I stopped at the local Shell station and topped up, prior to taking Tenth Line North to the 174. Traffic was still relatively light as we reached the end of Tenth Line and took the long right-hander onto the highway. I settled into a sedate 110kmh. I stayed in the right lane as there was no rush, we had plenty of time. Traffic remained fairly light and I did not have to carry out any emergency evasive manoeuvring to remain intact, either at the split where we met up with the 417 or further West. I had just passed the Parkdale exit when it began to sprinkle, ever so lightly.
We carried on under a light rain, which lasted all of five to ten minutes or so. By the time I had passed Moodie Drive, the sprinkling had stopped and we were both getting air-dried. Passing the exit for Almonte and now on the 17, we cruised along effortlessly. My back felt good, my arm had yet to begin giving me any grief. The aromas in the air of forest, earth and recently fallen rain, were astounding.
The rain held off until I slowed and exited the 17 at White Lake Road. The Antrim Truck Stop was visible from the road well before the turn and I hung a left at the lights to enter their parking lot. My arrival time was about 0820hrs. I decided to take off the rain pants upon my arrival, and load them into the starboard saddlebag, as I would be there until 1000hrs. There were only four other bikes there so we were ahead of the crowd. I locked Baby up and headed in for some much anticipated breakfast. Having only a coffee under my belt before leaving home, I was pretty much ready for some food.
The truck stop store carries a bit of everything and has a great restaurant section called The Hangar. The food there was great I had the eggs benny...) and the service is what you'd expect from any successful truck stop: first rate. I was surprised I didn't buy a t-shirt from the place, 'course then again I couldn't find a large in black. I reckon I'll head back there before the summer's out... :)
There were a few riders who came in while I was sitting there, though none were overly friendly. I had to remind myself that this was a H.O.G. function and many of their members are yet afflicted with the: "you-ain't-a-real-biker-unless-you-wear-the-Harley-Bar-and-Shield-on-everything-you-own" mental illness. No problems... I normally attend such rallies to meet new friends amongst other things, but if this was going to be a 'business only' function, it was no sweat off my brow. I'm pretty particular over whom I choose to call friend, and my pre-requisites don't centre on what they ride. Any asshole can own a Harley. It don't make him a biker, it don't make him a rider, an' it sure don't make him my fuckin' brother.
The eggs benny were wonderful and my coffee cup was apparently bottomless. I decided to cut myself off, or I'd be looking to find a roadside bush on the way to Renfrew. I decided to go stooge outside and maybe meet some of the other riders as they came in. I settled up my bill and headed out, where it had already started raining softly. Hmmm... I decided to retreive my rain pants from the saddlebag and my skull-face weather mask. I figured I might be using them in the coming downpour. As I stood there under the awning, I took in my surroundings. I was definitely in the country. Country folk, farmers, truckers, et al... they have their own dress code. They fancy country music, they are big supporters of the military, they believe in eating well and for the most part, they don't believe in puttin' on airs. I like them...
I watched riders pulling in, by ones and twos, with the odd group of four or more riders every now and then. We nodded to each other as our eyes met. Time was marching on and it was apparent that the turnout from this rendez-vous would be a small one today. I found myself wondering how many riders would be waiting for us in Renfrew, where we would be headed next to register for the ride. We'd be lucky to leave Arnprior with twenty riders.
As I was standing there, a Chief Warrant Officer came striding out, in his paint-by-number outfit (camos). He wore a REME beret badge and was quite a physically imposing lad. He had a small 8.5x11 poster about the ride which he was trying to tape to the front door window of the truck stop. The poster kept wanting to fall off, the tape obviously giving way to the overwhelming ambient humidity. "What you need there is some good ol' Navy tape, Chief...", I offered. "That's the waterproof type we use to keep the screen doors secured on the submarines...". He turned to me and half-smiled, clearly trying to size up this unknown miscreant who thought he could stand there and torture a bloody Chief Warrant Officer Army type...
I offered my hand to him: "Petty Officer First Class Paul F.Prudhomme... Retarded!", I announced. He laughed. This then was Hugh, whom I had met along with his wife Sharyn, at the Tim Horton's in Manotick, not so long ago. They were the ones who had let me know about the ride. Immediately he recognized me. Hugh would be our Road Captain for our journey to Renfrew.
