Day 5 Cheyenne Wy to Grand Island, Nebraska

5:15 was the call to wake this morning. Joni spent quite some time cleaning her bike last night, almost guaranteeing more rain today! We rode a few miles away to the American Legion post 6 for breakfast. They have been hosting us for breakfast as long as I have been doing this run. They are as happy to have us there as we are to have another meal provided for us! Thank you Virginia and crew… We were joined at breakfast by Debbie, who is the recreational therapist at the VA, and her husband Larry. They rode with us to the first gas stop before they returned back to Cheyenne. We had another police escort to get us back on I-80 east again. I am sorry that I did not get time to stop by Maverick Harley Davidson and say hi to Jason & Justin. I was treated like a celeberty when they let me change my engine there in 2008, after I scattered it in western Wyoming while on this run. See the 2008 story for more info. Thanks again guys.

We had our riders meeting inside and were on the road at 8:00. We went another 100 miles to Sidney for fuel. It was getting a bit more windy. This morning was Joni’s privilege  to ride in the missing man formation. The front 5 missing man formation consists of Steve Mulchay, our National coordinator, leading in the left of the lane. The asst. coordinator, Terry hoops, rides beside him on the right. the next row consists of one single rider directly behind Steve in the left side of the lane. The void on the right represents the “missing man” who is who we ride for. He or she is whoever one wants to imagine it may be. Possibly a fellow soldier, listed as an MIA, who never returned, or a lost friend who left this earth much too soon. One’s imagination lets the emotions flow unchecked when riding in that position and looking over there wondering, “what if'”? It’s really a privilege to get to be in that position. The next row is Mike Kline, in the left of the lane, who is our ‘missing man’ coordinator, and next to him is Kent Wilson, who is our ride Chaplin. The next group of riders is that of our fearless road guards who block traffic and make out passage safe when we go through red lights, and they let us stay together as a group. Ten miles before we are to exit, Steve sends them out to do their mission and be ready when the group arrives. The next group is the main pack led by our fearless pacer, Paul (Buzz) Neeb, who rides in the left side of the lane.

When we started out this morning, Joni was in the front group ridding missing man, and I was riding right beside Buzz. Everyone behind us in the main pack rides in a staggered formation, followed by Steve (head dog) Moore who is the “Tail Gunner” bike at the very rear of the pack, who makes sure everyone is doing OK. We were all in the same formation on the second leg except Kent, who was on another temporary mission. Buzz sent me up to take Kent’s place in the missing man formation. Now THAT was very cool being in the formation with Joni doing the missing man as well! What a treat……

Our next stop was for fuel in North Platte, and then we rode across the road to the war memorial for a sack subway lunch provided by the North Platte Fire dept. Thank you guys! We were there for a while visiting with a couple of dozen more riders who were waiting there to ride with us when we leave. The skies were looking like our normal real rain on the plain thing again. It started again for a short while. Then we actually saw the sun for a few moments.

When we left there, I had the pleasure to ride in the missing man formation. My thoughts were of Allen Buckle, my best friend who left this world on 01-01-95 in a motorcycle wreck. His picture is and has been on the inside of my windshield so I can talk to him all the time. Joni traded positions with me and was riding beside Buzz. We rode on a secondary 2 lane, highway 30, for another 100 miles to Kearney for a quick fuel stop. There were a few more dozen riders waiting for us there too. Dave Eastman was one of them who was taking pictures as we all rode in. I’ve spoke with Dave over the last few years and he is a super guy with a lot of heart. Thanks for being there again Dave! When he gets enough vacation time, he plans to join us for the rest of the ride. One of the Kearney motor cops, Scott Gronewoller, sat on my bike for a picture, before helping escort us down the road.

