Midway Route – Day 10 – Ashland, VA to Arlington, VA
May 24, 2019. 96 miles.
Today is Day 10 of our cross-country Mission of Remembrance and Healing. For the past week and a half, the Midway Route Riders have become more than just friends. We have become Family. We have laughed together, cried together, sweated and shivered together. We have learned who likes spicy foods, who drinks coffee, and who is definitely not a morning person. (Haley! Smile, Sweetheart!) We know that Rachel doesn’t like to have her fuel-stop naps interrupted. “Gear Shift” will ALWAYS light up a cigar at each stop, and “Talking Hands” can read lips! (Be careful what you say!) Through all of the hardships, grueling miles, heart-warming activities, and the wonderful support we have been shown across this country, we have bonded. We ARE a tight-knit Family.
Until this very trip, most of my RFTW Family has been on the Southern Route. But something about this particular ride has let me know that my “home” is really on the Midway Route. This has been such an amazing experience, that I cannot fathom going on a different Route. To be fair, this same emotion is being felt by every Rider on each of the Three Routes. It isn’t just me!
So it is a very bitter-sweet day for me. My “immediate” Family, my Midway Route Brothers and Sisters, rolled into Arlington Virginia this morning. As the first of the three routes to arrive, we had the parking lot and hotel to ourselves. We were able to get off the bikes and congratulate each other for a ride well-ridden, and to reflect on what we had just experienced. It was OUR time together. But it was also our LAST time together, because in a few hours, the Southern Route Riders would be arriving, followed shortly by the Central Route. Once our other RFTW Family joined us, the Midway Routes special time together would cease, and a NEW time would begin.
I think of it as a Family reunion. We are always happy to see and reconnect with our second cousins, and our great-Aunt twice-removed. As we listen to their stories, we think “That’s nice.” and “Congratulations.” But they aren’t OUR stories. They are similar, and to anyone not connected with RFTW, they would not be able to tell a difference. But WE can! We are all Family, but my Brothers and Sisters rode with me this year. Does this make any sense? It is an incredibly hard emotion to describe. You have to experience it to understand.
Part of what made today so bitter-sweet was that we only had ONE stop planned before the reunion with the other Routes. Our time was limited, so it was all we could do. We were headed to the National Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia.
I have stopped here before, and let me tell you, this is an amazing place. We would only have about an hour here, which is definitely not enough time. So instead of visiting the museum, I decided to walk the grounds a bit. The Marines are a proud bunch, and this pride shows in their gardens. There are plaques and memorials on this circular walk that commemorate battles and campaigns that reach back to the beginning of our Country, and all the way up to today.
“Casper” (one of the MR Road Guards, and a Friend of mine from the SR) and I went together to explore this place. We stopped at several memorials that just “stuck out” in our collective thoughts. We didn’t talk much, but then again, we didn’t need too. At one particular memorial, we both just stopped. It was just what we needed to see, at just the right moment. It really brought our minds back to focus on what the mission of Run For the Wall is. “We Ride for those that Can’t.”
And that made me remember something that I had seen early this morning. Before we left our morning staging area, I walked past the Missing Man Formation. (I told you earlier that we do not move an inch without this formation!) Written in chalk on the pavement, was a simple message: “Today I Ride for SSG Joe Peters. KIA 6 Oct. 13. OEF” I do not know who wrote it, and I don’t need to know. What I DO know, is that someone took the time to mark a temporary memorial to a Fallen Comrade. And every Rider that passed this Missing Man Formation would be thinking of Joe Peters, even without knowing his name: because we ALL know what this formation is about, why it is there, and who it is for. THIS, Folks, is truly WHY we Ride!
As we departed this morning, I took the opportunity to pull off to the side of the road one last time to get a few pictures of these Men and Women that I have come to love and respect. I wanted one last photo, just for me to remember them by. This was not going to be seen by anyone else: it was personal. But as the Platoons went rolling by, I realized with just a hint of sorrow, that this group would never again be the same. Next year, new people will join our group. Some will not return, or will go on to different routes. Our cohesive unit would be different, but just as exciting and emotional. All of this came streaming into my head as I saw two perfect lines of bikes, stretching more than a mile, ride away from me. I knew where they were going: They were going to meet up with the rest of our Family, and then we would all go together to The Wall.
But that is for tomorrow. For the rest of today, I will go visit with my Family, tell my stories, listen to theirs, hug each other over and over, and reflect on what all THREE Routes have accomplished. Tomorrow, we will complete our Mission.
Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Please visit www.jimmccrain.smugmug.com/Run-For-The-Wall to see more pictures from our journey across this great country. I will post a few every day, and then hundreds more once I get home and can go through them all. All of these photos are free to download. Enjoy! “Hoofer”