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Southern Route 2020 “VIRTUAL” Sitrep Day 11

Southern Route, VIRTUAL Sitrep, Day 11, Saturday, May 23

Today we went to the host hotel downtown to meet up w our RFTW road guards. Their mission today is to take 400 of us to Arlington National Cemetery. Most of us are FNGs as we get the first dibs to go into the cemetery itself which is out of the ordinary. You have to feel special as RFTW is the only motorcycle group allowed to go in. 

All 400 bikes were staged in the underground parking garage. It was pretty full. They had us packed four wide between the pillars. It was so close I couldn’t pick up my bike until the bagger next to me got picked up. 

There was a briefing by the local police department. We’d be going the wrong-way on the ramp, hang a couple of sharp turns and do a U-turn. Oh yay. Then we’d be going down the interstate. We had police support all the way and they were alongside of us as well. Was nice. It’s been awesome having interstates closed, ramps closed, red lights that don’t matter, stop signs that don’t matter. We’ll have to be careful after this, though. Can’t be blowing through any of that stuff.

Row-by-row we started our engines and rolled out. It was pretty awesome as we went down the road two-by-two.  We got to Arlington and they got us parked.  

I checked a landmark statue to be sure I could find the bike again. Yep. Another reason for not buying a black bike.  It’s hard enough even with Barracuda Barbie being a sparkly silver.  

We got down to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, just in time for the Changing of the Guard ceremony and two wreath-laying ceremonies. One of the wreaths was from our RFTW group. 

I’ve been to this cemetery one other time. It was much quieter and more peaceful then. With 400 motorcycles and maybe 550 people, tourists and the holiday folks, it was anything but quiet.  It doesn’t matter how many people, the surroundings are still peaceful and beautiful; the wreath-laying ceremonies and the changing of the guard are moving and fascinating.  

The Tomb of the Unknowns is a monument dedicated to American service personnel who have died without their remains being identified.  The impeccably-uniformed guards wear Army dress blue uniforms and always bear their M-14 weapons away from the tomb as a gesture against intrusion on their post.  There is a cadence of steps, and exact steps and times … 21 steps, 21 seconds.  The number 21 was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed – the 21-gun-salute.

During the summer months from April through Sept. 30, the changing happens every half hour.  It’s interesting what all they go through, what their duties are and what they must continue to do even after their tour here. 

From there we were to leave with road guard support. It turned into quite a mess. My group, I believe, lost its road guard, and ended up not at the Lincoln Memorial where we were supposed to be. It was a few minutes in another direction. So I followed folks again. Then ended up behind some guys who were going to a hotel. Ugh. Went through the roundabout again and followed some other folks. Got there and parked after riding onto the sidewalk and parking on the grass. (Just remember, grass is not my friend).  I took a photo of the street sign and looked around. I was on the backside of the memorial. I hurried as I was afraid I was going to miss the big group photo. I was okay. And sat on the steps and chatted with other folks. I couldn’t see my friend Joe even though I stood up a few times and looked around. 

Now I was nervous as I didn’t know where Joe was. My phone was dying, meaning no way to get in touch with Joe. And no GPS to get me to the hotel. Backup plan. Ask someone to get me to the host hotel and find someone who could charge my phone. Made my last couple of charge percents count. Called Joe’s wife, Verlie. Told her I couldn’t find Joe. She got him and he got me. Met up and did not let him out of my sight again. 

Joe and I wandered about a bit and saw other new friends Peter and Elisa. We found Tapout and got our FNG pins turned from upright to upside down. I was going to have G-Rex do it but never saw him after yesterday. ☹️. Super nice guys. Wonder what their real names are. 

Finally left the area and got back to our hotel and got fed. 

It was an exhilarating but emotional day … all the memorials, all the people I’d traveled with, saying goodbyes.  RFTW can change your life … maybe mostly for those who have served, but also people like me who have not served are affected.  Your awareness goes up several notches and you begin to understand a bit of what those who have served suffered through, and still suffer from.  I believe the years I’ve been riding have led me to this run … RFTW.  Is it May yet?

Tomorrow … Rolling Thunder, hopefully. 

Peppermint Patti

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Southern Route 2020 “VIRTUAL Sitrep Day 10

Southern Route 2020 “VIRTUAL Sitrep Day 10

Day 10, May 22, 2020 — Lynchburg, VA, to Arlington, VA, 256 miles

A short day, today. Yay. We’re supposed to get in about 2 pm and get information about going into Arlington National Cemetery tomorrow. RFTW is the only group that is allowed to ride motorcycles into the cemetery.

At our meeting this am they called everyone up that dropped a bike.  Just to clarify, I didn’t drop it just by myself. A guy ran into the back of me so it ended up on the ground. It turns out that about half the room went up to get a Purple Heart decal due to dropped bikes. I was in great company.  😊

For the FNGs that started in Ontario, they got the zip ties that will go on their bikes tomorrow before heading to the cemetery. The color is kept secret so people can’t go get some when they’re not supposed to.

PB&J is a favorite. Our last lunch as a group today was just that. It tasted great. And I’m still liking the long lines for the men’s room.

We had a harrowing journey getting into Arlington. Traffic. Traffic. Traffic. And the host hotel was downtown. I think. It wasn’t good. It only got worse after we left the host hotel to get to ours. Fourteen miles of a lot of stop-and-go traffic. People here don’t seem to be very courteous. And they don’t have cars here with turn signals.

It’s been quite the 10-day run. We’ve had a good time but it’s a grueling, exhausting, tense and mentally-draining run. But I believe we’ve helped raise the awareness of the mission through what we’ve done thereby accomplishing what we set out to do.

The folks I’ve met on RFTW all have a common bond, much like other groups I’m involved with, but this one is different. It can’t be explained, but these people are family helping each other to heal from the past. I’m proud to have come and proud to have been a part of it.

It’s been great for so many reasons and I’m ready to do it all over again. Is it May yet?

“Only our individual faith in freedom can keep us free.”  President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Peppermint Patti

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Southern Route 2020 “VIRTUAL” Sitrep Day 9

RFTW Southern Route 2020 “VIRTUAL” Sitrep Day 9

Day 9, May 21, 2020 — Wytheville, VA, to Lynchburg, VA, 130 miles

We had our morning briefings, prayers, pledges and memorials. They’re something I cannot describe. We had MIA stories including a recovery success story. So many of these stories bring tears to a lot of the folks here. I can only hope that these tears are also providing some healing as they are surrounded by their own kind … veterans, many of whom were not held in high regard.  They’re also surrounded by family and others who care.

And that’s why we’re riding. To bring awareness for those who are MIA/POW. And for getting back the more than 1,500 that are still unaccounted for. They need to come home. This run has certainly raised my awareness and made me want to do more.

After the morning business we got all set up at Withers Park and prepared for the
Spiller Elementary Program school children that were being bussed in. Many of our people had trinkets for the youngsters. Someone gave me a sheet of Marine logos. I passed them out to first and second graders as they came walking down the hill to meet the bikers.

We had songs and poems from some of the older children. It was so touching. They’re learning about their country. They’re learning about patriotism. It was just an incredible morning and emotionally uplifting.

When we were waiting for the youngsters to come into the park, I’d been asked if I’d like to be part of the Missing Man Formation. Absolutely. So after we were finished with the kids and ceremonies, we went to the bikes and I joined the Missing Man group.

I was asked who I was riding for. I told them I was riding for my Vietnam vet because I believe all who come home are missing something, a piece of themselves, of their hearts and souls — that was left behind in the war. I was also riding for all those who are MIA.

The Missing Man formation is at the very front of all the platoons. I rode in formation for 90 miles.  What an exhilarating experience to feel that you are a part of something that has value and yet cannot be truly expressed. I reflected on those lost. On those pieces of hearts that were lost. Of those who are missing and may never come home. It’s a sobering thought to think that we cannot return someone to their loved ones so they have closure.

From the gas stop I rode with the Support Platoon that also rides up front. Yahoo. It was awesome.

Our second stop was at Montvale Elementary in Virginia where we were greeted by children holding up flags and posters. Then we all went inside to have lunch, followed by a program in the gym. These children were amazing. The children and their teachers had a presentation that didn’t leave a dry eye. It was a grand display of patriotism from pre-school to fifth grade. There was a showing of flags for the various branches of the service, poems and wonderful songs by all of the kids.

One of the kids got up and spoke and said this was the most exciting day of the year. The kids love watching, waiting and seeing the bike lights coming down the street and into the parking lots. They love to hear the rumble and thunder from the bikes. And he said thank you for our veterans because our free nation is because of your bravery. From the mouth of a child.

How could you not absolutely love these two stops today to see these kids that are learning patriotism. Are learning that we are a great nation. Are learning that veterans matter.

From there we went a few miles to the D-Day Memorial in Bedford. There are depictions of soldiers trying to get to shore and being shot at. I think each day I keep writing that this is the best thing I’ve seen. Then the next day there is something just as good. This memorial is truly spectacular yet it tugs so hard at your heart. The shots fired into the water, the men trying to reach the shore and climb over the wall. Wow!!

On this trip there have been so many memories shared. And from what I’ve seen there’s been a lot of healing by some who felt that they were unworthy. That they were in a war that didn’t matter. They didn’t go because they wanted to. They went because they were sent. They should be honored for being veterans. And we should be grateful for what they do.

This RFTW has shown me something more.  There is hope for America.

The evening ended with dinner at Harley-Davidson of Lynchburg.  Once again, RFTW has been shown nothing but friendliness and generosity by everyone along the route – the people, the businesses, the organizations.

All I can say is if you don’t love your country with your heart and soul, this ride’s not for you.  It jumpstarts your patriotism again.  It fills a hole you may have.  It’s healing.  I could see that all around me.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”  Desmond Tutu

Peppermint Patti

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Southern Route 2020 “VIRTUAL” Sitrep Day 8

RFTW 2020 Sitreps, virtual

Day 8, May 20, 2020 — Chattanooga, TN, to Wytheville, VA, 279 miles

Every morning we have mandatory meetings. While not all are about signals, we are reminded about them now and again. There are rules, also many of which some need constant reminding. Stay off the zipper. Keep your spacing uniform and close the gap.  Pass the signals back.  Put your pegs up for fuel stops.   There are also a few signs when we stop for gas … D means our gas was donated. $5 means you only pay $5. P means you pay for your gas. If it’s an amount over an even dollar, it’s rounded up and the extra goes into a fund to pay for some of the run gas expenses. Works for me.

A few stops ago I bumped into the back of a guy when a fueler pulled me up too close to someone and I couldn’t see that he had what I thought might be a covered trailer hitch. He turned back toward me, looking annoyed. I understood as someone had bumped me at a station several days ago. I noticed he was a platoon leader, so I looked for him and found him a few stops later.  I went to him and apologized. He told me that in that container was his $250 hat. I apologized profusely and finally got him to say it was okay. No damage. I saw him later wearing that hat. It was very nice, and he was pleased when I asked to take his photo.

This morning we went to a wreath-laying ceremony at the Silverdale Confederate Cemetery. Jerry, the gentleman who has made it into something beautiful has been working on it for 56 years. He said he’s worn out a lot of lawn mowers.  I laid a RFTW rock on the Southern Cross Memorial. It’s a beautiful and quiet place … when there aren’t about 600 RFTW bikers there. There were a lot of flag displays that were quite interesting.

Every day your place in the platoon changes so you have different riding companions around you after each stop.  You quickly learn who you want to ride with, and you hope you get near them at the next stop. It’s a great way to have you mingle.  I’ve met some awesome folks. E-Lisa and Peter. Carlo. And I’ve met others whose names I don’t know. There are great people here for a calling to do this mission. I believe the number for the Southern Route is now more than 600.

Every day we have a prayer during our all-hands mandatory meeting and then again at our platoon meeting. The Chaplain with our platoon is Chaps. He’s a nice guy, kind and has been supportive of me riding with the platoon. Actually, pretty much all of our leadership has been, and I appreciate them. They’ve done a great job. Our Platoon Leader, COB, and Asst. Platoon Leader, Hollywood, have been great also. They’re experienced and I’m pleased to be in their platoon.

The memory of the day. The year was 1968. F2s flying. Weather clear. Dipper flight reported 5 miles visibility. Dung Hoi. They couldn’t identify new targets in the POL area, so they investigated another site. They located nothing and returned to the POL area. The plane went down from ground fire and the two-man crew was MIA. This is why we ride.

In Virginia they closed down Interstate 81. There have been so many times on and off ramps have been closed, lanes closed as we’ve crossed the country.  It’s incredible the organization that goes into this and what can be accomplished with some help.

A few of us didn’t get too stop for lunch at Black Wolf HD but needed to go directly to Black Bear HD.   With time on my hands I traded the Police bike for a Barracuda Silver Road King. Think that will be her name. Barracuda.

Tonight is steak night at the Moose Lodge.  Yahoo.

I’ve done a lot of runs … fun, charity.  All are good and have a purpose.  But this run is more than that – it’s fulfilling.  My heart is full.

“The battle is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, and the brave.”  Patrick Henry

Peppermint Patti

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Southern Route 2020 “VIRTUAL” Sitrep Day 7

RFTW 2020 Sitreps, virtual

Day 7, May 19, 2020 — Meridian, MS, to Chattanooga, TN, 317 miles

The mornings are coming even earlier, 4:10 am (a little earlier than I needed to) today because I went on an outreach.  It would be heart wrenching.

I left about 5:25 a.m. headed for the hotel where I’d meet up for the Outreach ride. Yep. Wrong way again and I was using my phone GPS. Got to ride a little bit of rural Meridian. Pretty but not really where I wanted to be at 5:30 in the morning.

However, I arrived safely and early.  I pulled up. Then I was told to move up a little bit. I heard this “clunk” when my helmet hit the ground.  The light went on … one of the rules is helmets on all the time … even if you’re in a parking lot moving your bike 2 inches or in a state that has no helmet law, you must have on your helmet. I did my faux pas right in front of the Route Coordinator.

We had our briefing. We were going to Dalton, GA, to visit Jo Anne, the sister of Bobby Jones who is MIA. We would have lunch at her and her husband’s home and then go to a nursing home to visit her 102-1/2 year old mother.

We would be all day on this ride so I was excited to get away from the larger pack and get a break. Some folks aren’t the best riders. That’s another story.  We were 15 bikes strong with four women riding their own, a great percentage.

We were given green pins and bracelets as green is the color of hope. And then we were off.

The morning was cool, foggy and muggy. But we rode well together. And it only got better as we went throughout the day.

At our first gas stop for some reason neither of my credit cards would work. A guy named Polar Bear bailed me out. I had cash. All was well.

About 20 miles from Dalton five bikes went into a missing man formation. Three bikes ride in the left track. Two bikes ride in the right track but with a space in between the Number One and Three bikes, for the missing man. They ride side-by-side. It’s a beautiful sight and has a lot of meaning.

We arrived at Jo Anne and Rudy’s house. She opens it up every year for this visit and provided a wonderful lunch. Their home is beautiful with lots of wallpaper and antiques.

Jo Anne told us about Bobby. He grew up in Macon and did a medical internship in Dallas.  He joined the Air Force in 1972 and was stationed in Thailand when a mom brought her baby in. He took that child in his arms and wouldn’t let go. It was very sick and Bobby was able to get it on a plane to get needed medical help and pretty much saved that child’s life with his decision.

In November 1972 he was on a plane flying supplies into DaNang. About 2 miles out they were lost on the radar. The thought is that the plane clipped the top of a mountain there.

Jo Anne’s been to Washington asking for accountability and representing the families for the 1,589 that are still missing.  She’s also made multiple trips to Southeast Asia. She kept saying she was just a housewife from Georgia. But she’s a strong and persistent woman. And a personable one with that southern charm and a beautiful smile.

She told us there have been excavations of the mountain over the years but they really didn’t find much.  The soil is so acidic that there isn’t much time left to find anything where DNA would be recognizable. So the message needs to get to those who can make it happen. Get it done.

On one excavation they found a blood chit. It’s a piece of silk fabric, about 2×3, from a flight suit. It’s sewn in with the person’s number in multiple languages saying what country he’s from. This one was quite faded but eventually proved to be Bobby’s. Jo Anne thinks the chit was placed in an area where someone would find it as it was in a pretty obvious place.  She’s happy to have it as she said it may be the only thing she ever has. As she said there are mass graves for many we’ll never get back. But with some, we will get them home.

We went from there to the nursing home to meet Christine. She’s told Jo Anne she’s ready to bust out of that place. She’s quite the lady, unique and charming, and all dressed up and ready to meet all of us and let us have photo ops. What a lovely lady. She also likes men’s beards.

We went inside and did a group photo and met some of the other residents. I gave Christine a RFTW 2019 painted rock.

From there it was about a half hour to White Lightning HD for dinner then to the hotel. Four states today … MS, AL, GA, TN. There’s never enough time. Long days and evenings. But so worth it. And so many things and people to be thankful for.  Everyone has been so amazing that you are filled with the wonder of love and patriotism.  Your heart bursts to be a part of something so big, so honorable, so worthwhile.

On a side note, I have found it interesting to be on a run that is mostly men. I’m the only female in our platoon but I’m doing well other than when I couldn’t get the bike off the kickstand yesterday. Everyone has been helpful and friendly and I believe I’ve made friends with folks here who will be friends whether or not I come again. An added benefit of fewer women is that the lines to the ladies rooms are always very short, if there’s one at all. It’s great being a female in a man’s world on this run.

Another side note — three people dropped their bikes on our ride today. Best part is that none of them was me. 😊  Yet.  (But if you don’t ride you probably don’t drop them.  And we ride!!!)

“For those who have fought for it – freedom has a special flavor the protected will never know.”  Soldier Unknown

Peppermint Patti

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Southern Route 2020 “VIRTUAL” Sitrep Day6

Day 6, May 18, 2020 — Monroe, LA, to Meridian, MS, 227 miles

It was muggy and overcast this morning but warm.  I went to the meeting site myself as Joe (my friend and his who I was traveling with)was going on an outreach mission. I got the right exit. As usual, I took the wrong side road and ended up back on the Interstate. Four miles down the road I was able to exit and get back going the other way to the right exit. Again. 😊 I took the right frontage road this time and arrived w time to spare. 90 mph (whoops) and most cars were getting out of my way. Was it because their police bikes here look the same as the one I ride?

We got on the road after our briefings and memorial story and traveled to a war memorial for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Vietnam site at the Monroe City Hall. I got a front seat for this one. There was another bagpiper and he was dressed pretty fancy.

Near the Louisiana / Mississippi border we had helicopter support. Once we crossed over we had three helicopters for support, flying back and forth over the line of bikes for more than a hundred miles. Nearly every overpass had people on them or near them with flags. The perfect photo was an overpass lined with people and fire trucks with a helicopter flying by on each side. Wow.

There were two overpasses that were absolutely mind-boggling. One had people lined across the top.  In the grass that goes down from the overpass to the highway, there were flags put into the ground and in the middle flew a POW / MIA flag. It was so nice.

But the best one was an overpass with a man on what may have been a Palomino horse. He was wearing a cowboy hat and flying a big flag. The horse wasn’t that into the bikes but his rider held him under control. WOW!!!  It was so nice. How could you not experience some emotion seeing what we saw on the ride today.

When we arrived at Harley-Davidson of Jackson shop we were greeted by men and women in period costumes. Very cool.  We had a nice lunch and there were service men honored for their service … all branches, POWs.  Their names were announced, a bell gonged and their branch of the service music played. It was awesome.

At this HD shop there’s something called The Trail of Tears. Verlie and I rode a golf cart and took a quick tour. It’s set up by centuries and depicts wars. Wish we could have stayed several hours and walked through. There were guns you could shoot, cannons. It was a really neat place set up on 11 acres.  The Vietnam Traveling Wall was also there.

We arrived in Meridian and once again were treated so very well. Barbecue and Mac and cheese. Tasted great. I met some new folks again since I couldn’t find Joe and Verlie and I was hungry.

So much goes into this run. And so many people help. I don’t know that any of us realize the work and the donations. Our gas was paid for today. We’ve had three meals a day plus snacks and drinks. There were six pallets of Nestle water donated that arrived from Florida. And some folks come from Florida to do your laundry. Tonight they gathered your dirty clothes and you’ll get it back in the morning.

We had some pretty interesting situations today. First the fuel stop parking lot that had big holes and then the parking at the Jackson HD shop. We were parked on angles. I couldn’t get my kickstand down due to the slant. One of the guys said they’d get me out and later when it was time to leave someone just backed it up for me so it was level. Another lady had her husband do the same for her. Then she backed up a little toward the curb and fell over. That’s three I’ve seen so far. Knock on wood, none have been me. Yet!!

But we made it. Another day and a safe arrival to our dinner at the Lauderdale County Agriculture Center in Meridian.  The south has such wonderful hospitality and people that warm your heart.

“When one American is not worth the effort to be found, we as Americans have lost.”  Unknown

Peppermint Patti

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Southern Route 2020 “Virtual” Sitrep Day 5

Day 5, May 17, 2020 — Grand Prairie, TX, to Monroe, LA, 327 miles

We got an extra half-hour of sleep so we didn’t have to get up til 5:30 this morning. When you’re exhausted it gets more difficult. I don’t like mornings anyway. I can’t even imagine how our leaders handle it. I know there are some getting only a few hours sleep a night. Yet it’s somehow made better by little things …  like a child and her family coloring on the concrete. A dog fix.

The gentleman whose trike was on the trailer with my bike sent me a photo of a fire truck on an overpass. There’ve been so many fire trucks with their booms up and flags.  Today there have been so many overpasses with people, fire trucks … some have been packed all the way across the four lanes, spreading onto the road on either side. People are standing along the roads waving flags. Cars have stopped and people get out and stand at attention and salute. Police stand and salute as they block interstates and ramps. I cannot help it and guess I should just let the tears come.  This mission is so much more than a ride. So very much more.

Our leader talked about when he received an epiphany for why he does this ride. I heard him. And it happened to me.

The story this morning was about a KIA/MIA. The young lady spoke of her father. They finally found and received artifacts of his but not his remains.  She’s traveled to near where they believe he was but couldn’t get to him due to weather and road conditions. It broke her heart. It broke mine to hear her. Even after so much time has passed it still hurts these folks. They have no remains, no closure.

People wear bracelets for those who haven’t come home yet. But occasionally you hear a story about someone who has … those are successes.  Those MIA/POWs are a reason to ride and why RFTW was founded.  We can make a difference doing what we’re doing.  We ride for those who can’t. More than three miles of bikes now … together we ride. And we’re going all the way … telling the story, raising awareness and working to get everyone home.

We ride for them. Bring them home. We send billions to other countries. Many of them hate us. Yet we can’t afford to bring them home. I know where my parent’s cremains are. Many know where their folks and other family and friends are buried. We need to bring those MIA/POWs home so their families can have the same closure we do.

Today there were no ceremonies. No wreath-laying. But there’s plenty to see and think about.

We had lunch in Longview, Texas. Everyone has treated us well. Food at every stop. Goodies. I met a gentleman named Ramie and his wife Marolyn. They’ve been married 49 years. He’s a Vietnam Vet, Army. We spoke for quite a while and he came to sit with me for lunch. He told me a few stories (not so pretty but he felt safe to share with me) and he and his wife touched my heart. I gave him a RFTW 2019 painted rock. We’ve met some wonderful people.

They had pieces of paper with names on them for us so we could ride for others who cannot ride. I picked up one for a Marine from Texas.  I do these things because of my Marine. One of the reasons I’m doing this ride is for him. I think he knows that. I hope he knows that.

We just rode today and ended up in Monroe, Louisiana.  We arrived an hour earlier than we’ve been arriving so maybe there’ll be a longer night’s sleep for us. Our ceremony at the Shriner’s Hall dinner was A Missing Man Table.  It was so nicely done.

We had nine FNGs join us today.  I now understand how the old timers felt about us when we first ride with the groups. 😊. Lots of brake lights. Spacing issues. Kind of funny.

It was a good day. We’re halfway there now. Things are a bit more comfortable. Our Platoon Leader lets us know at the end of the day what we’ve done well and where we can improve. He said we did well today. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

“The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.”  President Abraham Lincoln

Peppermint Patti

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Southern Route 2020 “Virtual” Sitrep Day 4

Day 4, May 16, 2020 — Odessa, TX, to Grand Prairie, TX, 348 miles

Dark thirty and we’re surrounded by lightning. But I can see the moon and it’s beautiful. It’s nearly worth getting up early for. And the RFTW certainly is worthwhile.

We met at an American Legion in Odessa and a patch and pin awaited us. Everyone treats us so well and are so welcoming. It’s heartfelt and makes us feel good and worthy of the journey.  We get pep talks, a safety moment and briefings every morning, along with a prayer for a safe day, the Pledge and the National Anthem. We visit memorials, we have ceremonies. We also have after-ride briefings. It’s no wonder the days are 12-14 hours or more.

This morning we also heard from a man whose father was killed in Vietnam. They know how. They know where his remains are but won’t give them up or tell. That’s one of the reasons we’re riding, to bring attention to it. To get answers.

I’ve mentioned the hydration station that travels with us.  The snacks, water, Gatorade, fruit and so much more that waits for us at each stop is pure gold. The cold neck snakes are certainly welcome. There’s a place to put your old one and then you can pick up a fresh one. They continue to be very welcome when it’s triple-digit heat, or close to it.

Our “Nurse Ratchit” (as I call her lovingly) practically force feeds us fluids. So far about 19 have gone down with heatstroke because they didn’t pay attention. Some will not be going “all the way.”

More bagpipes.  A great way to start the day is to have a piper escort your group to their bikes. It just can’t get any better, can it?

Our first stop this morning was to do a wreath-laying ceremony at the Permian Basin Memorial. I paid close attention because I was signed up to be an honor guard for a wreath-laying ceremony in Big Spring, Texas, a place Hobbs, my Vietnam vet, and I visited together.

There was a Native American there in full regalia who would bless you with a large feather and burning sage. It can never hurt. And as I wandered and listened to the ceremony I watched as the smoke from the sage wafted up and away.

One of our support crew’s father has his name on the wall at Permian Basin.  I asked if she would like a RFTW 2019 rock I’d painted and she did. She laid it at the memorial. It was a teary time with the young lady known as Hoops.

From there we headed to Big Springs and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This was where I’d volunteered to participate in an honor guard.

We donned white gloves and black baseball hats. Then we were given vests. Mine was the POW/MIA vest. We were given our commands. I marched in step. I marched in half-step. I did all that was asked and didn’t embarrass myself. It was an honor to be a part of an honor guard. Our group placed two wreaths. Every one of these ceremonies is different and the same. Each is emotional for those who served and those who didn’t. We’re riding for a cause. A mission. A story that needs to be told and never forgotten. A ride for those who can’t.

And then we had to be gone. But needed to watch out for prairie dog holes.

We went to Colorado City and the Railhead Building for lunch. The town was out to greet us … waving flags and saluting. Shouting. Even a little old lady was brought out to wave from her home. She could barely walk but she was there.

It was a fabulous lunch. There was a band with some great old-time music and they even played all the military songs.

My bike would start but not go once shifted. Crap!!!!  I flagged down our folks and we got it loaded into a chase truck. I joined Gary and Gwen in the vehicle and off we went. I called Longhorn HD to let them know we were heading there. Along the way we picked up a trike. The rider had gotten something in his eye and couldn’t ride. So we had more company in the vehicle.

We arrived at the shop and my friend, JGayle from Mesquite, met me. Turned out to be a sensor problem. Longhorn got it fixed and off we went to the dinner place at the Dubiski Career High School where there were more fire trucks and flags. There’s so much love for the RFTW in these towns.  We were a little late so went to find my friend, Verlie, and go grab a bite. It was great as we all had a nice visit.

I cannot say enough about this ride. What it means to participate. What it means to be able to do it. I will say if you think you know everything about riding, this ride isn’t for you. If you aren’t willing to take orders, this ride isn’t for you. If you aren’t ready to change your riding style to conform to the mission style, this ride isn’t for you. All I can say is I’m doing my best to do exactly as our leadership requests to make the ride safe for those around me. And I think I will be better for it … as a rider and a person. I think my patriotism has notched up a bit.


Peppermint Patti

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Southern Route 2020 “Virtual” Sitrep Day 3

Day 3, Las Cruces, NM, to Odessa, TX, 348 miles

I’ve never ridden in such an intense riding situation. There is no lollygagging. There is no looking around. This is a mission and you look front and forward all the time. It’s a close-riding formation with rules for which you may get gigged. It can go from 70 mph to 30 mph in less than a heartbeat and you must gear down, working hard to not hit your brakes. I admit I’ve done it a bit. But a proud moment for me when our Platoon Leader told me I was a good rider.  In a mostly men’s ride, that’s a high compliment indeed.

The only updates I’ve had is we have about 1,700 riders so far, more than last year. Our Southern Route has about 400 bikes and about 45 more are expected to join us in Texas. Yahoo. It’s huge. Logistics must be a nightmare and yet everything appears to run mostly smoothly. When I worked I did one-day events. I’ve worked on three-day Harley Owners Group events. This is TEN days.  I cannot even imagine the work that goes into this. There is a fuel crew, a staging crew, a photographer, our platoon leaders, road guards, chaplains, and so many more. And our leaders are on call 24/7 while we’re on the run. Kudos to all of those who have organized and volunteered to make this happen.

We started at the American Legion this morning and left for a wreath-laying ceremony at Veteran’s Memorial Park. The ceremony took place in front of the Vietnam War Memorial. What a beautiful park. It has a statue of the Bataan Death March. What a sad story. And there are footsteps are in the walkway depicting their footsteps. I did not understand fully what this was last year on my FNG run.  But I’ve been reading books about WWII and came across some of the history of the death march.  How sad.  How awful that men can treat other men so badly.

Our keynote speaker at the Las Cruces Memorial Park this morning was Larry Nichols. Army. He said something that will stay with me as I live with a Vietnam vet, Marine.  He said, “Once a Vietnam veteran, always a Vietnam veteran.”  How true I find that … and now I’m starting to understand more of who the person is that I live with.

We stopped in Van Horne, Texas. We were provided lunch and got to listen to more bagpipes. This run has a love of bagpipes. So do I. Amazing Grace on bagpipes and I was bawling like a baby.

We arrived in Odessa about 6:30. After dinner at the Crossroads Fellowship Church we went to see the Chris Kyle Memorial. He was the Navy Seal, of the American Sniper movie fame.  The statue has notes carved in it from his wife and children. I left a painted rock and discovered many bullets that have been left on the memorial as well.

These towns sure know how to treat people and show us that the American people are way more good than bad, that patriotism is not dead, and that the RFTW means so much to so many.

We finally got to the hotel about 9. These are long days starting with wake up at 5 am or so.

I’ve ridden to Milwaukee multiple times, I’ve done other rallies and rides, Patriot Guard Escorts and parades. This is way more than that, and compares to nothing else I’ve ever done in my years of riding. For those of us who ride HD, there’s the saying that, “If I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.”  That is the RFTW.

“We will remember those we loved, who died to keep us free, on foreign shores they fought for us, from sea to shining sea.”

Peppermint Patti

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Southern Route 2020 “Virtual” Sitrep Day 2

Day 2, Casa Grande, AZ, to Las Cruces, NM, 350 miles

0-dark thirty.  There will be a lot of these days when one is up before sunrise, staging your motorcycle, attending the mandatory meeting at 6:25 a.m.  I’m glad to not be an FNG (Friendly New Guy or Gal?), because they have their mandatory meeting at 6:15 a.m.  We also have our mandatory platoon meeting about 15 minutes before KSU, today at 7:08 a.m.  You wonder how it all can seem to happen so smoothly and precisely.  7:08?  But it does.

We only ran about 49 miles down the road to a Circle K in Marana, AZ, but the early hour allows for some coolness of the air, making for a pleasant ride.  Once again, remember to put up those highway pegs.  The fuelers don’t like getting hit in the shins with them as they’re moving you through the fuel line.

Our first gas stop today was donated.  And they handed out little packets with tissues, sunscreen and chapstick.  That was really a nice touch especially since some have gotten badly burned.  I found out that a certain amount of funds had been paid for the gas, and that a local couple paid for the balance of it.  I had painted RFTW rocks, and gave one to the couple in appreciation.

Marana was a great stop.  A young lady sang a song from The Lion King, Hallelujah.  It was overwhelmingly emotional … those that came home, those that did not.  And the bagpipers … it was awesome.

We continued to our next stop, Willcox, AZ.  We were treated to another lunch provided by the awesome people at the Elks Lodge.  There was a flag line and 150 kids to meet and greet us.  Some had painted posters and it was so uplifting to see these children learning about the RFTW, what it stands for, why we do it.  These children thanked everyone for their service.  I felt like a fraud except that I’m riding for others.  I tried to shake as many of their hands as possible, maybe I got to more than a hundred and I thanked them for being there and for welcoming us into their community.

There have been so many flag lines at gas stops, and people and flags on overpasses.  I get teary each time I see this wonderful display of patriotism and honoring what the RFTW is doing.  My mascara is ruined and I expect it will be every day.

The ride so far has been great as there have been some overcast skies.  There’s been wind also, but if you cut your teeth riding Turnagain Arm in Alaska, this is nothing.  Not even the heavy-duty wind and the dodging of tumbleweeds can stop us.

We ended up at Barnett’s Las Cruces Harley-Davidson for dinner.  The shop was also open for parts and service if necessary.  We are being treated so well by so many, and there’s not enough thanks in this world for what people are doing for the RFTW riders and their support teams.

There was even a fire truck in attendance and it was flying one of the biggest and most awesome U.S. flags I’ve ever seen.  There’ve been a lot of fire trucks and so many American flags.  It makes me happy to see those flags flying proudly.  How could one not be “Proud to be an American!”

While each day there’s always coffee and donuts or breakfast, I’m not a breakfast person.  Coffee is always the first order of the day for me.  Luckily for me, and probably many others, there is always a Hydration Station at each stop.  They have snacks and drinks, and neck snakes.  Neck snakes are those bits of cloth sewn into tubes that have some type of material inside that holds moisture.  They can be life-saving when soaked in water and put around your neck.  The breeze from traveling helps to cool you off some, and in Arizona/New Mexico/Texas sun and heat they’re a vital necessity.  Thank you to those who have staffed the Hydration Station and continually push us to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

You might be wondering who is writing these sitreps?  My name is “Peppermint” Patti Bogan from Anchorage, Alaska. I was born and raised in Alaska and have lived nearly my entire life there.  I’m 73, and started riding motorcycles in 1991 (although I rode a few small ones in the 60s).  I love to ride motorcycles, and own four, including one trike so that I can also ride in the winter.  I also enjoy painting rocks.  I brought some specially painted ones for the run and leave them or give them to people along the run.  It’s a small token, and one that I hope will provide a remembrance.

Peppermint Patti