Chasing the Cannonball by Kris Geller

When I decided to ride Pueblo on Monday to see the Cannonball racers
ride in from Dodge City I had no idea what a fun time I was in for. This
being the 100th anniversary of Cannonball Bakers run from Atlantic City NJ.
To Carlsbad CA. The race this year would be the same and only pre 1917
motorcycles were eligible to enter the race. I received an email from Rob
Wilmoth a camping buddy from Steamboat Springs. Rob said he was planning to
ride to Durango to greet the Cannonball riders on Tuesday and it occurred to
me that I could pack up and leave early for the Hotchkiss Rally, tag along
with the Cannonball riders and maybe hook up with Rob in Durango.

I got off to a late start on Tuesday and thought I would take the slab
to Walsenburg, CO and catch up somewhere along Hwy160. I was surprised to
see one of the old bikes being loaded on a trailer just south of Colorado
City, but that told me the racers had also taken the interstate and I might
catch up sooner than I thought. The next racer I came upon was chugging up
LaVeta Pass at about 30 mph on a single so I went on by him and pulled into
the chain up area to watch him ride past. I saw someone parked there and
went over to find a team support guy named Darrel who said that his guy was
just ahead pushing his 1908 2 ½ hp Shaw the remaining four miles to the

By the time I reached Fort Garland I had passed a few more riders and
guessed I was closing in on some of the faster riders. It was great to hear
them hammering along as I passed. Then as I pulled into the first gas
station coming into Alamosa I saw about fifteen of these wonderful machines
and riders doing the usual gas and snack routine that we all do except with
some extra oiling, usually with some sort of squeeze bottle filing a
reservoir or squirting away at some part in need of lube before going on.

Through Monte Vista and Del Norte I rode along with and passed many of
the racers. Some were cursing at about 50 mph on the flat. By afternoon when
I headed up Wolf Creek Pass and had gone by most of the racers so I pulled
into a parking lot about two miles from the summit to watch the show go by.
It was great to see the fours and the twins out in front pulling that steep
pass at probably 30 mph or so. The place where I stopped was just above a
pretty sharp curve in the road and when I turned to look back down the hill
I could see one of the racers coming out of the curve riding very slowly
back and forth across all the lanes of traffic using his foot skateboard
style to keep moving along. By the time he reached me after at least four
more complete crossings of the highway and a close call with some horn
blowing knucklehead who refused to slow down he was out of breath and his
1914 Harley had chugged to a stop. When I asked if I could help, This racer
(Dean) wanted to know if I had any extra water which when I handed it to
him, he immediately poured on the drum thing attached to the rear hub. As
the steam rose Dean said that if he could get this part cooled down then he
could walk the bike engine running and try to make the summit without criss
crossing the highway. As Dean was catching his breath a race official (Joe)
pulled in on a Goldwing and when I told him what I had just witnessed he
said the reason Dean #13 was so determined to reach the top was that he was
in first place. I asked, can I help push? Joe said that help with pushing is
allowed and so is towing up to one mile. Joe also said that if I wanted to
help push he would ride behind with his flashers on and bring me back to my
bike when we reached the top. That was great and we progressed at walking
speed with a break for man and machine about every fifty to one hundred
yards depending on the grade. After some of these creep and stop sessions we
were slowly gaining when Joe offered to help with the pushing for a while
and I could follow on his bike. With a lot of huffing and puffing and even
more help with the pushing from Bill and his wife who just showed up with
the grim reaper (truck and trailer) we helped Dean Bordigioni #13 to within
one mile of the summit where Dean said hand me that rope.

By the time I got back on the road most of the racers had passed, even
the 1908 Shaw went by in the truck so I set my sights on Durango. The check
in point was at the Durango Harley shop and by the time I pulled in most of
the riders had checked in and gone off to the hotel for maintenance and some
dinner. I was happy to see Rob there, and he had talked to a local and found
some camping just eight miles out of town.

Rob and I packed up our gear in the rain on Wednesday and got off to a
late start after a fast food breakfast and some business calls that left Rob
free to ride. It rained off and on most of the morning but we started to
catch up to the racers and we were having fun so we decided to ride along to
Page AZ. The destination for the Cannonball that day. Many of these riders
had laced up modern rims to their hubs or even newer hubs with real brakes,
rims and modern tires, but I guess not all of them. We passed more than one
racer repairing a flat on the side of the road and we heard of one unlucky
guy who had four flat tires. We had the chance to ride with and talk to some
of the brave souls participating in this crazy race at gas stops and along
the road all day, but for me the real treat that day was spending time in
the pits behind the hotel in Page where every team was busy changing oil,
which they do every evening and sometimes late into the night. Even the guys
who were doing a complete engine tear down to replace the Crank set because
of a broken rod took the time to show me the damage and how the aluminum was
embedded into the timing gears. They had the needed parts with them and they
were determined to stay in the race of the century. Other crews were doing
every kind of repair you can imagine. One racer came in with a leaking gas
tank on his Excelsior and was trying to repair it so that they wouldn’t have
to cannibalize the tank from the restored Excelsior museum piece that was in
the trailer intended for the show when they reached Carlsbad. It is so cool
that these incredible Motorcyclists are willing to race their priceless
machines across the country for fifteen days and almost thirty four hundred
miles and for most of them the reward is the satisfaction of having done it
and a sore back.

Wednesday night we camped at the Glen Canyon Dam and enjoyed a burger
at the restaurant where we sat outside and talked about the days adventure
and everything else we could think of. Then back at camp after hearing the
familiar sound of rain on the tents in the night Thursday broke with high
clouds and dry riding conditions. We packed up our gear and about a half
pound of sand and headed for Hotchkiss and a great day of riding on some
roads that I hadn’t ridden for a long time.

I learned later that Dean was docked points for letting Joe tow him
that last gruesome eight tenths of a mile to the summit of Wolf Creek Pass,
and he was not able to hold onto his number one position in the race.
Meanwhile I was still rooting for one of the most determined men I have ever
met. After all Dean did beat those Henderson fours and Excelsior twins all
the way from Atlantic City to Pueblo on his unrestored 1914 belt drive HD
single. There are pictures of Dean and many other Cannonball racers in
action at motorcycle