We went another 56 miles into Grand Island to our final destination city of the day. We pulled into a beautiful patriotic scene of a gigantic American flag flying from the Grand Island Fire dept. ladder truck overhead. There were a lot of Veterans who were waiting to watch us all ride in. The first people we saw were Joni’s nephew, Josh and his wife Megan and their two sons Calab & Jonah. They live 2 hours north in Norfolk. We had not seen them for about 3 years since the 2008 ride. The mayor and a Senator said a few words of praise for our unselfish mission and for our Veterans, past and present. Bill, who is the Nebraska state coordinator, did a fine job of talking and giving out certificates of appreciation to a lot of people and agency’s who  helped put the production together. Bill and Nancy plan on doing the rest of the ride with us too. A couple of kids gave me something to put on my bike. I first put Garrett on my bike for a picture and next was his brother, Dakota, and they both had huge smiles one their faces.

We were starting to feel a few more sprinkles as we saddled up to ride to the VFW hall a couple of blocks away. As soon as we got there, Jersey John, from out hometown of Roseburg, Oregon, was calling me. He made it to the Grand Island exit and needed directions to where we were at. I gave the phone to Bill and he told him how to get there. John showed up a short time later and I introduced him to a lot of the group.  We got back on our bikes to get to our motel room. We no sooner were on the road when the skies REALLY opened up. BIG rain and big hail that was bouncing up at us. I pulled into the gas station on the corner to get under cover. Gary, Terry and a few other guys  were waiting it out there too. I took my rain gear off at dinner and had it tied to the bike. In just the 5 or 6 blocks that we rode, I was absolutely soaked. Terry Mooney went riding through the worst of it with Kerri on the back getting initiated on the wet riding thing that we all know so well. We fueled up while we were there and a few minutes later the storm moved over a little and we took off in just a little drizzle. We made it to our motel and Josh and family stayed with us for a few hours to visit more. They are now on the way back home and it is just about time to finish this up and turn in. Stay tuned….more adventures to come…..

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Day 4 Evanston Wy. to Cheyenne Wy.

little bit of snow from last nightAs we went to bed last night I told Joni to look out side at the bikes. Yep, they were getting snowed on! Of course you know what was on our minds as we tried to go to sleep. How much snow will there be? Can we ride? Who knows, we will just have to see what tomorrow brings. I got up at 5:30 and it was still dark out side. I could see that it had not snowed as much as we feared it might. It did rain a heck of a lot, but there was only a dusting on the bikes. Mystery solved, we ride! At the riders meeting we were told that it is snowing pretty heavy before our next fuel stop at Rock Springs. It was pretty cold, in the mid 30’s, but only wet roads and no rain as we just missed the downpour by the time we got to our fuel stop 100 miles later. We were told by some west bound travelers (in cars) that we were heading into some very nasty stuff, hard rain, hail, wind and the works. What else is new! We were prepared to catch up to the storm when we got to our next stop at, which was lunch and fuel again. Guess what? We actually rode slow enough that the storm was just ahead of us! How did that happen? Oh Yeah, Buzz is setting the pace! It’s OK Judy, he’s doing a great job as usual!

When we were climbing the first hill, we were getting up into the thick fog with the high elevation,and all I could see was the first 5 or 6 rows of bikes. The others were GONE…. disappeared into the abyss of white pea soup fog! I recon our group of bikes is like a train on the track. Every car is dependent on the one in front of it to get it where they are all going. the same is true for us. We are directly dependent on the bike in front of us to make sure all is good to get us where we are going. we crested the summit and on our descent we were finally able to get past the fog and actually see a lot more bikes in our group.

We were at our lunch stop long enough to let the storm get a head start on it’s easterly trek. We were again told how bad it was in front of us. We rode another 110 miles into Laramie and stayed dry, except for the water that the tires splashed up. It was fuel for some of us and we were met by at least 12 to 15 more riders waiting for us, to join in on our final 55 miles of the day to Cheyenne.  Where were you Noel & Yvette? I was looking forward to seeing you guys there.

