Saturday, April 10, 2004 - Departure Day
The day is finally here! The sky was overcast but the spirits were up! Activities began in earnest at approximately 9:00 AM. Family, friends, guests and supporters numbering about 100 were there to see us off. After some great blues music from Andy Coats, Bryan Stewart of OneLegacy introduced the 9-team members. Tammy and Sherri Stevens sang a beautiful rendition of America the Beautiful and then Brother Filipe Martinez had everyone gather around for the Invocation and Blessing. A photo-op then began with the team, family members and all! Time to pull the boots on and GO!
The convoy out of Santa Monica consisted of members of the Freedom Riders biker group and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) provided an escort from the Pier to the San Bernardino County line. They were great! They provided us with traffic interference at all on/off ramps and connectors, slowing traffic to ensure we safely maneuvered through without any problems. They left us, like I said, at the county line with a wave and a “Good luck” over their P.A. We returned a heart felt wave and off we went all on our own.
The leg to Las Vegas was fairly uneventful. We are definitely an eyeful traveling on the interstate, kids wave and drivers honk and give us thumbs up! In Barstow, about 150 miles from Santa Monica, at a gas stop we found one of the quads picked up a nail and had to plug it. Otherwise we had no problems with the machines. We have to get better at changing out ATV riders and fueling though, we didn't make Las Vegas ( New York New York ) until 8:00 PM . We wouldn't make it on the Winston Cup circuit as a pit crew that's for sure! We actually didn't eat dinner until after 10:00 PM. That's not good and tempers were short because of that and the confusion with the pit stops. But this is the first day and it'll just take practice. Sleep is good...
Sunday, April 11, 2004 – Day 2
A bright day! Up at 6:00 AM. Breakfast (Denny's – waiter got just about everyone's order wrong) and fuel (should have done that last night). Greg lost a pair of glasses. Moods are still a little bad. It was a long day and a short night. We left Las Vegas about 9:30 AM and took Las Vegas Boulevard to pick up I-15 on the other side of the race track. Our first CHP stop occurred just outside Mesquite Nevada about 10 miles from the Utah border. He asked a couple of questions and then followed us to the Nevada/Arizona border.
The ride through the Virgin River Gouge was spectacular! THEN! Outside Beaver, Utah, (about 60 miles from Richfield, our stop for the second night), we got stopped by the State Troopers. This was pretty exciting as they had 4 patrol cars and one undercover car. They said that they got a phone call that ATVs were on the highway and causing a problem. They pulled us over with the flair of a swat exercise with dust flying and wheels screeching. The driver of the undercover car left his vehicle so fast he didn't set the parking brake and the vehicle began rolling down the incline inside the highway median. He got back in it all right and was able to stop it. The first officer I encountered yelled “What the (BLEEP) are you doing?”! After explaining that I had talked with just about every trooper in the state in preparation for our trip he called another trooper and was told that he knew about it. Well, we had built up quite a traffic jamb so the officer asked us if he could escort us to the next off ramp and then load up the quads until we reached I-70 (about 20 miles). It was Easter weekend and there was quite a bit of traffic even without the attraction of ATVs on the highway. Of course we would be glad to oblige! So we packed up the trailers and drove the last 60 miles into Richfield. We arrived in Richfield at 6:30 for a 7:00 PM meeting. Rush, rush, rush!
About 25 people, including the team members attended the evening meeting. It went very well and it looked like everyone signed the scroll. We watched the short version of “No Greater Love” and then I introduced Brian. What an impact he had on the good people of Richfield that night. This was also the first time a couple of the team members watched the video…very moving – even for me…
During dinner later we decided to start a pool – 2 actually. The first is how many times are we get stopped by law enforcement between Santa Monica and New York, the other is how many troops will arrive on scene. This last one is a daily pool and will roll over each day we do not get stopped! A little fun and we’ve already been stopped twice.
Lights out about 11:00 PM.
Monday, April 12, 2004 – Day 3
Uneventful day! We got out on the road at about 9:15 AM. Steve and Adam left their quads on the back on the Pace Car to get some additional rest. They rode all the way to Richfield without changing drivers. Steve (the diabetic) also felt like he needed a rest and Doc agreed. We drove through beautiful country east of Richfield, through the mountains and into the wide open spaces. Steve and Adam returned to the pavement in Green River, about 100 miles from Grand Junction. Adam has done a wonderful job keeping the machines in top shape. Haven't had any problems with them. Didn't get stopped by law enforcement today either!
Dinner tonight was quite the affair. Tom Zech was nick-named Potato Peel. Maybe he'll relate that story to you some day. Very funny!
Tuesday, April 13, 2004 - Day 4
Another bright and sunny day! I think it's following us – the good Lord is looking over us. A Grand Junction news station came to the hotel to see us off. They did a few interviews and then filmed as we left at about 9:30 AM. The road between Grand Junction and Denver is spectacular with the Rockies and old towns. There is still a lot of snow on the peaks as a snowstorm passed through a few days ago. In Rifle, CO. we met “Shasta” at a gas stop. She wanted to go with us and said (jokingly) that she would quit her job. I think she meant it. She was named after the Indians that inhabited that area of the country. We joked with her that Shasta in Rifle wanted to go to Denver. There seemed to be a lot of people at the stop. Asking questions and everyone explaining what it is we're doing. It's really fantastic the interest generated by this group and the bikes. There seemed to be a lot of knowledge here on donation and a lot of people have registered. We stopped in Vail for lunch and for Erin to see a “daughter” Kylie, he had not seen her for a few years. It was good that they were able to meet and talk over lunch.
In Evergreen we got off I-70 following previous instructions by the State Troopers and stopped in a Home Depot parking lot. We discussed the time and where we were going and decided to trailer the bikes in to the city. We started to load the bikes and Potato Peel started throwing snow balls…degenerated from there. Potato Peel started having an asthma attack and then couldn't find his inhaler…but he finally did. We rolled in the hotel at about 6:30 PM.
We have an appointment with the Children's Hospital tomorrow morning. That is going to be special…
Lights out at 11:00 PM.
