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Day 04.  Midway Route, May 17, 2024.  Amarillo TX to Shawnee OK.

Today, we learned about Honor.  The lesson came in many forms.

Some were expected, some were not.  Some were light-hearted, some were somber.

They all had one thing in common: They were heartfelt and genuine.

Let’s get into our day.

It all started with our morning meeting.  First, we were happy that the weather forecast was warm and sunny instead of cold and wet.  It wouldn’t have mattered one way or another, but we were happy all the same.  We heard our usual talks about the route, safety aspects, road hazards, and all of the other important physical aspects for the day.  During the “hand signal” demonstration, “Pipes” swears that he was showing how to act if you need to “tap out” of the pack for any reason.  To me, it looked like he was dancing to “Staying Alive!”  It was a light-hearted moment about a serious issue.

We finished our meeting, as usual, with the reading of a biography of a Missing In Action soldier.  This Man had been heard on the radio, pleading for help after he had been wounded while trying to rescue two of his buddies.  When the radio went silent, all three were presumed dead, so an air strike was called in on their position to annihilate the Vietcong enemy.  The next day, the bodies of two soldiers was found, but NOT that of the one who was on the radio.  He is still listed as Missing in Action.  This was a somber reminder of duty, sacrifice, and loyalty to a fellow soldier.  It is the epitome of Honor.

It was then time to roll, with a full Presidential Escort again, from the Officers of the Amarillo Police Force.  They led us out of the city during morning rush hour traffic, and made it look and feel effortless.  I know that they enjoy doing this, because you get to ride fast and do some fun maneuvering.  Our Road Guards got to do what is called a “bump and go” tactic, which is where the Police Officer stops the traffic on the on-ramp, and then a Road Guard pulls up behind him to take the Officers place.  The Road Guard is thusly “deputized” or at least authorized to legally hold the traffic.  It is an amazing maneuver to watch, and even more fun to do!  As we reached the City limits and the end of their jurisdiction, the Amarillo Police Motor Officers lined up their motorcycles and saluted our Midway Route Riders!  They showed great honor to us as we continued our Mission.

Our first fuel stop was in the little town of Memphis, Texas.  This is a nice little town on the edge of a major Texas highway.  It is always busy, but we certainly made it a lot more busy.  As I was talking to a few of the Memphis Police Officers and a Texas Highway Patrolman, they remarked on how chaotic it looked, but they could definitely see the intricate patterns in our system.  They were suitably impressed!

From here, there was a “breakout” group that needed to get ahead of the pack before they got to our next stop.  On the way, I was told to fall in with the Road Guards for the next 120 miles.  Oh Boy!  I get to play with these Guys again!  Riding side-by-side across the rolling plains of Texas and Oklahoma is fun!  Again, I am amazed at how good our Road Guards are, and honored that they would trust me to ride within their ranks again.  Somewhere along the route, I got to have a little fun with my Friend Ryan Michael Long.  “Pipes” is well known for pulling up next to someone as they roll down the road and innocently reach over to hand them a butterscotch candy.  As more and more Road Guards were dispatched to various exits, I found myself moving forward in the cue until I was riding directly next to Pipes.  I quickly reached into my tank bag, pulled out a butterscotch candy, and handed it over.  Pipes deftly took it from my hand, popped it into his mouth, and smiled!  It’s not very often that anyone gets a chance to do that to Ryan!

Then we reached our major destination for the day.  We arrived at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  This is an active Military base, with strict access restrictions.  We rolled right in, thanks to the preparations of Col. “Heavy” King.  He had set up all of the access before we got there.  It was kind of cool to watch Him roll up to the Guard Shack, and see the Soldier at the gate first salute him, and then reach out for a rolling high-five!  “Heavy” led us to our meetup location and gave instructions where needed.  He then looked at me and said “Follow Me. Let’s go!”  Okay.  He’s the boss!

We then went on a “rather” quick tour of the base.  I didn’t know where we were going; I was just following our Leader.  Eventually, he stops, looks at me and says “Is this okay?”  Not knowing what he was asking for, I just said “Sure!”  That’s when he said “Have fun!  See you when you get there!”  And with that, he was gone and I was sitting in an active military base, not sure where I was, or what I was supposed to be doing.  So, I got off the bike, grabbed a camera, and just waited!  About 10 minutes later, I heard on the CB radio that the main Pack would be coming down the road in just a few minutes.  I found a decent place for some photos, then followed the Pack back through the base.  It was quite an honor for me, when one of the Military Police Officers walked up to me and asked if I was with “Colonel King.”  As soon as I confirmed this, the Officer started telling me how excited everyone was for us to be visiting today.  They were proud to host us, and he told me to just do whatever I needed to do to get the photos that I wanted.

Once the Pack entered the base, I followed them to our rendezvous location.  I wasn’t there long, because I knew that our Route Coordinator had been invited to a special ceremony at the “Chief’s Knoll” in the middle of Fort Sill.  This is the sacred burial mound for the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Tribes.  They wanted to honor Run For The Wall for what we are doing.  The Tribal Leaders offered prayers for our safety and presented a ritual offering of water and tobacco as a blessing to us.  Several songs were sung in our honor, and to pay tribute to all of the Native American soldiers that have served and died for our country.  It was a very moving ceremony. One of the Apache Leaders did throw in a bit of humor when he welcomed us “even though we are on an Army base.”  If you have studied any American History, you can hopefully understand why we all laughed!  After all, the past IS the past, and they are all fiercely proud to be both Native and American Citizens.

We then made our way back to the rest of the Midway Family, for a lunch and more ceremonies.  Every Rider was moved by the songs, both in English and the Native languages.  Songs were sung of Welcome, Patriotism, and a special one to praise our Veterans.  It was quite an honorable afternoon.

Soon, though, it was time for our last one hundred mile ride of the day, to our overnight stop in Shawnee Oklahoma.  Here we had a wonderful dinner, served to us by some of the most gracious and sincere people that I have ever met.  I look forward to visiting with them each year, especially the two sisters that never stop laughing!

We were all welcomed in with open arms and left with full hearts and bellies.  As we were preparing to leave, a sweet little girl named Kylie walked amongst our Riders to offer them a poppy to pin on our lapel.  I don’t know who enjoyed it more, Her or our Riders.

So you see, everything that we did today was centered around a common core of Honor.  From the reading of a biography of a soldier Missing In Action, to the actions of the Police Officers, to the attitude of the Military Police, the “silly” opportunity that I had to pay homage to “Pipes”, and to the warm reception and blessings that we were given by the Kiowa Commanche and Apache Leaders, everything was about Honor.  It was another amazing day!

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author

 

 

 

 

You can see a few of the photos that I took HERE.  Be sure to check back after the 2024 Run has ended, as I will be uploading hundreds more photos once I get back home.

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Day 03. Midway Route. Albuquerque, NM to Amarillo, TX

Mea Culpa!

 

I have to start off this SITREP with a huge apology to all of the Midway Route Riders.  Yesterday, I ended our SITREP by saying we would have a “splash of fun.”  I was referring to our annual lunch stop at the “Blue Hole.”   I hadn’t checked the forecast when I wrote that, and it rained ALL DAY today!  So I will own it!  I made the mistake!  I will try not to do that again!

Okay, you may have figured it out: we got wet today.  It was raining pretty hard when we woke up, but at least it was a balmy 44 degrees.  (Sarcasm, just in case you didn’t get it.)  Yep.  Cold and wet, for most of the day.  Just when we thought we were getting out of it, another band of “bad” weather would roll in.  But the Midway Route doesn’t stop just for some cold rain.  We are on a Mission, and we will keep to our schedule.

“The weather started getting rough.  Our tiny bikes were tossed.  If not for the courage of our fearless Road Guards, the Midway might get lost.”

Okay, it wasn’t that bad.  It just seemed like it for a few miles.  Our Road Guards were amazing, though.  Even when we had (very) limited visibility, they were still out there doing their jobs of keeping us on time, on schedule, on the right roads, and keeping us safe from other traffic.

