At 0545 on August 19, 2010 I arrived at the starting point for my second 9/11 Memorial Motorcycle Ride. Memories of the 2009 ride were fresh on my mind and I really was anxiously anticipating the ride ahead. Much to my surprise there were many more of us gearing up to make the journey this year. At Reliance I met up with Ken, Scott, Wiz, Paul, Frankie, Joe, Mike, Bob, Stuart and Dominic. It was looking like a really nice morning and we were all praying for sunshine the entire ride. I think we officially got on the road around 0630 and we were all very glad to get rolling.
We made our way to the Cross Island and then to the Belt heading out to the Verrazano. The traffic was quite cooperative and we made good time to Whitehouse, New Jersey. When we arrived in Whitehouse we went directly to the diner for the annual scrapple party. The diner was a lot of fun and we all had time to relax and prepare ourselves for a long day of riding.
When we finished our breakfast we all made our way across the road and we all fueled up our bikes. The best part about Whitehouse this year was the brevity of our wait at the meeting point. No sooner did we get off our bikes than the convoy from Connecticut pulled in. With the group already at the station this year’s group easily surpassed 120 bikes! Lucky for us we were going to be riding with police escorts from this point forward.
We pulled out of Whitehouse and made our way to I78. It was quite impressive seeing the line of bikes coming out of New Jersey … if this was an indicator of what was to come, boy was this going to be a fun ride. We made it to I78 and started motoring our way to Pennsylvania. The ride was much calmer than last year. I have to attribute that to the larger number of bikes coming along for the ride. We cruised until we were about an exit and a half away from Allentown, PA. Then we hit traffic and by traffic I mean stop dead in your tracks traffic. We crawled. Apparently I78 is under construction just West of Allentown and the highway goes to one lane … not good for three lanes of heavily traveled road. As we crawled along we saw some interesting incidents … two bikers tipped over … not once … but twice.. We’ve all been there … forgetting to put our feet down or missing a gear … but twice in five minutes? Yeah, we needed to stop.
When we finally reached our lunch stop in Trexlertown, Frankie, Joe and I fueled our bikes (I wasn’t making the same mistake as last year!) and we re-joined the group for lunch. The good part was that this year they served hot dogs instead of those soy burgers from a year ago. The break was good and very much needed. The Sun had come out and boy was it hot! I sucked down bottle after bottle of water! When we finally got back on or bikes the police escort took us through some back roads and we avoided the traffic. That was nice!
The next run was a long one. We made our way to the Blue Mountain Rest Area on the PA Turnpike. Unlike last year’s 90+mph sprint, this year was done at a much more reasonable pace. At the rest area we fueled up our bikes and took on some very needed water. The run from Blue Mountain to Somerset was fun, but exhausting! We rode under a blue sky with a slight breeze and the temperature was really tolerable. The sights were pretty amazing and the road was wide open. Like last year the tunnels were really cool and really loud! The most interesting site occurred on the other side of the road when we came across a box truck that had rolled off the road and flipped. The traffic jam from that mishap stretched for miles! While not stressful, the ride just seemed long. We all said the same thing when we got to Somerset … “Boy that last 30 miles seemed endless!”
When we finally pulled into Somerset we were all beat. We all checked in to the hotel, took showers and decided to just kick back and stay at the hotel for the night. We had been told that the Flight 93 Memorial was very much under construction and nothing like the site we saw last year so we decided to pass on a ride out there on Thursday night in favor of dinner and beer. We opted for the buffet at the hotel and beers at the hotel bar. I have to tell you the buffet was horrible! The food was really subpar and while not the fault of the Ride, the hotel really needs to step up their game. We’ll be eating elsewhere next year, that’s for sure! The beers, however, were cold and quite welcomed!
It was here in Somerset that we learned that Joe’s grandfather passed away. Understandably, Joe was upset. As a show of unity Kenny and Frankie purchased red white and blue bracelets that each of us were going to wear for the entire ride in the memory of Joe’s grandfather. May he rest in peace.
When we awoke on Friday morning we were greeted by an unfamiliar sight … SUNSHINE! The Sun was greeting all of us and that was a great thing to see! All of us got together and we made our way over to the ride’s starting point behind the Harley dealership. As the bikes gathered it became clear that there were going to easily be at least 800 bikes on this run. This was going to be an unbelievable experience!
The ride rolled out a little late, but no one seemed to mind … we wound our way through Somerset to the Flight 93 site in Shanksville. The line of bikes seemed endless! The memorial to Flight 93 is fully under construction and the hope is that it will be completed by 9/11/2011. This year the only way in to the site is one road, so the entire ride had to enter and exit at the same time … it made for an interesting 15 minutes! When the ride reached Shanksville we stopped. I think it was so the leaders could make a presentation, but we were far enough back that we couldn’t tell. It did, however, provide us with an unscheduled photo opportunity.
