Mt Hood, Oregon. Seeing a great friend on Saturday and Sunday! Then service for my trusty BMW motorcycle and back on the road for our seriously wounded vets. Great day riding. It started with a chance meeting that I will post details about tomorrow. Everything happens for a reason. All we need to do is make sure that our hearts and minds remain open and listening.
Arriving at Yellowstone Park was quite a change. I thought that a couple of days of sightseeing would provide a little rest from the road and an opportunity to see some of the “wonders of America.” The park, if you have not been there is big, I was told it is about 63 miles long and 54 miles wide. So once I reached the South entrance it was another hour of riding to reach my hotel. Inside Yellowstone the speed limit is 25 to 45 miles per hour depending on the area you are in. After riding through incredible views, I turned off onto the road leading to the hotel. I made the last turn and was met by the spectacular “Lake Hotel.” The hotel faces “Yellowstone Lake ” which is over 130 square miles. Big by anyone’s standards. This was quite a change of accommodations from what I have been use to so far on the journey. I pulled up in front, turned off the bike and pulled off my helmet. The hotel guests gave me a pleasant smile as they past this sweaty individual decorated with various smashed bugs that offered a full range of colors. I went in and was was visually stuck by the enormous size of the grand lobby.
It seemed that my quest for rest and relaxation had reached it’s goal. I went through the usual process of checking in, credit card and license for identification. I was then asked if it was just me, I answered yes and then was asked how many keys did I need…one or two. After careful consideration and much thought, I opted for one key. The clerk accepted my choice and handed me the key along with a little folder with my room number on it. As she pushed the folder towards me she she looked around and then pointed to the room number and said in a hushed voice “this is your room.” I always enjoy the “Cold War” spy drama of maintaing total room number security.
Now that I was checked in, the process of unloading the bike began. The procedure is always the same, find a luggage cart, roll it outside and remove each of the 3 metal cases from the bike. Next step unstrap the tie downs and remove the yellow dry bag. Once this is completed and the cart is loaded, it’s off to the room with the “secret number.”
Finally it’s time to relax. I had dinner at the lobby bar and enjoyed a few conversations. Of course I talked about my journey to create awareness and raise money to build specially adapted homes for our most seriously wounded vets. Dinner completed it was time to head back to the room for the night. I needed to be downstairs the following morning to join a bus tour of the park’s most interesting wonders. I signed up for this day in a bus since the roads in the park were not Motorcycle friendly for roadside stops. Most had no shoulder and the ones that did were usually banked downward and mostly gravel. So the bus it was. I am officially a tourist on a little vacation for the day!
The following morning I was down stairs and out front at the appointed hour. Camera in hand, I was ready for the air-conditioned tour of Yellowstone Park. The bus arrived and we all piled into a 1975 bus that was a sign that I had made the right choice for the day’s activity.
The tour was complete with visits to “Old Faithful,” the mud pots, and waterfalls. And of course there were the sightings of Bison, Elk and one lonely Moose.
After a long day as a tourist I was ready to return to the room. So I picked up a sandwich at the hotel deli and enjoyed a night of reading. The next day was going to be another little vacation day before leaving for Idaho. This content tourist fell asleep early, I guess as a result of my weeks on the road and the altitude change.
About 3:30 am a noise in the room woke me up. The room was dark and as I laid there, eyes open, listening for the noise. Again I heard it. It was like the sound of someone moving across the room.
At this point I sat up straight. I remember saying to myself it can’t be possible “you must be dreaming.” So I cleared my head and was now fully awake. The sound was now right beside my bed, I turned and looked and was terrified at what I saw. A shrouded figure was standing right next to my bed only about a foot away from me. I yelled and threw a desperate straight right at the intruder. I felt my fist pass through noticeably warm air. And at the exact same moment the figure disappeared. I was terrified.
Apparition: a ghost or ghostlike image of a person …ghost, phantom, specter, spirit.
I was physically shaking. I turned on the lights. I did not sleep for the rest of the night.
Now I’m a person that does not think that an apparition is real. But this really happened. I was not asleep. I sat there in bed with all the lights on. Morning could not come soon enough.
The next day I was feeling completely stresses. Everything and everyone annoyed me. I couldn’t believe that my “vacation day” was going so terribly. Instead I had an overwhelming feeling that I needed to get back on the motorcycle and ride.
That evening I was sitting at the hotel bar having dinner and a couple sat down next to me. After a few minutes we said hello to each other. They asked where I was from and if I was enjoying my vacation. I explained that I was not on vacation but on a solo motorcycle ride through out the country called “Long Road Home America.” They seemed interested so I gave them some more details about my effort to raise money to build specially adapted homes for our wounded warriors.
