On Sept. 11, at 6 p.m., more than 5,000 motorcycles will roar to life. The rumble of the engines and sight of the riders will serve as a rolling memorial, as thousands gather to remember those who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
While thousands of bikers riding in formation is an awe-inspiring sight, the real story of the ride is the relationship between those riders in the streets and those pedestrians who come out to support them.
"The focus for years has been on the riders, because the bikes are the medium by which we deliver our message," said Tank Baird, president of the 911 Memorial Coalition and co-founder of the event.
"But without those people standing in the streets waving flags, we would still ride, but the ride would not have grown like it has," he added.
The first ride, which took place just days after the attacks, was a word-of-mouth gathering of riders that took place in front of the Federal Building in Williamsport. That first year, they took to their bikes as an act of defiance, Baird said.
These days, the solemn ride focuses on remembrance. The bikers, in formation, serve as a rolling memorial, and those pedestrians who stand on the streets and show their support are just as inspiring to the riders as the riders are to them, Baird said.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: 9/11 Memorial Ride
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Starts with memorial service at Clinton Township Volunteer Fire Department
Around 10,000 people are expected to attend the event, which is one of the largest 9/11 memorial services in the area, Baird said.
While 9/11 memorials were abundant in the years following the attacks, many have stopped taking time to remember the national tragedy. The 9/11 Coalition, who created the ride, have always encouraged Americans to take time to pause, and remember those who were lost.
Earlier this week, Gov. Tom Corbett sent a letter of proclamation recognizing the coalition's commitment to honoring the fallen.
"We are very pleased," Baird said, of the letter.
"These days, you don't see communities having memorial services like they did a few years ago. But this ride consistently gets thousands of attendees," Baird said.
The event will kick off with a memorial service held at 5:30 p.m. at the Clinton Township Volunteer Fire Department. This year's keynote speaker will be Rev. John K. Manno, of Our Lady of Lourdes?Church in Montoursville.
Manno, a coalition member, explained that the service is a central feature of the ride.
"The service brings the solemnity to the ride," Manno said, adding that the public is invited to attend the moving event.
In addition to displays by the Korean War Veterans of Lycoming County, local clergy will speak at the service and bless the "Wounded Warrior" cards which each biker carries on the ride.
Each card lists casualties of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and their hometowns. They are donated by Labels by Pulizzi in Montoursville. Mark Porter, of the label business, continues to add to the list of casualties until two weeks up to the event, when the cards have to go to the printers.
The cards are greatly revered by the riders who carry them. Many laminate their cards to keep them for years to come, said Gary Smith, of the coalition.
The memorial service will end at 6 p.m. when the bikes will roar to life. The sound of the motors starting changes the tone of the event to one of celebration, patriotism, and solidarity, according to Todd Winder, chief of the Clinton Township fire department.
"At 6 it becomes all adrenaline and octane. It's quite a sight to see," Winder said.
Winder explained that Route 54 in front of the fire station will be closed the day of the event. Bikers are asked to enter the parking lot via Route 15 and go around the site. This way, the thousands of motorcycles will be facing the same direction prior to forming their huge column.
Those in the local area are asked to avoid the ride if it will inconvenience them. The column of bikers may take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to pass by, Winder said.
Those who are slowed down by the column of bikes are invited to take a moment to pray, Manno said. Winder agreed.
"Get out of your car, stand, watch it go by and take a moment to be grateful that you are even here to be inconvenienced, and not one of those people who died in the attacks," Winder said.
"We just ask that people either participate or try to drive around the route entirely," he added.