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MIDWAY ROUTE “Virtual” SITREP, DAY 01 – Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Ontario CA – Flagstaff AZ.
Part 1.

This is a day that we have all been looking forward to for an entire year.  It is filled with both Joy and Sadness though.  Joy, because we know what we are trying to do, and Sadness that we can’t do it together this time.  You see, we are supposed to start riding across the United States of America, from coast-to-coast, to bring honor and recognition to our Veterans, their Families and supporters, and to remember our POW and MIA personnel.  But for the year 2020, that is not to be.  The global COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to postpone, but not cancel, our Mission of healing.  Sure, we will have to wait until next May to actually ride together, but our Mission still remains.

So instead of gathering in Ontario and then heading east, we will instead remember what we have done in the past, and talk about what we had planned for this year.  We will make a “virtual” Run For The Wall.  I have been asked to put together a few words about what we WOULD have experienced during our Run, so I will try to do my best.  I am relatively new to RFTW, this would have been my seventh year.  So I will draw on my limited knowledge and try to explain “where we are each day” and some of what we have done.  I will tell you stories, TRUE stories, of things that I have personally experienced over the years.

And I will also tell a few stories of things that have been related to me; the experiences that others have had and that they have shared with me.  You see, every person on the Run will have a very unique viewpoint, and will see, hear, and feel things like no one else will.  And yet, we will each have the SAME experiences, too.  We will go to the same places, eat the same food, hear the same programs, and ride the same miles.

But one person may be riding because they need to remember a lost comrade.  Someone else may be riding to help bring home their Father, Brother, or Son.  Another person may be with us simply because they feel the need to pay honor and respect to Heroes.  And Yes, some will be here just to ride the miles.  But no matter the reason, they will ALL be changed because of this Mission.  That is a promise!

So for the Midway Route (by the way, Thank You for joining us!), We are going to start today with a mass meeting of all Three Routes.  But we will be the first to leave the parking lot, so our wait is much shorter.  Good!  We get to be on the road a bit earlier and miss some of the lovely LA traffic!  But we aren’t worried about it, because we have some of the BEST Road Guards of the entire group!  (Of course, that is just my opinion.  They are ALL good!).  They will guide us safely all across the country.  Trust me when I say that they are dedicated to this task.  I have been a RG before, and I know the amount of work that goes into it.  The eat the least, sleep the least, and ride the hardest.  You will see!

Not long after leaving Ontario, we get to have our first parade!  The Midway Route has a distinct honor of riding through an active US Marine Corp base in Yermo, CA.  It doesn’t take long, but to see the streets lined with active duty personnel all waving and cheering for US is a good start to our day.  And  there have already been people lining overpasses and on the sides of the freeways, just to watch us pass.

After our first fuel stop, which will FREAK OUT the FNGs, the nerves for everyone will start to calm down.  You see, the Midway Route is about a third smaller than the other routes, so we quickly meet each other , learn each others riding habits, and get through some of the “processes” much easier.  Like Fueling 300 bikes.  Did I say it will freak people out?  I meant it!  (In a good way, though!)

Imagine, if you will, 300 bikes pulling up to a fuel station and backing up the streets for a mile.  Don’t worry, those Road Guards are there to get you safely off the highway and to the station, where the Fuel Crew takes over.  THEY will guide you to the fuel pumps and help you learn the process.  But basically it is this: follow the guy in front of you until a Fuel Team Member points you to a different line.  When you get to the pump, shut off your bike and open your tank.  The Fuel Team Leader will hand YOU the pump nozzle and you will fill your own tank.  By the way, you are still sitting on your bike!  When the tank is full, you hand the nozzle back and close your tank.  If it is a donated fuel stop, you simply pull away from the pump SLOWLY!  If you need to pay for the fuel, you do so.  (But remember, we do not make change at the pump, so if you owe $6 and all you have is a $10, then you just made a donation to the Chase Trucks!). Once you pull away from the pumps, the Staging Crew takes over.  They will guide you back to where your Platoon will meet up.  Park your bike, and then go get a snack, some water, and then go pee!  Freaked out yet?  Well, what if I told you this whole process takes place in about 20 minutes!  It is the most amazingly choreographed chaos that I have ever seen.  And it is BEAUTIFUL!

But we are soon back out on the road, headed across some deserts, and already looking forward to lunch.  We leave California and reach Lake Havasu for this incredible meal.  And THIS is the place where we all start to really get to know each other.  When you sit together and break bread, people start to talk.  They introduce themselves, tell each other a few things about themselves, try to remember the faces they have just seen.  This will be important, because MOST of what you will see of them for the next 10 days is the back of their helmet!

Soon after lunch, we will continue east for another few hundred miles until we get to our first overnight stop in Flagstaff, AZ.    But just because we got to town, that doesn’t mean it is time for bed!  First, we will go to the VFW for dinner and a very special program.  We will do this every night, and I urge ALL Riders to pay attention to the programs.  These people work very hard to provide us with not just food for our bodies, but nourishment for our souls as well.  In fgact, the programs our more fulfilling (to me) than the food, and the food is stellar!

But eventually, this day will end.  The Riders will ready their bikes for the next day, and then fall into their beds to sleep.  They are road weary, but with joyous hearts.  Sleep will hopefully come quickly, because the dawn definitely will!  And then, it is time to do it all over again!

So until tomorrow, rest.  Say a prayer for these Riders to keep them safe, and ask that they can get the healing and support that they need.

