5/24/18 – On the Road Again…

Day 8 – Boon NC to Richmond VA

After a great night by the fire in Boone, the Patriots Pack decided to sleep in and leave at 9-ish this morning, our latest start since AZ. While saddling up, another hotel guest approached and began his story. Courtney (a boy named Sue, according to him) was (IS) a Marine Staff Sargent who had served in Iraq. Courtney told us about a mission where he took 138 men into the field and brought every one of them home. When asked by his superiors how he did it, he told them he was simply afraid of their wives. A great man and an inspiring way to start our day!

We rolled out in perfect (cool) riding weather heading towards Richmond. About 45 miles into the ride, we finally pulled off for gas. A young guy pushing a shopping cart with all his possessions in it and his trusty dog at his side walked in at the same time. While the guy was inside, the Pack bought the dog a few cans of food and left them for the owner, who came out and picked them up. He looked around trying to figure out where they came from and as we were the only ones at the gas station, he smiled and gave us a thumbs up. Eat well my furry friend!

Off we went again on a surprisingly empty road. It was now getting warmer so the hoodies were stored as we blasted east past open GREEN fields! A very different landscape than we had seen just a few days ago.

Unlike last year where we arrived at our hotel in the middle of a massive storm, the Pack rolled in with no problem and were warmly welcomed by the staff who remembered us (and the storm) from last year. It’s funny how many hotels and restaurants remembers us!

After some cleaning up, we headed to Paco’s favorite local Italian restaurant, which we’ve now hit four straight years. Just like at the hotel, our waitress Tanya remembered us! Another fantastic carb laden dinner and we were full of amazing food, wine and martinis. Slaw shared the video that our incoming friend and newest member Gerard Perillo sent, with the Pack being mentioned on the news in the NY/NJ area. Very cool! At the end of our dinner, a wonderful couple sent over a round of drinks and eventually took some photos. Then Tanya took some with us as well, even dawning Slaw’s vest for one. She was great!

Back to the hotel for more martinis (and moonshine and bourbon and Irish whiskey…everyone has a different flavor). And cigars. Don’t forget the cigars! Fish brought enough to supply the entire million motorcycle Rolling Thunder event and he has sworn they are not coming home with him. We’ve made a good dent on the bag so far!

It looked like it was going to be a relatively quiet night, with the Pack listening to tunes and relaxing a bit. Slaw was hanging with his local college buddy, Steve Kelly. And then Gordito does what Gordito does best. He ran his mouth. Again.

You’d think, after Slaw accepted his push up challenge on last year’s ride and beat him he’d have learned. You’d think, after Slaw accepted his SECOND pushup challenge at the Sharp Dealer Meeting in AZ in Dec., he’d have learned. But alas, Gordito did not learn. Time for another lesson, Pack style.

After the humbling experience, the Pack got back to the serious relaxing they’d been doing before calling it a night. Another great day and off to Cobb and Richmond today before heading into DC for Phase 2 of the ride….ROLLING THUNDER!

5/23/18 – Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Day 7: Atlanta to Boone NC

Rain, rain, go away. The Pack woke bright and early to a complete downpour in Atlanta. Apparently, it’s been raining for days and it’s not supposed to stop.

After the previous night’s escapades, what’s a little rain? To be clear, it wasn’t just a little rain this morning, it was probably some of the heaviest I’ve ridden in with these guys. Time to bust out the rain gear.

By 8:15 we were ready to roll. Fish seems to be a bit jealous that his (cough) BMW doesn’t require almost daily service, so he decided he “needed” a new tire and had to split off for a bit while we went to Milner. I think he was just jealous of all the Harley gear we get at each stop and wanted to hit the first BMW store he was probably able to find!

Truth be told, he left after us and there’s a very good chance he went right back up to bed for a while. I still haven’t seen a BMW shirt from that excursion and I didn’t look at his tire. How would we know???

Pulling out from the overhang where most of the water seemed to be coming off the roof, Slaw was pretty sure his rain gear would keep him reasonably dry. He was wrong. He also forgot to wrap his hood up and it filled with water as he rode along, something he would find out when he got to Milner and took the gear off.

We crept along at even slower than normal ATL rush hour speeds, fighting to keep the 9 of us together. Somehow, we did. At one light, I sat thinking to myself…WTF am I doing here? The rain was hammering down, my glasses were covered inside and out…my rain shield from my helmet was covered inside and out, both were fogging up, I was soaked inside and out. I was a bit miserable at the moment.

And then I happened to look up, and between the beads of rain and fogged glass I noticed I was sitting directly under a sign for the street we were crossing; Steve Reynolds Avenue. And I smiled and thought this must be in my head. Is he really literally looking down on me right now???

Steve is one of my two analyst buddies from a few years ago that was taken too soon. He was only 53 when he passed from cancer. Matt Marshall was the other. Matt was going to meet us at the end of my first Patriots Pack mission in DC, but he lost his fight only a short time before the ride. They knew each other and with Steve being Canadian and Matt from England, I’m sure they’re sitting upstairs drinking Jack Daniels together laughing at how wet I was at that moment.

Now I’m sitting under this sign. How could this be a coincidence? I dawned a huge smile as the light turned and we pushed on.

For the last 3 years, we pulled into Milner and Robbie would come out and greet us. This time, they were waiting outside in a biblical storm as we rolled in! Unbelievable! It made our day and it was only 9 AM!

One of Paco’s buddies was also there to welcome us; Bob McGuire from his Minolta days not only came out, but he rode his Harley! All I could think was, “wow, I definitely would have driven!”

After stripping off some of the gear, we went in to say hello and get some breakfast. Charlie and Robbie and their team had a great Jillian Fund spread on a table when we arrived, complete with T-shirts, our signature elephants, etc. A platter of bagels, coffee, juice and we were more than happy.

Kory was soaked to the bone. I mean REALLY soaked, not just his top half (like me and my hood/lake). It turns out his phone didn’t reset the time zone when we got to EST the night before so he overslept and as the new guy, he didn’t want to hold us up to put his gear on. Fortunately, Milner had a locker room where he was able to start over with dry clothes and his rain gear!

Looking around, I noticed a face was missing and I didn’t really want to ask, but I didn’t need to. The Milner people handed out some flyers they had made for Hank, the grizzled, tattooed Milner biker that met us each year and ALWAYS told us he would ride with us “next year.”

Hank, a Veteran and fellow biker lost his battle since our last visit. While he never rode with us physically, yesterday he was definitely with us when we left, at least in our hearts and minds. It’s a truly sad loss and our condolences go to Milner and Hank’s family. He was a really nice guy.

During our visit, we chatted with many of the great people working there. One conversation revealed that one of the employees is the granddaughter of a Tuskegee Airmen! Now 97, he’s one of the last remaining. He was a Code Breaker in WW2!

It was a very short visit to Milner as we had to get on the road before the rain really settled in. Settled in??? I can’t imagine it being worse, but we took their advice and redressed. We were on the bikes shortly after and slowly made our way out of their parking lot into traffic where a wonderful lady pulled up short and let us all out into the rush hour mess.

This was a big deal as 9 bikes crossing 3 lanes to take a U-turn in good weather can be difficult. In this slop it’s downright treacherous. But, there she was, holding up traffic behind her so we could make our move. Thank you Atlanta lady!

We gassed up and headed to the Harley store to wait for Fish to finish sleeping…I mean get his tire.  The further north we drove, the less it rained and soon, we were out of it. Fish eventually showed and we rolled out 10 deep as Bob stayed with us up to the NC border before splitting off and heading back south (to the rain).

We were heading to the part of the trip I’ve been waiting on since we left AZ – The Blue Ridge Parkway. Scenic overlooks and twisty roads were all we saw for the next couple of hours as we raced through the remnants of FDR’s New Deal, stopping occasionally to soak in the scenery or to let slow traffic get farther ahead of us.

After a fantastic run up what has to be one of my favorite routes that we’ve ridden so far, we arrived in Boone NC.

With nothing close enough to walk to for dinner, we decided to order in and take advantage of the beautiful fire pit they had out back. Passing around everything from ‘shine to good bourbon, Irish whiskey, martinis and even an occasional Yaegar bomb, we had a great night by the fire as Fish played the role of DJ until his speaker died, no doubt a sign that we should go to bed. Many cigars were smoked by these boys.

