By Joel Phelps
Scores of people from across the state, nation and world sauntered Wednesday afternoon through a motorcycle-packed block in downtown Arkadelphia. A jovial crowd cheered as, one-by-one, 88 riders of century-old motorcycles rumbled onto Clinton Street, parking their bikes curbside for spectators to admire.
The Motorcycle Cannonball, a border-to-border trek on pre-1930s bikes, had made its grand appearance.
The riders, all of them from across the country — including one Arkadelphian: Mayor Scott Byrd — made their only Arkansas stop in the Clark County seat after setting off from Tunica, Miss., on Wednesday morning. Over the course of the month-long journey from Sault Sainte Marie, Mich., to South Padre Island, Texas, the homesick riders seemed to find solace in Arkadelphia.
“I think it seems like it’s so welcoming, and hometown and clean,” said Jaime Lee, a sidecar passenger who operates a digital news site in her hometown of Shawano, Wisc. With her media experience, Lee is documenting the adventure from her sidecar. Arkadelphians are “just good-home people,” she said when asked her first impression of the town. “It feels like our small town in Wisconsin, it feels like home.”
Lee called the Cannonball an “endurance race, kind of man against machine” but noted it’s also an emotional journey. “You’re away from home, and there’s ups and downs of the traveling and the crew. So when you get through this, it’s a race of spirits. It’s not a joy ride.” She said the most difficult part of the Cannonball is akin to being a rockstar on tour. “It’s being in a different hotel every night, in a different town every evening. It’s getting up early and the hours on the bike, making it to the finish line in time and getting your points, it’s making sure the bike doesn’t break down.”
The incentive for the riders is receiving an ACE sticker at each town they stop in: the rider with the most stickers at the end of the race wins.
California brothers Eric and Bill Kitchen had been on the road since Sept. 2. Originally from Siloam Springs, their younger brother attended college with — SMALL WORLD SPOILER ALERT — Don Cleek, criminal investigator for the Arkadelphia Police Department. Back to the brothers Kitchen:
“Every night it’s dealing with something,” Eric said of the trek’s hardships. “We’ve got a cleanup crew that picks up people that break down. You carry a few things with you — tools and chainlinks that you think you might need. You fix what ya can, then in the trailer we’ve got spare parts.” At each stop, the riders are to showcase their bikes until 6 p.m. before heading to their hotel to make any repairs or tuneups in preparation for the next day’s trip. “There will be guys in the parking lot all night long [fixing their machine], depending on what they’ve got to do,” Kitchen said.
Another rider in the event was Japanese-born Shinya Kimora, who hauled the 1915 Indian, which he rebuilt himself, from his home in California to Michigan. Kimora, who owns a vintage motorcycle repair shop, bought his motorcycle in 2009 and spent the next six months rebuilding the machine. Asked about the value of his motorcycle and what he would take were he to put a price tag on it, he shook his head. “I’m not sure,” he said. “My bike kind of looks like junk, but it has sentimental value.” Like all riders in the event, Kimora has a support crew trailing behind him in the event of a breakdown and to trailer the motorcycle to the starting point and home from the finish line. Kimora’s support crew is his wife, Ayu.
City Manager Gary Brinkley said Wednesday’s event attracted people from not only Oklahoma, Louisiana and across the Natural State, but that it also attracted one Indiana resident who flew a jet into Dexter B. Florence Memorial Field just to see the Cannonball (FACT CHECK: The Arkadelphian, an adamant admirer of aircraft, did take note of a low-flying jet headed south). “We were very pleased with the turnout,” Brinkley said. “When you’ve got people flying in to your little town in Southwest Arkansas for an event, you’ve done well.”