The Cannonball Run

Ten competitors. One mile along the Katy Freeway. No cars allowed.

Sure, being shot out of a cannon sounds great in theory -- but when you take a moment and put pen to paper on the logistics of it, it's not the easiest thing to arrange, especially beside a major interstate. Future scientists hopefully will stand on the shoulders of our research and reach these Dadaist heights. They might also have better luck mocking I-10.

According to TranStar records, at 8 a.m. on a typical day, the Katy Freeway inbound traffic from Barker-Cypress to the Loop slows to a 27.5-mph drip. This adds up to a 30-minute commute for about 14 miles of road. On January 13, when we went up against the Beltway 8 interchange, we had visions of breakdowns, tow trucks, pileups, mayhem. We hoped for this because we were racing rush hour or, more precisely, Margaret Downing in the "control group" pace car -- a dark blue Mazda Protegé covered in Houston Press banners.

Unfortunately, for our purposes, traffic was not the terminally fetid wretch of a parking lot that it usually is. Even with the banners blocking Downing's passenger-side windows, causing her momentary panic, she still zoomed down I-10 to Gessner in two minutes and 15 seconds. Naturally, the one time we needed a little gridlock, we couldn't get it. If we'd waited just a half-hour, we would've been racing alongside a freeway clogged up like arteries on the Atkins diet.

…and the rickshaw team comes in last place.
Daniel Kramer
…and the rickshaw team comes in last place.
Julia Ramey later says she was propelled by fear of 
being trampled and left for dead.
Daniel Kramer
Julia Ramey later says she was propelled by fear of being trampled and left for dead.

Our other motorized contender also had trouble getting off the starting blocks. George Flynn lost valuable seconds at the outset of the race when a stoplight to the west turned green and heavy traffic on the feeder road halted his progress.

"Finally, there was an opening," he reports. "The throaty carbs kicked the cycle into solid acceleration. There were solid gains until the broad glow of red brake lights dazzled me long before the Gessner intersection and the finish line...

"There must be a back way," he thought. "I angled in and downshifted at the first driveway -- and suddenly felt the rear-wheel traction break free from the pavement, almost losing it into a kiss-the-asphalt dive.

"What could have caused that kind of slide? I stopped, looked back and instantly recognized the line of brown smeared from my tires: horse manure. Only seconds fresh. Somewhere near the finish line ahead, there was the muted sound of an animal -- a stallion that, as heard through my helmet, wasn't really neighing.

"No, this was a horse laugh."

Meanwhile, Mosi Secret glided across a Cost Plus storefront on his Segway and -- with the open space -- seemed as confident and quick as he would for the entire race.

"I quickly realized that the mile-long race would be a dangerous tightrope act," he notes. "No longer was I concerned with finishing first. The top priority was finishing alive. Black James Bond was in survival mode. I screamed a couple of times. Fuck keeping it cool. I had the grip of death on those handlebars and my hands were freezing."

John Oates looked about as graceful on his skateboard as a three-legged ballerina. He'd place his foot gingerly on the board like he was wading into scalding water, tremble unsteadily for a moment and hop off. His pal, Daryl Hall, wasn't doing much better on the Rollerblades. Hall got caught in the pack of Oates, Secret and the rickshaw, which was too wide for them to pass on the sidewalk. Further ahead, Pesto bounded down the pavement on stilts and darted in front of a yellow school bus full of children.

Beyond them, the leaderboard found Josh Harkinson in first place, coasting on the Schwinn. He looked almost relaxed -- even as land tanks growled past him like savage Minotaurs.

"There [were] a lot of road hazards," says Harkinson. "It was a tough time out there because these bastards out here in their cars won't stop for you when you cross the parking lot entrances. And with these 1950s-era foot brakes, you don't have the best control over it."

Argonn, with Butler riding, reached a brisk gallop by the Oshman's strip mall and began to put the heat on Ramey.

"I was going at a more leisurely pace... when I decided to turn around again," Ramey reports. "The horse was about ten feet behind and coming fast. My options at the moment were outrunning it or being trampled under hooves and left for dead on the freeway, so I turned the iPod to Oakenfold, did the kick early and sprinted until I was out of the horse's trample radius.

"Now I could see the Shell station. My knee hurt, but I kept going," she recalls. "Josh was still ahead of me, but I was gaining on him. I had the horse beaten. I noticed a series of puddles coming up and knew they would mess with Josh."

Future historians will forever debate what happened next and whether Harkinson deliberately took a fall. Literally feet from the white ribbon finish line, Harkinson's bike seat tilted backward and he swerved, ramming into a highway sign for Texas Representative Dwayne Bohac. This allowed Ramey to shoot past and finish first -- with a winning race time of seven minutes, five seconds. Harkinson picked himself up and crossed next, followed by Argonn, who celebrated his bronze finish with a poop.

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