First, let me say that, despite what the organizers may think, this was the most organized, well run, well led, and well received (by the riders and the public that we encountered) ride I have ever been part of. I want to extend a heartfelt thanks to all those who took the time to organize, run, guide, and protect all of us.

I first heard of The Rolling Barrage a couple of years ago from a friend who had done a couple of legs in BC and Alberta, and he told me I needed to be a part of this. I looked into it and thought it would be a great ride but, due to the fact that I was still working, my schedule never lined up, even for a section or two.

Fast forward to this year and I found myself heading into retirement and so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to do a couple of legs. However, as I read more about this group, who they were, what they stood for and what they were trying to do, it became clear that a couple of legs of the trip were not going to be sufficient.
I sat down and did some thinking. I have always wanted to ride a motorcycle across Canada, and this gave me the opportunity to do that with a group of people I have always admired and respected.

To give a little background context on that, I have always, since I was a child, had a deep respect and admiration for veterans.

Growing up, there were still First World War vets showing up at Remembrance Day ceremonies, and the Second World War vets were still in the workforce. Korean War vets had young families. I looked at these people and when I heard or read about their stories and their bravery, it inspired me. As the years went by and these men began to disappear, it left a hole in my world. So that is why, to this day, anyone who enters the service of our country has my respect.

Fast forward to present day and I decided that it would be an honour to be able to ride with this group. But how far? BC? Alberta? No, that would not be good enough to satisfy me. I had to do the Full Pull. Once I registered, the one thing I have always feared in my life manifested itself…failure. It dawned on me the magnitude of the task I was undertaking.

From shipping the bike to Newfoundland, to booking the hotels, to budgeting for food and fuel, to wondering if my bike could make it all the way, to the most nagging fear…would I be accepted by the other riders as I am not a veteran. That was the biggest one.

I didn’t know anyone at all, and I had no connection to the group through military service. In my mind, I was just a firefighter. In my other riding circles, that meant something, as I rode with other firefighters almost exclusively. I thought to myself that I would simply hang at the back of the pack and if I got to meet a couple of people that would be the best I could hope for.

I assumed that everyone on the ride knew each other for many years and were old friends getting together every year. I decided that I would use the time on the road as wind therapy and an opportunity to reflect on things that were weighing me down emotionally from my time on the job. It’s a big country and I had a lot of baggage to dispose of along the way.

My arrival in St. John’s was the first indication that things were not going to be as I expected. Basil from Rugged Rock HD had agreed to pick me up from the airport at 6 AM. Incredible! And then he drove me around and showed me where my hotel was, where a good fuel stop was and where there was a great breakfast location before taking me back to the dealership and letting me get my bike before the shop opened.

I briefly met Mark, Sheila, and Karen at the dealership (a good start as it turned out). The day rides before we left were opportunities to see how things worked and I decided to keep as low a profile as I could, following orders and fitting in where I was supposed to.

I have to say, Jim is an imposing figure, and I knew right away that he was someone I definitely did not want to piss off (as well as Tailgunner Chris). I looked around the parking lot at all the riders assembled and my intimidation factor began to grow. These were all veterans, what business did I have being here?
Oh well, just shut up and ride. After all, you’re here to address your fears, aren’t you? I was able to settle in and had met a couple of people like Scott Sherlow as well as Mark, Sheila and Karen, If that was all, then I would consider it a success. The next few days of riding I just focused on fitting in to the pattern on the road. I was feeling a bit more comfortable and thought that I might even try to reach out and meet more people. Then it happened. I hit what I, and my wife, have come to describe as my down days.

Every once in a while, my emotional trauma and a family history of depression combine to drive me right into the ground and bury me in despair. I’ve learned, or so I thought, how to mask it but I guess I wasn’t doing a good job this time. My first exposure to what this ride has done for me is when I had people I barely knew or didn’t know at all come up to me and ask me if I was OK.
Self defense mode kicks in and I lie (sorry) and say that I’m just tired. My mind now starts racing and says “you have to hide it better!”

When we left PEI, I could feel myself coming out of it, and the beauty of New Brunswick definitely helped. The next eye-opening moment of what this ride is all about came in Oromocto, I arrived at the Legion late and decided to sit down by myself and wait for my food rather than interfere with any of the other groups that had already settled in.

While I’m sitting there, Scott Casey (the man, the legend) comes up and squats down next to the table and says, “are you OK?” Wait, what??? Talk about blowing me off my feet! I don’t think we had even met yet and here is the founder of this ride checking in on me. I told him “Yes, I’m fine. Why do you ask?” He says, “because you’re sitting here by yourself.”

The thought that there were people looking out for me never occurred to me. I then realized how much this group cared about each other’s well being. As the days went on, that feeling grew and I began to meet and get to know more people. I considered myself fortunate and I was grateful to hear some of their stories about their struggles with emotional trauma. Although I don’t think I shared any of my own stories, listening to people share their own pain somehow helped to calm mine. I hope that sharing was helpful and again I am grateful for being an ear.

I wish I could say that the rest of the ride was all sunshine (literally and figuratively) but there were moments where I felt overwhelmed and still tried to hide it. This is something I am working on. The most notable moment was when the young lady with the assistance dog program addressed the group at the Legion. After her presentation, as we were getting ready to go, I stopped by and was going to ask if I could pet the dog. She turned to me and saw something on my face, I guess, because she asked me ” do you need the dog right now?”
I completely lost it and burst into tears.

Just as a compressed gas cylinder must let go when the pressure gets too high, the dog became my pressure relief valve. Thank you. So much for hiding it. By this time, I have met many, if not all the Full Pull crew, but I still felt like the outsider. That all changed when we got to Neepawa.

When I received the quilt of valor, that was the end of me feeling like an outsider and I feel it was a major turning point in my overall recovery. This was now becoming family. Having a daily morning prayer group strengthened the bonds I felt and then being able to lead a couple of them solidified my feelings of acceptance.

By the time we reached the West Coast I knew I had conquered at least one of my foes. The fear of failure on this ride. I felt that some things in my life and my outlook had changed for the better. I am grateful to the people on the ride who did what they did, not just for me, but for everyone. And everyone did something for each other and for themselves.

See you all next time!

Rob Hourigan

Full Pull Alumni , The Rolling Barrage