Sunday, October 24, 2010

Right In Our Backyard

Warm, sunny days and motorcycle runs are becoming more and more scarce this time of year. Anna and I haven't ridden with a group since the big Rhode Island Motorcycle Association toy run three weeks ago. The last two weekends, we've ridden solo, and practiced with her new video camera. But, we were both hankering to ride with a group again. We had an opportunity today, and it happened to be another toy run, the 5th Annual fundraiser to benefit the Sgt. Brian R. St. Germain Foundation and U.S. Marine Reserve Toys for Tots.

This toy run was much smaller than the one earlier this month, and a much shorter ride (actually, it was billed as a "ride-in" and "toy drop" by the Patriot Guard Riders, who led the ride). What was cool about it was that it was practically right in our own backyard - we actually rode by our apartment during the ride.The foundation was created to raise money for renovations and improvements to the West Warwick High School track. It was named in honor of U.S. Marine Sgt. Brian R. St. Germain, a WWHS all-state track star who lost his life in 2006 while serving his country in Iraq.

It was cloudy and about 45 degrees as we rode to the ride's staging area, the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Coventry, R.I. We arrived around
8:30 a.m. and a few minutes later, five other members of my Romans 8 Riders chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association arrived. After a period of greeting and chatting, a total of about 30 bikes began the five-minute hop to the West Warwick High School track. It was practically a straight shot - New London Turnpike, which becomes Main Street, to New London Avenue - although our speed was slow, since it's a congested area with busy intersections. We did have a police escort and blockers, though.

At the track, where there was also a Walk-A-Thon as part of the fundraiser, we parked our bikes and handed our toys to the always impeccably polite
Marines. No motorcycle run - no matter how short - would be complete without food, but they were serving a full breakfast at the high school's cafeteria for $8. The track, which we parked near, is a decent walk from the cafeteria, so some riders rode their bikes over, but our CMA chapter decided to walk, which, we conceded, looked a bit out of character for us. Manny joked, "If you turn the letter 'M' upside down, we could be the Christian Walking Association." Manny and Cameron held their hands up like they were holding onto ape hanger handlebars, while walking. Said Anna, "You guys are in the same boat I'm in - bikers without a bike."

Breakfast was indeed hearty: pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon, plus juice and coffee. Anna and I bought a $20 raffle ticket for a chance to win a new 2010 Harley Street Glide or $10,000, plus a few tickets for smaller raffle prizes.

As usually happens on group rides, a solo female rider inspired Anna. This time, it was an older woman named Clare from Warwick, who said she bought a new motorcycle after she survived cancer. Manny and I talked with a guy from the Elks Riders chapter in East Providence, R.I., which is Manny's hometown.

Not long after we finished breakfast, my fellow Romans 8 Riders decided to go to a barbecue fundraiser in Warwick for the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association. I was still full from breakast, so Anna and I stayed where we were until they held the raffle drawings at noon. Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, who drew the winning ticket for the new Street Glide, joked, "I may lose a lot of votes," but one man in the audience shouted, "you'll gain at least one vote." (I'm still riding Annabelle, my 2002 Wide Glide, so I was not the winner.)

After the raffle, Anna and I decided to go on a longer solo ride, since the four-mile group ride that morning didn't satisfy our appetite to ride. Anna had the foresight the night before to buy some of those hand warming heat packs you unpackage and shake to activate, and they kept her fingers - which are very susceptible
to cold - toasty warm. I hadn't used mine, and by the time we rode from West Warwick to Narragansett, my fingertips were going white and numb. Even though it wasn't that cold (low 50s), it was damp, and that combination is enough to affect blood flow to my fingers. But, a stop at Panera Bread in Wakefield was just the ticket to thaw them out.

(Below is a video clip of our entrance into the West Warwick High School Track)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Highway Hogs ... and, a HBHB First ... Video!

As a biker, how many times have you wished you didn't have to share the road with cars or trucks? Well, Anna and I enjoyed that rare opportunity Sunday, when we rode in the Rhode Island Motorcycle Association's 2010 Toys for Tots run. Traffic was completely blocked off on major state and interstate highways, as more than 1,000 motorcycles made their way from the Community College of Rhode Island in Lincoln, to Shipyard Steet near the Port of Providence. It was the largest motorcycle run either of us have ridden in so far.

