Midway Route – Day 7 – Cookeville, TN to Asheville, NC.
May 21, 2019. 224 miles
WooHoo! What an incredibly fun day! Let me repeat that: WOOHOO!!!
There is something about our stay in Cookeville that completely changes the attitude and “feel” of the Midway Route. You see, for the past six days, we have been concentrating on riding in tight formations. We have spent HOURS in the saddle, making mile after mile, while trying to adjust to this regimented schedule. At the same time that we are stressing physical safety, we are also stressing health issues (hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!). And for many of the Riders, there has been an emotional roller-coaster going on in their heads and hearts. Each day we start our morning meetings with a prayer for strength to our POW-MIA Families. We make sure to acknowledge all of our Blue- and Gold-Star Families. We thank our current active-duty servicemen/women for their service. For six long days, we put the FNGs (Fine Nice Guys/Gals) through an emotional ringer. It is equally as hard for the “seasoned” Riders. (We may have it just a little easier than the FNGs, because we know to expect the emotional part of the Run.)
But then we get to Cookeville, and the realization sets in that our journey is almost over. We get a super reception in Cookeville and everyone seems to get a good nights sleep. (Even if it is shorter than we really would like.) So when we got up and got to our morning meeting today, EVERYONE seemed to have a new attitude. Before our meeting started, our Leadership Team was making jokes. People that were total strangers just a few days ago were laughing and smiling with each other, as old friends do. During the safety briefing portion of the meeting, the Road Guard Captain (Tail Dragger) and his “Hand Signal Guy” (Mazz) were trying to mess each other up (okay, let’s say “test” each other!) by switching up the various commands. Each person that got up to make a presentation seemed to be having fun. It’s as if a switch has been thrown that took all of the worry, care, and stress off of our shoulders for a few hours.
You can tell that we are all relaxed when even the Chaplains are fair game for some good-natured pranks. Our Senior Chaplain (GoodWrench) left his cap somewhere last night, and when he got it back this morning, it had been “bedazzeled.” And I don’t know WHAT happened or HOW, but “Chief” somehow lost his pants! He had to pay $5 to get them back from our “lost and found” box. (We have EXCELLENT Chapains!)
That’s not to say that we “forgot” about our Mission. We didn’t! It’s just that for today, a short distance day, we could relax just a little and enjoy a ride through some amazing countryside. Had we NOT been on a Mission, we would all have taken those curves and hills a little faster, or stopped for a cold drink, or done any of the hundreds of things that bikers do when they get together. But we ARE on a Mission, so we keep our hearts and minds focused.
We DID take the chance to let our hair down a bit (metaphorically speaking, as many of us don’t have much hair to let down!) when we got to Knoxville. Several years ago, someone (Gunny!) made a quick walk through the public fountain to cool off. Since then, it has become a tradition for Gunny, many of the Road Guards, and anyone else that wants to join in, to take a stroll through the water. Today, about a dozen people made the walk. Even your Route Photographer got in on it! (Hopefully someone got a photo of it. I put my cameras down before I took the plunge!)
Of course, we kept our mind on the Mission. Even soaking wet, we still participated in a very moving wreath-laying ceremony at the Knoxville Veterans Memorial. This memorial is located at the very site that most WWI and WWII soldiers boarded a train and left their home-state of Tennessee. Those Tennessee Boys that never came back, from ALL of Americas conflicts, have their names engraved on native-granite slabs on the site. It is an emotional place, with a rich, yet sorrowful history.
As I was wandering around, taking photos of all the fun, I saw a special-needs young lady. Actually, she timidly reached across a fence railing and lightly touched me on my sleeve. She wanted to thank me (us) for remembering our Veterans. But she really wanted me to remember her Grandfather who fought in WWII. She told me all about him, and some of the stories that he had told her. She apologized for crying because she “isn’t a little girl.” I cried with her and said that it was okay. I asked for her Grandfathers name and she hugged my neck and whispered into my ear “His name was Walter Fuller, and my name is Molly.” Well Molly, I will remember your Grandfather, but I will remember your warm smile and hug far longer than I will his name. And so will all of the other people whos heart you touched today.
Folks, THIS IS WHY WE RIDE, TOO!
After our lunch, we headed back out on the road for some fun travels. We made a traditional stop for some ice-cream, then got out on the twisty roads. Up, down, round a corner, downshift for a steep winding grade, … and then into the Tunnel! Have you ever heard 350 big v-twin engine motorcycles in a tunnel? It was several hours ago, and I can STILL hear them! The ground literally vibrates and the roar comes thrusting out of the tunnel long before you can see the bikes. We look forward to this short experience each year. Many of us wanted to go back and ride through it again!
Eventually, we made it down through the mountains and reached our evenings destination. Still having fun and enjoying our new friendships, we paused to pay honor to our Country, our Veterans, and our Fallen. We may have let off some steam today, but we never forgot why we are here. From past experience, I know that the switch will be thrown again tomorrow, and that the truly emotionally draining days are coming up soon. But for today, we healed our minds and bodies, renewing our strength for what is about to come.
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”