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Day 11. Midway Route.  Washington DC.  “We will never forget”

As I stand here in our Nations Capital, surrounded by a thousand Patriots, Heroes, Brother and Sisters, I have to reflect on what we have just done for the past ten days.  To many, it would seem foolish.  WHY would we go to such lengths to “remember” those that have fallen in the defense of our country?  The short answer is this: Without their sacrifices, we would not have the Nation and freedoms that we take for granted.  WHY would we go to such great lengths to “remember” our Missing In Action?  After all, they have been missing for 50 years or more.  For this there IS no “short” answer.  For each of those MIA, there is a Family still waiting for an answer.  They still hold out hope.  Maybe not that their family member will come home alive, but just as importantly, that there will be closure as to their fate, and maybe, their remains can be brought back home, to American soil, to rest in honored glory.

I am finding it hard to put into words just how important events like Run For The Wall are for our nation.  If we can raise just a little bit of awareness about the plight of our Veterans, and if we can be a “wake up call” to our nation’s Leaders to finally do SOMETHING for our MIA, then everything that we have done is worth it.

For the past ten days, I have seen grown Men hold each other and weep.  I have witnessed WWII Veterans salute Vietnam Veterans.  I have seen school children run up to our Riders and hug them, saying “Thank You!”  I have personally experienced an incrdible love and brotherhood.  I have stood shoulder to shoulder with true Heroes, and been honored that they would seek me out just to ask “How are you today?”

In a few days, when I have rested and can adequately process all that the Midway Route was this year, I will write a bit more.  There are so many little stories that I have not had the time to tell that I think are important to understanding this Mission.  But for now, I will simply close with a Thank You to our Midway Route Leaders, support staff, and of course our Riders.  I have tried my best to tell YOUR stories, and I am honored that you would trust me with this task.

So for today, I will leave you with one final image.  This is our entire RFTW Family.  But we have grown so close over the past ten days that I am sure that all of our Midway Route Riders will be able to identify each other.

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Day 10.  Friday May 27, 2022.  Ashland, VA to Arlington, VA.  95 miles.  “Final Days”

This morning, we awoke to gray skies.  Gray was more than the color, it was our mood.  Sure, we were still happy to be together and to be supporting our Mission, but we knew that our time together was drawing to a close.  You could tell that this emotion was held by all, because the hugs were a little longer, the conversations were a little more meaningful, the prayers just a bit more deeply stated.  I could see people hold out a hand just to touch the shoulder of someone that they were passing.  I saw smiles thrown around like Christmas candy: “Here’s one for you, one for you, and one for you, too!”  The deep affection that we have fostered for each other over the past ten days is greater than I have seen in the past eight years of RFTW.

And I think this is because we had to “adapt and overcome” so many adversities.  The two-year hiatus due to the Covid pandemic hit us hard.  From losing some of our regular stops, hotels, meal spots, and fueling stations, we also lost a lot of our Leadership Team as well as our “regular” Riders.  But we made up for it.  Whenever a problem or an “opportunity” would arise, we would face it head on and take care of it.

We had FNG Riders in Leadership roles this year.  Normally, we don’t do that.  We want our FNGs to have a unique experience on the Run.  Well, some of them certainly DID!  We had parking issues, so the Road Guards and Staging Crews worked together to immediately find places to put all of the bikes, cars, trailers, and in one case two semi-tractor trailers!  We had weather delays.  Or more accurately, a weather “dispatch.”  While visiting the Marine Corps Museum, an announcement was made that cut our visit short.  A severe Storm Warning was imminent, and the storm was about 20 minutes from hitting us.  So we left the Museum and raced the final 35 miles to our final destination.

I know that these things sound trivial, but in reality they aren’t.  We are dealing with several hundred motorcycles, dozens of other vehicles, logistics for feeding and housing close to 300 people, keeping time-lines and deadline commitments, and so much more.  But every time something happened, we would “adapt and overcome.”  It brought us all closer, and it did it in a way that I haven’t seen before.  This years “Run For The Wall” was different.  In some cases it wasn’t quite what we wanted it to be, but in most cases, it was so much more.

And this morning all of that was heavy on our minds.

The National Anthem was sung with a little more feeling than before, and with a few more tears in our eyes.  The Pledge of Allegiance was both shouted and whispered, depending on how much voice our Riders could manage.  The “Folded Flag” ceremony was explained again and performed in front of the entire Route instead of at the Missing Man Formation.  And as our Senior Chaplain “Chief” lead us in our morning prayer, every head was bowed, the Riders stood hand in hand, and we gave thanks for each other.

And then our fearless Leader “Six-String” put on the red panties.  No, I am NOT going to explain this!  You just had to be there!

Needless to say, our mood brightened, even though it hadn’t really been dark.  (Just somber.)  We mounted our bikes and road in perfect formation through some pretty hazardous traffic.  But this is exactly what we had been preparing for.  I was so proud to see the tight formations weave through the traffic.  We showed just how skillful our Riders had become by moving effortlessly and gracefully.  My one regret was not having a video camera to capture the sheer beauty of motion that this group of Riders performed.

On other years, I have tried to get one last photo of our Pack rolling down the highway;  A photo “just for us” so that we could remember how great our journey has been together.  But the weather wasn’t cooperating and one photo can’t have all the bikes in it anyway.  There are just too many of us for that.  So I made a very last minute request of “Six-String” and he graciously said “Yes!”  At the Marine Corps Museum, I jumped up on a barricade and asked all of my Midway Route Family to stop, turn around, and face me.  And just like one of our traffic maneuvers, they all turned to me in unison.

So as MY gift to YOU, for allowing me the privilege of taking so many photos of you over the past 10 days, I present to you the first MIDWAY ROUTE All-Family Photo!

A few hours after we arrived in Arlington, Virginia, the Southern and Central Routes began rolling in.  Our complete RFT Family was coming together again.  Of course, being the good and responsible people that they are, several of the Midway Route Road Guards helped to escort the other Routes in.  (You do what you have to do with the tools at hand!)  Soon, there were more hugs and laughs as we began telling each other about all of our adventures.   Screams of delight could be heard as old Friends found each other.  Toasts were made and glasses raised to commemorate our travels and Friendships.  We love to have a good time together.  It was a very good reunion!

There is one day left for us on our 2022 Mission.  Tomorrow morning, at 09:00, we will gather at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for our annual RFTW group photo, and then begin the long slow walk to the National Mall.  There, we will visit the names of over 58,000 Heroes that gave everything for their country.  We will place a wreath at the apex of this Wall in their honor.  Then, our Mission be over.  It won’t be fully accomplished, though, until we can account for every name on that Wall and bring them home.  It won’t be completed until every Veteran is offered the sincere Thanks that they are owed by our County.  It won’t be finished until every Combat Veteran is given the peace that they need to overcome the horrors of war that plague their minds.

Then, and only then, will our Mission be truly completed.

But all of that is for tomorrows SITREP.

