Riding South with the Golden Helmets

Story by Stu Seaton// Photos by Stu Seaton
September 1 2007

Every once in a blue moon, I get to invite my Big Bro on a road trip. I phoned him up and asked: “Hey John, wanna go to Ohio?” There was a pregnant pause followed by a drawn out three syllable reply: “ummuhhwhyy?” I was going to concede that this particular trip wasn’t over the Road-A-Bones, or off to the far-north, but it would be a trip of a lifetime. However, before I could continue, John said in his best whiney ‘picture-this’ voice: ‘Ohio, eh? Isn’t that like, well, a trip to the laundry-mat?” I shot back: “Okay, you’ve got me on that one, but this particular trip has a really neat twist.” History proves that I’ve been known to plan trips that have left us with that nasty damp dog smell, mild hypothermia, scary credit card bills and the need for some serious bike wrenching afterwards, but he hadn’t hung up yet so I laid it all out for him and when I finished all he could say was “cool, let’s do it!”.

Back in May, Scott Lawson of the Ontario Provincial Police asked me if we would be interested in accompanying the OPP Golden Helmets to the State of Ohio where there was going to be an historic protocol and training agreement signed between the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Ontario Provincial Police. Scott added: “There’s a bunch of other really neat stuff going on too, I’ll send you the itinerary, let me know what you think.” A few minutes later I received the whole low-down and although this is the first time that an agreement regarding protocols and training was being signed between two international police forces; there was way more on the menu than just your run-of-the-mill-never-been-done-before, historic international agreement regarding highway safety. I flipped through the itinerary and thought whoa, this really is a trip of a lifetime! Not only do we ride with the Golden Helmets, we would also ride with the Ohio State Troopers along with the newly formed motor units of the Georgia State Troopers, do a bunch of on-road and slow speed training, visit the American Motorcycle Association Museum, open the Special Olympics, perform two precision ride shows at A. D. Farrow Harley-Davidson – the oldest Hog farmer in the U.S. of A. and escort the Fallen Heroes Ride! Whew! Five days in all, with about three daylight hours not filled to the brim – and Motorcycle Mojo was imbedded with the group! I could hardly wait to see this spectacle; within two minutes I had a thousand questions ready to go.

After a bit of a shaky start and some big time help from Richard Jackson at BMW Motorrad Canada I was able to hook up with John and point two BMW’s towards Burlington, Ontario, where we were to meet the Golden Helmets and begin the trip to Ohio. This was the first time that we were to ride in formation with the Golden Helmets. Considering my last interaction with that group, where the Chief Instructor allowed me, no, encouraged me, to taste more pavement than I care to admit, I was a tad pensive. Thank you Lise (ahem). The Golden Helmets are all remarkable riders that work together day after day honing skills and being, well, Canada’s best on two wheels. It was sort of like the Snowbirds saying “why don’t you grab a small jet and come for a rip with us.” Right. Bring extra underwear. Regardless of the worrywart inside me, Scott Lawson, Deputy Commissioner John Carson, the effervescent Ride Master Lise Grenier and the guys of the Golden Helmets put us at ease as we gathered at the Burlington OPP detachment.

Going over the border as a very visible police identity presents a few problems, first much of the normal protective gear that the OPP routinely wear would remain in Canada, that meant no duty belts, no firearms and I’m quite sure that to most of the members, that would be akin to travelling naked. Secondly, as a visiting police force the OPP is especially sensitive to public perception, for example, when a group of twenty machines pull into a highway fuel station, only one line of pumps would be used so that other motorists could fuel as well. The actual ride was broken up into ‘flights’ so that there wasn’t a long string of motorcycles for motorists to contend with. This all boiled down to simple good manners that in turn demonstrated professionalism.

Once all the road details were worked out we mounted up, whereupon I found my camera strap was way too long making me look like an idiot whilst I fumbled with straps and buckles that could defy a professional engineer. With a muted roar, the new fleet of black and white 2007 six-speed Hogs fired up and headed down the Queen Elizabeth Way towards the U.S. border. John and I settled in behind the last group of riders and the sharp looking black, white and gold, Golden Helmets truck and trailer. Even with my own reservations, I’m quite sure the Golden Helmets were all thinking about the million ways two journalists could screw up a big ride like this. Fortunately, Big Bro John and I can hold our own in formation riding, besides; we were in a sweet spot between the last group of riders and the OPP rolling workshop piloted by Gregg, the OPP Chief Motorcycle Mechanic. What could possibly go wrong? After what seems like just a few minutes we roll up to the border.

