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SR Day 11. Saturday, May 27th

The day is finally here—completing the mission.   Feelings and anticipation are wide and varied among the riders.   We first gathered together at the Lincoln Memorial for the annual RFTW picture— of ALL of us.   In the past years, this was a chaotic time, as we had to not only get seated (& sit there for quite awhile) but also had to work around the visitors—who were wondering….”what the heck is going on?”     But this morning, it went smoothly, even though we were talking among each other & listening to bagpipe music (played by a CR’er who plays beautifully).   Once the main picture (& hosts of others taking advantage of the opportunity) was made, we slowly headed towards the Wall.   As we walked, many hugs were given, tears were shed, and “See ya’ next year??”  was asked over & over again.   We’re now at the Wall to witness the RC’s presenting the RFTW plaque at the apex, in honor to the men and women that we rode for.   More tears, more hugs, & fewer words this time.     Some of the riders are continuing on with the Sandbox Route, which heads out Sunday morning.   You could see them already talking & planning about it even yesterday, as Registration had already been set up & ready for them.    

As our journey ends for this year, I want to give a sincere Thank You to those riders who contributed pictures & stories of their own on their individual FB pages.  And Leif Meisinger did outstanding on the RFTW Southern FB page with his pictures & everything he saw.   We all have stories to tell—and they have been humbling, happy, tearful—you name it.    Sit-rep postings are only the tip of the iceberg, and I’m honored to have had the chance to help all to catch a glimpse of it.    See y’all next year?  

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SR Day 10. Friday, May 26th

Breakfast at Tree of Life Church. Wow…these people (& there were a bunch!) really came out and cooked a fabulous breakfast!  Tree of Life has graciously hosted us for quite a few years and helps “top the cake” of our mornings.   For our meeting, “Eyes” gave recognition to the leadership teams and individuals.  It was quite emotional, and it also gave us riders a chance to thank them, too.   Plaques were then presented to Tree of Life and the Virginia State Police.   We love the VA STATE POLICE!!!!  They have taken care of us for 20 years and are truly part of the SR family!  The friendships that we have with those guys is something that is deeply treasured.  And now to get ready for the road and our first fuel stop.

The Sheetz fuel stop—absolute chaos!! 😳😳.  The station is great, but the parking and re-staging is REALLY challenging. We snake all around the fuel islands, the building & the car wash—and pack very, very tightly!  But guess what?  After remembering last year’s torrential rain during the stop, everyone said that this was a piece of cake!  And what a surprise we had!  Who showed up here? SLAMMER— our dear, dear friend who is a former Route Coordinator (for 2 years—2004 & 2005), Road guard & Road guard captain!  Wow – was it great to see him. He went through the parking lot, hugging lots of the old timers.  

The next fuel stop was at Front Royal, and we had our traditional PB&J sandwiches!   Yeah!   Then, we’re off to D.C.!  

Because of the Virginia State Police and the local LEO’s, the ride into our hotel from the interstate was smooth as glass!     It couldn’t have been better.    We were welcomed by the Midway riders—both outside and in the host hotel’s lobby/bar.   It was so good to see them.    After about an hour, we & Midway headed outside to welcome Central Route in.   Talk about mayhem in the hotel—but it was a GOOD mayhem.  Riders were—relieved, elated, boisterous—words can’t describe it.    Everyone was glad to be in D.C.—safe and sound.     The rest of the afternoon was filled with gathering of friends to talk of their experiences on their route.  Watching the interaction among them makes you wish it would last much longer than a day or so.   And I think EVERYONE will have a good night’s sleep—knowing that they made it here—ready to face the Wall tomorrow.   

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SR Day 9. Thursday, May 25th

Breakfast in the park!  Man, is it extremely cool and damp out here this morning!  I had to go put my rain jacket on just to get warm!   The community folks had the big tent up with lots of breakfast goodies. Everyone’s kind of strolling around in the grass chit-chatting & waiting for the kids to come down from Spiller Elementary School.    The riders have strands of Mardi Gras beads, pencils, and pins to give out to the kids as they come down the hill. This is always an exciting morning for us.  The kids made it down and sang some songs for us.  This time, when we did our wreath laying , we did it while the children were there, so that they could witness it. This is the first time we have done this.  So, off we go to Montvale & its elementary school—with the Wytheville folks & Spiller kids waving us on.  