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

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Day 9. Thursday, May 26, 2022. Smithfield, NC to Ashland, VA. 193 miles. “Together, Alone”

Today is a day that I both anticipate and dread during Run For The Wall.  I look forward to this day because it signifies that we are nearing our goal of safely crossing our Country while bringing awareness to the needs of our Veterans and our MIA Families.  For nine days, we have told America that we are proud of our fighting Men and Women.  We have asked, no … We have DEMANDED that our Government do everything that they can to find our Missing In action.  We have talked to school children, trying to educate them on the importance of Patriotism, Loyalty, Duty, and Honor.  THEY have reminded us of those very same things!  We have grown extremely fond of each other, making familial bonds that will last for a lifetime.  We have become close, as close as family, because that is what we are.  We are the Midway Route Family.

Everything that we did today was yet again a reminder of all of these things.  We have an Active Duty Air Force Rider in our midst.  He asked if he could sing our National Anthem this morning.  We sang with him!  (But MAN, does he have a great voice!)  We had a young Man of the age of twelve lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance.  He did an outstanding job!  We read cards that were sent to us by the children of Milan Elementary School and the Falcon Children’s Home, and we promised to take them to the foot of The Wall, where they can be seen by thousands.  And we heard the welcome news that our own “Bruzer” will become next year’s Route Coordinator!  (Bruzer is a Vietnam Veteran that was shot down six times, captured by the South Vietnamese, and held in a jungle prison camp only to escape after six months.  Who better to lead us next year?)

We were given the gift of hundreds of well-wishers and supporters lining the roadways, streets, and over-passes.  We were greeted with shouts of glee and encouragement as we entered a Veterans Park in Weldon, NC.  We were invited to place Flags in honor of ANYONE that we wanted to honor.  We were asked to help place the photos of young Soldiers that were lost during the Middle East conflicts on the “Trees of Valor.”  And we were giving the time and space to literally “reflect” on an American flag composed of Red, White, and Blue “dog tags” that had the names of our lost Military Personnel inscribed on them.

We took time to recognize our own Leaders, and to Thank Them for their gifts of time, encouragement, and support.  We had a few laughs as some people earned new “Road Names.”  (Be careful of what you do and say around this group!  Wouldn’t you agree Gaiter Bait, Queen Elsa, and Cookie Dough?)  We said “farewell” to our out-going Route Coordinator and thanked him over and over for his dedication to the RFTW Mission, having worked for THREE YEARS just for this one “ride.”  We were sad to know that our tireless Road Guard Captain has decided to retire from his role.  But we also rejoiced in the knowledge that we will be in extremely capable hands with our new Leadership Team next year, and we have promised them our OWN dedication and support.

All of these things are things that I look forward to each year.  Today is always the epitome of what Run For The Wall is all about.  It is a true physical testament to the ideals of Duty, Honor, Integrity, and  Loyalty.  It is a re-affirmation of our promise to “Never Forget” those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our Country, and to honor the Families and Friends that they left behind.  This day, Day nine, is a good day.

But it is also a day of dread for me, because I know what tomorrow brings.  The2022 Midway Route will cease to exist as an autonomous entity.  We will join up with the other two Routes in Washington DC tomorrow afternoon.  We will not lose our bonds of affection for each other, but we will instead share them with our other Brothers and Sisters.  But our Midway Route Family will not be the foremost thought on our minds.  And that makes me a little sad.

But tonight, I will head down to the hotel lobby and visit with my Family.  We will share our stories, laugh together again, and maybe cry a little bit.  We will offer each other a shoulder to lean on, an ear to listen with, and a hug to assure ourselves that we are all going to be okay, and that what we have been doing matters.  Not just to ourselves, but to the Nation as a whole.  We need Run For The Wall.  AMERICA needs Run For The Wall.  And Run For The Wall needs us, the Midway Route Family.  We can’t have one without the other, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Goodnight, my Family.  I will see you in the Morning.

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

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Day 8.  Wednesday May 25, 2022.  Asheville, NC to Smithfield, NC.  307 miles.  “Well THAT was interesting!”

Several times today, one particular phrase kept popping up in my mind.  It was: “Well THAT was interesting!”  And I don’t mean that in any sort of negative way.  Today truly was interesting!

I guess that I should start from the beginning.

It rained a bit last night.  Not hard, but enough to make everything nice and damp this morning.  And it was fairly cool.  And there was a TON of humidity in the air.  All in all, it wasn’t a great morning for riding, but it could have been bad.  We were lucky to be right in the “sweet spot” when it came to bad weather.  But did I mention that it was DAMP?  When I started up the bike this morning, I immediately noticed something was wrong.  The on-board computer froze.  The bike ran, but I had no gauges, warning lights, tire pressure, not even a radio.  So I immediately shut off the bike, completely turning off the entire electrical system … … but the computer screen stayed on.  NO electricity should have been running, because the bike was turned OFF!  But that screen just stayed on!  I tried starting and stopping the bike several times, but it didn’t change anything.  I had no choice but to ride over to our staging area and see what happened.  As I was riding down the road, here came that phrase for the first time.  “Well THAT was interesting!”  I guess this is what happens when you joke about Harley’s breaking down all the time!  Karma bit me!

When I arrived at the staging area (a few minutes late), I heard someone playing the flute.  “Well, THAT was interesting!”  So I get up to the stage and there is one of our Riders playing the anthem for each Branch of Service, while the members of that branch sang along!  After the songs were done, someone remembered that we have a few Canadians that are riding with us this year, so we asked them to come up and sing “Oh, Canada!”  Trust me, THAT was interesting, too!

The Morning meeting went along as usual.  We said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the National Anthem.   The “folded Flag” was transferred to a new Rider again.  Lane Flynn displayed a BEAUTIFUL quilt that is going to be auctioned off tomorrow evening.  Someone is going to go home with an AMAZING souvenir!

After the meeting, I was trying to find an Indian Motorcycle dealership to take my bike into to have the system looked at.  But it was too early to call anyone, and the bike WAS running, so I thought I would just sit at the back of the pack to be safe.  Nope!  Not Going To Happen!  When the Road Guard Captain comes up and asks me to leave now and get ahead of the pack to get photos of the LEO Escort, this Photographer says “Okay!”  But to make sure that there were no surprises for the Officers, I told their Sergeant that I would be standing on the side of the road to get the pictures as they went past.  He said “There is a rally good overpass about 10 miles down the road, but you can just pick anywhere you want to be.  It’s okay with me.”  “Yes Sir, I will find a good spot.”  And THEN he asked “Can you catch up with us and get a shot of the entire squad before we break away?”  To which I answered “You mean you WANT me to ride fast and catch up, and it will be okay?”  He just grinned and said “Yeah!”

“Well, THAT was interesting!”  And I got the shot!  (Sometimes I just LOVE being the Route Photographer!)

