FRI­DAY THE 13TH ‘ZOO’

140,000 squeeze into Port Dover for biker fest

Windsor Star - - FRONT PAGE - MONTE SONNENBERG MSon­nen­berg@post­media.com

This week­end’s Fri­day the 13th mo­tor­cy­cle rally lived up to ex­pec­ta­tions and was pos­si­bly the largest in the event’s 37-year his­tory.

“It’s 12 noon and our crowd es­ti­mate is at 140,000,” said Nor­folk OPP Const. Ed Sanchuk. It’s the high­est num­ber ever given by au­thor­i­ties for the event, and that was just by mid­day.

Port Dover’s streets were clogged with chrome-cov­ered ma­chin­ery packed at the curb on both sides of Main Street and along St. Ge­orge and St. An­drew streets, about 15 kilo­me­tres of mo­tor­cy­cles sideby-side with even more fill­ing side streets and other mi­nor thor­ough­fares.

“It’s crazy,” said Heather Ship­man, a T-shirt ven­dor down­town. “And busy, busy, busy. It’s a zoo.” Crowds this big are a chal­lenge for au­thor­i­ties in a county with a pop­u­la­tion of 63,000. Port Dover it­self has a pop­u­la­tion of 6,000 so a game plan is re­quired when this rises by about 2,000 per cent. In part­ner­ship with the Nor­folk OPP, Nor­folk Fire & Res­cue and Nor­folk EMS, the county set up a war room at the lo­cal Lions Com­mu­nity Cen­tre lined with video screens stream­ing aerial and street-level im­ages of what was hap­pen­ing around town and at the ap­proaches. Hun­dreds of OPP of­fi­cers from across On­tario were in town over­see­ing ev­ery­thing from traf­fic safety to un­der­cover surveil­lance of out­law biker gangs. The Fri­day the 13th event has a long record of calm and good fel­low­ship, but po­lice were out in force in case any­thing went ter­ri­bly wrong. “We have a large po­lice pres­ence,” Sanchuk said, adding this in­volves he­li­copters and drones as part of the surveil­lance ef­fort. “So far, every­one is act­ing in a ma­ture, safe and re­spon­si­ble fash­ion.” Nor­folk EMS knew con­di­tions would be hot and muggy, so it also had a stepped-up pres­ence, with 40 paramedics on standby and on the look­out for heat stroke and other heat-re­lated con­di­tions. They were look­ing for signs of de­hy­dra­tion and had strate­gi­cally sit­u­ated cool­ing sta­tions. Sarah Townsend, am­bu­lance man­ager in Nor­folk, said paramedics were also watch­ing for signs of ex­treme in­tox­i­ca­tion and were on height­ened alert for col­li­sions and crashes across the county given the high vol­ume of mo­tor­cy­cle traf­fic. Long­time ob­servers of the event ex­plained the record turnout was in part due to its tim­ing in July, when the weather tends to be good and many are on va­ca­tion. Also, the next Fri­day the 13th party is 14 months away in Septem­ber 2019.

“It’s the bike event with no bike events,” said An­drew “Big Mark” Mitchell of Oh­sweken, with a laugh.

“There’s no bike rodeo or swap meet. Noth­ing but beer and Tshirts, he ex­plained, adding, “It’s a good waste of time.”

GE­OFF ROBINS /AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Thou­sands of bik­ers and mo­tor­cy­cle en­thu­si­asts crowded the streets of Port Dover yesterday for the lat­est Fri­day the 13th gath­er­ing, an event started in 1981 by just a few friends.

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