With a messy start, this turned into one of the great days of our ride. Now off to Richmond where we will see Cobb and SOE tomorrow!!!

5/22/18 – Hey Ma! We are on TV!

Most of the Pack were up early and milling around the bike parking area.  We were not eating much, except for Slaw, as we knew the MCC folks would have some sort of light breakfast for us (little did we know the buffet spread ahead). This morning presented us with wonderful skies and the prospect of a good, morning at least, ride east to Atlanta. The Pack was literally 30 minutes ahead of schedule so there was some light cajoling as we stood in the bike staging area and readied ourselves for the day.

Soon we were off to fight the heavy and dangerous traffic in Memphis. It is a short jaunt over to MCC but the normal route is less than ideal for a string of 11 bikes. “AccuTraffic” Gordito had decided to traverse a new route on surface streets. This was a welcomed change. We had a relatively drama free 10 minute ride to MCC. There was a particularly short green light in one precise left-turn interception where the locals actually paused to allow the trailing Pack to proceed through the now red light.  Thanks Memphis, you’ve been traffically vindicated!

Arrival at MCC was outstanding. We rode in to throngs of adoring fans, cameras, and a path paved with blacktop. As we were dismounting, we noticed the large LED signage promoting MCC that was exclusively promoting Patriots Pack and the Jillian Fund. Very cool!! We also saw a local television crew ride into the parking lot just behind us. This could be a good morning!

Inside, we found most of MCC gathering in their lunch room. Awaiting us was a breakfast feast fit for royalty. There were three massage stations to relax the Pack’s muscles before another day of riding. Slaw didn’t want to insult so he did eat once again. Thanks Slaw. The local TV station interviewed Paco so the Pack is now worldwide famous.  After our meal and massage (not a bad combination), we all gathered in the auditorium for a wonderful presentation by Scot Berry. The culmination of his presentation was a wonderful tribute to the Patriots Pack Patriarch, Paco. It was a detailed and I am sure humbling tribute. Soon Paco brought up the entire Pack and we were given a blessed send off. It is wonderful to be recognized for what we are accomplishing but it is not lost on us that the funds we raise come from the people in the audience. This year we may approach $200,000 if we keep receiving donations like the one from MCC. That is the accomplishment!

We had an ambitious day ahead so the Pack soon began to make their way to the bikes. Much of the MCC staff followed us to the MCC parking tarmac for our departure. There was time for  send-off photos, final goodbye hugs, and “see-ya next years.”

Again, “AccuTraffic” Gordito led the Pack on some of the fine Memphis surface streets until it was necessary to enter onto the freeway loop for just two exits. Soon we were heading east toward Atlanta. First stop is a lovely Harley-Davidson dealership on the severe southeast side of Memphis. Perhaps Gordito just needed to purchase some shirts rather than do laundry. After our not so brief stop, we were ready to depart. Most of the Pack had less than 40 miles on this tank of fuel. GQ, however, was in need as he was not on our cycle. It takes a while for our cycles to sync. We decided to follow GQ to fuel and top off our own tanks so we could depart greater Memphis as a sync’d Pack.

Depart we did, rolling 11 deep. Soon we crossed the Mississippi State line on the road to Atlanta. The Pack rolled fairly smoothly on US highway 72 across northern Mississippi. We rode with precision through the lovely countryside on a beautiful paved highway. We were blessed with partly sunny and dry skies. Soon ahead we began to notice some less-than-sunny skies. “AccuWeather” Gordito pulled the Pack over on the side of the highway. It is truly amazing how much the traffic will move over as they pass by such a large group of riders. “AccuWeather” Gordito notified the Pack that the weather in front was less than ideal and more than an early summer rain. We were given time to don our weather gear and promised time to stop and doff said weather gear on the other side of the long but narrow storm. Soon the Pack mounted up and “No Pack Left Behind” Gordito roared off… while GQ was still not on his bike. Papa kept the back half of the Pack still until GQ was ready to ride.  Soon the Pack united and we roared ahead. About 2 miles up, “AccuWeather” Gordito suddenly pulled into a wonderful rural convenience store with a couple of awnings for the fuel pumps. We packed the bikes into a crowed formation as to keep them out of the rain and leave some pumps open for the proprietor. Apparently weather gear wasn’t going to be sufficient. Lightning is a wonderful deterrent to continue. We wait. It looked like sometime in the next 30 minutes there would be a break in the action. Our proprietor was lovely and accommodating. Slaw was given a sample of the fired catfish with the understanding he would promote this delicacy to the entire Pack. Our proprietor was also willing to open his soft serve and milk shake counter early if we were so inclined. For the most part we are old and lactose intolerant so we declined.

“AccuWeather” Gordito was studying the googles and weathers on his hand held device to look for an opening. Several of the Pack looked easterly to the sky and reported a relatively clear opening to “AccuWeather” Gordito. He concurred after confirming with his googles and weathers on his hand held device. The Pack mounted up and got into formation. Again, Gordito roared off with the first half of the Pack. Again, GQ was not quite ready. It takes a moment for this cool breeze to get into formation. The man doesn’t just saunter when he walks, he saunters in everything is does. JBro has developed a reasonable facsimile of the GQ saunter. GQ is also hampered by his push up challenge. Seems when someone in his crew sends a text with a number the entire crew will drop and perform that number of pushups.  For this we must also wait… happily.

Soon GQ was mounted and the trailing Pack met up with the leading Pack as “AccuWeather” Gordito led us through the weather gauntlet. There was some heavy rain mixed with light rain. We were happy that at one particular traffic light, the rain subsided; however, it then picked up again after getting up to speed. “AccuWeather-Traffic” Gordito expertly led us through and out the other side. In a mere 20 minutes, the Pack was once again pulling off at a convenience store. This time to doff our weather gear. “AccuBladder” Gordito had to pee… outside. Soon, Slaw did the same. Gordito began an attempt so shame Slaw when “PhotoJournalist” Slaw revealed there may have been a pic of the prior bladder void.

Papa and JBro would be peeling off in Hunstville, Alabama. Paco decided to change positions so he could ride behind Papa as a tribute to the 2013 ride where Papa and Paco rode together to achieve Paco’s bucket list item of participating in Rolling Thunder. It was a wonderful bit of nostalgia. Soon, the Pack was off and the Alabama state line was crossed. Progress!!!  As we came into Tuscumbia, Alabama we noticed a Harley-Davidson dealership on the south side of the road. No need to stop as we proceeded through town. As we exited Tuscumbia, Gordito pulled off the road to get fuel. This was perhaps becoming the longest day in the world. The Pack remains patient as we must roll with the weather. This was a good time to hydrate and reapply sunscreen. During this stop, the Pack noticed a crack in Gordito’s rear… tire. Soon, Lone Star was on the ground looking underneath to measure the depth of Gordito’s crack. It was determined Gordito had many cracks. Soon, the Pack had a consensus to travel back to the Tuscumbia Harley-Davidson Dealership to repair or replace “AccuCrack” Gordito’s tire. Papa and JBro decided to continue on their own journey to the family wedding. Goodbyes, hugs, and even some emotion was displayed as the Pack split.

The Brotherhood is intact even if the riders are separated.

Slaw, you really do have the con.  Please use your words and not just photos.

<ENTER ANDY>

Day 6, Part 2

Papa and J Bro have split off and you’re now stuck with Slaw to detail the days’ events from here on out. I’ll pick up where he left off, somewhere in Alabama at a gas station. After hugs, the Brostroms rode off, leaving the rest of the Pack to deal with Gordito’s tire.

Once again, Lone Star’s keen eye spotted a potential problem way before it became an issue. For some reason, Gordito’s tire seemed to be coming apart. Should we ride on? Should we fix it? As we were standing under a local Harley Davidson dealer’s billboard located two miles back, we took that as a sign and headed up the road for a few hours.

A nice relaxing break for the Pack as we waited for the new tire. Bert and Slaw ran next door and secured some grub for the boys. Tire fixed, off we went.

