TAOS, NEW MEXICO: Keeping in the vein of Alice Ramsey, last month’s Featured Motor Doll, we’re going to venture out on another historic cross-country trip, only this time on a motorcycle. And yeah… it may seem weird to begin a post about a “Doll” talking about a “Dude,” but without Mr Erwin “Cannon Ball” Baker, I wouldn’t have discovered Catherine.
So who is this “Cannon Ball” Baker trying to steal the limelight?
From the Cannon Ball Project website:
On May 3, 1914, Erwin Baker, a motorcycle racer and enthusiast from Indianapolis, Indiana, left downtown San Diego, California on a twin-cylinder, 7 horsepower Indian motorcycle en route to New York City. Baker’s goal was to break the existing cross-country record of 20 days that was held at the time. The plan was to beat the record by three days. Amazingly, not only did Baker break the record, but he did it in even less time that he had envisioned. He arrived in New York City just 11 1/2 days later on May 14th! A New York journalist obviously impressed by his adventure tagged Baker with a nickname of “Cannon Ball,” which stuck with him the rest of his life.
This past May, Don Emde and friends recreated Baker’s historic journey in honor of the 100th anniversary; a group that included our friend Barry (see his article and photos in the September issue of Cycle World magazine). While the challenges of 1914 didn’t exist for this group–like riding a seven horsepower motorcycle or the lack of paved roads–this centennial ride still held significance because before this event, many like me had never heard of “Cannon Ball” Baker. Sure, riding across country in eleven days might not be challengiung in modern times, but the participants did a great service by bringing a small fragment of history to life, and I, for one, thank them.The ride was spectacular. I know because I vicariously rode along through Barry’s Facebook posts, which often included excerpts from Baker’s diary (something you can read on the Cannon Ball Project site). I became so infatuated with their adventures, I sent Barry a message asking if any women were doing the full ride, and he pointed me to Catherine Long.
THE MOTOR DOLL
Fast forward a few decades to when Catherine was 43.
My husband and I were tri-athletes and as we would be huffing and puffing along on our [bicycles] these guys would ride by and ask if we were okay and scoot on. Drink holders, listening to music… we got to thinking we were on the wrong side!!
The desire to swap pedals for a throttle hit her hard. She transitioned fast. Just three weeks after taking the MSF course, she and her husband, Glen, headed for Mexico, traveling over mountains, through streams…
I never got the right education on dirt and would have loved to know more about how to do it but we did multiple trips to Mexico and the passes in Colorado, off-road in Arkansas and Big Bend.
And then she discovered the joys of street bikes.
Got a street bike and then got totally hooked. Again [we] did road trips to Mexico; rode to Daytona every year.
Growing Her Skills
My first thought in taking a “racing” course was to do it with women–only for less testosterone–well there’s just as much with women!! It’s not a racing course either, it’s a RIDING course. There were racers in the class and one woman who just started riding 3 months before. She was the most improved as she had no bad habits! My advice to anyone wanting to take these courses, the sooner the better. It’s all about understanding what tools you have to protect yourself in adverse situations. So many times I’ve used these tools to avert an otherwise dangerous situation. Education is the most important element of any sport and you never stop learning.
If motorcycle riding had entered Catherine’s life earlier, she likely would have tried her hand at racing, something she’s truly passionate about.
Although she’s not a racer, man! Does this Motor Doll ride! And I’m not talking scoots to the local coffee-house, or an occasional 50 mile Saturday jaunt. For her, long distance riding holds much more appeal, something I can relate to. When I get on a bike, I want to just keep going and going, to escape traffic and congestion, to spend an entire day–an entire week, or two, or three–putting miles behind me.
Catherine is living my dream.
Which brings us back to where we began:
THE CANNON BALL CENTENNIAL RIDE
Every bit of this ride had particular high points. Going through towns and seeing buildings that were dated as much as 100 years BEFORE Cannonball Baker rode through. Riding the old roads and seeing the older roads along the way put my imagination to work as to how did he ever do this in 1914? Each day was another adventure into gorgeous scenery, chances of rain, wind, heat, cold. Everything that he experienced. The one day we had quite a bit of rain was the exact same day 100 years before that he had rain. Wee-Ou!!
