LogoLake Erie LoopLogo

Home Ride Info Camping Gallery Contact Us Frequently Asked Questions Race_Results

Race Results

ACBC Donate

Yahoo Groups

Facebook Page


Northern Ohio Firefighters

2016 Ride will be June 10th -June 12th and will be starting at Clare-Mar Lakes Campground

Snatched from the Jaws of Death

As you may (or may not) know every year since 2008 (except for 2009) I have participated in the Lake Erie Loop.  The Loop is a charity ride to raise money for the Aluminum Cans for Burned Children Foundation (http://www.acbcohio.org/index.cfm).

The creators of the Loop are a friend and motorcycle instructor colleague - Bill Murar -  a paramedic and retired fire fighter, and his wife Joyce, a nurse.  Anyone can participate in the Loop on any motorcycle or scooter, but the competition is reserved for small displacement two wheelers in 3 different classes.  Except for 2008 when I rode my Harley, I have participated on a 1981 Honda Twinstar (CM200).  I have always finished (no DNF's), and my best placement was 2nd in 2012.

This year I placed third out of seven entrants, which is a miracle based on the events of the day. 

I was well prepared for the event - the bike was ready (thanks to my chief mechanic Rick) and I was ready (well, mostly ready except for the colossal headache and throbbing in my head from the accidental kick in the head I received early Friday morning when my horses got spooked and knocked me down).  My fuel tank, extra fuel tank and gas can were filled and ready to go, tires filled with air to the proper levels, oil checked, tank bag packed with snacks, rear seat bag packed with water bottles.  My required documents (passport, bike registration, US and Canadian insurance cards) were all in a ziplock bag in the clear plastic top compartment of my tank bag.

At 6:02 AM on June 8, 2013 I left with the rest of the riders in Class 3.  I exited the Ohio turnpike at I-280 and headed for Detroit.  My Honda is not fast (it will cruise comfortably at 62-65 MPH on a mostly level roadway) but it is steady and reliable.  I entered Michigan on I-75, heading for the Ambassador Bridge to Canada.  The stretch of I-75 between Toledo and Detroit is one of the worst maintained and horrible road surfaces I have ridden recently on a motorcycle.  It is especially rough on a small bike like the Twinstar with narrow tires.  Changing lanes did not help - the only sort of smooth lane was the far left fast lane and I definitely did not belong there.

Exit 47B takes you to the Ambassador Bridge.  There is a sign as you approach the exit ramp that warns you must exit the USA if you take the ramp.  There is no way back.  No problem, I was headed for Canada.  There is a duty free gas station just before the bridge toll booths.  I always stop there to fill up and hopefully avoid paying for gas in Canada.  I had drained my front tank (got 150 miles on 2.6 gallons for 57.6 mpg) and ridden about 8 miles on my auxiliary tank.  I pulled up to a pump right behind another Looper.  My plan was to fill the front tank and place my passport on top of the other stuff in the top compartment of the tank bag to be ready for Canadian customs.

I got off the bike and moved the tank bag off the fuel filler.  Life was good.  My run was on time and efficient.  I pulled a credit card out of my wallet, which also held my Ohio drivers license (wallet was in a zippered pocket on the left side of the tank bag).  I inserted the card, answered 25 questions through the keypad and lifted the nozzle to start pumping.

Something was wrong.  As I looked at the top of the tank bag I realized there was no ziplock bag and no passport, registration and insurance card.  Yes, I panicked.  I had that horrible sinking feeling that I was really in trouble.  I finished pumping the gas and forgot to get a receipt.  I opened every compartment on the tank bag searching for the ziplock bag with my documents. I knew I had put it in the top compartment - but then again I had taken a blow to the head 36 hours earlier and wondered if I had just forgotten where it was.

It was not in my tank bag.  It was not in the pockets of my jacket or riding pants.  It was not in the seat bag with the water.  There were no more places to look.  I was in no man's land.  I could not return to the US and did not know if my driver's license would get me into Canada.  I assumed my ziplock bag was lying along the roadside somewhere in Ohio or Michigan.  I knew my "race" was over and I knew I would have a major problem getting back through US Customs (in Detroit or Buffalo) without my passport.

I looked up a number for the Peace Bridge customs office.  Called it twice but could only get recorded information.  Found another number for US Customs in Buffalo and called it.  A human answered and I tried to explain my situation.  What I wanted was information on what I should do and what I should expect.  What I got was a tongue lashing from an annoyed agent who told me I had called the airport customs office (who knew?) and that there was nothing with which she could help me.  This caused more panic and adrenalin to streak through me.  The only useful thing she said was that if I was an American citizen (I was pretty sure I still retained my citizenship) they could not deny me entrance back into my country.  But how that would happen was a big unknown.

I called Rick to advise him of my problem.  I had been there for nearly 30-40 minutes already.  I had seen several other loopers ride past me.  I saw Bill ride past and while he was waiting in line to pay his bridge toll I ran across the lanes to let him know my situation.  He must have thought I was delusional from my brain being rattled the day before.  I thought I was delusional.

Finally after the initial panic and fear had been replaced by disappointment (that my 2013 completion time would not be better than my time in 2012) and acceptance that I was in for an adventure with US Customs, I packed up the tank bag, remounted the motorcycle and headed off to pay my bridge toll.  I crossed the bridge only to find three really long lines waiting to go through Canadian customs.  But of course I was already going to finish last in my class so what difference did it make?  Besides, they could turn me away and make me go back to US Customs in Detroit.  My ride back home (eventually) would only be 158 miles!

