Author Patti Bogan
Day 1, Ontario, CA to Casa Grande, AZ, 402 miles
Excitement. The smell of leather, oil and nervousness. This is the gathering of the motorcycles and support vehicles that will begin the trek from Ontario to Washington, DC. The mission is:
- to promote healing among all veterans and their families and friends;
- to call for an accounting of all prisoners of war and those missing in action (POW/MIA);
- to honor the memory of those killed in action (KIA) from all wars; and
- to support our military personnel all over the world.
It’s a weighty mission, and the several-hundred strong running three routes to DC take it seriously. That’s not to say there’s not some joking and teasing going on. Humor must be a part of everything we do. Sometimes survival counts on it.
The first thing every day is our mandatory meeting. While the one in Ontario is the longest and most intense, we will continue to be reminded of some of these items every day … no joining the run on the fly, no alcohol or drugs during the riding day, where to put your bike ID for the run on your bike, no riding and constantly hitting your brakes, gas stops. Gas stops are important … no change is given, road pegs up and you only pump til the pump shuts off. Even some of the hand signals are different than what some are used to. This isn’t a military run, but it’s operated that way. We’ll ride in platoons, some staggered riding style, some side-by-side riding style.
It’s no wonder there’s a little apprehension about whether or not you’ll manage to not bring a bit of embarrassment to yourself.
It’s an emotional morning … the bikes are being staged. Memorials can be memories of downed helicopters, some who were left behind … memories that bring tears not only to me but to those around me … men, women, children. Some of the best memories of this day include a mounted honor guard … palomino horses, the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of our National Anthem. If one had any doubt of the seriousness, the patriotic tone, the honor of being a part of this, it flies out of your mind.
The gas stops were a trip, remembering to get your highway pegs up, being pointed in one direction or another to a pump, and then flagged out to go line up with your platoon. We’d heard many of the gas stops are paid for. Wow! I was told each gas stop is about $2,500. That’s not chump change.
The Colorado River Fairgrounds offered up our lunch after we fueled our iron horses. Food is provided and we’re treated like royalty, when in reality, those who are being so kind and hosting us, are the ones who deserve all the credit. We rode in as though in a parade, about 350 strong for the Southern Route. We paraded through town … so many folks were out with flags and signs, wanting high fives (beware as they could throw you off your riding), salutes. This was huge, and only our first day. I’m so proud and honored to be a part of this.
At lunch there was a missing person table ceremony where we all toasted the missing and those who will never come home. That’s one of the reasons we ride – for those who can’t.
At each stop we have had a blessing and something special such as someone speaking about what happened on this day during Vietnam. How can one not be drawn to this ride, to these people who are needing us to ride for them, to advocate for them. This is patriotism at its best. And I’ve heard it gets even better once we cross the Mississippi.
As we rode our ride, platoon after platoon, we saw overpasses filled with fire trucks and their personnel dressed in firefighter gear, flags, people, kids. It’s like a holiday, except better. Everyone is waving and hollering. It’s only Day 1 and I cannot express the feelings you get when you see and hear the people thanking veterans, those who have served and those of us who are merely riding for those who can’t.
Dinner at the Casa Grande Elk’s Lodge was a wonderful finish to a great, hard and hot day of riding. The people who provide for us go above and beyond to be sure we’re well fed. Thank you so much to all of the wonderful people who have helped sustain and even entertain us this day.