Motorcycles ~ Flags ~ 9/11
The roar of six-hundred motorcycles can take your breath away, especially when the police are your escorts, and allow you to run through all traffic lights along the Pacific Coast Highway like a bunch of outlaws.
|Hundreds of bikers on the PCH for the 2022 Ride to the Flags. Photo by Windy Wise, Fire Hogs M/C.|
The invite from the Fire Hogs M/C to attend the 2022 Ride to the Flags came at the perfect time. The summer weather here in Three Rivers, CA has been blazing hot — 112 degrees. This patriotic motorcycle ride along the Pacific Ocean with cooler temperatures is appealing and an honor. My Indian Springfield with my normal camping gear was washed and waxed the day before in anticipation of this ride. As fate would have it, it began to rain around Kaweah Lake, just five miles from home. By the time I passed McFarland on Highway 99, the water spray from vehicles and semi-trucks stuck like glue to my bike. You’d never think that it was clean only a short time ago. The highway sign at the base of the Grapevine on Interstate 5 warned of high winds, and I was already prepared for the slower freeway traffic near Castaic due to the recent wildfires. I was thankful to arrive at Cronies Sports Grill near Camarillo in one piece and did my best to clean my bike as other bikers arrived.
|Robert Griego, Jack Wise, and Tom Overstreet are ready to ride for freedom.|
Sponsored by the White Heart Foundation, the Ride to the Flags is an annual event honoring the lives lost on 9/11 and those injured in military service ever since. Their mission, to help one warrior through donations raised by this ride, is commendable. I knew nothing about this year’s recipient – Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician, 2nd Class, Jordan Stevenson. The White Heart Foundation website stated that “Jordan Stevenson…entered the Navy June 2006 and spent 7 years active duty in the Navy…On his first deployment to Afghanistan with the 3rd/75th rangers he sustained a gunshot wound…caused him to fall from the 30ft wall he was standing.” I read the rest but I wanted to see him personally and hear his story as we arrived at the registration check-in station at Naval Base Ventura County - Point Mugu.
|Registration comes first.|
|Pick a bike, any bike.|
|Purple Heart. Some gave all – All gave some.|
We were given a registration band and directed to the base where we lined up like sardines, four abreast to accommodate the hundreds of motorcycles arriving by the minute. The ceremony began sharply at 10:00am and included a WWII flyover, a rifle salute, guest speeches, and a wreath-laying ceremony.
|Recounting the events from 9/11.|
|WWII flyover remembering 9/11.|
The singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" put goose bumps on my neck, as did the ringing of the bell to remember those lives lost twenty-one years ago. I wasn't the only biker wiping away tears.
|Not a dry eye as we listened.|
|Navy veteran Jordan Stevenson reminds us that "Hope is a powerful tool." - Photo by Ensign Drew Verbis, courtesy U.S. Navy.|
HOPE IS A POWERFUL TOOL
Stevenson captured my heart for his determination to return from hell and learn to talk and walk again. He spoke about being injured in Afghanistan during a deployment supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. While atop a wall getting eyes on the enemy, he was shot through the left side of his head, through his helmet, through his head, and out the back of his helmet, causing him to fall 30 feet. Surviving such a wound is a miracle. He was told that he would never walk or talk again – that really hurt. His military training had prepared him for death in battle, but he was “pissed off” with what the doctors told him.
“Hope is a powerful tool,” he said passionately. “If the doctors had instead said that your right leg and arm are paralyzed, with a lot of hard work, you could get better. That could, is monumental. I could run with that; I could work with ‘could.’ Can’t is hard to work with.”
He was not prepared to be disabled. He got to a point in his recovery where he had to decide “to get better” – I was impressed with his determination in the face of adversity. He chose not to focus on his pain, and through hard work, rehabilitation, and family support, he learned how to walk, speak, and ride a bike again. He wants to be an encouragement to others going through similar problems. He made me proud to be an American.
In 2023, he plans to ride his bicycle from Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland to Balboa Medical Center in San Diego to challenge himself and raise awareness for veterans' health. Perhaps, I’ll see him riding his bike on some secondary road out West. I’d love to invite him to my camp and learn more about his courageous journey.
White Heart exceed its goal to raise $40,000 with this year's event. The proceeds will go towards retrofitting Stevenson's bathroom for easier access and building a physical rehab area in his home. How cool is that?
RIDE TO THE FLAGS
OK, fire up your bikes was all that was left to be said. “You’ll ride two abreast with a full police escort. Be cautious as the ocean waves are splashing over the wall onto the PCH,” said the announcer. The roar was deafening as we fired up our motorcycles. If the sound could be heard, you’d swear that you were at the Indianapolis 500. Leaving the Naval Base, we were split into pairs of two. On both sides of the on-ramp to Highway 1, about 50 Boy Scouts in full uniform with American flags stood tall at full salute to send us on our way as if we were heroes. They honored us and those who lost their lives during 9/11.
|Ladies and gentlemen, "Start your engines."|
|The sound was deafening.|
|Over 500 motorcycles begin to move as one.|
Bystanders all along PCH watched hundreds of motorcycles moving as one. Children jumped up and down, surfers waved flags, and some stood at salute. It didn’t take long to see the waves crashing over the wall as we were warned. I recall one guy who was standing on top of his camper waving a huge American flag with the beautiful Pacific Ocean in the background. I felt proud to be an American.
|Bikers on PCH near the beginning of the Ride to the Flags. Photo by Windy Wise, Fire Hogs M/C).|
Law enforcement and first responders, the Boy Scouts, and traffic volunteers were heroes for coordinating 600 motorcycles to travel safely without stopping from NAS Point Mugu to Malibu Bluffs Park at Pepperdine University.
After the ride ended, bikers remained to walk among the 2,977 flags paying tribute to those who lost their lives that tragic day 21 years ago. Never forget.
|Our escorts were incredible.|
|A patriotic welcome at the start and end by the Boy Scouts.|
|Love the flags and all the bikers.|
|Perfect place to check out motorcycles.|
|Time for refreshments and music.|
|I found all bikers courteous, thoughtful, and respectful.|