We had the run of the museum which was full of questionable characters and events, a proclamation from the city to Don, a bar-b-que dinner and band. They also bussed us from our hotel so there was no problem having a beer!! Greenville, Illinois was special as it was where the post office was that Cannonball actually went into. They had a proclamation there also, a dinner for us, but the highlight was the police and fire department ushered us into town past lots of spectators! Goosebumps!
I truly can’t think of any low points, maybe when it was all over. We had all ridden this route that Baker had ridden, stood by his grave, walked up some of the exact steps of a Post Office that he did, got stamped in our books where he did, it was only low when we all had to part.
New York City.
The biggest hair-raising event was when we came out of the Holland tunnel and saw the skyline of NYC, holy crap that must have been something for [Baker] and it was even more for me. Unfortunately it was night when he arrived and he had to take a ferry across… It gave me chills. Imagining the skyline 100 years before and the sights that he saw was such a thrill. Standing and looking at the Statue of Liberty after having been on the opposite coast. It was truly a thrill of a lifetime.
How he worked out the logistics. How he rode across the desert alone. How he managed to find fuel, oil and spare parts. Finding places to sleep and eat particularly in the first few days going from San Diego out through the sand, dust and rocks. We know he did this for a living as he had done about 14,000 miles around the world the year before, but still he did it and probably could have done it faster but knocked the record in the dirt. He was one tough dude.
I get more people saying they are totally amazed that I tour on this bike, but with heli-bars and a Saddlemen seat I’m totally comfy. I also weld and found a Givi mounting bracket that would be close to my bike (as they don’t make one for this bike) and I rebuilt it and have three hard bags for traveling.
It’s interesting how many people think only certain bikes can tour. Like Catherine, I tour on an atypical bike. My Sportster has taken me across country and back, and every trip, we run across surprise. Even Willie G. Davidson’s mouth dropped when I told him we rode from Southern California to Milwaukee on two older Sportys. So hey… if you want to tour, but think you don’t have the “right” bike for it, just take Catherine’s and my advice, and do it! There’s a bit of magic in extended time on the road with your machine.
As you can see, Catherine has had many adventures, and will likely have many more, but she doesn’t have a specific dream ride. It’s more about doing in general.
What I love the most is just being on the bike, in the open air, smelling the surroundings and seeing the country (any country). My dream adventure is any place for a long period of time on a bike. We get back out and the freedom I feel is wondrous. I think it’s a power and freedom rarely felt by women. We were relegated to the back of a bike or the passenger seat for so long and having the control over our own destiny is the adventure and dream trip of a lifetime.
For a girl who grew up believing motorcycles weren’t for girls, she sure has proven that idea wrong, just check her odometer. So what about Catherine’s Dad? Well, while concerned, he’s certainly softened, even sent her a receipt for a 1945 Indian he bought new for $75. And guess what? He at last came around to the idea it’s okay for a girl–his girl–to ride a motorcycle.
Keeping up with Catherine:
- MSF, The Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s beginning rider’s course, a course Catherine has in fact taught. Every new rider should take this. I did way back in 1995!
- YCRS (Yamaha Champions Riding School), and if you can’t attend the school, check out FasterSafer.com for tips from the YCRS instructors
- SPORT RIDING TECHNIQUES by Nick Ienatsch is a great book to give you the skills to ride better.
- COLORADO 500 CHARITY RIDE – For sixteen years, Catherine and her husband’s work with this group, have helped put many kids through college, given to the DARE program all over Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico; helped care for the mountain passes, given to women’s shelters in the same locations. It’s an invitation only event, but certainly sounds like a worthwhile one, one Catherine is clearly passionate about.
- She’d also like to give a big thanks to Nancy Emde and her husband Chris of TRAIL BOSS TOURS, for putting together the entire Cannon Ball Project tour. “It was flawless and they were so professional. I’d do another trip with them any time.”
Until next time…