The work that these dedicated volunteers do is so hard to describe.  They are the first up and (almost) the last to bed.  They know every turn and exit on our entire route, and have an incredible system for dispatching an RG to a specific exit or ramp.  If you are listening on the CB radio, you might hear our Road Guard Captain say something like “Psycho … 239.”  What he has just done is tell Psycho (that’s his road name) to go and control exit or ramp number 239. Or you might hear him say something about a “push team.”  These are the Road Guards that help “push” merging traffic over to the leftso that we can safely merge onto the highway.  If you hear someone announce “Mazz is back in the nest.”, that simply means that Mazz has finished his assignment, made his way back up to the front of the pack (not an easy feat in itself), and has rejoined the pack of Road Guards, ready to be deployed again.

Each member of our Road Guard Team is an extremely accomplished Rider.  They take advanced rider courses every two years, at a minimum.  Some take that course and more, EVERY year.  We have some “Certified Escort Riders” as well.  That is a WHOLE other level of professional riding.  I have been honored to ride as a Road Guard for a couple of years, and I have seen these Guys and Gals in action. They are simply the best at what they do that you will ever find.  They are also pretty nice people, as well!  Every time I get to meet up with them , whether out front of the pack or at an intersection, I am amazed at how they handle each situation, and even more happy that I get to “play with them.”  The nicest thing that they have said to me this year was yesterday, when they caught up to me right before our last fuel stop.  I heard “Pipes” on the radio saying “Hey!  We found a Hoofer!”  Thanks Pipes!  That made my day!

Y’all be sure to go hug a Road Guard tomorrow.  Tell them that Hoofer sent you!

But let’s get back to the rain again, just for a little while.  As cold as it was, and as miserably wet as some of us felt, I overheard a couple of Riders saying that at least we could get inside, warm up, and dry off every once in a while, unlike the POWs that we are riding for.  That simple statement made me forget my own discomfort for a bit, and reflect on what that rider had just said.  WE ARE lucky.  What do you think some of those POWs would have given to be on a motorcycle riding through wet cold rain, with the promise of warmth, safety, and food waiting for them?  How could we complain about such a temporary affliction?  We KNOW there will be an end to our “suffering.”  They did not.  I was so proud of our Riders for the attitude they displayed today.

And it wasn’t just the weather that has been mentioned.  A few days ago, our lunch stops were being discussed.  One Rider asked what we would generally be served, and without any hesitation, someone said “It doesn’t matter.  It will be the best meal that you have ever had!  And if it isn’t up to your liking, just think of what a POW might have to eat.”

These kind of conversations happen on a daily basis, with every Rider that I have encountered.  No matter what is going on, someone always brings it back to our Mission of honoring, serving, and remembering our Veterans and POW-MIAs.  The Midway Route Riders really focus on our Mission, and don’t hold back on their emotions or dedication.  I am so pleased to be a (small) part of this group!

But after all of that riding in the rain, it was time for that “splash of fun” that I mentioned yesterday.  Our lunch stop is at the “Blue Hole” in Santa Rosa, New Mexico.  This watering spot is an 81-foot deep spring fed pool that has a beautiful blue color.  One of our Midway Route traditions, started by a Road Guard named “Gear Shift” and faithfully carried on by “Mazz” is to jump into the pool, wearing full Road Guard gear!  As an enthusiastic crowd of four looked on, Mazz took the plunge!  Traditions: Check!  Good job Mazz!  I am proud of you!  (I would have joined him, but I was carrying a bunch of cameras, you know, and I didn’t want them to get wet.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!)

It wasn’t long after lunch that the sun broke through the clouds and it turned out to be a pretty nice afternoon.  In fact, it was so nice that when we stopped at our last fuel stop for the day, we went in for ice-cream!  The Midway Route Riders LOVE their ice-cream!  We actually go to several places that serve up really good and big scoops.  So all of you FNGs, if you see the Road Guards hurrying into a store en-masse, follow them!  There may be something yummy waiting for you!  And to show you their generosity, a couple of them threw down some money today and started a tab for anyone that wanted a cone.  I’m telling you, our Road Guards are the BEST!

Outside of the “Russel’s Travel Center” on Route 66 (just outside of Glenrio, NM), there is always a beautiful Family of Veterans waiting to greet us.  They give us (more) ice-cream, some flags, bandanas, small medical kits, sunscreen, water, hats, shot glasses, and a score of other little items, just to thank US for making this Mission.  They do all of this from their own pocket, and don’t accept anything other than a hug as “payment.”  It is WE who should be thanking THEM, and we do!  I look forward to seeing them every year.

Eventually, we made it to our final stop of the day: Amarillo, Texas.  (I always breathe just a little better under my big Texas Skies!)  The Christian Heritage Church puts on a spread that is unrivaled!  Smoked and BBQ’d ribs, smoked chicken, cole-slaw, potato salad, apple cobbler, sweet tea!  Oh, I am making myself hungry again!  But as good as it is (and trust me, it is GOOD!), that isn’t the best part of the evening.  There is always some sort of a small ceremony or presentation to keep our minds focused.  This evening, we heard a beautiful rendition of our National Anthem by an equally beautiful Young Lady.  She didn’t screech out the words, or try to impress us with some amazing range of high notes.  She just sang it the way it was intended, and let her angelic voice wash over us.  The roar of applause when she was finished wasn’t just for the Anthem, but for her respect of that anthem.  She didn’t need any vocal gymnastics to impress us.  (But I bet she COULD hit those notes.  She was very good.)  She also sang “Amazing Grace” at the end of our evening.  It was so nice to hear.

Part of the presentation was to hear a few words from a “Gold Star” Family member.  Donna Morgan lost her Husband in Vietnam back in the late 1960’s.  She has dedicated her life to making sure that other Gold Star families don’t have to go through the same anguish that she did, by becoming an advocate for Family rights.  All of the Gold Star Family members that I have met seem to k now her, and they hold her in the highest esteem.

So what did she do for us this evening?  She had made a quilt that she said could be given to someone, or used as a prize for a raffle, or anything that we wanted to do with it.  She had barely gotten the words out of her mouth when a bidding frenzy started!  Donna’s quilt brought in $450 dollars in less than a minute!  Ms Morgan, I think you could start taking orders for these!  Thank You for the beautiful quilt donation, but more importantly, thank you for your sacrifices throughout the years.  Your husband, and YOU, will not be forgotten.

And with that, Folks, our day has ended.  There was more that happened, I am sure, but I don’t have those stories to tell you yet.  (The Outreach Team has been very busy!  I may have to dedicate an entire SITREP to what they are doing!)  If you would, please say a prayer for good weather and safe travels for all of our fabulous Midway Route Riders.  We still have a long way to go.

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author

Follow this link to see some photos from today’s journey.  Be sure to check back after the Run for more!

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Day 02: Midway Route.  May 15, 2024.  Flagstaff, AZ to Albuquerque, NM.

Making miles and leaving smiles!

Today was a good day!  It started out with some fine, cool temperatures and clear skies.  Who could ask for better riding weather?  (Okay, I thought it was fine.  At about 50 degrees, some people thought it was cold, but I liked it!)

Our day actually began with a “morning meeting.”  This is when we discuss the days itinerary, any weather concerns, upcoming road conditions and how we will handle them, and a review of the hand signals that we use while riding.  We also introduce any guest that might be visiting, and ask all of our FNGs to come up front so we can welcome them into our Family again.  (We actually do that to them every day!)  We also like to recognize any Active Duty personnel, including Reservists,  that might be joining us, as well as Blue Star Families.  Each of these groups gets a round of applause.  But then we honor our Gold Star Families with a moment of silence.  There is no applause for a Family that has lost a loved one in the service of our country.  The moment of silence seems much more fitting.

When we finally started up our bikes and got out on the road, I lead a group of Ambassadors and Outreach Team Members over to Winslow, Arizona.  We were such a fine site to see!

Our reason for this little excursion was officially to Thank the people of Winslow for allowing us to parade through their town.  This was a first for the Midway Route, and I was so glad to see it.  You see, there are several nice little souvenir shops right there at “Standing on a Corner” park.  One of them is owned by a very ardent Patriot.  He has been known to buy hundreds of American Flags and give them out to the Winslow Citizens, free of charge, for the Fourth of July and other patriotic holidays.  I have been stopping into his store every time that I ride through Winslow.

For others, the stop was kind of a “pilgrimage” to recapture memories of their younger days.  (If you don’t understand the fascination with Winslow, please listen to the song “Take it Easy” by the Eagles.  This song was an anthem for many of us in years gone by!)  Of course, that is just an excuse to visit.  Another real reason was to see the 9-11 Memorial just on the outskirts of town.  It was just a really cool side-trip!  We like to have fun when we can!

There would be more fun to come, as we were heading to Milan Elementary School for lunch.  The kids there are really amazing!  They aren’t just growing up in their town, they are being raised as American Patriots!  They are polite, well educated, and enthusiastic.  So enthusiastic that I learned something very valuable today: When you put 300 kids in an auditorium and then add 250 Riders and they are all chanting “USA!  USA!  USA!” it is easy to get exhausted!  And the “noise” level was intense!  I shouldn’t call it “noise” because it wasn’t.  It was pure youthful patriotism, and I liked it!

Immediately after we left the Kids at Milan, we headed to Grants (New Mexico) and laid a wreath at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  Four of our Riders did a very nice job with the ceremony.  Even on days when we are supposed to just be traveling and having fun, we take the time to do some serious things.

Oh wait!  I forgot something!  Before we got to Milan, at one of our fuel stops, someone asked if I knew a guy Joseph Hudson.  I said “Nope!  But I know a guy that we call Gump!”  Joe and Gump are the same person in reality.  We call him Gump because, just like Forrest Gump, he got shot in the buttocks in Iraq.  He was also taken Prisoner and held for 22 days!  His story is amazing to hear.

Anyway, I was told that there were two people in the store that were there with Gump when he was wounded and captured.  I immediately went over to meet them, just to find myself face-to-face with Gump himself!  Imagine my surprise to see my good friend, because he rides with the Southern Route!  Standing next to him were two of his fellow soldiers, both of whom had been wounded and captured with him.  What an honor it was for us to have these former POWs here with us.  They weren’t riding with us, they just drove out to visit!

Remember that I said we like to have fun?  Imagine the look on Shawna’s face when I told her that I had been to her house and seen her in her pajamas!  It took her a minute to remember the time that Gump and I went to visit her, unannounced and unlooked for!  She was such a gracious host!  And she has invited me back for another visit.

Today we also got another look at the organized chaos that we call a fuel stop.  Our first for the day was truly chaotic, not because of anything bad, just the fact that the fuel station was an incredibly busy truck stop.  WE had to wind our way through a maze of trucks, circle around a couple of parking lots, and THEN make our way to the pumps.  I shouldn’t call it chaotic.  It is much more of an orchestrated dance.  (Even though it could look like we have two left feet, to those that don’t know what we are doing.)  We made it through the “ordeal” and even had time to go inside for some donated donuts and coffee.

Have you noticed that I have said “donated” several times already?  We use that term because the items aren’t “free.”  Someone had to pay for them, but then they give them to us.  We like to thank them by using the term donated.  It reminds us that there is a cost to everything, even if it isn’t to us.

Our last stop of the day was Thunderbird Harley Davidson in Albuquerque.  You know where it is: just go down the highway, curve left onto another interstate, make your way through the rush-hour traffic, and then … … What happened to all of the traffic?  The roads were completely empty!  The side roads had cars stacked up, all wanting to get on the highways.  The oncoming traffic was at a standstill.  But our side of the roads were completely devoid of any vehicles.  Except for the twenty-eight motorcycle officers, six police cruisers, and an untold number of other service vehicles that were giving us a “Presidential Escort.”  It was an amazing site to see and experience!

And I had a very nice surprise.  I got to experience this escort from the very front line, as one of the leading positions of the Missing Man Formation!  When I was asked by “10-a-See”, our Route Coordinator, if I would like to ride next to him at the front of the Formation, I immediately said YES!  It is ALWAYS an honor to be a part of the Missing Man Formation, but with a Presidential Escort, it was even more meaningful.  The people stopped on the side of the road had no idea what was going on, I am sure.  But WE did, and just like that moment of silence that we gave for our Gold Star Families this morning, the empty highways just seemed to make our Formation a little more poignant.  I was able to put down my cameras for a few miles, and reflect on the names of so many Men that never made it back home, their families that have become as dear as my own family, and the sacrifices made by the comrades of the former POWs that we visited just a few hours earlier.  Thank You, Don King, for giving me that honor.

Some of our group had a different destination for the evening.  Three of our Platoons, plus the Ambassador and Outreach Teams, had dinner at the local VFW hall.  The guest of honor was a 99-year old Veteran of World War II, Korea, and the Berlin Airlift.  He served in the Navy, Army Air Corps, and Air Force.  I wasn’t there to hear his stories, but I am hoping that some of the people that did meet him can relate what he said to them.  They must be bursting with pride to have met such an amazing American Hero!

See?  It was a very good day!

Tomorrow will be another long day of riding, with just a “splash” of fun.  Tune in tomorrow to find out what I am talking about!

 

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author

In Memory of my Friend, Bill Chandler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow this link to see a few photos from todays journey.  And come back once the Run is over.  I will upload several hundred more for each day!

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Day 01. May 14, 2024. Ontario CA to Flagstaff, AZ.

06:30.  Location: A large parking lot in Ontario, California.  A bugle sounds “Call to the Colors.”  Immediately, all conversations stopped, 250+ Riders and 100 or more visitors turned to the sound, and rendered honors to our Flag.  As soon as the call ended, everyone quickly moved forward towards the stage.  The National Anthem was played and we said the Pledge of Allegiance to our Flag.  Announcements were made, Dignitaries and RFTW Board of Directors were introduced.  Plans for the day were discussed, and then the Riders broke into their individual Platoons for further instructions.  Minutes later, engines were started and the bikes moved out.  As they passed underneath a fifty-foot American Flag, Run For The Wall Midway Route 2024 was finally underway.

As we rode through the streets of Ontario and approached the highway, I wondered what was going through the minds of our FNGs.  (Fine New Guys/Gals.)  I remembered the first time that I rode underneath that flag, a dozen years ago.  I was nervous, felt a little out-of-place, unsure if I was ready for this “adventure” both physically and mentally.  Only time would tell.

As the morning progressed, I started to feel more comfortable with the close formation riding, but not really comfortable enough to enjoy it.  (That would come later.)  As I watched the Road Guards work in a carefully orchestrated dance with their machines, I realized just how much time and thought had been put into keeping us safe.  The Road Guards worked in conjunction with the local Police force, controlling intersections and on-ramps so that our “pack” wouldn’t have to stop or worry about traffic congestion.  These people that I had been getting to know for only a couple of days suddenly took on a completely different attitude and demeaner.  Listening to their conversations and instructions of the CB radio was amazing.  The professionalism and dedication of the Road Guards quickly became apparent.

An hour into the ride, we made a detour onto an active Marine Base, and paraded through the middle of it.  Again, the streets were lined with spectators.  But this time, they were in uniforms and fatigues.  I was astonished that our Active Duty Military would be so excited to see us roll through their base.  But there they were, cheering just as loudly as our other supporters had.

But all of a sudden, we had left the Base and were on an original section of the famous Route 66.  We wound through the country side for a few miles, undulating up and down as the road followed the natural contours of the terrain, just as it was before the big interstate highways were created.  “This is kind of fun” was my thought … until we got to a fuel stop.

That’s where a whole new type of organized chaos appeared.

