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 WPRI.com (affiliated with local news Channel 12). According to WPRI.com, 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.