In Yuma, Arizona, now, relaxing after an adrenaline-surging first day. Not exhausting; just exciting.
The anticipation peaked minutes before the ride began. Don Emde told us that there would be a five-minute warning before the 9 a.m. departure. As it turned out, 8:55 was approximately the same time that I began wrestling with my water bottle – spilling its contents and forgetting that I had, in fact, developed my basic motor skills half a century ago. Since I didn’t want to be “that guy” when every rider but one (me) left San Diego for Manhattan, a few deep breaths found me centered and capable of fixing a water bottle. By 9 a.m. I was fired up, ready to go.
I’ve never been part of a ride like this, and I doubt any of the others had either. There was a common thread among all of us and that was a bit of nervousness along repeated murmurings of “How did Cannon Ball DO this?”
That thought was with me, at least, for each of the day’s 210 miles. Aside from a motorcycle, in a sense there was little else that we had in common with his ride. When Baker left San Diego, there were no water bottles or body armor or high-tech helmets. He rode without the help of Garmin or hotels or convenience stores or sunblock or gas stations even.
But we rode with shoes and pants and jackets fitted with steel and hard plastic to protect us if we fell. In our pockets we carried computers that doubled as cameras and telephones. We knew that in towns ahead we would find restaurants we were familiar with serving food from kitchens that had passed inspections.
If we were hot, air conditioning was only steps away. When we were on the road, our bikes –created and built by computers that would have confused Baker — packed enough horsepower to carry our weight plus the weight of our gear and they would do it at all at 80 mph without breaking a sweat.
Erwin ‘Cannon Ball’ Baker had none of these things that we associate with travel. He worked longer, slept less, and rode harder than we could imagine.
That said, when viewed through the prism of our day and age, we did well. When our peloton sailed through remote canyon towns and sprang up and over hills; when we shot forward down a straight-line road and watched red-winged blackbirds darting over green fields; when the burnt earth of the Imperial Sand Dunes blew across the blacktop and made is feel as if we were combing the surface of Mars, well, we knew we were riding with Cannon Ball’s spirit.
No, correct that.
We were riding with Cannon Ball.