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Day 11. Ashland, VA to Arlington, VA. 100 miles.

The riding is over,  but our Mission is not!

With only 100 miles to ride today, you would think that it would be an uneventful day.  But you would be wrong!

We started our morning with … you guessed it, a morning meeting.  It was full of the usual announcements on safety, hydration, follow the Road Guards, etc.. Nothing new, but everything different, just like every day of the Run.  There was an addition to the meeting, though.  Everyone knows how caring our Chaplains are, and how they protect us both physically and emotionally.  Today was no exception.  Our Route Coordinator has been experiencing some family medical issues that have been waying heavily on his mind.  Our Chaplains presented him with two “Prayer Quilts” that they had prayed over the previous evening, and then asked all of the Riders to do so as well.  So this morning, with our Chaplains laying their hands on our Route Coordinator, the entire group of Midway Route Riders bowed our heads and prayed for Jerry “Corp” Wilkins.  Not just for the physical needs of his family, but for the emotional support that we so dearly want to give him.  Jerry has been an incredible Leader for the Midway Route, and when the riders learned of what has been on his mind, they were even more impressed by his dedication and service.  I know that I said this just yesterday, Jerry, but you did good!  Thank You!

And then Vickie “Needy” Meyer read the final biography for the 2003 Run.  This was slightly different from the others we have heard, as it was about two young Marines that “leaned in” during an attack on a military base several years ago.  What made this biography so meaningful was not just the incredible story of what these two Men did, but their unknown connection to the Midway Route.  One of the Men that they saved with their own sacrifice is the Son of our Former Route Coordinator and his Wife, Ken and Denise Dugas.

Our World is very small.

It was soon time to ride, and our first stop was at the new National Museum of the U.S. Army.  This is an amazing museum and I cannot wait to go back and spend more time here.  It chronicles the U.S. Army history from its inception during the Revolutionary War all the way up to today.  It is a very impressive building with even nicer displays inside.  Go visit it!

Inside the Museum, we were able to do a few special things.  First was a ceremonial flag folding for the flag that we have been carrying across the nation for the past 10 days.  (Remember that “dignified transfer” ceremony that I have written about?  It was THAT flag.)  This flag will be transferred one more time tomorrow morning, and then its journey with the Midway Route will be finished.

The other “fun” activity was to take a group photo of the entire Midway Route Family.  I was able to start this tradition last year at the Marine Corp Museum, so it is only fitting that we took one today as well.  It is the one and only time that I am able to get all of us together for one “Family Photo” as normally several of the service platoons are on the road early in the mornings and are always ahead of us.  But this photo is pretty special if you look closely.  You will not see a large group of yellow hats standing together, or red hats, or green hats.  You will see all of the various leadership team members mixed in with all of the “regular” Riders.  We ARE a Family on the Midway Route, and I think this photo represents that fact very well.  So Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the 2023 Midway Route Riders of Run For The Wall!

And I am glad that we took this photo when we did, because just 20 short miles later, we arrived at our final hotel for this year.  From the parking lot, people began to disperse.  Some are staying here, some across the street, some still further away.  Soon, in fact within a few hours, we were joined by the Southern Route, who was quickly followed by the Central Route.  We are always happy to see all of our RFTW “Cousins” from the other Routes, but their arrival signals the end of the tight-knit bond that we had as our own “little” Family.  This is an emotion that I have never quite been able to convey adequately.  I have said that it is like a Family reunion where all of the Aunts and Uncles come to visit.  They start telling stories about their adventures and we all listen eagerly and enjoy them.  After all, we have stories just like them to tell.  But their stories are not OUR stories, and we aren’t sure how to, or if we WANT to share ALL of our stories with them.  Some things are just “private family matters” that only we would understand.  And the same goes for the other Routes as well.  But we love each other, we are glad that we all made the journey safely across America, and we rejoice in seeing each other again.

Personally, I look forward each year to seeing my buddy and fellow Route Photographer Jerry “F-Stop” Lanier ride in.  (Jerry is with the Southern Route.)  We actually greet each other out in the middle of the street!  And then the new Central Route Photographer, Alan “X-Box” Steiner rolled in, and the Three Route Photographers were reunited.  We are a small group that have one of the BEST “jobs” for the entire Run.  We get to meet EVERY person in our Route, we get to know them, and we get to share special moments with them.  It is such an honor to be amongst these great people, and I know that Jerry and Alan feel the same way.

With all of the three Routes gathered together, it was time for more hugs, more laughs, a few tears, maybe a few beers, and then off to our beds.

You see, we may be here in Arlington, Virginia.  But tomorrow morning we will cross over the Potomac River and head into our Nations Capitol.  Tomorrow morning, we will complete our Mission for 2023.

I will tell you all about it … tomorrow.

Jim “Hoofer’ McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author.

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