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Day 7.  Tuesday May 24, 2022.  Cookeville, TN to Asheville, NC.  “Family Time

Family.

It’s not just who you are related too by birth.  It is who you choose.  It is who you associate with.  It is who you would die for.  It is who you would kill for.  It is who you have shed your blood with.  It is RFTW.

Today, my Midway RFTW Family really started to draw closer together.  I attribute this to several factors, chief amongst them is that our Mission is starting to be forefront in our minds, even when we are having fun.  From the very start of our day, with “Snax” and “Curly” singing and signing our National Anthem and with “Pin-Up” leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance, I noticed a palpable change from just yesterday.

I saw people hugging each other just a little tighter and a little longer.  I saw people holding hands in a prayer circle.  I overheard whispered conversations about lost Brothers in Arms, and saw the speaker get enveloped in a crowd to protect him and offer him support.  I saw a Chaplain walk up to a Rider that was near tears, and saw that same Rider about 10 minutes later with a wonderful smile on his face.  I saw a recently widowed 2019 Midway Route Rider bring her young Son out to our lunch spot, just to get him used to being around motorcycles, and also to remember the good times she and her Husband had on their own Mission.  She and her Son are Midway Route Family!

But let me start from the beginning of our day.  As I mentioned, we started, as usual, with the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem.  Have you noticed that I mention this every day?  Are you getting tired of it?  I can PROMISE you that our RIDERS aren’t tired of it!  In fact, today the singing was a little louder, and the pledge was almost boisterous.  The deep-seated emotions connected with these words are immense, and the commitment of our Riders to honor those words gets stronger and stronger every day.

As we rode down the highway, sometimes under LEO escort again, I noticed something.  The pack looked a little tighter.  The Riders were sitting a little taller in the saddle.  As we passed under bridges that were covered in Supporters, the Riders started honking their horns AND waving, just a little bit more.  When we got to out stop in Knoxville, at the Veterans Memorial Park, MANY more Riders participated in the tradition of walking through the fountain.  Peter Green (an AUSTRALIAN PATRIOT!) always leads the way.  He says it symbolizes (to Him) the Brothers that march off to war together, and also those that come out on the other side.  I don’t take this walk with them, as I am not a Veteran.  But I have been asked to join them.  Now THAT is Brotherhood!

At this park there is a series of granite walls that has the name of every Tennessee Boy that went off to War inscribed on them.  The significance of this location is that it is where the old railroad terminal used to stand.  For 80 percent of the names on these markers, this is the last place that they stood on Tennessee soil.  It is a solemn location, and as our Riders walked through it, a hush fell over them all.  It wasn’t planned: it just happened.  They were visiting with their un-known Brothers.  And when they exited the memorial, the conversations started again.

As with all Families, we came together over meals.  (Okay, one of these “meals” was at an ice-cream stop, But it still counts!)  While noshing on a “salted caramel and butterscotch” cone, I saw someone put down a $20 bill and say “This is for my Sister.”  And She did the same for the next person in line.  And when a very tired Rider walked in looking like he REALLY needed to cool down, he was offered a place at the front of the line, where someone paid for HIS ice-cream!

At our actual dinner, people that really wouldn’t have much in common with each other “back home” were sitting beside each other, talking about their lives and experiences.  They told funny stories that we laughed at even though we didn’t know the person they were talking about.  But they told the story as if we DID, and now, we kind of DO!

Bikers are all Brothers and Sisters.  We kid each other about the type of bikes that they ride.  (“Let me guess: Black Harley?”)  We give them a hard time when their engine makes such a cute little “WHEEEeeee” sound instead of a deep-throated roar!  But we don’t leave another Biker on the side of the road.  We take care of each other.  We help each other.  The “Midway 2022 TRIBE” (Indian Motorcycle Riders) even took a picture of “the BEST” bikes in front of the Harley Davidson Dealer in Asheville, NC, as a way to say Thank You for supporting the Midway Route for the past seven years.  We may not ride a Harley, but we support YOU the way you support US!

Our Family grew today when we arrived for dinner.  The people that served us were so gracious and loving that we just had to hug them!  We had three “FNG” Motorcycle Law Enforcement Officers that helped escort us into town for the first time.  They were given an official “FNG” badge, and added to our Family.  There was a 102 year-old Veteran sitting at a table, but not alone.  When it was announced that he was one of the FIRST Soldiers to cross Utah Beach during WWII, he got a standing ovation from HIS new Family of RFTW Riders.

The whole day was like this.  I saw people drawing closer together than they were just a day before.  I saw “friendships” grow and become a bond of Brotherhood.  I said that the change was palpable.  That isn’t really the right word, though.  We didn’t “feel” the change.  WE LIVED the change.

And our bonds will only grow stronger over the next few days.  We may only have three days left on our journey, but our Family Time has just begun.

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain