Run For The Wall 2015
Time for the 27th Run For The Wall –
For those of you not familiar with the event, please go to www.rftw.org
This is a quick intro for what my blog is about. Every year I do this ride along with a few hundred other motorcycles. No matter where “home” is, most of the bikes start from Ontario, California. We do it because going “All The Way” has a certain meaning to it. The Mission itself is to insure that we don’t forget our military – the POW/MIA, the actively serving, the veterans.
Started by a Vietnam Vet and continues every year with a few hundred – nearest I can figure, mostly Vietnam Vets. We will grow as we travel almost 3000 miles. We will NEVER FORGET.
The ride is full of emotions. Buckets of tears with hundreds of memories. For some of us, we’ve been doing it long enough to see some kids, even grandkids, coming out to ride with their Dad or Grand Dads friends. Friends for life as we served together in combat. We watched each other’s backs, we talked, we shed our own tears when one of us was killed or wounded. We remember the guys who got “Dear John’s” while sitting in a foxhole 10,000 miles from their families. We remember the guys who got the call that a Mom or Dad had passed – while we were gone.
We remember the day when someone found out they had a kid – born while they were gone. We remember the guys who missed the graduations of their children. We remember the guys who grew up way to fast.
We remember the days with no mail which in some cases were good (no news is good news)! We remember when we shared our mail with the guys that didn’t get any and we remember the guys sharing their mail with each of us.
Meeting in LA will be a happy time – we are one big family – you have to be there to understand it. The hugs, pats on the back, smiles – everyone constantly looking around to see who’s there. Maybe sharing photo’s from the last year. To say they’re all brothers and sisters is an accurate and true statement. We wonder where some have gone, or, are they just not there yet. I’ll get in on May 10 – early but far from the first to arrive. I’ll walk around and look, as odds are, I’ll remember the wheels before I remember the riders. The celebration will start for everyone and you’ll see the FNG’s looking around feeling out of place. They’re not out of place – they just don’t know they’re with their family – yet.
RFTW Day 5, May 17, 2015
Day 5 – Grand Prairie to Monroe, La – 326 miles – 9 hours.
Every day seems long and some days are really long – thanks to the emotions.
Flags, signs and people along the highway, on overpasses and next to the road. Lots of it and to the FNG’s looks like quite a lot but they have no idea what’s coming. A lot more. At the gas stops we pretty much fill the lots and the pumps for up to a half hour- sometimes longer. And the normal customers don’t seem to mind, for the most part. Although the stores make plenty of money it can be disruptive – I assume it balances out. Locals are fantasized by the efficiency of our staging and fueling crews. Moving a few hundred bikes in a small space - without incident. Fueling those bikes with almost zero waste. Nothing on the ground. No arguments but plenty of great work. After 10 years of watching the flow of people and machines I’m still fascinated by the way it works. There is a little confusion – FNG’s on the crews, a little lack of understanding of the “nuts and bolts”. The occasional glitch – pumps don’t turn on – or they turn off before they’re supposed to. Some of the FNG riders forget or don’t understand that there is zero change at the pumps. No time. But any extra money goes to the fuel for our chase vehicles – they follow us cross country carrying our daily supply of water, munchies, fruits, cooling ties, etc. Stuff we need and they sometimes find people that want to donate to the mission expenses or that donate the products themselves. They also carry the bikes that break down or the occasional rider that gets a little under hydrated. There are also changes from year to year – usually pretty small but can be BIG confusion or lead to frustration. After 8 hours on a bike it does not take a lot to get people going. Sometimes riders get so tired they don’t even realize they’re having an argument!!
And every day we will usually have someone too tired which can lead to difference of opinions. And every day gets “longer” which does not only mean more tired, but emotional – both like the logarithmic scale.
What do we see? In the nicer times we will see tribute bikes, auto’s, trucks – maybe even a static display of aircraft. Fancy paint jobs and fancy equipment – a never ending source of pride and outright amazement. Of course, as an over the top riding is everything in my life enthusiast, I understand how people can drop $40,000.00, $45,000.00 plus or minus on their rides. Just remember – you can have a house in places like the Bay Area, world class cars, planes, yachts, ski equipment, OR, you can have an “iron horse” that can carry you anywhere you wish to ride. Experience what the early settlers experienced about our phenominal country, ride “into the sunset” every day, explore new lands, find new frontiers to conquer, meet people from foreign lands (like a place called “New York), leap buildings in a single bound – well, I may be a little over the top with the examples. But you see parts of this country from a first person view as well as meet the people that make up our nation (and the world).
We start this day early (as usual) but we have built in time for those that wish to attend a nondenominational service. It’s our only Sunday on the road but we also have a mess of Chaplains that ride with us – they are always ready to help, when requested by those that may need some guidance or an ear.
At 0800, after services and the morning meeting, we head out on our first leg – heading for Terrell, Tx – only 47 miles – so an easy jog especially as the days get longer as the days go by. And emotions start kicking in. We stop for snacks and fuel (and head call – late start means more coffee!) And as always, these people are great! Donated time and food (money)!!
At many stops now a days, I see people that I remember an I only see them once a year. After 10 years, it’s a lot of people. And they are out here year after year doing nothing BUT saying thank you, saluting our warriors that are with us, and that are not.
Next leg – 99 miles to Longview, Tx. This is a stop where we fuel in one place then drive to the Fairgrounds for lunch. A little of the “on your own” to get there. Hot part of the country although this year not to bad – we’ve had much worse. As usual, we get a heck of a welcome followed by a heck of a lunch. Although we’re always hungry, I’ve never figured out how we don’t gain weight. We eat a lot! And drink even more (non alchaholic, of course). Day 5 is hump day but no one seems to think about it. Its another day of meeting, riding, and most of all thinking.
More and more of the riders are experiencing the memories. We are picking up younger riders but the older guys (not me as I’m only 69) are always remembering. Some remember the guys we were with but over the years I’ve learned many are remembering the family and friends they left at home. Many relationships end when you’re deployed all the time. And that means a lot of kids that for awhile, no dads. It’s a fact of life regardless of why the deployment. Its obviously worse for the kids who’s dads are KIA – or MIA. Memories can suck.
Next leg – 104 miles to Minden, LA. Longer legs can be a problem. Everyone seems to have a magic number for distance but at this point it seems to be getting lower. We also start seeing more people along the road. The word spreads – sometimes by people getting ahead of us or calling ahead to family and friends. Many more flags which seems almost impossible. Same with signs. But it helps not only with keeping us awake, but with memories. Some of the younger guys don’t quite get it, but they will.
It seems like we’re be escorted by our memories. You see the troops along the road heading towards DC – to The Wall. Blurey figures but they are there. And we can hear the whispers – mostly the whispers from the fox holes. And we start to recognize the voices. Some are still with us but like in most cases, not with us anymore. But will always be in our hearts and minds. Focus.
Last leg today – 76 miles to Monroe, La. Dinner in the Shriners Hall, then sleep. Dinner is always a banquet, always a subdued party. And we’re getting tired. Its only 1700/1730, but we’ve been going for 5 days. Tomorrow, Day 6, is supposed to be a day off (body clock) but obviously not for us. We thank our hosts, check on our buddies and the guys we rode with that day or maybe the guys that we started with but are now spread out. Hotel time, wash clothes time, sleep time. Well some of us also use this time to shine up the bikes. And for the last two days we’ve been getting VERY wet. No sense even changing clothes. The rain has been heavy enough to the piint where we put everything in plastic bags, but those bags in bags, lock them in our “on board” luggage – ad they still get wet. Our flag poles are really snorkels! Take the wet clothes, ride in them, eat in them, do your job (Road Guard, etc) in them, then wash EVERYTHING and put EVERYTHING in the dryers. Of course 100 plus riders in a hotel with 3 washers/dryers. We all cooperate – wash is done we will move it to the dryer (and pay) as someone has done or will do for us. NEVER anything missing. Loyalty and respect.
