WOW! It has been an incredible 9 days so far, so I’ll try to recap in some sort of chronological order.
Fri – Feb 28 – An awesome send off at Clemson University at the Scroll of Honor (honoring Clemson students killed during all conflicts). The AFROTC cadets, Pershing Rifles, students, & faculty came together for an emotional & heartfelt memorial ceremony honoring the 96 South Carolinians killed in Iraq & Afghanistan. I was honored & humbled to have Rick & Cindy Roth & their daughter Amy there to honor the life & service of their son, Corporal Jason S. Roth, who we rode in memory of on Sat. So heartwarming to see my old & new friends there.
Lots of butterflies that night, saying goodbye to my Mom, & her wishing me Godspeed early on Sat morning.
Sat – Mar 1 – Departing from Tillman Hall, cheered on by vets including Larry Druffel & Derek Popham, with AFROTC cadets in a peloton, led by Luke Watson with support by Drew Stephens (who officiated at the ceremony the day before). One of my oldest & dearest friends, Greg Bauld, provided the much needed support & encouragement for the first day where we ended up at Newberry, SC, with a Memorial Ceremony in Veteran’s Park across from the Opera House. http://laweb.htl.dc.publicus.com/news/home_top-news/3794607/Von-Kaenel-travels-solo-to-Alaska-after-visiting-Newberry
Overnight accommodation kindly provided by Henry Summers
Sun – Mar 2 – Pushing on to Columbia with Greg, reminiscing our 50 + years of knowing each other, was more like a celebratory ride when we arrive at the State Capitol at Columbia at noon, greeted by his wife, Denise, daughter, Katie, son-in-law, Bobby, & Yvette, from Senator Lindsey Graham’s office.
A chance to relax at Bobby & Katie’s house with them, Greg, Denise, & Bobby’s Mom – Laura. Said goodbye to Greg & Denise & started preparing for Aiken.
Mon – Mar 3 – On to Aiken to the Veteran’s Job Fair hosted by Congressman Joe Wilson with the Director of the Veteran & Military Students Success Center at USC Aiken Robert Murphy hosting my stay & providing overnight accommodation. Unbelievable support for the trip by everyone. Cycling to Robert’s house that evening for dinner and to spend the night. A wonderful meal & fellowship with vets Colin & Harry (and Harry’s partner, Jessica) with Robert’s wife, Lisa being a wonderful hostess. It is incredible the kind of relationship building that these people and this organization does in terms of connecting veterans and military students with USA Aiken.
One memorable event – a cold front coming through dropping the temperature about 20 degrees very quickly.
Tue – Mar 4 – Breakfast with Robert & Lisa, cycling to USA Aiken to have a Memorial Ceremony at the Student Activities Center. I was honored to call the name of Corporal Matthew Dillon as the last name to be remembered in the presence of his parents at the Center. The ride was dedicated in his memory.
Students & veterans were very supportive & respectful – Chancellor Jordan provides inspiring leadership & I thank her for her support for this.
Cycling 35 miles at noon from Aiken to Augusta, getting to Darling Hall at Fort Gordon, GA and conducting the first Memorial Ceremony for the 209 Georgians killed in Iraq & Afghanistan. Surrounded by over 80 senior non-commissioned officers and junior officers in Darling Hall was truly overwhelming. All participated in the reading of these 209 names and after reading a selected poem whose last line is “We will remember them’ was echoed by all in unison “We will remember them”. The Executive Director of the Augusta Warrior Project Kim Elle, who hosted the visit and Janice Barnshaw pulled out all the stops. My special thanks to Major General Patterson the Commanding General of Fort Gordon and Command Sergeant Major Pflieger attending the ceremony. Thanks also to Colonel Stephen Elle, the Commander of the 15th Regimental Signal Brigade for his active support of the event.
The ride on the following day was dedicated in memory of Doctors Dan Dickinson & Matthew Burke, tragically killed a couple of years ago in separate bicycling accidents.
The evening, hosted by Kim & Steve Elle, was another reminder of what I love about the US military, the tightly knitted sense of camaraderie & family that reaches out across the years and throughout the ranks and branches of the military. It is emblematic of our nation’s family & the Elle (and Murphy) families are wonderful examples.
Wed – Mar 5 – Steve Elle getting me out of Fort Gordon & Augusta on a road that I could safely cycle (thanks Steve!) then cycling towards Statesboro. Weather was cold but dry and road conditions were good so was able to get the 75 miles in by 4 pm to Statesboro, meeting with Heidi Jeffers (and Becky) at Statesboro, and was greeted by Mayor Nancy Moore. We had the Memorial Ceremony inside City Hall http://www.statesboroherald.com/section/1/article/57602/
Incredible to see the town support for this short notice event. Very kind words by Mayor Moore and goodwill by the residents of Statesboro.
Attended Ash Wednesday Service at St Matthews Church, then a supper in the church hall and was very kindly put up for the night by the parish priest, Fr Clark in a guest room – a nice time to reflect on the past few days.
Thu – Mar 6 – Challenging ride in the rain – temperatures in the high 30s with a steady rain, cycling 50 miles to Fort Stewart in Hinesville, GA. Cycling through Stewart, I could hear the tanks firing on the ranges and see the troops training in the rain that I was cycling through. The only difference was I could stop & get dry whenever I wanted, they were training up to a standard to ensure that they could defend our country at a moment’s notice, & this takes precedence.
Stayed the night at a local hotel provided by St Stephens Parish Church, dried off & warmed up for the next day.
Fri – Mar 7 – Rain was light, the temperature was 41 & Kingsland, GA was 100 miles away, so departed early and rode about 9 hours until reaching Kingsland at 4:00 pm. Met Mayor Kenneth E. Smith, a Vietnam Vet who presided over one of the most personal & touching Memorial Ceremonies at Veterans Park in Kingsland.
Then had the best restaurant meal at Steffers Restaurant where the atmosphere is more like a family dining room than a restaurant. Kris, Taylor, & Linda were simply wonderful.
The next morning, Linda took me across I-95 into Florida as the bridge was being repaired on the local US route I had been cycling.
Sat – Mar 8 – Cycling in Florida, I saw the sun! First time in 3 days! Temperatures were rising and was able to get to St Augustine by 3:00 – about 80 miles. Had the Memorial Ceremony in Veteran’s Park, negotiated my way back by bike to the hotel amidst the sea of motorcycles (St Augustine had a motorcyle rally this weekend in conjunction with Daytona Beach).
Sun – Mar 9 – REST DAY! Slept, ate, did laundry, then was greeted by Shep & Collos from PTSDAwarenessRide.org, on behalf of its founder, Janine Lutz. Shep & Collos have the PTSD Awareness Vehicle as my support vehicle going down to Davie, FL – exciting times – can’t wait to meet Janine!
Finally, & most importantly, I want to thank my very dear friends – the CEO of Sea2Sea, John Sprowl, and the Secretary/Director of Social Media/General Go To Person, Tricia Murdock for their support of this trip. We are a three person non-profit organization. I just ride the bike – John & Tricia do everything else.
It is safe to say that Sea2Sea would be just a dream for me if not for them, so my profound thanks & gratitude to John & Tricia.
More to follow for Week 2 of the Sea2Sea 2014 Challenge.