New Hampshire Patriot Guard Riders Fall Foliage Honor Guard

Sometimes the best way to honor the past is to hit the road — especially in foliage season.
The New Hampshire Patriot Guard Riders escorted the ashes of veteran Clifton “Scotty” Scott.
By John Hession

Foliage season and motorcycles go together like “carpe” and “diem.” It’s early October, and the leaves are blazing orange and yellow — reason enough to be riding a motorcycle on a Saturday morning in New Hampshire.

This particular day, however, is tinged bittersweet, and an overcast sky reflects the mood. The New Hampshire Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) have just escorted the family and the ashes of Clifton “Scotty” Scott, 78, from the Jenkins & Newman Funeral Home in Colebrook to the veteran’s final resting spot in the West Stewartstown Hollow Cemetery.

Their rides — an assortment of Suzukis, Kawasakis, Hondas, and Harley-Davidsons — are lined up neatly behind headstones as group members stand in a silent flag line to honor Scott, who served in the Army.

There’s a military honor guard at the funeral; two young men in uniform fold and present a flag to Scott’s widow, and then slip away. A single bugler plays “Taps,” the soldier’s final farewell. 

PGR members stand in a silent flag line to pay tribute to Army veteran Clifton “Scotty” Scott.
By John Hession

The NH state chapter belongs to the national PGR, an organization founded in 2005 to protect military funerals from protesters. “It’s not a motorcycle club. It’s not a counter-protest group. It’s about honor and respect,” explains Bob Dorey, state captain of the NH PGR. The only prerequisite is respect for veterans, active military and first responders such as fire, police and EMTs.

Only one of the PGR members, Dick Baribeau of Pittsburg, was friends with Scott, but that makes no difference to the PGR. Scott’s family requested their presence at the funeral, and they responded. This is what the PGR does. Like the badges on their leather vests and coats declare, they believe in “Standing for those who stood for us.” Each request from a family to honor loved ones is considered a “mission” and is posted online for whomever can make it to the event, whether it’s a send-off, a welcome home or a final goodbye. “You never know who is going to show up,” explains Ron Filteau, who rides with his wife, Barbara.

After the services, the PGR slips away too. After all, the rest of the riding day awaits. While the day is hard on Baribeau, he knows Scott died on his ATV, and that’s something of a comfort. Doing what you love despite the risk is an ethos most motorcyclists understand. Riding a motorcycle is inherently dangerous — bikers know this. But the paradox is, nothing makes them feel more alive.

“Only bikers understand why dogs hang their heads out of car windows,” says Dorey, who served in the Navy. “Riding makes us feel alive like nothing else.”

Shifting Gears

The group sets off from Colebrook, heading down Rte. 145 to Rte. 102, where they savor the gently sweeping roads that parallel the Connecticut River. They stop at a picturesque, one-lane wooden bridge that will take them across the river into Lancaster.

Vietnam vet Ron “Reno” Oleson prepares to hit the road.
By John Hession

Here, they stretch their legs and swap stories about past motorcycle trips. The tales include riding through sudden snow squalls in spring as well as conversations with police officers concerned about their speed.

Then, inexplicably, perhaps to rouse the group for the ride they will be taking through Franconia Notch, Duncan McDougall, a business professor at Plymouth State University, breaks into a booming rendition of “The Old Man’s Song,” a tribute he co-wrote to mourn the passing of the Old Man of the Mountains.

“On top of Mount Cannon, all covered with snow,” McDougall sings to the familiar tune of “On Top of Old Smoky.” “We saw your stern visage, from viewpoints below.

To honor your profile, in summer and fall, state troopers and veterans, saluted you all. But nature was fickle, and time did its deed. Erosion was noted, its warnings we heed. We try to support you, with cables and strings. But nature provided, so many wet springs. So was it an earthquake? Or thunder on high? What shook your foundation? What caused you to die? For so go all creatures, of flesh or of stone. We honor your memory, we of blood and bone. You lived free, then died here, New Hampshire your home. Our icon in granite, on old Cannon’s dome.” (You can hear the song on YouTube for the full impact.)

Then it’s back on the bikes and down Rte. 3 and I-93 in Littleton to travel through the Crawford and Franconia notches. 

The leaf peepers are out in full force in the White Mountain National Forest, pulled off the road here and there, everyone good-naturedly doing nothing but looking at the scenery, which now includes the band of bikers and their machines, adorned with both American and PGR flags. The bikers stop at a highway overpass. Passersby get the gist of what the club stands for from flag slogans such as “Riding with respect.” Some honk. Fred Sanborn, 55, of Hillsborough, looks off into the distance. Orange foliage blankets the slopes of the steep, craggy peaks that ice-age glaciers carved thousands of years ago. A stocky guy in full leather and chains, Sanborn seems intimidating until he starts talking about his wife, Donna, whom he lost in January 2013 to lung cancer. His grief is fresh, and he keeps busy by riding with group members every week.

By the time they arrive at the Rustic River Restaurant in North Woodstock for a late lunch, they’re visibly tired. Baribeau and Ron “Reno” Olesen, a strapping 76-year-old Vietnam vet with a 22-year Navy career in submarine and surface warfare, have the longest ride home — they both live in Pittsburg in the Great North Woods. It will be a chilly ride later. But for now, it’s time to refuel their empty stomachs and gab.

The PGR likes this restaurant, located along the Lost River and uses it for “meet and greets” because it is biker-friendly. It also serves the type of food the bikers like. Good grub is an important element of a motorcycle ride.

Riding through a covered bridge on the way to the Notches and a good meal at a restaurant on Lost River.
By John Hession

“With the old crowd we ride with, we gotta stop every hour to empty and fill up at the same time,” jokes Ron Filteau.

What does a biker look for in a restaurant? “A place that serves reasonably priced comfort food in generous portions, and is welcoming toward ‘biker trash’,” Dorey says. “Right or wrong, when you show up at a place in leather, you are very quickly labeled. Too bad for the people who are putting the label on us, as they have no clue to what they’re missing out on!”

True to his word, group members are warm and friendly, eager to talk about bikes and the PGR, which is open even to “cagers” (people who drive cars). Like many motorcyclists, PGR members are very involved in fundraisers. Tom “Turbo” Urban, deputy state captain, spearheaded a Wounded Warrior Ride for the PGR that drew 150 riders and raised thousands. The PGR is also committed to Help on the Home Front (HOTH), a movement that helps wounded veterans reintegrate into society.

When they explain why they ride with the PGR, each member invariably talks about attending the services of soldiers killed in action and how the families embraced and thanked them for their presence. More than one biker tears up when recalling these moments, no matter how many years have passed.

By about 4:30, members are ready to disperse and go their separate ways, but they linger, a bit reluctant to call it a day. The feeling of camaraderie is palpable. It’s been a good mission, a good ride, good scenery, good food and great company. All the right ingredients for another motorcycle memory.

Categories: Fall and Foliage, Features