Wednesday, April 14, 2004 - Day 5
We were able to sleep in a little bit this morning as our appointment at the hospital was not until 10:00 AM. It's another beautiful day. We arrived at the hospital at about 9:45 AM and found they had the entrance blocked off (which is a circular drop-off area) so we could park our vehicles there. After some greetings from the Coalition and hospital representatives, we set up the equipment and then the kids started coming down for a visit. We talked with them and took Polaroid’s while they took turns sitting on our bikes.
There was 9 year-old Anise who stole everyone's heart. She was wearing these “slippers”. They were made of stripped socks and strips of torn fabric of all the colors of the rainbow that formed her “slipper”. She explained that she had made them herself and was “going into business this summer”. Well, of course, everyone wanted a pair so we got her contact information from her mom – and all made plans to order some slippers – we'll definitely keep her busy! But all the kids were just great. It’s heart wrenching to see them ill and it gave the team a profound sense of peace to know that we were able to provide them with some measure of happiness. The kids and parents all signed the scroll and a couple of the kids drew pictures on it. We also met a donor mother, Mary who had recently lost her foster-son Daryl. She was unaware that we were coming to the hospital and just happened upon us. She stayed for a long time and talked with us about her son and said that she wanted to give us one of the articles a newspaper published. And true enough, we got a package before we left that contained the article, a picture and his funeral program. We'll we plan on placing those items on our scroll next to her comments.
Another story is Madeline. She couldn't come down to see us, as she was very ill. Her mother came down and talked with Tom who introduced her to Brian Hinsley. He is our liver recipient - Madeline is waiting for a liver. Brian got to go up to Isolation to see her…I will not attempt to relay his story of their visit as it needs to be relayed in first person so I've asked Brian to write this part of the story. It will be added when he is finished – very moving…
Today at the Children's Hospital, we all experienced high emotions and wide smiles. We were touched by the strength and courage of the kids. Tom introduced me to Debbie. A mother who has a daughter (Madeline) waiting upstairs on the third floor for a liver transplant. Smiles and tears were instant as we spoke. Debbie asked if I could go upstairs to meet with Madeline and share some time. It was agreed upon by all team members that time would be made for this to happen. As I headed up to Madeline, emotions filled my body as Debbie had told me that she is only 40 pounds at the age of 9 years-old. Madeline is truly a pillar of strength and more knowledgeable about liver disease than any 9 year-old should be. I worked hard to hold back the tears knowing that roller coaster ride she is traveling – being a liver recipient myself. She appeared a bit apprehensive at first but after sharing some common stories about paracentisis procedures, esophageal varencies and liver biopsis she really opened up. Many laughs were shared and a few tears hit the floor and a friendship was made.] See...
After leaving the hospital we went to the number one television station in Denver, Channel 9, and they had us as part of a live report during the afternoon news broadcast. We were able to spread the word a little throughout Denver that day!!
We needed to service the bikes so we left and found a motorcycle business – Coyote Motorsports in Denver, Colorado. These guys were great! They opened their doors for us and let us use the facilities to change oil, grease the bikes, and even do a little welding on one of the older bikes. They even provided a pair of free riding pants for Matt! Of course we placed decals on our vehicles for them. We also met a representative for a local energy drink and he donated two cases of his product to us. Little did we know the role that would play on the way to the next overnight stop.
Because of the late time of day (6:00 PM) we packed up the bikes and drove to our next stop - Hays, Kansas. We arrived there at 2:00 AM exhausted. However, the ride through that part of Kansas was really something. We couldn’t see any scenery but the walky-talky waves were alive with the type of chatter that occurs between boys when everyone is REALLY tired. Add a few cans of “Go Fast” energy drink into the mix and we had a great time! We found out what mile marker 78 was – and that the scenery didn’t change when you changed lanes. Tom provided a constant running dialog – albeit meaningless – for almost 300 miles…I didn't get this update to our webmaster, ITNSTYLE, because of the late hour, so hopefully I’ll be able to send it tomorrow. Haven't they done a wonderful job with the website? We went to sleep as soon as the door was opened.
Thursday, April 15, 2004 - Day 6
Got up about 7:30 and went to breakfast. Had a waitress that didn't put up wit’ nuttin'! I asked for water and orange juice – “in separate glasses”. She took a couple of steps and turned around and said, “What did you say?” “I mean, I’d like orange juice and water.” She chuckled and returned a minute later and said that they ran out of glasses and “here's your water and orange juice”….Of course, it was half a glass of – half water and half orange juice! She was very funny and we all had fun with her. She had a valve replaced in her heart so of course she was very inquisitive about our journey.
On the road to Kansas City, the four-wheeler that Greg was riding ran out of gas on the interstate – the gas gauge was incorrect. After watching them fall back, I radioed the vehicles in front that we ought to get off at the next off ramp to wait for them. We were fairly close together and as they began to take the ramp they decided to go back on to the interstate…I kept going on the ramp not wanting to travel through a stripped area and maybe causing problems with other traffic. Well the off-ramp happened to be a connector to another freeway. I had missed the sign as I was watching traffic and the quad drifting way back. Off by myself I took the next ramp, got back on the freeway and caught up with them at the real, next off-ramp!
Kansas is pretty – flat. Tom thought he kept seeing prairie dogs. No one else did but Tom saw all kinds. Got into Kansas City, Mo. at about 6:00 PM. We got our rooms and made contact with Ray Gable of Midwest Transplant Network (MTN). He and his wife Susan took us out to dinner. Now here is a great story. Ray is a heart recipient and Susan is a liver recipient! They were wonderful and told us how they met and about their illnesses. They met after each other received the Gift of Life. Susan is also an RN. We had a great time at dinner and grew very fond of them. After getting back to the hotel we stood around some more to talk about Elliott's illness, the bikes, Susan's experience, more of Ray's experience, what the trip means, not only to us but the whole transplant community.
All the team members are becoming more and more engrossed in the message and its meaning. Everyone is being reshaped and formed into someone different. After this is over we will not be the same people who left Santa Monica on April 10, 2004.
It's 1:00 AM. We're meeting with the National Kidney Foundation and Dr. Kenneth Moritsugu for breakfast; he is Deputy Surgeon General of the United States.
