There was really no better way to begin the day in Indianapolis than by riding as a group to Crown Hill Cemetery to pay tribute to the man who inspired this ride: Erwin ‘Cannon Ball’ Baker.
I’ve said it before that, maybe 100 years from now, riders on the bicentennial ride will look at us as a group of supermen. But it’s not 2114; it’s 2014 and I assure you that everyone who departed San Diego to applause and cheers has racked up a majority of miles thinking of how they’d stack up against Baker. Many people are motivated by a quest for immortality, and I think that as long as there are motorcyclists, Baker’s accomplishments mean that his name will never fade away.
Minutes later at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Don’s friend, museum curator Donald Davidson, gave us a quick primer about the development of the track and the pioneer racers that advanced racing technology. Inside the museum Davidson’s lesson took on added ballast when we saw displays of pristine cars and a few cherry motorcycles including Baker’s 1909 Indian. It was a highlight of the journey when Don Emde was graciously invited to sit on that bike – an invitation he eagerly accepted.
To catch up to – and perhaps leapfrog past –my deadlines, I had to leapfrog past Highway 40 and scramble ahead to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton. Like the ride inspired by Baker and the Speedway inspired by racing pioneers, this complex – along with the surrounding Wright-Patterson Air Force Base – was inspired by Dayton’s own Wilbur and Orville Wright.
It would take volumes to describe what these two accomplished, so let me offer this abridged version.
Neither Wilbur nor Orville graduated high school. They were self-taught engineers who were competing against numerous contenders to develop a flying machine. Their chief rival was Samuel Langley who, as head of the Smithsonian Institute, had received grants totaling $70,000 from his employer and the government. On his team he had engaged the nation’s leading engineers. Meanwhile, working in obscurity on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, over the course of four years (1900-1903) the Wright Brothers examined every aspect of powered three-axis flight and found a solution to all of them. The end result: Weeks after Langley’s expensive ‘Aerodrome’ nosedived into the Potomac River, the Wright Brothers’ Flyer soared across the sands of Kill Devil Hills.
Their total outlay? $1,100.
So there you go. Just a few examples of American ingenuity, perseverance, and determination.
But read between the lines and you’ll see there’s another story.
Each of these events – Crown Hill, the Speedway, and USAF Museum – was experienced by members of the Cannon Ball Centennial Ride in just six hours. Multiply this fraction of a day by the miles we’ve covered and the things we’ve seen and done since leaving San Diego and you’ll have recognize that we are living like rock stars.
In particular, rocker Lou Reed who said of his life:
“My week beats your year.”
Yes, we’re living in Lou Reed time. And we’re loving it.