I recently had the privilege of serving as a fire policeman for the Clinton Twp. Fire Company and helping line up the bikers who were participating in the 911 Memorial Ride held on September 11th. As early as 9:00 a.m., the riders began arriving, and during the day I enjoyed getting to chat a bit with a few of them.
Bikers do not fit any one pattern. There were a group of four lady bikers from Watsontown who said they do this every year. I asked if they were a club, and they said no, but then one of the ladies looked at the others and said, “Y’know, maybe we should start one.”
There was representatives of the Williamsport Christian Motorcycle Association who were among the very first to arrive and were busy blessing the bikes and the bikers the entire day. There was a fellow dressed as Elvis who was particularly thankful for having his motorcycle blessed. There are always a few ‘unusual’ riders. I saw Captain America and a figure that could have been Elmo in the mix.
There were three guys who arrived early from New York, riding for over two hours just to participate. It was a good thing they came early, as one of them managed to lock his keys in the side panel of his Triumph motorcycle and it took over an hour and three mechanics to get it open. What was amazing was the amount of concern the other bikers showed and the group effort it took to finally retrieve those keys.
I got to meet others who came from New Jersey and even a couple from Ohio. I asked each of them why they traveled so far for this ride, and they all had very similar responses. They noted that other rides had declined, but this one in Lycoming County was special. Seeing thousands line up throughout the 42-mile route, cheering, waving flags, showing their appreciation to the riders who are commemorating this day is what makes them keep coming back year after year.
But, of course, the vast majority of the riders are local. I had a chance to chat with Matt McDermott, director of administration for Lycoming County, who was riding and his wife Jodie each on their own motorcycles. Commissioner Tony Mussare was grinning ear-to-ear riding with his wife Mary on the back end of his bike.
Mike Adams, a retired member of the Williamsport Bureau of Fire, along with his wife Ellen arrived very early to get up front. They remarked that they had participated in the very first ride back 2002, and have tried to make every ride since. When I asked what keeps them coming back, Mike felt it was important to remember all those fire fighters who lost their lives that day, and also to commemorate Father Manno, who was a very close friend to the Williamsport Bureau of Fire, and also one of the founders of the 911 Ride Coalition.
Father Manno’s presence was felt throughout the day. During the opening ceremony, one after another of the 911 Coalition board members shared personal memories of this incredible man. A billboard with his picture and “Fred,” his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, was unveiled with the words, “God bless you all, let’s roll.” These were the words that he always uttered to start the ride. It was a wonderful tribute to a remarkable and wonderful man.
One special rider was Noah Shuey, a Penn College student from Hershey, PA. He had just acquired a motorcycle and had heard about the 911 Ride and wanted to participate. This is a young man who was just a three-year old when that event happened, so he certainly had no memory of it, but he wants to keep the tradition alive. Noah arrived at 10:00 AM so he could ride right up front. I had a chance to talk to him after the ride, and he barely had the words to describe the experience. Noah remarked, “It was amazing, seeing all those people, mile after mile, I did not realize that there were so many people who still cared about America that way. You would never guess that from listening to the media.”
At least in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, there are many who care deeply about their county — and this annual symbolic gesture certainly proves it.