Good night to all and God bless…
Friday, April 16, 2004 – Day 7
Woke up about 6:00 AM and got ready for breakfast. The MTN had two tables set up so we could roll out the scroll for the attendees to read and add something themselves. While we were setting up, Doc brought Dr. Moritsugu in before the meeting began and introduced him to us. We talked for a few minutes and then he signed the scroll and we took pictures together. The meeting was very inspiring and was held to commemorate the first transplant 50 years ago. To think that transplantation has come this far in so short a time. Matt, our Pace Car driver, actually had his knee cartilage re-grown from cells taken from his own body, high tech stuff with indications of what is to come in medical advances. Afterwards people came over, signed the scroll and chatted.
We met Jessica at the breakfast. Jessica is a student at Kansas State University with a major in Health Services. Her platform is transplantation. She is also in the running for Miss Kansas. Well, we all had to have our picture taken with her and talk with her for a while after that. We then packed up, said our goodbyes to the Gabel’s, left the hotel and were on our way for Saint Louis. It was 10:15 AM.
About 35 miles outside of Kansas City we were stopped by a sheriff, who expressed his concern about our safety. We explained what we were doing and then he contacted a state trooper who wanted to see our paperwork. I told him of the conversations I had with his department and he said he would have to make a phone call. When he came back he said that we would have to contact Captain Ellis to have him contact Troop A commander. To make this part of the story short, they escorted us off the highway to a Park-and-Ride lot next to a diner. Well, we decided to eat lunch while we waited and I also tried to contact Captain Ellis. As we were sitting there (two troopers and three sheriffs were there eating lunch also, one of them was the sheriff who originally stopped us). I got a beep on my cell phone notifying me that I had voicemail. As I was retrieving the message from Captain Ellis' second in command, all the officers at the table began listening to their radios as my voicemail message was apologizing for the delay. He said that, just as soon as he hung up he would notify all the agencies to allow us on our way. As I hung up the phone, the sheriff got up and walked over to tell us that they just had radio communication and we were okay to go…hmmmmm.
Well, as fate would have it, there at the diner we met Jo. She is a sheriff's investigator who worked in New York after 9/11. She caught Matt and Erin as they were leaving and asked what they were doing because she noticed our riding ‘uniforms’. Well she was just so moved by it that she had to come out and see all the equipment. She sat on the bikes and had pictures taken with us and signed the scroll. We signed a tee shirt and gave it to her with a few other goodies. You could tell that she was deeply moved by what we were doing and just couldn't stop expressing her feelings. I think we definitely touched her heart…Our thanks to the Missouri State Troopers…
It's amazing the conversations that are being struck during the day as we stop for gas or food. I passed by Doc who was talking with a gentleman about donation and he relayed his own story about receiving a bone transplant in the heel of his foot to help him walk again. Tom was talking with some guy at a gas pump, Matt doing the same. Of course, the conversation is being initiated with the question –“Are you ridin' those on the street?” It's like this at EVERY stop - and that's been about every 60 to 70 miles for 1,500 miles so far.
We arrived in St. Louis at about 7: 00 PM. St. Louis, at least what we saw of it is just beautiful…
Lights out at 11:00 PM.
Saturday, April 17, 2004 – Day 8
Before today's activities, I want to relate one story from the breakfast in Kansas City that I didn't tell you about. Milt Strader is a gentleman that we met and talked with at great length. He was a kidney recipient and just looked fantastic. I didn't ask him his age but I would place it between 65 and 70. He was just bubbling with enthusiasm and wanted to talk about the ride and everything it meant. He signed our scroll and we parted watching him walk away with great admiration and inspiration. You see he had his transplant just 7 weeks ago…
One other piece of good, no, GREAT news that came to us yesterday is about my little 4 year old cousin Bailee, who is battling a persistent form of supposedly easily treatable cancer. She has been such a trooper in fighting this disease and is a bone marrow recipient. Like Brian said about Madeline, kids who battle like this seem wise beyond their years. Well, the news is, tests show that the cancer is gone and that she will be going back to school! What a great piece of news to find its way to us at this time…we are truly blessed.
We met “Hunter” in the parking lot of the Best Western we stayed at last night. Hunter is 12 and thought that the ATVs were just the greatest thing on earth. He and his family were up from Baton Rouge to see a friend of the family play for the Colorado Rockies against St. Louis. His whole family are ATV enthusiasts, but Hunter hadn't seen ATVs that could be driven on a highway! He ogled and drooled and sat on them – and that was BEFORE I told him that Tom Prewitt of Damon's had painted them. He just about flipped as he always watches Monster Garage all the time - great kid and great family.
We trailered the vehicles through Illinois to Indiana, a distance of about 200 miles. We didn't have any activities planned in Illinois and wanted to make sure we had enough time to make our 4:00 to 4:30 PM date with the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization (IOPO). The states of Illinois and Indiana are beautiful, miles and miles of farmland with beautiful homes and grain silos and all the equipment necessary to work the land. The weather continues to amaze us, blue skies, just a couple of clouds and temperature in the low 80s. After setting the bikes on the road after crossing the Indiana state line, and then just 10 miles from the hotel, we were stopped by the Indiana State Police (stop number 4 for those of you counting!). We talked with him for a while and he made the requisite phone call to his commander and then he advised us to be careful and said goodbye.
We arrived at the hotel at about 4:30 PM to a group of well wishers from the IOPO! They had a banner and one of the local TV stations was there to film our arrival and greetings. We met a donor mom, a heart recipient and others who work with the IOPO and they were great! They signed our scroll and said that they had taken care of the hotel and dinner for that evening. We were all deeply touched by their generosity and friendship. We ate at the Texas Roadhouse across the street from the hotel - great thinking on the part of the IOPO! We had more than enough money to pay for dinner and dessert with the gift certificates. When the waitress (Claudia) came over with the remaining amount on the certificate, I asked if there were other Roadhouses along our route. She did not know and went to ask. While she was gone, Matt suggested we see if she would take the remainder on the card as a tip. GREAT IDEA!! When she came back, she brought a packet that listed the locations of the other restaurants. We told her no thanks and asked if she had children. She said yes (she looked to be 25 or so), we asked if she would be able to use the card if we gave it to her, she said yes and why, then we said that we wanted to give the card to her as our tip. She said, “Are you serious?” Then she smiled a huge smile, jumped a little and let out a squeal. The card still had $64 on it…God bless the IOPO!
