Loud rumbling engines, near frigid temperatures with the wind flying through their hair, may not seem like a romantic 25th anniversary escape, but for Cris Simmons, it’s just the anniversary she wanted.
She and her husband Pat Simmons roared through Gardner on Sept. 11 on antique motorcycles traveling through on an epic nearly 4,000-mile journey, the Motorcycle Cannonball 2014.
And yes, he’s that Pat Simmons, a founding member of the Doobie Brothers. Simmons and his wife Cris are completing the Motorcycle Cannonball to raise money for Stand Up To Cancer. They ride in honor of their son, Pat, Jr., who battled testicular cancer last year and is now cancer free.
Gardner residents may not have known the riders would pass through town, but the silence of the chilly afternoon was marked by a noticeable flow of loud, but old motorcyclists rumbling into gas stations and restaurants for fuel. The travelers began their journey on Sept. 5 in Daytona Beach, Fla., and jetted through rain, sleet and near zero temperatures before arriving in Gardner last Thursday.
“We’re like the post office,” Sharon Jacobs, San Diego, said as she fueled her 1936 motorcycle at Kick’s 66 in Gardner on Sept. 11.
More than 100 riders started the journey in Florida. The motorcycle riders hailed from as far away as South Africa, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Germany. The Simmons’ shipped one of their bikes from their home in Hawaii to the starting line. Another bike was stored on the mainland.
Scott Jacobs, San Diego, said not every antique motorcycle would complete the cannonball.
“Yesterday, 15 of them broke down,” Scott said. “Three burned today. One exploded.”
Cris said she’d only completed about half of the days on her 1934 Harley Davidson. The other days, her bike had been on the trailer or being repaired.
According to the website, organizers of the cannonball call it, “a test that pits rider and machine against the North American continent.”
Before arriving in Gardner for a brief fuel stop, the motorcyclists had toured through the lakes and forests of northern Florida and the Great Smoky Mountains. They’d ridden through Chattanooga, Tenn., stopping to tour the Coker Tire World Headquarters and Museum. They crossed the Ozarks region in Missouri before winding through the Great Plains of Kansas.
Gardner was almost the end of the road for the riders on Sept. 11. They headed to Junction City, Kan., where they stayed the night and had a day of rest on Sept. 12.
The group traveled between 140 and approximately 300 miles each day.
It’s slow going. The rules of the ride require that each motorcycle be built no later than 1936.
The bikes’ engines are original, but reproduction chassis and parts could be used.
“This will be a difficult ride,” the website instructs. “Only the best machines should be considered for it.”
Pat and Cris Simmons prepared their bikes for more than a year in advance of the event. Pat is riding a 1929 Harley-Davidson JD, nicknamed “Norge,” because its color resembles the blue of Norge refrigerators, popular in the 1950s.
Cris’ bike is “Buddy,” a 1934 Harley Davidson, named for its previous owner, Hollywood stunt man Bud Ekins.
Assuming the antique motorcycles maintain 50 miles per hour on straight, flat roads, the rides begin each day at 8 a.m. with an anticipated 4 p.m. stop time. That’s 8 hours per day on the road, with a 45 minute lunch break and three, 15-minute fuel stops.
It’s a grueling, but beautiful ride.
“We just love old motorcycles,” Cris said.
When they left Kansas on Sept. 12, the riders headed west, through the Rocky Mountains and eventually north. They are scheduled to complete their adventure on Sept. 21 at the Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash.
“And then we’ll sleep for a week,” Cris said.
Information about the event, including blog posts from riders, can be found online at motorcyclecannonball.com.