Good Night!
Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

 

If you would like to follow along with our ride from last year, just follow this link:

https://jimmccrain.smugmug.com/Run-For-The-Wall/2019-Midway-Route-RFTW

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020 DAY 0

MIDWAY ROUTE SITREP
Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Ontario, California

(Adapted by Jim “Hoofer” McCrain, from “A Visit from St. Nicholas”)

 

 

‘Twas the night before the Mission, when all through the house

Every creature was stirring, even a Guy named Mouse!

The saddle bags were packed with the utmost of care,

Because we know that the Roads Guards soon will be there!

 

The FNGs should have been snuggled up in their beds

But visions of miles danced in their heads.

But the RC and ARC, in their RFTW cap

Would not settle down, though they needed the nap!

 

In the sunrise-lit parking lot, there arose such a clatter

That I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

Adrenaline flowed as I rushed to my bike

“I’m sure it is here.  I parked it next to a Trike!”

 

I found the huge beast, just where I had left it,

I stuffed all my gear, I’m surprised I could heft it!

Panic rose up as I looked at the fuel tank,

In all of my haste, did I remember to fill it?

 

But then to my relief, a Tailgunner walked by.

“Take a deep breath.” was what he did cry.

“Your bike looks just fine, go get something to eat.

But hurry right back, we have people to meet.”

 

I ate just a bite, my nerves were in tatters.

“Just follow the directions of the guys in the Hatters”

The staging Crew got me to where I should be

Hey what do you know?  I am in Platoon Three!

 

A whistle was blown, so we moved to the stage

It’s still pretty early; I can feel my age!

But everyone is smiling and hugging and laughing

My nerves have calmed down, even while we are massing.

 

The briefings are started and attention is paid

The route is explained, as our plains are all laid.

Two pretty young Ladies lead us in “The Pledge”

A chaplain prays over us: “Protect every head.”

 

With a salute to Old Glory, and a band that will play,

We listen to speeches.  We have started our day.

The Board of Directors, they wish us all well,

Then the Routes break apart, this waiting is HELL!

 

It’s time to start riding, let’s get this thing going!

The Mission is here, our hearts are all glowing.

Another horn blows and a motor is started,

It’s Here!  It’s Here!   It’s time we departed!

 

Then up from the front a flag starts to twirl,

The bikes in the front, they’re beginning to whirl.

As we pass under a flag, the crowd roars with a cheer

“Be Safe all you Riders!  We will see you next year!”

 

And so it begins, this Run For The Wall,

May it bring Healing, and Love, and Peace to you all!

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Midway Route – Day 11 – Arlington, VA

Midway Route – Day 11 – Arlington, VA
May 25, 2019.  0 miles.

“Just once in their life, every American Citizen should walk through Arlington National Cemetery.  Or any other National Cemetery.  Because once you have done that, you begin to realize that for every war, conflict, or police action, there is a terrible price that has been paid.”

We started our day, Day number 11 of Run For The Wall, with all three Routes united as a Family.  We escorted our new Brothers and Sisters to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, where they witnessed the solemnity and dignity with which we honor our Fallen Comrades.  They stood shoulder to shoulder with the “seasoned” Riders in absolute silence during the Changing of the Guards.  As four of our own Riders descended the steps of the “Old Guard” barracks, and onto the marble platform that houses the Tomb, even the wind stopped whispering.  The only sounds to be heard where the clicking of the Guards heals, and the sniffles from everyone trying not to cry.  Our four Riders represented RFTW beautifully, and we could not have been more proud of them.

“As I walked through the endless rows of stark-white headstones in Arlington National Cemetery, the words to several pop-culture songs came to my mind.  “Find the cost of Freedom, buried in the ground.”  “Brave Young Soldiers lying row by row.  Boys dressed proudly in their Fathers clothes.  Sheets, tags, plastic bags.  Return the rest and find the next young Dreamer.”

We left ANC and made our way to the Lincoln Memorial, where we gathered en-mass for our final All-Family photo.  There was no distinction made between the three routes.  Midway sat mingled in with both Southern and Central.  Today, it did not matter which Route you had ridden.  We were all reunited for the final, last act of our Mission.  After a quick (?) group photo, we stood together and began the last 100 yard walk to “The Wall.”

The walk slowed to a shuffle, as we descended into the base of the memorial.  Chatter was at a minimum.  And then, wafting on the air from a distance, the sounds of TAPS could be heard.  ALL sound ceased, all movements stopped abruptly, and then those 26 individual notes, played by a lone and unknown bugler, landed in our hearts.  This was not a planned moment.  It just happened.

Several of our MIA Family members had made their way to the Wall to spend a few private moments with their loved ones.  It is heart-breaking to see these Men and Women touch the name of their Father, knowing that this is their only physical connection.  Other Riders stopped at a name, and silently touched the name of a friend and Brother in Arms.  No one bothered them, but I saw many of our Riders walk up to a total stranger, put their arms around them, and weep together.  As our Midway Chaplain said “We are better together.  We are Stronger together.  We will Heal together.”  Today, I saw that happen.

I had been asked to participate in several private remembrance ceremonies.   There were flags that had been carried to the Wall for people that could not make it there themselves.  There were Men that had not been to the Wall before, that just couldn’t make it up to see a name on their own.  And then there were those MIA Family members, that wanted a remembrance of this day.  Although I photographed each of these precious moments, most will never be seen by the general public.  These were private moments that shall remain private.  But the SPIRIT in which they were all committed is very much public.  And it MUST be, because without a public display of grief, without a public outcry demanding a full accounting for all of our service personnel, without the awareness that war hurts everyone, there will be no end to armed conflict.