We were also given a letter of greetings from the Mayor of Indianapolis, Bart Peterson. The text reads:
“Greetings! On behalf of the City of Indianapolis, I would like to welcome the Ride Across America team to our city. It is an honor to host a group dedicated to such an important cause in Indianapolis. As organ donors and recipients, you are the perfect ambassadors of the need for organ and tissue donation. I hope your ride will raise awareness and educate the public about this need, and which will ultimately lead to an increase in donations, thus saving lives. Thanks for your continued support of organ procurement. Welcome to Indianapolis, and best wishes for great success throughout the rest of your “ride across America ! Sincerely, Bart Peterson.”
The news media is supposed to be here in the morning to see us off…I'm having trouble with the internet connections. Each Best Western is different in the services provided. I'm not able to send this tonight so I'll try in Cincinnati tomorrow night. We're attending a Donor Ceremony in the afternoon and looking forward to meeting those in attendance and saying “Thank you”. So good night and God bless…
Lights out at 12:00 AM.
Sunday, April 18, 2004 – Day 9
I've added Brian's comments above on his visit with Madeline….Woke up at 7:00 AM and started loading the trucks. We met with Rick Posson of the IOPO as he was expecting the media to come again to the hotel to see us off. Sure enough at about 9:30 AM they showed up to film us on the move. They followed us a short distance on the highway and took action footage and then left us.
We drove until we needed diesel in one of the trucks and so at 11:30 AM we stopped in Shelbyville and had lunch. Shelbyville is about 50 miles from Cincinnati so in the interests of time we loaded the equipment up and drove the remaining distance. We were due at the Cincinnati Donor Ceremony at 1:00 PM but arrived at about 1:30 PM. This was the first donor ceremony attended by the majority of team members and was very moving.
They invited Brian up as the first speaker and he spoke with emotion and everyone was affected by his story. This was the first time he has spoken to a group of donor family members. We also heard from Hannah who is 8 and received a corneal transplant and is able to see again. Then there was 4 year old Joey who received a liver at two months of age. Just amazing how well they are doing! We filled up the first roll of paper in our scroll and so I'll have to change it out, some really special quotes and statements to family members. I hope that you'll get to read it at some point. We finished the day at the ceremony by giving a few of the guests a ride on the ATVs around the parking lot. They sure had BIG smiles!!!
The day was full and rewarding. We are all very tired and looking forward to sleep tonight. The bikes continue to run superbly thanks to the tender loving care of Adam and Matt. We are trying to stay ahead of the rain that is making its way east and wondering when it will actually catch up….hmmmm….maybe another pool.
Lights out at 11:00 PM.
Monday, April 19, 2004 – Day 10
Up at 6:00 AM. This was really a cool hotel. It was built in 1920 and stepping into the hallway made you feel you were at the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. We all thought that there should be a candelabra floating at the end of the hall! We were off by 7:30 AM and after we stopped for gas and food, we took to Highway 42. Because of the size requirements on Ohio's motor vehicle code, we could not access the Interstate, but the state highway system was more than adequate and we made fairly good time. In a way it was better because we got to see the real country – old townships and corporations, barns at least a hundred years old and the farm machinery to match. Rolling green hills with beautiful homes sprinkled about. It was really something.
We picked up two motorcyclists just outside of Columbus, Paulette and Matt who work for LifeLine of Ohio, the Ohio chapter of the Coalition on Donation. They led us into the city where we were greeted by television crews and other media. It was pretty cool. We met a heart recipient, kidney recipient and liver recipient. But by far the most touching was Isabelle. Isabelle is a 6 year-old girl who is waiting for a transplant – but not just a transplant. She needs a liver, pancreas, small intestine, and stomach. She has been sick all her life but you would never know it. She spent over 150 days in the hospital last year and has to carry her medications (continuously fed intravenously) in her little pink back pack. Her parents say that she is very active because she doesn't know any better. She attends school and dance class, all the while carrying her backpack, and when she gets tired, she's taken home. She is a beautiful girl and stole everyone's heart - especially Tom's. She sat on his bike and everyone took pictures and then he got on it and gave her a ride right there on the sidewalk in front of City Hall! Was that something! As soon as she was off she threw her hand in the air and waved at everyone like she was in a parade. And the smile….from ear to ear. After riding the quad, she asked her Dad if she could have one! He said they'd have to talk. Somehow, I think she'll get one. Her parents were very gracious and thanked us for what we are doing. If there's anyone we're doing this for it's for Isabelle and everyone like her. She is truly an Angel and I am thankful I got to meet her (we all were).
We didn't want to leave and spent more time than expected but hey – what're ya gonna do?
Next we stopped at Cambridge, about 100 miles east of Columbus. Wow, talk about historical cities! We stopped in front of the Courthouse, which is 125 years old, and met the Cambridge chapter of LifeLine of Ohio. We took pictures and then wanted everyone to sign the scroll. We didn't have those at Columbus sign it because we just forgot (Isabelle!). I wish I'd had her draw on it. While those in attendance were signing it, Ohio Congressman Bob Ney and Ohio Senator Joy Padgett came over and talked with us. They also signed the scroll! The Congressman said he was going to mention National Donate Life Month on C-Span as he had signed a proclamation earlier that day designating April as Donate Life Month in Ohio. Also, he said he was going to mention A Ride Across America! He thought our effort – on the ATVs - was just the coolest!
Again, we spent more time there than we should but we just couldn't leave. The members of LifeLine are just the greatest people (not withstanding OneLegacy, or course!, or any of the other Coalition members!) and we enjoyed visiting with them.
