STURGIS, SD (Sept. 16, 2018) -- The 2018 Cannonball Run roared out of the state capital of Pierre, South Dakota Sunday morning and rumbled towards a series of iconic locations for fans of the Sturgis Rally. The tour spent the entire 294-mile day in South Dakota. Drama was intense in the Black Hills, as the Cannonball leader was nearly eliminated from his shot at victory on the gruelling climb to Mt. Rushmore. At the end of the day another big crowd greeted the tour on Harley Way in downtown Sturgis.
It was an early start time out of Pierre, just as the sun was rising. Riders crossed over the Missouri River and headed west. Soon after they crossed into the Mountain time zone, giving them a true indication that they were indeed in the West,
After some miles of slightly rolling prairie, the Cannonballers rode through the iconic Badlands National Park. With the sun still to their backs they had a wonderful view of the sharply eroded buttes and pinnacles of the Badlands. Being a Sunday, there was a good amount of weekend park visitors. Smiles and cameras were on full display as park goers seemed happily surprised to be in the park when the Cannonball came through.
From there the Cannonballers rode into the Black Hills, where some steep climbs meant a true test of machine. From Deadwood it was a mostly downhill run into Sturgis where the gruelling day came to an end with a wonderful hosted dinner featuring steak strips, potatoes, baked beans and salad.
The hills were tough. Eight bikes ended up on a either a Cannonball sweep truck or a team support truck.
MIsery on Mt. Rushmore
Ever since the start of the Run last week in Portland, Maine, many of the followers of the Cannonball have been rooting for Chris Tribbey on the oldest machine in the event, a 1911 belt-driven Excelsior K Single. Tribbey is an experience rider with a talented crew behind him and he’s led at the end of every stage of the run so far this year. Today that streak at the top of the standings nearly came to an end mainly due to the steep climb heading up to Mt. Rushmore.
Chris was caught off guard by the challenge that faced him not just on Rushmore, but on the prairie coming across the state.
“Leaving Pierre coming across the plains I thought we had it made,nice straight road,” Chris explained. “I thought it would be a fairly easy day. The headwinds we had coming out of Pierre, the entire day we couldn’t get over 30, 32 miles per hour. It was insane, very emotionally defeating, but you had no choice you had to just keep going.
“One mile at a time has been my motto. And then we get to the hills and I did not make it all the way up the road that goes to Mt. Rushmore. I estimate at about a half-mile from the peak the bike just ran out of power and I was peddling and it wasn’t enough. It stopped.”
Chris took a few minutes to catch his breath and evaluate his situation.
“Once the bike kills, you’re in deep water,” he said. “I pulled the pulley so it would have less resistance and then I’d push 70 steps and I’d stop and rest, then do it again. Doc and Karen (McCormick) are on the staff and they had oxygen with them.They gave me some oxygen. And we called Jason (Sims) to make sure we knew the rules. We verified that no one was allowed to touch the bike, only me. So I started the bike up and put it in gear where the belt was kind of helping and I walked on the side of the bike to the peak, shut it off, stopped and rested and got some more oxygen, chilled out a bit, had a couple bottles of water and said, ‘I gotta get going!’”
After the Rushmore climb Chris hoped he was mostly in the clear, but a park ranger told him when he was stopped that he had one more similar climb coming up in Deadwood. Chris said after the grueling climb he’d just experienced, the ranger’s words were crushing.
“I told myself ‘I’m going to do the best I can and that’s all I can do.’”
A tailwind brought down by the spirit of Exceslior founder Frederick Robie must have been with Chris and his machine, because when he got to the two-mile climb in Deadwood he got low into a tuck, the bike’s motor was singing a great song and the little engine that could made it to the top.
But Chris wasn’t out of the woods just yet. All of the troubles at Mt. Rushmore put him terribly behind schedule. He knew he would have to push it to not come into the finish late and lose valuable points and the lead. He pedaled furiously coming out of every corner to help the Excelsior get up to speed quickly and rode the bike as hard as he could.
With a massive cheer from the crowd as Chris approached, he made the finish line with less than five minutes to spare.
“I’m on cloud nine,” Chris concluded. “My body’s abuzz. I was on the bike for 11 hours and 19 minutes.”
That was the big story on the run today. There were others, unfortunately not as inspirational. The 1914 Indian Model F ridden by Doug Jones was sitting on the sweep truck with a hole in one cylinder. No word on if Jones can get it repaired. The team of riders Shinya Kimura and Yoshimasa Niimi failed to make the start this morning after Niimi had a hard crash on the team’s 1915 Indian Hedstrom on Saturday. The good news is that Niimi was checked out at the hospital Saturday evening and was released and seen in the parking lot trying to help with repairs later that night.
Now the Cannonball takes a well deserved rest day in Sturgis. The crews are certain to be working all day on the bikes tomorrow in preparation for the hardest climbs yet in the coming days.