Wow! What a day! WHAT A DAY!!! SO much has happened, and there is still stuff from yesterday to tell, that I am WAY behind! And I really can’t get to the “meat” of todays post until I get some of the “clerical stuff” out of the way. And by that, I mean just what does it take to organize the Midway Route, and how does it all shake out as we roll down the highway?
First, there is no “I” in RFTW. It takes a team. A BIG team! (I won’t even bother to explain what the Board of Directors do, because that is all of the ‘legal’ stuff.) The Individual Routes have a hierarchy that starts with a Route Coordinator and his Assistant Route Coordinator. The RC and ARC are responsible for overseeing the daily logistics of the entire Run. It is an incredibly difficult role, and Midway has been blessed to have Ken “Six-String” Dugas as our RC for THREE years! (Just because the Run didn’t happen for two years doesn’t mean that there weren’t plans put in place. It just means that He had to start over three times!)
Six-Strings Team consists of a Missing Man Coordinator, and Honor Guard Coordinator, 4-Wheel Coordinator, Hotel Coordinator, Camping Coordinator, Leadership Team Support, an MIA Outreach Coordinator, an entire Promotions Team, a Merchandising Team, a Registration Team, an Ambassadors Team, a Chaplain Corps, Chase Vehicle Teams, Medical Teams, Hydration Teams, a Road Guard Captain (and 30+ Road Guards), an INCREDIBLE Fuel Team, a Staging Crew, and Platoon Leaders. Most of these Teams have between 4-8 people on them, and the “crews” can have 20-30 people involved. All told, there can be over 100 people doing various jobs just to coordinate and then safely move our Riders across the Country. It is an unbelievably complex system with hundreds, if not thousands of moving parts. And they ALL have to work, or none of it does.
But the volunteers for RFTW love what they do. They are willing to sacrifice their time, energy, effort, and personal finances to make this Mission work. And it DOES!
What the public sees is simply a bunch of motorcycles riding down the highway. But even this seemingly random bunch of bikes has a hierarchy of it’s own. I could try to explain it, but instead I will post a link to a quick 2 ½ minute video that I made back in 2019. It visually explains what the “pack” looks like, who rides where, and in what order. You can see the video at https://vimeo.com/341649711
Okay, that is enough of the “logistics” for this evening. Let’s step back to yesterday so I can tell you about a very solemn and moving experience that we are doing on the Midway Route. During our “opening ceremony” back in Ontario on Wednesday, each Route Coordinator was presented with a special folded flag that is to be carried all the way from California to Washington DC. On the Midway Route, the flag is being carried by an FNG (first time Rider), with this flag escort being transferred to a new Rider three to four times a day.
It may sound like a simple thing, to carry a flag in your saddlebag. But there is more to it than that. What the Rider is REALLY carrying is every ideal and virtue that our Country stands for. It is the symbol of the blood that has been shed defending our freedom. It is the visual reminder of those that we have lost. It is the flag that we pledge our allegiance to each morning, and that our Military Personnel have sworn to protect. And if you don’t think that our Riders take this task seriously, just look in their faces. You will see the respect and honor that is held in their hearts. You can see the determination in them to keep this flag safe and to deliver it to the next Rider. It is another position of honor that really makes Run For The Wall special.
Today started out in a most amazing way. Normally when we wake up in Santa Fe, we have to know frost or even snow and ice off of our bikes. Not today! We woke to refreshing temperatures in the high 40s, which soon became the perfect 50s and 60s that bikers LOVE to ride in. Oh Yeah, we had clear skies, too! WooHoo! So we got to truly enjoy the ride through Arizona. It is a beautiful State!
Okay, I already have to correct myself. Yes, I DID enjoy my morning ride. But it wasn’t really a “ride.” I had a special Mission to perform first thing today. I have ridden through the town of Winslow Arizona MANY times. Over the years, I have come to know some of the shop owners in this quaint little town. One in particular is a former Marine and a true Patriot. Several times in the past he has asked me it Run For the Wall could PLEASE stop in the town and say Hello. He WANTS to wave a flag at us! I was honored to get to lead “Cowboys Desert Renegades” through the town one year on the way out to California. With only a few hours “warning” this shop owner arranged to have 100 people lining the streets to greet us! So my Mission for the morning was to go say “Howdy” and deliver a few of our RFTW lapel pins. It is a small gesture, but it is greatly appreciated. This is a Mission that I took on by myself, but with the blessing of our Ambassador Lead. As I was getting off of my bike, who should roll up but James “Gunny” Gregory and his lovely wife Patti. It seems that Gunny had the same idea!
