There are many ways to travel. Most people like to book reservations and know exactly where they are going to end up when. For me that feels too much like day to day life. I learned a long time ago when I was in a very different place, that being flexible and open on the road can unlock doors that from the start you would not have imagined possible.
I've tried to share this view, but in practice it's harder than in theory.
I had parted company with John and Lucy and headed out from Canon City to the Big and Flat that is the midwest. Despite having started late in the day, I was making good time and by early afternoon I was just outside of Dodge City. I had been second guessing my decision to leave. John and Lucy's kids are flying out on Friday to ride around Colorado. It would have been fun to spend some time with them.
However, I was feeling the pressure to get home. There's much that I need to do and funds are getting low. My plan was to push through another few hundred mles and then have an easy few days to arrive home on Saturday in time for Mothers Day on Sunday.
I ran through nearly a tank of gas breaking my 90 mile rule, and suffering appropriately for it when I stopped at a gas station to fill up. I noticed a couple of bikes. A custom Harley and a bike that I first thought was an old Indian frame with a new engine in it. It looked like something Duncan would like, so I asked the rider if I could snap a photo.
"Sure." he replied so I did. Strangely, this Indian really appealed to me. It was clean and it had dirt on it. I liked the rough and used look.
"Is that an old Beemer?" he asked.
"1992" I replied.
"So not old." he replied. "Where are you headed?"
"Back home to Maryland."
"How far did you go?"
"Out West to Los Alamos to visit a buddy and then tooling around New Mexico. A few thousand miles."
The he said, "Hey, we're meeting a bunch of bikers over at a hotel in Dodge City. You should join us. I'm sure we can get you a room at the hotel."
I guess I must have given him a tentative look as I was pondering what I might encounter. I had visions of feeling really out of place in some rowdy biker bar scene.
"Oh, most of the bikes there are like yours. That and lots of adventure bikes." he said betraying a strange perceptiveness and willingness to put me at ease.
"Oh, ok. I'm in."
I hold on to my wants loosely. I had wanted to do a few hundred more miles that evening but this was an opportunity to meet another group of riders.
"Who knows what might happen?" I thought innocently enough.
So I followed them towards Dodge City.
As we rode along I found myself thinking about taking chances. I had no idea what I was getting myself into or what kind of people I might encounter. Was it going to be ok? I've traveled with people who were closed to these kinds of things. "We don't know these guys from Adam, why would we trust them? They're going to trick us. I can feel it." I can remember them saying. don't enjoy traveling with those who are not open on the road.
"There's something about motorcycle people." Debbie had said. Her friend Andy had been concerned about her traveling alone and meeting up with random strangers. "But that's the best part." I think I replied.
So here I was riding behind a custom Harley and in front of some strange Indian. Both riders had clearly been riding for quite some time as we all stayed in a perfect staggered formation without a word having been spoken about it. "These guys have been riding a long long time. They get it." I thought. Normally, you don't see Indians, Harleys (especially custom ones), and BMW's riding in perfect staggered formation. The 17 miles passed quickly.
We rolled up to the hotel they had mentioned and I saw that there were nearly 30 bikes of all makes and models. There were guys about futzing with their bikes.
"This might be ok." I thought.
Someone mentioned something about a centennial ride related to someone named Erwin that had done some cross country trip in 1914. "Ok, so this is a group ride across the country." I thought.
I got off my bike and walked in to see if I could get a room. "If there's no room for you, you can take mine and I'll share one." my new companion said. I thought that was amazingly generous especially for a complete stranger. "By the way, my name is Robert." he said.
As it turned out, there was a room available. The pretty young woman behind the counter asked, "Are you with the riding group?" and before I could respond, Robert said "Yes."
I didn't give it much thought.
I walked back outside to take a look at this strange Indian.
I put my stuff away and then walked back outside. The initial plan had been to go some place else but it was then decided to eat in the hotel Saloon. I wandered in and saw Robert sitting with a group of people chatting away.
Walking into groups of people I don't know always makes me feel awkward and off balance. At first glance, I got the feeling these guys were not at all what I had initially thought. They were professionals of some sort and clearly were into riding. I listened and awkwardly tried to join in the conversation. There was the typical guy banter and storytelling. I didn't have much to contribute. Robert explained the trip he was on. It was to retrace the route of Erwin "Cannonball" Baker who in 1914 smashed the cross country record of 20 days. He did it in 11 on a 7 horse power Indian in an era where the road system was, let's say, challenging.
There's also a website Cannonballproject.com.
I had never heard of Cannonball, but someone mentioned that it's where the "Cannonball Run" comes from. It turns out it's an industry invite-only event that's been in the planning for 3 years.
I asked Robert about his Indian figuring it was some custom.
"It's a prototype that's likely going to be scrapped but I talked them into letting me take it on this trip." I think he called it and "Indian Adventure Bike". I believe he also mentioned that the guy who built the Spirit of Monroe streamliner fabricated the bash plate protecting the engine.
(It turns out that Indian Motorcycles has an article about it. So does Cycle World.)
"Really? How is it that you were able to secure yourself an Indian pre-production prototype?" I asked wondering how someone might be able to make that happen.
"I'm the PR Manager for Indian Motorcycles." he replied. "Barry, to your right, shoots and writes for Cycle World and is covering our ride. Ken writes for RoadRunner and Motorcycle Consumer News." He went on to name more people than I could remember, all industry insiders either famous for their racing or movie roles or deeply involved in the media or business side of things. There's Keith Mashburn who was in the movie "On Any Sunday" with Steve McQueen. It's being organized by AMA Hall of Famer Don Emde.
