Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What's in a platoon?

After multiple plane delays, I am finally on a flight headed to LA. The flight has given me a chance to go through photos from the first couple of days. How odd to look through the photos and remember at the time I took the photo wondering who these people were and what prompted them to run for the wall. And now, some 12 days later we are friends and I know them and they know me. 

A little bit about the logistics of the Run for the Wall. The first day in Rancho Cucamonga you check in with Shirley (Top Sarge) she issues you the orange tie for your bike which denotes you as a registered participant. She also pins you with your FNG button, if you are in fact an FNG. What is an FNG, you ask, Fine New Guy or Gal. Hahaha, we all know what it really stands for but this is a G rated event. Which I am grateful for. 

This is Jim, somewhere between California and Washington DC he earned the name Shamu. You can see Shamu's FNG pin. Each year the FNG pin changes color, so with one glance you can tell who the new guys are. I think it's kind of funny that Jim received his road name, Shamu from Spoon. The guys up in Hollister must have a thing for food and eating. 

Once you arrive in DC the FNG pin is turned upside down denoting that you are no longer an FNG and next year there will be a whole new crop of them.  I plan on having a lavendar patch made with FNG 2014 embroidered on it. It is sewn upside down on your vest. I earned it so I guess I'll wear it. It's fun to see the old ones. 

After you check in with top sarge you drive around where a road guard randomly places you in platoons. Once you park and check in with your platoon leader you are given a sticker for your bike. 

I know, I know there are lots of stickers on the bikes. The one I am referring to is the little red number 4. This is how the road guards know what platoon to direct you to when 400 bikes roll into the staging area. 

You might think all platoons are created equal, but it is not so. 

Platoon 1 is comprised of the most seasoned riders and the riders in leadership positions. The first platoon is probably the smallest platoon. The first platoon rides side by side verses staggered. 

Platoon 2 also rides side by side verses staggered. FNGs are not allowed to ride in Platoon 2 until three days into the run after they have proved themselves to be competent riders. 

Platoon 3 -7 is comprised of riders that prefer to ride staggered not side by side. 

Platoon 8 is the trikes

Platoon 9 is lovingly referred to as trailer trash as they are the bikes that are pulling trailers. Most of them camp instead of hoteling it and haul their camping gear in the trailer. 

There's some beautiful trailer trash. 

Looks like we are beginning our descent into LA. I'll bring your more news of the ride in the coming days. It is going to be difficult to return to real life after experiencing Run for The Wall. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Day #12 Rolling Thunder

Rolling Thunder cannot be described, it has to be experienced and felt. 

No picture I can take can do it justice. Hopefully when the pro's shots come in they will help you visualize the incredible number of bikes. What you see here is one parking lot but there is another parking full of bikes beyond the horizon. 

Once the first bikes start rolling it takes five hours for the bikes to clear the Pentagon parking lot and make the 6 mile loop around the mall. We arrived to stage at 6:00 am and did not leave to start the run until 12:45.  I thought I would be bored, take a nap, read a book...hah, I could not have been more wrong. There were so many interesting characters to meet, bikes to admire and the food. Plenty of grease to g around.

When we left the Pentagon parking lot and turned onto the Arlington Bridge I was shocked at the thousands of people lining the route. 

Remember this Memorial Day, The price of freedom isn't free.

Thanks Ron Stewart for the great photo.

Time to travel home and then I will blog the details of the Run for the Wall that I didn't have time to do while we were riding. 

Have a great Memorial Day. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Day 11 Arlington Cemetery & Vietnam Memorial

The mission was completed today. I am not sure how I feel. After 11 days of being focused on one thing, getting safely across the United States to arrive at the wall. It is a strange feeling not to have a schedule to keep or someone telling me when to eat, when to put gas in the bike, when to stop and drink. I can only imagine what it must be like after a six month deployment to come home and be on your own. I am struggling after an 11 day mission. I love our military personnel and the job they do.

After the group photo all 1,000 or so of us filed over to the wall. It was very emotional, many of the Vietnam Veterans cried, which is a good thing. Many, many items were left at the wall. 

I was surprised at some of the items left at the wall. Someone's motorcycle vest. I would love to know the story behind tis item being left on this day.

I was able to look up my friend's husband's name. I was very moved by her loss that happened years ago that I didn't know about for years. What great tragedies we suffer because of war. 

It was very moving to go to National with the Run for the Wall group. After spending the last eleven days together, learning the sacrifices and heartaches and physical wounds suffered by our road mates made it that much more emotional. 

As we met up to ride into Arlington the three routes of Run for the Wall staged together. This gave us the opportunity to meet individuals from other routes. I was staged next to two young Afghanistan Vets. I was so impressed by these two young men and felt an instant connection with them. We talked about their story but I did not get their names. I hope someday they read this and will contact me so I can send them some of the pictures I took. Great boys that have honorably served our country. I want to make sure the world treats them right. 

