Years ago, as a high school student, Princeton resident Calvin Cote had his interest piqued by tales of daredevils driving across the country, in their cars, in a continuous sprint. The unofficial, unsanctioned transcontinental race widely known as the “Cannonball Run” took place five times in the 1970s. Drivers raced with little regard for the speed limits from New York City to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach.
For over a decade that seed of an idea remained in Cote’s mind. Then, last year, Cote stumbled upon a series of interviews with Carl Reese, a Californian who rode his motorcycle from Manhattan to Los Angeles in 38 hours and 49 minutes in 2015, setting a new speed record. He was the sixth person to hold a solo record for the famed cross-country dash. “I thought, initially, wow, that’s really admirable because it must be really hard to do that on a bike,” said Cote, as he sat on his boat in Pillar Point Harbor. “Because you don’t have another driver to swap with and share the load. It’s just yourself.”
But after reading more about Reese’s accomplishments, the 30-year-old Coastsider was struck by what he saw as the record-breaker’s poor attitude.
“He kept saying that you can only do this if you’ve been through Army boot camp like (he) has,” said Cote. “And I kept reading these articles, and he (was saying) that he was getting drug tested to prove that he wasn’t on drugs during this. It was a little exclusionary and pretentious.
“My initial thought was, wow, this guy’s really arrogant. Now I gotta go buy a motorcycle,” he added.
That’s exactly what Cote did. Despite having more than five years of experience riding motorcycles, he had never ridden one of the larger bikes capable of carrying the extra fuel tanks required for the journey. In May 2018, he set out on his first attempt to break Reese’s record.
“I got stuck in a thunderstorm and I didn’t break it,” said Cote. “And in my head, the whole time I’m thinking, ‘I’m doing this whole record out of spite for a guy that I don’t know who’s a little arrogant. Maybe this should be about more than that.’”
For nearly a year, Cote took a break from his quest to reflect and prepare for the next attempt. Throughout that time, his motivations shifted.
“This journey has actually (become) a lot more about a discovery of self-esteem and perseverance,” he said. “I grew a lot in the last year, and a lot of it had to do with this record. When I came back to it this year, I was feeling really rejuvenated and a lot more clear, mentally.”
At 3 a.m. on April 20, Cote set out from the Portofino Hotel in Redondo Beach. He arrived at Manhattan’s Red Ball Garage, the traditional starting point for the Cannonball Run, at 5:06 p.m. on April 21.
The whirlwind journey took Cote 35 hours and six minutes and spanned 2,772 miles. His average speed clocked in at 89 miles per hour.
Cote describes the vacuum of stimulation throughout his journey as the most challenging hurdle to overcome. He was only able to squeeze in 20 minutes of sleep throughout his cross-country trek.
“There was another moment where I was probably around 20 hours in and I hadn’t slept yet,” he said. “And I wanted to turn my turn signal, but I realized that I hit my clutch lever. Just pure exhaustion.”
When he finally touched down in New York City, Cote was able to breathe a long-awaited sigh of relief.
“I just thought, ‘Thank God that’s over. I never want to do that again,’” he said.
While Cote said that his accomplishment won’t be recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records because he violated too many traffic laws, the journey has given him a major boost of self-confidence.
“Somewhere along the way, I started to like myself more,” he continued. “And you don’t have to break records to be of value. But the struggle of it just solidified worth, to me.
“If you want something bad enough, and you have a touch of crazy, you can have it,” he added.