I had timed my stop so that I would have just enough time to reach an overpass outside of town to get a few photos of our Riders. I made it with just a few minutes to spare! And what a site it was! Yesterday was our first day or riding together. The Pack looked like it had been riding together for years! They rode perfectly! The spacing was impeccable. The lines were razor straight. The Riders were all sitting tall in the saddle and waved and honked at this lone photographer standing on a bridge. They gave me my own personal parade! Thank You to all of the Midway Route Riders! You brought tears to my eyes!
I rejoined the pack just in time to enjoy a special treat for a Rider. I have mentioned an LEO Escort before. But today e got what is known as a “presidential” escort, which means that the Police SHUT DOWN THE INTERSTATE for us! And it happened TWICE today! It is an amazing experience to be heading down Interstate 40 and not have to worry about traffic. In the morning, it gave me an opportunity to get some really cool pictures of ALL of our Riders and their great formation. In the afternoon, going through Albuquerque, it gave us smooth sailing through the (normally) congested highways and streets. It is quite a rare treat, and it was greatly appreciated!
At one of our fuel stops, I saw a couple of elderly Native American Women sitting in chairs out in the parking lot. They were waving and yelling “We Love You” as the Riders went by. Something compelled me to go visit with them. They are Native Navajo. I am sorry to say that I don’t know enough about their culture to use the proper term for them. But I was saved from embarrassing myself TOO much when one of our own Riders came up to say Hello, and suddenly we had THREE Navajo Women together, talking in their BEAUTIFUL native tongue! Turns out, our Rider belongs to the same clan as one of the Ladies, so they are pretty sure that they are related! This kind of interaction is exactly what we mean when we say “The Magic of the Run!” Our two guests were such delightful Ladies, and I just wanted to hug them! I could have spent all day with them, but I had to tear myself away. I jokingly said that she would just have to tell me to go away our I WOULD stay. She smiled at me and winked, then told me to leave and do what I needed to do … in her Native language! We both cried tears of happiness as I walked away, after one more hug!
Our lunch today was at Milan Elementary School in Milan New Mexico. Let me state right here and now, I am not a big fan of Kids. (I didn’t like them when *I* was a kid!) But THESE Young Men and Women are SPECIAL! It was the highlight of my day! They line the circular driveway and wait patiently for our arrival. And then they burst out with screams of delight and chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.!” They wave American flags and Red White and Blue hearts. They will give a high-five to anyone that puts out their hand! Even your Photographer and SITREP Author ended up running around this (BIG) circle slapping hands and yelling along with these young Patriots! Once inside, we ALL stood for the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, young and old alike. The children sang a few patriotic songs for us, and they sounded GREAT! I can’t believe it, but they make me kind of like kids! These people are WONDERFUL! They also serve a very good lunch! Thank You Milan Elementary! I know that I am looking forward to seeing you again next year!
After eating a hurried lunch (I had been a bit busy), I joined an outreach program that rode a few miles to the City of Grants New Mexico, to pay respects at their Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This is a very simple but meaningful memorial, comprise of five flag poles, a large bronze medallion for each branch of our Military, and two large stone markers that honor our Vietnam Veterans. To make it just a little MORE special, there was a brief “ceremony” for “Jet”, one of our slightly more unusual Riders. “Jet” travels around the country, riding with various Riders if and when a seat is available. He has even ridden with ME once. Jet’s Mission is to go where his Best Friend can’t, and to pay honor to a special person in both their lives.
Jet is a little stuffed Bear in a Flight Suit. He belongs to our good Friend Shannon Spake. When Shannon realized that she couldn’t join us for the Run this year, “Peppermint Patti” offered to take Jet with her. “Jet” is Shannon’s representative this year. He is paying tribute to Lt Commander Dennis Pike, Missing In Action for 50 years. Dennis Pike is Shannon’s Father.
THIS is Why We Ride!