Usually when I pull up to a U.S. border stop I mentally prepare to be thoroughly inspected, torn down and eventually spit into the Home of the Brave. Not so this time, it was more of a border ‘slow’ than a border stop, three klicks south and I’m still trying to get my unused passport stuffed back into the ‘very important’ pocket within my rumpled Belstaff coat – one hand and Velcro is a tough enough go when you’re standing on pavement let alone riding in formation. I finally get things squared away and snap a few shots as we ate up New York State and Pennsylvania. I was also watching some of the local drivers as we rode down the Interstate, you could see double takes being made even when the last group of riders passed by. I could just about hear Arnold and Clementine driving along and saying ‘What the heck!? What’s an O-P-P and where-in-tar-nation did they come from!?”

We hit the Ohio State border and were met at the Home of the Whopper by the Ohio State Troopers with their all white Hogs. I pumped up my cholesterol level while they set up our escort to Columbus. It was also just about the same time that Mother Nature was preparing a shin-dig of epic proportions for us a few klicks down the Interstate. We had heard that there could be some weather ahead, maybe a little wet, so everyone donned rain gear, fuelled up and we continued south in an orderly and most dignified fashion. I even continued snapping a few shots from my short strapped Nikon along the way. First there were a couple a drips; you know the kind – the ones that hit like horizontal flying watermelons at 100 km/h. I decide it was a good time to stuff my camera under my coat but the words Velcro and left hand got in the way of a water proof seal, again. Next it was water and wind to the ‘let’s visit Dorothy, Toto and the Tin Man’ power. There was actually a time where I thought I was going to go up. No guff. Now there’s something I just don’t do everyday. I was sure that my fully loaded BMW 1200GS was going to lift straight up and land smack dab in Oz and probably wing the wicked witch of the west just enough to really tick her off. I snuck a glance over at John who was sitting like a rock on his BMW 1200LT as were the Golden Helmets ahead on their loaded Hogs. None of them however looked like they were having much fun or time to devote to anything but staying straight in winds that came from every direction at Beaufort Force Fivezillion. Unlike the other riders who were wearing open face helmets I was quite satisfied peering out from my Nolan full face, which allowed me the opportunity to keep from changing my bike’s name to ‘Cessna’ or ‘Boeing’ whilst being pelted with buck-shot rain. Fortunately my GS stayed stuck to the road even if we did have to paddle over one bridge. Kind of neat to have a bike, plane and boat trip; all in the same day without ever letting go of the bars. The whole procession slowed down and we just bashed on, but I gotta tell ya, that was one scary-plus side of Mother Nature. Finally the sun came out; the winds dropped and semi-dry roads greeted us north of Columbus. Yay. The procession came to a soggy, steaming halt at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy where John peered over at me and said something nasty about a damp dog but I didn’t get the whole thing.

To put it mildly, I was pooped, making it from Sherbrooke Qc. to Columbus Ohio via Montreal was a push and I was glad to see the Columbus Hyatt Regency at our disposal. As a side note, that’s where the 07-08 NHL draft was being conducted so we had the pleasure of watching some well-known agents use up fast paced cell minutes making deals and seeing new entrants to the hockey world with their supporters. It was kinda neat to watch the pandemonium before heading off to catch forty winks. Good ride, even if it was a wee bit damp. What’s that smell? Must be Big Bro.

The next day broke with sunshine and warm temperatures. I had some time to wander amongst the Ohio and Georgia State Troopers and ask dumb questions. The first person I encountered was Sgt. First Class Tim Nichols of the Georgia State Highway Patrol. Now, when I think of Georgia, I picture a well-funded specialized motor (two wheeled) patrol unit. This is not the case. Georgia has pretty much a brand new specialized motor patrol unit and to be honest – I thought they were pulling my leg but no; there are only eight Hogs in the Georgia barnyard. In Georgia all the emphasis has been on four wheels, not two and it’s taken a toll on Tim to show what two wheels can do versus four.

