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Cannonball racers fire into Madawaska

MADAWASKA, Maine — When Tim Gron pulled into Madawaska’s Four Corners Park Wednesday evening, Oct. 5, he assumed he was at the finish line of this year’s Real Cannonball race across the United States, but he wondered if he was mistaken, as the park was empty.

Students from Madawaska Elementary School greet the finishers of this year's "Real Cannonball" race, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016 at Four Corners Park in Madawaska. Don Eno | SJVT / FhF)

Students from Madawaska Elementary School greet the finishers of this year’s “Real Cannonball” race, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016 at Four Corners Park in Madawaska. (Don Eno | SJVT / FhF)

“I called Alan Spears (the race organizer), who then got in touch with Joe (LaChance),” Gron shared Thursday. LaChance is president of the Four Corners Park Association, a long distance cycling enthusiast, and someone who helped organize this cross country race.

Gron was one of five motor-scooter and motorcycle enthusiasts who started out Sunday, Oct. 2 from Imperial Beach, California on the approximately 3,500 mile journey. Madawaska Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Brian Bouley and his wife Cai, who happened to be visiting relatives in California last weekend, were able to see the racers off.

Organizers tout the annual event as “the world’s most extreme motor-scooter endurance race.”

With no real timetable, and unsure how weather and mechanical difficulties may have affected the racers, LaChance and others had no clear idea when the racers would eventually arrive in Madawaska.

“It was harder than I thought,” said Linda Hurley of Aliso Viejo, California, who finished in second place, arriving within an hour of Gron. “At one point Monday during a hail storm, I thought I wasn’t going to make it. It was pretty bad.”

This was Hurley’s first time driving a scooter cross country, although she has ridden in other long-distance motorcycling events.

The drivers all took slightly different routes during the race, although the first three that came into the St. John Valley did so by way of Canada.

Students from Madawaska Elementary School greeted the finishers of this year's "Real Cannonball" race, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. Don Eno | SJVT / FhF)

Students from Madawaska Elementary School greet the finishers of this year’s “Real Cannonball” race at Four Corners Park, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (Don Eno | SJVT / FhF)

“I split off (from the others) 10 minutes into the race,” Ray Hixon said with a chuckle. Hixon was the lone motorcycle driver in this year’s race.

Hurley and Hixon actually did run into one another outside of Montreal. Hurley recalled saying to herself, “I recognize that motorcycle.”

Hixon said it was fun to see a fellow racer, but he eventually shifted back into race mode. “I looked over (at Hurley), and I said to myself, ‘I have go now.’”

Hixon won the Real Cannonball back in 2013. He teaches mechanical engineering, and his motorcycle this year was a student project. “I told my students that their grades would be affected if their professor caught fire or died,” he said with a laugh.

Gron, who resides in Seneca, Illinois, said he encountered very little in the way of bad weather on his adventure.

The three racers drove nearly continuously to arrive in Maine in four days. Gron said he stopped once in Colorado for a quick overnight before heading back on the road.

“I stopped for coffee a lot,” he added.

He also said officials at the U.S. Customs crossing in Madawaska were amused by his scooter and why he was riding it. “They asked how fast it goes,” he said. He admitted that it can go 100 miles per hour “… but that’s all I’m going to say.”

Though Gron, Hixon and Hurley arrived to little fanfare Wednesday night, a school bus full of Madawaska Elementary School students was on hand to greet them Thursday morning. The children waved homemade signs and cheered for the racers prior to an official awards ceremony.

“We want to welcome you to one of the Four Corners of the U.S.,” LaChance told Gron and the others at the gathering.

“It’s always a surprise when you win,” said Gron. Until Hurley and Hixon arrived in Maine Wednesday night, Gron had not seen a fellow racer since Utah.

As of Thursday morning, there was no word on the status of the other racers in this year’s Cannonball.

Although he has entered many other racing events, this was Gron’s first ride across the continent. He said Hurley has had a lot of success in scooter and motorcycle racing events in the western United States. “I thought she was going to win,” he admitted.

Hurley brushed off her prior race success. “The other’s don’t compare to this one,” she said.

Three of the drivers in this year's "Real Cannonball" race from Imperial Beach, California to Four Corners Park in Madawaska, arrived Wednesday, Oct. 5. Tim Gron, right, was the first driver into town early Wednesday night. Gron finished first in the scooter category, followed by Linda Hurley, center, who arrived within an hour of Gron. Ray Hixon, left, also arrived early Wednesday night and came in first in the motorcycle category.   Don Eno | SJVT / FhF)

Tim Gron (right), Linda Hurley (center), and Ray Hixon (left) celebrate their arrival in Madawaska at a Real Cannonball Race awards ceremony at Four Corners Park on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (Don Eno | SJVT / FhF)

“I owe my win to the ruined nerves in my behind,” Gron joked.

The Greater Madawaska Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Madawaska and the Four Corners Park Association, in conjunction with the Motor-scooter International Land-speed Federation, sponsored the race.

Town Manager Ryan Pelletier said Spears approached Madawaska town leaders two years ago to discuss plans for the race. “I’m really pleased with how the event turned out and I think our community has made some new ties and relationships with our counterparts in Imperial Beach,” Pelletier said Thursday.

Both Gron and Hixon said they are planning to ride their bikes back to their respective homes. Hurley said she is going to ship her scooter back to California and spend some time at a residence she owns on Sebago Lake to enjoy the fall foliage.

This was the first time in Madawaska for all three racers, who each agreed that the community was beautiful and welcoming place.

“I’ll be back,” said Hixon. “But not on a bike.”

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