I don’t know why but I told them about my previous nights “bedside visitation.” They laughed and looked at each other and then back at me. Their expression was one of disbelief. It was shortly after that they excused themselves and left. I sat there for a few minutes and felt like I was in a completely wrong place. The bar and lobby area were filled with people, laughter and music. Everyone was on vacation, everyone but me. Yes, it’s true that I spent a day as a tourist. I did tell myself that I was on a little vacation from “the journey.” But ever since the appearance of the apparition in my room I only wanted to get on my motorcycle and ride.
It was at that moment that I realized that I do “believe” in apparitions. In the early Greek translations of the bible the definition of belief is not what it is today. Today in western culture we define “what we believe” to be “what is true or factual.” The Greek translation defined belief as “what you give your heart to.”
What I give my heart to is this journey. What I give my heart to are the many wounded vets that can’t be forgotten. The apparition came to my room the previous night not to frighten me, but to remind me that there is work to be done, miles to be ridden and people to reach out to. This apparition represented the fallen and wounded that have sacrificed so much.
That visitation was real. Now I understood why no matter how much I tried the day after its appearance, I was not on vacation. I was not a distracted tourist.
The next morning as I was getting ready to leave the hotel and resume my riding, I saw the man that was part of the couple that I told my apparition story to. He gave me an uncomfortable look and asked if I had seen any more disappearing ghosts. I said no I had not. He began walking into the grand lobby of the hotel and looked back and said, “you don’t really believe that stuff do you?” Before I could answer, at the exact same moment, he vanished into the crowd of “vacationers.”
Each morning that I pack my motorcycle, put on my helmet and continue my journey, I am energized by another brave warrior.
WHY I RIDE.
On June 18, 2011, Marine Corporal Phillip Baldwin was on his first deployment when he lost both legs and sustained injury to his left hand and right hip in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast. While on a security patrol in Kajaki, Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Cpl Baldwin stepped on a pressure-plated IED, causing the traumatic amputation of both legs, severe internal injuries and 80 percent hearing loss.
After the explosion, a medic jumped into action and tied tourniquets on both legs immediately and loaded Cpl Baldwin for transport by Blackhawk evacuation, where he focused on his breathing and trying to remain conscious. Cpl Baldwin was treated at Camp Bastion and then transported to Landstuhl, Germany. He was then transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda and later to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego where he underwent extensive rehabilitation therapies for nearly two years. Cpl Baldwin’s brother, Bruce, has stayed with Phillip during his recovery. Both of Cpl Baldwin’s brothers Alan and Bruce also serve in the Marines.
Cpl Baldwin continues to be actively engaged in his community and often speaks at local elementary schools. In his spare time Phillip enjoys hunting, shooting, fishing and camping. He looks forward to the freedom a mortgage-free and specially adapted home will bring, and spending quality time at home with his son and daughter. As a proud Marine Phillip says he has learned to adapt and overcome much in his life; he is grateful to Homes for Our Troops for ensuring that he will no longer have to adapt and overcome in his living spaces at home.
A Ridgewood, New Jersey man is taking a 10,000 mile motorcycle journey around the continental U.S. to raise money and awareness for seriously injured veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.
Richard King, 65, has started his trek, which he named “Long Road Home America,” with the stated mission “to rally hometown America into ensuring that when disabled war veterans come home, a proper home awaits them.”
With a goal of $25,000, King’s fundraiser is directed toward providing “mortgage-free custom homes for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have suffered serious debilitating injuries,” rapidcityjournal.com has reported.
He covers all of his own costs, so every cent raised goes directly to the charity, called Homes for Our Troops, which promises more than 90 cents of every $1 it receives is spent on veterans.
To see where King is currently and to read more, click here: http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/local/communities/chadron/motorcycle-ride-supports-wounded-veterans…
Along the road , a few days ago, I was having dinner at the bar. Now that’s not at a bar (not that there is anything wrong with that) , it means at a bar in a resturant. If given the opportunity I prefer the bar stool to even the best table in the house. The reason…seating at a bar offers far more possibilities for conversation. More chances to listen to America as I make my way along our country’s backroads. This was my second night having dinner at this resturant and the same bartender was working. I took my seat and I was looking at the menu in an ever difficult attempt to order anything without cheese,meat, fish or oil. My greatest challenge, it turns out, is not trying to stay focused during long hours of riding. I’t not sharing the road with trailer trucks going 70 mph and it’s not riding through torrential rain and mid western thunderstorms. The greatest challenge is maintaining a vegan diet. I will update you on his particular road hazard in the days ahead.
I was scanning the menu when the manager walked over and said, “I see you are back. That’s what we like to see.” I laughed and said that she manages a great resturant with great food. She then said that last night the bartender told her about my 10,000 mile motorcycle ride to raise money to build specially adapted homes for our vets. So we talked some more about the journey till it was time for her to get back to her resturant responsibilities.