The first thing that I consider when I see a motorcycle patrol is the dedication of the Officers towards public safety. Think of it, if you were asked to exit the realm of a well engineered crumple and protective zone to do general police duties on two wheels, where you’re exposed to literally everything would you do it? I wouldn’t. It takes special people to fill that need. It takes people that are willing to take enormous abuse one minute and then switch effortlessly back to being an ambassador of good will. A motorcycle means that unlike a car, you – the rider and all your attached soft tissue are approachable from every angle. That in itself is what makes ‘the motorcycle cop’ so special. You aren’t just a Copper, you’re an avenue of communication, a haven of safety; a figure of professionalism. That makes the whole specialized patrol worth investing in. Look at what the OPP on two wheels have done for Ontario. If we were to go back to the roots of highway patrol you would find that the first vehicle used for that task was not one of four wheels, but one of two! How many times have you, a fellow rider gone up and shot the breeze with a Copper on two wheels? It’s easy, there’s no window to roll down, there’s no perception of a security risk; you walk over and say “yo-howzitgoin’?” It all rolls down to approachability, transparency and ability. When it comes to dealing face to face with the public, wiggling into tight spaces, moving traffic, escort and general police duties you need to take four wheels, add some seriously fair and dedicated people, then subtract two wheels. Now you end up with a policing tool that works for the average Joe and Jane. Tim, I hope you can convince the State of Georgia that a specialized motor patrol unit is worth their weight in gold, because they are. Ohio and Ontario prove it every day. Okay that’s my political statement of the year. Use it Tim ‘cause that’s it, better than sliced cheese…

After a good wander around the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy, we all geared up and headed off to the American Motorcycle Association Museum in Pickerington, Ohio. If you’re ever close to Columbus, this place is well worth a visit as two-wheeled history just floods out of the immaculate structure. Imre Szauter and Bill Kresnak greeted us as we plugged the circular drive with gleaming white, black and blue Police Harley-Davidsons, and two BMW’s. The museum is set up not only to display motorcycling history but also for the visitors that arrive on two wheels. Covered parking is a few steps away from the entrance doors; cool. The displays are set up beautifully with a fantastic artistic flow. Motocross history flies overhead as you descend to the lower levels, giving the static displays a living, breathing look. Kudos for the A.M.A., this is one place I’d like to get lost in again.

After bulking up on some A.M.A. barbequed eats we again saddled up and headed back to the Academy. John and I settled in behind the Georgia group and accordioned (Is that a word? Probably not, but I’ll use it anyway) our way along the Interstate. I say accordioned because formation riding has a tendency to accelerate and decelerate the pace between the front of the procession to the end of the procession, sort of like playing ‘crack the whip’ as every movement from the front of the procession becomes amplified as it ripples to the back. In order to remain tight we found ourselves on the throttle or on the brakes. It may look easy to the passer-by but it’s really kind of tricky to do right. It also gave me some wild ideas about brake lights and how I want to beef mine up. I could also relate the ride to the kind of havoc that procession riding can cause within large charity events. Formation riding demands a solid riding ability and wide awake responses, throw some weak ability or a tired rider into the mix and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. A chain reaction can simply happen way too fast. Something to ponder before you find yourself riding beside someone you’ve never ridden with before. We roll into the Ohio State Academy where it was time for some polish; the odd repair and an evening get together with all the members of the motor units.

This is where you can watch ideas really start to flow, right from experiences on setting up workable specialized patrol units to variations of hardware used on the bikes.

Major Chris Minter of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, a great conversationalist, was extolling the virtues of a well-balanced specialized patrol and it all rolled down to not what the costs are, but how much better public safety benefits from a highly visible and approachable police presence. There was no arguing the logic behind his pro motorcycle approach – especially when the motor units are meshed with aerial and cruiser forces. I would not want to be the person that says ‘no’ to him as you better come armed for a substantial battle.

You may think that I’m pro highway enforcement, a pro cop kind of person, well maybe I am – but for good reason. Nobody likes getting a ticket, me included, but when you read the stats on highway crashes (I refuse to call them accidents) that leave motorcyclists like you and me injured or dead, and then watch a bit of video coverage perhaps featuring some aggressive idiot ripping through traffic at 160 K and rear ending someone completely unaware and innocent, well, I opt for increased safety, so that I can enjoy another day on two wheels. If that means that I need to watch my speed then so be it, besides, if you want to really go fast, take it to a track. If you’re like me you think your riding abilities are damned fine – but in reality they’re not and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can get into some serious ‘Yippie-Ki-Yay’ trouble when you start combining speed with inability and that’s without the added burden of surrounding traffic. To that end – tracks are a good thing and we need more of them. We finished off the evening with a greater insight into what actually happens on the roads you and I call home and what it means to us two-wheeled folks. I can tell you without hesitation there are some seriously whacky people out there and if you’re unlucky enough to get in their way, well all I can say is, well, it sucks to be you. And that’s precisely why we need good enforcement.