End of day but not end of mission.
The Mission Rules.
Day 4, RFTW, May16, 2015
Day 4 May 16, 2015
From Odessa, Tx to Grand Prairie, Tx – 351 miles. 11 hours 45 min
Hard to understand how it can take so long to cross one state! Of course, it IS Texas! When we reach our final destination today, we will have been in Texas for 650 miles – with a ways to go!
Early up. For those that don’t do a lot of riding – early up one morning, no big deal. Long day, lots of mileage, no big deal. We’re on day 4 – 4 long days, lots of mileage and lots of time in the saddle. The days seem to get longer due to the daily stress and the increase in the emotions.
Almost everyone is riding with the purpose of remembering a lost brother or sister. Thisis heightened by the names read at the morning meetings. But every time we pass a supporter waving a flag, holding a sign, saluting or cheering, the emotions build. And the mmore tired you get, the more you feel it. Lie falling dominoes – only one falls at a time, but there are a lot that have fallen.
Many of us talk about our experiences amongst ourselves. If you did not serve, you can not feel what we feel. When I was a lot younger I’d watch ceremonies or TV events where the older vets, some from WWII, would get emotional but I barely understood what was causing the tears. Then I served in ‘Nam and at the same time, I got older - fast. I began to realize what I was seeing in the “older vets” I was now starting to understand. The memories I had started to become daily remembrances. And how easy it is to see our brothers and sisters waiting for us. Many along the route, every year.
Our first stop today was only 10 miles from our starting point. We had a real nice breakfast donated by the American Legion Post 430 at around 0600, morning meeting, and then riding off. We stop at Permian Basin Memorial in Midland, Tx. My time here is the same every year but its always a hard one. In the middle of the field you see a recurring theme – 2 warriors supporting/helping a 3rd injured warrior. This is true in all aspects of military life but for me as a Marine – it’s a mandatory way of thinking. Leave no man behind. Period. In front of the 3 there is a “Medivac” coming in – a Huey (chopper) coming to get our wounded. What most don’t realize at first, as they look around, the ground has knee high grasses – in what is symbolizing a rice paddy. Including raised foot high dikes to keep the water in (in this case, simulated). Once you realize where you are standing and where you are looking, the memories come pouring out. I was a grunt on my first 18 month tour. We lived (and died) in these rice paddies. We slept on the dikes so that if we came under fire we could just role into the water and have a small wall in front of us. We could sit on these dikes to eat the occasional meals and more importantly, we could clean our weapons. At this time, if you’re by yourself, yo can hear the incoming or the pings and cracks of a round coming close. And you remember the very specific sound of a Huey coming in. To all of us, the Huey crews were part of family – they saved our asses, they took our wounded, they supplied us with ammo and food, and, they took our fallen. No Vietnam grunt can ever forget these guys.
We’re here for a short period of time but its in a blur (thankfully). Then off for a 53 minute run to our next stop, the Big Spring Memorial.
This site is equally moving but there are differences. We have a F 4 Phantom – our early 60’s ‘Nam work horse. All we were concerned about was the air support these planes and their pilots (more brothers) gave to us. An unbelievable plane. Came out of no where, annihilated the enemy, then flew back to base. Just their engine noise scared the devil out of the bad guys. Another Huey which I’ve already talked about. A big beautiful tank – rolling artillery which we also always needed badly. A Chapel (Gold Star Chapel) for visiting and reflection. A POW/MIA Memorial – our core mission and so very important to not forget. All Memorials in their won right and brought together here to reflect “a day in the life”, or death. We remember. We hear the voices. We see the faces. Everything is starting to build.
Next leg is a run both for fuel and food. 41 miles to Colorado City, Texas. An unforgettable stop thanks to the residents of the area, the Sheriff and his crew. We have lunch here with the kids and families. Again all the food is donated and again its from a town that has been feeling the pinch of the economy for some time. But no matter how tough it gets for the residents, they try to make our mission that much easier. And, by the way, the food is great!