I had hoped that the bike would start acting normal once it warmed up.  I was thinking that maybe some of that damp air had caused some sort of electrical short.  But it was still acting the same when we reached our first fuel stop.  I was able to contact a Dealership that would be willing to work on my bike.  When I told them that I was with RFTW they said “Get here as soon as you can and we will get you back on the road.”  “Fantastic!” I said.  “Where are you?”  “Charlotte, North Carolina.  Where are YOU?”  “I am not sure, but if you will send me your address I will find my way there.”  THAT ride was interesting because I had no idea where I was or really where I was going.  I just followed the GPS.

So, I have to leave the Pack and ride all by myself, all alone in a strange town, knowing that I am going to miss the BEST meal on our entire trip! The Siler City Pentecostal Holiness Church feeds us every year.  And I mean THEY FEED US!!!  Steaks, potatoes, sweet green beans, homemade peach cobbler with homemade ice-cream!  I was so sad!  The thought of those juicy, tender steaks, and that hot cobbler with cold ice-cream continued to run through my mind.  All through my ride to Charlotte I could just taste that delicious imaginary meal, and with every bite of my ACTUAL meal, I cried just a little bit.  Stale Fig Newtons just can’t replace a good steak lunch!

But then I got to the Indian Dealership in Charlotte, North Carolina.  As I walked in, I thanked Jackie (the Service Manager) for helping me out.  She said “Oh, I know all about Run For The Wall.”  Her Husband had spent five tours in Iraq.  He hasn’t ridden with us, but he has thought about it.  So I spent some time talking with her about the RFTW Mission, and especially the new Sandbox Route.

After a few minutes of talking, she started telling me about the dealership we were in.  She casually mention that this was Loyd Greer’s shop.  “Loyd Greer, from Lloyd’z Racing Garage?”  “Yeah, you want to meet him?”  Well THAT was DEFINITELY interesting!  For those that don’t know about Lloyd’z Garage, this is the place that is turning out super high-performance engine tunes for Indian motorcycles.  These are the people that are setting up the winning bikes for the national flat track and sprint races, and have been revolutionizing these races for about five or six years.  So here I was in THE premiere high-performance tune-up shop, just having an electrical issue solved.  (Oh yeah, I got an oil change as well.)

Presently, Loyd Greer came out to say Hello.  I told him “Thanks” for helping me get back on the Road so that I could continue to support our Mission.  He wasn’t familiar with RFTW, so I got to spend some time explaining it to Him.  He likes our Mission!  He asked me if I would like to check out the racing garage, and I said (You guessed it) “THAT would be interesting!”  So I got to go into the back and look at all of the projects that they are working on.  I promised not to take photos of the “good stuff” though.  After all, I was in a room with a lot of corporate secrets!

All in All, missing that fabulous lunch in Siler City wasn’t too bad, because I got to meet a racing legend AND talk about the Run For The Wall Mission.

As I looked at my watch, I realized that if I rode just a little “aggressively” that I could possibly meet up with the Midway Route about the time that they reached the Falcon Children’s Home in Falcon, North Carolina.  It took some “interesting” riding to get there, but I made it with five minutes to spare.  (For the record, I did not have to use any excessive speed, but I DID have to take a LOT of twisty backroads and detours.  It seems that no roads lead directly to Falcon!)

This stop is very special to both the Midway Route and the Children’s Home.  This is a school for Kids that are having a tough time in life.  It may be financial, it may be a bad home-life, it may be that they just didn’t “fit in” anywhere else.  The Falcon Children’s Home gives these bright young Men and Women a second chance to make something of themselves.  The Midway Route supports this with all of our hearts.  They have a Graduation Ceremony that we attend each year, where they receive a special certificate from RFTW along with a check to help them out financially.  It isn’t much, but every little bit helps, and the Kids truly appreciate it.

From Falcon, it was just a short ride to our dinner stop, provided by the Bizzell Grove Church.  This is our “Spaghetti Church!”  We have all seen a big pot of spaghetti in our lives.  But have you ever seen a dozen Coleman Coolers FILLED with spaghetti and meat sauce?  I mean to tell you, each of these coolers must have held 20 gallons of spaghetti!  EACH!!!  AND it was GOOD, too!  (It definitely got the taste of those stale Fig Newtons out of my mouth!)

But more important than the food was the people that served it to us, and the people that we ate with.  ALL are part of our Midway Route Family!

Okay, I know that this was a weird SITREP.  But in my defense, I DID have to miss most of it because of my bike issues.  (By the way, it WAS caused by the excessive moisture in the air.  It shorted one of the circuits.)  However, I was assured that the day was pretty much exactly the way I have described it.  Interesting events, interesting roads, and interesting conversations.  I have been promised pictures of the scenic roads that they Pack used, so I will post them when they come in.

Tomorrow will be interesting, too.  It is our last full-day as the Midway Route 2022.  We still have a lot to do, but our time together is getting short.

JIm “Hoofer” McCrain

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Day 7.  Tuesday May 24, 2022.  Cookeville, TN to Asheville, NC.  “Family Time

Family.

It’s not just who you are related too by birth.  It is who you choose.  It is who you associate with.  It is who you would die for.  It is who you would kill for.  It is who you have shed your blood with.  It is RFTW.

Today, my Midway RFTW Family really started to draw closer together.  I attribute this to several factors, chief amongst them is that our Mission is starting to be forefront in our minds, even when we are having fun.  From the very start of our day, with “Snax” and “Curly” singing and signing our National Anthem and with “Pin-Up” leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance, I noticed a palpable change from just yesterday.

I saw people hugging each other just a little tighter and a little longer.  I saw people holding hands in a prayer circle.  I overheard whispered conversations about lost Brothers in Arms, and saw the speaker get enveloped in a crowd to protect him and offer him support.  I saw a Chaplain walk up to a Rider that was near tears, and saw that same Rider about 10 minutes later with a wonderful smile on his face.  I saw a recently widowed 2019 Midway Route Rider bring her young Son out to our lunch spot, just to get him used to being around motorcycles, and also to remember the good times she and her Husband had on their own Mission.  She and her Son are Midway Route Family!

But let me start from the beginning of our day.  As I mentioned, we started, as usual, with the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem.  Have you noticed that I mention this every day?  Are you getting tired of it?  I can PROMISE you that our RIDERS aren’t tired of it!  In fact, today the singing was a little louder, and the pledge was almost boisterous.  The deep-seated emotions connected with these words are immense, and the commitment of our Riders to honor those words gets stronger and stronger every day.

As we rode down the highway, sometimes under LEO escort again, I noticed something.  The pack looked a little tighter.  The Riders were sitting a little taller in the saddle.  As we passed under bridges that were covered in Supporters, the Riders started honking their horns AND waving, just a little bit more.  When we got to out stop in Knoxville, at the Veterans Memorial Park, MANY more Riders participated in the tradition of walking through the fountain.  Peter Green (an AUSTRALIAN PATRIOT!) always leads the way.  He says it symbolizes (to Him) the Brothers that march off to war together, and also those that come out on the other side.  I don’t take this walk with them, as I am not a Veteran.  But I have been asked to join them.  Now THAT is Brotherhood!