It was finally my turn.  I handed the border officer my drivers license.  She asked if I had any proof of citizenship. Uh, well, I did when I left for my ride but now it was along the highway in Michigan or Ohio.  She recognized the sticker on my windshield and had already processed a few of the loopers through her lane.  After a few questions and commiserating with my situation she said I was okay to go through Canada and wished me good luck at the other end.  I was momentarily elated - hurdle one had been crossed!  My elation vanished as fast as it had arrived though when I started contemplating what US Customs would put me through at the other end.

I was happy to be across the border but very deflated about how I had ruined my 2013 Lake Erie Loop ride.  My gas tanks were full and I knew I would not need to buy gas until New York.  I had lost my appetite.  The weather was overcast, humid and chilly.  I stopped once for five minutes to pull the passenger pegs down so I could use them to change leg positions.  I also opened up a package of peanut butter crackers and broke off half of my Hershey bar, placing those healthy and nutritious snacks in the left side pouch of the tank bag.  I knew I would need to snack on them eventually and I could access them while riding.  My 2nd stop along Highway 401 occurred after I had drained my rear aux tank and ridden some way on the main tank.  I had 1.4 gallons of fuel in a can strapped to the bike.  I stopped and dumped it into the rear aux tank.

I had four or more hours to concoct more than a few scenarios about what would happen when I reached the Peace Bridge.  Some were dark and sinister (I had previous negative experiences with US Customs);  some were hopeful.  All of them had me delayed for at least an hour (or a day?) at the border.  I was planning to let them know my fingerprints were already on file (originally fingerprinted when I was hired as an air traffic controller).  My mind wandered all over the place.  I had plenty of time to worry.  I also had plenty of time to think about how I had lost the document bag. 

I remember noting that something hit the right side of my jacket while heading north to Detroit.  But things hit your gear often while riding.  I was watching the road, not my tank bag.  I concluded that what I felt hit my jacket was the ziplock bag with my documents.  The road was very bumpy; the bag had obviously vibrated to the bottom of the compartment and found the place where I had failed to press hard enough on the velcro closure.

I reached the Peace Bridge around 2 PM and managed to get into a line with only four cars ahead of me.  When I approached the agent (I had already seen it was a woman when she exited the booth to check a plate) I handed her my drivers license and promptly told her I had lost my passport (and how I thought it happened - those damn Michigan roads!)  I was ready for attitude and a scolding.  I got neither. 

She took my license, asked me a few questions.  I told her I was a retired federal worker.  She mentioned I would probably have to go inside and talk to immigration.  No surprise there.  I was ready.  She dialed a number to let them know I was coming and why.  When she got off the phone I thought I heard her say "That was easy".  I inquired politely "Easy?"  To which she replied "Yes.  They checked the records and found you have been through this crossing before with your passport.  You can go."   Go?  Just like that?  No attitude?  No scolding?  Just a reminder to call and report my passport lost?  OMG, I wanted to jump off that bike and hug her!  I restrained myself, smiled, said "Thank you so much!" and took off.

The rest of my ride was easy.  I stopped at the Angola rest stop, called Rick, used the restroom, saw another looper whose bike had broken down and was in the back of a truck, filled the tanks with fuel and took off.  My new goal was to arrive in under 13 hours (my original goal was to arrive in under 12 hours).  I rolled into the campground at 6:51 PM, under 13 hours.  I know I lost at least an hour (probably more) with my little situation - so without that I know I would have been slightly under 12 hours.  I was just happy to be back. 

Sunday morning I was awarded 3rd place in my class.  3rd?  Out of 7 entrants 3 did not finish and one had a fuel line problem but still finished 30 minutes behind me.  Are you kidding?  3rd?  I was elated, despite not meeting my personal goal of beating my previous times.  And, in one of the more recent Loop traditions I was awarded the "Snatched from the Jaws of Death" pillow award, which goes to the Looper with the worst experience of the day.   The irony of the award is that I make and donate the embroidered pillow every year.  It will have a special place of honor in my collection of stuff.

This morning (Monday June 10 2013) I called the State Department to report my lost passport.  I also finally found a voice line for the Peace Bridge customs office and spoke to a supervisor.  I wanted them to know how much I appreciated the pleasant young woman who had handled my entrance back into the country on Saturday.  I know that several of the loopers that day did not have a pleasant border officer.  I also know that most of the time people call with complaints and not kudos.  As a 24 year public servant I always appreciated the few rare occasions when a pilot made the effort to thank me for some extra service when it was needed.  I hope the woman who helped me gets to hear it from her managers.

Lessons learned? 

1.  Never put anything important in the top of a tank bag unless you triple check to be sure the closure at the bottom is really closed.

2.  Never put all your forms of identification together (happily I had not).

3.  Do not give up (thankfully I was able to continue my ride and despite feeling all was lost I motored on and did not make lengthy stops, which was my original plan).

4.  Honda products from the 1980's rock.

5.  All border agents are not jerks - I encountered two women who chose to be nice about my predicament.  I will remember that always.

6.  Do not stand between two horses petting them and rubbing their ears at 1 AM.

Deb Canter
3rd place, Class 3, Lake Erie Loop, June 8, 2013

| Ride Info | Camping | Donate | Gallery | Contact Us
Questions? Email the Webmaster!
Copyright© 2014 Lake Erie Loop