Day 6 Monday May 22, 2017
According to my GPS we finished today with a little over 2000 miles. We are now in Cookeville, TN. Today started out a little different. It had all the usual activities, breakfast, mandatory meeting, drawings and bios (I don’t know about you but Denise reads these things in a way that tears me up). After that, I took a minute to explain to our group that since I had been writing these SitReps a young man in Cookeville, TN had been reading them and following along with us and we’d be seeing him at our dinner venue in Cookeville. I explained to everyone that Michael was deaf and that I thought it would be nice for everyone to say hi to Michael “Mr Patriot” Hill (he’s called that because he dresses up in red, white and blue). I was going to show everyone how to sign “Hi” but simply said I think I know the sign for “hi”, but I’d like Talking Hands to come up and teach it to everyone. So she did. She said it’s really difficult, so pay close attention. Then she said “first, look them in the eye, then with your hand open, placing your forefinger up to your temple you extend it out, like this and she showed everyone and said “hi”. It was so easy everyone laughed. Then she had us practice it a little. It was really funny, but we all learned. I’ll tell you later how it all turned out in Cookeville with Michael.
(I wrote this last year, but it’s too good to omit). Many individuals on the Run have painful memories that they hope to find answers to or at least relief from by associating with friends that share common stories and common pain and know some of the dark places we sometimes fall victim to. A friend of mine had such an experience while on the Run. I could tell he was troubled. I waited a moment and then walked over to him and hugged him for a while. The emotions were thick. The pain is still there after many years, but Run For The Wall has become his reason to cope with the pain and he is doing the best he can with it. Others are suffering with pain and demons of their own. There’s no way we can tell how deep this pain goes or how tight a grip these demons have on them. All we can do is comfort them as they struggle to get through their battles with them. (This friend of mine could not be here this year. He really wanted to. He assured me he would come next year however).
Getting through Memphis was a challenge, but we cleared it with expert Road Guard service. We have in our hearts a warm place for these brave men and women to risk their lives to help keep us safe on the Run.
We stopped in Brownsville for another sponsored fuel stop, and headed to Dickson for lunch at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Last year we had Nachos, this year it was grilled dogs and all the fixins. Here in the south that is a word. They also had many deserts like last year, but I kept looking until I found the peach cobbler, because I remembered it from last year. There it was and it still tasted the same. So the same person must have made it or maybe they had enough left over from last year and they just set it out again. I don’t care which. It was excellent.
Getting through Nashville was a real nightmare. My platoon got separated by cars and trucks wanting to get from Lane 1 to Lane 3 or from 3 to 1 or were too confused to just pick something. After a little while I had lost sight of them. With us separated, platoons in the rear were separated as well. It took several miles for all of us to catch up again. When we got to our fuel stop several of us were rattled but we had made it. A few I talked with actually enjoyed the excitement of having to catch up with the pack again. I love these riders.
We made our way to our final stop at Cookeville. On the way into town, I heard a rider say “FNGs are you ready for this”. It is a “must be there” kind of experience. It is the Run For The Wall feeling that each of us thrive on, a personal feeling of welcome, of belonging, of love and appreciation for someone none of them know except as veterans. The welcome was indescribable as in past years. Police directed us through town. People and groups lined the streets with flags waving and cheering all the way to the Leslie Town Center. I’m sure there were a thousand or more people on the streets welcoming us. What an amazing sight. Two years ago a huge rainstorm had rolled through just before we arrived. We were soaked and so were many of the towns people, but I remember they were still out there to greet us rain or no.
(Now the rest of the story and no I ain’t Paul Harvey). As we were riding to the Leslie Town Center, I saw Michael (Mr. Patriot) in the middle of the street waving a flag. Earlier he texted me that I couldn’t miss him and he was right. I rode right up to him. He knew it was me and gave me a big hug right there in the middle of the intersection. We all parked and made our way inside. We were greeted by everyone including the Mayor and several dignitaries. Inside there were tables set with Red, White, and Blue table cloths. We found our way to tables and had a great meal quickly followed by a prayer from our Chaplain giving thanks to God for our safe travels of the day and the meal we were about to enjoy. When I saw Michael inside, the unusualness began. A day earlier I had asked High Maintenance (Denise), our Ambassador Team Leader if she had another hat and she said she had one left. I asked if she could present the hat to Michael when we got to Cookeville and she said she would. When Michael came over, Denise and Talking Hands (Laurie) were there with me. I signed “hi” to Michael and introduced Denise and Talking Hands. I presented him with a RFTW challenge coin and Denise presented him with an Ambassador hat. He got all emotional as you might imagine. Then I got everyone’s attention and introduced them to Michael and asked them to say “hi” to Michael so everyone signed “hi” to Michael. Then I told them that deaf people could not hear applause so I asked them if they knew the sign for applause and a few did. So I said, “let’s give Michael a round of applause” and everyone signed applause by waving their hands in the air. Again he was overwhelmed. Later Bandit had one of the Cookeville dignitaries lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance and after that the National Anthem. We all stood and saluted while Michael signed the National Anthem. It was beautiful. He did a marvelous job. You could cut the emotions with a knife. They ran thick for all of us. I told Michael I would keep in touch with him. Michael texted a picture to me of himself up at the big cross that overlooks Cookeville near the interstate. He also texted me the following: “Man, I was overwhelmed. Thank you so much. I’ll always carry the coin you gave me and the hat. I’m now part of the family and being an ambassador of the RFTW Midway! Mayor Shelton gave me a big thumbs up. I guess I’m the face of Cookeville for RFTW Midway”. Yes you are Michael. Welcome to the RFTW family. Bandit has been saying every day since we started that we are all family and today that number grew by one.
After dinner there were a few words from each of several dignitaries including a Tennessee Congressman that lives in Cookeville. Then Bandit and Top gave the usual presentations. One of the Cookeville speakers told us that Boswell’s Harley Davidson would be open late tonight in case anyone needed help with their bikes. So I thought I’d check it out later. Bandit excused us and we all headed out. I headed to Boswells HD. I thought I might need a battery. They checked it out and it did need replacing, so they installed a new one. Now I’m good to go again. Thanks Boswells. Several other riders from RFTW came after me. I hope they got their needs taken care of as well.
A beautiful day and an exceptional experience but now it’s over. I can’t wait to come back to Cookeville, TN. It is my home away from home.
**** Number of names on The Wall for Tennessee (1295) for CookeVille, TN (5)****
Day 6 is in the books. Tomorrow a challenging highway ride.
We Ride For Those That Can’t
Tom “Twotone” Lystrup – Platoon 6 Leader / SitRep Writer / email@example.com