While we’re eating we visit with a lot of the people and we listen to the presentations from the kids. I swear that the kids along our routes no more about what our country stands for than the (so called) adults in DC. Presentations are both live and on story boards – story boards that cover half a football field. Story boards about the veterans in this one small area but veterans that will not ever be forgotten. New ones added every year. After lunch, awards, presentations and a little time to socialize, we saddle up for the next leg. I hate leaving this town driving past boarded up businesses but also past a whole mess of patriots – they have NEVER ROGOTTEN.
The next leg is a straight 118 miles. Time to reflect on the earlier part of the day. Time to relax a little but also trying to stay awake. We pass the people on the overpasses and rest stops – a very recurring event of you follow my blogs. We stop for fuel, head calls and stretching, and then, the ;last leg of the day – 129 miles. Pretty much the same as the last 118 but with time in the saddle starting to get to you – memories are really starting to come out. For me and others, very, very emotional. I swear that as I ride along, the voices get louder, the faces clearer. And your butt starts to get sore. Riders have to look about to see all that are watching us. I’m lucky as I’m a Road Guard and can frequently drop back and “run the pack”. Start at the back and move up the formation insuring everyone stays tight and everyone is awake. Our foot print normally is about 5 miles long but at times it gets much bigger and we MUST make it smaller – safely.
Our last stop of the day is at the Dubiski Career HS in Grand Prairie. The kids and teachers put together a real nice meal and we consume it happily and with a polite speed. You would be amazed at how hungry you get. We burn calories faster than you can imagine – almost as fast as we consume food.
In closing today – we had been dodging bad weather with a little sprinkle here and there. Today the weather caught up and we got WET. A rain storm with high winds made it difficult to see but our riders came thru with flying colors. The weather was not the cause of one accident which by itself is amazing. And the rain was coming down on a deluge – BUCKETS of non stop water. Bikes got cleaned, we got cleaned, the roads got cleaned. California could have used a portion of this storm (and we would gladly have given it to them).
Off to the hotels and dry clothes.
But the Mission Rules.
Day 3, May 15, 2015 RFTW
Day 3 – From Las Cruces, NM to Odessa, Tx – 345 miles. 8 and ½ hours. Seems/feels the same. Lots of time ‘in the saddle”. Lots of memories.
As the days and miles go by we all have a chance to do a little reflecting. We started today with breakfast at the American Legion Post – donated (like almost ALL the food – very generous people) For the Road Guards – we get up (per usual) ahead of the riders so that we can post RG’s from the host hotel to the AL Post – don’t want any weary riders getting lost along the way. In the dark and being that its early, we can miss a turn but with the RG’ on every turn, all the riders have to do is look for us. We have large yellow “sleeves” and red baseball caps and some of us have lites or glow sticks. Anything we can do to help the riders complete the mission.
Morning meeting and then we “turn and burn”. Its only 4 miles to Veteran’s Memorial Park where we will honor the veterans, the fallen and the MIA’s. Of specific interest is the Bataann Memorial – Bataan Death March in WWII. 3 figures – 2 supporting an injured comrade – behind them a whole mess of foot prints, in front of them, a lot less. The foot prints symbolize the amount that died on this infamous march. AND, the prints represent what they wore and are the actual prints of the survivors. Some are boots, some are sandals and some are bare feet – overall a very “telling” memorial. If the tears haven’t started before, many will start now. It gets hard to ride when you can’t see thru the tears.
Next leg is 76 miles to a fuel stop. About 40 minutes from the time we pull in, gas, stretch, head call, munch, and GO. Flags line the exit and the short run over to the station. This is a work day so you have to wonder how so many can get time off to be there. That by itself is emotional – the amount of people that care. No benefit for the people to be there. They aren’t selling anything and, as a matter of fact, most are giving us something.