The weather held with wide open skies and hot temperatures as we got ready to take off in the morning. I retrieved my bike from a space next to the Hyatt Valet stand (thanks guys); strapped everything down and pulled out awaiting John. Now, I want to tell you how my Big Bro dropped his LT. This was so sweet, from a Lil’ Bro’s perspective. How many people can trip over a light stand whilst backing up a K1200LT, especially on a Hyatt Regency carpeted runway? Ohh, if I only had my camera out. Big Bro was saying things like, “ooh the sky was too blue” or “the temperature was not quite right”. Ya, ya, I know. I helped him right the 900-pound beast and forgot to take some pictures. Damn. Next time Bro, next time…

We all gathered at Crew Stadium where the OPP, Ohio and Georgia folks were doing some very tricky slow cone work. For all of you folks that have never witnessed an OPP precision ride show, all I can say is you should check it out. The basic manoeuvres used in the show are much the same as used in standard slow cone practice. The OPP bend Harleys around things that are geometrically wrong. I’m sure it goes against every law including Archimedes’s Principle. I know for a fact that if the same was asked of me I’d need to take all the breakable stuff off my bike first and have an industrial sized box of Band-Aids handy. Lise Grenier was out there demonstrating how to get from point A through an impossible looking 90 degree turn; two eighteen foot circles and come back to point B, without needing immediate medical attention. Give Lise the biggest, nastiest Hog you can find and she is absolutely …well, scary. No wonder she teaches Harley-Davidson riding 101.

Sometime during the day I came into contact with ‘Boomer’ from the Georgia State Patrol who had a southern drawl so thick that you could cut it with a real dull butter knife… He asked me, “IfAhhhhwastogoonuptoKaabec, woooodtheyspeakflooointInglish?” Yes I replied, they would, but I doubt they could ever speak your language. He peered at me as if I was the one with an accent. Hey it was fun, besides Boomer’s a great guy. He’s sort of like listening to the guy on King of the Hill, you’re not quite sure what he said, but it was funny enough to laugh at. Besides, he didn’t beat me up for pickin’ on his accent. Thank God, ‘cause Boomer’s a big and dreadfully fit guy.

After a while playing ‘pick up the big and very hot Hog’, Gregg, the Chief Mechanic, was repeatedly heard saying as he peered into smoking clutch housings “How did you do that” and “Yee-Ouch that’s hot!” It was time to get ready to head to A. D. Farrow’s Harley-Davidson. For those Harley inclined, A. D. Farrow’s is a must see, even if you’re an import fan. Not only do they have their own water tower with a monster H-D logo on it, but they also have a drop dead gorgeous dealership complete with a motorcycle training area that rivals any Community College I’ve seen. We were given the two dollar tour and I couldn’t help but notice there was very serious time spent planning this facility. The showroom even prompted me to buy something and my money’s tighter than a cow’s hiney in fly time. Actually it was some sunglasses to replace the ones I sat on. How do you end up sitting on sunglasses anyway? I bought a pair of Serengeti’s after taking out a second mortgage to afford them.

The Golden Helmets started to gear up for a preview of Saturday’s precision ride, which was about ten moves out of thirty. A.D. Farrow had food set up (I’ve never eaten so many burgers and sausages – don’t tell my doctor) and entertainment with a couple of groups and a Blues Brothers knock-off band had me laughing to the point of tears. I’m pretty much deaf and these guys sounded incredibly bad so I can only imagine what they really sounded like. I couldn’t help but laugh and be genuinely entertained when they pulled an elderly lady out of the crowd and danced with her in her wheelchair. That was way too cool and I’m sure the lady in the wheelchair was about to laugh herself into breaking something really important. Way to go! Don’t change a thing! The Golden Helmets fired up on cue and proceeded to wow the crowd. I was trying to capture faces in the crowd on camera but seemed to be a nanosecond short of the gasp look; however the OPP held the audience rapt as they performed some well-choreographed moves. There were even a couple of female riders that showed up to see the ‘OPP Girl’ who was their heroine; can’t say as I blame them. We completed the A. D. Farrow experience and finally headed back for some fine wine at the Hyatt and well earned Zzzzz’s.

The next day was really cool, in a wet, cold and miserable sort of way. We headed to Berliner Park which is another training site of the Ohio State Troopers; they even have their own track where they can try out new methods of stopping vehicles and the like. I actually saw one of the target vehicles parked off to the side, it had more holes in it than a screen door which leads me to think that these folks are either really serious about what they’re doing or had a whole bunch of ammo that was creeping up on its ‘best before’ date. The pavement was way past damp and that made for some fun manoeuvres around the pylons. On the return trip back to the Academy, Lise Grenier set up an escort using Big Bro John, myself, the OPP truck and trailer along with a pick-up truck loaded with orange pylons as the ‘V.I.P’s’. The motor units would conduct rolling road blocks on ramps to the Interstate and bring us right up to the Academy by Crew Stadium. We took off and things really started to cook. Ohio, Georgia and OPP members teamed up playing leap frog to the on ramps and stopped entering traffic as the procession neared. What it meant to us, the ersatz V.I.P.’s, was that we didn’t need to slow down for anything, nothing was in our way or even close. It was like having the Interstate all to yourself. I wonder if I can convince Lise that when I’m running a tad late she could conjure up the same scenario on the 401 near Toronto? Oh wait; gridlock is gridlock no matter how many ramps get blocked off. Sorry, dumb question.

