Today’s SITREP may seem a little strange to you. Why? Because today was all about making some miles and relaxing. Our Riders have been through a lot of stress already, going through some major cities and some hot temperatures. Learning to ride together as a pack takes a lot of time and energy, leaving ALL of the Riders very tired by the end of the day. So Day 3 of the Midway Route is an easy one. We rest, eat, and play!
Our day started with a FANTASTIC breakfast provided by Rich Ford in Albuquerque. Rich Ford has been hosting the MR throughout it’s history, and we really appreciate it. Especially THIS year when you realize how much a breakfast for a couple of hundred hungry Riders will cost. With auto sales being down, we REALLY appreciate their generosity! But they pledged to support RFTW EVERY year for as long as they are in business. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!
Our morning ride was extremely pleasant, with temperatures in the mid-60’s. With not even a wisp of clouds overhead, we knew that the day would heat up pretty soon. And it DID! By the time we got to our lunch spot in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, it was outright HOT! How do a bunch of hot and sweaty bikers cool off? They take the plunge into the infamous “Blue Hole!” Two of our Riders, Peter Green and Mark Masman, are our “keepers of traditions” for the Midway Route. “Mazz” did an excellent job of telling how this tradition got started (Road Guards, of course!) and then invited EVERYONE to join in. “Gear shift” was the first one to jump, while “Mazz” followed right behind. Before you could even blink, about twenty or more Riders climbed up on the rocks and went right in! There were all sorts and forms of jumps, from a classic dive to a cannonball! A group of our Lady Riders decided to do a “mass jump” and then started an underwater aerobics class! It was quite a sight to see! (Oh yeah, then we had some lunch!)
Our Riding for the afternoon was uneventful … except for all of the construction zones! And there were a LOT of them. But fortunately for us, we had more LEO Escorts today. In fact MOST of our day was under LEO Escort. That allowed all of us to relax a little bit and “just ride.”
Part of “just riding” was a parade through the town of Tucumcari, NM. This is a fun little town. Situated on Old Route 66, this place looks like it could have been in the movie “Cars!” It is a very “vintage” looking place, and I wish I could have spent more time here. Some of the buildings would make excellent photo backgrounds! But better than all of the neat buildings, were the wonderful people that lined the streets to cheer us on. I apologize for not having more pictures of them, but it is sometimes hard to hold a big camera, wave to the spectators, wipe joyful tears out of your eyes, and ride all at once. Still, I managed to get a few photos. (I loved seeing the shark, even though I can’t quite explain how it got there!)
Another “treat” for us was our afternoon fuel stop. First, this was another of our DONATED fuel stops. That doesn’t mean that the fuel was free. SOMEBODY paid for it, so that the Riders wouldn’t have to. It is generosity like this (and all of our meals during the Run” that really let us know that Americans DO care about our cause, and that they respect what we are doing.
I almost forgot about the “treat” part of this story. This particular stop is ONE of our ICE-CREAM STOPS! All of the “seasoned” Riders fueled, parked, and got off their bikes REALLY fast and headed inside. And of course, we made sure that all of the FNG (new Riders) knew about the ice-cream. (Mmmm. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough in a waffle cone!) And then we got ANOTHER surprise. One of our own Riders dropped off a big ol’ wad of cash on the counter and asked the Ladies to serve until the money ran out, and to keep the change if it didn’t. (They ended up with a big tip!) This is just the type of person that rides with RFTW. They are caring, loving, and supportive people. The kind of person that we call Family!
Did I mention that it was pretty hot by this time? We all wanted to cool down, and people were chanting our mantra of “Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate.” So imagine my surprise when I looked over and saw Jim “The Mayor” Frost walking around with an Anheuser-Busch can! I mean, come on Jim! We still have some riding to do! And then I looked a little closer. It is a can of WATER that Anheuser-Busch produces whenever there is a natural disaster and then ships them free of charge to the effected communities. They donated some of them to the Midway Route! So go ahead, Jim, and drink up!
At each fuel stop, several things happen that most people will never know bout. I mentioned the folded flag relay ceremony in yesterday’s report. It happened again today, at each stop. We have a “Missing Man Banner” that we lay out at each stop. This “holds the place” for our Missing Person and really sets the tone for how serious we are about honoring the memory of our MIA. This banner has a place to put a “bio” of the missing person that explains what they were doing and how they were lost, plus any other information that we may want to share. People DO come over to see the matt every time it is displayed, and they will take the time to read about our Missing Man. I have seen Riders get visibly moved while visiting the matt. It is a very solemn and personal moment.
I have mentioned just how powerfully emotional riding in the Missing Man Formation can be. It is not uncommon to have the Rider break down, sobbing with emotion as the enormity of the loss and their vital role in keeping the memory alive hits them. It affects everyone around them, as we are both sad and proud for the honor that our Missing Man Escort Rider has had.
And that brings up another new tradition for the Midway Route. As each Rider concludes their portion of our Missing Man Formation, a Chaplain will meet with them and offer words of encouragement, Thanks, and a prayer. This year, thanks to the generosity of “Faith Comes By Hearing” and the Crossroads Cowboy Church of McKinney Texas, EVERY Missing Man Escort Rider is provided with a “Military Bible Stick.” This is a narrative reading of the New Testament provided on an MP3 player. The package comes complete with headphones and a battery! These are actually only available through an Active Duty Chaplain, but when “Faith Comes By Hearing” heard about our Mission, they were ecstatic and helped us out immediately. I have talked with “Cherokee”, our Missing Man Chaplain, and he has told me that the Military Bible Sticks are being VERY well received!
And of course, at our dinner tonight (We are back in Texas! BBQ Ribs!), we continued with some of our other traditions. As we walked into the room, the first thing we saw was a Missing Man Table. Each object on the table is placed in a specific location, and symbolizes different aspects of the loss. Before anyone takes a single bite, we have the “posting of the Colors,” this year provided by a local ROTC organization. That was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of our National Anthem. It is important that Americans do this. Not just when we were in grade school, but even as adults. We NEED to be proud of our Country, but more importantly, proud of those who have SERVED our Country.
And that is what Run For The Wall is all about. We may have had a lot of fun today, but we NEVER forgot what we are doing. It is a part of us, it is what we do, and we will “Continue The Mission.”