Emotionally drained, I started to make my way away from the Wall.  And then, like a bolt of lightning had hit me, I realized that I had been so worried about helping my new Family, that I had almost neglected my own sworn duty to myself and SSG Stephen Geist.  I made my way to Panel 27E, Line 15, and touched the name of Geist and his pilot Lynn Huddleston.  Missing in Action for 50 years now, they are not forgotten.  As I looked up at their names, someone must have bumped the camera that was hanging by my side.  That is the only way I can explain it, because I do not remember taking this picture.  But here it is, a perfect remembrance for Geist, Huddleston, and all of the other boys that never came home.

“When you speak my name, know that I am not dead.  I live in your memory.”

And THIS is why we Ride!

It has been my privilege and absolute honor to write these Sit-Reps, and to be your Route Photographer.  I have tried to capture the Midway Route Run For The Wall as it happened, and to relay the stories as I experienced them.  Thank You, for letting me stand in the presence of all you brave Men and Women, Heroes ALL!

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

Please visit www.jimmccrain.smugmug.com/Run-For-The-Wall to see more pictures from our journey across this great country.  All of these photos are free to download.  Enjoy!  “Hoofer”

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Midway Route – Day 10 – Ashland, VA to Arlington, VA

Midway Route – Day 10 – Ashland, VA to Arlington, VA
May 24, 2019.  96 miles.

Today is Day 10 of our cross-country Mission of Remembrance and Healing.  For the past week and a half, the Midway Route Riders have become more than just friends.  We have become Family.  We have laughed together, cried together, sweated and shivered together.  We have learned who likes spicy foods, who drinks coffee, and who is definitely not a morning person.  (Haley!  Smile, Sweetheart!)  We know that Rachel doesn’t like to have her fuel-stop naps interrupted.  “Gear Shift” will ALWAYS light up a cigar at each stop, and “Talking Hands” can read lips!  (Be careful what you say!) Through all of the hardships, grueling miles, heart-warming activities, and the wonderful support we have been shown across this country, we have bonded.   We ARE a tight-knit Family.

Until this very trip, most of my RFTW Family has been on the Southern Route.  But something about this particular ride has let me know that my “home” is really on the Midway Route.  This has been such an amazing experience, that I cannot fathom going on a different Route.  To be fair, this same emotion is being felt by every Rider on each of the Three Routes.  It isn’t just me!

So it is a very bitter-sweet day for me.  My “immediate” Family, my Midway Route Brothers and Sisters, rolled into Arlington Virginia this morning.  As the first of the three routes to arrive, we had the parking lot and hotel to ourselves.  We were able to get off the bikes and congratulate each other for a ride well-ridden, and to reflect on what we had just experienced.  It was OUR time together.  But it was also our LAST time together, because in a few hours, the Southern Route Riders would be arriving, followed shortly by the Central Route.  Once our other RFTW Family joined us, the Midway Routes special time together would cease, and a NEW time would begin.

I think of it as a Family reunion.  We are always happy to see and reconnect with our second cousins, and our great-Aunt twice-removed.  As we listen to their stories, we think “That’s nice.” and “Congratulations.”  But they aren’t OUR stories.  They are similar, and to anyone not connected with RFTW, they would not be able to tell a difference.  But WE can!  We are all Family, but my Brothers and Sisters rode with me this year.  Does this make any sense?  It is an incredibly hard emotion to describe.  You have to experience it to understand.

Part of what made today so bitter-sweet was that we only had ONE stop planned before the reunion with the other Routes.  Our time was limited, so it was all we could do.  We were headed to the National Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia.

I have stopped here before, and let me tell you, this is an amazing place.  We would only have about an hour here, which is definitely not enough time.  So instead of visiting the museum, I decided to walk the grounds a bit.  The Marines are a proud bunch, and this pride shows in their gardens.  There are plaques and memorials on this circular walk that commemorate battles and campaigns that reach back to the beginning of our Country, and all the way up to today.

“Casper” (one of the MR Road Guards, and a Friend of mine from the SR) and I went together to explore this place.  We stopped at several memorials that just “stuck out” in our collective thoughts.  We didn’t talk much, but then again, we didn’t need too.  At one particular memorial, we both just stopped.  It was just what we needed to see, at just the right moment.  It really brought our minds back to focus on what the mission of Run For the Wall is.  “We Ride for those that Can’t.”

And that made me remember something that I had seen early this morning.  Before we left our morning staging area, I walked past the Missing Man Formation.  (I told you earlier that we do not move an inch without this formation!)  Written in chalk on the pavement, was a simple message:  “Today I Ride for SSG Joe Peters.  KIA 6 Oct. 13.  OEF”  I do not know who wrote it, and I don’t need to know.  What I DO know, is that someone took the time to mark a temporary memorial to a Fallen Comrade.  And every Rider that passed this Missing Man Formation would be thinking of Joe Peters, even without knowing his name: because we ALL know what this formation is about, why it is there, and who it is for.  THIS, Folks, is truly WHY we Ride!

As we departed this morning, I took the opportunity to pull off to the side of the road one last time to get a few pictures of these Men and Women that I have come to love and respect.  I wanted one last photo, just for me to remember them by.  This was not going to be seen by anyone else: it was personal.  But as the Platoons went rolling by, I realized with just a hint of sorrow, that this group would never again be the same.  Next year, new people will join our group.  Some will not return, or will go on to different routes.  Our cohesive unit would be different, but just as exciting and emotional.  All of this came streaming into my head as I saw two perfect lines of bikes, stretching more than a mile, ride away from me.  I knew where they were going: They were going to meet up with the rest of our Family, and then we would all go together to The Wall.

