This morning, we awoke to gray skies. Gray was more than the color, it was our mood. Sure, we were still happy to be together and to be supporting our Mission, but we knew that our time together was drawing to a close. You could tell that this emotion was held by all, because the hugs were a little longer, the conversations were a little more meaningful, the prayers just a bit more deeply stated. I could see people hold out a hand just to touch the shoulder of someone that they were passing. I saw smiles thrown around like Christmas candy: “Here’s one for you, one for you, and one for you, too!” The deep affection that we have fostered for each other over the past ten days is greater than I have seen in the past eight years of RFTW.
And I think this is because we had to “adapt and overcome” so many adversities. The two-year hiatus due to the Covid pandemic hit us hard. From losing some of our regular stops, hotels, meal spots, and fueling stations, we also lost a lot of our Leadership Team as well as our “regular” Riders. But we made up for it. Whenever a problem or an “opportunity” would arise, we would face it head on and take care of it.
We had FNG Riders in Leadership roles this year. Normally, we don’t do that. We want our FNGs to have a unique experience on the Run. Well, some of them certainly DID! We had parking issues, so the Road Guards and Staging Crews worked together to immediately find places to put all of the bikes, cars, trailers, and in one case two semi-tractor trailers! We had weather delays. Or more accurately, a weather “dispatch.” While visiting the Marine Corps Museum, an announcement was made that cut our visit short. A severe Storm Warning was imminent, and the storm was about 20 minutes from hitting us. So we left the Museum and raced the final 35 miles to our final destination.
I know that these things sound trivial, but in reality they aren’t. We are dealing with several hundred motorcycles, dozens of other vehicles, logistics for feeding and housing close to 300 people, keeping time-lines and deadline commitments, and so much more. But every time something happened, we would “adapt and overcome.” It brought us all closer, and it did it in a way that I haven’t seen before. This years “Run For The Wall” was different. In some cases it wasn’t quite what we wanted it to be, but in most cases, it was so much more.
And this morning all of that was heavy on our minds.
The National Anthem was sung with a little more feeling than before, and with a few more tears in our eyes. The Pledge of Allegiance was both shouted and whispered, depending on how much voice our Riders could manage. The “Folded Flag” ceremony was explained again and performed in front of the entire Route instead of at the Missing Man Formation. And as our Senior Chaplain “Chief” lead us in our morning prayer, every head was bowed, the Riders stood hand in hand, and we gave thanks for each other.
Needless to say, our mood brightened, even though it hadn’t really been dark. (Just somber.) We mounted our bikes and road in perfect formation through some pretty hazardous traffic. But this is exactly what we had been preparing for. I was so proud to see the tight formations weave through the traffic. We showed just how skillful our Riders had become by moving effortlessly and gracefully. My one regret was not having a video camera to capture the sheer beauty of motion that this group of Riders performed.
On other years, I have tried to get one last photo of our Pack rolling down the highway; A photo “just for us” so that we could remember how great our journey has been together. But the weather wasn’t cooperating and one photo can’t have all the bikes in it anyway. There are just too many of us for that. So I made a very last minute request of “Six-String” and he graciously said “Yes!” At the Marine Corps Museum, I jumped up on a barricade and asked all of my Midway Route Family to stop, turn around, and face me. And just like one of our traffic maneuvers, they all turned to me in unison.
So as MY gift to YOU, for allowing me the privilege of taking so many photos of you over the past 10 days, I present to you the first MIDWAY ROUTE All-Family Photo!
A few hours after we arrived in Arlington, Virginia, the Southern and Central Routes began rolling in. Our complete RFT Family was coming together again. Of course, being the good and responsible people that they are, several of the Midway Route Road Guards helped to escort the other Routes in. (You do what you have to do with the tools at hand!) Soon, there were more hugs and laughs as we began telling each other about all of our adventures. Screams of delight could be heard as old Friends found each other. Toasts were made and glasses raised to commemorate our travels and Friendships. We love to have a good time together. It was a very good reunion!
There is one day left for us on our 2022 Mission. Tomorrow morning, at 09:00, we will gather at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for our annual RFTW group photo, and then begin the long slow walk to the National Mall. There, we will visit the names of over 58,000 Heroes that gave everything for their country. We will place a wreath at the apex of this Wall in their honor. Then, our Mission be over. It won’t be fully accomplished, though, until we can account for every name on that Wall and bring them home. It won’t be completed until every Veteran is offered the sincere Thanks that they are owed by our County. It won’t be finished until every Combat Veteran is given the peace that they need to overcome the horrors of war that plague their minds.
Then, and only then, will our Mission be truly completed.
But all of that is for tomorrows SITREP.