We were favored by, are you ready for this? NO rain yet. There was actually some blue skies, not very much, but a little. We were joined shortly before Cheyenne by an officer with flashing lights as he escorted us into town. We were told that our road guards could stay with the group as they have cops set up at all intersections going through town to the VA Hospital. The news camera was there to catch us riding in and our leader, Steve, did the interview for the gal. Andy, a key employee (that means I don’t remember just what it is that he does there) was glad to see all of us again. We saw a few patients that were brave enough to handle the cold out side. After a while a lot of us went inside to visit some of the other patients. We started talking to one guy who told us that during WWII, he was wounded and spent 16 months in a hospital some where over seas, and he started crying. Joni quickly told him that “you don’t have to go there now, lets stay here in the present” It didn’t work and our hearts were kinda heavy as we had to leave him. We really didn’t mean for that to happen, but some of the patients still have a lot of demons that have to surface from time to time. We find joy in listening to the positive stories, but we are here on this mission to take the good with the not so pleasant.

We went outside and did a lot more conversing before getting ready to ride to the VFW hall for another delicious spaghetti dinner. These guys and gals all work very hard to feed us with a super good meal that is different than most and they make us feel real welcome. George handed over the duties of being the eastern Wyoming state coordinator to Ron and they are both super guys with a lot of heart. Peggy is state coordinator for western Wyoming and she did an excellent job for us in her half of the state too. Thank you Peggy! 

The job of state coordinator is to set up the meals, gas stops, VA home and hospital stops, cemetery wreath laying, police escorts, and the motels with a very discounted rate for all of us. It is a very big undertaking that a lot of us riders don’t have to worry about. So a huge thank you goes out to ALL of the state coordinators for all the hard work that you all do to make our journey a lot easier. Now about the weather! We were in a very long check in line at the motel with only one guy to handle ALL of us. While we were waiting, 3 gals came in to check in. It was 3 generations on their way to a bacholrette party. the grandmother, Martha, was priceless. her facial expressions had all of us cracking up, Her daughter, Lee and grandaughter, Jessica told me that I would not remember their names. Wrong! Martha told us that her dad entered the Navy in 1916 and while he was on board ship, he tracked every position of all of our ships. I sure hoped that he was on our side! We had a lot of fun with them. The next morning, Ray found this hand written note on his windshield.

“I just wanted to thank all of you for serving! It was an honor to meet most of you! Milo and the other gentlemen thank you for being so wonderful to my grandma. She talked about all of you the rest of the night! I hope you have safe travels to DC and home! I hope you will look back one day and remember that all of you brought a smile and a tearful eye to us! You warmed our hearts, safe travels, thank you again, Jessica

Jan and Joni

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Day 3 Elko to Evanston Wy.

We were up at 5:30 to a very wet morning. By the time we had our riders meeting at 7:30 it was not raining at the time. We left at our normal time of 8:00 and we had 38 bikes (I think). The first stop was at the border town of Wendover for fuel. It was there that I saw the smiling faces of Leon & Judy who live in Salt Lake City. They were there to ride with us. The next 100 miles saw a lot of clouds and cold but no rain! That was our fuel and meal stop and it was raining, (back to normal) when we got ready to do the next 32 miles to SLC. The 5 road guards took off the normal 10 miles before our exit to prepare to usher us off the highway and into town to go to the VA Medical center in the middle of town. The lead 5 bikes that is always the missing man formation, veered left to follow I-80. When Buzz looked left, to move the main pack over there was a truck in the way, and we all followed Buzz down I-215. A lot of us saw what was happening but stayed with the main pack as we did a BIG U turn at the nearest exit where we could get going back the other way again. We had to get on I-80 West to turn around AGAIN. We finally got to the correct exit and the road guards were wondering just where we were. It’s not easy to hide a couple dozen bikes!