This young Veteran is riding a totally custom bike. The Jet Aviation company held a contest for a custom Harley. This young man's wife wrote to the company and told them about her husband, an Afghanistan Veteran whose unit suffered serious casualties and he suffered serious injury as well. He won the contest and had the bike detailed in honor of his KIA buddies. 

dog tags from the KIAs in his unit.

The picture of his unit is painted on the side of the bike. If you notice there are 13 pictured in the photo and 8 dog tags. Tragic percentages. 

The other veteran was super polite, friendly and disciplined. He waved at every person that waved at him. He saluted every veteran standing on the side of the road. He is post president of his American Legion Riders post in New Mexico. Usually that position is a gray haired guy that's been around a long time. Impressive responsibility for one so young.

Tomorrow we are going to Rolling Thunder. I am not excited! Staging begins at 6:00 AM but the rolling doesn't begin until noon. We sit in the Pentagon parking lot for six hours for a 15 minute ride around the mall. Okay, okay I am pessimistic and whining. I will try to remain open minded, perhaps it will be a great experience. 

I will write more about the ride and the logistics, bike and riders in the upcoming days and weeks. 

I want to investigate sponsorships for young Wounded Warriors. See what we can do to help our newest Combat Wounded. 

Please stay tuned for more and thanks for riding with us as we Run for the Wall. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Day #9 Wytheville, VA to Lynchburg, VA

 The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten - Calvin Coolidge

This ride has proven to me that our defenders have not been forgotten. The American people love and  support its veterans and activity military. Yet, there are many veterans that don't know. As part of this year's Memorial Day celebration, share this blog. 

Today we rode through some of the prettiest country I have ever seen. Green rolling hills, beautiful vistas with lush green hill sides. If it were like this all year it would be a nice place to live. 

I have been super impressed with how well organized the Run for the Wall is. Each route has a coordinator who I guess over sees everything for their route. Then there are various committees I guess you could call them. 

There is the advance team, they wear blue hats. They ride ahead of the pack and man the gas pumps and the staging areas. There are nine platoons, the first day you pull in you are assigned to a platoon. You place a sticker on your left hand window and from then on when you pull into the staging area you are directed to your platoon's staging area. 

If the advance team doesn't have to rush to the next stop, they honor the veterans as they ride by. This run to the wall would not be possible if it weren't for these hard working volunteers. 

Then there's the road guards. These guys are just plain crazy!!!! They are the traffic controllers. They are up super early and stand on the corners near each hotel guiding the riders to the morning staging area. They control traffic, blocking intersections and highway on ramps while we are en route. They also help in the staging area getting the bikes where they need to be. 

I'll have to work on getting better pictures of the road guards tomorrow. They are super hard working dogs! 

Today was a fun day, we visited two schools, Spiller Elementary and Montvale Elementary. Both schools are doing an excellent job teaching their students love of country and patriotism.

I am going to jump to Today's heroes. If I don't get to bed earlier I am going to fall asleep and fall off the bike.

Today WE were joined by some young Veterans. They are my heroes for serving their country!!!!

These young vets said to me, "we've got to get more young guys coming". Get the word out folks, let the young veterans know about Run for the Wall.

And one more hero, meet Dennis

Dennis was awarded a Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam. Dennis' wife told me, he had to eject twice from an airplane and was offered a Purple Heart but he refused it. A True American Hero! Dennis is still unable to visit the wall. 

Tomorrow is the selection process for which of the FNG's get to ride into Arlington. RFTW is the only organization that is allowed to ride motorcycles into Arlington. They are only given passes for 400 motorcycles. The 400 are divided amongst the three routes. Apparently those that have ridden "All the way" meaning all the way from Rancho Cucamonga are amongst the first to be allowed in. We're hoping we get to go. 

Well, until tomorrow. God Bless America, Land that I love, stand beside her, and guide her.....
finish it for me, I am too tired. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Day #8 Chattanooga, TN to Wytheville, VA

Another amazing day on the run.

The day began with our usual Southern Route Riders meeting. At the end of every minute there is asegment I'll call, "why we ride" where someone either reads a biography of an MIA or shares a personal story. Today was a personal story told by Gump. I mentioned Gump in an earlier blog. Today the story he shared was of his 22 days as a prisoner of way in Iraq. There were five captives, two died in captivity. Gump said, I have never been so happy to see a Marine as we they arrived to rescue us. Gump also said, "the reason we did not leave any behind in Iraq is because of the lessons learned in Vietnam."  When Gump returned home he was given 20 POW bracelets with his name on them from COMPLETE strangers. How loved and appreciated it made him feel.

  Gump sharing his story. 

On to Knoxville, TN for one of the best donuts I have ever had, okay, truth be told I ate three. Delicious, super fresh Dunkin' Donuts donated by TA Truck Stop. 

