On Friday an old friend of mine posted to Facebook that the Give Back Ride was taking place in Townsend, MA today, that it’s a good time, and that bikers should come on out and participate. I had various plans this weekend, but I got a lot of apartment cleaning and reorganizing taken care of yesterday, in addition to my inspection woes, so I could justify taking the time to do this today. It was a fundraiser for a good cause – getting Townsend Fire/EMS some multigas detectors. Breathing is good. I’ve had enough asthma in my life to appreciate it more than some.
APRS worked well, once again, and traced my steps for me today. My ride to Townsend (a bit west of Groton on the map) was solo, and I was on the earlier end of the arrivals. I registered, then took advantage of the included coffee and donuts. Most of the other bikes that showed up were cruisers, mainly Harleys and wanna-be clones. But there were a few oddballs there, aside from my bike (naturally, the only PC800). That’s a Buell in front of me, which many – including the owner of this one – agree really counts as a Harley. There were a few sport bikes in the mix, a BMW R100GS, a smattering of Triumphs, a couple of classic 1980s Goldwings (before they got all the luggage and bodywork), and a couple of CanAm Spyders. As is usually the case at the few biker gatherings I’ve attended, people have their brand loyalties, and often they are strong, but no one puts down anyone else’s bike. It doesn’t matter WHAT we ride – it only matters THAT we ride.
I didn’t know any of the other riders there, but a few of us got talking anyway. The BMW rider saw me opening the trunk and wanted to check out my APRS setup – he introduced himself by his ham radio callsign. I gave him all the details, how I got to this point, what had worked, and what hadn’t. He told me about how he was interested in converting the existing CB setup on his BMW to a ham station instead. He also had the same Givi trunk as me, except he had the standard Givi brake light kit for it. I showed off my AdMoreLighting kit, which he really liked. Considering how many lights he had on his Beemer (fogs, driving lights, extra running lights, the Givi trunk lights…) it wouldn’t surprise me if he looks up the AdMoreLighting kit, too.
I found my friend Beth, who had told me about this ride, and we spent a few minutes catching up. Between also catching up with her many other friends who were there and herding her kids, we barely had any time to ourselves, but it was good to see her again. It’s all her fault I found out about and showed up to this. She would’ve loved to hop on the back with me, and I would’ve loved to have taken her along, but she couldn’t because she had her kids to take care of.
After a quick meeting to establish protocol, the Townsend police showed up to direct traffic and send us on our way, and soon we were off through the center of town, which the police also got us through without stopping. I heard the number 118 thrown around as the number of bikes on this ride, but I’m not sure of that. It was certainly the largest group I’ve ever ridden in, and fortunately everyone seemed very well behaved and in control. We still had a Townsend ambulance running behind us the entire time as a sweep vehicle, but I’ll spoil the suspense and tell you now that any services beyond bringing up the rear were not required. It’s quite a feeling to be a part of such a large group. I had to dramatically alter my usual riding style, which is to use the entire lane for curves and corners, and instead stick to the right hand groove where I happened to end up, since other bikes were near and sometimes right next to me in the left groove within my lane. I also had to pay a lot more attention to traffic around me so that I could react instantly to anything up ahead. However, I didn’t have to pay any attention to navigating, because the ride leaders took care of that, and we had some people assigned to be blockers at busy intersections to make sure all of the bikes got through together.
After a while, we slowed down, crossed the covered bridge, and pulled into our rest stop and turnaround point, the West Swanzea, NH fire station. They fed and watered us, and allowed us to use their restrooms. There was more mingling and chatting. I spotted a father and son taking a close look at my bike just as the son identified it as a PC800, saying he had only ever seen two others in his life. So we talked about it for a while, and I enjoyed another opportunity to show off the trunk. It turned out they were riding the vintage Goldwings I had spotted at the start of the ride, and the son had just sold a CX500 – the bike that Honda added a fairing and luggage to and turned into the Silverwing. So there was definitely some common ground there.
About half an hour after we arrived, we saddled up and started the trip back to Townsend. After riding behind the Buell with its loud exhaust all the way up, I put in my earplugs for the trip back. This time we took Route 119 instead of 124, which we had taken up. The whole area is quite familiar to me, since I lived just across the border in Winchendon, MA when I started riding, and often came up to this area to cruise around.
As we went down 119, the woman on the back of the Harley next to me pulled out a very familiar looking device – a Flip camera. I have an old one of my own that I’ve used on the bike a little, including my trip up and down Mt. Washington last year. Since she was just the passenger, she simply held it up with her hand and shot quite a bit of video as we cruised along. Since I was near them, I will undoubtedly feature prominently in this video, which, she told me after the ride, will be posted on the event web site. I’m looking forward to seeing it, and to actually watching myself ride, for once.
For this leg of the trip, I found myself very close to the front, only a few bikes behind the blockers. We passed through Keene, where most of the blockers did their job and fell into the back of the pack. Before long there were no more official blockers left in front, so whoever happened to be there heeded the call to duty and did what was necessary. As we passed through Rindge – the town over from where I used to live – it was my turn to help block Route 202 and let everyone else pass. It’s a big intersection, so several bikes stopped along with me and covered both sides. There was barely any communication – just a few hand signals from the ride leader, and the rest of us just figured it out. We waited through more than one entire light cycle, a seemingly endless line of bikes, until we saw the ambulance bringing up the rear. This was the first, and probably only, time in my life when I saw an ambulance coming with lights and sirens on, and pulled out ahead of it! I’m always quick to get out of the way. Not only is it the law, but they could be coming for me someday, and I’d want people to get out of their way for me. But in this case, their job was to bring up the rear of our group, and so I fell into the back of the line just ahead of them, like I was supposed to. Still, it was weird.
We crossed back into Massachusetts, and I knew the road well from here. In Ashby we made a quick left, then right, to stay on 119, and rode through Willard Brook State Forest. That was interesting. The road was narrow and twisty. I’ve enjoyed more than a few spirited romps through this part of road. But this was no spirited romp. I was surrounded by bikes and a guardrail very close to me on all sides, so there was no room for error. But there was none, and we finished the ride at Bailey’s Bar and Grille. We were welcomed by Townsend Fire Department’s ladder truck flying a big American flag from the top for us.
I grabbed a burger at the bar for lunch, and though I typically don’t drink during a ride, I knew I’d be hanging out a while, so I indulged myself one. A couple, both wearing Harley jackets, sitting next to me were talking about the loud Buell. They’d also been right near us on the way up. They asked what I rode, and when I told them, the guy said, “Oh, the one with that big trunk that opens up!” I guess that image made quite an impression on some people.
I had intended to meet Beth after the ride, but her kids had a lacrosse game she needed to be at. As the clouds kept getting darker, I checked the weather radar on my phone, and rain was moving in from the west. I gave it a while, but I ended up heading home before she arrived to avoid the rain. Oh well – I’m glad I came out and did this. I haven’t done many group rides. Though I enjoyed this one, I find that I honestly prefer riding alone for the freedom that comes with it. I can cut my own lines through the turns without worrying about any other riders. If I want to stop and check something out, take pictures, or post a status update to Facebook or Twitter, I can. But I did have a good time – it was a nice change of pace, and it was for a good cause.