The trip started in San Francisco with bike wheels in the Pacific Ocean. It will end in Virginia Beach with wheels in the Atlantic Ocean. The trek started May 21 and is scheduled to end July 24.
Efforts were immediately started for a “Meet and Greet” as these heroes passed through town. In La Sal, that includes food. Many volunteers came quickly came together to provide a nice luncheon.
It was a cold and rainy mountain spring day in La Sal. The group set out from Moab about 7 a.m. An escort of local emergency vehicles with lights flashing ushered the group into La Sal in the late morning.
The group, which consisted of both men and women, mostly young, but some mature veterans and included various degrees of disabilities was stretched out for many miles and staggered into town over a couple of hours.
The group is called “Sea to Shining Sea”. There are about 25 veterans “riding” in the group along with several support vehicles and crew. The group will gain more participants as they head East. They come from all over the United States.
Some are still active military but most are veterans. They represent various disabilities: missing limbs, brain injuries, partial or complete paralysis from the waist down as well as those who are still able bodied.
They ride a variety of types of bikes: some quite specialized to compliment their physical needs.
I was able to interview several of these veterans. I often had to choke back the emotions as they told me their stories. One common thread was their upbeat demeanor and positive outlook on life: a life many times that was much different than they had anticipated.
The first two young men I interviewed and who were harassing each other mercilessly during the interview, are each engaged to be married. One is missing his leg from below the knee. They live just two miles apart but did not know each other before the trek began. They are scheduled to be married on the same day. One worked with the other’s fiancé.
They are to honeymoon at the same place: Yosemite. They are also missing all the wedding planning because of this trip. A sacrifice? They thought it more a blessing. From their camaraderie, one would think they’d been friends for years rather just having met a few weeks ago.
Their friend, who had sustained a brain injury in his military service, was a stay at home dad. He cares for his three year old child while his wife works. He had been in Special Forces. He found it a blessing to be able to be home with his child rather than serving all over the world in dangerous places and missing his child’s growing years.
One proclaimed this one of the best lunch stops they’d had. Another stated that there would not be any uphill, cold or wet that could stop them after what they’d experienced that morning! During the morning some took the opportunity to rest or nap awhile. I wondered how they could sleep on the cold cement floor, then I remember that these men and women have slept in much worse conditions on many occasions.
Chad Jukes of Salt Lake City lost a leg from the knee down while serving in Iraq when his vehicle struck an anti-tank bomb. That has not slowed him down. He spends a lot of time in our own Indian Creek as he was and still is a “crack” climber. In fact, he is currently working on developing a foot for crack climbing to enhance his skills with his new “body” part. He had one of the most beautiful smiles seen in some time.
“It’s all good!” declared Eric Frazier one of only two Marines in the group. He suffered a post military injury after returning home from service in a domestic dispute. He was shot six times at point blank range but miraculously survived. He now earns his living as a motivational speaker. He is a member of the United States Biathlon team. He copes with pain through natural endorphins from physical activity rather than pain meds.
A local World War II vet, Paul McKee, swapped “war stories” with these vets. He was shot down twice during WWII. Veterans young and old showed appreciation for the sacrifices of the others.
This was also a rare opportunity for the citizens of La Sal to express their thanks up close and personally to those who have served and continue to do so, that we might have the freedoms we do and live in the greatest nation on earth.
For more information on these heroes, check out www.S2SSbikeride.org.