Well, we finally left and after a short distance decided that we needed to remove one of the quads from the road due to a loose valve. We'd adjust it when we got to the hotel in Pittsburgh later. Now THAT was easier said than done! When we got to Pittsburgh we got separated while coming out of a parking lot after missing the turn off, I was in the Pace Car during this leg. The turn signal was very short and only a couple of cars made it through each time and we couldn't pull over because the on-ramp was right there. However, we did have radio communication so we kept going - slowly. Then we began to notice that there were an awful lot of cops out on the street, and they were at all the on/off ramps on the other side of the highway. In fact, the whole side of the freeway was being emptied. We began to think that there was some chase going on as we saw helicopters too. As we kept driving, that side of the freeway became more and more deserted until there wasn't a car to be seen – it was eerie. On our side of the freeway a tunnel was coming up and the traffic started backing up and then it stopped dead. We found out that it wasn't due to the tunnel. About 6 police motorcyclists came roaring down on the other side of the freeway with lights blazing and sirens blasting. Then about 10 seconds later, 10 police motorcyclists with lights and sirens blazing, followed by a couple of cool looking vans with guys wearing suits, you know, the men-in-black kind, a fancy limo, then another van, then a REALLY cool looking car with flags on it and what looked to be the Presidential Seal on the door! Yup! Good ol' George Bush just out for an evening drive! His car was followed by an assortment of vans cars, police, an ambulance and what must have been a secret service van because it had so many antennae sticking out of it, it looked like a porcupine! Was THAT cool or what!
Well, after the parade passed the traffic moved and we headed for the hotel. On the next off-ramp we got separated again because of an accident just in front of our second vehicle. We had just turned onto the next freeway but the rest of the convoy was stopped at a light. A motorcyclist whizzed by and the next thing they know this guy's bike is lying in the street along with the driver. Apparently he had passed some of our convoy in the tunnel weaving in and out. Steve said he appeared drunk and going about 60 mph and trying to negotiate the turn onto the freeway, he lost control and ran into the guardrail and impact devices. Greg and Tom were first to reach him but didn't want to move him out of the traffic lanes as he suffered too much trauma. A doctor was right behind them and began opening an airway as he was having trouble breathing. They were delayed about 30 minutes before the traffic was allowed to go through. They said that he didn't look very good and doubted that he would make it. Sobering thoughts…we hope he'll be okay.
We made the hotel but the others got lost - lost in Pittsburgh! It was about 7:00 PM and we still had a lot of work to do on the bikes before turning in. We finally talked them into the parking about 8:00 PM. After dinner we went out to adjust the valves on the two new bikes. After removing most of the covering and the valve covers, we found out that we didn't have a small enough set of shims with which to measure the clearance. It was 10:45 PM and no parts stores were open. So we sent Erin, Doc and Tom…(uh oh…what a combination….) out to Wal-Mart to see if they could find it. And now it's POURING rain! heh heh…
It's now 12:30 AM and as I sit here writing this I'm not sure they've come back even yet. Brian came up about 45 minutes ago and asked for Doc's cell phone number as they hadn't returned…
Return tomorrow for another chapter in the continuing saga of the Hardy Boys in “Wal-Mart or Bust!”, or “Can't I Use the 15 Items or Less Line?”
Tuesday, April 20, 2004 – Day 11
Woke at 7:00 AM to a beautiful day again. The bikes were back together and ready for the road. They finished the bikes about the same time I finished up with the journal last night about 12:30 AM. We were on the road at 7:30 AM as we needed to be in Winchester, VA. at 2:15 PM. Sound easy right? Okay, here goes…We stopped for breakfast and got on the road again at about 9:00 AM. I thought the road seemed awful bumpy after a mile or so, until we (I won’t tell you the driver Erin’s name though) heard an alarm sound and found out he hadn't released the parking brake…road smoothed right out…
Then we got stopped about 60 miles outside of Pittsburgh on the turnpike. When Pennsylvania got a turnpike I don't know (about the same time Missouri did!) but they had one, after passing 3 or 4 state troopers one of them flagged us down – but only after letting the pickup and one quad by (this is stop number 5!). On the turnpike, there's no off-ramp for miles so we had to pull over at an emergency turnout and wait to see what happened. Of course we were just out of radio range... After about 25 minutes an officer drove up and stopped to talk with us after speaking with the team members back a few miles. He said “Who's the one they're blaming?”!! Meekly I raised my hand and explained our quest. To make a long story short I found out that the turnpike is under the jurisdiction of its own department, separate from the “other” troopers that patrol the normal interstates. In my discussion with the “other” departments about our route, I was not informed that I needed a permit to travel the turnpike – I didn't even know they had a turnpike! Well, I gave them all the contact information I had and they began making phone calls. I tried to tell them I had talked with the Head Trooper and even had a letter from him stating we had permission to travel any highway – of course I couldn’t find it! After approximately one hour they said that we needed a permit and so we packed everything up and began driving. It was now about 12:15 PM and we were still 130 miles from Winchester.
Well, the diesel needed fuel so we pulled off the turnpike into a town and thought…diesel, turnpike, hey! No problem! It took us 45 minutes to find a diesel pump. We got separated and took a while to catch back up with each other. It's not easy maneuvering a big truck and trailer around in a small town. Even with a radio it's hard because you don't know the streets. Once we found gas and were on the road again, we got separated again as the trailing trucks took a wrong connector. We had already passed that connector and saw them drive by. It was little confusing and we should have stayed closer together. Well, it didn't take long for them to get back on track, but it was obvious that we weren't going to make the appointment at 2:15 PM. We were going to Apple Blossom Mall to set up a display with LifeNet, the Virginia chapter of the Coalition.
We actually arrived at the Mall at 3:45 PM (seems we are late to everything! Ugh!) and met with the media and mall patrons. We met a lot of people but the one that stood out the most was Linda Roach. She is a courier for FEDEX and was at the mall delivering packages. She began talking with Brian K. and she told him that her husband Stephen was waiting for a liver transplant. Brian introduced her to Doc and I could see that he was providing her with some much-needed support. It was almost like she had not known what to do - she appeared helpless. Well you could tell Brian was saying all the right things for her and provided something that she had not had. She got the phone number of a local resident who was also a liver recipient and then she signed our scroll and was off. She had grabbed onto an anchor and found support at the mall today…it was great and he was Brian.
