Before I continue with PART EIGHT, I have to share this with you, because what happened at CFB Trenton during the week of the R2R is a very big part of the story. The following is part of the culmination.
On Monday (June 18, 2012 – this week), I attended a solemn sod-turning ceremony just to the side of CFB Trenton in the Town of Quinte, where the work to build the Afghanistan Repatriation Memorial to honor Canada’s Warriors who died in Afghanistan was to commence in earnest.
There were military people present, the Mayor of Quinte, people and groups who made donations towards the building of this Memorial, including the Montreal Maccabees Motorcycle Club to which I am a member, the Heroes Highway Riders, and veterans who served in Afghanistan.
Featured at this ceremony were two mothers who lost their sons in combat in Afghanistan and one soldier, who in the name of his veteran’s motorcycle club donated more than $2000.
While he was on stage presenting his check to the Mayor of Quinte, he (JR Smith) struggled to find the words, but as they came from his soul, he spoke of TWENTY-ONE of his comrades who came home in flag draped coffins, swearing never to forget any of them.
So, in honor to their memory, JR had his own Memorial tattooed over his entire back, highlighting the names of each of those fallen HEROES.
BACK TO PART EIGHT – ON THE ROAD:
The agenda for the Parliament Hill Pledge of NEVER AGAIN was 99% in place. The agenda for the Afghanistan Repatriation Ceremony at CFB Trenton was about 99% in place.
So, all I had to do on Monday May 28th . . . was to meet three other Riders (Lou DeVuono and Graeme Hume of the Heroes Highway Ride (HHR), and Renee Charbonneau (Belt Drive Betty), Motorcycle Journalist and CAV Member (Canadian Army Veteran Motorcycle Club) for lunch at a restaurant near the Canada/US border crossing at Hill Island, Ontario, Canada.
From the restaurant, we would make the 6-hour ride to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, where we would meet with Gary Burd of the M25 (Mission of Hope Riders), several Members of the Montreal Maccabees led by Mark Laxer, several JMA (Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance) Riders from Georgia, and Vice President of the JMA Jay Rubin, who actually lives in the Pocono’s, whose brother owned the hotel where we met and slept.
The ride from the Canada/US border was great – with nothing but sunshine and blue skies. What was most interesting about this ride was that I basically had no relationship with the other Riders. For all intent and purposes, they were more or less strangers to me.
I knew Lou DeVuono in a kind of a business way, since we spent a great deal of time working together to coordinate our events. I knew Graeme Hume through Lou, and because Graeme played a major role in the coordination of the CFB Trenton Commemoration.
But, I had never met Renee (Belt Drive Betty), who flew in from 4 hours North of Edmonton Alberta, just to make this series of Rides with us as part of her overall coverage and documentary from the Pocono’s to the Heroes Highway Ride.
So, in reality, here I was, starting what would be an incredible adventure with three other people who were as different from me, as different could be, with the exception of several shared interests:
1 – We all loved to ride motorcycles.
2 – We were all devoted to each other’s purpose.
3 – We were all planners and organizers leaving the stress in our rear view mirrors.
It didn’t take more than a few minutes to sort out our riding styles . . . with Lou in the lead, Graeme riding Sweep, myself behind Lou, and Renee before Graeme. And before we knew it, all the stress we had left behind was really behind us, since the most important issues on our agenda was when to stop for gas, and where to eat.
We rolled into the Pocono’s hotel parking lot a little after 8pm, where before we checked-in, we checked-up on our fellow travelers with whom we were looking forward to meeting, and who we would be making the long ride back to Canada with.
But, it wasn’t quite the greeting I had expected, even though I really had no preconceived expectations other than I sort of thought it would be more exciting with big hugs, backslaps and all.
Instead . . . we shook hands, smiled, made some very brief small talk, since the 35 or so M25 Riders (Pastor Gary Burd and his wife Caroline) were just sitting down to supper, while the Maccabees (Mark Laxer, Johnny Carr and Sebastian Lupu) were just finishing-up in the bar, and we still had to square ourselves up in the hotel, and get our gear to our rooms.
The four of us did manage however, after we checked-in, to find a tired hour or so, to sit in the bar and have a few drinks with the Georgia JMA Riders (Les and Ann Green, Wayne Markman, Neal Zucker and Jeff Merry) whose company turned out to be a smile and a laugh a minute.
AND THEN THERE WAS THE WALKING LEGEND . . . TRAPPER JOHN OF THE C.A.V.
It was agreed upon by all . . . that we would have a restful breakfast by 8 o’clock, and be on the road between 9 and 10. And just after breakfast, we pulled together for a more formal meet and greet, where I thanked everyone from the M25 for their commitment and sacrifice to be with us, riding in the name of Israel, the Holocaust and the Pledge of NEVER AGAIN.
But . . . it was the M25 Riders who kept on thanking us for including them. Either way, from the very first moment, there was no question in my mind that this was going be to a mutual admiration relationship.
Before leaving the dining area, Gary Burd delivered a Prayer of Gratitude for all that we had, and to our new friendships. And then Mark Laxer delivered a Hebrew Blessing for Travelers.
