It was on a steep stretch heading eastward through the B.C. section of the Rockies when Guy Morrall’s Harley-Davidson started to run out of breath in the thinning air.
While that slowed him down—much to his chagrin because he had to be in New York City in about 10 days time—it allowed him to notice something quite profound.
He saw the vehicle ahead with U.S. licence plates had a small, homemade cardboard sign pressed up against the rear window by two small figures—a pair of young grade school-aged girls.
The sign’s simple script matched the ages of its authors, but the message was nonetheless effective.
“The sign said, ‘Thank you for riding for us. We love you.’ Just those two faces in the back of the car. I can see them now as plain as then.”
The recollection from nine years ago still brings a few tears to Morrall’s eyes.
It’s indicative of the emotion the former Ladner resident feels each year as he takes part in the 9.11 Memorial Ride to the Peace Arch in South Surrey, an event he started in 2003, the year after he made a cross-continent motorcycle trek from Ladner to New York City to commemorate the first anniversary of the attacks that felled the World Trade Center towers and other buildings.
While he now lives on Vancouver Island, Morrall keeps in close contact to help organize the annual event which draws hundreds of riders from across the region.
“When I see it, (people gathering for the ride) I think it’s something we have to remember,” he says. “It’s one way we can pay respect and honour those who lost their lives.”
Morrall says the motivation to make the cross-continent ride to New York City in 2002 came from the fact that a good portion of his family and many friends live in the U.S. Plus, a visit to B.C. by some fellow motorcycle enthusiasts from Arizona who arrived on Sept. 10, 2001, a day before the attacks, sealed his commitment.
He woke his guests early on that fateful Sept. 11 morning to tell them something was going on in New York City they had to come see on TV.
“They were pretty emotional, trying to get through to their wives on the cell phones,” Morrall says. “Here were two grown men who had seen military service getting visibly upset.
“The following months we saw all of the news about what happened on Sept. 11, and being in emergency services (Coast Guard Auxiliary) I wanted to do something,” he says. “But there were so many people going there and that’s one of the biggest problems when there is an emergency. People who go to help out, they end up needing to be cared for, as well. You can quickly become more of a burden than an asset.”
So, he waited and left Ladner on Aug. 29, 2002 and arrived in New York City on Sept. 9.
Along the way he met countless people who wished him well. Some joined the ride.
In Winnipeg, an RCMP officer took Morrall aside, fearing for his safety riding at night and invited him and about 15 others to his cabin for the night.
“He said, ‘All I’ve got is whiskey and steak,’ So, we sat around, watched the Northern Lights and chatted about 9/11.”
When he arrived in New York City two days before the anniversary he was struck at the serene setting.
“I remember how quiet it was,” he says. “People weren’t sure what was going to happen on the first anniversary.”
But Morrall and other riders parked their bikes and joined the procession two days later to Ground Zero.
“People could read from the bike (licence plate) where I was from and they were so receptive that I would travel that far to remember their loss,” Morrall says.
When he returned to his bike it was covered with thank-you notes and carnations.
“After that, all I could think about was putting on a ride,” he says.
How has society changed since that fateful day?
“I think there’s too much emphasis on security,” Morrall says, adding he’s a big supporter of personal rights and freedoms and believes the events of Sept. 11 have allowed some to overstep the boundaries in the name of security.
“I think what we’re doing in response—(Osama) Bin Laden is probably laughing in his grave.”
This year, along with co-organizer Steve Williams, a B.C. Ambulance paramedic, the 9.11 Memorial Ride will start from the parking lot at the River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond (8811 River Road).
Breakfast for the riders will be served at 6 a.m. and the group departs at 8 a.m.
From there, the procession will wind its way to Peace Arch Park in South Surrey where there will be a gathering at 9 a.m. and moment of silence.
For more information about the 9/11 Memorial Ride, call 604-922-8176 or 604-240-9610.