The carefully constructed platoon system was broken down in a matter of seconds.  People in yellow hats waving big orange flags started directing Riders “randomly” (it seemed) towards various lanes at a fuel pump.  As soon as I got stopped, I was told to turn off my bike, open my tank, and pump my own gas.  A nozzle was then handed to me, directly from the tank of the bike next to me.  Before I had even started pumping the fuel, that guy was gone and someone else pulled up in his place.  When my tank was full, the nozzle was taken away from me and I was told to “start it up and pull forward.”

That’s when I met the folks wearing blue hats.  They had the same orange flags, but now I was being directed to a “staging area.”  Before I knew it, I had been directed to a spot that had been reserved specifically for my Platoon.  And then the chaos was over.  I could now walk to the hydration trailer where a guy wearing a white hat handed me a bottle of water and a bag of chips.  He smiled at me and said something like “Well FNG, what do you think so far?”  I mumbled something about “This is crazy!”  And then we both smiled.

This morning, I saw that same “deer in the headlights” look on the faces of the 2024 FNG group.  I heard them talking amongst themselves, saying almost exactly the same things that I had said so many years ago.  And I saw them smile and heard them laugh. The anxiety of the Run was quickly fading away.  By the time we had done this two more times for the day, these FNGs were riding and operating like professionals.  It was fun to watch them progress throughout the day.

But that was just the physical part of the day.  Remember me saying something about being mentally ready?  That aspect of the Run popped up very quickly.  In fact, immediately!  Run For The Wall does not move qn inch with those bikes unless we have a Missing Man Formation ready.  The whole point of our Mission is to “ride for those that can’t” and to provide support, healing and comfort to the Families of our Missing in Action and Killed in Action personnel.  We do this with the Missing Man Formation.

The MMF consists of six Riders.  Two in the front, two in the back, and two in the middle.  Except that one of those two middle positions is empty.  The empty space represents that sixth rider, that physically cannot be with us.  We guard that empty space zealously.  No one enters it, walks through it, rides over it, or moves into it, even when we are rolling down the highway.  The space may seem empty, but the memories of a Fallen Friend or Family Member fill it in the hearts and minds of all of the Riders.  Indeed, before the pack begins to move, our Missing Man Coordinator announces over the airwaves the name of our Missing Man, and a little information about them.

The point of honor, that middle position next to the empty space, is emotionally draining.  Every Rider talks about how hard it is to ride their bike with eyes filled with tears.  They mention that thoughts from years gone by, memories lost in time, come flooding back, sometimes with a visceral vengeance that makes the Rider physically break down sobbing.  But in a moment of peace, the sorrow is lifted, and the good memories are what is left.  Healing enters the Rider, followed by joy.  These emotions are felt and shared by each and every Rider.  Because we know that “This is why we Ride.”

Say Their Names!

To help the Riders deal with these emotions, we have a full Chaplain Corp.  There is one Chaplain that rides in the Formation every day.  He/She is there to offer comfort to the Escort Rider.  The Escort Rider is offered small tokens to help them remember both the pain and the joy, because without one, there could not be the other.  For each of the four Run For the Wall routes, the Missing Man Chaplain has a donated “Military Bible Stick” for each Escort Rider.  This is a small MP3 player with a narrated version of the New Testament Bible on it.  The Rider doesn’t have to take it if they don’t want to.  But very few ever refuse it.  In fact, it has been reported to me that some Riders have stated that they aren’t believers, but they then gratefully accept the “stick” and start listening to it.  They also start talking to their fellow Riders about their experiences, drawing strength from the fact thqt others have faced the same sort of horrors and losses.  The Riders heal each other!

And I saw that happen today, as well.

Folks, this is what Run For the Wall is all about.  We help each other deal with difficulties, traumatic experiences, loneliness, PTSD, the loss of a friend or family member, that sense of abandonment that many Veterans feel.  In our Midway Route Family, they find kindred spirits that truly want to help out a Brother or Sister, because they just might need some help themselves.  For those of us that aren’t Veterans, we get to see the healing process take place, and are welcomed into the Family just as much as the Veterans are.  The Civilians/Patriots offer proof that our Country hasn’t abandoned our Military, and that their fellow countrymen DO care.  We are all a part of this amazing process.

Once our FNGs have heard the names of our Missing a time or two, and have started talking to each other about their experiences, a change quickly starts to come over the entire group.  Remember how earlier I called this a “ride” and an “adventure”?  By the end of the first day, every fully understands that it is so much more than that: We are on a Mission.  And that is how I will refer to Run For The Wall from now on.

I want to take a moment to Thank all of the wonderful people and organizations that support us in our Mission.  We get fed.  We get some donated fuel.  We get hugs.  People line the overpasses and city streets to cheer us as we quickly ride by.  We have Law Enforcement escorts.  We don’t do this Mission on our own.  We COULDN’T do this Mission on our own.  Thank You, each and every one, for what you do for the Midway Route of Run For The Wall.

Well, it’s late, and I need to get some sleep.  I have looked at our itinerary for tomorrow, and it is going to be busy.  There will be a lot of miles to cover, a lot of people and places to visit, and more camaraderie to enjoy and participate in.  Let’s hope that all those wonderful FNGs get a good nights rest.  We have more to come!

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author

 

 

 

 

Follow this link to see a few photos from todays journey.  And come back once the Run is over.  I will upload several hundred more for each day!

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Midway Route: Day 00. Ontario, California

The 7 O’Clock Toast from American Legion Post #138, Tempe, AZ., and the “Soldier Stone” monument.

Here we are, in Ontario, California.  1500 Riders gathering together, ready to begin our annual Mission to remember and honor our nations Veterans, Active Duty personnel, former Prisoners of War, and the families of our (still) Missing in Action.  It is a Mission that we do not take lightly.

Howdy Folks!  I am Jim McCrain.  People around here just call me “Hoofer.”  I have been asked to be your SITREP Author for 2024.  This means that every day I will try to relate a few of the stories and events that we have experienced.  Some of the stories are going to be funny, some will be sad.  Some will be informative, and others will be (hopefully) instructional.  But they will all be a truthful representation of the Midway Route experience of Run For The Wall.

So let’s get to it!

Today, for the Midway Route, has been exceptionally busy.  We depart Ontario a day earlier than the other two routes, which means we have a LOT of work to get done in a very short amount of time.  You may be thinking that all we do is get on our motorcycles and ride.  Well, you would be wrong!  Before we can ride, we have to know where we are going, how we will get there, how long it will take each day, where we will fuel both the bikes and our stomachs, where to stop for those all important restroom breaks, and a myriad of other small minute physical details.  We also need to know how, when , and where to take care of the emotional needs of our Riders.  After all, that is what Run For The Wall is all about.

Our Route Coordinator, Don “10-a-see” King.

None of this “just happens.”  We have a Route Coordinator that is responsible for every aspect of the Run.  Don “10-a-see” King is our main main this year, and I have absolute faith that he will lead us successfully and safely across this country.  He has been a Road Guard AND the RG Captain for many years, as well as the Assistant Route Coordinator.  He has the skills, knowledge, and experience to do this job!

But he has a lot of help, too.  From our Assistant Route Coordinator, to the Support Personnel, Road Guards, Staging Crew, Fuel Team, Advance Team, Hydration Team, Chase Vehicles, Outreach Team, Ambassadors, Chaplain Corp, and Medical Team, there are a lot of people involved with getting us moving.  Aside from all of these Volunteers, there are the Riders themselves.  These people are divided up into “platoons” based on the type of vehicle they are riding, their skill levels, and sometimes their personal preferences. (“I want to ride with that guy.”)  The platoons are also restricted to certain size/number limits, so that we can have gaps in our footprint as we roll down the road.  These gaps are critical for our safety, as they allow other vehicles that are not with our group to continue to use our highways without to much interruption.  There is a lot going on!

The Outreach and Ambassador Team meeting.