Impending storms on the horizon all the way across the south, but Gordito somehow tapped into “The Williams Way” and we missed it, narrowly jetting through a slim wedge between two big cells (orange/red). I still have no idea how that tiny spot opened up, but we blew through it unscathed.

Fist pumps as we cross the Georgia border and we motored down some beautiful twisties after leaving Tennessee.

Closing in on Atlanta, the Pack lost the sun. And then, they hit rain. Blinding rain. In the dark. No use steering now! While the rest of the day made for great riding, the last 40 miles was a white knuckle run. With sheer determination and help from those we’re riding for (Jillian and Michael), we pulled into the hotel soaked, but safe.

The evening wound down with pizza and martinis and maybe a little singing. A great ending to a pretty tough ride. Off to Milner tomorrow!

5/21/18 – Cheech and Chong, Sandals with Socks, and Southern Hospitality

 

Our day began with unenviable weather reports.  Our schedule was to visit Datamax and the Barry Simon team for an 8:30 meet and greet.  Our departure time was 8:15. From sun up to 8:15 the rain alternates between down pour and something just enough to make it a waste of time to wipe down the seats.  Most of the Pack suited up in rain gear even though the destination was a mere 5 or 6 minutes.  This morning the Pack was rolling 10 deep and thus we first set our ride order.  No longer would Mikes fine rear end be in Papa’s forward view.

The Pack rolled out of the hotel with mostly clean and dry bikes.  The effort lasted for about 200 meters.  We soon rolled into a fuel stop just across the street from Datamax.  The fuel stop was quite full before we approached.  Now it was pandemonium.  Apparently JBro laid down his bike.  Papa was not a whiteness but Lone Star was at his ready immediately and no harm done.  The fuel stop was busy and wet.  Soon the Pack was lining up for the quick on and off to Datamax.  Slaw hit a wet spot with his feet and did an almost ballerina act but was able to keep it up.  The incident probably doesn’t even warrant mention in the blog.

Arriving at Datamax is always a special occasion.  Barry’s team is out in the rain introducing themselves, shaking hands, being inquisitive about the bikes and the journey.  We were treated to some breakfast snacks, coffee, juice and… wait for it… Chick-fil-A!!!  Barry conducted a tour and the Pack was able to mingle with Barry’s team.  Once the team was introduced to Kory – aka, Mikey’s Dad, he received his proper hero’s welcome.  We were also able to once again connect with Barbara.  It was she who two years ago presented Paco with her late husband’s motorcycle vest. He was a Vietnam Veteran and she asked if Paco and the Pack would deliver this vest to DC and place it at the Vietnam Memorial Wall.  What an honor it was to serve her and her family in this manner.  After some wonderful fellowship Barry led us into a large demo/meeting room for the presentation of a charitable donation.  Datamax, your team is wonderful and we thank you on behalf of the Jillian fund and Patriots Pack.

Time to mount up and proceed back to Benton Arkansas.  No Paco didn’t leave his wallet, rather another Jillian Fund supporter, ACDI had prepared another world class reception for the Pack.  As we exited surface streets and proceeded up the entrance ramps most of the Pack were reminded to be careful on the wet roads.  Acceleration to highway speeds on a slippery surface can cause a squirrelly rear end.  As a result of experience and attentive riding all Pack members ended up on the highway in formation safely,

We arrived at ACDI a bit early but safe and even a bit drier than expected.  We again received a world class reception.  There were even some American Legion members who took to Mikey’s Dad right away.  Pairing a man who loves to share his story with a group of ladies who truly want to listen and it was magic watching Kory hold court.  Inside the Pack were treated with hospitality and respect.  There was even a cappuccino machine for our pretentious South African BMW Scooter rider.  ACDI honored the Jillian fund with a gracious donation.  Meteorologist Gordito had been monitoring the global weather patterns thus were encouraged to saddle up and head to Memphis.  This would be a short 152 mile jaunt of about two hours for any normal group.  We fell into formation and roared away from ACDI as the sent us out in parade wave style.

A few miles northeast on I30 and then a few more on the I440 connector and we would exit to US 70 due east to Memphis.  The last few miles before US 70 were in a driving rain.  AccuWeather Gordito had assured us we would expertly dodge the droplet’s.  At the bottom of the exit onto US 70 there was a short discussion about plan B.  Since we were several miles from any sort of shelter we forged onward.  US 7, in good weather, is motorcycle heaven.  Often the trees form a sort of tunnel and the roadside farmland is pristine.  Making our way east Gordito led us to a small-town fuel station with covered pumps.  We were in no need of fuel but the shelter was welcomed.  There was some discussion of donning wet weather gear but it was determined to be fruitless.  We would be covering wet with dry.  The rain had subsided and there was “some” clearing ahead.  After about 20 minutes we mounted up and again headed east.  Soon we were in the clear and getting dried by the sun and wind.  About the time we were drying off another cell blew over the road and we were treated with more showers.  Now the upside to all of this is that most of the Pack were in need of a rinse.  I say most because our pretentious South African BMW scooter rider had done some laundry.  Fish was perhaps the only non-fishy Pack-er.

In and out of showers, the Pack forged on.  Speed was at times brisk and at times lazy.  AccuWeather Gordito was monitoring real-time the impending weather cells and was literally trying to thread this 10 deep through the openings in the clouds.  He was, at times, successful.  In one little town, we roared in to a small two pump fuel station and, like rats seeking cover tried to get all of us under the awning.   The locals were impressed with the bikes.  As soon as the last of us was under cover AccuWeather Gordito roared off and we fell back into formation to forge ahead.  We are about two hours into our journey and had traveled almost 75 of the 150 miles.

Again, we had on and off dry riding.  It is beautiful country and a great road.  About 30 miles ahead we came to one of the only traffic lights on this stretch of US 70.  The town folk seemed to be a bit in awe of the roaring thunder slowing as they approached the light needing to turn right to continue on US 70.  From the middle of the Pack Papa could see AccuWeather Gordito had a bit of a slide turning while turning right.  This tends to bring the rider to attention and as the Pack all turned the corner AccuWeather Gordito noticed ahead a do-it-yourself car wash with three wide bays.  On this day, no one would be using the car wash so he made a wise decision to pull in.  Seems one of the bays was occupied but the Pack was able to fit all 9 Harleys and the BMW scooter under cover.  Kickstands down.  It was time for a rest.  Miles wise it was no near time for a rest but clock wise it was perfect timing.

Our neighbors in bay 1 were an interesting group of young locals.  What would a group of young locals be doing inside a car in a carwash bay on a rainy stormy day?  One hint may help you answer.  “Cheech and Chong”.

There was time for some necessary phone calls, emails and text messages.  After a good 30 or 45 minutes the rain had subsided and without warning from AccuWeather Gordito the Pack was encouraged to mount up.  Several Pack members take a bit longer to don DOT approved cover, lift their legs over above their waists to get into the saddle.  Soon we were all in formation and heading east to Memphis.  About 30 minutes out (and just shy of 4 hours in our short-day journey) we were treated to the slap on hail.  It was as though the skies opened up and threw a hail ball at the back half of the Pack.  The front members were spared but the back half were ducking behind windscreens.  It was a short-lived weather event and we kept moving on.  It was clear we were getting closer to West Memphis Arkansas as the towns were more populated and there were actual people on the streets.  A few times the locals stopped to watch is proceed and waved in appreciation.  Soon US 70 was paralleling I40 quite closely.  We were proceeding in warm dry weather and as such were again clean and dry ourselves.  It was time for some of the less fuel-efficient riders to get fuel.  We were also approaching the west side of West Memphis.  Aw roared into a truck stop on US 70 and began the fueling dance.  When finished the Pack then congrats in an open area and puts kickstands down for some hydration (ironic) and snacks.

A couple members of the Pack noticed a store across the street that would serve as a wonderful place to purchase after hours hydration supplies.  These few fired up and proceeded across the street.  The rest of the Pack waited for all to fuel up, hydrate and evacuate bladders.  The trading members road across the road to the after-hours hydration supplies store.  AccuWeather Gordito determined this establishment was no longer in business.  He fired up the two sheeled AccuWeather van and with two Pack members in tow he roared east on US 70.  Paco was yet standing next to his ride.  Papa stayed put until the rest of the Pack was in formation and led the trailing group out onto US 70 east.  The preceding Pack was on the side of the road waiting and again we were in full formation.

