Dr, Frazier tried to top a small hill in the spirit of the 100 year earlier hill-climb Clancy had won with his Henderson, but bogged down like his well-known Twin competitor.
Our Clancy Centenary Ride Team of modern day motorcycle adventurists followed the route Carl Stearns Clancy and his riding pal Bob Allen had taken from San Francisco to Sacramento 100 years earlier.
Clancy had been misled by the secretary of the American Automobile Association who told him there were only 40 miles of bad road between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. Clancy said the secretary had displayed “dense ignorance,” and that in reality there might have been 40 miles of good road over that distance. Our group found the route as would be expected today, well groomed for high speed travel.
While Clancy and Allen were in Sacramento the adventurous Clancy and his well-worn Henderson with “14,000 miles in its bones” managed to engage in a hill-climb competition with a motorcycle dealer of a “well-known Twin” brand. The well-known Twin got stuck twice near the top and Clancy managed to win on his first attempt.
Clancy had noted that finding a hill for the competition was difficult as there were no real hills in the district. The competitors went two miles outside of the city where they found a railroad embankment to compete up. I decided to try and re-create the hill-climb and like Clancy discovered that Sacramento was as flat as a pool table. Once I found a slight incline I made a feeble attempt to top it, but thanks to the weight of my luggage I only managed to bog down and spin the rear wheel. My Honda Twin suffered from the same syndrome as had the well-known Twin 100 years earlier; not enough steam to top the hill and/or pilot mismanagement.
Our team had a good laugh at my failed attempt at the 100 year-old recreation. I did notice that none of the Bavarian adventure motorcycles in our group ventured off the pavement during this break in our travels, choosing rather to stay in the paved parking lot.
Some of the broken pavement and remote road conditions in the woods near Cow Creek gave us a slight taste of what was serious trouble 100 years earlier.
Some of the worst roads Clancy and Allen encountered were north of Medford, Oregon, along what are now known as routes 27 and 39, especially along Cow Creek. Here Clancy described the 12 miles of a “smell” of a road as the limit of road badness. Our team found a local guide and hunted this ugly section of road on our modern motorcycles. We found pavement with some light gravel, and miles of narrow twisties. The lack of good road signage found us wandering and wondering where we were as Clancy and Allen had done, but our guide and a second GPS made our work easier.
After Portland we turned east and then north to Spokane. The next day found us in a town Clancy had described as being a mining town, which it remained. Wallace, Idaho was also the home of the Oasis Bordello Museum, which had been alive and active when Clancy and Allen rode through 100 years earlier. Closed down in 1988, the bordello was turned into a museum, which some of our team explored. The two ladies running the museum asked if we could take them with us on our route across the USA, but looking at our loaded motorcycles we decided there would be little room for them to sit. As we left them they suggested we stop in Butte, Montana, where there was another bordello that had been closed, the Dumas Hotel. It seemed where Clancy noted drunken miners and bad roads in his travels, he had left out the red lights on some of the buildings that were not meant to halt traffic but rather be directional and inviting.
(Top) The Dumas Hotel, in Butte, Montana, was open when Clancy rode through. Built in 1890, it was operational as a bordello until 1982. Today it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. (Middle) Gary Walker demonstrating the rock solid handling of the big BMW 1200 Adventure at speed. (Bottom) Our group spent money and time at J&P Cycles, a fun diversion for superstore motorcycle shopping.
In Billings, Montana our team made a pit stop. On Saturday night 56 motorcyclists came to a free presentation our team made titled Riding the World – Longest, Most Difficult, And Most Perilous Motorcycle Journey Ever Attempted. During the show Geoff Hill showed the audience the pair of boots Clancy had worn on his ‘round the world ride 100 years earlier. Hill had been carrying the boots since leaving Dublin, Ireland with intentions of turning them over to me for a Clancy display along with some other Clancy memorabilia.
From Montana to North Dakota and on to Minnesota, Clancy and our team agreed there was not much to be said about the countryside. Our group was sometimes able to find the old roads but often ended up “riding the slab.” It took some ingenuity to break up the boredom of mile after mile of rolling hills or flat wheat and corn fields. Gary Walker liked to demonstrate how stable the 1200 BMW GS Adventure was at speed by letting the gyro effect of the wheels carry him in a rock-solid straight line with hands off the handlebars. My 1983 GL 650 was less stable due to side winds affecting the steerage by putting pressure on the handlebar mounted windscreen.
We left the Clancy route to deliver our Clancy boots and other memorabilia in Anamosa, Iowa. Our first stop in the small town was at J&P Cycles. It was amazing to wander through the world’s largest aftermarket parts and accessories superstore. Like children in a candy store, we looked at and lusted over the endless array of products we could purchase for ourselves and our motorcycles. The adventure of shopping was worth the side trip to Anamosa just to see J & P Cycles and wonder what Clancy would think if he saw the offerings and displays.
Next we wandered through the National Motorcycle Museum where over 400 motorcycles were on display. It was here I had found the only 1912 Henderson in 16 years of research on the Clancy ‘round the world adventure. It was also where I spent time with my own Kawasaki KLR650 that I donated to the museum after riding it around the world in 2002. It was easily half-a-day looking at motorcycles, memorabilia, posters, and taking photographs.
We met with John Parham, President of the National Motorcycle Museum, and presented him with the original Clancy riding boots that Geoff Hill had been carrying as he worked his way around the world. At the same time we also presented a pith helmet Clancy had worn on his record setting journey, and two 100 year-old driving licenses of Clancy’s that had surfaced.
(Top) This may be the only 1912 Henderson on display in the world, at the National Motorcycle Museum. (Bottom) Adventurers Club Board Members Michael A. Salim (L) and Marc J. Milburn (R) presented me with a humbling award for my contributions towards adventure.
The original roads Clancy followed in 1913 as he rode eastward have been swallowed up by freeways, interstates and towns. Hundred year-old maps showed what would have been his route and we managed to stay on or along his route most of the time. One dying GPS and its $100 replacement helped, but we often resorted to modern day paper maps to plan our route since the GPS tracks were frequently too modern.
The Clancy trail took us into the center of Chicago where we made a second presentation. I had been invited by the Adventurers Club of Chicago to address the members at their private club. It was an opportunity for me to expose our Irish team members, Hill and Walker, to the exclusive 102 year-old club, so I invited them to join me.
The Adventurers Club has as members some outstanding names, like Theodore Roosevelt and Sir Edmund Hillary. In one glass case I found the gloves that had been worn by Slim Williams when he made his record-setting motorcycle ride from Fairbanks, Alaska to the Lower 48 in 1939. Hanging from a wall were three massive heads from big game that had been shot by Roosevelt. In another case were shrunken heads. I also found a bit of history much closer to my own works, some history of Dave Barr, a member of the club and who wrote the introduction to my book about the original 1912-1913 Clancy ride, Motorcycle Adventurer.
The Club surprised and humbled me at the end of our evening by presenting me with an award because I “exemplify the Club’s motto ‘To provide a hearth and home for those who have left the beaten path and made for adventure.’” That was a heady evening to push us on our way as we followed the Clancy trail the rest of the way across the USA.
More detail on The Clancy Centenary Ride can be found on the Horizons Unlimited Clancy ‘Round The Globe Ride www.HorizonsUnlimited.com/clancyride.
We certainly have had fun and adventure on this momentous tour to this point.