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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Habitat for Humanity Ride - I Ride for Jane

Since the death of my wife, Jane, just 49 days ago, I've received a "circle the wagons" type of protection that never seems to leave me. I receive telephone calls almost every evening from my three grown children wanting to know how I am, what has happened that day, and if there's anything they can do for me. Well, my family has tried to stay close in the past but this new communication blitz is different. I guess it is expected when a tragedy occurs that affects all members of the family equally. Before, telephone calls from the kids were normally short calls taken after the kids had already talked to their mother and just wanted to ask me for some kind of advice that only a dad can give. Now, the calls are very personal lasting from 20-60 minutes with all subjects fair game. In a way, this is kinda nice.

In addition, the motorcycle community has been providing me with a zone of security when I ride. For example, the members of my Gold Wing Road Riders Association (GWRRA) chapter often go on dinner runs. They try their best to make sure that I'm getting out of the house on a regular basis and getting a decent meal so I get calls to remind me that an event is coming up. Such was the case when I got called to go to Big Ed's BBQ on October 2, 2008. Mike calls and says that they will be over to pick me up. That means that at least two motorcycle riders will show up in my driveway at an appointed time. I pull my trike out and fall in behind the lead rider while the second rider falls in behind me. I am now in the protected position. All moves in traffic are communicated over the CB radios we have on all the bikes. Lane changes are announced as the rider in back seizes the lane first and then notifies me and the lead rider to move over. We move as a unit with military precision. This is a very neat way to travel.

We had a great time at Big Ed's and on the way back to my house -- again in the protected mode -- Mike says over the CB, "You know, we'd really like to see you come out this weekend for the Habitat for Humanity Ride."

I knew about the ride. It was to be an escorted ride of up to 1000 motorcycles. Each rider had to register and make a donation or get sponsors to pledge money for their participation in the ride. The goal was to raise enough money to buy materials to build a new house for a disabled military veteran in the Freehold, NJ area -- a worthy cause, indeed.

I told Mike, "I'll think about it."

Mike came back with, "Well, listen Walt, this will be a great ride and you won't want to miss it."

The wheels in my head were going round and round as I arrived home and said my farewells and thanks for the escort to Mike and his wife as they headed back to their own home five miles away.

There were only two more days until the Habitat ride and I hadn't registered or donated anything yet. So I got an application by emailing another chapter member, "Just Bob."

I decided that I would ride my wife's white 1998 Honda Gold Wing Motor Trike with the pegs down in her honor. Jane was going to take this ride with me.

On Sunday, October 5, 2008, I rode Jane's trike -- without any security detail -- two miles to where we were to assemble at 8 a.m. This picture was taken just after I arrived at the chapter staging area. You can see the white trike on the right. Note my red helmet on the seat with special tiger ears and tail affixed. My chapter, known as F-Troop, often rides with these tiger ears and tail to attract attention and be seen better (and to just have fun). Jane always wore these so I wore them also for this ride.

One of the members of F-Troop, known as Blondie, likes to carry the tiger tail and ears to its extreme manifestation and rides with a full-size tiger character in the pillion position. Also, note the tiger ears and tail on her helmet.

After all the F-Troop riders had arrived, we rode over to the main parking lot at the local theater and parked up front so as to be near the beginning of the parade. Seen in front of the two columns of F-Troop bikes is "Just Bob."

There were several people who wanted to ride in the parade but were not motorcyclists. A few sidecar rigs were provided to give these folks a ride to remember. Here is another Bob with his sidecar top up, waiting for a guest passenger.

The parking lot quickly filled up with motorcycles. Riders registered, got coffee and donuts, and chatted waiting for the opening ceremonies.

Here's a closeup showing F-Troop members in red.

Here's a picture up front showing the mass of machines.

There were many beautifully painted motorcycles with military themes. The following two pictures show one such motorcycle.

The color guard formed and a young woman prepared to sing the National Anthem.

A local priest gave the invocation and blessing of the bikes and prayed for a safe ride for all.

Then the ride began. This was an escorted ride. That means that all traffic on the side streets is stopped and the police stand at all traffic lights and stop signs to allow us to pass without stopping.

The problem with parades of this sort is that the riders in front will get way ahead of the riders in back forcing the riders in back to speed up to extremely high speeds to keep up. Therefore, it's necessary for riders in front to go slower to keep the group together.

