Monday, August 24, 2009

A trip to Petawawa...

Last Saturday saw me heading out to Petawawa, to attend a pig roast and receive my crest from the Veterans UN/NATO Canada group. I have been looking forward to this for some time now. They are a group of Vets, both retired and still serving, who get together to swap war stories and share good times. They have also been called upon to act as an honour guard at military funerals and repatriations. The link below will lead you to their site, if you're so inclined.

The Ontario chapter has only just recently got it's own website and eventually it will be updated to show pics from this event on Saturday.

I believe a total of 8 new members and supporters received their patch at this meeting. There was nobody that I knew beforehand but that never matters. They were all military and all riders to boot, so there was plenty of commonality right off the bat. They came from every element and MOC. Airborne, Infantry, Medics, Armored, Admin types, Navy, Artillery, you name it. One of the new members was actually the RSM for the RCD*, who are based at Petawawa. (*Regimental Sergeant-Major for the Royal Canadian Dragoons). It was the funniest thing when we first met. He had just arrived and was dismounting from his bike. I commented: "Holy Jesus... look at the mustache on this lad, what? You'd think he was friggin' RCD or something!" That's when he introduced himself as being their RSM. Everyone laughed...

The ride up had been interesting. I took the Rockcliffe Parkway and then the Western Parkway, to head out to the town's West End. I hadn't been this way in ages, it seemed. By the time I stopped off for gas on the March Road, the skies looked as though they would open at any given moment. They were lead grey and I knew I was going to be riding straight into something. I took the time to put on my rain gear before hitting the road again. I hooked back South along March Road until I found myself merging onto the 417 Westbound. Ahead of me were masses of black clouds, piled higher than mountains. Yet they seemed to be tracking slightly to the South of where I was headed. One could only hope...

I settled into a steady 115kmh, keeping to the inside lane (the curb-hugger lane...) so that the remaining traffic could easily get by me. One by one, the exits peeled by. Carp, Kinburn Sideroad, Galetta Sideroad and finally Arnprior. The first milestone. We split off onto the 17 West from that point. Some spits of rain by this point, but nothing terrible. We had actually skirted to the North of that enormous mass of clouds. The Gods were with me so far. Before long, we were sailing by and through Renfrew. I was tempted to stop at the Amtrim Truck Stop of theirs, where I had enjoyed such a fantastic breakfast before the Red Ride in May. Time was pressing however and so we stayed our course.

Haley Station, Chenaux and then Cobden. Cobden had the gas-up stop and the Timmies', neither of which I would be using today. But it was another milestone on this trip. It put us halfway between Arnprior and Petawawa. I saw an exit for Osceola and smiled. Osceola County in Florida, is largely populated by Puerto Ricans these days. Osceola was a war chief with the Seminole Indians of Florida. I can't hear his name without hearing John Anderson's 'Seminole Wind' play in the back of my mind and remembering my time in the Everglades.

Seminole Wind - John Anderson.

Ever since the days of old,
Men would search for wealth untold.
They'd dig for silver and for gold,
And leave the empty holes.
And way down south in the Everglades,
Where the black water rolls and the saw grass waves.
The eagles fly and the otters play,
In the land of the Seminole.

So blow, blow Seminole wind,
Blow like you're never gonna blow again.
I'm calling to you like a long lost friend,
But I know who you are.
And blow, blow from the Okeechobee,
All the way up to Micanopy.
Blow across the home of the Seminole,
The alligators and the garr.

Progress came and took its toll,
And in the name of flood control,
They made their plans and they drained the land,
Now the glades are going dry.
And the last time I walked in the swamp,
I sat upon a Cypress stump,
I listened close and I heard the ghost,
Of Osceola cry.

So blow, blow Seminole wind,
Blow like you're never gonna blow again.
I'm calling to you like a long lost friend
But I know who you are.
And blow, blow from the Okeechobee,
All the way up to Micanopy.
Blow across the home of the Seminole,
The alligators and the garr.

By 1600hrs we were passing through Pembroke. I stopped momentarily for a trip to the heads and some water at the Irving Big Stop, conveniently located right off the highway. I was now only 10 minutes out of Petawawa. I arrived at Layman Lane by 1615 hours. The road itself was dirt so I checked my speed as I turned onto it. There were probably a dozen people already there by the time I came riding in. It was maybe a hundred yards to the end of the road, where I could see the pig roasting in the pit. Yummers!!

As I pulled in, I recognized Captain Bonhomme, my host for the afternoon and one of the founding members of the club. I called out to him as I backed the bike into it's spot. He came to greet me and introduced me to his missus, who happened to be the club's admin officer. From there, I made the rounds and was introduced in turn to the remaining members. One member, Darwin, was a mountain of a man. There was some discussion around his ride and I soon found out that he had low-sided on the trip down, as he tried to avoid a female driver who had piled on the brakes at 110kmh, in the middle of a goddamn highway, because she had seen a small critter crossing the road. He had been hauling a trailer at the time as well. The damage was impressive, but not as impressive as the fact that he was standing there talking to me, with nary a scratch to report on himself.

As the afternoon progressed, more riders would arrive in groups of three to six. Some members had come from as far as Quebec City and Trois-Rivières for this get-together. I wandered from group to group, chatting about the old days, bikes and travelling. I checked out the rides and then wandered over to inspect the piggie. He looked awful tasty rotating on that spit there... I just love a good pig roast. And the trimmings they had laid on for this meal were wonderful. There was corn on the cob, meatballs, devilled eggs, salads, macaroni salad, potato salad, pickles, veggies, baked spuds with all the fixings... I couldn't wait to dig in. But wait we would have to. The ceremony was about to get under way, once they reckoned everyone had shown up.

