The reason for the trip has arrived!
When the idea for The Real Cannonball got cooked up way back when, in that motel conference room in Brawley, California, it looked so far out in the future that race day would never actually get here. Well, the day has finally arrived.
I had set the alarm on my cellphone but was so worried about sleeping through it or not hearing it, that I catnapped all night rather than actually getting any real sleep. I had the cellphone alarm set for 4am but was wide awake around 3am. I'd packed up all my gear Friday night so all I had to do was load up the Helix and get going. As I'm not carrying a bunch of electronic GPS gear, I'd studied MapQuest to try to memorize the route I needed to take to get to the Red Ball Garage.
Leaving the Red Bull Inn, I turn left on Hwy 22, merge left onto 287 and turn left again as I get to I-78. I'm on I-78 for around 30 miles, till I reach Highways 1 & 9. If I hadn't turned on 1 & 9, I would have gotten on the Jersey Turnpike with it's assorted tolls and tollbooths. Some people in the race had purchased an E-Z Pass thingy that they then tied to a credit card so they would be able to not have to stop to pay the tolls. In my research into trying to not pay tolls, I saw that by going my way, I'd only have to pay the $12 toll for the Holland Tunnel and you only pay that toll on your way into the city, there's no toll on the way out of the city. I guess that's for evacuation purposes.
As it seems like I the only person stupid enough to be up at this ungodly hour in the morning, the ride to the city goes much quicker than I expected. After exiting the Holland Tunnel, I head up town. I got a bit confused as I remember the address of the Red Ball Garage as being on 1st. As 1st is a one-way street that goes north, I have to ride around a few blocks because I think I've missed it. The next time around, I see that there in no #142 on 1st Ave. Good thing I took notes. I pull over and check, only to find out that the Red Ball Garage isn't on 1st as I thought but on 31st St. Well, I had half the number right, do I get partial credit?
I zoom off up 1st Ave, me and what seems like 5000 cabs. I can't help wonder why are there so many cabs on the street at 4:30 in the morning. I know that New York never sleeps but how many people are hailing cabs at this hour in the morning.
Before I know it, I'm at 31st Street. I turn left and quickly find the Red Ball Garage. Nobody else is there. I manage to park, probably illegally, at some crazy angle, in front of a car who I hope doesn't want to leave before 7am start of the race.
Alan had posted on Friday night that he'd like to have all the participants there by 6am. As I'm way early, as is my way, I head off, in the city that never sleeps, to find something for breakfast. About 1 1/2 blocks away, I find what looks like a fruit stand. In the back is a small grocery store with a deli. I order a chicken breast sandwich and get a gatorade to drink. As I don't want to get too far away from the scooter with all my stuff strapped to it, I take my sandwich and walk back to the Red Ball.
I know how everyone just loves pictures of food so here it is,
The Real Cannonball Breakfast of Champions, in front of the Red Ball Garage in New York City!
After breakfast, I just hang out in the area of 31st Street and 3rd Avenue.
As I'm standing there on the corner, it dawns on me that I might be in trouble. I'm standing on a street corner, in New York City, in leather chaps and a leather jacket. Hell, I look like one of the Village People! I might just get propositioned!
It's now after 6 and still nobody else has arrived. It looks like I might just be racing to California alone. Around 6:25, Alan arrives. A few minutes later, the Loopers, Bill, Debbie and Professor Hixson arrive. The Loopers, as they call themselves are from Ohio and are known for putting on the Lake Erie Loop race every year. It's a 650 mile, small cc motorcycle race around Lake Erie. If you're interested, you can look it up since that's about all I know about it. As a scooter racer, I don't think I'm eligible to run.
It's the usual greetings and introductions all around. Alan tells everyone to make sure to get the license stamped. A few pictures are taken. Final checks on scooters and motorcycles are done and people are getting ready to ride.
Side note.....Way back when, when this hair-brained idea took root, there were a number of people who said, "Hell yes, count me in!" As in most things, life jumped up and bit people in the ass. One entrant had cancer surgery and decided that they just weren't going to be able to do it. Another entrant sold her house and dropped out. A very brilliant scooter designer/builder/engineer lost a close family member and decided, at the last minute, not to race. An entrant from Florida was never heard from again. And there were several more entrants, all of whom got bit in the butt by life. So....that leaves two. Quite possibly, the two dumbest people left in the world!
At exactly 7am, everybody but me seems ready to go. They're all sitting on their rides, engines running. Then the Loopers, two on Ninja 250's and Prefessor Hixson on an Aprillia 50 with a 70cc kit. (Professor Hixson teaches at some college in Ohio and his ride is a college engineering class project. The students had done all the work, including getting sponsors to fund their race. Two of the students will follow in a van.)
As the Loopers ride west on 31st street, I walk back to where Alan is sitting on his scooter.
