Between the cold water, Icees, air conditioning and time spent talking with James from Louisiana I felt ready to tackle the eleven hour trip back to Florence, Alabama. I called my longsuffering wife to warn her I was officially on my way home, filled up the tank, put in another Led Zepplin CD and hit the highway. Traffic was fairly heavy but wasn’t unexpected, as it was the evening rush hour. I thought about phoning my sponsor Robert Bumpas, whose funds had allowed me to make this journey, but decided to wait until I made it home and then fill him in on everything. I did talk to my elder sister Marty D’Arcy living in Atlanta and compared notes. I was suppose to have uploaded pictures and film onto my Google + account as well as my website, but the tablet I used had failed me completely. Mark’s 4G phone had worked perfectly on the National Mall, allowing him to send media to the internet, but my device had to rely on the wi-fi signals in the air and was more miss than hit. Marty told me that the major news agencies did not report the event at all (surprise surprise) but the internet was abuzz with video and pictures and personal anecdotes. There was even a big fuss over the Department of Transportation’s website that was suppose to display the major Beltway exits for commuters. Instead of showing a mass of bikes circling the Beltway, someone in the agency had replaced the live images with static shots of the exits with no traffic whatsoever. There were even pictures of exits covered in snow – purportedly on the eleventh of September! This was the extent our government was willing to go to try and rewrite history. The realization was absurd, outrageous and chilling.
Three hours into the trip I could barely keep my eyes open. The past 24 hours was finally catching up with me. No, it had caught up with me and was beating me over the head with a ton of sand. I forced myself to drive until I came across a rest area, then pulled off the highway and was asleep before I could properly close my eyes. Four hours later I awoke with a start to darkness and the sound of dozens of big trucks idling. I stepped out of my car and walked around the rest area until my circulation kicked in. I saw a couple of Harleys parked close to the bathrooms and felt a rush of camaraderie come over me. One of the bikes had a large American flag rolled up and lashed to its pole, looking like an imposing spear rising up from the back of the Harley. No doubt these guys had been to the Ride. I thought about waiting for them so we could talk but decided against it. I went to the vending machines instead. As I wrestled over a Mounds candy bar that didn’t want to open I heard the bikes start up with a familiar roar and watched the riders pull back onto the Interstate.
I mulled over memories of the day and night before as I wandered back to my car. I had not seen this level of patriotism since watching the fleet come into Norfolk, Virginia from Operation Desert Storm in ’91. No, not even then, because that patriotism generated from the family, friends and grateful citizens. This display, this pride of nation and flag, I had never experienced before, not even in my days in the military. The men I had witnessed and encountered on this journey had come from everywhere to defend the sacred memory of those who had lost their lives twelve years earlier. There were representatives of all social classes, all races, all branches of the military, all occupations, all political leanings, all corners of our nation to be counted – not as one in a million, but as ONE. They may have brought with them feelings of disaffection with the Muslims, dissatisfaction with the government and disappointment with the state of affairs in the country and world, but to a man they came to preserve the sanctity of 9/11, to remind themselves, each other and the nation that we will never forget the horror, nor the singular determination to make those who had orchestrated such a heinous act pay for what they had done, and to renew our vow to do whatever it takes to keep that sort of thing from ever happening again. If another enemy, foreign or domestic, tries to bring us down, there won’t be 1.2 million bikers. There will be TWELVE million warriors on motorcycles, and that wouldn’t even be the tip of the spear. The United States – again, I say the UNITED States – consists of 314 million warriors, most of them armed to the teeth, each willing to water the tree of liberty with his or her blood. If push comes to shove, we will not suffer any threat to our freedoms, be it from outside forces or our own government. We are slow to anger and quick to forgive, but above all we are not afraid to defend our rights and the rights of our neighbors. We may fuss and fight among ourselves, but let someone come in and try to tell us what to do and we’ll bring Toby Keith’s song lyrics to life (Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue): “We’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way.”
I had seen a sample of that boot this day and was grateful I had been there to witness it. It took me another 18 hours to get home and about a week before I fully recovered from the road, but if needed, I would have turned right around and taken my tired old self wherever my country needed me. For the rest of my life, whenever I hear the sound of a motorcycle, I’ll think of those brave warriors of the first degree, and the sound will comfort me because it roars of freedom.
To be Continued (with more tales of Warriors of the First Degree)…