Then off for a 98 mile cruise to our lunch stop. As always, lots of people, lots of flags and thankfully several hundred gallons of cold water. We get dehydrated which is one of the worst things to contend with. Rain or shine, hot or cold – you get dehydrated. As RG’s we spend a lot of time insuring that everyone consumes lots of water virtually non stop. I rarely have empty hands n- I keep water with me all the time, partially to set an example, partially so I can keep hydrating and partially so if someone doesn’t look to good, we can get them water fast. We ALL remember to keep people wet! If you ride on RFTW, be prepared to drink LOTS of water. Lots of food also. We remind the riders that the food isn’t free – its donated – like lots of the fuel. Point being that nothing is free and that the donated “products” are costing somebody money. It’s fantastic that they donate to us. After a good resupply of everything we leave for the next leg.
93 miles to Pecos – this is pretty much a fuel stop. Lots of time for stretching legs, snacks (YOYO), and of course, a head call. Head calls, bathroom breaks, or a few terms I learned in my previous life, are really important. IF you drink the correct amount of fluids, you will have to go. And you check the color to insure you’re getting the right amount. (Google it). Sounds funny, I guess, but really important.
Last leg today is 80 miles into Odessa, Texas. Donated dinner (by BASS Rentals) and it’s a lot of food. We’ve been going here for years. I’m the type that looks at any donation as being great. Feeding a few hundred people is amazing to me and this pretty much happens 3 times a day, everyday. Plus the extra’s – munchies constantly, water and various drinks (Gator Aide, etc) fruits – nothing like bananas and apples to help you stay awake and cramp free.
Today was another day of getting used to the ride system we use. Side by side or staggered, it takes awhile to get comfortable. Watching for our supporters along the way – on the overpasses, at the highway rest stops, at the gas stops and hotels. I never get used to it, I never get tired of it, and I NEVER FORGET what its for. Thanks to our military and veterans and remembering all of our brothers an sisters.
The Mission Rules
RFTW Day 2, May 14, 2015
RFTW Day 2
Well, I got exhausted faster this year than normal – much more to do this year and as always, all the “teams” are putting out max effort. Not only do we have a whole lot of “FNG’s” riders (FINE New Guys/Gals), about 40%, but we also have a lot of “FNG’s” on the various teams.
From Holiday Inn, Phoenix, to Las Cruces – 398 miles – 11 ½ hours. Makes for a long day – lots of time in the saddle and a fair amount of fuel. Gets tiring but so very worthwhile – especially for the FNG’s.
Every year we have several items we have to address – but with this many FNG’s the items become even more critical. MOST center around riding procedures and how we “do things”
Riders have the option of riding in a staggered formation or a side by side formation. As would be predicted, some like one or the other (some, like me, like both, but when there are objections, they’re almost identical but support opposite points). They elect which style to ride in (including in a separate unmonitored group behind the pack, if they wish).
We start every morning the same – a mandatory rider meeting where we remind everyone about who we are riding for – usually same day/date but went MIA or KIA a lot of years ago. NEVER FORGET. WE remind people about the rules of the road if necessary. Morning prayer, salute to the flag and intro anyone special that might have joined with us. We ALWAYS have any FNG’s come forward for a welcome home and welcome to the RFTW family. We may do some “fun” fund raising and then off to the ride.
Since every day starts the same, I won’t comment again, but if you need to see it, go to www.rftw.org , Southern Route, 2015 Itinerary.
Multiple stops today – 1st leg today is only 97 miles and the stop is purely for gas and head calls. 45 minutes which includes fueling up (and a little stretching). There is a little time to thank people that have gathered there to wish us well or in some cases, just for photo’s with the “bikers”. Our stop and presents help the business but we can also be pretty disruptive – so we need to be aware of what we are doing (we pretty much fill the parking lots and can overwhelm the acilities quickly.
Getting back on the highway is always a challenge no matter how well organized. Besides our Road Guards we have LEO’s (Law Enforcement Officers – Police) that control the intersections and the on ramps. Sometime the LEO’s will go up on the freeway and shut down the right hand lane and sometimes the LEO’s will shut down the whole freeway to get us to the far left lane. Everything we do safety is considered first as well as the least disruption to the locals.