But that is for tomorrow.  For the rest of today, I will go visit with my Family, tell my stories, listen to theirs, hug each other over and over, and reflect on what all THREE Routes have accomplished.  Tomorrow, we will complete our Mission.

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

Please visit www.jimmccrain.smugmug.com/Run-For-The-Wall to see more pictures from our journey across this great country.  I will post a few every day, and then hundreds more once I get home and can go through them all.  All of these photos are free to download.  Enjoy!  “Hoofer”

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Midway Route – Day 9 –Fayetteville, NC to Ashland, VA.

Midway Route – Day 9 –Fayetteville, NC to Ashland, VA
May 23, 2019.  ??? miles.

Today was another emotion-filled day.  The same as all of our other days, but yet completely different.  I never know what the day is going to be like until it unfolds.  This morning, I had no idea how the day would end.  Let me tell you about it.

The day started with the reading of a “bio” of a fallen or missing soldier.  “Pitch” got on the stage and started reading the events that lead up to the death of a US Airman.  Pitch read how the Pilot had just successfully completed his mission, when there was a loud “thud” and the plane started to fall apart.  The Pilot was able to maneuver the plane out over the sea, but was not able to control it.  He ordered his crew to eject, and they made it out of the doomed aircraft with “minimal” injuries.  The pilot was not seen to eject as the plane made a high-speed spiraling dive into the ocean.  Pieces of the wreckage were found, as were bits of personal gear from the Pilot.  He was pronounced KIA-BNR.  (Killed In Action, Body Not Recovered.)  Pitch stoically read the events of this pilot, breaking down in tears part way through the reading.  You see, the Pilot was his Father.

THIS IS WHY WE RIDE!

As we departed from our morning meeting, I prepared myself for a somber day.  The skies were gray and overcast, so my mood was a little dark.  But we had been assured that we would enjoy our first stop of the day at the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.  As we approached the base, we could see some fighter jets practicing flight training in the distance, so I thought “Maybe we will have a short air show.”  Well, we pulled into the base and proceeded to parade around in a long column of twos.  It was pretty cool to have so many active duty service Men and Women come out to greet us!  But then the fire truck that was leading us kind of wound through the back areas of the base.  (When you see a sign that says “Don’t pass explosive laden vehicles” you kind of realize that this isn’t where the public generally goes!)

Soon, we made a sweeping turn onto an enormous piece of concrete, and I noticed the tell-tale signs of an airport taxi-way.  “This will be neat!  We will get to ride down the flight line!”  Nope!  WE RODE DOWN THE MIDDLE OF AN ACTIVE RUNWAY!!!   Our bikes stretched for a mile and a half right on the center line, and then we stopped … and waited.  Nothing happened …  until Tail Dragger got on the radio and said something like “Welcome to the US Air Force!”

OH … MY … GAWD!!!!!

A flight of four fighter jets came screaming right at us, passing not more than a few hundred feet above our heads!  I barely had time to pull out my camera phone to get a picture.  I know the Leadership wanted to keep this a secret, but I brought a whole bunch of good cameras, but could only get to my cheap cell phone in time!  I was so excited that I didn’t even remember taking any pictures!  (Fortunately, I DID, and it didn’t turn out too bad, either!)

From there we rolled over to the tarmac and assembled for a group photo.  Then we were allowed to tour a couple of air craft and just enjoy the morning.  After about an hour, though, it was time to leave.  None of us wanted to, as we were really having fun!

But we DID leave, because it was time to visit the “Spaghetti Church” for lunch!  The Midway Route LOVES the Spaghetti Church!  This year, though, our lunch was provided in a different location, but by the same people.  So I guess we have a new, old Spaghetti Church!

Then it was time to get back on the road and head to the Hopewell Moose Lodge, where we always have our annual Awards Program.  Unfortunately, the Lodge burned down just about a month ago.  But the Lodge Members insisted that we still stop here, and they would take care of us.  What an amazing group of Patriots!  Here it is, that they have just lost their own building and all of their memorabilia, and they want to support US!  We have been raising money to help them rebuild, and they were very appreciative of OUR support to them.  Other than all of the hugs and handshakes, which were warmly taken and given, the emotional highlight of the stop was when they showed a photo of the building still on fire, while the fire department lowered and rescued the American Flag.  And then they brought out that very same flag, which we then said the Pledge of Allegiance too.  It was both a sad and happy moment.  Sad because of the physical loss, but happy as we know that they will rebuild and will be better and stronger than ever.

Of course, the awards program was meaningful to all of the participants.  Stories were shared that again made us cry with joy and sorrow.  Others made us reflect on what our Mission is, and Why we continue to do this grueling ride every year.  I won’t even attempt to tell you about all of the presentations, because there were just too many and they were ALL important.  But I WILL leave you with one story.  We have a Road Guard that was seen jumping off his bike and wrestling a large piece of tire off of the road.  (We call these things “gators” cause they can bite you!)  This particular “gator” was almost larger than the Road Guard, and easily much heavier.  So “Bruzer” was given the (now) coveted “Swamp Wrestler” Award!

Okay Folks, that is it for today.  I need to start preparing for tomorrow, our last day of riding together as the Midway Route.

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

Please visit www.jimmccrain.smugmug.com/Run-For-The-Wall to see more pictures from our journey across this great country.  I will post a few every day, and then hundreds more once I get home and can go through them all.  All of these photos are free to download.  Enjoy!  “Hoofer”

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Midway Route – Day 8 – Asheville, NC to Fayetteville, NC

Midway Route – Day 8 – Asheville, NC to Fayetteville, NC
May 22, 2019.  295 miles.