Lunch at Montvale is always really neat , because the men are invited to eat with the kids in the classrooms!  Yep—our big behinds on those little chairs….!   During the program, the kids not only recited the Pledge of Allegiance but also sang the Star Spangled Banner with such pride and meaning that I saw many a veteran wipe away tears.  The military branch flags were brought in while its song was played.  The men love this part since it lets them hoop and holler!  The school’s mascot is Montvale Patriots —- and that is so true!  What pride and patriotism is shown by these kids & the teachers, as well—it truly brings us hope that there is still hope for this country.   You cannot imagine how often I hear that from the men….  The final presentation was from the BCPS (Bedford County Public Schools) JROTC, who did an exhibition drill demonstration.   Wow—these young men and women did an outstanding job!   

Now on to the D Day Memorial entrance where  a huge flag on a fire truck awaited us.  The D Day Memorial always makes you reflect on World War II and the horrible battles that were fought and sacrifices made.   After a brief presentation, we had a wreath laying under the Overlord arches.  Then platoon pictures were taken.   After a few more moments to walk around the Memorial, we were off to Lynchburg and to the Harley Davidson dealership for dinner.   These guys always do us right—good food, sitting outside & enjoying the great weather & evening.   Then—off to the hotels for a good night’s sleep for a VERY early start in the morning.   Day 10 is here!

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SR Day 8. Wednesday, May 24th

Another beautiful crisp morning.  Lynne Fouraker-Craft (“First Nav”) gave the talk on why she rides, which tied in with the Silverdale Confederate Cemetery, which is directly behind the Harley dealership.  Lynne & Edwin (“Wookie”) were instrumental around 2009 in raising funds to repair the rundown cemetery, and each year, we continue to take a collection here at the meeting to give to the organization. There are 155 soldiers buried here. Most of them are considered MIA because their identities are unknown.  Only 39 have been identified throughout the recent years.  The cemetery is peaceful and serene—yet there is a somberness in the air when you stand there & think of those confederate soldiers.    

Our first fuel stop is one that we always look forward to— it’s a stop where we have donuts and homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made by the “Divas” girls!   Unfortunately, there were no donuts, but the TA travel center furnished sausage biscuits and chicken sandwiches.  Best of all, the Divas were there with their sandwiches.  It was a bright sunny morning—and all was well!

The next gas stop was quick & uneventful —so on to lunch at Bristol HD Dealership.  On the way, the Virginia state police picked us up and escorted us into Bristol.  They’ve done it for many years—AND WE LOVE IT.   A great lunch was served, and I saw a few people sneak down to a river flowing behind the dealership—-with their lunch!  Ahhh…a well kept secret!  It was lush, quiet and so relaxing.  

When coming into Wytheville, VA, to the city park, we actually ride up into the park on its walking path, and all of us park on the sidewalk that circles it.  This is one of the riders’ favorite places.  Many of the townsfolk are out to greet us. We had a brief welcoming ceremony, and then we were off to check into the rooms and then head to the Moose Lodge for our dinner.  Steak and chicken and fancy cakes awaited us!  Afterwards, an auction for prizes went fast and crazy.  “Juice,” one of our road guards, did  a great job on the auctioneering.  And we had fabulous raffle prizes and silent auction items.  

A quick but important note—many riders and supporters do not realize how crucial our Fuel and Staging teams are to the efficiency of the run—regardless of route.  They are truly unsung heroes of RFTW.   There is NO WAY we could fuel up & move hundreds of bikes like we do without their leadership.   People don’t believe us when we tell them that we can fuel up to 300 bikes in under 20 minutes—until they actually see it done.   My hat is off to you fuelers & stagers.   I did those duties way back in the infancy stages of the “Advance Team”. (Early 2000’s), and it has progressed to a well-oiled machine.   Thank you, guys & gals who get us through each day.

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SR Day 7. Tuesday, May 23rd

Breakfast at the Ag Center, clean clothes waiting for us, & cool, misty weather—-it couldn’t get any better!  In the briefing, we heard “Puff Daddy,” one of our chaplains that has been with us for quite a few years, speak on why he rides.  His story really hit home to me, as he is also one of us civilians who work the run.  