The Hospital had a lot Veterans waiting by the front door inside as it was cold and wet outside. The first guy that I spotted in a wheel chair, I said “Howard right”? He was beaming cause I remembered his name. He said “your the guy from Roseburg aren’t you”? Howard taught English at Douglas High school from ’56 to ’58 in Winston, Oregon, a few miles south of Roseburg. He was very happy to see all of us from Oregon and we brought a large smile to his face. Next I saw Curtis again, and he was really looking forward to seeing all of us again. Aubry was there and wanted another picture sitting on my bike again. She does wonders for the moral of the residents. She treats ALL of them like they were her grand parents, or great grand parents? A few other gals both patients and nurses and staff alike took turns sitting on my bike for pictures. Everyone was passing around contagious smiles and it was an awesome scene. Another gal, I think her name is Maggie, was wheeling her 92 year old dad, Big Dilworth, closer to see my bike. She was very excited as she kept saying that she hasn’t seen him smile like that in a long time….More feel good stories about this stop as Joni was letting male patients sit with her on her bike. We were all a big hit there. This is why we do what we do, simple little things like giving someone something to smile about where there has not been a smile in who knows how long!

Nicole, who also works there is a ball of energy. She has worked there since 2005 and I think she said she is from Belgium? (Sorry if I got that one wrong). The patients seem to love her and her upbeat attitude. She wheeled Wanda over for a picture and we both determined that it was for the best that she sit side ways instead of trying to get her all the way on the seat. The next gal for the picture machine was Pat. She had the look on her face of,  What the heck am I doing near this thing! Everyone loved it.

After an hour or so, it was time to do our last leg of the day to Evanston, Wyoming. We hit a lot of hail and very hard rain all the rest of the way there. When we got to town we pulled into Spanky’s bar to a very cool welcome party, where they had dinner waiting for us. We saw a lot of friends from past stop overs and it was like old home week! Then it was time to go to the motel for the night and it has yet to stop pouring. Shortly after we got to our room, Jersey John, a friend from Sutherlin, about 10 miles north of Roseburg, called to say he was in Winnemucca, Nevada. He left at 6:00 this morning to catch up with us. He is so excited about being able to finally make this ride.I’ve been telling him about it for years and he kept saying, “some year, maybe I can make it”! John, it’s your year, It will be a pleasure to ride with you. Just get your butt caught up with our group!

Peggy & Buzz

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Day 2 Reno to Elko

This was the only day we got to sleep in, to 6:30! We woke up to sprinkles, not quite rain yet, and walked to the restaurant for breakfast. We said good by to Ben & Margo & Gary & Donna as they were going to ride back home to Roseburg. We had a riders meeting inside and got a police escort to the VA medical center about 5 miles away. This was a very different day as our schedule was messed up with no stop in California for some of us anyway. We went in early to visit patients but quite a few were not up yet at 10:00 am. We spoke to Mr. Wilson, who has the fastest scooter in the hospital as an inpatient. The nurses and staff only called him Mr Wilson as they said they didn’t know his first name. He is quite a character. We spoke to James for quite a while, about his service as well. The one that really stood out to me was Tom Moody. He wheeled himself out to the bikes and was very impressed with the rat bike. He kept asking everyone, “where is the owner, I gotta meet him”? When we finally ran into each other, he told me that I am his hero! He has seen my bike in a lot of pictures and on TV as well. I told him that HE is the hero for serving our country. I just ride my bike around with a lot of other riders thanking people like him. We talked for a long time and he said that he is glad to have another web site to read about with this one. I wish you well Tom Moody!…..

Stephanie was our tour guide and she was told about this wild bike that will be here. She told them that back home, in Roseburg, Oregon, where she just moved from, there is a real wild bike that shows up at the VA for some of their local functions. She transferred to the Reno VA a couple of months ago. She was surprised to see that it is me and the same bike that she has seen riding around Roseburg. She and her husband spent 3 years at the Roseburg VA. Everyone was very thankful that we were there again and we felt very welcome. We were served a box lunch and then went back outside for presentations and farewells as we saddled up to head east again.