I asked a couple of the OPP members if they got any weird looks or comments from people they were stopping, considering that they were slightly out of their jurisdiction – by one Country. The answer back, came with a shrug and “Hey, it was raining cats n’ dogs and there are two guys wearing yellow rain slickers parked in front of you with motorcycles flashing red and blue lights…what would you do?” Right. Instead of reading decals I’d probably be more inclined to stop and see what the heck is comin’ down the road. Drivers must have wondered when two fast paced BMW’s and a couple of Ford trucks came flying through, surrounded by three different coloured police bikes. Now that’s gotta spark some scintillating dinner conversations. The last time I felt that kind of road freedom I was somewhere between Winnipeg and Brandon, Manitoba, where you can watch your dog run away from home for at least three days, four if you have binoculars.

By the time they finished up escorting two scruffy Beemer riders and a couple of trucks up the Interstate, Mother Nature was slowly getting back into a sunny mood – as it was time to gear up for the Special Olympics Torch Run. You know. Just like the regular Olympics… without a doping scandal. The Special Olympics opens with the lighting of a flame that will burn throughout. Now I want to take pause here because this is important. We – you and I are like most any other person in the present world, we’re absorbed in home, kids, mortgage, kids sports, school, yadda yadda yadda, on it goes. However, if you want to be humbled, thoroughly and totally humbled, go attend a Special Olympics event. I’m serious here. I personally never paid ‘Special Olympics’ a second glance, but that changed the minute I set two wheels in the place, I’ll explain in a minute.

The run started at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy and travelled to the Jesse Owens Stadium which is just a few klicks away. Cadet members of the Academy were ready to run the torch along with a whack of other runners. When I got in position I looked over and saw OPP Deputy Commissioner John Carson in shorts and a tee shirt getting ready to run the run. Now, to guys like me that means something. He could have taken a limo and worn a suit but he didn’t. He ran with the others and carried the torch. That’s the kind of heart we have in the top brass of the OPP. I don’t know about you, but that scores big time in my books. Way to go Dep. We take off escorting the runners and a few things happen that are kind of neat. First off, we’re not the only escorts. Columbus P.D. added a few great looking police horses to the event and as I idled along I watched an equestrian ballet being played across the front lawns of some low rise apartments as horses and riders galloped through the greenery. What an awesome sight – although some low slung branches proved to be a challenge to one of the riders…Ouch, that’s gotta hurt.

The Academy Cadets did something neat too, the run was pretty laid back, but the Ohio State Highway Patrol Cadets notched it up ten degrees by running flat out through the entire run in rotating relay style. Kudos to the Cadets. Ohio, you have something to be proud of there. Once we got into the stadium I realized just how big and how special the Special Olympics really are. Picture this… You’re on a rubber track in the centre of a sizable stadium and you’re on your bike. The torch runners are beside you, hundreds of people are standing on the inside of the track. Thousands of people, spectators, Moms and Dads, just like you and I are beside kids that have a tough go of life. They aren’t picture perfect, there’s no look of a Greek Adonis nor steroid produced bi-ceps. These are kids that just want to compete in the truest sense of the word. Instead of shaving a 1000th of a second off their best time in the 100 metres… they just want to simply run, or jump, or swim…and be applauded. They want to feel the pleasure of sport and to quote Martha Stewart, ‘that’s a good thing’. Here, here. Modern day Olympics could, no, should take a serious lesson from the Special Olympics. As a matter of opinion, the world should stuff the upcoming fiasco in Beijing and tune into what really is right, just and honest. When the Special Olympics come to a cable station near you, watch it and you’ll see what I mean.

The torch hit the bowl, a bazillion balloons raced skyward, the flames danced and the games were opened, sirens wailed and lights flashed from the Ohio, Ontario and Georgia contingency, kids whooped and hollered, Moms and Dads smiled and said a silent thank you for something they need not thank. Nobody owned a throat that didn’t have a lump in it. I had a family beside me who’s daughter thought my BMW GS was ‘Oh so neat-o’, the young lady asked me if I had a siren, as the international group of motorcycle Coppers were letting kids light up the bikes in fine style. Amongst the din I said I did, but my siren was very special and everybody would really need to plug their ears… with trepidation she crept up to the bike where I pointed out the button to push, with a steady finger she pushed it and it immediately produced a ‘mmmeep meep’ that would be dwarfed by a sparrow desperately seeking the Heimlich manoeuvre. Everybody laughed and she thought it so funny that she pushed it again. Oy, I really gotta talk to the folks at BMW about the GS horn ‘cause it really sucks.

