You know it’s a meaningful weekend when a grassroots motorcycle event washes away all the pessimism in Temiskaming Shores
There are so many charity rallies in Ontario that it’s difficult to make a case to attend any specific one, unless it’s close to you, or you know someone else who’s going. But the Bikers Reunion (bikersreunion.ca), started in New Liskeard in 1999, has an unusual number of die-hard advocates. I’ve met so many bikers over the years whose eyes light up when they talk about it, bikers who go every year, rain or shine.
The thing is, to be honest, despite having attended this event for the past two years, I was not a believer. Sure, it’s fun, but I like motorcycling for the riding, not for the sitting in a sweat-pit of chrome and leather in a public campground.
Could the Bikers Reunion change my mind this year? I was going to give it my best shot, and step one was to gear up. My ride for 2013 was to be a brand new R1200RT courtesy of BMW Motorrad Canada. I’ve never driven an R of any vintage – my bikes have mainly been old Yamahas, and one new 2012 F650GS – and I have to say, I’ve been missing out (more on this love affair in a bit).
Next, I needed a place to stay that was close to the action. There is an excellent Holiday Inn in New Liskeard – one of my favourite hotels in the North, actually – but I’ve been told that a big part of the Bikers Reunion experience is the campgrounds. A gorgeous RV courtesy of Motor Home Travel in Bolton fit the bill quite nicely. I was ready for a reunion.
I picked up the RT just as a terrible downpour was starting. I don’t own rain gear, believing that getting wet is part of riding, but with this forecast, I borrowed a one-piece rain suit from my pop.
This rain suit, combined with the fairing and adjustable windscreen on the RT, made for a ride that was at least as comfortable as my car.
The ride up to New Liskeard (now officially called Temiskaming Shores) never disappoints. While the Trans-Canada between Toronto and North Bay doesn’t have great roads or great scenery, it goes by fast. But the ride from North Bay to Sturgeon Falls, and then north on Highway 64 is one of my favourite rides in the province, and puts a grin on my face every time.
The riding around New Liskeard is so good that the road kept calling us out of the campground. We went for a few day trips around town, clocking over 400 km on the quiet northern back roads. We took Highway 624 from Englehart up to Larder Lake, went west on 66 to 112 south, and then continued south on Highway 560 back into New Liskeard. Of course, we took plenty of pictures, and it was during our photo shoots that I truly fell in love with the RT.
I really can’t say enough about the big RT’s outstanding slow-speed handling. When you have to turn around six to twelve times on every scenic stretch of highway, there is no other bike I’d want to be riding. Even on sandy shoulders or gravel driveways, this bike’s unspoken mission is to stay upright.
The day trips were definitely relaxing and scenic. And camping out – even in a tricked-out RV – gave me a full taste of the fun and frivolity of the concert tents, the bike demos and the beer garden. Even the fireworks were great – the town puts some serious dough into this polished presentation. I saw the fireworks in Toronto two days later, and New Liskeard holds its own.
But I still wasn’t convinced. I’d rather be riding, and I had a sneaking suspicion that the Freedom Ride – the last big event of the weekend before the Harley-Davidson Bike Draw – wasn’t going to satisfy me.
Let me back up and admit, to my embarrassment, that I’ve never participated in the Freedom Ride before. I’ve done the parade for the Ride for Dad, and while I understand that it’s an important part of the event, I’d basically told myself I wouldn’t do these kinds of processions again. There are other ways to contribute to worthy causes.
It was the insistent prodding of France Gauthier, one of the organizers of Bikers Reunion, that convinced me to participate.
I’m so glad she did.
The Freedom Ride starts much like any other, with a few dozen bikes jockeying for position in the main group. Before long, 2000 bikes merge into the line as it passes through different parts of town before taking to the Trans-Canada, which is closed to all other traffic for this event.
As we proceeded, we passed hundreds of people at the side of the road, cheering and waving, with signs in their hands that said “Thank You!” and “Hug a Biker.” Cute, but I still didn’t get it.
Then we pulled into the parking lot of the Temiskaming Hospital. Over 2000 bikes rumbled to a stop, and the riders got off and picked up bouquets of flowers waiting for them at the front door. The hospital staff waved at us, shook hands, and smiled those rare, pure, heart-swelling smiles that you see too rarely in life.
Then we went inside the hospital. And this is where everything changed for me. These big bad bikers, decked in leather and tattoos, walked into the rooms of the hospital’s cancer patients and handed them flowers and care packages, staying for a few minutes to hold hands and talk.
At this moment, all my cynicism melted away. This is real. Very real. This isn’t some massive marketing exercise – this is the last of the grassroots, community-driven events that was neither formulated in a boardroom nor taken over by the sponsors. When you are face to face with the people that all of the fundraising is meant to help, everything becomes much more meaningful.
As I walked back out of the hospital, one of the event volunteers passed behind me, patted me on the back, and said, “Thank you for coming.”
My registration for the event was $15 dollars. The bikers raised over $118,000 this year alone for a small hospital in the wilds of Northern Ontario.
If you want to check out the video we made about the event, visit http://goo.gl/2xkIH. It might be one of the better pieces we’ve ever made.