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Port Dover, Ontario has been host to the PD13 motorcycle gathering every Friday the 13th for over 30 years. What started out as a group of 25 friends hanging out at a local hotel having a good time, has now grown to become one of the most renowned motorcycle events in North America attracting over 100,000 revelers that take over the town.
People still have a good time at PD13, and this is still a memorable event, but what's becoming exceedingly apparent is how unpleasant it is to have small town Port Dover take on a load that is in excess of 15-20x its regular population.
With a year round population of just about 6,500, and a summertime influx of vacationers almost doubling that figure, PD13 is the only time Port Dover receives over 100,000 people all at once.
Although there isn't a specific measurement or official count of the event's attendees, the Ontario Provincial Police detachment that serves Port Dover and surrounding Norfolk County estimate that by mid-day of the most recent PD13 (July 13, 2012), there were over 140,000 occupying the streets and buildings of the town.
‟As much as I love coming here every Friday the 13th, it's now become a very tactical game for me and my buddies to just get in to town. We ride in to town early in the morning hoping to avoid some of the road congestion. Today we actually got in to town about 5am; the crazy thing is that even then, this place was crammed!” says Richard Simms a long time attendee of PD13. He and his four friends had found a spot for their bikes on a side street just off Main Street which is the focus of the event.
Riders have begun heading in to Port Dover in anticipation of PD13 as early as Wednesday. ‟My wife and I took a couple days off work, and decided to make it a nice long weekend. [...] after all, who doesn't want to take a summertime break by the water? It's nice here; until it gets rammed that is!” Yakob Borgstein and his wife Mariana had ridden into town on a Suzuki Burgman from Windsor, Ontario on Wednesday. Not only were they amongst the early arrivals for PD13, but also were some of the few scooter riders.
Port Dover residents wish a lot of the attendees would ride scooters, was Charlotte Atkinson's opinion ‟One or two loud bikes are tolerable, a dozen or so may be pushing it, but this is near torture! Starting right on from Thursday night we start hearing bikes, it goes right on through in to the morning, and then all day Friday, and sometimes through the weekend as well. I used to wake up startled in the middle of the night by the ground shaking rumble of some bikes, now I sleep through most of it. Ear plugs help. The worst part is the traffic actually; don't even get me started on that.”
By 6am on Friday, Main Street, Port Dover starts getting packed in. By 9am, there isn't a spot left for parking, it's even difficult getting in to town. When 2, 3, 4pm rolls around there is still a near unending lineup of traffic on all roads leading in to town. If you didn't get in to town early, or the day before, you are likely only going to get in if you walk.
For those who like riding, Port Dover on Friday the 13th is not the place to be; if you like walking and crowding then this is your paradise. PD13 may be tradition to some, an experience for others, but for those who live here and those who like to stretch out, Friday the 13th can be a nightmare.
Now before an army of PD13 fans get up in arms about what a downer I've been, I'll concede that this is an experience worth having. Come with some positive minded friends, and all this can be an enjoyable time. Despite growing in size, PD13 has actually become a safer more family friendly event over the years. OPP only reported calls about heat stroke victims, and there wasn't a single topless woman to be found wondering the streets.
For the most part, businesses and residents of Port Dover enjoy the attention PD13 brings, heck, I'm sure it's even good for the local economy.
The north shores of Lake Erie offer up some great riding, and Port Dover is a terrific town to stop in at, just plan that ride outside of any day where Friday and 13 link up. With the next one happening in September of 2013, riders will have plenty of time to explore Port Dover and Norfolk County in all its splendour before deciding whether or not they want to be a part of the massive movement that PD13 has become.
Check out the video below for one of the pop-up street performances from this Friday, July 13th.
Photographs by Brian Thompson and Sarah Doktor