21st-Century Pony Express
YOUNG, SKINNY, WIRY FELLOWS, not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, and willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred. Wages $25 a week. Advertisement for Pony Express riders, 1860
On April 3, 1860, a fledgling fast delivery service—The Pony Express—opened for business. Its goal was to deliver mail between Missouri and California in less than 10 days. Horse-drawn coaches took a month to cover the 1,966-mile distance, so 10 days was fast. Relay stations were established at 10-mile intervals and riders stopped just long enough to change horses. After 100 miles a new rider took over.
The Pony Express motto was “The Mail Must Go Through,” and for 19 months it did, with 34,753 pieces of mail delivered and only one mail delivery lost. Nonetheless, the transcontinental telegraph was completed October 24, 1861, and technology rendered the Pony Express obsolete.
Despite its brevity, the Pony Express remains a celebrated piece of American history, and the inspiration for a riding relay of a different sort.
THE PONY EXPRESS RIDE
Members of ST-Owners (www.st-owners.com), an independent, worldwide group of Honda ST1300 and ST1100 enthusiasts, recently completed a “Pony Express Ride” across the United States. The brainchild of Khris St. Clair, a U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant and an instructor at Lackland AFB in San Antonio,Texas, the Pony Express Ride was proposed as a fun way to give members of ST-Owners a chance to do what they like best: ride long distances, meet fellow ST enthusiasts and ride some more.
“I bought my ST in March 2008,” St. Clair says, “and I got online with ST-Owners and learned about the group’s events. These people know each other by online names, and I thought why not get folks to ride and meet somewhere, then ride to meet someone else, and keep it going. I figured to keep it going we should carry something, and that’s where the Pony Express idea came from. I posted the idea on the site.Within two days, 200 people expressed interest.”
The plan was straightforward: carry a courier pack to each state capitol building in the 48 states. The pack contained the ST-Owners Spirit and Rider Log Book, where each participant recorded mileage and comments. At each relay
point, the pack went to the next rider.
ST riders are a friendly bunch, and before long someone suggested supporting a worthy cause. The Pony Express Ride became a 48-state poker run.
Starting at the state capitol in Olympia, Washington, on August 30, 2008, the Pony Express Ride traveled east across America’s northern tier to New England, back west through the heartland to California, and then back across the southern states to Florida.
Members of ST-Owners use their website to coordinate rides and events around the world, and they leveraged this resource for the Pony Express Ride. “We posted a basic state-by-state route, and each rider or group planned specific routes and relay points,” explains St. Clair. “Riders shared GPS files and we put a satellite tracking device in the courier pack so you could go to the website and see where the ride was at any given time. Riders posted photos and comments along the way. It was fun.”
From start to finish, 87 riders took part, some solo, others in groups. Participants kept the ride going in a manner befitting the original Pony Express and typical of ST riders. In the Northeast, riders carried on through torrential rain. Southeast of Nashville, conditions on the Natchez Trace went from dry road to blizzard within three miles. George Catt of Kingman, Arizona, voted Motorcyclist of the Year by his fellow ST Owners, logged the longest individual distance: 3,400 miles on his 1991 ST1100, over 10 route legs. This mileage doesn’t even include the 500 miles from his home in Arizona to his first relay point in Utah, or the 1,800 miles to get back home again.
The 48th capital city visited was Columbia, South Carolina, and December 21, 2008—after 18,808 miles—the Pony Express Ride was completed at Dolphin Stadium in Miami, Florida.
Long-distance riding and a cooperative nature are hallmarks of the ST-Owners community. Together, these qualities helped the Pony Express Ride to raise $1,800 for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, in honor of Derek Catt. PBTF is a registered nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the search for the cause of and a cure for childhood brain tumors.
“The original goal of the Pony Express Ride was simply to have something fun to do, something to remember being a part of,” said St. Clair, “but it grew into something greater.”
With the success of the ST-Owners Pony Express Ride in 2008, the ride will become an annual event—the 2009 ride was going on at press time for this issue of Rider, in fact. Plans include varying the theme—such as riding in each state through a national park or to the road at the highest elevation or to a site with special significance to the motorcycling community—and to support a different charity each year.
As St. Clair puts it, “It’s a great way to have fun and spread a good deed around. Let’s ride!”
Scott “Bones”Williams is a freelance writer, ST1300 rider and ST-Owners member from Wilbraham, Massachusetts.
(This article 21st-Century Pony Express: Sport-Touring Riders go the distance for fun and a purpose was published in the February 2012 issue of Rider magazine.)