"Didn't you want to take some pictures?"
"No, we gotta go."
"Well, those guys are going through the Lincoln Tunnel and I want to go through the Holland Tunnel" I say, pointing to the Loopers as they disappear in the distance.
Excitedly, Alan says, "I want to go through the Lincoln Tunnel" and he zooms off behind Bill, Debbie and the Professor.
Here I am, standing in front of the Red Ball Garage by myself, wondering why everyone had to leave at exactly 7am. Doesn't anybody but me realize that this race is 3000 miles long? I don't think that leaving at exactly 7am or leaving at 7:05am is going to make a whole lot of difference 3000 miles from now. Oh well.....
I walk over to one of the Red Ball guys and ask the best way to get to the Holland Tunnel. He says to go straight across 31st, turn left on 7th and it'll run me right into the tunnel. Off I go.
I follow his directions. About halfway to the tunnel, I catch up to Bill and Debbie. So much for leaving at exactly 7am. I drop in behind them. I don't see Alan or the professor.
Exiting the tunnel, I retrace my steps to get me to I-78. As I swing to the left hand lane to pick up the Pulaski Highway (7 & 9), I hear Debbie as Bill, "Where's he going?" The light changes and I don't hear his answer.
On I-78, I head west. I hadn't gone very far when I see a rest area on the right. Hey, there's Bill and Debbie. Bill's adjusting, or fixing, something on Debbie's bike. I toot the horn several times and ride on. They would later catch up to me at the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border where I have to stop to pay an unexpected $1 toll. In no time at all, they pass me up.
Right about here, I want to say to those of you who say, "If there ain't no pictures, there ain't no trip", that, from here on to California, there are very few pictures. I'm going to try to paint you a picture with words. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this ride report is going to get very, very long!
I stop for gas a couple of times. Since the toll plaza, I hadn't seen anybody. I pulled off the interstate and into a Sunoco station. As I'm filling up, I hear the high pitched whine of a two stroke engine. In pulls Alan, all by himself. I ask him about the Professor. "Right after we pulled out of the tunnel, he took off like a shot and left me like I was standing still."
We decide that we'll ride together for a while. I pull off first and head onto the interstate. Now I've never been fond of riding with anyone and this is no exception. Periodically, I check beyond me to make sure he's still back there. Then....when I check the rearview mirror, nothing but highway. He's not there. I rock side to side, checking both mirrors, trying to see if he's in a blind spot. Nothing. Ok, now what do I do? About that time, I notice a car on my left, running the same spped as me. The lady on the passenger side has the window rolled down and she's mouyhing the words, "He lost his muffler". Great. Again, I ask myself, what do I do now? Do I leave him there, since this IS a race? Or, do I go back and at least try to help him? I picture that he's just standing on the shoulder of the road, next to his broken scooter.
I decide that I just can't leave him there so, in two miles, I exit the interstate, cross over and start back. Just after I've turned and committed to enter the freeway going back north, what do I see out of the corner of my eye......Alan, headed south on the freeway at, what looks like, full speed. Great, I guess his lost muffler wasn't as big a problem after all. For me, I'm now committed to ride the 10 miles back to the previous exit, exit, cross over and get back on going south.
A couple of miles after reentering the freeway, I spy Alan's muffler laying on the shoulder, just outside of the white line. Now, I'm asking myself if I want to stop and pick up the muffler? Why didn't Alan pick it up? If it's not important to him, why's it important to me? If I stop and get it, will I see Alan again? I check the rearview mirror. All I can see is grill. I figure that if I stop, I'm going to be the hood ornament on a very big rig. Since Alan rode on, I ride on too.
At the next exit, where I'd turned around a few minutes earlier, I slow down to try to see if Alan has pulled off there. Nothing. At my next gas stop, I check my phone to see if he's tried to contact me. Nothing. Oh well, I guess he's ok. At every stop I make for the rest of the day, I check the phone. Nothing.
The miles drift by. Everything seems normal.....but boring. I sing a few songs, only halfway through because that's all I know. I solve a few of the world's problems and start writing the next great American novel.....in my head.
I ride till dark. It was my intention to right into the wee hours of the morning. Forty miles north of Greeneville, Tn., it begins to rain. I ride on. The road seems to be brand new. In the pich black of the night, the road looks like a sheet of ice in the reflection of lights. As I ride on, I realize that, in the wet darkness, there a big possibility that I'll hit a piece of truck tire rubber that's lying on the road, invisible to me. Now I'm petrified. This has just turned into a white knuckle ride. At the next exit, I pull off and into a Super 8 motel. It's almost 11pm!
At the Super 8, I turn on the TV, to the weather channel. They're showing a huge low pressure center over eastern Tennessee that, they're saying, will cause it to rain here till Tuesday. This is Saturday night.
My search for America.....by Helix is going to be wet.