A Day On The Motorcycle Cannonball Run

Doug Wothke on his 1928 Indian Scout

Sitting in our conference room at our annual Monday morning marketing meeting. We were going through the essential things we were looking to accomplish through out the week. Tyler chimes in the middle of a conversation. “Hey, so I just remembered the motorcycle Cannonball Run is stopping in Bowling Green, OH tomorrow at Bw3’s. I think it would be pretty cool if we rode out and met up with Doug Wothke, Mike Jensen and Dave Volnek out there. Also theres going to be some amazing bikes. Mikey, would you want to come in later in the day and we will leave about 2 pm?” Without a blink of an eye I said, “Hell yeah, sounds awesome!” I immediately contacted the gorgeous one they call Greg and set up the meeting time with him. Later in the day Tyler also remembered he had a baby class (he’s gotta little girl on the way) the day we were going and couldn’t make it. Kyle was feeling a bit under the weather so he said he was going to end up driving up instead of riding. So, it looked like just Greg and I would be riding out. It worked out really well that Kyle was driving because Doug and the guys ended up needing a few parts delivered. 

Greg's brand new Triumph Thruxton 1200 R

You would think a one day, 200 mile round trip wouldn’t be that eventful but man let me tell you it was one those days I will remember forever. I started my day off wrong right away, locking myself out of my house by forgetting my keys on the coffee table. Luckily, I had everything in my hands that I truly needed for the day, camera, jacket, and gloves. Plus the old Shovelhead doesn’t need a key to kick her over so I wasn’t too worried about it. It was gloomy and drizzling a bit, very typical September weather in Northeast Ohio. Before shoveling off towards the shop, I made sure my tool roll was secured on my sissy bar tightly and I stuffed my gloves into the bungie cord. The ride was cool and crisp which was a bit weird being close to 1pm but everything felt great and my bike was running beautifully. 

Getting ready to leave the shop.

I pulled off the highway exit for the shop only to see some Cannonball racers puttering by me right on route 303. I hurried to whip my camera out and get a few shots but my camera flashed a no memory card icon on the screen. I had forgotten to put a new memory card in my damn camera. Frustrated with myself, I pulled into the closest gas station to top off my gas tank so Greg and I could just roll out as soon as he got to the shop. I turn the pump on and who do I see rolling passed? Doug and his rebel flag helmet on his #88 red 1928 Indian Scout riding by. Another missed opportunity and I knew we would be tryin to catch up to him most of the day. Moments later, I received a text from Greg saying he was going to be a little late on our meet up time. I rolled into the shop and the first thing on my agenda was to grab a memory card for my camera. My good friend Bear Haughton from Old Bike Barn was standing in the garage door smiling ready to greet me. We ended up hanging out for a while catching up, while waiting for Greg to show up and I didn’t let him distract me from grabbing a memory card for my camera.

First bike we see on the road right by our shop on the way is a Cannonball Staff member riding a crusty stock Panhead.

Greg finally showed up right around 2 pm on his new Triumph Thruxton 1200 R and I yelled at him sarcastically, “Hey man, that’s not a chopper!” Everyone laughed, we joked around for a bit, finally said our goodbyes and then hit the road. We aimed to stay on the route that the Cannonball run was taking, which was route 303, to route 20, to route 6. Extremely simple but not so simple for 90+ year old bikes. As we made our way west on route 303 we started seeing and passing riders and staff both riding and broken down on the side of the road. It’s a bit odd seeing those old bikes rolling on the roads. The riders posture is so proper and the modern helmets and gear don’t really match up that well with their beautiful vintage machines. The ones broke down gave thumbs up that they were ok and we kept going. After seeing how slow most riders were going, I thought to myself with their gas stops we could quite possibly catch up to Doug at some point in the day.

Just so cool to see!

The clouds were still pretty gloomy and it started to rain a little more then the few sprinkles that were happening earlier in the day. I signaled to Greg once we got out of the city to start hauling ass, so we could try and catch up to Doug. With a rip of the throttle the Thruxton took off and my Shovel lacked in keeping up. It finally caught up to his modern bike and I snapped a few shots of him before taking off ahead of him. I threw my shield down on my Biltwell Lane Splitter to avoid the needle pricks of the rain hitting my face and thought to myself, “Man, the bike is sounding and running really good today.” I shit you not with in 5 seconds of me having that thought run passed my brain I hit a huge pothole and went air born. Thinking nothing of it as I got back into my riding position, I heard a huge clunk by my foot in the transmission area and then my rear wheel locked up. The ground was a bit wet and I started to slide. My first reaction was to pull in the clutch and down shift, releasing the clutch I kicked into 3rd gear and it started rolling again. The rear wheel locked up again so I repeated the process and found the best place I could pull off on the two lane road we were on which ended up being the right side of an intersection. I finally looked down at the bike, still not really understanding or knowing what had just happened and in a state of shock. I looked back and Greg wasn’t behind me, he was gone. Puzzled, I finally realized my tool bag was missing from my sissy bar and the bungie cord was hanging on the right side of my bike completely free. As I inspected the bike further I noticed there was yellow fuzz everywhere. “What in the hell?” I asked myself. The offender, one of my gloves had fallen and dragged into my gear drive.