Slowly, we began getting dressed for the ride. The rain was coming down a little harder now and we formed up in the parking lot for our first run out. Hugh had gotten me a small tri-forces flag to mount on my bike. Apparently he had received them from his unit's RSM and they were highly-prized items. His wife had insisted that I have one prior to the run beginning. I took up a place of honour, riding as the third bike in line on the inboard row. A position I would keep even after meeting up with the remaining bikes in Renfrew. Hugh briefed me that he would be taking some of the regional backroads to reach Renfrew. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way...
We left Arnprior and headed out into the farmlands. The route had been well planned and even with the rain, it was immensely enjoyable. In fact, the harder it rained, the more I smiled. I even began to sing to nobody in particular at one point. Adversity, hardship, to those who have served in the military it is all simply part of the game. Another challenge to be overcome. Another chance to prove your mettle. And let's face it... the men and women for whom we were doing this run, have to endure so much more during the run of their deployment. If riding through a little rain was all we were called on to do, how could you possibly say no?
As we neared Renfrew, we were greeted by some thunder and lightning, fairly close. My brain flashed back to that Quebec rider who was fried in his saddle last summer, as he thundered along the 50 at 100kmh. Hmmmm... My joy units were lessening at this point and I would be glad to see the registration site. The way I saw it, I had a large chunk of steel making up my left arm. I was the group's lightning rod, pretty much. Yeah... I was starting to get a little antsy by the time we got there.
We dismounted without incident in Renfrew, taking refuge in a small building after registration was completed. Two other small groups of riders arrived while we were there. Together, we would make a good-looking bunch as we headed out through the countryside once more. This time, we would have police escorts. They would be leading us out to the town's outskirts and picking us up again as we neared Pembroke. I have to say that my hat is off to these OPP officers. The turnovers of the escort duties were very professionally and neatly done. Bravo Zulu to them! At 1115 precisely, we struck out from Renfrew.
The second stage of the ride, with our full complement, was as enjoyable as the first. The leaders kept the throttle down to a reasonable level and didn't leave the rest of the crew strung out too far behind them. The rain stopped and we actually began air-drying, the closer we came to Pembroke. I remember at one stage feeling elated and just being so happy that I had decided to sign up for this particular ride.
The OPP cruiser picked us up a couple of klicks out of town and escorted us right to the Irving Big Stop in Pembroke. Our arrival time was 1235hrs. I knew I was close to needing a refill on gas, but decided to wait until we had landed on base. I grabbed a coffee and perused some of the assembled bikes, while we all waited to leave at 1300hrs. The rain had stopped and we were actually drying out. The mood was good and you could see smiles all around as we figured we had perhaps seen the last of the wet stuff for the time being.
At 1300hrs sharp, the attending OPP cruisers lit up their light racks and began edging towards the exit. The Ride Captain gave the signal and all the bikes thundered to life in rapid succession. I always like those moments. It's sounds like a large, awakening beast. The lead bikes, myself included, headed out to take their positions behind the cruiser. We were off... We snaked through the town of Pembroke doing about 40 to 50kmh, our cruiser hitting his siren whenever we came to an intersection. We had a clear road all the way through. Our cruiser peeled away to the left as we hit the outskirts of town, bound for Petawawa.
Within 10 minutes, we were being greeted by another OPP cruiser, as we hit the Petawawa township. This time we proceded through Petawawa itself, lights flashing, horns blaring and sirens wailing, as the locals waved and cheered our arrival. We headed on up Petawawa Blvd. to the entrance to CFB Petawawa, where an MP was waiting to wave us through the gates. We halted in a small parking lot to the left of the guardhouse, immediately after entering the base. We then dismounted to meet our MP reception committee, though curiously, I did not see anyone else there to greet the riders. Perhaps some disconnect had occurred, who knows...
We took a few photos with the group posing in front of the WW2 AA battery, then dispersed to find our trusty steeds. We fired them up once more to do a slow parade through the base, led by the MPs. We passed the Canadian Airborne Museum and I felt a familiar flutter in my guts. The last time I darkened the doors of this hallowed institution, was in 1985/1986, when I attended my jump course. I looked at the Dak (C-47 Dakota) parked outside the museum. The early Airborne units referred to it as the 'Vomit Comet'. So much history there... most of which the general public is totally unaware of.
We trundled on at a slow pace. The base was literally deserted. We did not see a single soul. Surely they couldn't have deployed everyone, I remember thinking to myself... It gave me a very eerie feeling. We exited the base and rode perhaps 200 feet outside the base to the Legion's parking lot, where everyone dismounted and got a chance for a rest and a chin wag, as the smells of barbecue filled the air.
