At 10:10 a.m. on May 14, 2014, a group of riders rounded a corner and saw before them Point B of the Cannon Ball Centennial Ride. The New York City skyline, dominated by the profile of 1,776-foot Freedom Tower, was fully framed before them.
As Don Emde and Joe Colombero had planned and as Erwin ‘Cannon Ball’ Baker had done, we had crossed mountains and deserts and plains; we had fought fatigue and thirst and aching muscles; we battled the wind and sun and the urge to rest in order to cross the United States and arrive in Manhattan in 11 ½ days.
We had accomplished all of this.
But we could not find a parking spot.
After covering roughly 3,400 miles that took us over every terrain, it turned out our biggest challenge was constricted to a few square blocks on the southern tip of Manhattan. Most of us circled the area like vultures, hoping to find a few yards of pavement on which to roost. The ordeal lasted more than a half-hour until the cavalry arrived.
Actually, the Coast Guard arrived.
When future generations study the ‘Battle for Battery Park Parking’, Ryan Rose will be our George Washington. As he later told me, he was reluctant to “use the juice” (ie: his affiliation with the Coast Guard) to wheedle a favor out of the commanding officer who ran the Coast Guard station sandwiched between the Staten Island Ferry and Battery Park. In the end, though, he played his trump card (that’s what “juice” is for) and ‘Moose’ – the diminutive CO – gave Coastie Wilson Santiago permission to open the gates and allow us to park our bikes in a secured compound. From that point on, we were secure in the knowledge that Homeland Security was fulfilling its most important role: safeguarding our motorcycles while we had lunch at the Battery Park Beer Garden.
Prior to lunch, there was a ceremony of sorts as Don brought out a picture of Cannon Ball shortly after his arrival in New York on May 14, 1914. For Don and Joe and ride sponsors, as well as the riders that traveled coast to coast to honor Baker and replicate his feat, it was a special moment. Less than two weeks earlier, we were in Southern California where yachts were the focal point of San Diego harbor. Having crossed a continent, before us the Statue of Liberty was the focal point of New York harbor.
None of us has fully grasped what we achieved. The urgency of the ride and the pace at which we rode have blurred our mental vision. On top of that, the inability to recall where we had stayed just the night before tells us that the overall scope of this adventure will not be completely understood until distance affords us some clarity.
But at 10:10 a.m. on May 14, 2014 when the New York City skyline came into view, I believe each of us understood one thing.
We had done it.
Safely, with scarcely a trace of weather, and with a camaraderie and a single-minded focus to help Don and Joe and Nancy and Chris reach their long-held goal…
We had done it.
The spirit of Erwin ‘Cannon Ball’ Baker had watched over us.