So today was filled with meetings for each of the Teams, as well as some for the individual platoons.  There was an “FNG” meeting where we got to meet our “Fine New Guys/Gals” and they got to start seeing just a little bit of what they have signed up for.  I always like meeting the FNGs, and seeing the look in their eyes as they wander around trying to take in all of the activity around them.  It finally begins to dawn on them that all of this hustle and bustle is done for THEM!  There comes a moment when you can see the gleam in their eyes just start to sparkle, and their smiles grow so big!  AS the Route Photographer, I get to interact with each of them (probably) a little more than most of the other Leadership Team.  My job is to capture the images and stories of the FNGs, and in doing so, I get to know some of them very well.

Riders getting registered and checked in.

Today was no exception.  This morning, as I was walking to my bike to head over to the Elks Lodge for some breakfast and (another) meeting, I saw a young Lady standing near her bike.  She was alone, but didn’t look lonely.  She DID look like she had no idea where she was going or what she should be doing.  (Until the Run actually starts tomorrow, all the FNGs have to do is get registered and start meeting people!)  So I walked up to her, introduced myself, and found out her name is “Blaze.”  We talked a little bit, and I could see that she just needed to be pointed in the proper direction and maybe “goaded” just a little to start meeting her fellow Riders.  Within about 30 seconds of telling a few jokes and stories, her “lost” attitude was gone, and I saw that sparkle!  “Blaze” is going to be fun to watch, and I have a feeling that she is going to really get something out of this experience.  I warned her, in front of the whole group, that I was going to keep my eye on her and probably pick on her a bit.  She laughed and  brazenly said “Bring it, Hoofer!”  Oh Boy, this is going to be fun!

“Tough Stuff” is being carried by one of our Riders, for a Mother that can’t make the trip herself.

But like I said, this is a Mission.  It isn’t a joy ride.  We have people to see, places to go, and a message to deliver.  We want the country to pay honor to our Veterans, and to take care of them.  We want to know what happened to to our Missing Personnel.  We DEMAND answers!  WE want to assure our Active Duty personnel that THEY will be taken care of, honored, and given what they deserve for defending our freedom.  Sure, we have fun while we do all of this, but the fun is needed.  There will be times each day when most every Rider will have tears in their eyes.  There will be times when a Rider will need a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, or just simply a handshake and a hug to let them know that someone cares.  They might just need someone to stand or sit silently beside them, so that they know they are not alone.  The smiles you will see in our pictures, the laughter that you will hear if you visit us, the jokes that will be told, the miles ridden on our bikes that we so desperately love doing, are all part of the catharsis of healing our emotional wounds and needs.

This is what I hope to convey to you over the next 11 days.  The stories will not be mine.  They will come directly from the Riders, and particularly those “Fine New Guys and Gals” that we are welcoming into our Midway Route Family.  Get ready, because tomorrow morning, at oh so early o’clock, we will start those engines and roll out of the parking lot, headed to Washington DC and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.  Hang on!  It’s going to be a wild ride!

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author

 

 

 

 

You will be able to see photos from each days ride HERE.

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2024 Midway Route – Let’s Get Ready to Roll!

"The Wall" at night.I have just returned from Arlington National Cemetery, attending the funeral and memorial service for a true American Hero, Col. Bernard L. Talley, Jr..  “Bunny” (as his friends called him) was a survivor of the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton Prison Camp’ during the Vietnam War.  He was a “guest” there for over six years.  He and his fellow prisoners returned with grace, dignity, and honor.  It was a privilege for me to be asked to attend his final service.

For two days after saying Fair Well to Col. Talley, I roamed the streets of Washington DC, reflecting on all of the thousands of Men and Women that have sacrificed everything for our Country.  From the Franklin D. Roosevelt memorial, to the Korean War monument, The Women’s Museum (in Arlington National Cemetery), to the Vietnam Memorial Wall itself, I was struck with such a remorse for the lives lost, but as well a profound joy to know that there ARE brave Men and Women who are willing to protect our Nation.  I wept as I read the names of those soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and civilians, and read the heroic deeds that gained them immortality.

I read their names … out loud.

I remembered them.

My heart and mind are ready for our Run For The Wall Mission.

My name is Jim McCrain, better known to you as “Hoofer.”  I have been asked to write the daily Midway Route SITREPs (Situation Reports) for 2024.  I accept this honor with as much humility and respect as I can.  As in past years, I will do my best to relate to you the stories and experiences that I hear during our Mission.  These will not be MY stories, as they will be provided by our Riders.  I will try to faithfully report on what THEY are seeing, doing, and experiencing each day.  I appreciate their trust in me to chronicle their ride.  I hope that you will join us each day!

Before we can get those motorcycles rolling down the road, we all need to prepare ourselves.  It should go without saying that our bikes should be in perfect working order.  Our tires should be fresh, the oil should be changed, and our bags should be packed (lightly).  We need to be physically ready, as well.  I hope that all of the Riders have been putting some miles on their iron steeds, practicing riding in both the left- and right-track of the road.  We should have been sharpening up our slow speed riding maneuvers, which are critical for getting through the mazes found at our staging areas.  Doing some formation riding, whether it be with the Patriot Guard Riders, an American Legion escort ride, or even a “HOG” Chapter ride, has always been a part of my own prep.  (Just kidding.  I don’t ride a HOG!)

But we also need to be getting our minds set for this Mission.  I won’t call it a “ride” anymore, because it it so much more than that.  Yes, we will be ON a motorcycle, but our minds will be IN a Mission.  RFTW is all about paying honor and tribute to our Veterans, their Families, their Friends, and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our Country.  Our motto is “We Ride For Those That Can’t.”  This includes our Prisoner of War and Missing in Action.  The “POW-MIA” issue has been at the forefront of our Mission since it began.  Indeed, this is why our Mission began, 34 years ago.  It is only by supporting our military, Veterans, and their Families that we can truly show to our country that we want, no … we DEMAND a full accounting for each and every member of our armed forces.  It is a daunting task, but we hold firm in our resolve.

And sometimes it pays off.  In December of 2023, Capt. Ronald W. Forrester was positively identified and repatriated home.  We got one of our MIA back!  THIS is why we Ride!  Capt. Forrester is the Father of one of our Southern Route Riders, Karoni Forrester.  The celebration of the Captains life and service was one that I will never forget, and RFTW was well represented there.  I know that Karoni appreciates our continued support.

But one success story isn’t enough.  We all know that there are still thousands of MIA from each of America’s wars that are not accounted for.  Run For The Wall has many Riders among our ranks that are still waiting for their Fathers to return.  These aren’t anonymous or faceless names.  They just might be the person riding next to you as we roll on down the road.  We need to reach out to each of our MIA Family members, our Fellow Riders, and assure them that we haven’t forgotten them OR their Fathers.  I will say it again, THIS IS WHY WE RIDE!

So please, before our Mission gets underway, take a moment or two to visit a local Veterans Memorial.  Yes, your town has one!  And if you can’t find it, just go to your local Post Office and look at the flag pole.  I guarantee that there is a POW-MIA flag flying every day.  Gaze at it, and think about WHY it is there.  Ask yourself WHY do we even need that flag.  The answer is because we still need answers!  We need our countrymen back HOME!

In just a few short weeks, thousands of Riders will be converging in Ontario California with these thoughts at the top of our minds.  Honor.  Courage.  Duty.  Sacrifice.

Say their names, and Remember Them.

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author

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Day Twelve – Washington DC. 1,000 yards.

Our Mission is Complete, but we still Continue The Mission!

This morning, at a very early hour, 30 of the Run For The Wall Riders, ten from each of the three Routes, rose and made their way to The Wall long before the crowds would show up.  These Riders were chosen for one particular honor: They would be washing the Wall!  I cannot tell you why I was chosen to stand amongst these great Veterans, but I will never forget that I got to touch the Wall, so that it could look it’s best as it touched us.

We arrived at the Wall, signed in after reading the SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) for the National Park Service, and attending a briefing.  (We are used to morning meetings, so the Park Ranger had a pretty easy time getting our attention.)  We were issued instructions on how to remove any artifacts/mementos that had been left, how to go about the cleaning process, and were then issued our mops and buckets.  A few of us would set up and man the hoses, while the others reverently scrubbed any grime and debris from those 58,000 names.  Not a soul who participated had a dry eye, nor were there many words spoken.  For about 30 minutes, we worked almost silently to prepare the Wall for our Brothers and Sisters that would be joining us shortly.

