7,800 miles in 30 days – demanding, exhilarating, and once home – a bit of exhaustion.
Solo to the west, I rolled over the plains and mountains, across spacious southern Idaho, through Oregon’s forests, to a small town near Eugene. Roger, and Ellen, the love of his life, welcomed me after the long ride. I first met him at my resort home west of Nha Trang, Vietnam, in 2009, and we enjoyed a great reunion. I had never known anyone with a transistor radio collection, or who could build a 3-D printer from scratch. I look forward to more Oregon trails on my next visit. Trails then led south to visit Aunt Martha, and Uncle Bob, a WW II veteran in his last days. Cousin Kari had brought me out to her new country home to meet her pet donkeys, goats, and cats. Then it was onto the Avenue of the Giants – California’s Redwoods. They stand larger than I remembered. From there to the Golden Gate, where I met a Danish couple, Neils and Dorte, thankful for America’s sacrifice in WW II. And then, I met Mike in Hollister; he rode in from AZ. After a refreshing reunion at Johnny’s Bar, it was a short ride to Howie’s, a friend of long standing, for more Buds and lots of rock ‘n’ roll.
Concentrated time filled the last half of those days. On the National Veterans Awareness Ride, NVAR, each FIVE minutes, and each mile, counted in reaching our next destination on time; to visit veterans, honor the fallen, welcome Iraq and Afghan veterans home, meet school children, and feed on feasts provided by local veteran organizations – hunger was never a concern. Police, Fire Departments, and local Motorcycle Clubs rolled out escorts for our safe and undisturbed passage. People in towns and the country welcomed our pack with celebrations and support. Weather fell favorable on our crossing – especially for those who wore heated liners through the mountains!!
The NVAR family welcomed riders along the route for short rides or, ALL THE WAY. Thirty bikes from Sacramento grew to sixty three in Washington D.C. Each year the bond grows tighter. An absence drifted through the crowd for veteran riders whose commitments prevented their attendance.
As the expanse of the west drifted past, stops and visits closed in. Jerry’s call, “Riders – five minutes,” shouted over the pack often. While I listened, longer than time allowed, to tales from a WW II veteran at an Indiana Veterans Home, I missed the call. I walked out to find the Fat Boy alone on the avenue. Thankfully, the police were busy arranging our escort through Indianapolis; I passed everything on the interstate to catch the pack at the next gas stop.
Emotions within our ride ran deep; the Mid-East Conflict Wall in Marseilles, Illinois, held the names of five of Command Sgt. Major Luft’s men and the cousin of Jerry, the Ride Coordinator. An additional wreath was laid in Arlington Cemetery for Dave’s son, killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. On two legs of the ride, I held the honor of riding a position with the missing man. After 41,000 miles around Vietnam in their memory, I was more beside myself with them in my thoughts.
Thousands of motorcycles packed the Pentagon parking lots for Sunday’s Protest Ride. Significant to our presence, Schneider Trucking sent all six of their brilliant and patriotically decorated Rides of Pride. Motorcycles, trucks, and fans circled the National Mall for hours.
Like last year, Mike and I saluted the remainder of NVAR’s Monday morning departure for points home. In our farewell, we laughed again at the coincidence of our meeting in a bar in Nha Trang, and now, after two years, we’ve made two Runs to the Wall. I rolled out, and he, the last of our pack, would leave on Tuesday for his leisure ride to Arizona. After days and miles of staring at the back of another bike, and hotel check-in’s, I longed for solitude of a country trail and a quiet campground. The Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania was just the place for the scenic ride. But across northern Ohio, I turned onto the turnpike for a stop in Cleveland, then back onto a two lane for an easy ride and quiet camp. A day and two stops later brought me to Muskegon, Michigan, to visit Doc, Bao Anh, and new baby Chloe. Last year at this time, she was just a bump on Bao Anh. Doc played the fantastic host and tour guide for the day, but spoke often of the September return to their home in Vietnam.
Like last year, the morning ferry boat shot across a calm Lake Michigan to Milwaukee. Another tour of the H-D Museum filled my afternoon. On the road again, I gained an hour in the Central Time Zone, which motivated my ride for a late arrival in Minneapolis. The night air breezed by, the bike ran flawlessly, and the highway tempted me to roll on – another bittersweet end to a road trip.
Thank you for the visit to Harley Tracks.
Keep the Spirit of Memorial Day alive – we can’t thank our veterans often enough.
P.S. The book of Trail Tales; Harley Tracks: In the Spirit of Freedom, progresses with a tentative print late this year.
Please visit the photo albums for more pictures.