Great shirt! said a fellow cyclist as I passed her on Prince Edward Island's Confederation Trail. I was wearing my New York Cycle Club biking jersey emblazoned with Lady Liberty's face sporting a bright red cycling helmet. The image covered the entire shirt except for the familiar NYCC logo on the collar and shoulders. She was the fourth person who had admired my jersey, undoubtedly getting attention because I was the only American and only New Yorker on the Prince Edward Island fundraising bike tour which happened to fall on the first anniversary of 9/11.
I had come to Canada, among other reasons, because I didn't want to relive the horrifying TV images of that day; so when I learned of a 280-kilometer bike tour across PEI to raise money for a women's hospital, I signed on. I figured an island with only 125,000 residents would be remote enough not to focus on an event I wanted to forget.
One hundred thirty four Canadians and I started out. As we rode, my fellow cyclists gave me lessons on how to be an Islander. Talk fast, said one. Say, jeet (Did you eat) And joo ('Did you). "Say eh at the end of every sentence such as, We're biking all the way to the North Cape, eh? And be sure to ask, Who's your father? because everyone is related to everyone here." I loved their accents, their warmth, and their friendliness.
The first day, as we passed placid bays with mussel lines tied to white buoys, beaches surrounded by red cliffs, and rolling farmland dotted with cows, I was able to forget 9/11. Marie Kenny, a woman in her mid-forties who had single-handedly conceived the bike tour, started every day -- if the sky was blue-- with a prayer thanking God for the beautiful day. If it looked like rain, she'd say, "Thank you God, for the liquid sunshine." She'd end, "You are an AWESOME GOD, and this is going to be an AWESOME day!" Marie was a tornado of energy and gratitude, an inspiration for us all.
By the second day, my Statue of Liberty NY Cycle Club bike jersey was so admired that I decided to auction it off the next day, 9/11, with proceeds going to the hospital. I made the announcement to thunderous applause from the other cyclists, and went to bed happy, knowing that tomorrow would be a joyous rather than sad day.
But the next morning, even here on this remote island, the newspapers, radio, and TV were delivering only 9/11 news. A local reverend joined us to say the morning prayer, then an islander sang I Will Remember You. I had to don my sunglasses so no one could see my sadness. We rode off in silence, but eventually, the other cyclists pedaled up to me, They wanted to know where was I when the planes struck. I explained that I'd seen it the same way they did -- on TV. Did I live near Ground Zero? About three miles way. Did I know anyone who died? Not directly, but I knew people who lost friends. Touched by their concern, I realized that even on this tiny isolated island, there was no forgetting.
It is now eight years since my PEI ride and nine years since the attacks. Each September around this time, I try not to think about the planes crashing into the towers or the 2,966 victims who died. Instead I try to remember the friendly Prince Edward Islanders who cycled with me from one tip of the island to the other, always asking, Jeet? or reminding me, It's another beautiful day, eh?