SUMMERSIDE — It’s a feeling like no other — the smell of fresh salt sea air and the sound and the feeling of the whistling wind.
It’s the heightening of senses and the feeling of freedom that Dale Hicks enjoys most about getting on his Yamaha Road Star and hitting the open road.
“I started riding in the late ‘70s until about the mid ‘80s and got back into it a few years ago and I have been riding since,” said Hicks, an avid motorcyclist.
“I like to just get out. You have nothing but the sounds and the smells. You can smell the farms and the water — all those senses kick in. It’s a stress relief almost.
“You just don’t worry about a lot of other stuff. You relax and enjoy it.”
Hicks will be among the thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts from across North America who will converge on Summerside later this week for one of the biggest bike events east of Quebec, Atlanticade.
The event, in its eighth year, the past three of which were in Summerside, begins Friday, June 27, and wraps up on Tuesday, Canada Day, with the Parade of Iron Horses at noon. Hicks, the event’s chairman, said bikers from across Canada and beyond are already making their way to the Prince Edward Island city.
“We are looking at the weather right now and, knock on wood, it seems to be co-operating. Last year it didn’t and it was terrible,” said Hicks. “We expect a fairly big turnout. The biggest crowd we ever had, which was just an estimate, in St. Andrews a few years back on Canada Day... was about 10,000 bikes.”
That’s a tough number to beat, admitted Hicks, who predicted that 4,000 to 5,000 individual motorbikes will be in the city over the course of the weekend.
Organizers plan to try and track just how many bikes come to the event, keeping tally of those who register for Atlanticade starting Friday.
Those numbers will help officials tally the economic spinoff from the event, which is estimated to be $2 to $3 million in its first two years in the city, and if it would be feasible for it to return to Summerside in the future.
“The question everybody is asking is what’s going to happen next year,” said Hicks. “We are saying we have to get this done this year and we have to sit down and talk to the powers that be and see what is going to happen moving forward.”
The list of events planned in conjunction with Atlanticade is long and varied, from burnout displays Saturday at Centennial Honda to a display honouring Canadian soldiers who died in Afghanistan.
Honouring those who risk their lives to help others, be it firefighters, EMTs or soldiers, is paramount during each installment of Atlanticade.
“There is just a respect for what they have done for our country,” said Hicks, adding the theme this year is Reflections of Freedom, something he added that ties in perfectly with getting on a motorcycle and hitting the open road.
“If you talk to a lot of people they will say ‘what’s the thing about biking, I just don’t get it’. Well, it’s a freedom for me to get out on the road and get my mind off of things and the stress of things. It’s just the freedom of the road.”
And, he added, it’s thanks to the sacrifice of those who serve our country that makes that freedom possible.
This year, during the event, the Canadian Army Veterans (CAV) group is hosting its annual conference and has organized several events in conjunction with Atlanticade, including Saturday’s dedication of the Island portion of the Highway of Heroes.
A RED (Remember Everyone Deployed) Rally event is also planned for Credit Union Place’s Veterans Convention Centre Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
A unique attraction this year is the Portraits of Honour (www.portraitsofhonour.ca) display, which will be open to the public Friday through Sunday.
The 40-foot wide by 10-foot high display features the faces, painted by artist Dave Sophia, of the 158 Canadian soldiers, sailors and aircrew who have lost their lives in Afghanistan.
“It’s something for people to see,” said Hicks.
With countless demonstrations, including five performances by the Hub City
Stunters, a car show, buskers, games and even roller derby, Hicks said there is no shortage of things to do.
“We try to get the community engaged. We want the community to realize that you don’t need a bike to take advantage and enjoy Atlanticade,” said Hicks. “We have a big tent up there (outside Credit Union Place) and there are going to be bands playing starting at 1 p.m. each day until 7 at night.”
The traditional Confederation Bridge run, which sees hundreds of bikes crossing the link to the mainland at dusk (around 8:30 p.m.) Saturday is always a favourite.
This year, a first, those who participate in that run will parade back into the city.
“There will be 700, 800 bikes rolling through downtown Summerside at about 9:30 on Saturday night, making their way back up to Credit Union Place. That will be something to see,” said Hicks.
For a full schedule of events, visit www.atlanticade.ca.