Wed, May 13, the beginning of the Run, of the Healing, of the Welcome Home, of one of the most memorable and emotional things anyone, ANYONE, can do or experience. Be warned about two things - I do not remember what I wrote yesterday, and I write from the heart.
Last nite, the last thing before I crashed, I said "see you later" to Rick Pittman. A very special friend and who came down to this event because I asked him to. Very fitting for a veteran of his stature, and our era, to see these many people heading out on this Mission.
0 Dark 30 (somewhere around 5:30 AM - to dark to see the time). The Road Guards met in the Base Camp parking lot, finished insuring tight bindings on everything on our scoots, and headed over to the staging area at Victoria Gardens Mall. Hot food and drinks, fruit, cereal milk, you name it - all donated! Even though you know we had a mess of sign ups, you don't see the magnitude until this. As both Routes stage initially at the same location, its awe inspiring - about 550 scoots, some with passengers, and many cages that will accompany us on this years Run. Over 40% are FNG's. Rider's from Australia, New Zealand, Great Britian, and half of our States. The patches tell the stories - patches honoring our Fallen from all of our conflicts, some names, unfortunately new. Some of the vests actually tell the story of this persons life. Some, are bare as they might not have "traveled" the world. Old, young, and in between. All ages. And the scoots !! Every brand and probably every model. And of course the bulk are Hogs (we know because our chase truck driver meets most of them!!! I had to squeeze that in there.) The conversations at this point center around last years Run, who brand of bike is best, this years ride, old friends seeing each other for the first time in many many years. And, of those that have left us. We know that this year the Central Route will not see Robley Rex - he died 4 days short of his 108th birthday. A lot of us will seek out the FNG's - FNG's keep the Mission alive.
Morning prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, National Anthem and then the morning meeting. Welcomes all the way around. All the FNG's are spot lighted so we can hug and welcome them. Then everyone reports to their assigned platoon. The lead element has the Route Coordinator and 4 other bikes. This is our Missing Man formation - 5 bikes - two in front, two in back, and the middle bike rides on the left keeping the right side vacant. The Mission is ready. Its 54 degrees. We start the engines - do you know what 500 (counting both Routes) roaring engines sound like!? The Road Guards go out to block traffic with the help of the LEO's, all the way onto the freeway. Behind them comes the pack - 7 platoons with the 7th being the scoots with trailers, trikes, etc. We have a few hundred people waving at us, cheering, flying the colors of our nation, military flags, signs applauding us, you name its there. And for many of us, the first of the tears and chills. As we pull out to head for the freeway, I actually relax. As the bikes pick up speed the engine noise becomes a thing you can actually feel. We start on to the freeway at 8:00 AM (0800) - and its shut down for us with many civilians and LEO's standing at attention saluting along with members from the local military organizations, service organizations, Motorcycle Clubs, and the Patriot Guard. You feel good and some emotion as you realize you are being honored. Once on the freeway, we increase speed slowly as we cover close to 3 miles. Road Guards start earning their keep - keeping the scoots 2 seconds apart regardless of how they are riding - side by side or staggered. Making sure that there is no loose gear. Things flying off into a pack of motorcycles at freeway speeds is not good. And a couple of RG's take off with the fuel crew to get them set up at the gas stop in Coachella. This you have to see and experience. We put 300 plus bikes thru the gas station in 20 minutes. Cruising on the freeway is different than normally. We have people along the sides of the road waving, holding flags, banners posters, cheering, etc. And on the overpasses, and on the balconies of some of the highrises, in the windows of passing vehicles. 94 miles later, a short break with head call and visiting the hydration team for our free water and cooling scarves, and of course, fuel. The latter occurs at every stop. Then we're off - Advance Team (Fuelers) and then the RG's, about 5 minutes in the lead, then everyone else. We already have some RG's out, posted at intersections, gore points, etc. Everything to make it easier for us to get the Riders to and from. Along the way, more people on the overpasses sides of the road,etc all waving flags etc. Saluting us, cheering us, reminding us that we are not forgotten, that the veteran means something. Amazing it seems, I'm in the company of vets and civilians, old and young - all with one purpose - Never Forget. The patriotism is something you can feel and is shown over and over again. At almost every stop - Pledge of Allegiance. No one has to be told to stand, to remove their covers, to be quiet. The Pledge, over and over again. And when they play the National Anthem, same thing. And many are teary eyed.
RG's job while underway consists of many things - the scout stays out ahead and looks for vehicle issues, traffic jams or congestion, lane closures, traffic entering the freeway (we get in front of those cages to slow them down). We make sure the cages don't pull into any gaps in our formations. We make sure all the bikes are registered with RFTW.
On the road again, and heading for Blythe - roads are wide open. People sporadically along the freeway and on the overpasses. At one over pass - 200 plus bikes from the Patriot Guard and American Legion Riders. On some, civilians and LEO's. On some, bikers. And kids all over the place waving the flag so vigorously you're afraid they'll lose them. American's who remember what America means and is. American's that remember the sacrifices made by our vets.
Stop in Blythe (101 miles) for lunch paid for by one of the SO's, gas virtually free. Free lunch at the parking lot we stage. Greeted by a crowd waving flags and then into the Fair Grounds for lunch. We walked thru an Honor Guard (with Swords) with non stop applause. A little decompressing and then the ceremonies - Salute, sing, prayer, dedications, listing the names of the local Fallen Hero's. Then back on the road, this time to Tonopah (94 miles) for gas and fluids, before heading into Phoenix ( and its now 110 degrees ) to meet vets at the VA Center and to drop off Karoni Forrester. All the way with hundreds cheering us on.
Finally into Phoenix - with the LEO's supplying traffic closures for us. Dinner served at the Radison - free. We are the hero's for doing what we've done and what we are currently doing. The veteran's are being remembered as they should always be remembered. We are all drained physically and some emotionally. Wait.
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