Our host thanked everyone for attending and he was joined by 'Le Grand', the other founding member, an ex-R22R chap who looked like a cross between Father Time (he musta been 6' 4") and Papa Smurf. Five patches were given to the Dragoon's RSM, for the five of his yound lads who had just come back from Afghanistan. They themselves had been unable to attend this meeting, so the RSM (besides receiving his own patch...) was given theirs, to be presented by their company CO and the RSM at an upcoming parade.

There were 2 patches given to 'Supporters', another 2 full members received their patch and finally, the representative from the Senior Service (NAVY), me... was given his patch. Photos were taken, speeches were given, welcomes exchanged and words of thanks. Then... the pig was ready. It was 1800hrs by this time. We all cued up around the table to fill our plates. The food was delicious and there was enough actual seating room for everyone. I'm not ashamed in the least to say that I made 2 trips to the table. It was as delicious a piggy as I had ever tucked into.

As I sat sipping on a diet ginger ale, feeling wonderfully sated, I glanced at my watch. It was 1900hrs. I would be due for some gas on the way back too. Maybe that Irving Big Stop in Pembroke. I knew I had about an hour of good daylight left, by the time I said my goodbyes, got dressed and left.

I got up and stretched, announced I had to DiDi and began making the rounds to say goodbye. I thanked our hosts for putting on such a wonderful spread and Capt. Bonhomme for inviting me into the fold. I straddled Baby, thumbed her to life and gave a final wave before slowly heading down the dirt road. Pausing at the roadway, I glanced skyward. Didn't look bad here, but ya never know... I banked left and we scooted off down the road towards the 17 Eastbound. Within minutes we were at the stoplight and turning onto the 17.

The run back was interesting, to say the least. The entire run from Arnprior to Renfrew (or now Renfrew to Arnprior), is advertised as a high deer collision risk corridor. It would be dark by the time I arrived at that particular juncture. By the looks of the clouds that I was running into yet again, it would probably be raining as well... Time would tell, I muttered to myself. I stopped at Pembroke to gas up and use the head. I still didn't feel the need to put on the rain gear yet. I had left my Joe Rocket gear at home this trip. I had brought along my old Road Iron raingear, which has been with me since 1995. It made the trip from Dartmouth to Daytona with me and has yet to let me down. I still have not burned a hole through the right leg of it due to exhaust pipes. :)

I was maybe a third of the way to Cobden, when I decided it was time to get ready for the worst. I stopped along the roadside and dug out my raingear. I was sweating by the time I had it on and it did not allow for the recirculation of air. That was the only drawback to this gear. No breathability... Still, I figured with the oncoming rain and the gathering winds, there ought to be a cooling effect in there somewhere. I waited for a line of oncoming traffic to pass and we were back out on the road. I kept it to under 100kmh. When the rain started in earnest, which was just before we arrived at Cobden, I kept it at just 80kmh. The rain and the darkness seemed to arrive at the same time, as if on cue. Still, there was no long string of cars passing me at any point.

From that point on it rained steadily. I found someone towing a large trailer and stationed myself in back of them. There are drawbacks to doing this of course. For one, you are constantly drenched by spray which is kicked up by the trailer. For another thing, your vision is extremely limited and you stand a ghood chance of becoming hypnotized by the trailer you're following. On the plus side, if I was going to be transiting a 'high deer collision risk corridor', I wanted a good solid deer buffer between me and Ma Nature. This double-wide trailer was just the ticket. I could put up with a little additional water in exchange for a guarateed safe passage.

We coasted past Renfrew and I thought for a minute about stopping for a java at the Antrim Truck Stop. The rain was beginning to let up a bit and so I decided to ride on. By the time we had reached the exit for Burnstown, the rain had stopped and Baby and I were getting blow-dried. The air was cool but not overly so. As we neared Arnprior, it was evident that there had been very little rain, if any, in these parts. Back on the 417 heading East, traffic was moderate and we clipped along at a good rate on bone dry roads. As we rocketed through the city, I maintained my spot in the extreme left-hand lane. No merging nightmares to contend with there and we sailed right through to the split.

I decided to get off at the exit for Innes Road. This would slow the pace down somewhat and I was ready for that at this point. I also figured I would stop at Tim's for a coffee and a bit of a break. I pulled into the parking lot, past a few older gents who were parked there with a fine pair of '55-'56 Chev Bel-Airs. I parked around the other side of them and dismounted. I took my time taking off my lid and other gear, after which I walked on over to the Tim's. We exchanged nods as I passed by the older gents.

Inside, I ordered up a medium double-double and called my better half at home.

"Where are you?", she asked.

"I decided I'd grab a Timmie's over here on Innes, by where you work."

She sounded surprised. "Now why on earth would you stop for a coffee, when you're so close to home...?", she asked me.

"Trust me, Hon...", I replied, "I needed a break".

"Well, okay... you just get yourself home".

"I'll be there soon, Hon".

I drank about three quarters of my coffee. It tasted good and was just what I needed at that point in time. I saddled back up and headed back out onto Innes Road. Traffic was light and it was about 2100hrs by now. I would take my time getting back, as you have to make a conscious decision to slow yourself down, after any amount of highway driving. It's almost like a re-acclimatization to city driving. The remainder of the journey home was blissfully uneventful and actually, rather relaxing. I pulled into our driveway to find the garage door open and awaiting my return. I was ready for a wee rest, my pj's and maybe a nice cup o' tea. It had been a good day and a fine trip, where I had the chance to meet some new brothers-in-arms and enjoy the camraderie that I will always share with those who serve this country.

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