Two-Wheeled Links in Life

This past weekend was another memorable one, and motorcycles played a major role in making it so. Take away the bikes and it still would have been a nice weekend with blue skies and pleasant temperatures. But add motorcycles and everything changes. Opportunities arise that otherwise wouldn't have been present, providing a means and cause for friends and supporters to gather to remember those who can't be with us, and a chance and reason for friends to spend time together, to visit new places and see new things. All while enjoying the freedom of the open road surrounded by the subtle hues of early autumn under an absolutely perfect sky.

I've written before about the emotional connection of motorcycles and the military, but in a sense that goes far beyond those in the armed services simply being motorcyclists. I'm referring primarily to veterans, and supporters of veterans and veterans' issues, who share a love of motorcycling and who connect and make use of this passion for various causes in the support of active military personnel, and in issues relevant to veterans and military families. These motorcycle-based activities range from the Rolling Thunder Ride to Washington DC every Memorial Day weekend, to Patriot Guard Riders standing at honor in flag lines at the funeral of a fallen soldier. Motorcycle groups form around a list of causes in support of current and past military personnel too long to list.

For many who participate in these events the motorcycle forms one of the two common bonds; motorcycling itself, and the cause for which they ride or gather.
And so it was again this past Saturday, September 19. The 11th annual Michigan Remembers Run was held, culminating in a ceremony on the steps and grounds of the Capitol Building in Lansing. Groups of riders from various points around the state rode to Lansing to demonstrate a clear and strong show of support for all POWs and MIAs of all wars, and in particular those 53 men from Michigan that are still missing in action from the Vietnam War (including a soldier from my small hometown, who I knew, which makes it more personal and real).

The Michigan Remembers Run is an annual reminder that there are thousands of individuals and their families who have no closure, who still do not know what happened to their son, brother or husband or his whereabouts. The Run and ceremony in Lansing is a proclamation, a statement, that we still remember those that did not return and we will not rest until the government has done all in its power to locate and return those persons, be they dead or alive. There are still 8,168 MIAs from the Korean War, and 1,874 from the Vietnam War. The technological leap in DNA identification, communications, tracking, satellite surveillance and other high-tech developments that occurred after Vietnam, as well as a change in how recent wars and conflicts have been prosecuted, have helped ensure that MIAs will never again number in the hundreds or thousands. But for those that remain unaccounted for we must continue to send the clear message that "You Are Not Forgotten". A large group of mostly aging veterans stood proud on the capitol lawn Saturday under a cloudless blue sky and once again sent that message to all that cared to hear it.

Sunday was another day of sunshine and warmth, though as expected temperatures near 40 greeted daylight's arrival. This would be a different kind of day in several ways, but motorcycles were still the force that gathered and bound. Five of us took advantage of an opportunity to ride to the small resort town of Saugatuck on Lake Michigan. Saugatuck is a charming small town with deep roots in the maritime culture of the Great Lakes. Present-day resort towns on the Lakes almost always began life as rough and tumble towns where people worked hard trying to make a life through commercial fishing, lumber, shipping, or other livelihoods that were based on hard work and long hours, and had nothing in common with the reasons folks visit these towns today.

The primary goal of this ride (as if one needs a reason to ride) was simply to share the experience of riding our bikes along the scenic two-lane ribbons of asphalt that criss-cross Michigan's countryside. Riding 110 miles one way to have lunch in a new place may seem illogical but of course that is exactly the attraction. But for this opportunity to ride, and to explore someplace new, we would have gone our separate ways this day and some nice memories would not have been created, and friendships not made or deepened. Our views of our world and our appreciation of who we are and what we have would not have been broadened just a little. Removing the motorcycles, and thus the ride, would have also meant not enjoying the beautiful early fall weather and exploring places never seen before. We would not have appreciated the verdant countryside that we rode through, unencumbered by steel and glass walls. We would not have witnessed the land at the peak of its abundance and saw the harvest of food from the orchards and fields of southwestern Michigan, nor seen the many trees already turning shades of maroon, orange, and scarlet along roadsides and fence rows.
We would not have enjoyed a leisurely lunch with small talk, which allowed all of us to get to know one another a bit better. And we certainly would not have had the opportunity to stroll the waterfront in Saugatuck, admiring the sailboats and yachts docked there under a bright sky and perfect temperatures, but for the common thread of our motorcycles.

So it was a weekend filled with poignant memories, honor, and friendship. And it was all made possible because of these marvelous machines that have brought so much soul, spirit, and adventure into the lives of so many for the past one hundred years.