Once again I had told the story of our vets and their needs. Once again I explained how these homes were really a gift of freedom and independence. And once again I spoke about how the homes are part of a healing process that these vets will face for the rest of their lives. I hoped through conversation, that one more person left with a reinforced or renewed connection for helping others. The bartender listened to our conversation between taking care of the customers seated at the bar and filling drink orders for the dining room tables. Well, I finally ordered my dinner, with some “dietary compromises” to be sure.
A little later in the night the manager returned and said that there would be no charge for my dinner. “It’s our pleasure and our thanks for what you are doing for our vets.” I thanked her very much and noticed the bartender was listening and smiling.
I felt the need to ask, “did you have something to do with my no charge dinner?” And The bartender said yes, “I appreciate the sacrifice that you are making to contribute to the healing process for these seriously wounded vets.”
It turns out that “the bartender” is a young artist named Kacey. Her area of artistic focus is working with blown, cut and polished glass. I found this out through the unique conversation that happens seated at a bar.
I told her that my wife also was an artist, who like herself, is working another job as a teacher while pursuing her art. I explained that my wife designs very unique one of a kind jewelry that include rings, necklaces,earrings and fashion accessories. I then asked Kacey what her focus is. The answer I received was completely unexpected.
Kacey works with glass and creates abstract interpretations of ancient Egyptian Canopic Jars and also abstract portrayals of human life. She explained that “Egyptian Canopic Jars protected parts of the body from Point A to Point B is exactly what our bodies do throughout our lives. My art conveys the delicate balance that the properties of our bodies and glass have in common-fragility and strength.”
Kacey added ” After glass or a human body is cut into-they are left rough and raw, but with time and careful attention they can both be brought back to their original state. “
There is something more that I learned about care and sacrifice. And not the “exaggerated sacrifice” of riding a motorcycle, that earned me a free dinner from the resturant manager. Behind Kacey’s art is a true act of caring and sacrifice. In 2009, Kacey donated a kidney to a close family friend.
Kacey explained, “ I have realized that the act of cutting and polishing glass is analogous for the process of being wounded and then healing. After glass or a human body is cut into-they are left rough and raw, but with time and careful attention they can both be brought back to their original state.”
I know that I was meant to meet Kasey and be given the gift of a renewed insight that now energizes my riding. It is no matter of chance that she used the words wounded and healing. Kacey’s words that I have included here were written on her website long before I met her.
Together all of us can provide our attention , so desperately need by our vets, to help return them to more then their “original state.” We have the opportunity through our donations and conversation with those we meet to enable our wounded vets to become “vessels of wisdom forged by sacrifice.”
Kacey donated a kidney. But gave her heart to ‘One Life.”
Kacey’s art can be seen at kaceymccreery.com
Late this afternoon I arrived in O’Neill, Nebraska. It was a 250 mile ride from my starting point this morning. Needless to say I was ready to pull into the Holiday in Express, shut down the engine and plant the kickstand on the blacktop. After doing theses 3 ride concluding activities, I took off my helmet and walked into the “Express.” I walked up to the front desk hoping that the reason that the hotel is called the “Holiday Inn Express” is because they would have me quickly checked in and on my way to a cold room and a hot shower. The “check in went ok, not exactly “express,” which gave me time at the front desk to glance at a flyer. The flyer was announcing it was “Summer Fest” and listed the weekend events. Topping the list was the event for today, Friday the 18th. Scheduled to run from 9am-8pm was “Remembering Our Fallen.” It was sponsored by American Legion Post #93, here in O’Neill. “Express check in gave way to hasty departure” and my previous dreams of a cold room and a hot shower faded away. I found myself back in the sun, helmet on and starting up the bike. I rode through this small American farm town and found the National Guard Armory, home for the display. After parking the bike I entered the small unassuming brick building. I turned right and entered what looked like a room that was part gymnasium and part meeting hall. The “Remembering The Fallen” display was against the wall on the other side of the room. Seated at a small table was a member of the “American Legion Riders.” An equivalent group of riders to Post #170, that honored me with an escort when I began my ride 2,500 miles ago. My first reaction was that the display was nothing more than a collection of posters with photographs. The room was empty except for 2 other people in addition to the Legion Rider. I walked over to the posters with the intention of giving the photographs the courtesy of a walking review and I would then make my exit. I guess as the result of my adverting presentation background, I did’t think that the display held much promise. First impressions can often be misleading…and in this case, my initial thoughts said more about me than the content, that was silently looking back at me. I began to look at each photograph of a soldier’s face that had died in Iraq or Afghanistan. Below each picture was the name, age , date of death and actual combat event that took this one life. “One life” at a time lost to family and friends. “One Life” ended in a violent act of war. “One Life” given so that all of us, ‘The remaining lives,” can continue in freedom and independence. “One Life” taken…and “One Life,” our life, given to us.