A few minutes later we were in the heart of lovely West Memphis Arkansas.  Gordito led the Pack into the parking lot of an Auto Parts store.  Oh oh!  Lone Star dismounted and went it.  He came out quickly, pointed back across the street and 4 Pack members turned around and proceeded to another after hours hydration supplies store.  The rest of the Pack decided to stay put and not have to cross over US 70 twice.  10 minutes later the success consumers were back and slowing to a crawl so the remaining Pack could fall into formation for the final push across the Mississippi on I55 into Memphis.  We proceeded to merge onto I55 from US 70.  I55 could have used a resurface 20 years ago.  It’s as a bit harrowing to run up to highway speed on a less than ideal surface and a short entrance ramp.  The Pack was successful and soon crossing the mighty Mississippi.  Memphis drivers are a bit more possessive of their positions on the highways so the Pack quickly determined we needed to go into uber-defensive driving node.  Gordito expertly navigated the freeways around the southwest side of Memphis across the southern end and back up the southeastern to our hotel exit.  Except for the black dodge challenger who was, quite obviously, the most important person on this road, we were allowed safe passage and arrived at our intended hotel destination.  155 miles in 5 hours.  The longest short day on Patriots Pack record… accept for Slaw’s IV day.

The pack checked in successfully. There was some quick hydration and off to the rooms to clean up a bit and prepare for a short ride to dinner.  The Berry’s were hosting at their lovely home.  The Pack gathered in the lobby waiting for Gordito to lead us out.  Then, just like James Dean with perfect half in cuffs on his starched denims, in strides GQ.  Finally, the Pack is whole… and cool.  The man just appears out of the ether.  GQ checked into the hotel and we continued to wait for Gordito and is “let’s go” signal.  We continued to wait.  IT was then determined Gordito and others were already at the bikes waiting for those in the hotel to exit.  Communication is the key to any successful long-term relationship.  Even more important when this relationship is with multiple partners.

The pack fell into formation and off we went the short ride to the Berry residence.  This is a stately neighborhood that rarely sees this much leather and noise.  The guard was ready for us and the gate was up.  As we made our way into the neighborhood we noticed a big sign reminding the residents of the evening’s board meeting.  We thought about attending but were more interested in the Berry feast awaiting us.  We parked in formation outside the Berry home, dismounted and were soon greeted with all the saunter charm and hospitality you would expect from such a gracious family.  Scot and Dee Dee, and much of their extended family, treated us to an evening of wonderful food and even more wonderful fellowship.  Our Goldstar father was again given the opportunity to tell his story.  We all continue to be humbled by his family’s sacrifice.  Food, more food, desert, grandkids in the swimming pool, NBA basketball on TV, smiles and wonderful conversation.  It was a perfect evening.  AccuWeather Gordito determined, before dark, we should make our way back to the hotel or risk another rinse.  The Pack mounted up and roared out of this quiet neighborhood.  AccuTraffic Gordito led the pack on a new return route.  This may have caused some confusion.  In this confusion, it was learned that AccuGordito us less than pleased being honked at by the trailing Pack members.  In the end, it was a more efficient ride home as the surface of the new route was much smoother.  We returned safely and made our way into the lobby.

The lobby staff were gracious in providing supplies for our after-hours hydration.  GQ vanished.  About 30 minutes later GQ appears again out of the ether… as he is prone to do, with his famous Tennessee home brewed “flavored mineral water”.  We were all excited to see GQ had stowed this now famous treat.  We were, however, not so impressed with his evening clothes.  GQ was in an oversized Jillian t-shirt, golf style visor, beach wear for shorts and sandals… with black socks.  Now if anyone can make sandals with black socks work it would be GQ.  In any case this is a major violation of couture protocol.  We may have to have a meeting.  Let’s just say it is a good thing he had his Tennessee home brewed “flavored mineral water”.  The day ended with more great stories and a tired Pack retiring early.

Tomorrow the Pack will have a breakfast reception and the Berry’s MCC offices.  IT will be another wonderful experience.  Unfortunately, Papa and JBro will ride with the Pack only to Huntsville but then must peel off and begin heading toward Minnesota for a family wedding.  Apparently, Papa was not consulted by the bride and groom on their scheduling.

 

 

 

5/20/18 – Rain, Wind, and Weather…and a Lost Wallet

No Pack left behind

The plan was to meet at the most central of the three hotels and have kickstands up at 9:00.  Our destination was Little Rock Arkansas.  Check in early, relax, then roll thunder 10 deep into Barry Simons’ country club home.

At 7:49am Paco sent a text to ride captains (plural as rolling 10 deep requires) that we should saddle up immediately to avoid the impending moisture in the Dallas area.  A mass text was sent out to the Pack and scrambling began. (Bert was to on this text string) Gordito and Papa left their hotel a short 15 minutes later to join the others at the central location.  We joined the others in the lobby to gather the riders.  Our plan was to go as ready to the RaceTrac fuel stop across the field from the hotel.  Bert was seen walking in his pajama shorts a short time earlier.  It was just a passing thought.  Muratec hero (to be explained later), Brit, rolled in to see us off… in his truck.  Seems the hail on his side of town dampened his desire to ride out a way with us.  He did give some detail of the biblical moisture heading our way.  Again, the scramble to meet at the RaceTrac fuel station.  Gordito mounted up and immediately proceeded to the Exon station.  Slaw, in lemming style, followed Gordito.  Had anyone texted Bert?  Slaw assured us he had.  The rest of the Pack, sans Bert rolled into the RaceTrac and began fueling.  Gordito and Slaw joined the group.  Bert?  Slaw assured us he was coming… so was the rain.  Paco suggested Gordito lead a small group out and get ahead of the rain.  They would wait a few miles north, dry, and we would proceed in full formation.  Gordito and Lone Star sprang into action, gathered Paco and off they roared.  No Pack left behind… unless it’s raining?  The three of them left in a hurry (important to note).

About 5 minutes later a hurried and confused Bert rolled in.  Being left off the initial string gave him little context to the fire drill.  He fueled up.  The rain was beginning to fall.  Bert had some challenges with his zipper.  Papa was asked to grab firmly and pull while Bert yanked on his zipper.  It was a struggle but with a bit of patience Bert was able to get it down and back up.  This was necessary to keep Bert dry.  Finally, Bert fired his engine and the trailing 5 Pack members rolled out, in a driving rain, to George Bush east.  About 5 miles out Papa noticed what appeared to be a trike in our formation. This also obstructed his view of the bikes behind.  Papa decided to exit the highway and roll into the parking lot of a mall.  This exercise revealed that the trike was actually the non-Harley bike that Fish rides.  The LED lower lighting, under the dark skies in a driving rain was misleading.  All was well and the trailing Pack rolled on Easterly.  The skies ahead were nothing short of ominous.  The good news is we had but 4 miles to go before merging onto Interstate 30 on a north easterly direction.  As soon as we merged, clear skies were ahead.  About 3 miles out our roadway was dry and our wet clothes were drying fast.  We got the formation into the left lane and proceed on I30.  About 12 miles ahead Papa noticed the three early Pack members.  Soon we merged the two trains together and proceed as on toward Little Rock.