At this park there is a series of granite walls that has the name of every Tennessee Boy that went off to War inscribed on them.  The significance of this location is that it is where the old railroad terminal used to stand.  For 80 percent of the names on these markers, this is the last place that they stood on Tennessee soil.  It is a solemn location, and as our Riders walked through it, a hush fell over them all.  It wasn’t planned: it just happened.  They were visiting with their un-known Brothers.  And when they exited the memorial, the conversations started again.

As with all Families, we came together over meals.  (Okay, one of these “meals” was at an ice-cream stop, But it still counts!)  While noshing on a “salted caramel and butterscotch” cone, I saw someone put down a $20 bill and say “This is for my Sister.”  And She did the same for the next person in line.  And when a very tired Rider walked in looking like he REALLY needed to cool down, he was offered a place at the front of the line, where someone paid for HIS ice-cream!

At our actual dinner, people that really wouldn’t have much in common with each other “back home” were sitting beside each other, talking about their lives and experiences.  They told funny stories that we laughed at even though we didn’t know the person they were talking about.  But they told the story as if we DID, and now, we kind of DO!

Bikers are all Brothers and Sisters.  We kid each other about the type of bikes that they ride.  (“Let me guess: Black Harley?”)  We give them a hard time when their engine makes such a cute little “WHEEEeeee” sound instead of a deep-throated roar!  But we don’t leave another Biker on the side of the road.  We take care of each other.  We help each other.  The “Midway 2022 TRIBE” (Indian Motorcycle Riders) even took a picture of “the BEST” bikes in front of the Harley Davidson Dealer in Asheville, NC, as a way to say Thank You for supporting the Midway Route for the past seven years.  We may not ride a Harley, but we support YOU the way you support US!

Our Family grew today when we arrived for dinner.  The people that served us were so gracious and loving that we just had to hug them!  We had three “FNG” Motorcycle Law Enforcement Officers that helped escort us into town for the first time.  They were given an official “FNG” badge, and added to our Family.  There was a 102 year-old Veteran sitting at a table, but not alone.  When it was announced that he was one of the FIRST Soldiers to cross Utah Beach during WWII, he got a standing ovation from HIS new Family of RFTW Riders.

The whole day was like this.  I saw people drawing closer together than they were just a day before.  I saw “friendships” grow and become a bond of Brotherhood.  I said that the change was palpable.  That isn’t really the right word, though.  We didn’t “feel” the change.  WE LIVED the change.

And our bonds will only grow stronger over the next few days.  We may only have three days left on our journey, but our Family Time has just begun.

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

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Day 6. Monday May 23, 2022. Forrest city, AR to Cookeville, TN. “CELEBRATION!”

There’s a party going on right here
A celebration to last throughout the years
So bring your good times and your laughter too
We’re gonna celebrate your party with you!

Today we are heading to COOKEVILLE!!!  This is our “key” stop along our entire route.  Up to this point, we have been getting to know each other, learning each others stories, finding out about our shared pasts, and becoming Family.  Today we laughed and cried together.  The laughter was from the heart, but so where the tears.  And here is why:

At our morning meeting, one of our BRAND NEW FNGs asked if she could do something for our Riders.  She hadn’t met many of us yet, but she still had a gift for us all.  “Curly” got up on the stage, and in front of 250 strangers, she SIGNED the words to “Proud to be an American!”    We couldn’t believe it!  She was so passionate in her signing that we were all singing and clapping along with her!  She is going to fit right in with our little group!

Right after that, we had one of our Active Duty Personnel lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance.  I have never heard it lead with such gusto and determination.  It was a fantastic start to our day, and definitely put us all in the mood to start our Celebration!

We were a little concerned about the weather this morning.  It was raining ahead of us AND behind us.  But being the Midway Route, we were right in between the storms.  We are the “Goldilocks” route: We are “just right!”  AND we made it through the entire day without getting wet.  ANOTHER reason to Celebrate.

Two Platoons of our Trike Riders got to go on a breakout Mission this morning to the Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery in Parker Crossroads.  These People are always in the back of the Pack, so they don’t get chosen for a lot of programs.  Well not on the Midway Route!  It was my honor to get to accompany them, especially since I was on two wheels.  We participated in a wreath laying ceremony which was followed by “Echo Taps” and a rifle salute.  The Flag we were standing under was HUGE!  And the wind was blowing it hard enough to make it look like the Flag was at attention.  It was a great Outreach!

We just barely returned from THAT outreach when it was time to head out on another one.  This time, two different platoons went to Lebanon, Tennessee to visit the Veterans Museum.  This is a very unique museum, as it has displays primarily about the uniforms and arms for each branch of the Military, for the past 200 years.  They have a “wall of Honor” where they feature a local veteran from each branch of the Service, with a picture and a short biography.  Today, we MET William Seay, standing next to his own photo.  “Welcome Home, Sergeant!”  It is a really interesting place to visit, and I look forward to coming back when I can spend more time.  We performed a wreath laying ceremony here, as well.  And I must mention something else: As a Texan, I know that BBQ is BEEF.  But that pulled pork sandwich really deserves this Texans “Seal of Approval!”  I would ride back up here just for that sandwich!

Did I mention that we had LEO Escorts through all of the major cities AGAIN today?  Folks, let me tell you, it is an amazing site to see an entire FREEWAY shut down just so we can ride through!  It wasn’t easy to get, but I DID take a photo that shows a little bit of what this looks like from OUR perspective.

And then we rolled into Cookeville!  This place is phenomenal!  They cheer us as we roll down main street.  The wave flags WITH us when we arrive.  They hug us all, over and over and over.  Then they FEED us!  AND they provide some musical entertainment!  AND they auctioned off a super-delicious cheese-cake made by Sarah Winfrey.  How do I know it was delicious?  Right before the auction started, I ran to the front of the room to get some photos.  I just happened to grab an empty chair, and then that table bid on the cheesecake.  WE WON!!!  WooHoo!

So you see, Cookeville is a Celebration for us.  Yes, we had a lot of fun today, but we also participated in several very meaningful outreach programs.  (We have another one first thing in the morning!)  Cookeville is sort of a “turning point” in our Mission.  We have had a LOT of fun along the way and experienced some amazing emotions.  But today was Day Six, and that means we are more than half-way to our destination.  Every day from now on, as we draw closer to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in DC, our emotions are going to get a little more raw.  The joy will still be there, but it is going to be tempered with the solemnity of our Mission.

So today we partied and celebrated our Family.  Tomorrow, it all becomes more serious.

There’s a party going on right here
A dedication to last throughout the years
So bring your good times and your laughter too
We’re gonna celebrate your party with you!