There might be a lot of trials on the road in trying to make our appointments. I don't think we've made one on time, but all that goes out the window with the people we meet. Their stories are what keep us going. We are all tired but receive strength from them.
We had Mexican food for dinner and as we were leaving one of the new quads got backed into the front of Greg's truck. Brian K. (now known as ‘Crash’, was driving the quad and thankfully wasn't hurt. I was surprised by the damage done to the bumper, grill, etc. The quad didn't suffer too much damage. That kind of stuff was bound to happen so we can't let anything ruin a great day in spite of all that happens. There's a saying that my daughter Leslie loves, “I didn't say it would be easy, but would be worth it.”
Thursday is an off day and will be welcomed. Tomorrow we go to another hospital…It’s time to get some rest. It will be another emotionally charged day – they all have.
Lights out at 12:00 AM.
Wednesday, April 21, 2004 – Day 12
It rained last night. Woke at 6:30 AM to wet but the clouds had passed and it looked like it was going to be a great day. We got breakfast (Mickey Dees), and were on the road by 8:15 AM. I wanted to make sure the proper authorities were notified of our arrival and as I was making the last phone call we got pulled over (number 6!). He only took a minute to make a phone call himself and then sent us on our way. He said he'd never seen anything like it – DUH! Heh heh.
We were driving down the highway listening to talk radio when they started talking about 4 wheelers driving down the interstate! We had been listening to that station for a few minutes waiting for a phone number to call in with and then heard them mention that someone had called in to report us. We finally got the number and Greg called in and talked with the DJs! That was pretty cool. He talked about 5 minutes with the station. We'll see about getting a tape.
Virginia is a beautiful state. I didn't know why it was until I was outside of Charlottesville. It's the trees – let me ‘splain…In other places there may be a lot of trees but the majority all seem to be of one type tree, whether it's pine or quaking aspens or what ever. In Virginia, there are many types of trees and they all seem smattered about in the same numbers. The variety is astounding! And the colors! It's absolutely magnificent!
We arrived at our appointment at 11:30 AM. 30 MINUTES BEFORE WE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE THERE! This, in itself, is mind-boggling considering we hadn't even been close to making an appointment on time. It was kind of funny because when the news crews showed up they were disappointed because they weren’t set up to film us coming in! Can't win! But we fixed that by being late for dinner…
Today we visited the University of Virginia Medical Center in downtown Charlottesville. We pulled up and they (I say “they” but it's the good folks at LifeNet – Jack and Dena for two. They had a spot for us to set up in front of the hospital.
I don't know where to begin writing about all the people that we met. It's terrible that I can't remember most of the names! And that goes for any stop too! There was Walter who was waiting for a heart. He was from New Yawk and we talked with him and his family for quite a while and we all talked New Yawkese. Then there was Samantha (Sammy) who came out and sat on the bikes. She is two and undergoing radiation treatments for cancer. You could tell she didn't feel well. And her parents, you could tell they didn't feel well either but they put up a good front for Sammy…Then there was Kevin a lung recipient going the Transplant Games this summer. Everyone enjoyed sitting on the bikes and having a Polaroid taken. We handed out most of the remaining goodies (we'll have to load up when we visit the United Network for Organ Sharing and the Coalition tomorrow. We also have an appointment with Henrico Hospital in the morning).
And the money - people we shook hands with had a ten or twenty in their hand and said “God bless you”. Even if it was only a couple of bucks they wanted to help and we appreciated it very much.
We stopped by the Central Fire Station on the way out of the city. We took some pictures with the guys at the station and talked for a while. We found out that the Chief (Chief Werner) is one of the editors for Firehouse Magazine. Needless to say he's going to try and place an article and picture in the magazine and on the website – www.firehouse.com.
On the road to Richmond, we took a parallel highway to the interstate because we were told the scenery was just beautiful. Wow, rolling hills with a notch cut in the trees so the road could be laid though it like a ribbon – up and down the road went over the hills. And the aromas! You could smell the different blossoms as we drove past. The pollen is so thick here it turns your car green (that's for my wife Lis who would consider this a hazardous atmosphere!). There were people cutting their lawns with ride-on lawn mowers and dogs running beside. For 60 miles there were only a couple of lazy turns. The fields nestled inside the trees were all grassy, unbelievably huge areas with “green” grass. And we kept passing signs indicating historical sites such as Monticello, Montpelier but we couldn't stop. We dared not; if we did we would never leave. This is a great state…this is a great land…God bless the USA.
We were stopped by police on the road to the hotel and he said that he thought he saw a Virginia plate on front of one of the bikes and a California plate on the back…ya right! We were off in a flash but have to count that as number 7! Got to the hotel about 8:00 PM and went to dinner. Lights out at 1:45 AM. I've got to stop staying up so late…but there's just so much to write…
Thursday, April 22, 2004 – Day 13
Today is a no-ride day! It still promises to be a busy one though. We left for Henrico Doctor's Hospital at 9:00 AM. We needed to be there early so we could set up. Yes, we were on time for this one too. Our second in a row! This hospital is the center for kidney transplantation in Virginia. At this event, we are meeting transplant doctors, RNs, recipients, and donor parents. After introductions I was able to get up and speak for a couple of minutes to thank the nurses and doctors who perform the transplants to persons in need. Then I got to introduce Brian Hinsley who also thanked the doctors and nurses.
There were about 40 persons there including Dr. Mendez who spoke also. He was responsible for starting the kidney transplant program there in 1990 and has made it one of the most successful in the nation. He’s a very funny man and one dedicated to his field. I told him that Drs. Raphel and Robert Mendez were doctors to Elliott and I, and he proceeded to tell us a little something of the Mendez' father that is not generally known. Seems the father was born in Spain about 100 miles from the town that he was born in. He told us that Mr. Mendez was a world class musician. He knows the family very well. It looks like the father passed those genes on to his off-spring. Drs. Raphel and Robert are world class musicians in their own right!