Papa made an observation due to the unusual formation.  Usually Paco is our Sweep.  This is the term for the trailing member in the formation.  This was the first time Papa has seen Paco’s rear-end for any extended period of time.  Papa believes Paco’s rear-end tis the nicest of all the Pack members.  Given Paco’s screaming eagle, his rear hangs a little lower over the exhaust but is a nice shape.  The German rear-end was a bit wide and heavy.  Doc’s rear-end is minimal and firm.  Papa was snapped out of this observation as Gordito was moving the Pack to the right most lane and exiting… in the middle of nowhere.  We proceeded down the exit ramp, veered left under the interstate and acme to a stop a few hundred yards down the road.  Kickstands down, motors off.  Perhaps the dry riders stopped to allow the wet riders time to remove their rain gear?  Not the case.  Seems in their haste, the elder and apparently forgetful Paco left his billfold on the RaceTrac fuel pump.  Not to worry.  Our hero, Muratec Brit, had located the billfold and was racing his ford truck in our direction for the hand off.  Slaw was soon in the weeds peeing.  Photo op!!!  It was decided to proceed into town to find a convenience store and, as Lone Star exclaimed, properly relieve ourselves.  Still in the unusual formation the first three roared off.  The rest stayed put as Papa’s bike wouldn’t start.  Papa restored the entire sequence and… nothing.  On a whim Papa placed the bike into natural and off she roared.  The first three had pulled over to wait and as we all approached we again were in formation as we wound through the delightful north Texas city.  We road up a via dock lined with flags.  It was a very cool sight.  All of the Patriot Pack rolling through a flag lined street.  Soon we pulled into the convenience store.  The pack scattered to the relief facilities.  We loaded up on hydration and some snacks.  Back at the bikes Lone Star and Gordito assisted Papa in diagnosing the situation.  Seems there is a sensor that determines the clutch in in so the bike can start.  The rain had caused the sensor to malfunction which is why neutral worked.  Problem revealed and a temporary solution was uncovered.  Start the bike in neutral.  Sooner than expected hero Brit arrived and the billfold handoff was completed.  Without fanfare, the Pack was back on the road.  This time is proper formation with Paco as sweep.  Papa will miss his rear-end.

At this point we had just under 300 miles to Little Rock.  The ride was quite uneventful.  The traffic as not heavy and for the most part was polite.  Coming upon an eight-deep bike formation in the left lane can be irritating.  As cars bunched up behind Paco he would routinely signal a lane change to the right to allow the cars to pass.  This process worked gracefully the entire way to our fuel stop.  We rolled into the truck stop and fueled up.  Bikes were lined up after fueling in the shade for a short rest.  Relieving was the order of the morning.  It was noticed that the Pump Muzak was of a Sunday morning worship service.  For few short minutes, we were inadvertently treated to the teachings of Paul.  The sun was in full glory so most members applied their sunscreen.  Fish brought out tat sleeves for those who wanted a less traditional way to screen the sun. Slaw has photos.

Soon we fired up the engines again, this time with no need for neutral for Papa.  This proving the theory of the wet sensor.  Next stop, Springhill Suites in Little Rock.  Papa has been keeping an eye on the Glimpse app as his son, JBro, was riding solo from Houston to meet up with the Pack at the Springhill Suites.  According to the app he was making great time and would only be about 45 minutes behind us.  We were also looking forward to connecting with Kory Thompson.  Kory and his story are an entire chapter, perhaps book, by themselves.  We were all excited and honored at the opportunity to ride with this Gold Star Parent.

Aside from a lone angry driver we made great time getting to Little Rock.  Gordito led the Pack to the exit I30 and onto I430 loop around the west side of Little Rock.  We proceeded just 5 short miles and exited onto the surface streets.  We turned left and the bottom of the ramp and proceed to the traffic light.  Papa’s GPS was screaming to turn right.  Gordito led the pack forward through the intersection and immediately realized the mistake.  The Pack then proceeded up another ramp onto a 4-lane street but needed to get into the left most lane for a left-hand turn in a short 100 yards… or about 90 meters for Fish.  One good Samaritan stopped her vehicle so we could get across.  We appreciated her gesture but Doc had not anticipated this and was executing a competitive maneuver to allow us to merge.  Deft driving and experience was used to get the entire pack safely into the left-hand turn lane.  Gordito led the Pack through a complicated 4 block U-turn and onto the appropriate street.  4 minutes later we rolled into the Springhill suites without incident.

We were in an hour ahead of check in time.  Lone Star treated us to a beer.  Some took the time for a light bike wash.  Others caught up on family and email.  JBro was indeed 45 minutes out and approaching quickly.  Kory checked in and was about 90 minutes out. All was well.

Front desk lady was expertly repositioning cleaning staff to get our rooms ready as early as possible.  One by one the Pack retired to their rooms.  Papa decided to wipe down his bike.  4 days of road grime needed attention.  Before long JBro roared into the parking lot.  The two them unpacked their bags and proceed to their room to freshen up for our dinner at Barry Simons’.  A group text went out that Barry was lonely and we should come over at 4:30 rather than 5:00.  This time someone included Bert.  We also noticed the extra bike.  Kory had arrived as well.  We would be rolling into Barry’s a full 10 deep. As we gathered for the short ride over to Barry’s house we went through the appropriate introductions as most had never met JBro nor Kory.  The Pack slotted the new additions and off we roared through sleepy residential Little Rock.  Gordito led us into the quiet country club community and into Barry’s circle drive in full formation.  Thank goodness the Simons’ had warned their neighbors.  We were treated to a video arrival and a warm welcome from the Simons’ as well as their guest, John Kuchta.  It was a wonderful industry reunion for many of the Pack.  The Simon’s welcomed us into their home and we had a great relaxing time enjoying their hospitality and living room style open air deck.  Soon it was time for dinner.  The pack was treated to a fantastic spread.  We are grateful for the hospitality.

Upon return to the hotel the Pack retired to the alter and sipped on a night cap.  We shared stories and explored the real reasons we make this annual sojourn.  The sense of accomplishment and the ability to help fund the Jillian Fund Charity are wonderful.  These are byproducts of what we do, they are not why we do it.  Life is too short not to fix what needs fixing.  We are a band of brothers.  Honored guest, Kory, joined us giving us the opportunity to relax and welcome him.  It was a wonderful evening.  The Pack disbursed to their rooms.  Papa went to his bike and came back in as Lone Star finished cleaning up our mess.  Lone Star, your mother would be proud.

 

 

5/19/18 – The Royal Wedding, Untanned Legs, and Pee Breaks

Protein Shake-gate

Papa took his biker luggage to out to the parking lot to find Paco was out early preparing his bike for the day along with Doc, in a ridiculous t-shirt and short shorts ensemble that was accentuating his pearly white legs.  Doc was detailing his bike.  The sun was out and the skies were clear.

Soon, one by one the Pack began to emerge from their slumber and the bikes were readied for the day.  At 7:15am, as requested, Papa and Paco delivered three bananas to Gordito’s room.  A knock on the door revealed a human specimen with the hairdo of Lyle Lovett had he uses grecian formula for his black hair. (in all fairness, this hairdo has attracted both Johanna Williams AND Julia Roberts, he may be on to something).  Gordito was also watching the royal wedding. Paco, feeling uncomfortable with Lyle Lovett and the royal wedding immediately extricated himself from the situation.

Bananas were handed off and Gordito commenced to concocting this precious protein shake recipe.  His refusal to add a little peanut butter to the batch meant for Papa was a bit irritating.  Papa went for some ice as Gordito was not yet fully prepared.  Upon returning to Gordito’s room it was learned that the royal wedding was still on the TV.  The first batch, without peanut butter, was placed in the industrial blender.  A secret recipe consisting of a protein powder packet, ice, banana, and cinnamon.  The mix was industrially blended and two servings were poured.  Papa was instructed to consume one himself and hand on to Paco.

I need to explain that we are on motorcycles for 500 miles today… across the desolate tundra of West Texas.  The last thing a biker wants to do is introduce an unknown substance into his/her digestive system just before departing on this journey.  Paco and Papa can honestly attest to the pleasant “taste” of this shake.  Of course, notes of peanut butter may be an improvement. Papa went to his bike and then to his room to quietly consume a known substance for breakfast.

Shortly before 8:00 the Pack assembled in the lobby to make their way to the bikes.  Gordito was there as there was a commercial break during the royal wedding allowing us the opportunity to depart on schedule.  First stop was fuel and then the Pack departed Roswell heading east on US 380.

The Pack followed US 380 east through the lonely high mesas of New Mexico and eventually on to the west Texas landscape.  Gone were the tree lined mountains of Arizona and the dramatic canyon roads of New Mexico.  Our entire landscape was slow rolling hills and plains dotted with oil derricks.  We wound through these sleepy little towns with Pack precision.  As we roared out of one particular town we ran through the gears and up to speed, which is a posted 75 on most any two-lane highway in Texas, and suddenly Gordito brought the pack to rest on the side of the road.  Kickstands down and motors off.  It was revealed Gordito’s check engine light had appeared.  Time to do a bike wellness check.  Slaw immediately wondered off the highway about 40 yards to a fence/urinal.  He did jump back a bit when his big city senses wondered, mid-stream, if the fence was electrified.  Thankfully for all of us it was not.  Just a lone biker standing at attention facing south.  Gordito’s check engine light seemed to have been an anomaly.  Perhaps due to some excessive RPM during a passing of a semi.  Now most of the Pack took Slaw’s dead and stood at attention facing south 40 yards from the highway.

The Pack roared to life and continued east toward Plano. As we made our way through the day we found fuel abnormally early as the chances for fuel are fewer and further between out in West Texas.  We stopped about every 120 miles as opposed to every 180 or more.  Given the length of the day’s trip and the heat/humidity these more frequent stops were welcomed.  At the third of these stops Doc mentioned the striking similarity of all these sleepy towns.  They were all small towns with boarded up business and residences.  The fuel stations were all convenience stores from three generations past.  The newest building the town was the Dairy Queen and they only thriving business was the Family Dollar / Dollar General.  It is certainly lonely out on the plains of West Texas.  The other striking similarity were the locals.  All extremely accommodating, engaging, and truly interested in the Pack’s mission.  We also experience something unusual and wonderful on day 3.  Just about every time the Pack came up on a slower moving vehicle on these narrow 75mph roads, the motorist moved onto the shoulder and allowed us to pass without having to go out into the oncoming lane.  It was unexpected and greatly appreciated.  Thank you, West Texas.

We left one particular town and roared up to speed.  About 50 miles out Papa noticed his American Flag which had been flapping in the wind for 800 miles was gone.  In the rear view, he could see the base and housing was still attached.  The flexible pole and flag appeared to have snapped off.  First thought was to look for all riders behind to make sure it had not become a weapon of Pack destruction.  This seemed not to be the case.  Papa waited to the next fuel stop and found the trailing Pack members had indeed seen is snap off and roll to the side harmlessly but nothing could have been done.  The other side mechanism held the AZ and Minnesota Gopher flags but it was intact.  Off we went heading east.

As we began to get closer to the Dallas Fort Worth general area Papa again noticed the other flag pole had snapped and he was flag-less.  Thankfully no one was impaled.  It is fair to say, as the day was heading into late afternoon, the Pack was tiring and road weary.  We had been fighting a prevailing wind from the south all afternoon.  We were looking forward to showers and real food with the Muratec folks in the evening.  On a narrow two lane we came up a slight grade as the road turned left.  An oncoming pick-up truck was making the oncoming traffic’s slow right-hand turn but was assuredly distracted.  Papa and Bert, in the left positions of the stagger had to veer right to avoid a possible oncoming mirror smack. Experience and alertness are necessary to avoid disaster.  While on a particularly open stretch of 4 lane road with a grassy median, our road leader Gordito, suddenly leaned into the wind but to no avail.  Soon the trailing Pack saw him on the rumble strip inches from catching a ride into the soft grassy median.  Quick panic-less thinking resulted in a smooth transition back into the normal lane of travel.  The only casualty may have been his undergarments.

We were approaching the DFW metro area.  In past years the pack merged onto I35 south, took the I 35E route toward Dallas and then took the George Bush loop over to Plano as the hotel(s) were adjacent the George Bush loop.  The past three years of construction and traffic caused Gordito to take a non-freeway loop across the top of the metro area and then down on US 75 to the George Bush loop.  This seemed like a great idea. on paper.  4000 red lights, heavy residential traffic, and 45 minutes later the Pack merged onto US 75 south for the 8 miles or so down to George Bush loop.  Stop and go traffic and 20 minutes later we mercifully merged onto George Bush east for the short ride to our exit.  We pulled of onto the exit and looped around on the Texas style access lanes and into a church parking lot in between two hotel complexes.  Gordito stopped and hollered, “Which hotel are we at!!” Papa knew he was hat Hampton which we had just passed.  The others assumed the hotel we were at other years.  Gordito decided to assume the Hampton.  We could have proceeded on the access road, turned left under the George Bush and completed the loop into the Hampton.  Instead Gordito lead us past the prior year’s hotel.  New Pack pledge, Fish, was at this hotel and apparently watched us pass by and proceed on with some wonderment and trepidation.  The Pack turned right at the light, right at the next light and right again at the next light and once again… by now were back around at the Hampton entrance.  Gordito expertly lead us down an access road only to find we had missed the quick left into the Hampton property.  This gave the Pack and opportunity to practice tight quarters u-turns.  This was handled with aplomb.  We all roared under the Hampton awning and put kickstands down.  Bikes were being unpacked and road gear was coming off.  Bert walked back out and exclaimed.  This isn’t the hotel.  Papa was adamant it was at least his hotel.  Gordito was confident it was his hotel.  Paco went to the front desk.  It wasn’t his hotel.   Soon it was revealed that Gordito and Papa were at their assigned hotel but Slaw, Paco and Doc were in the hotel where Fish was waiting.  Bert, on the other hand, was two exits away from his.  Paco too charge and told Bert to follow the balance of the Pack and would get his room moved to their hotel.  The Pack splintered and the retired to the showers.

At the appointed time Gordito and Papa met Lone Star and his bride, Donna, as they were our Uber to the other hotel.  There the Pack and their entourage gathered for our Muratec sponsored dinner at our favorite BBQ roadhouse.  Upon arrival, we had a table prepared for almost 20 people.  This dinner went well, for the most part.  Doc, a rookie Packer was out of uniform.  These Pack vests are earned and are required uniform for State dinners.  This violation requires penance.  Instead of a single song rendition at dinner Doc will require three to keep vest privileges.

Background: Vests are earned by performing at a State dinner.  You must perform your choice of, high school fight song, university fight song, national anthem or something akin.  GQ’s Tennessee Rocky Top is the current gold standard.

Drinks were flowing and appetizers were being consumed at an alarming rate.  Paco bright the dinner to order.  Lone Star welcomed the group with some eloquent words in Jimmy D’s stead.  Honorary member Jimmy D was unable to make the event as he is at an arduous work function in Prague.  Paco accepted the welcome from Lone Star and introduced Fish, Simon Vermooten to the pack.  Fish is a 6’8 (203cm for the metrically inclined) South African living in Nashville riding a cough German motorcycle.  Fish will ride three miles behind so as not to offend the rest of the Pack.  Fish decided to regale us with a rendition of the “original South African National Anthem”.  First, we heard the story of how his grandfather was an architect to Apartheid and thus Fish carries and affinity of the original anthem.  Fish gave his all.  Since it was sung in his native tongue we have no idea as to its authenticity but… it worked!  Fish was officially vested in the Patriots Pack.  Next up was Doc.  He owed the Pack three songs.  One for his vest, one for having his vest a week before earning said vest, and one for his uniform violation at a State dinner.  Doc will be given a couple of State dinners to fulfill his duties.  That is good for all because his abilities are on the weak side.  Doc, a graduate of Boise State decided to give us the Broncos’ fight song… er chant.  All we require is effort and with some artistic license we can say Doc gave effort.  He is officially in.

Dinner began with Papa performing Amazing Grace in appreciation for three days of safe, rubber side down, riding.  Muratec’s dinner was wonderful.  We didn’t miss Jimmy D at all!  Next stop is Little Rock Arkansas!

 

 

5/18/18 – Day Two and No Alien Sightings!

Papa was up early walking the grounds of the Timber lodge searching for signs of life.  It was two hours before wheels rolling so not much was stirring.  First thoughts were in wonder of Slaw’s condition this morning.  Would he be feeling great?  Would he be feeling as though he lost to Tyson the previous day?  After cleaning windshields and drinking a cup of bad Timber lodge coffee there were signs of life among the rest of the Pack.  Papa and Gordito had a “discussion” about the route.  Papa wondered if we would travel US 60 through Pie Town.  Gordito insisted we would travel 260 all the way to Roswell.  Papa had already checked with The Google to know that Gordito’s 260 would cross over the White Mountains and merge with 60 about 40 miles before traveling through Pie Town.  As planned the Pack met at a local diner at 8:05 for some breakfast.  Papa once again brought up a Pie Town visit.  This time he was met with general incredulity from the balance of the Pack.  One by one the Pack members visited the facilities and prepared their bikes for the 200ish miles to our next intended stop… the confluence of US 60 and Interstate 25.  As the Paso and Doc exited met the rest of the Pack in the parking lot they informed us that a learned local told them the Pie Town fanatic had it right.  They were given explicit instructions to the most appealing Pie establishment in Pie Town.  We roared off heading easterly on US 260.

The first part of the morning was a cool, not chilly, ride up and over the White Mountains and into New Mexico.  US 260 had vanished and we were on US 60.  The New Mexico winds have picked up a bit as we come of the mountain.  About 4 miles short of Pie Town Gordito’s non DOT approved cover was blown off his head.  This brought the Pack to a side of the road stop.  Kickstands down, engine off while Gordito proceeded to turn back for his $4.95 non DOT approved cover.  Given we are mostly men of a certain age, and the complete lack of traffic we decided to use the roadside as a urinal.  Harleys lined up, leathered gentlemen lined up facing away from the road… paints a hysterical picture.  Gordito was unsuccessful in his search so we sipped up, saddled up and road on.  Soon we approached Pie Town and just as soon Pie Town was in our rear view mirror.  Perhaps in the future we will be able to fully partake the Pie Town experience.

Aside from a persistent and nagging wind we had an uneventful ride across the high plains of central New Mexico.  Our next point of interest was our travel past the Array.  This is where Uncle Sam is listening for otherworldly Uncle Sams.  It is interesting but not enough to apply brake pressure.  Finally we come down off the high plains into the Rio Grande valley and the confluence of US 60 and I 25.  We’ve lost an hour via Time zone so it is now early afternoon.  We need fuel for the bikes and bodies.  We make sure Slaw gets twice what he thinks he needs.  No more ERs for Slaw.  9 mil is his only option.  After a restful stop we depart with full tanks and empty bladders.  Now we head on I 25 south for about 7 miles before getting on US 380 heading east towards Roswell.  (We were told the highway in Pine Top was the same road that would take us all the way to Roswell.  We’re now on our 4th highway of the day… just sayin) It pains me to say this but you’re better off following Gordito than following his directions.  When we left the last fuel stop we had about 180 miles before arriving Roswell.  Our route of travel would take us through Lincoln New Mexico, about 80 miles short of Roswell.  The wind has now become gusty and unpredictable.  Dust devils were not infrequently crossing the highway causing some interesting handling characteristics.  Thankfully the Pack made is safely but we did have one casualty.  Slaw had a Jillian Fund purple elephant bungie cord’d to his passenger seat.  As the result of a particularly violent dust devil the stuffed animal was thrown out and down into the oncoming lane.  As it hit hard and rolled it was determined we would not be able to retrieve her so we pressed on.  Soon we arrived in Lincoln and pulled over, again with kickstands down.  This is a town so little it doesn’t have curb and gutter nor public facilities.  It Does, however, have the definitive Billy The Kid museum.  Scotty the Museum guy is not only wildly enthusiastic for, but also incredibly knowledgeable about, “The Kid”.  We spend a good 30 minutes at this museum, which gave us access to its facilities!  We learned that Gordito knows all there is to know about The Kid.  We were treated to an explanation of characters and even their Hollywood counterparts for The Kid movies.

Time to roll on.  We have about an hour left, About 30 minutes later we turned off US 380 and onto US 70 and proceeded Northeasterly to Roswell. Now any wind was at our back and we had a magical ride for the final 30 minutes into Roswell.  As we entered the Roswell city limits Gordito made an abrupt left turn into the Roswell Harley Dealership.  We parked and entered the air conditioning for free water and overpriced t-shirts.  There was some discussion and marvel at our dearth of drama compared to our Day 1.

We proceeded to our bikes and the engines roared.  One by one we got into formation on the apron of the parking lot as we prepared to make the 10 minute run to our hotel.  5 of us were in line and ready.  Slaw came last and pulled up behind Gordito.  Making a last moment decision to move alongside Gordito rather than directly behind caused Slaw to brake hard while turning sharp right into the down grade of the apron.  A quick stop of his momentum and the rest is cinematic history.  The rest of us watched, along with some old dude on his softail with a cig hanging from his lips, as Saw slowly and with ballerina precision lay his bike down.  There went our drama-less day!  Before Slaw could stand up Papa and Doc were there to put the bike back upright.  Slaw took a breath to get settled knowing the only scratches and bruising were to his pride.   Off we went to our hotel.

We gave ourselves 45 minutes to shower and check email.  Gordito had us walking to an average steakhouse.  The hotel host suggested we not eat at KBobs.  She suggested El Ceritos about 2 minutes further.  She did suggest a great steakhouse but it was too far to walk.  We try not to ride the bikes to dinner as the after effects of “desert” makes riding dangerous.  Well… this is why Uber was invented.  We could get two Uber X our an Uber XL… nope!  Hotel host lady laughed at our suggestion that Roswell New Mexico would have rideshare services.  Sure, they have aliens but no Uber?!?!

Gordito wins and we walk across the street to KBobs.  We notice not may cars in the lot… in fact, none.  We also noticed the tumble weed and long grasses may be indicating KBobs has gone kaput.  No steakhouse tonight.  Hotel host lady was right.  El Cerito was a lovely Mexican style restaurant.  Beer and wind only. WHAT?!  Yes.  If you’ve Neve had a white wind margarita… keep it that way.  Paco, knowing Gordito had smuggled in some Russian Mineral water decided to attempt to convince our lovely table server to look the other way while we manufactured our own martinis.  Paco lost the battle once knowing this lovely young woman would lose her job if we were to fail in our stealthy attempt.

Dinner conversation was mostly subdued.  Staring with the tragic events in the Houston area, the conversation led to those tragic and seminal moments in our too recent history.  It was a relatively quiet evening of reverent camaraderie.  These are the moments we will remember forever.  …but too will we remember Slaw’s precision lay down.

A quick nightcap at the hotel turned into Gordito inviting us all for morning protein shakes.  To accomplish this he needed a blender and bananas.  It wasn’t 2 minutes later and Gordito was taking possession. from front desk host, of an industrial blender.  Papa is on banana duty in the morning and Gordito was have no excuses to prevent him from providing our healthy breakfast mañana.

5/17/2018 – Day One and a Trip to the ER!

May 17, Day 1

Patriot Pack members attending the celebratory send off at MWA:

Mike Stramaglio – Paco

Gavin Williams – Gordito

Andy Slawetsky – Slaw

Mark Albert – Bert

Doug Johnson – Doc

…and what a send off it was. The people, the food, the energy, it was a wonderful mid afternoon celebration. The actual ride kicked off with a few words from Bishop Ken Staker. Over the years I have heard people give religious blessings and some were intended to put the fear of God in you. Bishop Staker’s words were humble, uplifting, and on point. He shared the love of God from his heart to all ours.

Kick stands up, engines roared about 13:30. The Pack maneuvered into our scheduled line up and allowed SGT Stumpf and his partners from Scottsdale PD to halt traffic and allow us to begin our journey. Gordito took the lead and we headed east on Scottsdale surface streets toward Fountain hills. The Timber Lodge in Pine Top AZ was our intended destination. As we enjoyed every damned red light on Frank Loyd Wright AND Shea Blvd I began to wonder how I was going to make a story of this if we continued with no Pack Drama. We had traveled a good 8 miles and no one had dropped their Harley!?

The Pack turned off from Shea Blvd and onto The Bee Line,  AZ 87. Only two more traffic lights before revving up and heading toward Payson. I was looking forward to great roads and cool mountain air. As we approached the final traffic light Slaw made a sudden and dramatic move to the right waving wildly and signaling to exit and head into the Chevron at the corner. We fell into formation behind him and watched as he roared through the gas pump pad, narrowly missing the lady in the walker, and cam to a aircraft carrier style stop in the parking area. He got off the bike as we all assumed he had to pee. Slaw always has to pee. Instead he seems to be in pain and was walking erratically while shaking his arms. Turns out he was experience severe cramping in his forearms and hands such that he was unable to properly use the handlebar controls of his bike. It was probably a good reason to stop. Since all of the Pack are experts in triage medicine Slaw was given a tremendous wealth of advice.  Hydration, salt, sugar, ice… and some other remedies that will stay with the Pack.

After about 20 min of this Slaw told us he was ready to soldier on. Engines roared to life and off we went back onto 87. The ride into the mountains and Payson was marvelous. Winding roads, perfect weather and AZ Blue skies.  Traffic was light. As we entered Payson I noticed increasing discomfort with Slaw. At the next light we were to turn right and proceed on AZ 260 to Pine Top with a fuel stop in Show Low. Instead after some conversation with Slaw, Gordito led us into a strip mall parking lot.  It was not lost on us that we had parked in front of an Urgent care facility. Slaw hurriedly entered the facility while the rest of the Pack tried to wrap our heads around the events of the past hour.

Paco decided to got to Safeway and pick up some hydration. Gordito thought we should cowboy up and just shoot Slaw. That was met with less debate that I would have thought. Inside Urgent care there was talk about IVs and 2 hour wait times. Finally Slaw emerged and informed us the Urgent care folks suggested he go to Payson Banner ER immediately. This shit (Sorry Bishop Staker) just got real. After some discussion mostly due to the impending loss of daylight is was decided Paco, Gordito, Doc and Bert would move on to Pine Top and secure the hotel rooms while Papa would escort Slaw to Banner ER.  Off we went. As Papa sat in the ER waiting room with Slaw waiting to be seen it became clear he was not well. The man is from upstate New York so he exposure to sunlight is minimal at best but the clammy, pale color of his skin and look in his eyes were a sure sign he was in dangerous distress. The personnel led Slaw off to his ER stall while Papa contemplated how to present this to Mrs. Slaw. Now we could leave these events with a sound bite: “Slaw was experiencing uncomfortable cramps” and the obvious masculine ribbing that would attend such a soundbite, unfortunately for Slaw the reality of the events are even more “precious”. After about 30 minutes Papa went to the window to find a place to put Slaw’s purse/badass travel bag. Instead he was met with the invitation visit Slaw in his ER stall. The photo op was a bit too inviting. Slaw indeed was in bed with an IV which was seemingly ineffective and moving slowly. That may have been due to his refusal to stay put. If the fluid at the injection point is of a rose’ color it is an indication it is flowing up river rather than down. (The use of rose’ as the color is for the Papa extended family exclusively). We have a loved one in Chemo treatments literally at the same time Slaw was in his bed and rose’ is the color of the fine vintage chemo being injected) This is why we ride.

After another 30 minutes or so, mostly filled with abdominal cramping and administration interrogation, Papa left the ER to discuss plans B, C D and just shooting Slaw was still on the table. {Papa and Gordito had a conversation as the mini-Pack was at the Show Low fuel stop. We were working on logistics to get Slaw and his bike back to Scottsdale without him being able to ride. We were working on alternative hotels for Papa and Slaw assuming he was given a green light but too late to have any daylight to travel on the Mogollon Rim safely. No decisions made until we know Slaw’s prognosis.

Papa returned to the ER stall to begin further documentation of the events and update Mrs Slaw. She was taking this surprisingly well. It is clear the newlywed stuff has worn. Soon entered Slaw’s PA and this dude should have had a cape. He quickly noticed we were on bikes, apparently leather vests, boots and such gave it away. He saw the same
dilemma Papa had with the IV mechanics. He quickly took a BP reading. The reading when entering the ER was 196 over 98 but now was back into the 130s over 80s. Death was no longer imminent. He  repositioned Slaw and then dramatically repositioned his IV bag literally to the ceiling. Papa thought he may ask for him to squeeze.  We spoke with PA dude who also was a biker. We talked about the impending daylight loss and our intended destination. He looked at Slaw, then his watch, then Papa and said:  “You’ll be out of here in 20 minutes and I say go!” Papa looked at a 3/4 full IV bag and Slaw laying bootless in an ER stall and thought more about plans B and C.  It was time to take D off the table. No need to waste a bullet.

PA dude was true to his word. He expedited the check out process. The changing of the IV position caused the flow to act a bit more like the Colorado through the Grand Canyon and Slaw was looking less and less like a Zombie.  And just as PA dude promised we were back on the bikes and heading to Pine Top. We arrived at the Show Low fuel stop at dusk and as such had only the next 10 miles in the dark and most of that was not rural. We proceeded directly to the steak house as the mini-Pack had set up shop with appetizers, and inappropriate hydration, to wait for Slaw and Papa.

As Papa and Slaw entered the dining room a roar went up from not only the Pack but the staff and other patrons. This was a hero’s welcome for us… sort of. There may have been a booster seat for Slaw along with an IV bag with stuffed olives and dirty Russian mineral water. Barbara, the server, was the sharpest of tongues offering a kids menu and sippie cup for our Slaw. Slaw took this with his usual aplomb and we set out to have what became a celebratory meal.

At the meal it was deterred that Gordito would take on Bert over 18 holes of golf at 100.00 per hole. Since Gordito now plays twice per week… or month, he has the skills to take on an accomplished office equipment executive. Thus far in his career Gordito is O-fer when creating these athletic type challenges.  I expect a consistent outcome.

Paco took the time to gather the restaurant… entire restaurant, and have Papa sing for his meal. By the time he finishes his introduction Papa’s credentials rival those of Pavarotti. Barbara decided to join the fray with a physiological explanation and demonstration (with props) of a common human, well entire animal kingdom, function. No need for desert, it was time to go. Thank you to Sharp for the gift cards. The dinner was over and… paid for!!

The Pack made their way back to the Timber Lodge for a night cap to end a successful day. Gordito and Bert continued pre-gaming the discussion for their epic golf match. Since gambling is now legal in all of USA… bet on Bert.  Soon Papa received a text message from Mrs Paco… the one-of-a-kind Mo.  She still isn’t convinced Slaw shouldn’t have just manned up and moved on.  Slam some gatorade and get to riding. Her words were much more eloquent but I will not publish them here.

At the end of the day we had all members accounted for and all bikes running.  Perhaps Bishop Staker had a hand in this outcome.

Honorary Rider – George Gorman

“When I look at the ‘Honoring the Fallen’ POW/MIA logo alongside of the Patriot Pack’s ‘The Ride’ logo, it says so much of the men and women who participate in this cross-country journey. I think of the dedication and fortitude it takes to climb back on those bikes and complete the trip from coast to coast, year after year.

The Ride honors the bravery, courage and determination of those who had fought the great fight.

To have my daughter Jillian remembered along that way is comforting and enduring as it brings to mind why we are making this great effort; to reach out and help those during the most difficult time of their lives.

Thank you. God Bless you. Go Pack!”

Why I Ride – Kory “Mikey’s Dad” Thompson

“We all have our own reasons to join up with a group and ride or ride out on our own for Rolling Thunder. Mine are not so different from many others who choose to make the trek eastward to Washington, DC.  This will be the 5th time for me to make the run and since meeting Michael and John, as well as following their ride on social media, I’ve wanted to make the run with them alongside the ‘Pack!’

Of course I ride in support of Rolling Thunder and their attempts to keep the POW/MIA issues at the forefront. I also ride in support of all Veterans, especially those WIA/KIA who deserve so much more than we are currently providing for them; however, there is an additional reason to ride this year and that’s in support of The Jillian Fund. I always look forward to these rides and love riding with groups who put these issues above themselves.

For me, it also presents an opportunity to visit my father’s gravesite at Arlington.  As a WWII and Korean War vet, he passed this life in 1971 and is buried in section 54. To go to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watch in awe the men and women with the 3rd ID watching over that Tomb is an experience everybody should see, and of course to ride down Pennsylvania Ave. while flying my son, Michael’s Honor and Remember flag from my bike as every mile of every ride is ultimately dedicated to those I love who are no longer with us.”