Once the Wall was cleansed, Chaplain Duane said a few fitting remarks for us, and then had us turn and face the Wall as he said a prayer over us.  With that, our duty was over, but the honor still remains.  None of us will forget this experience.

At 09:00, we were already filling the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  While we waited for our group picture to be made, there were a lot of hugs and tears, chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.!”, the singing of our National Anthem, and many other shows of American Patriotism.  A few minutes before the photo, we were privileged to see a flag transfer and Name reading for the “Fallen Thirteen.”

And then, precisely at 09:30, and in accordance with our Park Permit, we had three minutes to get out group photo.  After the hired photographer took his image, the three Route Photographers took a turn as well.  I urge you all to purchase one of his photos, but in the meantime, I present to you: Run For The Wall, 2023.

We then, as one Family, walked down to that black granite Wall.  Arm in arm, side by side, in little groups, and singularly, we paused at each panel looking for names that were special to us.  At the apex of the Wall, our Route Coordinators laid a plaque stating what RFTW had done over the past 11 days.  And with that simple act, our 2023 Mission was completed.  The Riders milled around for several hours, still looking for those names of loved ones that they had not found yet.  We were loathe to leave each other’s company, and in no hurry to leave this honored Wall.

Our FNGs had one more task to perform.  They had been instructed to find that one special person that they really connected with during the Run.  Meet them at the Wall and ask them to flip their FNG badge upside down.  This little ritual symbolizes that they have made it “all the way” to the Wall, and are no longer a “Fine New Guy.”  Instead, they are FAMILY!

Twelve days ago, at our Midway Route FNG Meeting in Ontario, I had asked four of our new Riders to wear a POW/MIA bracelet as we travelled.  I asked them to look up the details of each of these Men.  I wanted them to know who we were riding for, and what the price was that these Men had paid.  We met again at the Wall, and we took a photo of these Riders, The bracelet that they had worn, and the name of that MIA as it reads on the Wall.  I was brought to tears as each one of these now-former FNGs thanked me for giving them the opportunity to wear the bracelets.  But I thanked THEM for doing it, and I could tell by their reactions to physically touching those names, after having read their biographies and looking up their photos, I knew that our Riders now fully understand what this wall represents.  As one of the Ladies said “He didn’t have a chance to get married or have childr

 

en.  He was just a boy!”  I am not ashamed to tell you that we held each other in a long embrace, surrounded by three others that could tell our Rider needed consoling.  When she could calm herself, she let us know that she felt a lighter heart now that she had experienced the Wall and it’s healing powers.

I hope that each of you reading this SITREP will be able to feel the healing powers that Run For The Wall offers.  That is why we are here.  Yes, we want to honor our Veterans.  Yes, we want to pay tribute and offer hope to the Families of our STILL Missing In Action.  Yes, we want to demand a full and accurate accounting of all of our Service Men and Women.  But we also want to offer comfort and healing to ALL the people that need it.

War tears nations and people apart.  For some, it is an ideological war.  But for most others, it is a physical, visceral, mentally crippling battle that rips families apart until the end of time.  Nothing that we can do will ever adequately heal those wounds, but we can try.

And we do.

Every year.

We offer what we can to ease the burden of our Soldiers, their Families, Friends, and Supporters.

We are Run For The Wall.  This is what we do.

 

It has been my extreme honor to once again be your Route Photographer and SITREP Author.  I have tried to put into words the emotions that we are all feeling during our Mission.  Sometimes I have interjected some of my own stories, but I try to relate as many of YOUR stories as I can.  It is my hope that I have adequately represented you, and that these reports will bring you joy and comfort as you look back on them in years to come.

I will begin editing the thousands of photos that I took some time in the next few weeks.  Please be patient as it will take a while to get through them all.  I will be making another few posts in the next several months to let you know how the photos are coming, and to “wrap up” our shared experiences once we have had time to reflect on them.  Until then, Thank You once again for letting me represent you.  I have tried my best.

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route 2023
Photographer and SITREP Author

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Day 11. Ashland, VA to Arlington, VA. 100 miles.

The riding is over,  but our Mission is not!

With only 100 miles to ride today, you would think that it would be an uneventful day.  But you would be wrong!

We started our morning with … you guessed it, a morning meeting.  It was full of the usual announcements on safety, hydration, follow the Road Guards, etc.. Nothing new, but everything different, just like every day of the Run.  There was an addition to the meeting, though.  Everyone knows how caring our Chaplains are, and how they protect us both physically and emotionally.  Today was no exception.  Our Route Coordinator has been experiencing some family medical issues that have been waying heavily on his mind.  Our Chaplains presented him with two “Prayer Quilts” that they had prayed over the previous evening, and then asked all of the Riders to do so as well.  So this morning, with our Chaplains laying their hands on our Route Coordinator, the entire group of Midway Route Riders bowed our heads and prayed for Jerry “Corp” Wilkins.  Not just for the physical needs of his family, but for the emotional support that we so dearly want to give him.  Jerry has been an incredible Leader for the Midway Route, and when the riders learned of what has been on his mind, they were even more impressed by his dedication and service.  I know that I said this just yesterday, Jerry, but you did good!  Thank You!

And then Vickie “Needy” Meyer read the final biography for the 2003 Run.  This was slightly different from the others we have heard, as it was about two young Marines that “leaned in” during an attack on a military base several years ago.  What made this biography so meaningful was not just the incredible story of what these two Men did, but their unknown connection to the Midway Route.  One of the Men that they saved with their own sacrifice is the Son of our Former Route Coordinator and his Wife, Ken and Denise Dugas.

Our World is very small.

It was soon time to ride, and our first stop was at the new National Museum of the U.S. Army.  This is an amazing museum and I cannot wait to go back and spend more time here.  It chronicles the U.S. Army history from its inception during the Revolutionary War all the way up to today.  It is a very impressive building with even nicer displays inside.  Go visit it!

Inside the Museum, we were able to do a few special things.  First was a ceremonial flag folding for the flag that we have been carrying across the nation for the past 10 days.  (Remember that “dignified transfer” ceremony that I have written about?  It was THAT flag.)  This flag will be transferred one more time tomorrow morning, and then its journey with the Midway Route will be finished.

The other “fun” activity was to take a group photo of the entire Midway Route Family.  I was able to start this tradition last year at the Marine Corp Museum, so it is only fitting that we took one today as well.  It is the one and only time that I am able to get all of us together for one “Family Photo” as normally several of the service platoons are on the road early in the mornings and are always ahead of us.  But this photo is pretty special if you look closely.  You will not see a large group of yellow hats standing together, or red hats, or green hats.  You will see all of the various leadership team members mixed in with all of the “regular” Riders.  We ARE a Family on the Midway Route, and I think this photo represents that fact very well.  So Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the 2023 Midway Route Riders of Run For The Wall!

And I am glad that we took this photo when we did, because just 20 short miles later, we arrived at our final hotel for this year.  From the parking lot, people began to disperse.  Some are staying here, some across the street, some still further away.  Soon, in fact within a few hours, we were joined by the Southern Route, who was quickly followed by the Central Route.  We are always happy to see all of our RFTW “Cousins” from the other Routes, but their arrival signals the end of the tight-knit bond that we had as our own “little” Family.  This is an emotion that I have never quite been able to convey adequately.  I have said that it is like a Family reunion where all of the Aunts and Uncles come to visit.  They start telling stories about their adventures and we all listen eagerly and enjoy them.  After all, we have stories just like them to tell.  But their stories are not OUR stories, and we aren’t sure how to, or if we WANT to share ALL of our stories with them.  Some things are just “private family matters” that only we would understand.  And the same goes for the other Routes as well.  But we love each other, we are glad that we all made the journey safely across America, and we rejoice in seeing each other again.