We went about 40 miles down the road and stopped at a Northern Nevada Veterans Cemetery where some of our guys laid a wreath. Buzz spread some ashes by the sign as we were entering. We met Muncher and a few other members of the Iron Order M/C. They take personal pride in the cemetery in their own back yard. While we were there we stood over the grave of Joe Leonard, an American Indian who was a Pearl Harbor survivor, and said a prayer for him. When we used to stop at Battle Mountain, where Joe lived, it was to meet with Joe. He died in 2009, but before that we would see him and talk to him about his service and the Pearl Harbor scene. Joe always looked forward to our arrival and got a lot of other people to join in as well.

Rain, rain, rain was the thing to look forward to!  The scene changed when it was putting a lot of hail on us and the road. It was bouncing back up and was able to hit us not only from the top but from the bottom too. Boy were we ever lucky! It was also very cold as we even saw Svein (from Norway) who almost always rides in sandals only, put on two small trash bags over his feet, under his sandals.

I noticed during our next run in hard rain, that Joni’s saddle bag lid was not latched all the way and pointed it out to her. I told her that I would keep an eye on it. Shortly after that I decided that we need a NEW rule. The NEW rule is the next time we see her saddle bag lid unlatched, we pull over right then and there to take care of it. It would have been a whole lot easier to do that than to stop well past where her stuff LANDED on the soaked highway after it flew open all the way. I had quite a long walk going west back against the driving eastward rain! All I saw was a black blob fly out, and I figured it was probably her purse that she keeps on the top of that saddle bag. When I got to it and saw that it was only a sweater (they make more), all I could do was wait for the trucks to pass and get it and bring it back. Steve (Headdog) Moore was the tail end bike who stopped and waited for us. when we took off again, it was 85, 90, 95, 100 mph to catch up with the group. Steve mentioned something about the balls that Joni must have to ride that fast in the rain. She said she was just trying to keep up with me.

A few miles before Elko, a cop was escorting some POW*MIA riders as they passed us at 95 mph to give us an escort to the Nevada National Guard hall for dinner. It was supposed to be in the park, but the rain moved it inside their hall. It was a group effort of the VFW, American Legion Riders, and the MIA*POW Awareness Association to host us for the first time ever as Elko was not a regular stop for us. After our reception it was determined that Elko is now to be our regular stop for dinner and the night. A lot of good folks there made us feel real welcome. Les Brown did the speaking from his heart as we were told of a current POW SPC Bowe Bergdahl US Army, who was captured in Afghanistan on 6-30-09 and is still in captivity over there. That hits close to home as we were able to put a face to the name of the kid from Idaho, and to know that it is very rough over there for all of our brave troops. We were also introduced to a Master Sergent, as she is to be deployed to Afghanistan this friday who got very emotional at our applause, and thanks.  Back on the bikes for fuel and then to motel. Stay tuened for more wet stories tomorrow!………

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Day 1 plans change

Joni and I left our house at about 7:20 this morning under a very dark and ominous sky. It had rained very hard all night and slowed to a mist when we were leaving. We rode to Loves gas stop on I-5 just South of Roseburg this morning for an 8:00 am departure. Nine bikes and Ray Adams, who is again our trusty chase truck driver, and Carrie Booth riding with Ray. Carrie works for the VA in Roseburg and last year was her first year with the ride. She did the reporting for the run site www.NVAR.US as well as for the VA back in Roseburg Oregon. It was a very chilly morning as the rain was falling more the farther south we went. By the time we reached our first fuel stop at Ashland, we were all pretty wet. Fingers were cold and a couple of the guys with us did not grease their boots before leaving, as was evident with their ‘wet feet stories’. I told them about putting on a pair of socks first, then a bread bag and then another pair of socks. It does wonders for keeping feet warm and dry.