When the ride got back underway we were treated to some unbelievable sights. Riding through Shanksville was emotional. It seemed like there were people in front of every house waving and cheering us on. It was nice! The countryside was beautiful! Riding through the farms and up and down the hills was breathtaking. I wish I could have taken pictures it was that amazing. When we arrived in Cumberland Maryland we were greeted by an extremely entusiastic town! People were leaning out of windows waving flags, the entire fire department was standing in front of their firehouse waving. It seemed like everyone in their village hall found their way onto the street to cheer us on. It was unbelievable and I have to tell you that I was glad to be wearing sunglasses because I was crying.
When we finally pulled into Alleghany Community College we were met by a huge American flag hanging off of a ladder truck and two lines of soldiers standing at attention saluting each of us as we passed. The line included active military, Marine veterans and ROTC students. It was quite a sight! The break was short, but the sight of all of the bikes parked on that field was quite impressive.
The next leg of the ride took us to Hagerstown Maryland. The ride was mostly on a highway, but the mountains and passes were really nice to see. It was quite a change from last year when it rained so hard that the best you could see was the red tail light of the bike in front of you … We were right in the middle of the pack so we were able to see the front of the pack as they made their way up the hills. When we got to Hagerstown we fueled up our bikes and made our way over to lunch. The excitement on this leg was seeing pickup truck drop its transmission while waiting at the light by the gas station. Poor guy. The one bad thing about that stop in Hagerstown is that there is no shade! The sun was beating us silly, but it sure beat the rain!
Our last leg of the day was a run into Arlington, VA with one very important visit. We made our way from Hagerstown to Leesburg, Virginia, the home of the America’s 9/11 Foundation. The road into Leesburg is a two lane road. One lane in and one lane out … as we got closer to Leesburg the number of people lining the road just continued to grow! We were greeted at the City’s edge by a flag arch made by two fire trucks and hundreds of flag waving and shouting people! I think the entire population of Leesburg was out on the street! If I cried in Cumberland, I bawled in Leesburg. That was an experience I will NEVER forget!
The rest of that leg was a run into Arlington. It was fun riding through Virginia and passing through Reston. I recognized the sites from my visit earlier in the year when I took my daughter down there for a soccer tournment. When we arrived in Arlington we parked at the hotel and I think all of us were ready to decompress!
We all cleaned up, met for a few well earned beers and then Frankie, Rick, Stuart, Joe, Scott and myself made our way to Ruth Chris’ for a great steak dinner. We were loud and rowdy, but we had fun!
The next morning we all met up after breakfast and made our way over to the Pentagon for our last day.
The first leg of the day would take us through Washington DC and through Baltimore to the Maryland House Rest Area on I95. It was a cool morning and the ride was AWESOME! These are the kinds of days you dream about when you ride. Open road, perfect weather and a great riding partner. I rode this leg side by side with Mike and we just clicked. It was a great leg and I didn’t want it to end! But of course, it did and we were glad to catch a break at the rest stop.
The second leg of the day took us to Mike’s Famous Harley Davidson in New Castle, Delaware. Another great ride. It was a shorter leg and all on highway, but it was very relaxing. When we got to New Castle I experienced a gas station running out of fuel before I could fuel up … luckily, I was able to get fuel at an adjacent station. After fueling we made our way to Mike’s for lunch. The hot dogs were nice, but I had to beg for a second one to make it worthwhile …
When lunch was over we started on our way to Linden, NJ. While a good part of the ride was on a highway we did do a good distance through some towns in NJ and unlike last year when we rode right into a monsoon, this year’s ride was under cloudy, but non-threatening clouds and the road was lined with people waving flags and holding signs cheering us on. It was very moving! When we arrived in Linden we were all ready for a burger and Applebee’s did not disappoint!
Our last leg would take us through the Holland Tummel and into Manhattan. Some of us left the ride in Linden, but Frankie, Scott, Joe, Stuart, Ken and I made the push into the City because we wanted to see our PGR friends and the flagline they worked so hard to put together. As we came out of the tunnel we saw the flags! There came those tears again! I saw Bill Day and Lucy Christiano was jumping up and down waving … it gave me goosebumps! Finally, the riders saw people on the NY side of the tunnel cheering them on … it was an awesome thing to see!
Right then and there Scott, Ken and I split off from the ride and made our way down past Ground Zero, around the Battery and up the FDR to the 59th Street Bridge for our ride back to Floral Park. Our 9/11 Ride had come to an end, but my memories of those three days will never be forgotten! It was an unbelievable experience with some great guys. I was able to meet some wonderful people and strengthen some existing ones. I am looking forward to next year’s Memorial Ride and continuing on our mission to make sure that no one forgets.
I want to say thank you to everyone I had the privilege to ride with and I want to thank the Foundation and everyone associated with the Ride for all of their hard work in putting this event together. It is something everyone should experience because it is an event that will change you forever.
Until next year … ride safe!