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

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Day 5 – Sunday May 22, 2022. Shawnee, OK to Forrest City, AR. 393 miles. “Scars, Hope, and Healing”

Today was quite an amazing day.  I can’t tell you everything that happened because there just isn’t time.  You had to be here to experience it all!  But I am going to tell you what *I* think were the highlights.  I will do a quick run through of what we did, but then I want to talk about the thoughts that went through my mind during the day.

Of course, we began our day “as usual.”  You know, with the Pledge of Allegiance, then announcements from our Route Coordinator, Road Guard Captain, the reading of an MIA biography, a 50/50 raffle, and other “general” announcements.  I won’t “bore” you with the details of this every day, because they are all very much the same, but with enough differences to make each morning unique and poignant.  It may be hard to imagine, but I actually look forward to these morning Riders Meetings!

We soon took off and headed east on the highway.  It was cool but not cold, breezy but not windy, humid but not damp, … okay you get the picture.  It was a FINE day for riding, and we did a lot of it.  Our Road Guards did get quite a workout (again) keeping us safe with all of the construction zones and traffic.  These guys really do work hard, and I am so thankful that we have them!

At noon, we arrived in Russellville, AR for our “picnic lunch.”  It wasn’t much of a picnic.  It was a full-blown, delicious MEAL!  We even had some homemade cookies!  (Yes, I at my cookies first!)  THEN I followed it up with some wonderful BBQ chicken, green beans, cole slaw, and hominy.  (“Hominy” do you think I had?)  But before we could have this scrumptious fare, we had to walk a gauntlet of Patriot Guard Riders “standing the Flag Line.”  As a PGR Rider myself, I can tell you that it is quite an honor to “stand the Flag line.”  But to be the recipient of said line is amazing!  These Patriots WANT to honor us, and they always do it with grace and style.  Thank You, Russellville PGR for such a warm and heart-felt Welcome!

All too soon, it was time to leave and get back out on the highway.  We hugged our new Russellville  friends and promised to return again next year!

Another hundred miles and we were in Forrest City, AR, where the Ridgewood Baptist Church served us an equally fine dinner.  The food was great, but the Fellowship and comradery was even better.  They always do this for us, they feed our bodies AND our souls.  We are all a little better off for having visited here.

But now I want to jump back in time, to the very beginning of our day.  First, today is Sunday, and for Run For The Wall that means EARLY morning church services with our Chaplains.  (Attendance is not mandatory, but it is always amazing to see almost all of our Riders gather on Sunday morning.)  What you need to know about our Chaplains is that they are here for EVERYBODY, so the services are non-denominational.  In fact, they aren’t “preachy” at all.  This morning, Chaplain Steve “Cherokee” Dow spoke a quick message of inspiration and hope that really set the mood for me today.  He spoke about having scars: Scars that were caused by both physical and mental adversities.  He explained how our scars, and we ALL have them, don’t define who we are or what we went through, but more the fact that we DID get through the ordeals.  And this got me to thinking about a recent event in my life.  Please bear with me as I “think” this will all make sense.

I have a couple of puppies at home.  Two Boston Terrier Bulldog siblings, a little girl, Raia, and my little boy, Winston.  We have had them for about two years and I love them both equally.  We do a lot of playing every day, we go on walks, we sneak a few snacks when Kathy isn’t watching, and just have a lot of fun.  But I have been traveling a lot lately, and it seems to be bothering Winston.  As I was packing up to leave for RFTW, He wouldn’t play with me, or lick my hand, or do any of the hundreds of little things that we do together.  In fact, he just laid in his bed and ignored me.  (Raia, the little girl, was just as happy as ever and didn’t seem to mind that I was leaving.)

A couple of days later, Kathy told me that he was still acting lethargic and basically moping around the house.  He was depressed.  She sent me a picture, and I could immediately tell that he was sad.  Kathy put me on speaker phone so that I could talk to him, and he immediately perked up when he heard my voice.  But after the call was over, he went back to being sad.  In order to make him feel better, Kathy gave him one of my old t-shirts to cuddle up on, and that is where he is spending his days right now.

And then I got a call that simply broke my heart.  Winston heard a motorcycle in the neighborhood and immediately started barking and prancing around and acting like his same old happy self.  But when the garage didn’t open and I didn’t walk through that door, he immediately started sulking again.  And now, every time a motorcycle goes by, he perks up his ears and waits.  But each time, it is a little less enthusiastic.  He is missing me and he is sad.

I am not telling you this to make YOU sad.  On the contrary, I hope it will make you happy, and here is why: Winston has an emotional “scar” because we are not together.  He doesn’t understand why I am not there.  But every time a bike goes by, he has Hope that I will return.  As this cycle repeats, his “scars” will deepen and his hope will diminish.  (Go ahead, cry just a little.  But the happy part is coming!)  Soon, I WILL be home, and I will spend days just holding him, playing with him, and re-assuring him that all is well and that I still love him.  The “emotional scars” may remain for a while, but as we all know, scars fade with time.  The HOPE he has for my return will once again fill his heart, and the happiness we share together will HEAL the hurt.  All will be Happy again!

So now WHY did I just tell you that story?  Because if a little puppy that doesn’t understand what is going on around him can have a scar or wound, find hope for the future, and then be healed of the hurt, think just how much better can life be for our Veterans and for their Families!

We can talk to our Veterans.  We can Listen to our Veterans.  We can reassure them that we love and honor them.  We can show them Respect.  And they will understand!  The Riders of Run For The Wall do this every day of their lives.  We are always there to lend a hand, offer a shoulder to cry on, listen to those that want to talk, or just sit there quietly so that our Veterans know that they aren’t alone.  We offer a little bit of emotional security in a very tough world.

So what did we do today?  We rode a lot of miles.  We had fellowship and fun.  We paid honor and respect to those that need and deserve it.  We laughed together, cried together, and consoled each other.  We saw the “scars” and offered “hope” for “healing.”

And we did it with the thoughts that Chaplain “Cherokee” put in our minds this morning.  From the book of Lamentations 3:19-24:

I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.

This is Why We Ride!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain (and Winston!)

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Day Four – Saturday May 21, 2022. Amarillo, TX to Shawnee, OK. 303 Miles. “Cold Hands and Warm Hearts”

Day four of the Midway Route started COLD!  Okay, not as cold as the Central Route, who had about 6 inches of snow.  But there is a reason that we are on the Midway Route.  We don’t WANT the cold!  But we didn’t let the extremely strong side-winds and the cold temperatures deter us from ANYTHING!  We ran our day as we always do, although we did decide to change a few things.  For example, instead of having a recorded version of our National Anthem, how about we have one of our own very talented Riders sing it for us?  I am still trying to find out her name, but let me tell you, even on a cold, blustery, overcast day, This Girl SANG!!!  It wasn’t the temperature that gave us the chills.  It was her passion and sweet voice!  And as usual, someone read a biography about one of our American Service Men that lost their life as a result of their Service.  The twist this morning was that the biography was tht of one of our own dear Riders late Husband!  I am not mentioning names here, as I want to respect her privacy and maintain the intimacy that our Midway Family shared with her this morning.  She did not know that this was going to be read, but we are all so glad that this Families story was shared.  It brought us all just a little bit closer!

So with tears in our eyes, we set out for our morning ride.  We took great care to make sure that everyone rode safely by going a little slower than usual and advising everyone to be extremely careful with the gusting side-winds.  As the Photographer for the Midway Route, I often travel from the back of the pack to the front several times during the day.  I have to tell you it is quite a site to see 250 bikes leaning into the wind while going straight down the highway.  And it is a little comical to see them all pop up vertical whenever the wind gusts stop for a moment.  We all looked like gophers!  I do have to apologize to you all for not having any photos of this, though.  For once, I opted to ride safe, and put the camera away!

But once we reached our first fuel stop, in Shamrock, Texas, the temperatures were starting to climb a bit and the winds died down just a little.  But some of our Riders were still visibly chilled, so our gracious “Refreshment Hosts” took care of them.  How does a cup of hot coffee or hot chocolate sound?  Would it be better with a fresh, warm, homemade cinnamon roll?  It was exactly what we needed for our bodies.

But to warm our hearts, we had each other.  As I wandered around “looking” for something to take a photo of, I started listening in on some conversations.  (No, I was not eaves-dropping.  I just overheard snippits of conversations.)  I heard people sharing stories of their Uncle that is Missing In Action.  I heard about a battle that took place and when the smoke cleared, two friends found each other and they didn’t know that they were both in Vietnam.   There was the story of how two other battle buddies ran into each other a few years ago, after having not seen each other for almost 50 years.  (They are both on the Midway Route together!)  I was able to forget the cold, because I had such a warm feeling of happiness coursing through me.  I can only imagine what it was like for all of these brave Men and Women.

To further warm our hearts, several of us were given the honor of making a “break out” trip to visit a brand-new Veterans Memorial in Weatherford, Oklahoma.  How new?  It is still being painted.  The Artist is still working on it!  And right next to this wonderful mural is a half-scale replica of “The Wall” in Washington DC.  Our small group was the first to visit here, and also the first to lay a memorial wreath.

But now I want to turn our attention to HEROES!  During Run For The Wall, most people talk about our Military Heroes and those who were POW or those still MIA.  We know that a 104 year old Veteran of WWII is a Hero before we even ask him what he did in the War.  But there are other Heroes that are surrounding us every day.  Obviously, our thoughts will turn to our Law Enforcement Officers and Fire/Rescue Personnel.  And we SHOULD think of them.  But there are also other unsung Heroes.  People like our very own Rod Guards.  These Guys and Gals risk their lives every day during the Run to keep the rest of us safe.  They don’t HAVE to do this, they just think it is their duty.  And then there are both our Staging and Fueling Teams.  How are they Heroes?  Why don’t YOU try standing in a parking lot and have 250 motorcycles descend on you, and you have to direct them to the correct place, while dodging these thousand-pound machines that can literally come at you from any direction.  Add in the fact that during fueling, all of the bikes are within inches of each other and just as close to the feet and shins of the Fuel Team.  There are hot exhaust pipes to contend with.  In the excitement, confusion and (organized) chaos, sometimes a bike gets dropped.  Who is there in the midst of this and is willing to step up and help?  The Fueling Team!

But again, there are OTHER types of Heroes.  There are the Men and Women that go out of their way to feed us, provide some entertainment, tend to our physical needs, and provide comfort to our hearts.  Why are THEY Heroes?  Because, like the others, this is not something that they HAVE to do.  Well maybe they DO have to do this, because it is in the hearts to do so.  But when so many others would ignore someone else’s needs, these people step in and take over.  That selfless act is something that more people need to do, in my opinion.  The World would be a better place if we all pitched in a little bit more, especially when it is needed but not expected.  Our Route Coordinator (Ken Dugas aka Six-String) has a philosophy about this and our other Leaders role for the Midway Route.  He calls us “Servant” Leaders.  We aren’t here to tell you what to do, but instead to help and guide you to where you need to go.  Six-String is a Hero, though He would deny it if you called him that.  Most true Heroes will deny it.

But there is one other type of Hero that I want to mention.  And these are the people that stand on corners waiting for us to Ride by.  I am talking about the people that offer their talents as tradesmen that fix our bikes on a moment’s notice, and then don’t charge us anything.  It is the Artist that creates a work of art as a tribute to our Service Men.  It is the Wife that drives for hours to see you for just one evening.  All of these people, the supporters of Run For The Wall, these people that believe in our Mission to Honor our Veterans and Remember our Fallen, that go out of their way to help US get on with our Mission that our True Heroes!  We couldn’t do any of this without them, and we Thank You, each and every one of you!

So our day started with cold hands and ended with warm hearts.  That is what RFTW does.  We take a bad situation and make it better.  Whether it is helping a Veteran release the demons they have carried in their hearts for years or “just” telling our government that we want to know what happened to all of our Service Men, and that we want them back!  The Riders of Run For the Wall are the type of people that don’t give up.  They stand for a principle, and will not back down.  They are Patriots, and it makes me a better Man to be associated with them.

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

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Day Three – Friday May 20, 2022. Albuquerque, NM to Amarillo, TX. 293 miles. “Chillin’ by the Pool!”

Today’s SITREP may seem a little strange to you.  Why?  Because today was all about making some miles and relaxing.  Our Riders have been through a lot of stress already, going through some major cities and some hot temperatures.  Learning to ride together as a pack takes a lot of time and energy, leaving ALL of the Riders very tired by the end of the day.  So Day 3 of the Midway Route is an easy one.  We rest, eat, and play!

Our day started with a FANTASTIC breakfast provided by Rich Ford in Albuquerque.  Rich Ford has been hosting the MR throughout it’s history, and we really appreciate it.  Especially THIS year when you realize how much a breakfast for a couple of hundred hungry Riders will cost.  With auto sales being down, we REALLY appreciate their generosity!  But they pledged to support RFTW EVERY year for as long as they are in business.  Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

Our morning ride was extremely pleasant, with temperatures in the mid-60’s.  With not even a wisp of clouds overhead, we knew that the day would heat up pretty soon.  And it DID!  By the time we got to our lunch spot in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, it was outright HOT!  How do a bunch of hot and sweaty bikers cool off?  They take the plunge into the infamous “Blue Hole!”  Two of our Riders, Peter Green and Mark Masman, are our “keepers of traditions” for the Midway Route.  “Mazz” did an excellent job of telling how this tradition got started (Road Guards, of course!) and then invited EVERYONE to join in.  “Gear shift” was the first one to jump, while “Mazz” followed right behind.  Before you could even blink, about twenty or more Riders climbed up on the rocks and went right in!  There were all sorts and forms of jumps, from a classic dive to a cannonball!  A group of our Lady Riders decided to do a “mass jump” and then started an underwater aerobics class!  It was quite a sight to see!  (Oh yeah, then we had some lunch!)

