Arizona Centennial Ride
Story by Digger Dave, Photos by G. Rusty Childress
On February 14th, 1912 Arizona became the last of the 48 contiguous states admitted to the union. Originally part of New Mexico the land was ceded to the United States in 1848, and became a separate territory in 1863. No one seems to be certain as to where the name “Arizona” originated but it’s largely accepted that it’s derived from the Tohono O’odham (Papago) Native American “Place of the young (or little) spring”. Makes sense to me, there’s not a heck of a lot of big springs anywhere in the desert.
Copper was discovered in 1854 and boom towns started popping up throughout the state. To this day Arizona is the largest Copper producing state in the nation. 10 bucks says your bike has Arizona Copper helping it run; you can thank us as you travel thru. Plus now there is one bike that commem orates that industry being largely composed of Copper, more on that later.
Arizona is not small by any means nor is it all desert as some may think. With an area of 114,000 sq. miles it’s the 6 th largest state, and more than half that area rising above the 4000’ level. Residing in those mountains is the largest stand of Ponderosa Pines in the world – yep, world! With Humphreys Peak being the highest point at over 12,500 feet in the Northern Arizona San Francisco mountains, to Mt. Baldy at 11,500’ in the White mountains to the Kitt Peak Observatory (the world’s largest collection of optical telescopes) outside of Tucson at almost 7000’ elevation and desert in the middle, gives riders a huge choice of riding climates year round. Take your pick, you can ride the desert in the winter (summer is kind of rough) and the mountains in the summer (there’s winter snow up yonder), or ride both in the same day certain times of the year, ok… most of the year. It’s not uncommon for us to take a casual day ride consisting of a 400-mile loop from desert to the 9000’ elevation in the mountains and back. I’ve found myself looking at the odometer at the end of the day thinking “385 miles? That was a sweet ride!”
Now about this Arizona Centennial Ride thing, it was something to behold for sure. At its conception the organizers were thinking “If we get 300-400 bikes we’ll be good”. HA! Nothing like being a little conservative on the estimates, but actually that’s about the average for a run around here. I’m fairly certain the organizers were starting to panic a little at some point as the pre-registration numbers grew.
I need to give credit where credit is due because the organizers and volunteers (over 50 of them) really pulled this off! The ride committee consisting of Barry Caraway, Jack Irving, Alan Powell, Mark and Bev LeResche, Ed LeClere, Edwin Leslie and Reed Glick did an outstanding job of planning and managing the logistics of this historic ride (I hope I didn’t leave anyone out)! Arizona State Representative Jerry Weiers came up with the idea of having the “Copper Chopper” fabricated by world renowned bike builder Paul Yaffe from Phoenix as the official Arizona Centennial Mascot, the ONLY state to ever have a chopper as a mascot. The only parts of that incredible chopper that aren’t Copper or Copper plated are the tires and a few hoses here and there.
I’m not sure of the date when I was first informed about this ride but it was quite a few weeks prior to the event. I have to admit my first thought was “Ok, another ride downtown trying to navigate the traffic without colliding with something or someone”. Then it was announced that Paul Yaffe would be leading the pack riding the “Copper Chopper” along with country music artist and Arizona native Dierks Bentley (His song “Home” was also selected as the official Az. Centennial song) in the lead row. This is starting to get interesting, I thought. With this info pre-registration went off the charts leaping to over 1000 riders. Well I thought it was off the charts. Along came an announcement that Arizona DPS would escort the riders to the State Capitol. The numbers leaped again…1500 riders, another announcement…DPS is escorting the ride and the HOV lane (car pool) and city streets would be blocked off for riders only…leaped to 2000+ riders. WHAT? This is unprecedented!
I happened to be with one of the organizers a couple of days before the Feb. 11 th ride date and he casually told me..” Pre-registration is now over 2500 riders”. A little voice chimed in and said “I see a cluster &%#* coming”. With Mesa Riverview being the start location I was having a difficult time envisioning that many bikes staged there, let alone getting out. I’m glad the organizers were on top of it. The day before the ride I was getting unconfirmed reports of over 3000 riders pre-registered, that coupled with the fact there were certain to be a few hundred riders registering the day of the ride, and also those who were going to tag along just didn’t seem to compute.
Ride day…. with a KSU of 2pm I rolled into Mesa Riverview at 9:30am thinking I would be way ahead of the other riders staging…. NOT… the numbers appeared to be valid, there were 4 rows of bikes, two on each side of the street stretching as far as I could see, then around a corner to who knows where, and a steady stream of riders approaching from all directions. At that point I conceded “It is what it is, and there’s a lot of it”. I spoke with riders staged at the front who had arrived at 7am to secure that spot in the inevitable monster pack. I’m glad no one had an emergency, once staged there didn’t seem to be any way to get out.
“Roving registration girls” were in the staging area to help take the load off the registration tables, yet there were still massive lines at said tables! The band had begun to play, breakfast was being served at no less than 3 large restaurants on site and numerous others within easy walking distance, the Copper Chopper was drawing a crowd, media in the air and on the ground and people everywhere! “Aurora” the Bald Eagle rescued and given a new lease on life by Liberty Wildlife (www.liberty-wildlife.org) was spreading her majestic wings, posing for pictures with riders. She is so huge even the most seasoned iron butt rider is intimi- dated when standing dangerously close, even though there isn’t any danger.
The ride left exactly on time with Paul Yaffe and Dierks Bentley in the front row behind the DPS escort, and the next 23 rows made up what was known as “The Az 48” based on Arizona being the 48 th state ad- mitted to the Union. These 48 consisted of the Ride Committee, Spon- sors, Media and numerous dignitaries with Arizona’s Secretary of State Ken Bennett among them. DPS confirmed the event as the largest or- ganized ride in Arizona history, with over 5000 bikes in a pack, (toss those previous numbers I mentioned). The ride was only 16 miles and the “Az 48” arrived at the destination 20 minutes before the last bike left Mesa Riverview! I’m taking a somewhat calculated guess that it’s somewhere close to 20 miles of continuous bikes riding two by two. Probably 80% were riding 2-up, with some riders not in the pack, so we’re close to the 10,000 participants mark. There were over 20 states and Canada represented and I met one couple from Germany who made a side trip from touring the U.S.A just to attend.
Many thanks (at least 10,000) go out to all the hard work put in by the organizers and volunteers even in the face of rapidly expanding regis- tration numbers, you adjusted and compensated for every wave that came your way! Normally the term “organized chaos” is linked to major rides, but there wasn’t any chaos, it was pure organization!
For all of those who rode, you’re now a part of Arizona history! The ride was way beyond expectations and went off without a hitch. Kudos to all the riders for keeping a highly impressive 2 X 2 formation from beginning to end!! Pat yourselves on the back, better yet commend your brothers and sisters, even DPS was impressed with the demeanor and structure of the pack, now that’s something in itself! This was a once in a lifetime ride, and I’m sure everyone is honored to have been part of it. I know I am.
Ride Safe~~Ride Free