 

HONOR

Today was a day that dedicated itself to Honor.

You see, the first announcement at our morning meeting was a somber, but beautiful testimony to Honor and Commitment.  The wife of one of our Riders passed away at home this morning.  Her Family was by her side and relayed the message that her last wish was for her Husband to carry on and finish his Run For The Wall.  She did not want him to give up this healing dream.  She wanted him to Continue The Mission.  So our grieving Rider chose to pay Honor to his Dear Wife’s last WISH.  He would finish this Run!  “Slammer” presented him with a special remembrance gift, and we all surrounded him with hugs.

HONOR

As we road down the highway a few minutes later, we started seeing people standing on the overpasses.  Not in large masses, but singly, in pairs, or small groups.  They stood outside in the cold, gray morning just to wave at us.  One young Mother stood on a grassy hillside with her hand over her

heart, and the other hand holding her small son, who also stood proudly holding an American flag twice his size.  As we rode by, he gave a salute!  As we went through a construction zone, several of the workers stopped what they were doing, came to attention, and stood there with their hats in their hands until we passed by.  As our Law Enforcement Officer escort came to an end, the police Officers dismounted their bikes (while others got out of their cars), and stood saluting as we bid them farewell.

HONOR

We had several new FNGs join us this morning.  One of them is one of my oldest and dearest Friends.  He is a Marine Veteran, serving in combat, a career LA County Sheriff’s Deputy, and my two-time Fraternity Pledge Brother.  I have known him for 35+ years.  What an honor for ME to get to watch him register and ride with us today!  Welcome to the RFTW Family, Cap!

We visited two schools today.  We had an escort by the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club.  This was the fourth year that they have escorted us to Siler City, while paying tribute to their military name-sake unit.  As we rode up to the Chatham Middle School in Siler City, we were greeted by the kids holding signs and Flags.  Several of our Riders returned their greeting with a salute.  Their band treated us to an incredible rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.  It was the same arrangement that I played in Middle School, oh so many years ago.  So when it came time for the big finale, I waited to see if the cymbal player would do what I was hoping he would do.  He did!  On the very last note, he struck an incredible cymbal crash and held them wide until the sound slowly faded away.  I was so proud of him, because he smiled really big while he was doing it.  You could tell that he took pride in his part of the music.

At the Falcon Children’s Home, We were honored by the Mayor, who broke down in tears for our generosity to his town and the schools children.  WE were honored to participate in the graduation celebration for 13 of the kids!  As we prepared to leave, the graduating Seniors gave each Rider a hand-made wooden star to commemorate our visit.  That is over 400 hand-made stars!  The cover of the program says “Remember and Honor.”

HONOR

At one of our fuel stops, a small problem arose.  We couldn’t find the person that was supposed to be the Missing Man Escort.  Our pack of Riders does NOT move without a Missing Man Formation.  Someone said “Get Hoofer!” and I found myself in the highest place of honor, riding next to the empty space reserved for the memory of our Missing Comrades.  I had just enough time to place six aluminum bracelets in this empty space and snap a picture.  With tears in my eyes, I rode the short distance in silence, repeating the names of LCDR Dennis Pike, SGT Joseph Matejov, Col Oscar Mauterer, Maj Bobby Jones, Capt Ronald Forrester, and SSG Stephen Geist.  For a few brief miles, they were missing in body only, as I could feel their spirit at my side, and the love of their Families with me all of the way.

HONOR

It was everywhere we went today, and could be found in everything we did.

 

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

Please visit www.jimmccrain.smugmug.com/Run-For-The-Wall to see more pictures from our journey across this great country.  I will post a few every day, and then hundreds more once I get home and can go through them all.  All of these photos are free to download.  Enjoy!  “Hoofer”

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Midway Route – Day 7 – Cookeville, TN to Asheville, NC.

Midway Route – Day 7 – Cookeville, TN to Asheville, NC.

May 21, 2019.  224 miles

WooHoo!  What an incredibly fun day!  Let me repeat that: WOOHOO!!!

There is something about our stay in Cookeville that completely changes the attitude and “feel” of the Midway Route.  You see, for the past six days, we have been concentrating on riding in tight formations.  We have spent HOURS in the saddle, making mile after mile, while trying to adjust to this regimented schedule.  At the same time that we are stressing physical safety, we are also stressing health issues (hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!).  And for many of the Riders, there has been an emotional roller-coaster going on in their heads and hearts.  Each day we start our morning meetings with a prayer for strength to our POW-MIA Families.  We make sure to acknowledge all of our Blue- and Gold-Star Families.  We thank our current active-duty servicemen/women for their service.  For six long days, we put the FNGs (Fine Nice Guys/Gals) through an emotional ringer.  It is equally as hard for the “seasoned” Riders.  (We may have it just a little easier than the FNGs, because we know to expect the emotional part of the Run.)

But then we get to Cookeville, and the realization sets in that our journey is almost over.  We get a super reception in Cookeville and everyone seems to get a good nights sleep.  (Even if it is shorter than we really would like.)  So when we got up and got to our morning meeting today, EVERYONE seemed to have a new attitude.  Before our meeting started, our Leadership Team was making jokes.  People that were total strangers just a few days ago were laughing and smiling with each other, as old friends do.  During the safety briefing portion of the meeting, the Road Guard Captain (Tail Dragger) and his “Hand Signal Guy” (Mazz) were trying to mess each other up (okay, let’s say “test” each other!) by switching up the various commands.  Each person that got up to make a presentation seemed to be having fun.  It’s as if a switch has been thrown that took all of the worry, care, and stress off of our shoulders for a few hours.

