Across the Finish Line

That was a beautiful ride through the Columbia River Gorge. Twisty roads lead us out from The Dalles. We crossed metal-grated bridges over the river several times and ended with the familiar comfort of deep green forests at the Skamania Lodge. (side note…I gave a lecture here at a Neurology meeting some 20+ years ago!).

Blue Bird sang sweetly all the way across America and we were part of a group that received “perfect miles” medals. And to have the top finishers represent Harley Davidson, Indian, Henderson, Norton and Triumph manufacturers is outstanding.

To finish the Cannonball endurance run, you need a good bike and good people. We had both including the support and camaraderie of the 4th Coast Fours team (thanks Mark, Tanner, Loring and Kevin). My greatest thanks go to riding partner Vern Acres, van driver and caretaker to all, Shelley Acres and especially to Nancy for always supporting these crazy passions. Here we are at the finish grounds:

Now…let’s start planning for the next Cannonball in 2020!

Onion Skin Drifts?

It was not supposed to be this hard or this crazy. Stage 15 was to be 303 miles through the rolling hills of Eastern Washington. Well yes, that part was true but the headwinds were brutal. These under-powered cycles had to work extra hard to get through that constant roaring and pressure. On some stretches, it came more as a side wind in which case the bike was on a constant angle of lean. The only solution for me was to tuck into a racers crouch. This is the view:

The winds caused all sorts of ruckus including drifts of onion skins and hundreds of bruised onions rolling on the shoulders of the two lane road. Some riders adopted an attitude and this one is clear:

The route had one stretch of 120 between fuel stops. With the strong headwinds, I had to stop and use my spare gas bag with a gallon to top up the tank just to make it to The Dalles. This is along the Columbia River near the Chateau St. Michelle winery:

Boots are now tired…Stage 16 has only 51 miles to reach the grand finish at Skamania Lodge; then the boots can rest.


Almost Home

We have a long day of 303 miles today….on to The Dalles in Oregon. The 4:30 am alarm clock gives just enough time to get Blue Bird ready for the 7:15 am start. We had a great ride yesterday through the valley by the Montana/Washington border (Route 200 and the Noxon reservoir) – smooth highways, grand vistas and sweet running little motor. I have no time to add much today so please see the AMCA update describing Stage 13 events and Class standings.

Why We Ride

On the short list of places for riders and bikes…the special roads that make you say “yes, that is why we ride”, the Going to the Sun Road is one of top three. When we set out in the morning, Jason Sims informed the riders that the road was finally open (after the severe fires) but that there was an alternate, easier route available with an 11 mile/point penalty. No thanks…we said “let’s go”. So we bundled up with the “live long and proser” gloves:

Somehow, the forces of the universe aligned, the sun came out as we went through the Teton Valley and the mountains beckoned. As we headed toward Glacier National Park, Vern and I connected with Andrea Labarbara on her Class II single-speed Henderson and we formed a three bike train. Like  precision  speed skaters we swept through the virtually empty twisties on the route to the park. We were careful to avoid the free-range cattle on the roadside. Once in the park, the steady climb brought us to Logan Pass at 6600 feet (picture credit to AMCA site).

Wow. Shafts of sun and distant cloud bursts. Grizzly bear foraging in the brush not 30 yards from the bikes. Crystal clear mountain streams. Smooth road with spectacular sheer cliffs on either side. Linkert carb dialed in so the power delivery was smooth and the elevation caused no problems. This is why we ride. (The rain and hail at the bottom was not even enough to dampen spirits).

At the end of the day, it was great to visit with local bike enthusiasts (a shout out to the Montana Legends) and to do maintenance without having to do repairs. Stage 14 should be cold in the morning and then warm up as we get to Spokane, WA.

