Port Dover: My Inner Biker

Today is Friday the Thirteenth, the day tens of thousands of bikers will descend on Port Dover, a town of about 5,000 year-round residents on the north shore of Lake Erie. They park their bikes in long rows, walk about showing off their colours, their piercings and tattoos, and drink a lot of beer.

They do this year round, regardless of the season, whenever the thirteenth falls on a Friday. This is a wonderful spring day… the turn-out will be very large.

They meet up at specified locations and ride in huge groups, taking over all the lanes of the major highways, like an armada or a convoy. I have seen them often… the noise, camaraderie, sense of freedom and rebellion are unforgettable. The bikes are awesome!

A few years ago I  made a quilt journal on this topic! What in the world would make me want to do a quilt journal about the motorcycle rally at Dover? Well, actually, there are several things. And this is what I wrote about it at the time:

I was working with geometric shapes… I tried triangles, squares, rectangles, circles… and began thinking about wheels, and hubcaps, for which I have an unreasonable fascination, and radial symmetry, and bicycle wheels as we used to decorate them with crepe paper strips and playing cards clothespinned to the spokes when we were kids and wanted to make a parade.

Parade… parade of bikes… and the coincidence of seeing so many bikers in groups on the highway heading for Dover on a blissfully sunny morning.  Apparently, about 150,000 of them, the largest number ever.

I like Port Dover.  I remember going there once or twice for family picnics as a child, the only large sandy public beach in my experience.  I remember falling off a dock there when I was about four, fishing with my father and his cronies, almost drowning, my mother’s hysterics, and my lifelong fear of water.  And I remember the tacky, tacky little summer town, with souvenir shops, and chip wagons, and hotdog stands, and booths selling fizzy drinks and cheap ice cream cones.  It also has its pier and fishing boats, and the lighthouse, as well as the “big hotel” and several well known restaurants famous for their fish entries at this, the largest of the Great Lakes fishing ports, and once the largest fresh water fishing port in the world.

Port Dover is, I suppose, the closest we have in southern Ontario to Brighton, or the other coastal towns in England that we read about and see in films.  I could just imagine a Canadian Agatha Christie setting a murder mystery in a claustrophobic little bed and breakfast, and going off to sleuth among the badly dressed, under dressed, and sunburned visitors strolling endlessly along its streets and beaches.

I found this wonderful image of a biker in my google image search for wheels and cycles.  Presto… showing beach and lake and sky also permitted me to experiment with triangles to show perspective.  And I have been wanting to try a very flat fused applique technique, sort of what Jane Sassamann uses for her bizarre botanical art quilts.

But of course there is more.  I have never ridden a motorcycle. Or a horse. Or been in a convertible.  Or on a ferris wheel.  I have not been on a bicycle since I was a teenager, and then it was a creaky old “girl’s” bike, a hand me down from Aunt Dolly and probably already twenty years old when I received it.  No high bar… I could ride in a skirt (indeed did not then own any slacks or jeans), no gears, no hand brake… you pedalled backwards to stop.   Totally safe and unadventurous.

My mother’s obsession with safety, decorum, and cleanliness made me into a physical coward, albeit one with a secret envy of those who could take great risks with speed and danger and physical excitement.

Who epitomizes this better than the motorcycle rider, appearing suddenly and then disappearing over the hill or around the bend in a haze of dust and roar of sound, weaving in and out of traffic, confidently zooming down the middle of the traffic lane, or squeezing between the traffic stalled cars.  They are anonymous in their leathers and helmets and sunglasses, vaguely threatening and endlessly fascinating.  Like the knights of old with their armour, like the cowboys with their boots and impressive steeds.

I have read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (Pirsig) and imagine both the call of the open road and the independence of mind such a lifestyle can encourage.  And then there’s Jimmy Dean, or Steve McQueen on their epic film rides.  Unimaginable suspense, defiance, excitement.

I know that the bikers at Dover were not all gang members, though perhaps there were a few.  Biking is an expensive hobby and holiday escape for wealthy middle agers and retirees as well, professionals, entrepreneurs, business people, the bourgeois out pretending (perhaps) to be rebellious for the day.

The biker in my quilt journal is alone on an empty beach… a far cry from the actual Friday 13 experience.  But that isolation emphasises the individuality and anonymity I wanted to portray.  The bike is tilted as he… or she… takes a curve at high speed.  We cannot see the grin, but I know it must be there.

So even a timid little old lady who does fiber art and blogs can feel the excitement and take inspiration from Friday the Thirteenth at Dover!

 

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