Personally, I look forward each year to seeing my buddy and fellow Route Photographer Jerry “F-Stop” Lanier ride in.  (Jerry is with the Southern Route.)  We actually greet each other out in the middle of the street!  And then the new Central Route Photographer, Alan “X-Box” Steiner rolled in, and the Three Route Photographers were reunited.  We are a small group that have one of the BEST “jobs” for the entire Run.  We get to meet EVERY person in our Route, we get to know them, and we get to share special moments with them.  It is such an honor to be amongst these great people, and I know that Jerry and Alan feel the same way.

With all of the three Routes gathered together, it was time for more hugs, more laughs, a few tears, maybe a few beers, and then off to our beds.

You see, we may be here in Arlington, Virginia.  But tomorrow morning we will cross over the Potomac River and head into our Nations Capitol.  Tomorrow morning, we will complete our Mission for 2023.

I will tell you all about it … tomorrow.

Jim “Hoofer’ McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author.

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Day 10.  Smithfield, NC to Ashland, VA.  193 miles.

Today is about Us!

Today was a very short riding day for the Midway Route.  We are within an average days ride from Washington DC, but we will make it a two-day trek.  With so few miles to do today, we will just take it easy and enjoy a few last memorial stops.   But first we had to get started for the day.

As you may have ben able to tell, a LOT goes on during our morning Riders meeting.  These meetings are Mandatory, as we discuss any changes to our itinerary, weather issues, safety concerns, and other general announcements.  Today’s meeting started, as always with one of our Chaplains leading us in a prayer for safety and of thanksgiving for our safe and successful trip across the country.  We said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the national anthem, as usual.  The meeting and announcements were nothing new, until we got to the very end.  The last activity of each meeting is to read a biography of one of our Nations Fallen Heroes.

Denise “High Maintenance” Dugas has been reading these biographies to us for many years.  As she took to the stage this morning, she mentioned that this would be the last bio that she reads to use.  Her years of Midway Route Leadership is coming to a close, and she will pass that torch on to another for next year.  For her final reading, she chose to read the biography of Col Rex Meyer, a Vietnam Veteran that lost his battle with Agent-Orange related cancer a few years ago.  While she was reading Col Meyers biography, several people enveloped Vickie Meyer, our own “Needy”, in a circle of hands, everyone wanting to comfort her and pay tribute to her late Husband.  Denise and Vickie have been close friends for decades, so Denise could think of no better person to honor with her last reading than the Meyer Family.

So it was with tears in my eyes that we started down the highway towards are first fuel stop.  Normally, there is a bit of chatter on the CB radio as the Road Guards deploy to intersections and on-ramps, and the Leadership communicates with the Platoon Leaders.  Today, the radio was relatively silent.  It gave us all a time to reflect on what we have done over the past 10 days.  Part of that reflection for me is the close friendships that I have bound with certain people.  For the past 4 years, I have ridden primarily with the Leadership Support Platoon, which is directly behind the Missing Man Formation.  The riders in this Platoon have not varied much during these years.  In fact, there has been a “core element” that has remained the same.  Now, I knew that at least one of “my gang’ would not be coming back next year.  And that made me wonder who else would not be returning.

At our first stop, I found out that several of “my gang” would not be returning, for one reason or another.  It was both a sad and bittersweet morning.  Sad, because I will miss riding with these patriots, my Friends, in support of our Mission.  I will miss seeing their (generally) smiling faces.  But I understand the need to move on.  Someday, I, too, will step back and give someone else the opportunities that I have enjoyed.  Until that time comes, I wonder who I will be riding with next year.  Will it be another Leadership Member in a new role?  Will it be someone brand new to Leadership?  What will MY role be?  Will I have a role?  It is actually exciting to think about all of the possibilities.  “My Gang” cannot be replaced in my heart, but there is room for others to join in.  There MUST be, because just a few years ago, *I* was the “New Guy” and I was welcomed in.

This sort of reflection was on my mind all day.  And in talking with many others, I could tell that they were having the same thoughts.  I know of at least six people that will not be with us next year, from Leadership Support to Platoon Leadership to Road Guards.  There will be changes in our Outreach Team and Ambassador Team.  As sad as I am to know this, I am heartened to see several of this years FNG Class that I know will be stepping into leadership roles.  I am not saying that I can predict the future.  None of us can.  But some of us “seasoned” RFTW Riders can sort of tell when an FNG “gets it” and fully understands what we are trying to do.  I have seen that again this year!  There are some very promising young Riders that I KNOW will be leading the Midway Route into the future.  We are in for some exciting times!

We continued down the road to our lunch stop at the River Falls Park in Weldon, NC.  This beautiful little park always has a special Patriotic display set up for us.  This year was no exception.  Imagine a large cross laid out and outlined on the grass with small American Flags.  Then imagine being able to fill the interior of that outline with thousands more flags, until the park is filled with Red, White, and Blue!  There are always some Christmas Trees set up in the park that we decorate with the names and photos of Fallen Heroes, POWs, those Missing in Action, and memorials of “The 22.”  (On average, 22 Veterans commit suicide every day in the United States.  We need to do a better job at understanding and identifying PTSD!)

Yes, the memorials are beautiful and somber, but we don’t let our emotions get the best of us.  Today, we know that we are celebrating US.  This park, and specifically the Weldon Mill Distillery is a great place to take group photos.  I try to get every platoon, whether a service platoon or a Riders platoon, to gather together on the steps of the Mill for one final photo.

Notice that I said “try”?  With everyone feeling a little “salty” from our achievements, getting them to line up for a “nice’ photo is like trying to herd cats, with a broom, while wearing roller skates, on ice.  In other words, “It ain’t easy!”  We were just having too much fun with each other today!  But we DID get the platoon photos, both serious and fun, and we had a good time doing it.  (I HOPE I got every platoon!)

After the lunch, it was just a few short miles to the Moose Lodge in Hopewell, Virginia, where we would have our “recognition awards ceremony.”  This is our chance to thank all of our Leaders and volunteers for the hard work that they put into the Midway Route.  We get to acknowledge the contributions and successes of each Team, and start sowing the seeds for next year.  That doesn’t mean we can let up on our duties for the next two days, but we can start “seriously” recruiting some of those eager (soon to be) former FNGs!

During this awards programs, we said Thank You to Ken “Six-String” Dugas for his MANY years of service to the Midway Route.  He has kind of been a “Route Coordinator Emeritus” as well as a mentor and stand-in for all things Road Guard related.  He was instrumental in developing the “servant leadership” style that Midway has fostered.  His time with RFTW is coming to an end, as he is focusing now on the Combat Hero Bike Build program.  He isn’t going away, he is just changing his manner of supporting our Veterans.  Six-String, we are going to miss you!

We got to honor many of our other leaders, but the one that deserves the most thanks this year from all of the Midway Riders is our Route Coordinator, Jerry ”Corp” Wilkins.  He did an outstanding job as out Leader this year, and the success of the Run can be laid at his feet.  Yes, he had help and he graciaously admits it.  But it was his leadership, training, and oversight that made our journey and Mission so successful.  Jerry, it has been an honor to serve with you, and I know that all of the other volunteers feel the same!  You did good, Sir!

As all of the other Leaders were called up to receive a certificate and wall plaque, you could hear people joking, laughing, and even crying a few times, as we honored all achievements and heard people announce their plans for the future.  This is where some of us found out who would not be returning next year and who definitely would be back.  Again, it is both a sad and happy ceremony.

Finally, it was time to leave and head to our hotel for the evening.  And that is why this SITREP is a little shorter than usual.  We got here early.  We are in a good mood.  We have an early, but easy day tomorrow to get us into Arlington, Virginia.  So tonight, we will laugh together, tell stories together, some may have a beer out in the parking lot, others were already playing a game of cards in the lobby.  We will relax and enjoy the limited time we have left together.  We will have some fun.

Tomorrow, the mood of the entire Route will change.  We will wake up to the knowledge that this is the last time that we, the 2023 Midway Route Family, will be together as a singular unit.  Once we arrive in Arlington and all the other Routes join us, we will never be the same.  Our thoughts will be on finishing the Mission we started 10 days ago.