I’m not one who prays, but, somehow, the prayers delivered a feeling in the room that delivered a comfort like a warm blanket on a chilly night.
As the person who put this event together, I made the executive decision to have Gary Burd and Lou DeVuono ride LEAD, with a skilled HHR Rider and skilled M25 Rider take SWEEP in front of the M25’s two chase vehicles.
I would have chosen one of those positions for myself, if by chance I weren’t the least skilled Rider of the group of 44. So, I opted to ride near the end of the formation where I could do the least amount of harm to others and myself.
Also, when you ride at the rear, you get to see the great sight of so many bikes ahead of you, opposed to seeing only the road ahead when riding at the lead.
With 44 Bikes and two vehicles in pursuit, our convoy took to the road looking and sounding as exciting as it was . . . and all of a sudden, with the roar of the engines, all the stuff and stress of the months, weeks and days before, suddenly vanished.
WHAT’S A RIDE WITHOUT AN ADVENTURE?
We fueled-up just before leaving the area where we stayed in the Pocono’s, and rode right through to Binghamton NY, where we stopped for fuel and a stretch. The temperature in the sun was pushing 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and even on the Bikes traveling at 70 miles per hour, the heat was a factor.
As we fueled-up in Binghamton, we noticed some serious thunderclouds coming in from the West and behind us, with a promise of rain. So, the questions were: Do we suit-up or ride as is? Or do we wait-out the storm?
We made the decision to ride-on, but before saddling-up, Gary Burd and Mark Laxer delivered their parking lot prayers for our safety. But, before we were able to do that, there were two construction guys jack-hammering about 100 feet from where we stood.
So, I approached them, and explained to them who we were and what we were about to do, and asked if they could silence their jack-hammers for a few minutes until we were done.
At that, not only did they put down the jack-hammers, they also removed their hard hats, and seemingly joined us in our prayers. And as soon as the group said AMEN, the construction guys went back to work, we mounted-up, and we were on our way.
Because of the temperature, all of us but a few, decided not to put on our rain gear, since in even normal weather, wearing rain gear can be like sitting inside a microwave.
I went half way, and put on my rain jacket less my rain pants. And even with just my jacket, it didn’t take seconds for the heat to get to me.
I don’t think that it took more than 5-minutes from the fuel-stop, when the rain started to come down. At first it was hard rain. Then it became driving rain. Then the wind gusts hit at about 60 miles per hour (not 60 kilometers – SIXTY miles). And then came the hail.
It was raining so hard, that waves of water were driving across the highway. And the visibility was so low, that we could barely see the lights of the bikes or any vehicles directly ahead of us.
And if you wear eyeglasses as I do, the rain covered my plastic face shield inside and out, as well as my eyeglasses inside and out, creating a quadruple layer of water that made a very bad situation much worse. Somehow though, I was able to pull my glasses from the bridge of my nose to the tip of my nose looking over the rims for about an hour of hard riding.
I should also mention that the temperature according to my Bike Thermometer, which is deadly accurate, fell from 95 degrees to under 70 degrees in mere moments. And from being really hot traveling at 70 miles per hour, we became substantially cold.
It wasn’t too bad for me because I was wearing the rain jacket. But Riders like Gary Burd and others who were wearing just jeans, a short-sleeved shirt and leather vest were really up against it.
Eventually, our formation began to come apart with some Riders doing 70 miles per hour, while others cut back substantially. But, as Gary Burd had said repeatedly, if you have trouble, the chase vehicles will always be in the rear, and we leave no Rider behind.
This weather nightmare followed us all the way from Binghamton NY to Syracuse NY (70 miles) for about an hour, when the skies started to clear. We decided that Syracuse was a good place to stop to rest, eat, fuel-up and dry-off as best we could.
And even with my rain jacket, I was soaked through and through, including my otherwise rain proof Gortex Boots that sloshed as I walked, because they filled with water running down my rain soaked jeans into the collar of my boots.
Some of us chose to go to one restaurant brand, while a few others and I chose to go to a Ruby Tuesday franchise, from where we took a head count, coming up with two short. Graeme Hume and Renee (Belt Drive Betty) were missing, which caused us no shortage of concern.
As it turned out, after the formation broke-up in the blinding rain, independently of each other, Graeme and Renee decided to pull off and wait it out. And somehow, when the rain abated, both of them figured-out where to find us to everyone’s great relief.
As I wrote in a previous paragraph, I’m not one for praying, but, after riding through this disaster with all of us making it none-the-worse-for-wear, I paid close attention to the next prayer before we ate, that gave thanks for our safety.
By about eight o’clock that night, we rolled into Kingston at the Best Western Fireside to a huge lit sign that read:
WELCOME M25 – Ride 2 Remember – NEVER AGAIN.
By 9 o’clock the next morning, we were on our way to Parliament Hill and BEYOND, which proved to be one of the most eventful weeks of my life, and the lives of my fellow travelers.
And The Truth Shall Set You Free – PART NINE, which includes what will hopefully be my final exchange with Stein and Prager – will be published within the next few days.
Best Regards . . . Howard Galganov