Remembrance Day was a couple of weeks ago but reading Mark’s story about the last time he took his mother for a motorcycle ride jogged my memory of a ride of my own back in 2010.
It’s kind of interesting that my press bike at the time was a Triumph Sprint. Now that I’m the owner of a 2008 Triumph Tiger, some of the things I noted on the Sprint ring true with my bike — the wonky trip computer, the wonderful 1050cc three-cylinder engine and the long reach to the clunky brake lever, causing horrible feel and feedback. I have the Triumph accessory levers on the Tiger and they go a long way to alleviate this condition.
My Tiger’s key resides on the Jeep key fob from my dad’s last vehicle and
it might sound a bit schmaltzy, but when I’m on the bike, it’s as if he’s somehow riding along with me.
It’s not often that November 11 in Ontario would find me in the saddle of a motorcycle, but there was a brand-new 2011 Triumph Sprint GT in the garage and the forecast showed sunny and 10 degrees Celsius.
At home at 11 am, I privately observed the two minutes of silence, watching some of the ceremonies on TV. After some reflection, sadly noting how the numbers of vets seem to be dwindling over the years, I set off for an afternoon’s ride.
I’d been out the day before with a couple of friends and we’d had a great ride, finally ending up in Haliburton for lunch. The $14,900 Triumph Sprint GT proved a very capable sport tourer, if slanted more heavily towards the “sport” side of the equation.
The 1050cc three-cylinder motor is smooth and powerful, and emits a guttural purr that’s as sexy as having Michelle Pfeiffer whispering in your ear. It’s a long reach to the low-ish bars, but the seat is comfortable and there’s lots of leg room. The low screen took most of the wind off my chest and directed it at my helmet instead. Those over six feet might opt for a taller screen.
As I steered the Sprint along deserted back roads through the bleak November countryside, my thoughts naturally turned to my father, Les, who was a veteran of the Second World War.
Most Vets are just ordinary men pushed into extraordinary circumstances. Men? My father was two months shy of his 19th birthday when he set foot on French soil as a paratrooper with the British 6th Airborne Division in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944. D-Day.
I remembered him telling me that a lot of the guys in his “stick,” or planeload, not only didn’t come home, he never saw them again once he was out of the plane. Dad made it through Normandy, saw action in Holland, the Battle of the Bulge and spent 30 days in a POW camp when the pilot of his plane missed the drop zone by 20 kilometres during the Crossing the Rhine operation. When the war ended, he had just turned 20.
Like so many from the U.K., he came to Canada in the early 1950s as a machinist to make a better life for him and his family.
I rode past a few places he used to take me fishing when I was a kid, and remembered how he didn’t really care for fishing but loved hunting – mostly grouse, ducks and deer, and drilled gun safety into me at an early age. By the time I was 12, I was shooting competitively and had a drawer full of medals and badges.
One of my fondest early memories was hockey night in the Bond household. Back then, the games started at 8 pm, were only televised on Saturday nights, and black and white TV coverage didn’t start till 9. Sometimes, we’d be in the middle of the second period, while other times, there’d be sticks and gloves all over the ice and Foster Hewitt would say, “We’re four minutes into the first period with a real donnybrook going here.”
He was also a motorcyclist, so I come by my passion honestly. When I was 15, he helped me buy my first bike, a Honda S90 ,and then bought the trail 90 so he could go riding with me as well as into his hunting areas. When I moved up to a CB350 Honda, he bought a CL model with the high pipes and commuted to work on it for several years.
Everyone has to leave the party eventually and dad died of a heart attack while coming back from a Florida vacation 25 years ago. He worked at Ontario Hydro for many years and had plans to see Alaska after he retired but it never happened. He retired in September of one year and died the following March. He was only 65.
My father was similar to so many veterans of that era —he was just a kid doing a man’s job because there was nobody else to do it. He told me countless times what I’ve heard so many vets say: he wasn’t a hero. The real heroes are the ones who didn’t come back.
Still, it would’ve been nice if he could have enjoyed more years of retirement, seen new places and most of all, watched my daughters grow up from gangly kids to the women they are today. You would’ve been proud of them, dad.
I steered the Sprint for home as the afternoon shadows stretched across the sun-dappled pavement. The temperature had dipped into the single digits so it must’ve been the cold wind through the visor that was making my eyes water.