Roy LeBlanc arrived in Yarmouth on Aug. 31 to surprise his dad, 99-year-old Alcide LeBlanc, with a visit.
And while the dad was surprised to see the son, it was the son who got the bigger surprise.
He arrived in time to watch his dad – a Second World War veteran who turns 100 in March – put on a helmet and go for a spin in a sidecar of a motorcycle with Wharf Rat Rally volunteer driver Guy LeBlanc.
It was the 99-year-old’s first motorcycle ride.
“It was a little rough at times,” he said, about the bumps they rode over as they circled the driveway around Maple Grove Education Centre in Hebron, Yarmouth County, a few times.
But, the veteran said, it was a “nice ride.”
The rides that he and others got that day – and that many more had been getting in other parts of western Nova Scotia – were part of the Share the Wind initiative of the Wharf Rat Rally.
Many years ago riders at the rally had circled a hospital and seniors care facilities, honking their horns as they passed by. While that was a delight for the residents and patients, there were some that longed to be much closer to the action.
According to the Wharf Rat Rally website, in 2013 the rally started making some official stops and meet and greets at some long-term care facilities. Kevin Bean’re (around Wharf Rat Rally he’s just called Bean’re) was more than happy to accommodate.
Bean’re, the official ambassador of the Wharf Rat Rally, loved the idea of giving others a motorcycle experience – including those at facilities who couldn’t get to the Digby for the rally.
Each year a couple more long-term care facilities were added to the stops and in 2017 Bean're came up with an idea and turned it into Share the Wind.
According to the Wharf Rat Rally website, “Bean're purchased a Honda Valkyrie with a Champion Escort sidecar and brought the unit to Digby. Insurances in place, and waivers signed, Bean're's visits now included rides in the sidecar for residents, staff and family members. The project literally brought tears to people's eyes. Alzheimer patients who hadn't spoken or smiled for months were brought out of their shells, even if for short periods of time. Staff members heard stories days later of how much residents enjoyed their short outings.”
During this year’s Wharf Rat Rally, held over the Labour Day weekend, the Share the Wind initiative had its greatest outreach ever. Stops to long-term care facilities and nursing homes included facilities in Windsor, Bridgetown, Annapolis, Middleton, Digby, Meteghan and Yarmouth.
“I'm so happy how the Wharf Rat Rally has embraced the Share the Wind project,” Bean’re tells the Tri-County Vanguard. “It is a perfect fit for their hospital visits. It gives the patients and residents new hope when they are able to ride on a motorcycle, even though it is just a sidecar.
“A simple ride around their building in the parking lot feels like a cross country motorcycle adventure to them,” he adds. “They remember us year after year and look forward to their rides all winter long. That's fitting, because I look forward to coming back to them with the Wharf Rat Rally as well.”
Bean’re gets help from volunteers to take people on rides. All of the drivers also thoroughly enjoy the experience.
Posted volunteer driver Christian Thibaudeau on Facebook after a trip to the Heart of the Valley in Middleton, “Lots of smiles, lots of good stories and a few wet eyes made the day one not to be forgotten for many. We had volunteers for Nevada, NB and NS today for a total of 11 riders. Youngest participant at heart was 98 and fit as a fiddle.”
And it’s not just seniors who get to have rides. People of all ages have gotten to test out the sidecar.
Sometimes it’s hard to judge who has the biggest smiles because of these rides – Bean’re and his volunteer drivers, or those receiving the rides.
It wasn’t hard to judge the smile on Beatrice Cottreau’s face on Aug. 31 when it was her turn to take a ride. The 94-year-old Wedgeport Legion member joked that riding a motorcycle had always been on her bucket list.
Well, at least it was for this day.
“I’m 94. If I don’t do it now, I might never do it,” she said laughing, before playfully putting her hands together and saying a little prayer.
She left with a big smile as her ride got underway. And that big smile was still there when she came back.
Actually, correction on that – her smile was even wider than before she had left.
READ ALSO: FROM 2019 WHARF RAT RALLY