The after math of the "Yellow Glove" incident.

All I could do was laugh at the situation at hand. Not even an hour into the trip and I was on the side of the road, broken down, with just a pocket knife trying to dig out this ugly yellow glove from my gear drive; all while 90+ year old motorcycles putted by, running beautifully. Looking in the distance I finally heard Greg’s bike rolling towards me and he arrived with a smile on his face and my tool bag tucked away in his coat. Greg laughed as he told me about how my entire tool roll exploded all over the road and how he had to play frogger to collect most of them. He also was in a bit of disbelief on how the whole situation happened, how much of the glove was actually stuck in the gear and how it locked me up but I kept it up right. We grabbed some freshly road rashed pliers and pushed the bike back and forward while we pulled out the mangled glove. Oh and of course it started to rain harder on top of it all. After finally getting all the pieces out of the gear the Shovel fired right back up and we were on our way again.

Not to sure this dude and his friend were all that excited about me riding next to them taking their photos.

Route 303 and route 20 are pretty familiar roads to me so we ended up crushing 50 miles in little to no time after the ugly yellow glove incident. The rain dissipated as we got further away from where I broke down as well. One of my favorite parts of that stretch was seeing Yoshimasa Niimi part of Shinya’s team #80 riding a 1915 Indian up this massive hill on route 303. I really didn’t think it was going to make it up but we followed along and sure enough he got up it, very slowly. 

Yoshimassa Niimi on a 1915 Indian.
Lowbrow Customs - Narrow Frisco Mount Sportster Tank 2.1 gallon.

I’m running the Lowbrow Customs Narrow Frisco Mount Sportster Tank which only holds 2.1 gallons allowing me right around 75 to 80 miles per tank if I’m lucky. Guess what else I forgot that day? My Lowbrow Customs Fuel Reserve Bottle! I signaled to Greg the gas sign and we pulled into our first gas stop to make sure I wouldn’t run out of gas. Little to my surprise there was a handful of Cannonball run racers filling up as well and three of them were on Hendersons! Those three bikes a lone were worth over a half million dollars. You just don’t see that kinda stuff everyday, let alone running and doing a cross country trip. My mind was fully blown. As we filled up and took a little break, I checked the GPS tracker on Doug that he puts online. He was only a few cities in front of us and catching up to him seemed entirely possible.

One of the three Henderson's at the gas pump.

After about 45 minutes of looking around different small towns for a mustached, long haired guy wearing a pink shirt and a rebel flag helmet riding a red Indian Scout we found him. He was squatting at a gas station across from an adult video store with another Cannonball racer fixing something. The only reason we both knew it was him was that bright pink shirt he said he’d be wearing! We pulled right up to them and waived right at him obnoxiously. He kind of looked at us funny like he didn’t know who we were. Greg and I were both wearing full face helmets and in all the excitement forgot. Doug finally realized it was us and the biggest smile came over his face. After tinkering with his clutch a little more we hit the road again but this time riding with Doug, a whole 15 miles to the Bw3s. When we arrived there was over 100 extremely rare and beautiful bikes in the parking lot. As Doug and a few other participants rolled into the check point area, the crowd cheered, whistled, and clapped loudly congratulating the racers for making it to the checkpoint in one piece and not on the back of the chase vehicle’s trailer. It was a remarkable site to see and take all in at once. We also ran into Kyle almost right away, He was wearing a tire on his shoulder and a bag full of goodies for Doug, Mike and Dave.

Doug lookin at us like "Who the hell are these guys!"
Doug ripping the farm roads of Ohio at a cool 45 mph!

Doug introduced everyone to Mike and Dave as they worked on their bikes in preparations for racing the next day. That's the craziest thing about the Cannonball run. It’s not really just a race but an endurance race on your motorcycle and yourself. You wake up super early each day, ride slowly 260 plus miles on 90+ year old machines and then once you show it off at the check point for a little bit and grab something to eat, you have to get right to work on fixing and maintaining everything on the bike. These bikes are very old and need a lot off attention, it’s not something you can just neglect, go to sleep early and get back on the bike and go the next day hoping it will make the distance needed. Race teams work till the wee hours of the night making sure their motorcycles are in tip top shape to hopefully make the next leg of the trip. It’s a truly grueling race that last 17 days full of extremely hard work, dedication and little to no sleep. It was a real honor to witness the behind the scenes aspect of it all even if it was just for a day. 

