Sep 17, 2014

Cannonball 9/17: A Different Kind of Beauty

Cannonball map

Elko, NV—Colorado’s mountains. Utah’s canyons. It's hard to match the last two days of the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run. But today's 298-mile ride from Springville, Utah, to Elko, Nevada, featured its own, almost otherworldly beauty.

We've left behind the high peaks and the red rocks. And now we're crossing a landscape built on a larger-than-life scale.

The day began with some city riding as we passed through the southern fringes of the Salt Lake City region. But from there, things got remote in a hurry.

The view from the rear view mirror.This is a land of sweeping basins bounded by raw, unforested mountains. But it's the scale that gets you. You climb over a rise and see a massive valley spreading out before you. You try to judge the distance to the ridge of mountains on the other side. Is it five miles? Ten? 15?

You start the downhill trip into the valley, feeling as small and insignificant as a fly working its way across a mixing bowl. A half-hour later, it strikes you‚ you'll still crossing the same valley, and the other side doesn't seem much closer. Eventually, you climb the far side of the basin, crawl to the top of the ridge and start all over again with a new valley.

Bonneville Slat Flats.The process was interrupted only for a major highlight of the day‚ visit to the Bonneville Salt Flats, where cars, motorcycles and exotic derivations of both have been setting speed records for a full century. Famed motorcycle photographer Michael Lichter had scheduled a panoramic shot of Cannonball riders to take place at midday, giving everyone a chance to experience the salt for themselves.

The visit to one of America's temples of speed was certainly a highlight, although the trip to and from it may have been less memorable. In this part of the country, roads can be far and far between. And if the Bonneville Salt Flats are on your itinerary, you have only one choice: Interstate 80. So the riders spent a fair amount of today on the four-lane, where the speed limit in Nevada is 75, and in Utah it's an even 80.

Many of the riders expressed concern about the compatibility issues of taking bikes that are capable of only 45 or 55 mph on flat ground over routes where other traffic may be moving 30 or 40 mph faster. And they suggested that the abuse of sustained highway travel could destroy some of these old machines.

Surprisingly, though, we came in with only three Cannonball bikes on the sweep truck's trailer. And even counting the two we handed off to support teams at the Bonneville stop, that's still one of the lowest hauls we'd had for the entire 12-day (so far) ride.

Those who wanted their roads a little more rustic had to be careful about what they wished for when they reached a long construction zone on the two-lane route known as the Mormon Trail. Crews here weren't just repaving the stretch, they had dug it out completely in preparation for laying down a whole new roadbed.

The result was essentially a rutted dirt road that lasted for miles. And while it may have seemed cruel to subject these pre-1937 machines to such harsh conditions, the truth is that every one of the bikes in the ride was developed with exactly these conditions in mind.

Hans CoertseThe biggest news in the Cannonball scoring for the day was something that didn't happen. Hans Coertse of South Africa, who has held first place in the standings since the ride began in Daytona Beach, Florida, 12 days ago, almost lost that lead this afternoon, when his No. 35 1924 Indian Scout jammed in third gear in the final miles heading toward the finish at 5th Gear Powersports here in Elko. Coertse was able to nurse the bike to the finish within his time limit, so he remains on a perfect score, now totaling 3,012 miles. If the damage had happened earlier in the day, he likely would have dropped out of the list of riders on the perfect points list.

Tonight, Hans and his brother, Piet, with help from Cannonball veteran Joe Gimpel, were able to tear into the machine in the service area of 5th Gear Powersports and fix the problem. That means Hans is expected to have a fully functioning machine for tomorrow's 257-mile stage from Elko to Meridian, Idaho.

The other news is that the ranks of riders with perfect scores shrank to 28, mostly as a result of 100-point penalties assessed against five riders for leaving tonight's dinner stop before the allowed time. The rider affected most by that penalty was Frank Westfall, who had been holding down second place in Class II, for 700cc to 1,000cc bikes, and seventh place in the overall standings.

Finally, the struggle of Buck Carson, the youngest rider in the Cannonball and Youth Coordinator of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America, to remain in the Cannonball ended this evening.

Buck's No. 3 1936 Harley RL had given him problems from the fourth day of the ride, when he holed a piston. Unwilling to give up, Buck engaged in the unique Cannonball tradition of shopping the parking lot, talking to other riders at the hotel each evening to gather the parts he needed to rebuild the bike. He assembled cylinders and pistons from Doug Feinsod, but had to wait days to find an intake manifold that would fit. Then he discovered that the new cylinders would not work with his existing heads.

Buck learned, though, that Spanish rider Eduardo Corcoles had a set of heads from his 1930 Harley D model that had dropped out of the competition. And using those heads, Buck got back on the road, fighting his way through five more days of riding. Today, unfortunately, his pieced-together motor broke a connecting rod at the 125-mile mark. And it appears there aren't enough parts for the rare 45-cubic-inch engine to allow another rebuild.

With more than 3,000 miles complete, the Cannonball is headed into its home stretch. And five Class I (under 700cc) machines remain at the top of the standings, thanks to the Cannonball's tiebreaker system that rewards smaller, older machines over newer, bigger motorcycles. Can those riders hold on to claim the first Class I overall victory in Cannonball history? It seems more and more likely.

Meanwhile, if you live near Meridian, Idaho, you can see and cheer on the Cannonball riders starting at about 4:30 p.m. at High Desert Harley-Davidson. We hope to see you there.—Bill Wood

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