The 9/11 Ride Goes CMG

Friday morning, September 11th, I fired up the DR650 for an hour’s ride to St. Stephen. I was en route to something I’d never really done before—a charity ride. This year, for the first time, I was taking part in the 9/11 Ride. Except, like every other ride this season (charity, or otherwise), it was a lot different than usual.

You probably haven’t heard of the 9/11 Ride before, but you’re likely not surprised that it exists. The attacks of September 11, 2001, were a major factor behind our current zeitgeist. You can’t exactly blame 9/11 for the elections of Trump or Obama, but North America would look a lot different if the Twin Towers hadn’t come down. For one thing, there might not have been invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. But those invasions did happen, with grim results. For those countries and their people, but also the damaged soldiers coming home.

That’s where US-based Rolling Thunder comes in. Rolling Thunder’s roots are in the 1980s, when it started its work as a POW-MIA advocacy group. Now, it serves as a support group for veterans of all wars.

Paul and Josie have both done the 9/11 Ride before, and were kind enough to not complain when they had to follow my crusty old DR650 around Charlotte County.

Rolling Thunder supports veterans, and the 9/11 Ride supports Rolling Thunder. The 9/11 Ride is the work of Nova Scotia’s Daniel Ross. You might know Ross as the Cabot Trail Biker; he leads tours through Cape Breton, and has served as the Cabot Trail’s sort of unofficial goodwill ambassador for years. He’s made a lot of friends in the US over the years, through that work.  Unfortunately, he was sick this year on September 11—too sick to safely ride from his home near Antigonish, NS to the border. This would have been his 11th year making the trip, but it just wasn’t going to happen.

After flogging my DR650 for an hour on the highway, I rolled into St. Stephen, half-frozen on the chilly September morning. Normally, the Canadians on the 9/11 Ride would collect donations from around the Maritimes, meet somewhere in New Brunswick, and cross into Maine here. It’s always a smaller, intimate event—a few dozen riders, rather then a few hundred. Today, I was meeting only two riders, and there’d be no border crossing going on. Normally, the Canadian crew would roll right over, meet up with American friends, and ride around New England for a couple of days. 

A group of American riders were headed northwards through Maine to meet us, but we still hadn’t figured out how to hand over the check at the border.

Josie and Paul were waiting for me on shiny Harley-Davidson baggers when I rolled up. I felt a bit guilty about leading them around Charlotte County on my ratty old dual sport, but again—the charity ride wasn’t business as usual this year. We had an envelope of donations that were meant to deliver across into Calais, Maine, but we weren’t sure how it was going to happen.

We rode some back roads, stopped for a cuppa, and tried to figure out a strategy. A bunch of Mainers were riding up to the border to meet us, and we really wanted to make this hand-off in person. After all, that was the whole spirit of the event to start with. It wasn’t solely about the donations, although those have been picking up in recent years. The 9/11 Ride was about keeping strong Canada-US relationships. Daniel and his friends had been meeting up with many of the same American riders for more than a decade now. This was his way of showing them that Canadians aren’t just interested in their tourist dollars, we appreciate them coming north to visit our country and experience our culture.

Unfortunately, the Canadian border guard was friendly, but firm: There was no way we were going across the bridge to Calais to hand off a cheque, without going into a two-week quarantine when we got back. Not even if we’d left it on the middle of a bridge, under a rock, for the other guys to come get it. So we waited.

Paul and Josie with this year’s donations on the right, the American bikers waving across the river in the background (see them in the top left corner). This picture pretty much sums up the bizarre situations COVID has forced us into all year long.

About a dozen American riders showed up after a while, and we called and explained the situation. They managed to talk the American border guard into letting them cross to accept our donation in-person, but the Canadians still wouldn’t bend the rules, and we didn’t feel we could push our luck. So we waved across the St. Croix River, shouted across and asked how their day had been. This wasn’t a rally I’d organized, but somehow, it all felt like it was going very CMG.

Then, we rode home. Paul and Josie had a long, long way to go, since they’d both ridden from northern Nova Scotia. Thinking about it on the ride home, though, I felt good about the day. Daniel said he could still get the money to the veterans’ charity by email transfer, so that part was taken care of. At least we’d been able to do something; many other Canadian motorcycle charity rides were severely restricted this year, or just cancelled entirely.

The other part, the building relationships—well, at least I’d met Paul and Josie, and had been able to share stories about riding all over North America. They might have  motorcycles much different from mine, but they both shared the same enthusiasm and dedication for two wheels.

It’s good to know we have good border security, but it’s too bad we couldn’t hand over the donations in person. At least we can do that stuff through the Internet now.

Still, it would have been nice to meet the American riders. While the relationship between Canada and the US always has its ups and downs, there’s no question that after the 9/11 attacks, Canada was there for its neighbour. We took care of airline passengers that needed accommodations and food. We donated to emergency relief. We were willing to back up our military allies, with many Canadian soldiers paying the ultimate price.

These days, who knows what the future holds for our two countries. No matter what happens in November’s US federal election, it’s likely the country will see more civil unrest, and there will no doubt be some sort of aftermath in Canada. But hopefully, we’ll see smoother times in the future, and hopefully next year, I’ll be able to ride with Daniel and the rest of the group into Maine, and make new friends again. This pandemic can’t last forever.

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