that part.
Gas stops were a learning experience. At each gas stop I topped off the tank, which was challenging due to the small hole in the tank. Had to literally “drip” the fuel in as anything more of a flow caused gas to run everywhere. Next roll the bike to an area to drain the oil from the crankcase and the venting canister, and inject two ounces of fresh oil into crankcase. Run to restroom, and grab a water, and get back on the road as soon as possible. I was always under “pressure” to hurry up and go because I had one of the slowest machines on the Run and time was of the essence.
At the end of each day we also fell into a nice routine: remove rear wheel, and all hub contents (bearings and brake components), replace front pulley leather lagging, examine drive belt and replace if necessary, oil all moving linkages, check tightness of all fasteners, and a final oil change.
The last day of riding was the Grand Finale (51 miles) where we all arrived at the Skamania Lodge greeted by hundreds of friends and family. I was literally crying as I rode in seeing all the people and understanding what I had just accomplished; riding coast to coast on a 1911 machine with 4 horsepower, atmospheric intake, leather drive belt, and little to no brake. Words cannot describe this adequately.
When it was all said and done, I was the proud recipient of the first 10 ACE stickers meaning I was in first place for the first 10 days of the run. I also received an ACE for stage 11 and the Grand Finale. Total official mileage on my EX was 2857 for the Run. And yes, I am planning on a repeat in 2020.
The next installment I will tell some stories of each stage.