"Holy Sh*t." I thought. You just never know who you are going to meet.
I listened and between jokes and stories were comments about how much press the ride was getting. Apparently, it had made the New York Times.
We sat at dinner and I tried to participate but didn't have much to contribute. I felt terribly awkward. There was "Mucho Bill" who said he owns a Frank Loyd Wright house. There was Ken Freund who talked about riding in places all over the world. (So did Bill.)
I sheepishly raised my hand and said, "My photo is in the Aerostitch catalog. Yea, I got nothing."
We stayed up fairly late and I listened to all kinds of motorcycle stories. More than I remember. At the end of the evening, they asked, "So are you going to join us for the ride tomorrow?"
I thought about it for about a half second and said, "Yes."
I can make it a long day Friday and Saturday I thought and still get home.
To my dismay this meant getting up at 5:45AM because the ride started promptly at 7:30. It was far easier to get up than I had imagined.
At breakfast I found Nancy Emde-Steward stamping the leather bound journals given to all the riders. "I'm just some random guy the Indian rider met at a gas station."
She didn't seem to mind.
Eventually, Don Emde, the organizer showed up and asked me who I was. He was concerned that I might expect to tag along for the entire ride. "You can't attend any of the events we have planned. These people have paid in good money and it would be unfair to them. I can't stop you from following us on the road, but you have to pay your own way."
"Of course!" I said explaining how I had ended up there and by no means wanted to be an imposition and was only planning on tagging along for the day today and then I would be off.
Shortly there after, off we went.
I still had no idea what I was getting myself into.
This is the largest group of riders I have ever ridden with.
And these people can ride.
We did about 300 miles that day from Dodge City to Kansas City. I met a number of the riders and the story of the "random gas station k-bike guy" had made the rounds through the group. "So are you joining us all the way to New York?" a number of them had asked. "No, I don't want to impose. I'm just here for the day."
After maybe the 10th person asked, I began to think, "I wonder if I paid my way in would they let me join them? I'm not sure when I'll get an opportunity like this again."
So at the hotel that evening, before going to dinner, I approached Don and asked if I might be allowed to join them if I paid for the half of the trip I was on. I figured the answer would be "no".
"The last thing I want to do is be a freeloader. I see how much work, planning, and effort has gone into making this ride happen. I know that costs money and I'd like to contribute."
"I'm really glad you see that." he said, his demeanor having changed. He went to to talk about the trip some more and then explained I just needed to talk to Nancy.
And with that I was an official member of this ride. I still had no idea quite what I was getting into.
So here I sit, a few days later, in Indianapolis in a swanky hotel not far from the speedway. I have my own leather bound log book. There's a Canonball sticker on my bike. My photo has been taken dozens of times and embarassingly enough people occasionally ask for my autograph. There have been receptions. There was a dinner and drinks the night I joined. There was a police and firetruck escort through the town of Greenville. As we rode into town the whole town was out waving as we went by. A ceremony followed.
I've ridden hundreds of miles with journalists. Watching Barry work has been fascinating. We rode in a small group today. He would stop from time to time to shoot photos of various things along the way using this huge camera he had strung around his neck. There's one shot he staged where five of us rode through a small covered bridge each of us just inches from the other. These people can ride.
There are too many stories, too many insights and there's always something happening. In 45 minutes, I have to be downstairs. It does not look like I'm going to be able to have dinner with them at St. Elmo's because they are booked to capacity. "Of course, I understand." I told them. I'm trying to be as flexible and non-problematic as I can possibly be. I'm not sure, but I get the impression many have asked to have the opportunity that I have but have been told no.
I have no idea why I've been allowed to be included in this event, but I'm "rolling with it."
Because there's been so much going on, I haven't had a chance to write much. I look at my own writing now, with it's typos and half baked thoughts, and I'm self-conscious. There are professionals who are going to see this stuff ... since some of them are friends with me on Facebook now. I'm going to have to step up my game.
I leave you with some photos.
Group photo at Donelson Cycles and Museum
Keith Mashburn eating lunch in the museum. Duncan would have loved this place.
Assembling for the escort through Greenville. Of all the stops, Greenville is the only one that still has the original post office where Erwin Baker got his log book stamped to prove his times. It's a small friendly town.
The police and fire escort. My radiator cooked me pretty good here.
The mayor making a declaration and giving Don the key to the town.
There was a "cruising night" going on that same night with all kinds of old cars and people in the streets. I think Bruce would have liked this GTO.
Breakfast the next day.
The town had given us shirts. Randy, who was on the Harley riding with Robert when we first met at the gas station, wore the shirt the next day as did I.
Barry, shooting a motorcycle mailbox.
Swanky hotel in Indianapolis. Note there is Starbucks right here in the lobby!
My room with a view.
There are so many stories to tell and so much to write. This has been an eye opening experience.
I have to say, one of my favorite moments riding has been following five of these guys around a 25mph off-ramp at speed each of us riding exactly the same line falling into the corner light WWII fighter jets. That's the one moment on this trip that I really wish I had had the gopro camera mounted. This is the best collection of riders I have ever ridden with.
"They're mostly industry people." Tom, the founder of Saddlemen seats said to me as we were pulling away.
Another said, "We're surrounded by living motorcycle legends."
That does seem to be true.
I'm going to be riding with these guys until Thursday. I suspect I will be back home by Friday if all goes well.