You can tell that we are all relaxed when even the Chaplains are fair game for some good-natured pranks.  Our Senior Chaplain (GoodWrench) left his cap somewhere last night, and when he got it back this morning, it had been “bedazzeled.”  And I don’t know WHAT happened or HOW, but “Chief” somehow lost his pants!  He had to pay $5 to get them back from our “lost and found” box.  (We have EXCELLENT Chapains!)

That’s not to say that we “forgot” about our Mission.  We didn’t!  It’s just that for today, a short distance day, we could relax just a little and enjoy a ride through some amazing countryside.  Had we NOT been on a Mission, we would all have taken those curves and hills a little faster, or stopped for a cold drink, or done any of the hundreds of things that bikers do when they get together.    But we ARE on a Mission, so we keep our hearts and minds focused.

We DID take the chance to let our hair down a bit (metaphorically speaking, as many of us don’t have much hair to let down!) when we got to Knoxville.  Several years ago, someone (Gunny!) made a quick walk through the public fountain to cool off.  Since then, it has become a tradition for Gunny, many of the Road Guards, and anyone else that wants to join in, to take a stroll through the water.  Today, about a dozen people made the walk.  Even your Route Photographer got in on it!  (Hopefully someone got a photo of it.  I put my cameras down before I took the plunge!)

Of course, we kept our mind on the Mission.  Even soaking wet, we still participated in a very moving wreath-laying ceremony at the Knoxville Veterans Memorial.  This memorial is located at the very site that most WWI and WWII soldiers boarded a train and left their home-state of Tennessee.  Those Tennessee Boys that never came back, from ALL of Americas conflicts, have their names engraved on native-granite slabs on the site.  It is an emotional place, with a rich, yet sorrowful history.

As I was wandering around, taking photos of all the fun, I saw a special-needs young lady.  Actually, she timidly reached across a fence railing and lightly touched me on my sleeve.  She wanted to thank me (us) for remembering our Veterans.  But she really wanted me to remember her Grandfather who fought in WWII.  She told me all about him, and some of the stories that he had told her.  She apologized for crying because she “isn’t a little girl.”  I cried with her and said that it was okay.  I asked for her Grandfathers name and she hugged my neck and whispered into my ear “His name was Walter Fuller, and my name is Molly.”  Well Molly, I will remember your Grandfather, but I will remember your warm smile and hug far longer than I will his name.  And so will all of the other people whos heart you touched today.

Folks, THIS IS WHY WE RIDE, TOO!

After our lunch, we headed back out on the road for some fun travels.  We made a traditional stop for some ice-cream, then got out on the twisty roads.  Up, down, round a corner, downshift for a steep winding grade, … and then into the Tunnel!  Have you ever heard 350 big v-twin engine motorcycles in a tunnel?  It was several hours ago, and I can STILL hear them!  The ground literally vibrates and the roar comes thrusting out of the tunnel long before you can see the bikes.  We look forward to this short experience each year.  Many of us wanted to go back and ride through it again!

Eventually, we made it down through the mountains and reached our evenings destination.  Still having fun and enjoying our new friendships, we paused to pay honor to our Country, our Veterans, and our Fallen.  We may have let off some steam today, but we never forgot why we are here.  From past experience, I know that the switch will be thrown again tomorrow, and that the truly emotionally draining days are coming up soon.  But for today, we healed our minds and bodies, renewing our strength for what is about to come.

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

Please visit www.jimmccrain.smugmug.com/Run-For-The-Wall to see more pictures from our journey across this great country.  I will post a few every day, and then hundreds more once I get home and can go through them all.  All of these photos are free to download.  Enjoy!  “Hoofer”

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Midway Route – Day 6 – Forrest City, AR to Cookeville, TN

Midway Route – Day 6 – Forrest City, AR to Cookeville, TN

May 20, 2019.  347 miles

Today was one of those days that begins great, stays great, and then ends amazingly great!  So much happened that I can’t even begin to tell you all of it, so I will just “hit the highlights.”

I was a little worried this morning, though, when I pulled into the staging area and saw one of our WONDERFUL staging Crew holding THREE signs and pointing towards an empty building!  Right before I drove through the front door (ALWAYS go where the staging crew tells you!) she smiled and said “Just Kidding!”  Yes, we are all getting to be so familiar with each other that we can start acting like siblings.  After all, we ARE Brothers and Sisters in RFTW!

Our morning meeting started, as usual, with a prayer for safety and security for all of the Riders.  But we were instructed to turn to the people next to us and put our arms around them.  After all, we are better when we are together, and that is truly the spirit we are showing on this Run.  Nowhere is this spirit of Family and togetherness more apparent than with our own “Bruzer.”  Jim Bruzewski is a Vietnam Veteran.  He served numerous Tours of Duty as an F-105 Pilot and on a subsequent tour was a FAC pilot.  He was shot down not once, not twice, but six times!  On his last shoot-down, he was captured by the North Vietnamese and help in a jungle prison camp for many months.  Tortured, beaten, and starved, he never gave in.  Today, Bruzer is one of the Midway Route Road Guards, serving his fellow Brothers and Sisters!  His strength and character are an inspiration to us all.  With a guy like Bruzer by your side, you know that we ARE all better when we are together!