As the balloons disappeared, the games opened and we made our way off the track. As we formed up outside the stadium one of the Golden Helmets walked over and kissed a Columbus Police horse smack on the lips (I’m sure the poor horse is still going ‘p’tooey’), Big Bro managed to bring home a plate of sausage with sauerkraut in his top bag without creating a science project, and we all became a little bit more human. More than just a worthwhile adventure, eh? We headed back to the Hyatt where Big Bro didn’t drop his bike. Both of us were more satisfied than we had a right to be as those kids are not only facing some immediate competition, but their whole life. If that doesn’t humble you, then you need a doctor or a major prescription.

After successfully parking the bikes we wandered down the main drag where we found a neat place called the Elevator. It’s one of those joints that have been around forever, way before prohibition and the Hippie scene. It has a bar that’s about two blocks long, displays some serious stained glass and has about fifty different beers on tap. We tried one or four and then walked; well at least I walked, back to the Hyatt. Big Bro John was rambling on about architecture, the good ol’ days and why so many girls were wearing party dresses. Go figure. Sleep came really quick.

Saturday morning hit with the promise of good weather and we were ready to tear. After scoffing some breakfast at the Academy we geared up for the ride to A. D. Farrows H-D and the big show. I had the marvellous idea that some shots of the whole procession would be cool so I asked one of the Ohio Troopers to pinpoint an overhead vantage point that could produce some good photos. After a couple of minutes two Ohio State Troopers said, “fall in behind us and we’ll show you a good spot.” At that, we blasted off to beat the procession – this is where I just about made the National news. There was a bridge that gave a good view of the Interstate with a gentle curve. I like gentle curves because aside from being sexy it gives a good view of what the whole Ohio – Georgia – OPP motorcycle procession really looks like, which is four points past impressive. The Troopers blast down the Interstate with us in tow and indicate the exit, this looks good I think as I ride up the exit ramp. Wait a minute; they’re comin’ down the road already! Jeeze! So much for setting up a shot! Big Bro and I are on a flat out run to get in position and that’s when I get the brilliant idea to shoot the end of the procession. Keep in mind that I’m doing everything through the viewfinder of a short-strapped Nikon and that distorts reality, like the space between lanes that dumps onto the Interstate. No guff, I tried to jump the concrete barrier on the bridge when I found out that there’s about a ten metre space between the east and west lanes. Oy. I could picture the headlines “Idiot Canuck ends it all in Ohio. Photos at eleven.” I managed a couple of really cheesy shots of some specks known as motorcycles. On the upside, Blue Cross didn’t have to pay for anything. Big Bro just shook his head and muttered something. I didn’t get that one either. He’s really got to speak up.

After getting off the bridge in one piece we headed to Farrow’s H-D to soak up the sights, get ready for the show and escort the Fallen Hero’s Ride. The Golden Helmets had their pre-show briefing and all of the combined motor units got ready for their high-speed stage introduction where all the riders from Ohio, Georgia and Ontario do a full acceleration blast across the stage. A few of them even showed some daylight under the front tire between first and second gear. Cool. Given the massive training area that A. D. Farrow offered for the show, no one had a bad seat, as spectators were able to get right up close to the action. At precisely 11 o’clock the introductions started. Richard, a Golden Helmet member both commentated on the show and sung both national anthems in very fine style. Look out American Idol!

OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino opened the precision ride by accepting the salute and placement of the American, Canadian and Ontario flags while Ontario Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, Monte Kwinter and Ohio State Highway Patrol Col. Richard Collins looked on. The placement of the flags will no doubt be a lasting memory for three young lads who were each asked to hold the ends of their flags against the flag staff by Deputy Commissioner John Carson; I could see huge grins from ear to ear on all three of them from across the stage. Once the flags were placed, the salute was accepted and the show was on. For anyone watching the show there was a moment where all the riders broke out into huge grins, well, all except for Gregg the OPP Chief Mechanic, whom I’m sure was about to punch the panic button… The Golden Helmets are all hooked up with radios and the ride movements are called out by the Ride Master who controls the moves, pace and the flow of the show. About two or three minutes into the show a rider, who shall remain anonymous -ahem, came across the radio with a low-key comment, “Ah-jeeze, I just blew a belt.” Pretty simple statement that has one heck of an implication around a bunch of Harley-Davidsons during a precision ride, thus Gregg’s panic attack. Turns out it was an OPP tunic belt and not a drive belt, Oy, smack that lad! I’m sure the audience must have thought, gosh these folks from Ontario are a real happy bunch, “lookit’ them all laughing…” No more nachos for the big guy. Regardless of imaginary drive belts breaking, the ride went flawlessly and the crowd reacted with non-stop applause and smiles across the lot. If you’ve never seen the OPP Golden Helmet precision ride, do your best to catch it, I’ll guarantee goose bumps.