For the ride out, some of us suited up for possible rain later this morning, as we were checking the weather & radar apps on the phones.  Sure enough—-halfway through our 92 mile trek, we hit light rain.  The good thing is – that it stopped before we got to the fuel stop, so at least we weren’t sitting in it while fueling up.  And guess what?  Two local women who work or worked at the Mercedes Benz facility came out again and paid for our fuel! These two generous ladies have done this for a number of years. “Backseat” stood with them and explained a lot about how RFTW functions and of the different logistics involved.   These ladies are truly one of the hidden treasures of the run.

Off to T Town HD dealership for lunch, also in Tuscaloosa, but on the way, we did a “drive-through” at Tuscaloosa VAMC, so that at least some of the veterans could come outside and see us and wave.  We used to stop here for lunch, and would get to visit with the veterans, but alas, another change because of Covid.  Back to lunch—the rain had subsided, which made the outdoor meal quite pleasant.  And man, the Mexican food we had really hit the spot!  And NATURALLY, the HD showroom was packed with shoppers and lookers!  

On to Chattanooga – where the roads were drying out, and the sun had come back out, but yuck—-the traffic on I-24 and in Chattanooga!  We finally made it into White Lightning HD dealership for another great meal.   Since there were no activities scheduled for the evening, all had the chance to just sit, chat & head to the hotels.   Another night of catching up on some sleep!

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SR Day 6. Monday, May 22nd

Our day started at the Sam’s parking lot, with breakfast from both McDonald’s and the Sam’s club.  The weather was perfect, and everyone seemed energized—ready to rock and roll!  Our morning briefing turned out to be special, though.  We heard inspiring words from the McDonald’s representative, who is also active duty Louisiana National Guard.  Then, Gonzo presented Sgt. Major with a new road name patch——“Retread”… with the story behind it.. 😏. But when Santa Ed got up and spoke about why he rides, and told us of his struggles throughout the years as a Vietnam veteran, man…there were a lot of misty eyes….

Before we headed out of town, we stopped at City Hall for a wreath laying at their war memorial.  This is a peaceful, lovely tribute park to the veterans. 

Off to Jackson, MS, and man, do we get escorted when we hit the Mississippi line!   State MC police, as well as other MC LEO’s are everywhere!  And they will be with us for the long haul.   We make it to the Harley dealership of Earl Rottmann.  Earl has been a passionate supporter of RFTW since back in 2003.  Guests included many dignitaries, 1 of the 3 surviving Tuskegee airmen and other WW2 heroes.  Our own Joe “Gump” Hudson was the keynote speaker!  As a POW rescued in April, 2003, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, he told his story of his captivity and rescue.  It was indeed powerful to hear.  And for us old-timers that remember Jack Lucas, the Medal of Honor recipient that was here every year until his death, we learned that his RFTW vest will be given to the ship named after him (USS Jack H, Lucas, an Arleigh Burke class destroyer), during its commissioning in the Fall.  The vest is enclosed in a glass case & will be on that ship from now on.  Another lump in my throat, as I got to know him in those earlier years.    The Trail of Honor was also open, again, for those to go through it.  This is an awesome tribute to the soldiers of every war we’ve been in, and it’s so fascinating in the historical aspect.  

At 3 o’clock, we’re off to Meridian, MS, and the Ag Center.  Woohoo! Today is laundry day, where we get all our dirty clothes laundered for free, compliments of The Wash House. The Wash House of Meridian, (owners are George and Sue Warner) have been doing our laundry for close to 20 years!  It is truly a blessing that we treasure.  The Ag Center is always buzzing with excitement when we come, as the local bike clubs, and even the Boy Scouts come out to help serve and welcome us.   We had some really great brisket & barbecued chicken— & homemade peach cobbler.   Another evening down—luckily we have a nice, long evening to relax.  

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SR Day 5. Sunday, May 21st

WARNING. today’s sit-rep is longer than usual— with lots to tell.  