Oh just a few more Hendersons!
Mike and Dave loading Mike's Exseisor on to a really innovative build table.

After grabbing an extra long bite to eat and sharing stories with Doug and a few others Greg and I made the conscience decision to head back to Cleveland. So we said our goodbyes to everyone around 8:30pm and stopped at the first gas station we saw to top off. On pulling out of the gas station I kicked a gas pump railing trying to squeeze in between the railing and a really nice corvette. Pain shooting from my foot up my leg I stopped in agony for a moment while Greg yet again laughed at my poor misfortune. After the pain kind of settled down we decided we would take the Ohio turnpike home instead of the route we used to get there. (Ah, the dreaded I-80 everyone loves so much.) It’s pitch black on I-80 for the most part and only few rest/gas stops so I asked Greg to keep an eye on is odometer and if we were close to 75 miles try and signal for gas.

Working at night doesn't stop Mike, Dave and Doug.

We rode I-75 up to I-80. I roughly was calculating the distance in my head just to be safe. We passed the I-280 exit and I continued to count mile markers and do the math. It was a bit colder and I was feeling grateful I wore a jacket for once but was also cursing a bit that my gloves were sacrificed to the gear gods. As the second rest stop on I-80 was approaching the sign said 42 miles until next services. Doing the math in my head I guesstimated the milage and figured we probably did about 35 to 40 miles. I waived Greg on and we kept going. We battled semi truck tail winds and construction zones for about 36 miles or so and a sign came up saying, next service area 6 miles. Smiling and stoked I thought to myself, "We are going to make it!" Not even 2 miles later, but of course my bike starts puttering out and running on fumes right at the end of a construction zone. I signaled to Greg to pull over and my bike puttered to a stop. Greg immediately said, “Oh man, did you run out? Do you have a reserve bottle on you?” “No, Greg, I forgot that today too!” I mumbled to him in frustration. He again started to laugh a little. I asked him if he could possibly push me by my pegs but the way they are set up it was way too short. As he looked over my bike he said, “Dude, I can push you from your right axel nut, just keep it steady.” 

Doug with his trusty head lamp.

I have never been more focused, scared, and having so much fun in my life all at once. I had no lights on because I didn’t want to kill my battery and Greg was riding on my right side pushing with his left leg on my axel nut with his hazards on. Though it’s a modern bike we probably weren’t very visible for anyone to see us creeping on the side berm of the highway. Metal shards from what looked like a 50 car pile up were scattered for over a mile on berm and the whole time we were thinking we only had about 2 miles to go to the rest stop. In the distance we see a another sign that said "2 more miles to go". I began to tell Greg I’d push for a while because his leg was cramping up and there was too much debris scattered. “No way Mikey, thats way to far, let's try one more thing.” Greg said tiredly. He dropped his bike into second gear and we got off to a good 35 mph cruising speed and then we hit a down hill which helped out greatly. Mind you, the entire time huge semi trucks are flying by us at 75 plus mph in the right lane next to us. Upon finally arriving to the gas pump I jumped off my bike and gave Greg the biggest hug and we both were shouting out cheers of joy. It was one of those friendship, sketchy, and happy to be alive type moments that we just endured and it just felt good to be filing up and not having to walk a bike 4 plus miles.

The work never stops.

We rode the rest of the way home, without having to stop again. As my exit approached and Greg’s exit was still a further down the highway, we waived our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I finally rolled into my drive way around 11:45 pm tired, cold and still overwhelmingly filled with joy reflecting back from the crazy day I just had. All I wanted to do was crawl into my warm bed and kiss my wife goodnight. I walked up to my door and reached for my keys… “Mother f*cker!” I had forgotten about the keys. It was just one of those days.

- Words and Photos by: Mikey Revolt

One thought on “A Day On The Motorcycle Cannonball Run”

  • Glad you made it home okay! Back in 1976 I took my chopped Sportster on a long trip from Oakland Ca. to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and back. My buddy was riding a Yoshimura hot rodded Honda CB750. My Sporster had a Frisco mounted tank that was good for about 70 miles of range. I made a lot of gas stops on that trip! I had a final stretch going into Prince Rupert of 125 miles with no gas available at all. I rinsed out a couple of gallon anti freeze containers filled them with gas, and lashed them to my sissy bar. That was the only way i made it. That 125 mile stretch was the most memorable ride of my lifetime! My buddy had no problem with range. I had a couple of rear tire blow outs, but that's a story for another time. I started to use the King Sportster three gallon tank and later switched to a "Quick Bob" FX tank. Of course, this is nothing compared to what those Cannonball contestants have to go through. i would love to catch the group at one of their stops.

Leave a Reply