CANNONBALL UPDATE: Reaching the finish line in Santa Monica

Bradford Wilmarth

Bradford Wilmarth

Class II winner Bradford Wilmarth, whose biggest setback was a leaking fuel tank on his 1913 Excelsior Twin that was easily repaired in Tennessee.

Cannonball 2010 is in the books. The cool breeze of the Pacific Ocean was a very welcome sensation to the 30-plus intrepid men and women who spent the last 16 days traversing our great nation on cantankerous machines from another time, often in blistering heat. The talk in Kitty Hawk was that maybe 25 percent of the old bikes would survive the test. To see almost three times that percentage of starters on the Santa Monica Pier this past Sunday was truly a testament to human willpower and tenacity. It was a lot of fun, but it wasn’t just a joyride. One of the toughest days in the last week was Flagstaff to Laughlin, where Cannonballers found frost on their seats in the morning, and 105-degree-plus temperatures as they climbed a steep pass toward the Nevada border. There were more than a few magneto failures that afternoon. Torrential rains a couple days earlier while riding into Gallup, New Mexico, left everyone soggy, and some on the edge of hypothermia. Sleep deprivation was par for the course, and nerves wound tighter and tighter in the last few stages, as ears strained to hear any unfamiliar, unwanted click, whine or growl that might spell disaster.

Meticulous preparation paid off for overall, and Class II winner Bradford Wilmarth, whose biggest setback was a leaking fuel tank on his 1913 Excelsior Twin, easily repaired in Tennessee. Class I winner and crowd favorite Katrin Boehner putt-putted across the U.S. with amazing regularity on her 1907 J.A.P. single (the oldest bike on the run), but her husband Dieter Eckel’s fork snapped cleanly in two at speed in Arizona, sending him to the tarmac, and on the last day he seized a piston in his backup machine. Rick McMaken (#40) came in on top in Class III on his 1915 Harley Davidson Twin. Frank Westfall, on his 1914 Henderson, joked that he was going to turn around and ride home to New York. Every finisher has a great story to tell, but one of the best has to be Alan Travis with his 1914 Excelsior board-tracker. The bike was raced a couple times in the early 1900’s, then mothballed for 90-some years. He started in Kitty Hawk with about 500 miles on the original engine, and the old machine didn’t let him down once in 3294 miles. Erwin “Cannon Ball” Baker would certainly approve. Congratulations to all the hearty souls who can now check off that “cross-country on a pre-1916 motorcycle” box.

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Photos and video by Barry Hathaway

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