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Day 8: Shadow

How is it possible that each day of the Run is as good as or maybe even seems a little better than its predecessors? Every day is amazing but I think the closer we get to Washington DC our collective perspectives have shifted so much that we experience each day through different lenses than when we first started in Ontario.

Our morning started under the shadow of rain clouds and drizzle, which faded away to glorious sunshine. Thank you Chaplains for praying for clear skies. The pack rolled out with excitement for the opportunity to return to Robly Rex VAMC in Lousiville. The homecoming we received after a two-year absence was incredible. The stalwart man of joy, Popcorn Billy, was there to greet us with hugs and smiles so big the sun had competition for which one of them shone the brightest to dispel the shadow of our two-year absence. One of our Staging Crew, Heather, is a nurse at Robley Rex. It was a pleasure for many of us to meet her coworkers who came out with a sign to show their support. The hospital’s Associate Director provided a formal welcome and one of the staff was spinning patriotic tunes as a backdrop for our conversations with those who came out to greet us. After the formalities were concluded we settled into meeting new staff and nurses, posing for photos, and reconnecting with people we’ve grown to know over the years the Central Route has stopped here. All of this was amazing and the riders felt a renewed connection to this hospital that is a shining example of what a VA Medical facility can look like when run with excellence. The most poignant moment came when the playlist that had been left running unattended while we visited played the National Anthem. All conversations stopped, then everyone, riders, and staff alike turned toward the source of the music and the flag that was flying nearby and saluted or held their hands over their hearts. The moment showed why the visits to Robley Rex are so special. Both riders and hospital staff share a kindred spirit of patriotism.

The pack departed Robley Rex with a send-off only rivaled by the preceding welcome bound for yet another donated gas stop and a visit to the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Several FNGs expressed wonder at the sight and ingenuity of the sundial design. This memorial is one of a kind. Even for seasoned Central Route riders, there is a sense of awe when faced with the sundial that casts a shadow on the name of the fallen hero on the anniversary date of their loss of life. The hour allotted for the visit was too soon consumed and the pack departed for yes, you guessed it, another donated gas stop followed by lunch in Mt. Sterling at the Mt. Sterling Community Center.

The Mt Sterling reception of the riders was fabulous. The Mayor along with a significant number of volunteers served us food, which if I understand it correctly, was catered by a number of local restaurants who came together to provide the meal. Supporters handed out drinks, and first aid kits, and even came around to our tables to collect our trash. Such amazing joyous servanthood was on display. Thank you Mt. Sterling for the kindness and generosity bestowed upon our riders. We will add this stop to the other memories we carry to the Wall as we complete our mission.

After lunch, the pack rolled through a beautiful “lumpy” countryside chock full of verdant trees bound for Nitro, WV. When the pack was a few miles out we spotted a Huey helicopter with the US flag painted on the bottom on the horizon. The pilot flew the Huey over the pack leaving its mark on us with its shadow, then turned around and flew back over us before landing near where we were to park. What an incredible sight! Shortly after our arrival, there was a ceremony attended by Mrs. West Virginia who briefly addressed the riders, and a State Senator who did the same. There was also a bit of a surprise welcome by one of our riders who played the bagpipes for us. Amazing! Dinner was served in a local church, the CMA washed bikes and prayed for riders at the fire station, and gas cards were thrust into the hands of the riders so they could… yup, fill up again with donated gas! Thank you so much, Nitro. You blessed us with incredible kindness.

A day that started in the shadow of rain clouds filled with the beaming smile of Popcorn Billy and the staff at Robley Rex. We then experienced the wonder of the shadow of a sundial that honors the fallen with the passing of time and the shadow of a helicopter that welcomed us to our destination.

Not to diminish from this day but I want to also add as an addendum a recount of generosity and sacrifice that was expressed by a supporter in Junction City. The details of this event were sent to me via email by Kathy Hunter, one of our riders. Here is her account edited just a bit for brevity.  I was asked to share with you a story that happened at City Cycles while we were in Junction City. I went in to buy new chaps because my belt had broken. There were very few chaps available so an employee volunteered to take mine to his home to repair since he had a leather sewing machine. He and his wife Brandy to the chaps repaired them and drove  25 miles back to our hotel. He is an Army Veteran and said he wanted no payment for his work. I of course thanked him and gave him money to cover gas and a beer. He and his wife later texted and said we could stay with them if we came through on our way back home. Wow, such kindness!

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