It was also the first time Anna got to use her new digital video camera (NOTE: you can see a short video clip at the end of this blog entry), which I bought her for her birthday. "There's a million motorcycles on the highway, baby," Anna said as she aimed the video camera behind us on Interstate 295, capturing a stream of motorcycle headlights against the grey sky as far as we could see.

Actually, it only seemed like a million motorcycles.

"We'll get about 2,000 to 2,500 bikes," RIMA President Buddy Cardoso told me before the run. "When we get down there (to Russo's Trucking on Shipyard Street), there will already be a bunch of people who didn't go on the ride."

This was RIMA'S 34th annual Toys for Tots run, which is also sponsored by the U.S. Marines, who collected the toys at the end of the run. The route was changed recently, Cardoso said. "This is the third year we've done a little longer ride, to make it a little more interesting, versus just shooting right down Route 146."

Chris, a guy I used to work with, who rides a Suzuki GSX-R1000 sport bike, said he went on the run a few years back and saw some other riders take advantage of no traffic on Route 146, riding at speeds approaching 100 mph and doing wheelies.

My experience was much more sedate, however. The group we rode to CCRI with, comprised of three chapters from the Christian Motorcyclists Association, was in the second wave to be released, so we were toward the front of the pack - close enough that I could see Santa riding on the back of a motorcycle. With police or civilian motorcyclists blocking at every intersection, we never put our feet down until we reached our destination, although our average speed varied between 30 and 40 mph, and even our highway speed never broke 55 mph, as I recall. I didn't witness any shenanigans, but at the end of the ride, rumors buzzed through the crowds that there had been at least one mishap during the run, including a rumor that a rider lost control while doing a wheelie with a female passenger.

I could not confirm that rumor, and the only official account of any accident I could find online was through (affiliated with local news Channel 12). According to, an accident occurred on I-295 south, near Exit 8 (the Route 7 exit), when a motorcyclist on the toy run swerved to avoid a crash and ran into four other motorcycles. Two people were taken to a hospital; others declined treatment, according to the report, which contained no further information.

Anna and I, however, had a pleasant experience, and we felt the run was well organized. The run started with a left turn on Route 246 and then continued on routes 123, 116 and 7, before we got on Intersate 295 south. It was quite a sight to see cars held back from entering the highway as we rode by, and onlookers at many bridge overpasses. We then took Route 6 to Route 10 south, before getting on Interstate 95 briefly, exiting at Allens Avenue. There was some of the 'slinky effect,' but that is to be expected on large group rides.

We rode through the campus of Johnson & Wales University before parking our bikes along Shipyard Street, and then handed our toys to the Marines, who were putting them into their large truck. Anna had bought some Legos, and I bought a Barbie doll. I figured that since bikers tend to be macho, girls' toys might be under-represented; besides, every time I tell someone my name is Ken, there's usually a 10 percent chance they'll say, "How's Barbie?"

The day was also eventful for Richard "Pappy" Desjarlais, another CMA member from my Romans 8 Riders chapter, who spent part of the run videotaping the riders. He said he stopped at the Route 44 overpass after getting permission from a Smithfield police officer. Then, Pappy said, someone in an unmarked car told him to move out of the way, to which Pappy replied that he was almost done recording. A moment later, he felt someone grab his collar, and he was handcuffed by a state police officer, he said. "That just about ruined my day," Pappy said. But, he was quickly released, and joined us at our CMA booth at the truck yard.

Anna was amazed the sheer volume of motorcycles and bikers at the trucking yard, where there was a rock band, food vendors and clothing vendors. "I'm over-stimulated," she admitted, as she grooved on a cover of The Doors song while on a mission to find a hat. The clam chowder and clamcakes we ate warded off the chill nicely. Our CMA booth, which had literature about Jesus, Bibles and even kickstand pads, drew little attention, to Anna's dismay. "Other booths, you have to buy stuff, but everything here is free," she said.

But my fellow Romans 8 Rider, Bob Levesque, said it was a positive day, since our CMA chapters were given a reserved spot closer to the front of the pack this year, and our booth was in a prominent spot.