Writing from Mesa, Arizona, and starting to settle into the new groove of the ride – which is quite a different story from yesterday when I was all hopped up with nervous anticipation. Today the edge was off and the route was fairly well marked so riders didn’t depart en masse, but often in smaller groups, sometimes solo, but all with great memories of how Yuma welcomed us with a picture-perfect picnic at the historic Territorial Prison, a must-see museum that sheds a light on what inmates endured here in the late 19th century. The conditions we faced (beer and BBQ and a cool breeze by the Colorado River) were worlds apart from what was generally described as a hellhole for the convicts.
Another nice touch was city officials presenting Don Emde receiving a proclamation naming it ‘Cannon Ball Centennial Ride Day’ in Yuma – an event covered by Chris McNeill in this story that appeared in the Yuma Sun.
When I fired up the Super Tenere and rode past the now-dormant locomotive adjacent to Hilton Garden Inn Pivot Point, I shook my head again knowing that it was from this very spot that Baker embarked on Day 2 of his historic journey. Looking around Yuma and leaping onto Interstate 8 was – like the prison yard BBQ – worlds apart from conditions he faced in 1914.
I let the motorcycle breathe on the highway, goosing it a bit and it quickly found its pace – and so did I. It felt good to fly across America at street level and by the time I reached a service station at Dateland I was giving thanks for being me. What a way to spend a Sunday morning…
At the service station at Dateland, other riders – mighty riders – were arriving from their off-road run. I looked at them with awe and envy. I wouldn’t feel comfortable riding in the dirt, so when they arrived on dusty bikes and wearaing dusty pants and jackets caked with desert residue, I saw heroic men who would cause Vikings to quake in fear.
Traveling in tandem with me in a Chevy Silverado was Ty van Hooydonk and Brian Hardyman of the Motorcycle Industry Council, and my wife, Nancy, and when we saw an exit to Aqua Caliente, we took a detour. It was here – again 100 years ago to the day – that Baker, en route to Phoenix – ran out of gas about four miles from this place and pushed – PUSHED – his bike to town. We found the that this place was largely a ghost town that had given up the ghost. A few walls of long-gone houses remained and the long-gone residents of those homes now reside in a sparse and rough-scrabbled pioneer cemetery on a low rise. The scene seemed like Gunsmoke meeting the Twilight Zone.
Doubling back to I-8, we veered through Gila Bend which seemed frozen in a 1950s retro era, as evidenced by a flying saucer sign announcing the ‘Space Age Lodge’ (which means it could have opened in 1959). For me, a highlight came when we rode through the Sonoran Desert and the ubiquitous Saguaran cactus – the symbol of Arizona – stood at attention along the roadside. Another natural phenomenon were dust devils – something I never see in Florida – swirling up hundreds of feet from the desert floor, the red and brown dust creating stands of translucent redwoods.
An incredible sight that added an exclamation point to the day.