Our Riding for the afternoon was uneventful … except for all of the construction zones!  And there were a LOT of them.  But fortunately for us, we had more LEO Escorts today.  In fact MOST of our day was under LEO Escort.  That allowed all of us to relax a little bit and “just ride.”

Part of “just riding” was a parade through the town of Tucumcari, NM.  This is a fun little town.  Situated on Old Route 66, this place looks like it could have been in the movie “Cars!”  It is a very “vintage” looking place, and I wish I could have spent more time here.  Some of the buildings would make excellent photo backgrounds!  But better than all of the neat buildings, were the wonderful people that lined the streets to cheer us on.  I apologize for not having more pictures of them, but it is sometimes hard to hold a big camera, wave to the spectators, wipe joyful tears out of your eyes, and ride all at once.  Still, I managed to get a few photos.  (I loved seeing the shark, even though I can’t quite explain how it got there!)

Another “treat” for us was our afternoon fuel stop.  First, this was another of our DONATED fuel stops.  That doesn’t mean that the fuel was free.  SOMEBODY paid for it, so that the Riders wouldn’t have to.  It is generosity like this (and all of our meals during the Run” that really let us know that Americans DO care about our cause, and that they respect what we are doing.

I almost forgot about the “treat” part of this story.  This particular stop is ONE of our ICE-CREAM STOPS!  All of the “seasoned” Riders fueled, parked, and got off their bikes REALLY fast and headed inside.  And of course, we made sure that all of the FNG (new Riders) knew about the ice-cream.  (Mmmm.  Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough in a waffle cone!)  And then we got ANOTHER surprise.  One of our own Riders dropped off a big ol’ wad of cash on the counter and asked the Ladies to serve until the money ran out, and to keep the change if it didn’t.  (They ended up with a big tip!)  This is just the type of person that rides with RFTW.  They are caring, loving, and supportive people.  The kind of person that we call Family!

Did I mention that it was pretty hot by this time?  We all wanted to cool down, and people were chanting our mantra of “Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate.”  So imagine my surprise when I looked over and saw Jim “The Mayor” Frost walking around with an Anheuser-Busch can!  I mean, come on Jim!  We still have some riding to do!  And then I looked a little closer.  It is a can of WATER that Anheuser-Busch produces whenever there is a natural disaster and then ships them free of charge to the effected communities.  They donated some of them to the Midway Route!  So go ahead, Jim, and drink up!

So I think you can tell that we had a pretty fun day.  Lots of smiles, hugs, joking around, and just enjoying being in each other’s company.  But we NEVER forgot that we are on a Mission.

At each fuel stop, several things happen that most people will never know bout.  I mentioned the folded flag relay ceremony in yesterday’s report.  It happened again today, at each stop.  We have a “Missing Man Banner” that we lay out at each stop.  This “holds the place” for our Missing Person and really sets the tone for how serious we are about honoring the memory of our MIA.  This banner has a place to put a “bio” of the missing person that explains what they were doing and how they were lost, plus any other information that we may want to share.  People DO come over to see the matt every time it is displayed, and they will take the time to read about our Missing Man.  I have seen Riders get visibly moved while visiting the matt.  It is a very solemn and personal moment.

I have mentioned just how powerfully emotional riding in the Missing Man Formation can be.  It is not uncommon to have the Rider break down, sobbing with emotion as the enormity of the loss and their vital role in keeping the memory alive hits them.  It affects everyone around them, as we are both sad and proud for the honor that our Missing Man Escort Rider has had.

And that brings up another new tradition for the Midway Route.  As each Rider concludes their portion of our Missing Man Formation, a Chaplain will meet with them and offer words of encouragement, Thanks, and a prayer.  This year, thanks to the generosity of “Faith Comes By Hearing” and the Crossroads Cowboy Church of McKinney Texas, EVERY Missing Man Escort Rider is provided with a “Military Bible Stick.”  This is a narrative reading of the New Testament provided on an MP3 player.  The package comes complete with headphones and a battery!  These are actually only available through an Active Duty Chaplain, but when “Faith Comes By Hearing” heard about our Mission, they were ecstatic and helped us out immediately.  I have talked with “Cherokee”, our Missing Man Chaplain, and he has told me that the Military Bible Sticks are being VERY well received!

And of course, at our dinner tonight (We are back in Texas!  BBQ Ribs!), we continued with some of our other traditions.  As we walked into the room, the first thing we saw was a Missing Man Table.  Each object on the table is placed in a specific location, and symbolizes different aspects of the loss.  Before anyone takes a single bite, we have the “posting of the Colors,” this year provided by a local ROTC organization.  That was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of our National Anthem.  It is important that Americans do this.  Not just when we were in grade school, but even as adults.  We NEED to be proud of our Country, but more importantly, proud of those who have SERVED our Country.

And that is what Run For The Wall is all about.  We may have had a lot of fun today, but we NEVER forgot what we are doing.  It is a part of us, it is what we do, and we will “Continue The Mission.”

“Charlie Mike!”

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

 

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Day Two – Thursday May 19, 2022. Flagstaff, AZ to Albuquerque, NM. 337 miles.

Wow!  What a day!  WHAT A DAY!!!  SO much has happened, and there is still stuff from yesterday to tell, that I am WAY behind!  And I really can’t get to the “meat” of todays post until I get some of the “clerical stuff” out of the way.  And by that, I mean just what does it take to organize the Midway Route, and how does it all shake out as we roll down the highway?

First, there is no “I” in RFTW.  It takes a team.  A BIG team!  (I won’t even bother to explain what the Board of Directors do, because that is all of the ‘legal’ stuff.)  The Individual Routes have a hierarchy that starts with a Route Coordinator and his Assistant Route Coordinator.  The RC and ARC are responsible for overseeing the daily logistics of the entire Run.  It is an incredibly difficult role, and Midway has been blessed to have Ken “Six-String” Dugas as our RC for THREE years!  (Just because the Run didn’t happen for two years doesn’t mean that there weren’t plans put in place.  It just means that He had to start over three times!)

Six-Strings Team consists of a Missing Man Coordinator, and Honor Guard Coordinator, 4-Wheel Coordinator, Hotel Coordinator, Camping Coordinator, Leadership Team Support, an MIA Outreach Coordinator, an entire Promotions Team, a Merchandising Team,  a Registration Team, an Ambassadors Team, a Chaplain Corps, Chase Vehicle Teams, Medical Teams, Hydration Teams, a Road Guard Captain (and 30+ Road Guards), an INCREDIBLE Fuel Team, a Staging Crew, and Platoon Leaders.  Most of these Teams have between 4-8 people on them, and the “crews” can have 20-30 people involved.  All told, there can be over 100 people doing various jobs just to coordinate and then safely move our Riders across the Country.  It is an unbelievably complex system with hundreds, if not thousands of moving parts.  And they ALL have to work, or none of it does.