The show came to a close and the three flags are then taken from the stands and placed on the bikes to be ridden off the stage, This is all done in precision manner and during the close Deputy Commissioner Carson went up to each of the young lads who were holding the flags whereupon he thanked them and gave each one of them an OPP pin. The kids were beaming, but I was watching the kid’s fathers, their expressions read; ‘what would it take to get that pin off of junior’. I’ll bet there was some serious après show wheelin’ and dealin’ going on. At the conclusion, people flooded around the Golden Helmets with a ton of questions and to have a look at the motorcycle Coppers from Canada.

A. D. Farrow H-D rolled out the red carpet and showed just what an exceptionally committed and well organized dealer can really do, which is to get the riding public and more importantly, the general public, interested in two wheels. All I can say is “well done, bravo”. The bands rocked on, people laughed, military folks put on some very intense displays and everyone got ready for the Fallen Hero’s Ride, which is a tribute to the American military family and the sacrifices that are made all too often. It doesn’t matter what side of the Mason Dixon line you’re on, regardless of the political implications towards the mess in the middle-east we must absolutely support the troops. I saw a good bumper sticker to that effect, and it was on the Canadian side to boot, it read: “If you don’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them.” Reminds me of something Don Cherry would come up with. I was part of an entire issue of Motorcycle Mojo dedicated to the troops and it was more than just ‘inspiring’ to see their dedication and the genuine hope for peace and a better world. It’s just too bad that it isn’t a universal practice. Maybe one day it will be and if any ride helps to make a member of the American or Canadian military or their families feel a little bit better then so be it; count me in.

Ontario, Ohio and Georgia fired up their machines and led a procession that had to be over a thousand bikes long. I stood by the road and photographed the international police escort and then headed back to A. D. Farrow’s. The six-kilometre trip back was chock-a-block solid with two abreast machines, and riders were still waiting in groups back at Farrow’s to start the ride. This is the kind of stuff that motorcycle riders have a right to be proud of, after all, when have you ever seen that many cages lined up to do a run? Ya. Right. Bikers (don’t say it like it’s a bad thing), have the biggest heart of them all.

Once the ride was successfully escorted, the entire police group headed back to the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy where the protocol agreement was about to be signed. I need to take a pause here because what was about to happen is something that is far outside of the norm. Let me wiggle this into perspective. If you were to compare vehicle incident statistics you would find some strong similarities between Ohio and Ontario. The major difference is the sheer size of Ontario versus Ohio; however, core areas are comparable. Ohio has a much enhanced aerial presence compared to Ontario but where the rubber meets the road, Ontario’s specialized patrol, A.K.A Motorcycles, hold the international ‘top dog’ spot and Ohio wanted to capitalize on Ontario’s extensive experience, probably in the same manner that Ontario will study the aerial portion of Ohio’s highway patrol – which is second to none. Why is the protocol so unusual? Putting it bluntly, police identities have had a history of not talking to each other. If we study the Bernardo case (I have a hard time even capitalizing that name) you’ll find that Justice Archie Campbell criticized, no, hammered, inter-force police communications. As a result police forces started to compare notes as a matter of routine. I’m sure that this had some positive impact on cross-training between forces as well. Keep in mind this is just within Ontario, so to step outside of national borders is way past a huge deal and that’s precisely what we were about to do and it was…well, historical.

The room where the protocol was to be signed is home to the wall of honour for the Ohio State Highway Patrol. For anyone who has never pondered a wall of honour, take some time and see one, because it’s simply humbling. The Ohio wall has engraved pictures of Officers killed in the line of duty along with names and dates. These are folks like you and me that paid the ultimate sacrifice for our two or four wheeled safety and freedom. What does it mean? In basic terms think of taking a spin down to the corner store. If there were no police presence how safe would you really be? I can emphatically say that with no police presence, or a perception of a police presence, your trip would be a crap shoot. You may make it back or you may not – because there are way too many nasty things and people out there. Honest. A police presence balances things. Simple as that; and that goes way past just getting a ticket for some minor indiscretion. With that being said; may all the walls of honour remain vacant. Period.