We got ready to take off and I decided it was time to plug in my electrics, only to discover that my plug end on the bike had at some point in time fell against the exhaust pipe. It was too melted to plug in so I braved the Siskyou pass with no heated stuff. During that run Ray got a call from some of the guys who were waiting in Auburn. They left at 12;30 to ride over Donner Pass to Reno due to the snow and incoming storms. They just made it over the pass and the highway dept closed the pass right behind them! Plans changed for everyone. Larry, Gary and the crew who left Illinois last week were stuck in Virginia City, Nevada due to snow, ice, and closed roads. Larry took another route and rode 8 hours to do a 2 hour ride and made it to Auburn. The other guys chose to wait out the storm and stay on the east side of the Sierras. Another couple of groups also left the Midwest and saw a lot of snow as well.

We stopped at the Weed rest area (no, that’s the name of the town) and talked about our new route as I fixed the melted end on the electric plug. Barry and Tami turned around and rode back to Roseburg, it was their one day ride plan. We went over McCloud and the Mt. Lassen park area. The snow was falling at a pace that looked like the lights on Star Trek when they did “warp speed”! It was building up on the windshields and our visors at a rapid pace. Ray mentioned that we should have noticed the warming trend when we dropped down out of the higher elevations at 32 degrees to 39 degrees when we stopped in Susanville for lunch. I found out what happens when I have a knitted scarf around my neck that wicks the water all the way down the front to my pants under the rain gear. It was time to dig into my gear and get a dry shirt.

We all fueled up and took off to do our last 85 miles to Reno in the still very cool and heavy rain. To our surprise, about 40 miles down the road, the sky actually had a little blue in it and the rain slowed down . We were going along at a good pace when Terry Mooney who was leading, suddenly took an off ramp leaving us no time to get off so we all stopped on the side of the highway. I looked in my mirror and saw Joni’s bike at quite an angle. Crash bars are a really good idea, they save a lot of stuff. She was wearing a set of new ‘over the gloves’ mittens. She could not hold on so she just stepped off and was laughing uncontrollably! We got her bike back upright and Terry got the bug out of his eye, and we continued on to Reno.

We got to the motel and saw quite a few bikes all covered up and most of the people were at the restaurant. As they made their way back here we gladly greeted a lot of good old friends from past rides. Svein is here from Norway again, and there were people from Michigan, Illinois, Wyoming, Indiana, Ohio, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Iowa, California, and I know I left out some states. We had a group meet and greet at 7:oo and there were 38 people there. It was great seeing everyone again and meeting new folks as well.

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Rat Bike Milo goes to Washington DC again!

Yes folks, this will be the 6th year in a row that My rat bike Shovelhead will take me from coast to coast. This year I have the pleasure of having my wife, Joni, join us on the NVAR ride. This will be Joni’s 3rd time to make the ride. Her first time was on her 2003 Heritage Softtail. This time she will be on her 2008 Roadglide. Stay tuned for more as it happens! We leave Tuesday May 17th for the ride down to Sacramento Calif, to meet the many other groups that have already been on the road from all over the nation, these past few days. The NVAR ride starts on Wednesday the 18th for our 10 day adventure to Washington DC. We will stop at VA Medical centers and Veteran homes all along the way. It is a structured ride, as we have a schedule of what, when, where etc… has our schedule of stops and exactly where we will be and when. Please feel free to join us for a visit or to ride with us for a mile, a day, or however long you can!

As we pull in to a VA establishment with anywhere between 50 and 150+ bikes, Veterans are usually outside waiting for us in wheelchairs or however they can get around, to welcome us to their home. For the ones who can’t get outside, we go inside and go room to room and visit them as well. The smiles that light up their faces, (and ours too), just because we are there to listen to some of their stories, give our mission tremendous emotional meaning. It is truly a joyful pleasure to be able to do what we do. As for me personally, it warms my heart to know how much good we do, and get to ride from coast to coast and bring smiles to people who sometimes don’t have very much to smile about. I spoke to one veteran last year and he told me he has been in the VA home for 9 years and his family has not even come by one time to visit him, and they live in the same town!

My heart keeps pulling me back year after year to take part in this great ride. I hope that when you are touring my site, that you get the same sense of enjoyment that I do when I’m on the road.

Daily posts will follow as we get started…….

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