But the volunteers for RFTW love what they do.  They are willing to sacrifice their time, energy, effort, and personal finances to make this Mission work.  And it DOES!

What the public sees is simply a bunch of motorcycles riding down the highway.  But even this seemingly random bunch of bikes has a hierarchy of it’s own.  I could try to explain it, but instead I will post a link to a quick 2 ½ minute video that I made back in 2019.  It visually explains what the “pack” looks like, who rides where, and in what order.  You can see the video at https://vimeo.com/341649711

Okay, that is enough of the “logistics” for this evening.  Let’s step back to yesterday so I can tell you about a very solemn and moving experience that we are doing on the Midway Route.  During our “opening ceremony” back in Ontario on Wednesday, each Route Coordinator was presented with a special folded flag that is to be carried all the way from California to Washington DC.  On the Midway Route, the flag is being carried by an FNG (first time Rider), with this flag escort being transferred to a new Rider three to four times a day.

It may sound like a simple thing, to carry a flag in your saddlebag.  But there is more to it than that.  What the Rider is REALLY carrying is every ideal and virtue that our Country stands for.  It is the symbol of the blood that has been shed defending our freedom.  It is the visual reminder of those that we have lost.  It is the flag that we pledge our allegiance to each morning, and that our Military Personnel have sworn to protect.  And if you don’t think that our Riders take this task seriously, just look in their faces.  You will see the respect and honor that is held in their hearts.  You can see the determination in them to keep this flag safe and to deliver it to the next Rider.  It is another position of honor that really makes Run For The Wall special.

Today started out in a most amazing way.  Normally when we wake up in Santa Fe, we have to know frost or even snow and ice off of our bikes.  Not today!  We woke to refreshing temperatures in the high 40s, which soon became the perfect 50s and 60s that bikers LOVE to ride in.  Oh Yeah, we had clear skies, too!  WooHoo!  So we got to truly enjoy the ride through Arizona.  It is a beautiful State!

Okay, I already have to correct myself.  Yes, I DID enjoy my morning ride.  But it wasn’t really a “ride.”  I had a special Mission to perform first thing today.  I have ridden through the town of Winslow Arizona MANY times.  Over the years, I have come to know some of the shop owners in this quaint little town.  One in particular is a former Marine and a true Patriot.  Several times in the past he has asked me it Run For the Wall could PLEASE stop in the town and say Hello.  He WANTS to wave a flag at us!  I was honored to get to lead “Cowboys Desert Renegades” through the town one year on the way out to California.  With only a few hours “warning” this shop owner arranged to have 100 people lining the streets to greet us!  So my Mission for the morning was to go say “Howdy” and deliver a few of our RFTW lapel pins.  It is a small gesture, but it is greatly appreciated.  This is a Mission that I took on by myself, but with the blessing of our Ambassador Lead.  As I was getting off of my bike, who should roll up but James “Gunny” Gregory and his lovely wife Patti.  It seems that Gunny had the same idea!

I had timed my stop so that I would have just enough time to reach an overpass outside of town to get a few photos of our Riders.  I made it with just a few minutes to spare!  And what a site it was!  Yesterday was our first day or riding together.  The Pack looked like it had been riding together for years!  They rode perfectly!  The spacing was impeccable.  The lines were razor straight.  The Riders were all sitting tall in the saddle and waved and honked at this lone photographer standing on a bridge.  They gave me my own personal parade!  Thank You to all of the Midway Route Riders!  You brought tears to my eyes!

I rejoined the pack just in time to enjoy a special treat for a Rider.  I have mentioned an LEO Escort before.  But today e got what is known as a “presidential” escort, which means that the Police SHUT DOWN THE INTERSTATE for us!  And it happened TWICE today!  It is an amazing experience to be heading down Interstate 40 and not have to worry about traffic.  In the morning, it gave me an opportunity to get some really cool pictures of ALL of our Riders and their great formation.  In the afternoon, going through Albuquerque, it gave us smooth sailing through the (normally) congested highways and streets.  It is quite a rare treat, and it was greatly appreciated!

At one of our fuel stops, I saw a couple of elderly Native American Women sitting in chairs out in the parking lot.  They were waving and yelling “We Love You” as the Riders went by.  Something compelled me to go visit with them.  They are Native Navajo.  I am sorry to say that I don’t know enough about their culture to use the proper term for them.   But I was saved from embarrassing myself TOO much when one of our own Riders came up to say Hello, and suddenly we had THREE Navajo Women together, talking in their BEAUTIFUL native tongue!  Turns out, our Rider belongs to the same clan as one of the Ladies, so they are pretty sure that they are related!  This kind of interaction is exactly what we mean when we say “The Magic of the Run!”  Our two guests were such delightful Ladies, and I just wanted to hug them!  I could have spent all day with them, but I had to tear myself away.  I jokingly said that she would just have to tell me to go away our I WOULD stay.  She smiled at me and winked, then told me to leave and do what I needed to do … in her Native language!  We both cried tears of happiness as I walked away, after one more hug!

Our lunch today was at Milan Elementary School in Milan New Mexico.  Let me state right here and now, I am not a big fan of Kids.  (I didn’t like them when *I* was a kid!)  But THESE Young Men and Women are SPECIAL!  It was the highlight of my day!  They line the circular driveway and wait patiently for our arrival.  And then they burst out with screams of delight and chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.!”  They wave American flags and Red White and Blue hearts. They will give a high-five to anyone that puts out their hand!  Even your Photographer and SITREP Author ended up running around this (BIG) circle slapping hands and yelling along with these young Patriots!  Once inside, we ALL stood for the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, young and old alike.  The children sang a few patriotic songs for us, and they sounded GREAT!  I can’t believe it, but they make me kind of like kids!  These people are WONDERFUL!  They also serve a very good lunch!  Thank You Milan Elementary!  I know that I am looking forward to seeing you again next year!

After eating a hurried lunch (I had been a bit busy), I joined an outreach program that rode a few miles to the City of Grants New Mexico, to pay respects at their Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  This is a very simple but meaningful memorial, comprise of five flag poles, a large bronze medallion for each branch of our Military, and two large stone markers that honor our Vietnam Veterans.  To make it just a little MORE special, there was a brief “ceremony” for “Jet”, one of our slightly more unusual Riders.  “Jet” travels around the country, riding with various Riders if and when a seat is available.  He has even ridden with ME once.  Jet’s Mission is to go where his Best Friend can’t, and to pay honor to a special person in both their lives.

Jet is a little stuffed Bear in a Flight Suit.  He belongs to our good Friend Shannon Spake.  When Shannon realized that she couldn’t join us for the Run this year, “Peppermint Patti” offered to take Jet with her.  “Jet” is Shannon’s representative this year.  He is paying tribute to Lt Commander Dennis Pike, Missing In Action for 50 years.  Dennis Pike is Shannon’s Father.

THIS is Why We Ride!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain