Well, here we are. 2 days from the beginning of another emotionally laced trip that can only be fully appreciated by those on the ride itself. But, I will try and convey at least portions of this years Mission — and it is a MISSION.
For my new readers some things you need to realize. I write this from the heart. I do NOT reread or change anything (so you may see gramatical errors — lots of them). I don’t make corrections because I’m afraid that by rereading what I wrote may lead me to changing it from being emotional from the heart to less emotion and from the brain. I also will use the word “we” when talking about emotions or comments made by my fellow riders — I’m not comfortable telling you what someone may have said in the middle of an emotional moment. I will only use a name when its not a “personal moment”. I will also quote numbers and other info — those are all “best guess” as absolutely nothing stays the same for long. Such as how many bikes we have — ball park as EVERYONE has to register. One bike may have a passenger AND a rider. We also have some cages with us with 2 to 4 registered people. Numbers are not super important unless your trying to figure out how many support personnel there are (a LOT) versus how many people they’re supporting. So if you see two different numbers — not intentional, just the way I’m getting the reports. I will also put in info on the structure of RFTW — simply put, we are self supporting group — we have everything we need to go coast to coast. We have our own medical, Chaplain Corps, Police (Road Guards), support vehicles, and so on. More later during the reports. Much of this could be boring but its necessary for you to understand the mission. The riders are here for our POW/MIA, our veterans, our actively serving, and all of the families. They’re here for their own memories of those that will never be home and of those that may come home — someday. The battles fought and remembered.
I left from Fremont at about 7:30 PM Saturday nite. It’s one of the few times I’ve got on I 5 after dark — a whole new experience. Although your visibility is limited, what you do see is all the lights of the surrounding farms, businesses and towns. Not a huge amount of stars but a half moon that had its own sort of glow. The wind was GUSTING quite hard but when I got to the Grapevine, there was a highway sign flashing the warning that there would be “gusting winds ahead”! Excuse me — what the heck had I been driving in? They were right — the gusts were extremely strong pushing the larger vehicles, especially the semi’s, all over the place. The temperature when I left Fremont was mid 60's — summit of the Grapevine was 39 — lower side of the Grapevine and into Rancho Cucamonga — low 50's.
I got in at 3:30 AM so its been a long day so this will be a short beginning. But today was a short meeting followed by seeing lots of old friends. Friends that have only been known for a few days out of a few years, but lifelong friends like no others. Its a happy day as we see that most are still with us. One or two of these riders are coming up on their 20th RFTW. Me — just 9 or 10. But its an unexplainable joy to sit back and watch the people come together for the first time in a year. The memories are still of the happy times we share and shared. The other memories will start when they are ready.
Tomorrow and Tuesday will mostly be good times — filling each other in on the last year. Seeing who now has a child or a grandchild. For now its fun.
The Mission rules.
Monday is a combination of many different things — between the 3 routes probably 6 meetings, registration for all the riders present, assignments, and special events.
In our Road Guard meeting (for Southern Route) we are assigned additional responsibilites. I’m the LEO Liaision (Law Enforcement Liaison) as well as mentoring one RGIT (Road Guard In Training). Others are assigned positions like “Pusher Teams” — 4 RG’s that get on the freeway ahead of the pack, space themselves along the freeway to “push” the vehicles on the highway away from the on ramp, more towards the middle lanes. This will allow our “pack” to get on the freeway in a safer manner. We assign more mentors (as this is the way all RG’s get started. We assign one RG to work with the Advance Team (explained in a later email), a Rear Guard — their responsibility to insure people or riders behind the pack don’t dive into the pack causing accidents. They also can watch for non registered riders trying to jump in. More on all of this later.
I took a small group down to the Wounded Warrior Battalion. I’ve spoken of this many times before. An $80,000,000.00 facility designed by our wounded and used ONLY by our WOUNDED. Machines designed so that our wounded can exercise regardless of some physical limitations. A counseling crew that is there to help with adjusting back into the civilian world. Family counseling all in a caring extremely well designed facility. Then up to the 2/4 Memorial and the 5Th Marines Memorials for some pictures with a tribute trike — man lost his brother in Operation Hastings in ‘Nam — the bike is for him and the others that died in that unit. Marines on site to assist in getting the trike right up to the Memorial. Visiting Memorials always awakens memories regardless of what war they are for. This Memorial also has Travis’ name on it.
Back in Rancho we see that a whole mess more have arrived. Again more of our long time riders as well as a whole lot of FNG’s (FINE New Guys — a slightly different than a “FNG” in ‘nam. Seeing some of these old faces (and some are really old!) is really enjoyable and unique. Its like seeing family members at the annual family gatherings, except more enjoyable! Finding out what’s changed in their lives, how their health is (although we don’t always enjoy the answers) and meeting some of the “kids” now joining their Mom and/or Dad on the Run.
We spend a lot of time listening to the FNG’s as well as answering their questions. We are looking for potential problems, checking to insure the FNG’s understand what they MUST do to have a safe ride and to have the whole experience — watching to see might need a hand on their shoulder or just someone that can listen that UNDERSTANDS their thoughts and feelings. Most have lost someone in combat or have a close friend that did. This is sort of a “safe” time as they are not really into the emotions or the memories — too many things going on. Still all smiles although you can see the nervousness in some. Most have no idea what they’re going to experience. End of day today was pretty much by 9:30 — bars empty, rooms full. Early day tomorrow for the FNG’s going to Riverside National Cemetery to the National POW/MIA Memorial. More meetings for leadership. But today is done — sounds pretty boring but its not. For those of us who’ve been here before its more of an anticipation.
The Mission rules.
Part of the ride started a little early this year — the emotions. Back in a minute.
Today was another day of meetings although my day started with 2 hours in the shop getting an electrical issue resolved. My bike is getting old — mostly from the way I ride. I have to start thinking about a new one something I honestly don’t want to do. But like anything else, it is getting simply worn out.
Back at the host hotel we had the presentation of 4 KIA suv’s — rent free to the RFTW for the round trip. One to one of the long time riders that is in need of a cage for this years run, one to a “Parent”, one I didn’t hear, and one to a Gold Star Mom — someone named Dianne Layfield! RFTW wanted the Gold Stars remembered and Dianne got the call since she was going by cage anyway. After the presenttion we moved to our last event of the day — a meet and greet including the presentation of the Combat Hero Bike Build’s 1st motorcycle. SSgt Charlie Linville, leg lost to an IED but with an unbelievable attitude. He had been scheduled to climb mt Everest but the avalanch there stopped all climbing. He still has it on his list and will still plant the USMC flag as soon as its reopened.
The emotions — first brought about by the SSgt and then by one of our riders. A school teacher who had his kids write letters to those on The Vietnam Wall. By name. IDing each ones location and everything they could find out about them. I made it thru about half of one — way to much emotion way in advance of when it usually starts. There will be more memories riding with me this year. I assume the older I get, the more I remember. The kids were apparently affected by these hero’s and show it in their writing. From the heart like they’re writing to a loved one, someone they knew and cared about, and someone they NOW do care about.
Launch tomorrow is EARLY. As Road Guards we must be in place along the route from the host hotel to the staging area to insure that no one gets lost (about 5 miles) — hard to imagine that these riders will find their way home (3000 miles) without an RG. So up at about 0430 with departure times at 7, 7:15 and 7:30 — I think — too tired to look them up.
Tomorrow will be day one for most everyone. But tomorrow is only a beginning of a journey that the FNG’s will learn is more than a ride. The first 2 or 3 days are hard — getting used to the formation riding, the hydration requirements, sun screen use and this year, the dust storms and HEAT. Supposed to be a hot one with a projected temps of 99 degrees HERE in Rancho Cucamonga and about 102 in Phoenix. The wind has been EXTREME with gusting that has damn near tipped us over just sitting at stop lights. Although its “gusting”, its the worst most of us have driven in hour after hour for multiple days. More to come but for now, I need to sleep.
The Mission Rules
Today turned out to be pretty warm rather than really hot. The wind had died a little bit and the sky was clear with none of the expected dust storms. CHP and the LA Sheriff’s Dept got us out of staging and on to the freeway with zero issues. 2 bikes with mechanical issues (not mine which was a relief) and we had one rider that didn’t hydrate quite enough but will be ok.
The ride was fairly smooth as we did not have any Memorials to stop at but the riders were greeted at the gas stops, on over passes, and at the host Hotel (tonight) by LOTS of people with flags, signs, banners, food and heart felt thanks to all the riders. A little emotional for some, more for others but nothing like what will occur on the next day or two.
Lunch was great — my choice was spaghetti all prepared by the folks in Blythe. A tribute table, music, colors presentation, speakers — sword arch for the riders — thanks all the way around. Followed by GALLONS of water (and extremely appreciated.
Today we had a laugh. Remember, please, that my job, besides being a Road Guard, I’m the LEO Liaison (Law Enforcement Officer Liaison). This means I’m pretty much in front of everyone — very visible. Today the Arizona DPS (State Police) escorted us into Phoenix. They explained in DETAIL to myself, the route coordinator (boss) and the Road Guard Bossthat when we were on the freeway at a specific timethe DPS would shut down the lanes to get us from the number one lane all the way across to the exit ramp (during traffic/commute hours). He explained he would send his half dozen motor officers ahead and I would stay on his 6 and move in uniform with him. As soon as the officers had the freeway blocked (rolling block) he started across the lanes with me following. The Road Guard platoon, as planned, moved ahead on the left to get to the hotel area to set up the appropriate road blocks etc. And the rest of the pack, about 300 bikes, proceeded past us down the freeway! FOLLOWING me is what they were supposed to do — the big bike easily recognized, with me on it (also easily recognized) and considering they had just followed it for 335 miles — what can I say! I forot -in front of me was the motor officer with his red and blues flashing! The police officer darn near blew a fuse, I DID blow a fuse, and we had to literally jump in front of the pack to regain their attention. The day ended well but that same DPS Officer will be leading us out in the AM and HE will do the morning briefing. So its not all serious emotions.
I’m sure that tomorrow will bring more “fun” — the schedule shows 4 legs for a total of 395 miles. That’s about 4 five hour energy drinks (extra strength)!!
The Mission rules!