We’re here in the Walmart parking lot for the next morning—gobbling up wonderful breakfast burritos and cups of coffee.  This is Sunday, and we always have a very brief church service. This morning, our lead chaplain, Gary Burd, spoke. Wow—the words that he spoke came straight from his heart – talking about his ministry and his perseverance in doing what God is telling him to do, which is riding many, many miles, being in ministering to people, especially with how the world has turned so far from God. He is doing it for his children and grandchildren—- just as each veteran has sacrificed for the future of this country.  It touched every one of our hearts and encouraged us to keep going on, despite our being tired and disheartened. You could’ve heard a pin drop in the audience as they listened.  Gary has been with RFTW for a lot of years, and continues to be instrumental in establishing the hydration trailer and chaplain team.  As a true blessing to us and this run, hearing him pour out his heart…well, enough said.  

Well, our Brookshires fuel stop in Terrell turned out very interesting. Because of a major wreck that included a fatality, the main pack (along with 3 lanes of traffic) was completely stopped on I-20 and sat there for over an hour. We finally arrived at Brookeshire’s an hour and 15 minutes late.  Wow—a fuel & break stop cut short (to make up some time) and we were back on the road to try to get back closer to the schedule.

Lunch in Longview, TX, was a welcomed sight!  During introductions & thank you’s given, we were introduced to a VERY special guest—Clifford Moseley, a WW2 POW during 1944 to 1945.  He currently resides at the Watkins Logan Texas State Veterans Home in Tyler, TX.   If this didn’t bring home what we ride for, I don’t know what would.   

Lunch time and our afternoon fuel stop was cut short, as well, so we could hit the road & get to Monroe.    What made the time go by quickly were the many overpasses that had SO MANY “friendlies,” fire trucks & huge flags out for us!   They endured the time delay & stuck it out!   We arrived in Monroe to some delicious catfish, hush puppies, brisket & pork loin, baked beans & desserts.   It was a great meal after a taxing day.   And the Louisiana hospitality was top notch, as always!   Ok—to a good night’s sleep and on to Meridian, MS!

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SR Day 4. Saturday, May 20th

Boy!  Did the day start off cold! Cloudy and almost with the threat of rain, but it didn’t come. At least not for now.  American Legion served us a hearty breakfast.  We had the high school’s JROTC out here, not only serving us, but waving us off as we head to the Permian Basin  Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  At the Memorial, we heard a beautiful song called “My Buddy” sung by Dianne Tylka Vaught.  It really hit home with the veterans who lost their comrades.  “Wild Bill” then spoke briefly about the history of the Memorial, which was followed by our first wreath laying.  

Back on the bikes, we headed towards Big Spring Vietnam Veterans Memorial for a brief stop and wreath laying.   Man, the cold wind just cuts right through your clothes and leathers.  Wouldn’t you know it—a one-day cold front comes blasting through while we’re here…!   What I’d give for a cup of hot coffee right now!  Fortunately, our stop in Colorado City is only about 43 miles away.

Our lunch is at the Railhead Bldg.  downtown.  Heading into the building, we heard some awesome rock music—stuff that instantly brought back memories!  It was from the Colorado City rock band “Static Pulse.”   Great rock music!!  Then,  when Taps was played by Sam Hale (also of Colorado City) at the end of the program, it literally sent chills in me.  So hauntingly beautiful…

After a long 120 miles, we stopped at a new fuel station in Cisco—Road Ranger Truck Stop.  Once again, the area’s CMA chapters were out there with a plethora of cookies and snacks!  What a special treat!    As a fellow CMA’er, it always makes me proud, yet humbled that they never hesitate to serve us.  We find numerous CMA chapters that do this across the country.   Now on to Grand Prairie. 

In Grand Prairie, we landed (unscathed from the Dallas traffic, I might add!) at Dubiski Career High School, for a fabulous supper and welcome from the local dignitaries.     Man, it seems like it’s been a long day.    For this rider, I (& a few other old-timers) really miss the free massages we used to get from the local masseuses who were so generous with their services.   Another malady due to COVID…..   Once the presentations were done—we’re off to the hotels.  Tomorrow—on to Louisiana!