We proceeded on a route through western Monmouth County that covered approximately 70 miles before turning onto the Route 33 Bypass at Millhurst Mills. From there it would be a straight ride for 5-6 miles before leaving that road and winding around country roads to reach the destination at the Colts Neck Firehouse on Route 537.

But before that, we traveled over scenic, winding country roads past horse farms and protected farm land. F-Troop members had a great time chatting on the CB about various points of interest along the way and making jokes and side comments. It was a great way to spend a fall Sunday afternoon.

At times, we were in open areas with curves both ahead of us and behind us. You could look forward and see 50-100 bikes winding left and right in front of you and you could look in your rear view mirrors to see similar movements behind you. There were no interspersed cars, just motorcycles for as far as the eye could see in front and to the rear. Quite a sight!

When we arrived at Millhurst Mills and turned onto the Route 33 Bypass, there was some confusion and slowness of the motorcycles ahead of me. When I turned onto Route 33 and headed east, it was a straight stretch of highway and since our speed was well under the speed limit, the bikes had bunched together in a mass formation. It was beautiful. A solid mass of machines tightly formed and moving with precision. I thought of Jane whose spirit was riding with me in the pillion seat. She would have loved this ride. She loved formations like this that displayed the beauty of motorcycling to non-riders. I had to wonder what the people in the cars on the other side of the road were thinking seeing a solid mass of motorcycles traveling in the other direction. Would they know that we were out raising $55,000 to build a house for a disabled veteran? Probably not. We were the ones who knew what we were doing and that's all that mattered. Did anyone know that I was riding with Jane's trike and Jane's spirit on the back. Not a chance. But I knew and many of my fellow riders knew. That's all I cared about.

When we arrived at the Firehouse and parked on the grass, we lined up for a great lunch put on by a local restaurant, The Cabin. Here's a few pictures of that scene.

It was announced that $55,000 had been raised by the ride and that was enough to buy the materials to build a house for a disabled veteran. Also, there had been 767 bikes in the ride -- a new record.

Here's a picture of that great F-Troop group that accompanied me on the Habitat Ride. That's me, second from the left. Jane wasn't riding with me this year but her spirit surrounded us for the whole trip and made her trike run the smoothest it's ever run.

Thanks Jane for 47 years of wedded bliss. It was quite a ride. Godspeed.

All pictures ©2008 Walter F. Kern


05GWGrayRider said...

After Reading Walter's blog you can close your eye's and picture Jane's smiling face riding behind Walt on her white Gold-wing trike.
Jane can rest peacefully knowing that family and friends will watch out for Walter and help when needed, and even when not needed. We all look forward to having future rides with Walt, along with Jane's smiling spirit.
Jane sit back and enjoy the ride.....

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Walt:

I haven't been riding much because my arthritis has been getting so much worse. But I have been thinking about you a lot... And I'd like t ride with you before the year plays out.

I know you have family out this way and I'd love it if you attended one of our club breakfasts, on the third Sunday of the month. Riding with me would be a good deal different from the military precision you've experienced lately. In fact, it would be more like riding with the Marx brothers.

But I can promise you an interesting agenda with a good story behind every turn.

Fondest regards.
Jack Riepe
Twisted Roads

DebbieS25 said...

How wonderful that Walt can ride Jane's trike and carry her spirit with him... although I think her spirit is with him always.
Jane and Walt's family are a bunch of caring, compassionate people - I believe as a direct result of being raised by caring, wonderful parents. God Bless!
Debbie & Clyde

Anonymous said...

Walt, what a nice article and wonderful tribute to one of the nicest people we had the honor of calling "our friend", Jane. The entire Gold Wing organization is an extended family of sorts for all of us. However, in "hard times" the bonding is even stronger and certainly sincere. F-Troop will always be there for you and any other member that needs "a friend". Jane was a "one of a kind lady" her smile and positive attitude were contagious. Her appreciation for life and other people were certainly one of her many attributes.
I have no doubt in my mind, Jane was on the Habitat Ride with all of us. We look forward to you and your co-pilot joining us on many more rides and chapter events.

Anonymous said...

I can think of no greater tribute than to ride Jane's trike in such a great ride. As a Habitat volunteer, I appreciate, not only your tribute to your wife, but the help you are providing for a very worthy organization. Thank you