A kidney recipient found me and introduced herself and said that she had received her kidney from one of her friends, a living donor. She hugged me and told me that I was special…I thought what I did was not anything anyone else wouldn't do for a loved one but she was so full of life, happiness, and so grateful that she made me believe her!
After the short program we all talked for a while and those in attendance signed our scroll. We packed up and then moved on to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) building. To get there, we drove through downtown Richmond. This city is one big historical place at every turn! It was hard to keep the cars in their lanes.
UNOS is the central location where all 85,000 people in the United States, who are waiting for transplant, are listed. When a generous donation is made, a transplant coordinator places a call to UNOS and provides the critical information that begins the (hopefully short) search for a match. When a candidate is found, UNOS returns the call to the coordinator who then places a call to contact the potential recipient, who has a beeper. The center is staffed 24/7. The people who work at UNOS are the most caring persons in the world. Think about it!
When we drove up, there were about 50 people outside waiting for us…it was great! It happened to be ‘Bring-your-kids-to-work day' so there were a lot kids there who loved to sit on the bikes! They took us inside and we ate lunch with everyone. They had Brian and I speak a little and Brian was just overwhelmed with emotion as he spoke. He thanked them for their dedication and work because without them he would not be there. The team presented UNOS with a team helmet we signed and they gratefully accepted it and said they would proudly display it! Then they gave us some goodies and we took a tour of the facility. The building is also home to The Coalition on Donation, the educational part of transplantation, who was instrumental in helping us get from California to New York. They are the ones responsible for our contacts with the public and media along the way. The whole network was just great!
We got to sleep a little before 11:00 PM. That was the earliest this whole trip. I was going to work on the journal but fell asleep before I could. I'm actually writing this on Friday.
Friday, April 23, 2004 – Day 14
We woke at 6:00 AM, had a little breakfast and were off. We needed to be at Alexandria INOVA Hospital by 11:00 AM so we could help set up and be ready when the press came in. The good Dr. Kenneth Moritsugu came down from Washington to visit and speak at our little event. Dr. Mortisugu is a Rear Admiral and Deputy Surgeon General of the United States. He is one, if not THE biggest advocates for donation. He has suffered two tragedies fairly recently in his life, his wife passed away about 12 years ago and their daughter about 8 years ago. Both donated organs and tissue to save or improve the lives of others on the east coast and his – no, their, story is compelling, he is a great and humble man and we are grateful and honored to have met him.
One thing that I have to write about is that after the ceremony in which the team received certificates from the Mid-Atlantic Organ Procurement Organization, we were taking pictures with Dr. Moritsugu. Now I want to tell you that I have a habit of wearing my baseball cap backwards. I've been doing that for over 30 years and will probably continue for the next 30 if the good Lord is willing. Well, the doctor obtained an Alexandria Fire Department ball cap and you guessed it - put it on – BACKWARDS! Was that cool or WHAT! A Rear Admiral! He got on the quad and we all took pictures of the Rear Admiral sitting on a quad with his hat on backward…
It was a great morning but had to end and so we packed up to go. But first we had to visit the Firehouse. Tom found out that they had an active pole and he just had to try it out! He looked pretty good sliding down it. In fact, about half the team had to slide down the pole…
The department gave us an escort to the Interstate and then we drove by the Mall in Washington D.C. They showed us a scenic route to give us a glimpse of our Nation's capitol. What a site, the Mall in Washington D.C. It was magnificent – even if it was from a car across the river. It was then off to the next stop just outside Philadelphia. I did a radio interview for a New York rock station. It lasted a couple of minutes and he said that he would finish it when we're actually in New York – cool.
Well, we have one last leg, one last leg of a journey over 3,000 miles. We'll see family, friends and loved ones. We left Santa Monica on April 10, 2004 – Elliott's birthday.
Tomorrow, we'll arrive in New York on April 24, 2004 – that's Jill's birthday (Elliott's wife)…Isn't irony wonderful?!
God bless and good night. Lights out at 10:30 PM.
Saturday, April 24, 2004 – Day 15
We woke at 6:30 AM. We have a lunch appointment with the New Jersey Organ Sharing Network in Newark and want to be sure we’re there on time (11:00 AM and we’ve done great with this on-time stuff!). Then it’s off to New York! We’re supposed to be at Chelsea Piers between 2:00 PM and 2:30 PM.
We barely got out of the parking lot at the Best Western and were just about ready to enter the turnpike when the police stopped us (number 9!). One officer said he had seen us on the news the night before and was curious. They were there at the hotel just lurking about waiting for us to leave the parking lot. They could have just come in and talked to us! I had begun to get the registration out of the quad glove box and twisted the latch. Well he didn’t ask for it and I neglected to re-latch it. Then going down the turnpike the cover flew off but luckily Tom stopped and picked it up. None the worse for wear but we’ll have to get it re-painted. Well about 25 miles later, we got stopped again (number 10 and the last, the pool goes to Matt!). The troopers just wanted to check the insurance and registration and then let us go.
Coming into the New York area was fantastic. Coming up over a ridge the New York skyline popped up and there it was! Our destination! We had one stop to make and then…
We made it to the New Jersey Organ Sharing Network at 11:00 AM and there were about 15 people there with balloons and a banner to greet us. We went inside and they signed our scroll and we sat and talked for about an hour. The volunteers working there, and at all the facilities we visited, are great people and we were honored to meet them and to exchange stories and yes, some tears. One person, Lynn, is a kidney and pancreas recipient. She’s scheduled to ride in the Rose Parade in January on the Coalition on Donation float. We’ll see her again then!
After giving some rides around the parking lot to the good folks there, we were off to our last stop! As New York loomed larger and larger I thought about how fortunate we’ve been on this trip. Our biggest concern was for the team’s safety. We prepared for rain, snow and cold but saw none of it. Each day was dry and warm! It was almost anti-climatic because when you ride a quad you want the rain and mud!! Most important was the fact that we haven’t had any health issues either…We were truly blessed…we also thought about how the skyline doesn’t quite look the way it should have.