I had the opportunity to meet several of my fellow riders, amongst them members of the CAV (Canadian Army Veterans) motorcycle organization. They have asked me a few times now, to drop by their weekly meeting which they hold every Tuesday evening at a place called Christie's, in the city's West end. Thing is, I'm not an Army veteran... I'm a Navy veteran. We'll see...
After a couple of well-earned and nearly burned cheeseburgers, washed down with a Diet Coke (blehh!!), it was time to saddle up and head out for home. The skies still looked promising and I felt re-invigorated by the pit stop, even though there were no seats available during my lunch break. Apparently even with our small numbers, there were more riders than facilities. Not to worry, for I had a very comfortable seat waiting for me in the parking lot. I was joined by a French ex-serviceman from Gatineau, who was looking to ride back with someone so he wouldn't get lost. I told him I just had to fill up somewhere before we hit the highway again and we'd be good to go.
We bade goodbye to our hosts (Hugh and Sharyn) and saddled up. We eased out of the parking lot and headed back down Petawawa Blvd. We found an Ultramar station where we both took time to fill up and within 15 minutes or so, were heading down a secondary road which would lead us back to the 17. We reckoned we would take the straight road back, rather than deak through the back roads once more. It was around 1500hrs by the time we turned left onto the 17 and began our run back in earnest. The air was moist and warm. It was a great ride back. No near-events, no critters leaping out in front of us. We rode at a steady 110-120kmh.
Within 30 minutes of being back on the road, we observed a group of about 12 riders ahead of us. We closed in on them but had 2 cars between their main body and us. The lead car pulled out and passed the group, just managing to pull back in before he would have impacted another oncoming vehicle. Jackass!! The second car stayed with them, but was falling back slowly. We finally had a space where we could pass the second car and join up with the main phalanx of bikes. We slid in at the rear of the formation, taking up station in a staggered formation on the bikes ahead of us. The group was rumbling along at about 90-100kmh. A nice sedate pace.
As we headed down a long decline, eight of the riders ahead of us detached, slowed and entered a gas station on the left-hand side of the road. Obviously a fuel stop was required for this lot. We honked and waved as we cruised past them and headed to catch up with the four lead bikes. I noticed that the head bike had a long flagpole on the stern, which was flying an Army flag. I recognized it immediately as being Hugh's bike. He was accompanied by Andy (the Brit submariner) and his wife and two other riders whom I had rode with for the majority of the ride so far. We were fast approaching a turnoff for an Irving station near Renfrew. As we hit the red light just prior to the turnoff, Hugh turned around and asked if anyone was up for a coffee. We all agreed and pulled into the mall parking lot, where there just happened to be a Tim's.
We dismounted and I went inside to get a small, double-double. I didn't fuel Baby up, as I had plenty to make it back to Orleans on. Having said that, the gas station was selling their regular gas for $0.82.1. Markedly cheaper than anything one might find near or in town. Having downed our coffees, Andy filled his Harley ULHTC while we waited for him. We then headed out as a group on our last leg of the journey. Sylvain left us as we hit Arnprior. Andy and his wife peeled away at Carp. That left the Chief and me, heading into town along the Queensway. He waved and took the Parkdale exit, threading his way through the now heavy traffic heading Eastward.
I remember thinking how Joanna would not have cared for this leg of the trip. She does not feel good about being surrounded by moving machinery. Yet, it is simply another part of riding. I am aware of the vehicles around me, but I do not fear them. I do not let them intimidate me. If I did, I'd be nervous. When you're nervous or fearful, you do dumb, potentially life-threatening things. So no, I do not fear them. I claim my space, my lane. I stand my ground. I stare them down, I scowl and growl and snarl at them. I'll dent their doors, use my horn, blind them with my passing lamps. I will make them aware that I am in their midst. In most instances however, I will simply leave them behind me.
Before too long we had passed the 417/174 split and I was sailing into Orleans. It had been a longish run but a good one. The dampness and the initial cold had played Hell with my shoulder and I was looking forward to a nice hot whirlpool bath upon reaching home. I pulled into our driveway at 1720hrs, very happy to be home at last. I had once more pushed the envelope of my comfort and endurance zone successfully. A good cause had been served and I had enjoyed the freedom of the road. All in all, a very good day.