Somebody set up a hydraulic lift and was giving rides so I went up in the lift and snapped this picture. I am missing half the bikes which are off to the other side. Our numbers swelled to 500+ today. 

Off to the Blackfoot Harley Davidson for lunch along their river bank. 

Onto Waytheville, VA and let me tell you that town loves Run for the Wall. The mayor and his two sons were on the ride with us. The mayor's 22 year old cutie son has been on 14 runs to the wall. His road name is Hooky because he played hooky from school to go on the run. You gotta admit he's a cutie. 

The people of Waytheville go absolutely all out for the riders. I believe everybody in that small town was on the street to welcome us. Had a wonderful reception in the park. I posted a video on the Facebook Page - Riding for the wall, you can check it out there. We were treated to a steak and baked potato dinner at the Moose Lodge. What a great all American town. 

Today's tip of the day: Flag waving locals-you can't buy it, you can't raise it, you can't teach it. Mayor of Waytheville. Interesting statement, still pondering it. 

And our Hero of the day, meet Bill 

Bill was what he calls a closet Vietnam Vet meaning he hadn't come to terms with the his role in the war and therefore just wasn't dealing with it. It took him years to finally "come out" and accept the war. Almost all of Bill's platoon was wiped out. It has taken Bill years to find peace and the Ride for the Wall helps him and of course his faith. 

Bill, if you ever read this, thank you for sharing your story with us today. I enjoyed breaking bread with you today. 

And finally for today, I received a few photos from the photographer that is shooting fabulous, beautiful majestic photos of the run. My plan is to compile his majestic photos and some of my average photos to capture the spirit and mission of the Run for the Wall. My hope and prayer is that the closet vets, that BIll refers to, not just Vietnam Vets but the young ones, just home from Afghanistan and Iraq that are suffering with PTSD will somehow get a copy of the book and it will help them "drive the demons" out and they can find peace.

Enjoy the teaser shots and thank you Ron Stewart, you are absolutely magnificent. 

Until tomorrow. I am giving the "why we ride" message tomorrow, Yikes! 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Day 7 Meridian MS to Chattanooga TN

Today was a little low key compared to yesterday. I didn't think yesterday could be topped.  Don't misunderstand me, today was a tremendous day but, come on, how do you surpass helicopters and cannon fire?

One highlight of today was stopping at the Tuscaloosa VA Hospital. They fed us a great lunch and then small groups of us were taken on tours. Some of us got on the elevator to go up to the fourth floor with Debra our guide. Apparently too many of us piled in because the elevator got stuck. Another first for me, I've never been stuck in an elevator before. We weren't stuck for long. Once we called and reported we were stuck up  someone came and let us out. Once everyone had a few breaths of fresh air we split into two groups and rode up in two separate elevators.

The VA Hospital is a multi-use facility with a hospice center, homeless center and  hospital. We were taken into the PTSD Center and the women's homeless shelter. Both centers were very nice.

Shirley the event registrar cut stars out of old flags for us to give to the veterans with a message of appreciation for their service. Next year I am going to bring pins, it seems they like to collect pins.

Stopped at the Piggily Wiggily for Gas and a snack and boy what a snack. We were served bar-b-que hot dogs, chips and soda. The hot dogs tasted so good!!!  Mr Pig was out shaking hands. I am from California, we don't have Piggly Wigglys. I was so excited to stop at a Pig market. I have only read about them. 

The leg into Chattanooga we were told was the most difficult of the whole trip due to traffic and a high sided lane. Well it proved to be true today. There were a couple of mishaps on that stretch of road. Remember the picture I posted of Kenny a few days ago? Well, it's a good thing I took that picture because his bike doesn't look like that anymore. He was rear ended, no injuries and he is still able to ride the bike. Another rider tipped his bike on the nasty curve. Again, no injuries probably just bruised egos. 

Dinner was hosted by the Thunder Creek Harley. Wow, they laid out a great spread, mashed potatoes, pork and gravy, shaved ice and sodas. In addition to the great food were a couple of cool displays.

I just loved the Harley Funeral Coach. Talk about going out in style!!! 

My other favorite was the Memorial Day display from the Gold Star Wives chapter of Chattanooga.  Gold Star Wives from World War II, cutest little ladies. 

Today"s Heroes: The ladies that made hundreds and hundreds of homemade muffins. The personal touches of kindness are amazing. 

Our riding buddy into Chattanooga.

Steve Engel my Memorial Wreath laying coach. Kept me from embarrassing myself by teaching me how to march and turn. THANK YOU!!! 

Finally, I have plans to put together a photo documentary of this Run for the Wall. There are 21 million veterans currently living in the United States. I sure would like everyone of them to see and know how much they are loved and appreciated by the American people. It should be completed and available for purchase by Christmas. Like our facebook page, "riding for the Wall" to receive notifications of the book's progress and when it's available. 

Until tomorrow...rain in the forecast.