Since this is “Run For The Wall” I should mention just a little bit about the riding that we did today.  First of all, EVERY platoon is looking fantastic.  One of the hardest platoons to make “look good” is the trike platoons.  Face it, these are big machines that take up a lot of room.  But OUR trike Riders make it all look easy.  Their formations are all tight and straight, with minimal “rubber-banding” action.  It is truly fun to watch these guys and gals ride by!

They were definitely put to the test today, though.  Memphis was Marvelous, as we had LEO escort through the entire city.  Imagine a five-lane freeway shut down so that we could use ONE lane!  But the test (for ALL Riders) came when we got to Nashville, … … at rush hour, … … with no LEO support.  And it was HOT, and the traffic was at a stand-still, and we had multiple lanes to cross, and angry drivers all around.  Well, we had a plan and we stuck to it, with everyone getting through the city safely, and those Trike Riders moving those big heavy beasts around just like toys!  The looked so good!  Congratulations to everyone!

Of course, the reason we were so eager to get through Nashville was because we knew that Cookeville, TN was waiting for us.  Cookeville is one of the absolute favorite stops for the Midway route.  The whole town shows up to watch us parade down Main Street.  (And a couple of other streets, just so more people can see us!)  The Chamber of Commerce really likes RFTW, and their support for the Run really shows.  The food was great, but that wasn’t the best part.  The entertainment was amazing, but that wasn’t the best part.

(How can Aaron Tippin not be the best part?)  Getting a special proclamation from the Governor of Tennessee is quite an honor, but THAT isn’t the best part, either.  At least, to ME, the best part was seeing the faces of the young children that are learning the true value of citizenship, and learning the meaning of duty, honor, and sacrifice.  You can tell by looking into their eyes that these lessons are being written in their hearts.  And THAT is what the Midway Riders love to see!

But we had two extremely emotional presentations that reminded us of WHY we ride.  When a Family receives their official “Gold Star Family”status, WE are reminded of the sacrifices made by our service Families.  When a Son talks about learning the location of his Fathers plane crash from 50 years ago, and tells how their case is being “expedited” but could still take three more years to get closure, we are reminded of the pain that is still being felt by too many Americans.

THIS is why we do what we do.  This is why we Ride.  We Ride for those that Can’t.

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

 

Please visit www.jimmccrain.smugmug.com/Run-For-The-Wall to see more pictures from our journey across this great country.  I will post a few every day, and then hundreds more once I get home and can go through them all.  All of these photos are free to download.  Enjoy!  “Hoofer”

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Midway Route – Day 5 – Shawnee, OK to Forrest City, AR

Day 5, Midway Route.  Sunday, May 19, 2019.

Shawnee, OK to Forest City, AR.

Wow!  What a glorious day!  Perfect weather for riding, starting cool and getting “almost” hot.  (But not TOO hot!)   With it being Sunday, we started our day with a church service, where our Senior Chaplain “Good Wrench” was thanked for having such a great connection with the Man Upstairs.  His prayers yesterday must have been so good that God decided to grace us with even better weather than before.  No pressure Good Wrench, but we are expecting you to continue asking for our protection and care!

Well, let’s talk about the riding today.  I saw some things that were amazing!  First, as the photographer, I sometimes zip ahead of the pack to get onto an overpass.  Early this morning, I saw our group of 350+ Riders round a corner and come straight towards me … in almost perfectly straight lines!  Remember, many of these people have not ridden in a formation before, and some were completely brand-new to RFTW Riding.  They did such an amazing job and looked so good.  It was thrilling for me to see this spectacle, and I have been doing this for 6 years!

And the Riders weren’t the only beautiful sight to behold, either.  Everywhere I looked, on street corners, road-sides, parking lots, and on more of the over-passes, there were civilian supporters out to greet us and wave us along.  You really cannot fathom what that means to these Riders.  I can see them sit a little taller in the saddle, tighten up there already flawless formations, and then (safely) wave to the spectators.  And then when we get to our next stopping point, they laugh and smile and say things like “Did you see that guy with the flag, sitting in a wheelchair?”  or “I wanted to salute but I didn’t know which flag to look at!” or “How are we supposed to ride while crying?”  You see, YOUR support is what these Veterans need.  It helps them heal the wounds that aren’t visible.  Thank You for supporting them!

WE got to show our support for a very special Family today.  The Mother, Sister, Brother, and Wife of James W Herrick JR were at our lunch stop today.  Why was this special?  Herrick went missing In Action 50 years ago in Vietnam.  His Family is still waiting for answers so that they can have closure and peace.  THIS IS WHY WE RIDE!

After our lunch, we headed back down the road.  It was “kind of” warm today, so everyone was REALLY wanting to get to the hydration trailer for some drinks and snacks.  (Provided by the M25 Chaplain Corp!)  But before they could get the drinks, they had to fill their gas tanks.  I have NEVER seen a fuel stop go so smoothly or quickly!  Our fuel Team is amazing!  They can fuel all of our bikes (350+) in about 20 minutes!

All good things must eventually come to an end, and so it was with this great day of riding.  We safely traveled 396 miles through beautiful countryside and ugly construction zones, to get to our evenings destination.  The Ridgewood Baptist Church in Forrest City Arkansas supplied us with a fried chicken dinner that truly hit the spot.  But they did more than just feed our weary bodies: They fed our weary souls.  From the Young Man that sang our National Anthem to our Patriotic Musical Performer, the evening was laced with joy, happiness, and spiritual blessings.  We hugged our Brothers and Sisters, we shook hands with all of our supporters, and we promised to look out for each other and to help each other any way that is needed, as we get up tomorrow morning and do it all again.