Cold, Wet and Hard Climbing

Some years ago we started taking longer, more adventurous sailing trips on our sailboat Little Wing. The mantra for sailing couple marital bliss was “warm, safe and dry”. Yesterday was the motorcycle challenge which was “cold, (potentially) dangerous and wet”.  It started out cold and got colder. We saw a low of 37 degrees so thank you Aerostitch for the fine riding gear.  And while it did not pour rain, we did ride up into and through a cloud which seemed to surround everything with suspended precipitation. The riding however was beautiful with rock formations, dark evergreen forests and mountain creeks meandering beside the roadway. Here is a borrowed picture taken on a sunny day:

Elevation? Yes sir! King’s Hill has a long relatively steep climb to the summit of 7393 feet which is difficult for these old bikes. Most are not geared to pull that peak and most need considerable carburetor adjustment to be lean enough to keep running in the thinner air. I made some preliminary adjustments in the morning thinking I would do the usual tweak while riding if needed. Well, tweaks were needed but I had not taken into account that I couldn’t feel or turn the low and high speed jet needles with cold weather gloves on….and I wasn’t going to stop on that hill! Blue Bird accepted her mission and we slogged over the top in second gear at 34 mph.

The down hill run was a blast but this is where we were reminded of the potential dangers associated with riding antique motorcycles. My friend and fellow bike collector, Byrne Bramwell had stopped to get gas partway down the mountain and while going 30 mph on a smooth surface, felt the front of the bike lurch, wheel briefly lock, and had to use all of his prior motocross skills to keep it upright. The wheel was cocked at an odd angle and it was clear that so-called minor fork had broken. While heartbreaking for someone in contention for an overall win, Byrne will not be able to complete the race as this is not a simple repair and there are no Henderson dealers nearby (or anywhere). We are all grateful that he is safe and the bike ultimately fixable.

A really nice description of Stage 11 is also available here: The plan for Stage 12? Dress for even colder and wetter riding as we take on the Road toe the Sun in Glacier National Park,


Montana Made for Motorcycles

We had a good day of “rest” working on bike maintenance while at our FEMA-like lodging in the middle of a field. The view from above (where the original Sturgis hillclimb competition occurred) looks like this:

Montana is a delight…man-o-man are those spectacular views! We left SD with temps in the upper 40s…a bit chilly but a beautiful morning. The chaos of the starting line never gets old as the goal is to thread your way to a spot where you can ride your own race at your own pace away from the crowds. We settled into a groove and the three Henderson’s were resonating with pulsations in and out of sonic phase.

Today had a couple of surprises….the Garmin odometer suddenly shut off and then restarted. Not trivial, as all the route instructions require accurate knowledge about how many miles have been covered at all points. You snicker…OK, O’Brien, just do the math! Yes, but subtracting 59.3 miles from the route instructions repeatedly makes my brain hurt. The solution? Ride side by side with Vern and when his odometer hit 100 miles exactly, reset the odometer on Blue Bird. At least know the last two digits should match.

Second challenge: another tapered pin came out, this time from the spot where the shift arm locates on the shaft going into the transmission. Result…unable to find any gears or neutral. Another roadside rescue with Allen wrench, safety wire and friction tape.

There were some really nice twisting roads coming down from the hills outside Billings, Montana with blue sky, sunshine, temp in the 70s and a great reception at the Harley Davidson dealer. This is why we ride. Not all participants were so lucky as the Grim Sweeper collected quite a few bikes including the number one position 1911 Excelsior single speed. What is astounding is the some 54 bikes/riders still have perfect scores having completed each Stage within the allotted time.

Cold, rain and steep mountain roads to 7000+ feet will really test endurance over the next two days as we go into Western Montana and Idaho. Thanks for the support.

Headwinds, Badlands and Black Hills

What a day, 290 miles from Pierre, SD to Sturgis, SD via the Badlands and Mount Rushmore. Getting the bikes out and ready before morning light while looking for more coffee…the 7:30 am start time for Class III riders was early.

We were pleased about the weather forecast showing sunshine and in the 70s. What was not obvious – until we were well underway, was the battle against headwinds. These antique bikes already struggle mightily when taking on hills while gaining elevation but to add strong headwinds means a a real struggle getting to the top. My strategy was to gain momentum going downhill, tuck into a racer’s crouch going uphill while trying to maintain speed in the 45-52 mph range. Three small carburetor adjustments where needed by the time we reached an altitude of 5700 feet. What a relief it was to get to the stunningly beautiful Badlands National Park.