We arrived at the Lincoln Tunnel and found that quite an experience. 15 to 20 toll booths squeezing down to go through 3 two-lane tunnels, quite a log jamb. We got through okay and then it was just a short jaunt to Chelsea Piers. Arriving to clicking cameras and waving loved ones, we were directed to take the ATVs to a tent area and park under it. There was a band playing and small grandstands filled with people listening. They had a small health fair going and we were the main attraction! We took pictures and talked, we rolled out our scroll so guests could sign it. Kids sat on the quads and more pictures taken. The sky was sunny and clear and we had made it…3,200 miles on an ATV…Elliott would have loved it.
The people at the New York Consortium were just perfect! Noel and Julia, Lucia and all, we can’t thank them enough for the work they did. We can’t thank the Coalition enough. We can’t thank UNOS for all that they do.
We are done now. It’s really hard to put into words the joy produced by this venture. The lives we’ve touched and those that touched us. We will never forget and we will continue the campaign to educate friends, neighbors and loved ones on the importance for organ and tissue donation. The affects can stretch across generations.
My thanks to Fujisawa Health Care, ConocoPhillips, Damon’s Motorcycle Creations, and all who have helped to make this event possible – there are way too many to name here, but we are eternally grateful and I hope that they feel they were indeed a part of this effort.
My thanks to the team members who left their families for these two weeks. We have created a bond that will last beyond our lifetime.
Greg for his assistance and hard work, I know it took a lot out of him because of his diabetes. He has a long, hard road ahead of him and I pray that the years will be kind. I love him.
And of course my warmest thanks to my kids, Sean, Dustin, Ian and Leslie for their work and support.
To my wife Lis, for her support these past 19 months. I’ve not been an easy person to live with and she put up with me anyway. She is my best friend, confidant, lover, my anchor. I could not have done this without her…
Elliott, we’ve done this for you bro. We talked about a big ride and even though you weren’t here physically, we knew you to be here spiritually. We recognize the good fortune we had and acknowledge your hand and the Lord’s in our endeavor. Thanks and I love you.
Talk to your family about donation. Find out what it is they would want done. It’s important to talk. Talk is good.
Thanks again for sharing your stories. I hope that you have enjoyed reading ours….Thanks, good night and may God bless you.
It’s been some months after returning from our trip. Thinking back on it, it seems as if it was just one big whirlwind of go, go, go. We arrived in New York on Saturday, and some of the team left that night or Sunday. The rest of us stayed until Tuesday morning. While there, we played the tourists as it was our first time in the Big Apple. What a great city, and the people are just fantastic.
On that Saturday, as we were packing up to go to our hotel, Brian and Brian left to find a fire station to park our equipment until we left. While they were gone, a gentleman and his girlfriend walked up to Greg and asked what it was we were doing. Greg explained our trip to him and he couldn’t believe that we drove the ATVs that far. He then invited the whole team for dinner at his Outback Restaurant! We called Brian and Brian and they said that they had found a place and would be right back. Most of the team went straight to the Outback and when they got there, the Red Carpet was rolled out. We were given carte blanche! Even waiting in the lobby area prior to seating they started bringing appetizers and beverages.
most of the team went to the Outback, we went to help secure the vehicles for the weekend. The area we were going to park the equipment was Fire Station 11 on the east side. It was the first on the scene on 9/11. The station was full of mementoes that were sent to them after the attacks on the World Trade Center. They lost two heroes. The Captain still got choked up talking about it, especially showing us around and talking about the keepsakes. Of course, one of the day trips we took was to Ground Zero. Some of the buildings surrounding the area were still being repaired, and there was a makeshift memorial set up. The most solemn sight was the girders found forming a cross. The workers placed it on a pedestal. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop…and this, in the middle of New York City.
Well, I have to tell you of the last night in New York. Of course, one of the things about New York – at lease prior to seeing it first hand, are the stories about muggings in Central Park and such. It gives you the impression that crime is more or less rampant. Well we had a great experience until that last night. We got a phone call (I say we, but it was actually Brian Hinsley) at 1:00 AM that the equipment was being stolen! The perpetrators were actually trying to steal one quad (Adam’s) right off the fire station property! We had parked the equipment inside the fence (but still visible from the street). Response crews were in and out of the area almost constantly and we had no reason to believe it was not safe. Brian and I got up and went over there with Matt and Adam and found that they had indeed, taken his quad from off the back of one of the trucks and were trying to roll it down the street! They also broke the lock off the trailer and got in the back and were attempting to steal another quad when they were seen. The only thing we found that they actually took was Erin’s gear bag which had all of his pictures of the trip in it…That was the biggest loss.
Well we got things back in order and decided that it was best that the equipment have someone to actually watch over it so Brian Hinsley and I sat in my pickup truck the rest of the night keeping watch. OF COURSE! It wouldn’t BE New York unless we experienced this too!
Six of the team made the drive back to the west coast. We had one more stop to make in Salt Lake City, as we were invited to attend the new Donor Memorial Dedication the following Friday. So we got up (out of the truck actually!) and left New York wishing that we had more time to spend in that great city.
The trip back was what we thought we would get on the way to New York. Rain, cold and snow. But it was a great drive all the same.
We got to the Donor Memorial Ceremony and met Chris Klug, the 2002 Olympic Gold medalist in snowboarding. He is a liver recipient and loved sitting on the bikes and talked like he wanted to go on the next trip with us. Dr. Moritsugu was also there and we both talked as if we were following each other…
But most special, was meeting with my little 4 year old cousin Bailee, who is the bone marrow recipient we spoke of earlier. I had seen her once before when she was just a baby. When we met this time, she grabbed on to me like I was her long lost best friend. I was so struck by that. How special was that? I don’t have enough adjectives. We had carried her picture with us across the United States and we found out on the road that she had been declared cancer free…not cured but free of cancer…that short time with her will remain etched in my mind forever.
We’ve been back now for 7 months, and we’re preparing for a sponsor recognition dinner to say thanks for helping us on our way. We’ve produced a video that we’ll show for the first time. We hope that it will be used to educate people on the importance of organ and tissue donation. We hope that people will see how much help they can give someone. We hope that all those waiting for transplant will receive that which they need. We hope that they will live long and fruitful lives with their families. We can only hope and do what we can to help make that happen. Hope is eternal.