Many years ago, my Father wrote a short story whose title perfectly sums up our Mission: “I wonder what today will bring?”

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

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Midway Route – Day 4 – Amarillo, TX to Shawnee, OK

Howdy Folks!

“TwoTone” had to return home unexpectedly today, so I will be filling in for the Daily Sit-Reps for a while.

My name is Jim “Hoofer” McCrain.  I am the Midway Route Photographer for 2019, and this is my sixth year to participate with Run For The Wall.  I started on the Southern Route as an FNG, then served as a Tail Gunner and a Road Guard.  Three Years ago, I moved over to the Midway Route as a Road Guard (two years) and now as the Photographer.

Let me state right now that I am not a Veteran.  It is important for you to know that fact, because it allows me to see things a little differently than the majority of our riders.  Where the veterans see and experience emotional healing, I see Heroes helping each other.  I experience a small portion of the Brotherhood that these Men and Women share, but in a way that is hard to explain.  Sometimes I feel a little “out-of-place” standing amongst these great people, but they welcome me as one of their own, and I am proud that they call me “Brother”!

So it is with great honor and pride that they would trust me to give you a daily “Situation Report” on our activities.  I hope to serve them well.

First, let me give you a “run down” on what our days are like.  We get up early, have a morning safety meeting, and then ride down the road.  There will be a lunch stop, maybe a visit to a memorial site, school, VA Hospital, or some other  event.  More riding takes place in the afternoon with many of the same activities, followed by a supper and then off to the hotel rooms.  We repeat that same process ever day, so I don’t plan to “bore you” with the “little details.”  That is what we DO on the Run.

What we EXPERIENCE is vastly different each and every day.  And that is because each individual sees and perceives things in their own fashion and manner.  Each of the Riders will go to the same places, but they will each have their own story to tell.  And THAT is what I hope to impart to you.  This is “Run For the Wall, Midway Route: 2019” as I see and experience it.

Today’s story starts with the weather!   Our Senior Chaplain (“Good Wrench”) started our morning meeting with a prayer.  He mentioned that we were all grateful to be able to ride this day, even with the threatening severe storms, and that if God needed to throw a storm our way, we would just rely on his grace to see us through it.  He DID say that we would “prefer” good weather, but we would still praise God for whatever he sent us.  Well, Good Wrench must have a direct connection to the Man Upstairs, because we didn’t get a single drop of rain all day!  What a magnificent gift we were given on this day, to ride with storms all around us, but the safety and security we need to get these Heroes on their journey!

So we rode on, making our way to the little town of Shamrock, Texas.  Keep in mind that although this is a “small” town, it is also a fairly busy place.  Our reception was amazing, as the City SHUT DOWN the entire Main Street intersection so that we would have a place to park our bikes.  The entire street!  They opened up the Route 66 museum so we could have a place to rest and relax.  They treated us all like “Kings”, even showing us the diner booth that Elvis Presely, the “King of Rock and Roll” used when he came to town.  Thank You, Shamrock!

But that was just the beginning.  From there on out, almost every over-pass was filled with people waving flags and holding up banners.  Fire trucks spanned several of the bridges, along with construction vehicles, county maintenance trucks, and personal cars, all waiting just to see us pass by.  Texas and Oklahoma certainly rolled out a warm Welcome for us.  The amount of patriotism shown just today was enough to give us all hope for the future of our country.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we were greeted in Weatherford, Oklahoma by a group of Scouts, all rendering a salute for the Riders as we entered our afternoon stop.  Then, they presented the Colors (Flags) with just as much dignity and honor as an adult would have done.  For those of you who know me, you know that I am not overly fond of “kids.”  But THESE Young Men and Women give me Hope!  These will be our future Leaders, and we will all be okay because they have been raised to respect their Country, their Flag, and their fellow Americans.  Thank You, to all of the Scouts for your dedication to OUR country!

And speaking of Heroes and our Country, We had a very unexpected and unplanned honor today.  When we stopped at the “General Thomas P Stafford Air and Space Museum,” we found out that they were preparing for a 50th anniversary meeting for the Apollo space program.  Several dignitaries had come in a day early to “get ready”, and WE got to meet some of them!  It went something like this:  A distinguished looking, older Gentlemen heard all of our bikes pull up, so he sauntered over to take a look.  He asked one of the Riders what we were doing, and the Rider proceeded to tell him all about RFTW.  Then the distinguished Gentleman noticed that he was talking to a Chaplain and that there were several of them around.  He asked if HE could take a picture with THEM.  HE wanted to stand with some Heroes.  Did I mention that the distinguished Gentleman was an astronaut that had walked on the Moon?  And he calls US Heroes!

And then as we were about to leave, I was asked if I would like to meet another distinguished Gentleman.  I asked if I could have our Route Coordinator (Wombat) and the Assistant Route Coordinator (Six String) be in a photo instead.  The request was granted.  So here is a photo of Glenn Waggoner and Ken Dugas standing with General Thomas Stafford himself, in front of his own statue!  What an honor for them, and for RFTW as a group.  (As a side note, I DID get to shake the Generals hand and “coin” him as well.  He smiled and said “Thank You!”)

Okay, I know this has been a long “Sit Rep” but it is only a small fraction of what I experienced today.   I wonder what stories the other 350+ Riders have?

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

Please visit www.jimmccrain.smugmug.com/Run-For-The-Wall to see more pictures from our journey across this great country.  I will post a few every day, and then hundreds more once I get home and can go through them all.  All of these photos are free to download.  Enjoy!  “Hoofer”