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SR Day 3. Friday, May 19th

Las Cruces—you can always count on a pleasantly cool morning as we all meet up at the American Legion #10 for breakfast.   We’ve come here for many years and enjoy it every time.  It’s great to see many familiar faces that have been hard at it cooking up breakfast.  Once our stomachs were full and we were briefed on the upcoming day’s events, we headed to the Las Cruces Veterans Memorial Park.   This is an outstanding park, dedicated in honor and memory to every single veteran—from all wars.   You can spend well over an hour here—looking and reading everything.  The park’s director gave a brief talk on the progress of the additions & also described the different areas.  It is truly humbling to see it all.  P.S.some great pictures of the memorial park were posted on Facebook by Kelley Perry. Thank you, Gonzo!

Then it’s off to——TEXAS!  Woohoo!  Of course, right off the bat we have to get through El Paso—which is never fun, especially with the perpetual construction on I-10.   But we made it through unscathed to our fuel stop in Fabens.  Next stop—Van Horn for their wonderful lunch & cookies!  Pastor Bobby does a phenomenal job for us, and we’re very appreciative.    

Now to wet down with cool sleeves & neck wraps to get ready for the heat, again, heading towards Pecos for one last fuel stop.   Pecos HAS to be the hottest spot in West Texas.  This rider can vouch for that!   But oh…guess what West Texas decided to treat us with?    Before I tell you, early this morning at the breakfast, Captain “promised” us that the one thing we would NOT see is snow.    As fate would have it, he was wrong!   Well, it wasn’t entirely snow——it was hail !!    Yes, the storm clouds dumped rain AND hail right in front of us—so much so that it literally looked like snow in the interstate shoulders and fields.   Unbelievable!  Yes, we got rained on, but by the time we arrived at Crossroads, the storm had passed.  

Speaking of Crossroads, Our final stop for the day was supper at Crossroads Fellowship Church. Usually, we have a wonderful catfish dinner and ice cream waiting for us. But this year was a little different – we had some refreshing Jersey Mike’s sandwiches (hoagies to East Coast folks, subs to the rest of us), and some ice cream with M&M’s, and a small bag of chips. Several of the church members were there to greet us and make us feel welcome. The parking lot is always lined with local riders and friends.  And the church is definitely a great place to come in and cool down from the heat. Tonight we also had the option of going out to the Chris Kyle Memorial, which was led by “Wild Bill,“ a local Vietnam veteran and PGR patriot.  “Wild Bill” did the run back in 2008, and has always been passionate about our mission.

Before I close, I must give a HUGE “Thank You” to the Texas DPS .   Once, again, they are escorting us ALL THE WAY ACROSS TEXAS.   Despite the overwhelming work that these men and women have been facing regarding the border issue, they are dedicating a number of them to help us across the state.   Words aren’t enough for a “thank you.”

Now, off to our hotels for restful night. 

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SR Day 2. Thursday, May 18th

The morning starts with refreshed riders, homemade breakfast burritos and lots of coffee. The temperature was very pleasant, and the riders all seemed ready to get going again. After a brief meeting, we headed to Marana, AZ, which is always a good spot—full of the townspeople, and LEO’s who really roll out the red carpet.  We had another brief meeting, but this time we heard some very moving testimonies, which made our mission even more fervent.

Then we were off to Willcox, AZ, to see the school kids and have a great lunch.  What a change in temperature—from 102 yesterday to the low 80’s!  Wow.   And what a welcoming group of kids and town folks out front.   Lunch was their great brisket and beans…!   As “Eyes” presented plaques and certificates, the one that really touched her was when she gave one to the Wilcox PD.  Many good relationships have been cultivated over the years with these communities, but working with the LEO’s is especially rewarding.  They really become part of the RFTW family—-you can ask ANY of the road guards—and they’ll wholeheartedly agree.

As we left—in 82 degrees—-we see a rain storm over the mountains to our south.  For this West Texas gal who continues to live in drought land, rain clouds are a beautiful sight.  If they would just go to Odessa—-but I digress….  :-).  We made it to Las Cruces in the cool, slightly sprinkling weather.  The Elks Lodge of Las Cruces rolled out THEIR red carpet for us with an EXCELLENT meal and warm welcome.  This was the first time that the Elks Lodge of Las Cruces has hosted us.   What made this possible was Alfred Skorupski—-who made not only the Las Cruces supper stop happen, but also the awesome 3 days of being catered to at the Lodge in Ontario, CA!   Alfred is the Past State President of the Elks in AZ.   Is he the man or what??

What a great day it was!   On to Odessa, TX, tomorrow!