After reading about each of these fallen, I walked over to the American Legion Rider seated at the table. He asked ” so what brings you here today?” I began to talk about my 10,000 mile ride, like I have so many times before, when I was suddenly overcome with emotion. Choking back the tears, I never finished my sentence. I simply said goodbye and turned to leave. The emotions that caused my tears were for all of the “One Life” losses in battle…and for all the empty chairs. No one looking, No one reading. But the empty chairs are not only in that room. One of those empty chairs represent me. Where have I been all these years when so many seriously wounded vets need my help? Where have I been looking that I never saw the need to help during all the terrible post 9/11 years of war. How long have I been an empty chair in spite of over a decade of the 24 hour news cycle. So I continue to ride to honor each of the lives given. I ride to find a way to help each of the lives physically and emotionally broken in service to their country. Each mile is ridden with a hope that another chair will be filled with a donation to build a home for our most seriously wounded. I ride out of the fear of waking up one morning and once again resuming my life as an “Empty Chair.”
This gave me a lot of time to reflect on the road behind and the road ahead. My thoughts are still evolving. But after 2200 plus miles I now realize that this is progress on my ride for the vets…subtracting miles from the 10,000 mile total. But for what has become an unexpected personal journey I only know one thing. My journey is adding miles to a road of renewal and personal reflection. The total miles to go, remains unknown.
I want each of you to know why I am riding, solo on my motorcycle, 10,000 miles to raise donations for our most seriously wounded veterans. Please read so you can understand just how important your support is…
In a previous post I told you what an honor it was to meet , in Union County, Ohio, with Dale Bartow, Executive Director, Veterans Service Commission and Office, Bill Howard and Ken Bonnell, Chairman, Union County Military Family Support Group. These men along with Homes For Our Troops, have come together to build a specially adapted home for Staff Sergeant Jason Gibson.
On May 30, 2012, while assigned to a dismounted patrol on a route clearance mission for the Infantry in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, Army Staff Sergeant Jason Gibson stepped on a hidden improvised explosive device (IED). The blast resulted in catastrophic injuries to both legs, a deep wound in the right forearm and the amputation of the tip of his left index finger. SSG Gibson has no memory of the nearly fatal explosion that day, which occurred some three months into his third deployment.
Following his medical evacuation from the battlefield to Kandahar Airfield Hospital, and then transported to Bagram Air Force Base, Jason would also be treated in Landstuhl, Germany. There, doctors worked feverishly to save his right leg, but he was becoming septic and had lost profound tissue from his thigh, requiring doctors to amputate the right leg as well (called a bilateral hip disarticulation.) This rare form of amputation accounts for about 2 percent of the country’s amputee population; so far in their journey, SSG Gibson and his wife Kara have only heard of four other soldiers with this level of amputation.
Weeks later, SSG Gibson was moved to Walter Reed where he underwent almost 20 surgeries for his wounds including a skin graft on his arm, as well as aggressive physical and occupational therapy. Despite his life-altering wounds, however, Kara feels grateful that Jason only suffered a mild concussion, and to this day, that he shows no signs of Traumatic Brain Injury or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Jason enjoys hand cycling, surfing, golfing, skiing, fishing, and being an active member in his community with the Church of Christ. He would like to return to school but is undecided about what he would like to do for his future career. Kara would like to resume her career as a physical therapist; she has supported her husband during every step of his rehabilitative exercises, and blogs about her experiences as the wife of a wounded veteran/amputee.
The couple would like to start a family, too, and look forward to living in a home that meets Jason’s accessibility challenges. They are grateful for the support and new life of independence that they will receive in the way of a specially adapted home from Homes for Our Troops. Says Jason, “We have been traveling a lot lately and we are finding that many places are not wheelchair friendly even though they claim to be ADA compliant. It would be great to have actually have an ADA complaint place of our own- one that I can live and function in.”
Sunday July 13th was an incredible opportunity to learn first hand how local people and organizations are delivering support to to military service members and returning veterans. Two Ohio groups are doing the work that President Lincoln referred to in his second inaugural address,
“…To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” The men pictured with me above are delivering on that promise everyday in Union County, Ohio. To my left is Dale Bartow, Executive Director, Veterans Service Commission and Office, to my right , Bill Howard and far right Ken Bonnell, Chairman, Union County Military Family Support Group. Each of these men have served with distinction in the military and now continue to serve their country and the individual needs of our troops. I am honored to have spent time with these men at a picnic for the service men and women of Ohio National Guard,C Battery, 1-174th Air Defense Artillery. This outstanding unit will deploy to Washington DC for one year. And you can be sure that that both service member and family will be supported during and after their deployment. My respect and appreciation for their work will inspire me for the rest of my journey throughout America.