But that is tomorrow.  Tonight, we will enjoy each others company.

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author

 

 

 

When I get back home after the Run, I will start editing the photos that I have taken this year.  They will be made available for you to use for free.  They will be posted at www.jimmccrain.smugmug.com/Run-For-The-Wall.  Just look for the 2023 Gallery.

Hoofer

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Day 09. Asheville, NC to Smithfield, NC. 307 miles.

With all that we do, do we make a difference?

Todays SITREP is going to be shorter than usual.  Not because we did less today, but because a theme for the day presented itself as soon as our morning meeting began.  I am going to let these stories tell themselves.

Story Number One:  My roommate this year is a tall, thin, extremely likable fellow named Tim.  We have gotten along very well, and I wish I had met him years ago.  One evening after our riding was over for the day, he casually mentioned that he had beaten a cancer diagnosis.  That was very good news!  He credited one of our Chaplains with his recovery, by offering prayers and encouragement to him.

The next evening, he mentioned that he had his own outreach mission to perform the next day.  Since he is on the Staging Crew, I assumed that his Team were all going on a special program.

This morning, one of the Chaplains casually mentioned that they (the Chaplains) had a large group of people that were going to be standing on an overpass with flags to cheer us along.  Would I like to go visit with them and get some pictures?  Sure!  As the pack began to move out this morning, I rode up behind the Chaplain Corps, only to find myself riding next to my roommate Tim.  Cool!  I finally get to ride with him!  But I wondered why he was there.

About an hour later we arrive at the designated overpass, and sure enough, there are a bunch of people gathered there.  They happen to be from our Chaplains church.  As we dismounted our bikes, our Chaplain announces to the crowd that “This is Tim!  The recipient of our very first Prayer Quilt!”

The pieces of this strange puzzle fell into place.  Through some strange, round-about way, I was present when a new Friend met the Church Group that prayed over him, encouraged him to keep up the fight, offered to help in any way that they could, and that covered him, literally, with prayers.

Tim credits their support and friendship with his remarkable recovery!

Story Number Two:  At our morning meeting a few days ago, one of our Ambassadors told the story of visiting a Veterans Home in Tennessee.  The entire Ambassador Team (all 8 of them) spent about an hour trying to visit each of the Veterans that lived there.  He was heartbroken when he found a 92-yeear old highly decorated Vietnam Veteran lying in his room all alone.  As our Ambassador talked with him, he discovered that this Veteran had not had a single visitor in over a year and a half!  He was so grateful for the brief visit that he sat up as best he could and feebly gave a salute.  Our Ambassador left in tears, and still wells up when he mentions this encounter.

Story Number Three: Our own dear Sarah took to the microphone this morning to Thank all of the Riders that visited a specific VA Hospital during our Outreach Day in Cookeville.  She told of a deaf elderly Man that has no visitors other than family.  After all, he is hard to communicate with.  She said that he felt so special that day.  His entire Family wanted to extend their Thanks to our Riders for their considerate visit.  That deaf Veteran is her Uncle!

Story Number Four:  You may remember that I wrote about our visit to Wilson Elementary School.  The Midway Route made a small financial donation to help support these kids.  Some of these kids live in homes with dirt floors.  Some do not have running water.  Some wear only hand-me-down clothing.  Some go home hungry at night.   We gave them school supplies, t-shirts, and some money.

Story Number Five: This afternoon we visited the Falcon Childrens School.  This is an orphanage that houses and educates poor, neglected, and/or abandoned children, giving them love and security.  The Midway Route has been a supporter of the school for five years now.  Today, we gave each graduating Senior a gift certificate.  For many of them, this is the largest amount of money that they have ever had all to themselves.  We offer them encouragement and a pledge of support.  We are extremely proud of what they have accomplished, and the attitude that they all have for their own future.

Story Number Six:  While at the Falcon School, one of our own Riders (“Pockets”) told how his daughter had taken her own life a few years ago.  He proceeded to tell the students in the room how much each one of them mattered.  Not just to their educators, not just to their friends, not just to us, but that they mattered to our society.  He then announced that he was giving scholarships to each of the graduating Seniors, in his daughters name.  (There wasn’t a dry eye in the room!)

Does what we do make a difference?  We honor our Veterans.  We visit the sickly, the poor, the “forgotten.”  We offer “small change” from our wallets.  We give little gifts.  We talk to strangers.

But to the people that we interact with, we bring hope.  We bring understanding.  We show our love and support for those that have sacrificed so much for us.  We encourage young people to follow their dreams, and show them that they CAN follow those dreams.  We give children the tools they need to get an education so that they can make a better life for themselves.  We put new clothes on the backs of people that may not have had a new shirt in years.  And we send a child home with a full belly.

Yes.  What we do matters.  We change lives.  But don’t take my word for it.  Read Story Number Seven:

This one comes directly from a former Midway Route Rider, the Daughter of our own “Big Bopper.”  She writes:

Hello Midway Route! Some of you may remember me from last year. Some of you may not. I was the short, bald girl that loved signing patriotic songs.

For those that don’t know my story, six years ago I was given a stage IV breast cancer diagnosis with a life expectancy of less than a year. Apparently God had other plans for me though and I just kept on living. Then, in January of last year, four months before the 2022 ride, the cancer had spread greatly through my brain and the doctors felt that I had about a month left on my ticket. So what did my dad do…. he signed me up for a motorcycle trip that was scheduled in May… and, somehow, by the grace of God, I lived long enough to join you all as an FNG.

I can’t adequately express what this ride meant to me. I was so nervous joining. I had ridden on the back of a motorcycle for a grand total of maybe eight hours in my entire life. I knew nothing of the culture or the schedule or what to expect. But even if I had known what to expect, I wouldn’t have been prepared for what I experienced.

The love and acceptance that you all showed me from the moment I joined was beyond anything I could have imagined. You embraced me with hugs, love, prayers, chaps, neck warmers, and rain gear. You made me feel like I was truly part of what you were doing… and what you were doing was truly something spectacular!

You will never know what a difference you made in my life. That week I felt like I was part of something much bigger than myself and my problems. I forgot about the cancer for the first time since I’d been diagnosed. Life’s worries melted away as I focused on the mission. I loved every moment of the journey and every one of you that was on it.

A year has passed since that glorious ride, and now RFTW 2023 is en route. I’m not able to join you this year, but I am grateful to report that I am still alive and well. According to the University of Michigan Cancer Center, I am a “medical anomaly”. But we all know that it is so much more than that.

Thank you for loving me and accepting me. Thank you for including me on your ride and in your lives. And thank you for praying for me. I have no doubt that it is through your prayers and those of the saints and the faithful that I am still on the top side of the grass.

Until we meet again, I pray that God blesses you, keeps you, and makes His glorious face shine upon you.

Much love,

Curly

P.S. I’m happy to report that my wild, curly hair finally grew back!

 

What I have submitted this evening is such a small sampling of what we have been doing everyday for the past nine days.  These are just a few of the hundreds of stories that we hear during the Run.  I wonder how many we do NOT hear?  I am so proud of our Midway Riders, and all of the Riders from the other Routes as well, because I know that these things we do aren’t just a once-a-year occurrence.  I see the goodness in our Riders hearts.  I know of the countless hours of volunteer work that they do throughout the year.  I know of the charities that they support year round.  I know that they care for their Brothers and Sisters, their comrades in arms, and the Families of their Heroes.  They “walk the talk” and will leave no Man behind.  They make a difference in the lives of the people they touch, both their physical and emotional needs.

As “Pockets” and I were standing in the hotel lobby, getting ready to turn in for the night, I offered my condolences for his daughter.  We talked a bit of different tragedies that had befallen both our Families, and how helpless we felt not preventing them.  He did not know the theme of todays SITREP.  But as we ended our conversation, he said with a sad smile “We do whatever we can.  We make a difference.”

This is Run For The Wall.  This is what we do.

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author