Second leg is 108 miles – 105 to the gas stop, then 3 miles (on our own) to the food stop. Similar profile as the last stop – get in, get fuel, but then go eat! A little more relaxing and I know some riders will take a few minutes to power nap!
Then off and running!
Third leg is 121 miles. And the next stop is back to just a fuel stop. There is time to grab a snack but pretty much extra minutes at any stop are used for more water. And more water. And sometimes even more water. Big issue when you’re riding. Hot, dry, wet – doesn’t matter – you get dehydrated a lot faster than you can possibly imagine. The problem is most riders don’t realize how fast you get DRY!
Fourth (and last leg) today is only 72 miles. This is the longest day although the daily grind gets to you after awhile. You will feel the effects of driving every day – getting caught up on your sleep isn’t easy. Usually every hotel is real quiet by about 9 – maybe 10 – every nite. We eat at a Harley Davidson Dealership tonight. Not sure why, but it seems like we are hosted ONLY by HD dealers. Too bad as we have many other brands of motorcycles that might show support if asked.
Along the way we’ve seen and been welcomed by many people holding flags and signs. The numbers are down a little this year but the weather isn’t extremely good. Rain reduces the amount of people that will normally come out – even the hint of rain. Leaving California’s drought is a break but then even a little bad weather seems worse than it is. And the locals are really concerned. But the fact that so many still come out just to wave and say thanks is really special. And really appreciated by all. Some of the FNG’s are not quite sure (yet) about the reasons people are out there – they will be. It’s extremely important that they know they are appreciated and even more important that they realize that they and their brothers and sisters are not forgotten.
The Mission Rules
Day 1 of RFTW 2015
Sorry to say that the blog I wrote yesterday was deleted when I hit the save button. So – we will just have to start with today.
Road Guards got up and out to staging at 0430 for the early arrivals to register and to form up, early mornings vary quite a lot – this one was chilly and damp. We were worried about rain coming in but we were on the road before it happened (if it did). Couple of layers of clothes for our first leg from Ontario.
Great being back on the road for this annual event – almost as soon as we hit the “super slab” your focus changes from everyday things to thinking about the people we’re riding with, and remembering.
It will take a few days to shake off the “cobwebs” we’ve developed since last year – remembering how to ride! Not sure of the count yet but I believe we’re between 350 and 400 bikes. This year, for the first time, we have medical people (nurses) actually riding with the back, and, they’re in a pickup within the pack. Major change as we usually limit the pack to motorcycles and our support vehicles. Placement is critical – we don’t want the riders to be driven over but they need to readily available. And then because of first day confusion – we left them in the parking lot with the Chase Vehicle! They caught up but it was sort of funny.
Not a lot to see yet as most of us are used to this part of the country and we go from the built up areas almost immediately to the desert areas. Today not a lot of sightseeing as everyone is trying to ride in a mass of platoons, some side by side, some staggered but a new experience for most. Everyone did a great job – cooperating with each other and all of the leadership – Platoon Leaders, Assistant Platoon Leaders, Road Guards – everyone. At the fuel stops the “Fuelers” did their normal great job of getting everyone in and fueled up in a timely and efficient manner. Staging crews did their assigned tasks with their normal efficiency. We have well trained crews for everything. What helps is the individual experience and the global desire to make things run smoothly.
333 miles total today with 3 fuel stops (including one donated) and 3 meals – all donated. People appreciate what the Mission is all about. We did have one rider with back issues and one fell in the parking lot while parking his bike. I think most of our issues happen in the parking lot and gas stations – both places take a lot of control – more in some ways than the open road. I’ll write more about the injuries when I know more.
I think the hottest it got was about 95 and that was pretty much towards the end of the day, thankfully. In Blythe we were hosted for lunch with a great ceremony and dedications. They are fantastic and every year there is one great thing after another - makes you want to come back for more.
Sorry – so tired I’m falling asleep while typing – I’ll try for more details later. But for now, thank you all, hope you enjoy the blogs, good night, and