Stopping briefly to check oil, I found the clutch pedal resting on the floorboard…no clutch available? No problem. Pushing the hand shift into neutral prevented stalling. The tapered pin which holds the clutch pedal into it’s shaft was obviously missing. What to do on the roadside? Dig into the tool roll and see what might work. Solution = Allen wrench and safety wire:

The ride past Mount Rushmore gave us great curving roads through the timbers and rock formations. We cruised through Deadwood, SD and into Sturgis for a great reception, beer and dinner. Lot’s of interesting people came to look at bikes and chat including one sweetheart who may become tomorrow’s vintage bike rider.

While bearded bikers are common, it is not every day you see this kind of bearded in Sturgis.

Off now to do the day’s bike maintenance, rest and hang with Nancy and fellow riders. Billings, MT is the next goal for Tuesday.

Half Way Across

Now is when it starts to get confusing…what day is it? Where are we? What time zone? Fortunately when you are on the bike, pacing yourself for the long day, the route instructions become the structure as miles are clicked off. Stage 8 started early but was a beautiful morning through southern Minnesota. This was a typical view with Vern in front (74 cubic inch engine vs my 58 cubic inch machine):

The expected misery of heat, bad roads and excessive distance failed to materialize…it was a nice ride and I could have kept going even after 314 miles! You know you are getting bored when the anticipation of reaching a stop sign in 10 miles seems pretty good. We maintained a steady 50-53 mph, had a frozen fruit bar for lunch at one of several gas stops and got to the finish line early. There was even a little cooling breeze from the Mighty Missouri River to welcome us to Pierre, SD.

Not all riders faired well…the ever persistent Yoshi and Shinya  suffered a flat with the front clincher tire. Yoshi and bike went down and he required some wound care…but I saw them working on the bike at 10:30 pm last night!

Another night of not enough sleep for me and then a long ride tomorrow. We passed the half way point yesterday and will have a day of rest in Sturgis, South Dakota tomorrow.

Straight Road to Spirit Lake

It seemed like one long country road. Straight? For 30 miles at a time? No turns? Yes sir. And it was hot with a strong cross wind…especially when the oncoming semi-trailers come by at 60 mph. We had to tuck in tight or the furnace-like buffeting would really hit hard.

The morning started out early but nice with a glow in the air and long shadows across the corn fields. As we got going, I looked down and saw the Spirit of Alan Bedell riding with me:

Group chaos is typical as the bikes eagerly leave the starting line but then they sort themselves out into smaller riding clusters and the riders focus on racking up miles. For many, the scheduled lunch stop can be perfectly timed – as Doug Jones found out today. We were following him into Mason City and noticed a soft-looking rear tire. Flat repair is somewhat easier in a motorcycle dealer service area as compared to the side of a no-shoulder highway.

The heat built into the 90s during the afternoon and most Cannonballer’s were happy to finish at the Indian Motorcycle factory in Spirit Lake, Iowa. We got the tour, got to visit with friends and cool down. Of course, the call of the nightly ritual could not be avoided.

Tomorrow promises to be a tough day….314 miles to travel with the temperature in the mid to upper 90s. The ride into to South Dakota starts early with bike up and ready to go at 6:30 am.

Pressed for Time

It was a late night fixing broken exhaust, completing nightly chores, eating a quick dinner and then going for some much needed some sleep. For a great description of yesterday’s events, please see the excellent summary and photos at We are still OK having completed all of Stage 6 miles. Note that 5 of the top 12 bikes are Henderson’s at this point. Most impressive? Single cylinder, belt drive 1911 Excelsior!

The alarm went off this morning at 4:30 am…I type these words while having coffee then out to get bike ready. Our route instructions should be available at 6:45 am. We are off to Spirit Lake, Iowa today with planned stop in the Indian Motorcycle factory. More photos and news when there is adequate time….