The room also holds a museum case in honour of the OPP, which is kind of cool to look at, after all, where have you ever seen a proud statement of anything Canadian in the U.S. of A.? Way to go Ohio. There’s also a gorgeous ’36 Ohio State H-D on display and some other fascinating historical memorabilia that one can lose themselves in. A fitting room if there ever was one.

Media was present to witness the signing; one photographer had a monster Nikon that I envied, if not coveted, and another videographer had a well-placed light umbrella that suited my goal, thanks buddy, whoever you are. Presentations were made and the signing took place with OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino, OSHP Col. Richard Collins and Minister Monte Kwinter penning their signatures on the historic document.

There. It was done. The OPP and the Ohio State Highway Patrol had notched out an agreement that would encompass traffic safety protocols and training. Don’t be surprised in the near future if you happen to pass a group of Ohio State Police motor units heading to the OPP headquarters in Orillia and in the future who knows, maybe we’ll see some sharp looking Georgia blue Hogs making the same trip. All in all, the whole thing is four points past neat and really demonstrates how well international co-operation can work.

Afterwards, Lise Grenier asked me to photograph the whole OPP, Ohio and Georgia group in front of the wall of honour, so like a good journalist I asked Commissioner Fantino to take a place – whereupon we got into a conversation and well, after a few minutes of yakking Lise shot me a glance that had the look of immediate doom. What can I say, she’s scary. I got everybody in place…including the Commissioner. “Say: I broke my belt!” that got some smiles as I captured the entire crew. And Lise didn’t beat me up. So there. Whew.

It was time to wind down, have a good dinner and think about heading north. Lise announced that she was taking us all out to dinner and we were to behave. Right. After winding through suburbia we landed at some sort of Texas steak house; nice place, it served peanuts in big buckets and a drink was somewhere between an ounce and three, maybe four, but hey, who’s counting? Gotta love it. Boomer was inspirational in the peanut launching department, one of the uglier members of the Golden Helmets received a birthday ‘Yeehaw’ treatment, although I wouldn’t vouch for the validity of the date and a rousing chorus of God Save the Queen erupted from the back benches. The Golden Helmets even sung a tune to us that had some horse parts in it, unfortunately being somewhat deaf I didn’t get it all but I’m pretty sure the tune had something to do with the posterior of the beast. Big Bro laughed a whole bunch though.

Yup, it was definitely time to go home.

On Sunday morning we checked out of the Hyatt and boarded the bus to the Academy. When we arrived, Maj. Minter was standing in the Academy parking lot with a Timmies in hand. Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m sure that Tim Hortons gets most of my disposable income. Where did he get it? Oooh, look at the cup, I bet that tastes good. Is there some inside? Hmmm? Turns out that Maj. Minter was not about to lose his grip on the Timmies and said something about his own addiction to the great Canadian elixir and he’s absolutely sure that they put something in it. Go figure. We had a great breakfast at the Academy, said our goodbyes and mounted up for the ride north. This is kind of a sad part. Over the last few days I’ve gained a bunch of new friendships, guys like Boomer and Tim of the Georgia State Patrol, the hospitable bunch from Ohio who couldn’t do enough to help and of course the Golden Helmets who are an incredible group. It’s always tough to say ‘goodbye” to a bunch of fellow riders but hopefully the goodbyes will be short lived as I plan to keep an eye on this bunch. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll translate for Boomer in La Belle Province. “Bon-Jer-Y’all….”

Ohio State riders escorted us north in a well-mannered fashion; one of the Golden Helmets was resplendent with his pink ‘My Favourite Pony’ knapsack. Hey, why not? We all need a good chuckle now and then; besides, I have an Obi-Wan-Kenobi action figure stuck to the handlebars of my GS Adventure, so there. Speaking of Obi…

May all our Forces be with you…‘cause they’re all way more than being simply ‘worth it’.

Now… Home… Where’s the nearest Timmies?

My profound thanks to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Maj. Chris Minter for making us feel welcome in their awesome facility, the Georgia State Highway Patrol for making me laugh and feel more human, OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino – who tells it like it is, Dep. Commissioner John Carson who has more heart than should ever be allowed, Staff Sgt. Scott Lawson who pulled the whole thing together and allowed me to pen this. A. D Farrow H-D and Deeley Harley-Davidson Canada who added the glint and roar in such a profound manner, to BMW Canada, Rick Jackson who bent over backwards to make sure we had some superb wheels. To the kids and families of the Special Olympics who made me feel warm and humble, and finally to Lise and all the Golden Helmets. This is one trip I shall always remember. To my Big Bro and his damp dog smell, hey, what can I say? Thanks all.

Ride safe. Ride Far! Stu


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