Barnwell, SC (March 12, 2015) - I arrived in Barnwell after a quick run up SC-3 and found the county courthouse without any problem. The two monuments located here represent the last of the effort in South Carolina. Just a few miles later, as I went through Orangeburg on the way back home, I marked another milestone - the odometer on my trusty Honda ST1300 clicked passed 80,000 miles.
There are many reasons to own and ride a motorcycle; self image, desire to engage in a dangerous lifestyle, a search for freedom and adventure, economical tourism - about as many reasons as there are invividuals riding. Regardless, only a few of us ever ride 80,000 miles in a lifetime and far fewer can say they have ridden one particular bike that far. My current Honda is one of several that I can say my butt has polished for that much and farther. The next milestones will be 100,000, 125 and 150. I hope that I will see 200,000 miles with "Mr. Burgess" as that means I will have lived long enough to finish the Ride Around America.
Who is Mr. Burgess? That's my Honda. I jokingly named it for the 82 year old man that I hit with my 25 year old Honda GL-500. The old fella pulled out in front of me in December of 2006. The collision destroyed the motorcycle and did a bit of damage to me, but the balancing fact of the accident was the insurance settlement that allowed me to purchase the new motorcycle. The photo here is the first ever taken of me and Mr. Burgess together. I've ridden the machine all of 50 yards at this point and I'm already contemplating the first of a few after-market accessories for the bike - a handlebar extension kit.
It took about four hours to ride home from Barnwell, and the last 90 minutes of that was after dark. My butt was aching from almost 1,700 miles of the six day tour through Georgia. All in all, it was a very good week. I encountered no rain, only a few idiots on the road and most of the memorials I sought were found easily.
Effingham County, Georgia was the only location that disappointe me. I spent nearly an hour riding around the county seat of Pembroke as I looked for anything that could be accepted as a veterans memorial. I spoke with the Chief of Police, the county Sheriff, and many others about a possible location and got nowhere. Finally I found volunteer fireman that pointed me to a very small marker dedicated to a World War I veteran, and that was all there was. This is the host county of Fort Stewart - one of the largest training bases in the east. I am totally dismayed that 1) there is no monument or 2) there is and very few even know about it - even the local veterans.
It's A Small World After All
The two hundred mile outbound leg before the first monument on Monday guaranteed there wouldn't be much to keep me busy in recording notes of the day - but I was pleasantly surprised. I rolled into Colleton State Park and began to pitch the tent in a nicely wooded campground area. A familiar accent floated over from the next campsite and I turned to meet Doug Denby, a retired teacher from Markham, Ontario.
Doug and his wife, Jean, travel between Markham and various points of North America in a very odd looking motor home. The RV is one of only 500 that was built by a small plant in Pontiac, Michigan. It's compact, efficient, and a great way for a retired couple to enjoy the advancing years.
Doug spent his first years as a teacher in a small Eskimo village above the arctic circle. He was, for all practical purposes, the local contact point for the Canadian government. His life experience generates some interesting topic material and we both agree that the potential choices for American voters in the upcoing presidential election don't bode well for the citizens of the US or Canada.
The real surprise of my meeting with Doug is that he is one of my Canadian cousins! He started talking familly history and he mentioned he has a Wonnacott in his tree - and it didn't take long to figure out we were related. This is the third time in my Ride Around America that I have encountered a distant relative. Each time I leave with an appreciation of the extent my maternal and paternal roots and how that family has had am impact upon the histories of the US and Canada.
Veteran's Victory House
Although I got an early start Tuesday morning, the day turned out far less productive than I wanted. I had planned six stops on the itinerary, but accomplished only three. Much of the delay came from a slow leak in my rear tire. When getting ready to mount up and depart from the Tuskegee Airman's monument at the airport in Walterboro, I noticed the tire was very low and just didn't want to chance damaging it by riding blindly around in search of a working air hose. So I walked up the street to the local Fixed Base Operator and proceeded to spend nearly an hour in the search. A few minutes in a rampside rocking chair made me yearn for the days when I eagerly went to the local airport, wherever that may have been, to sit and watch aircraft come and go and talking with other pilots about what they were flying and the fun they were having.
Enjoyable as it was, the one hour interlude was disquieting. Because of medical reasons I can't fly anymore, but that doesn't mean I don't want to fly. During the rest of the week I frequently found myself daydreaming about grass field landings, IFR approaches, and the pure joy of looking out from the cockpit to a world two miles below. I have said it a lot in my journal entries - becoming old sucks. It REALLY sucks.
The next stop after the airport was Veteran's Victory House, a state supported nursing home just about two miles from the Tuskegee monument. Two bailiff's at the county courthouse had told me there were WW I and WW II memorials on the grounds - they were positive THOSE were the only other monuments in the county other than the CSA in front of the courth and the Tuskegee memorial. WRONG! But why does that surprise me?
Of course, the purported monuments don't exist on the 20 acres of the nursing home. All I found was two ladies in the reception area that were pleased to hear the details of Ride Around America. As much as they were impressed with my project, I was more impressed with the facility in which they work - serving veterans in a very modern and well staff setting. They employ about 250 people to care for about 240 veterans. The different units accomodate various levels of need. If you are a veteran in South Carolina, or a family member looking for a place for your veteran - check it out here.
We Make Marines !
Tuesday ended at a KOA campground in Yamassee, South Carolina. An impressively large species of mosquito inhabit the swamps, creeks, and rivers of this area. Their bites raise welts larger than the bug itself, but by Wednesday evening I could see no evidence of long term damage to my system. If you intend to spend time around here, bring some sort of bug spray.
I am packed and ready to mount up by seven Wednesday morning. A conversation with Bill Olendorf, the owner of the campground, reveals that during WW II Yamassee was the point of debarkation for thousands of Marine Corps recruits. They would arrive by train at all hours of the day and night, and then be trucked 20 minutes away to Parris Island for eight weeks of hell before being dubbed "combat ready" and shipped out to distant places, usually the Pacific Theater. Bill shares several stories about the military history of his county and each helps me put the memorials into context.
I went aboard the Marine Corps Depot without much trouble. In fact, I found it quite simple - just show license, registration, insurance, and let the gate guards observe you are wearing the proper safety gear and then "Welcome Aboard!"
The monuments photographed here are located near the oldest parts of the depot. The background building for "Iron Mike" was built about one hundred years ago, when the Marines didn't yet have the worldwide reputation they enjoy today.
Iron Mike is a statute commissioned by the Marines that served in and survived the horrors of Belleau Wood and other battlefields of France during World War I. "Mike" is striding from the battlefield with a Lewis gun over his shoulder and a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol held high in his left hand. Underfoot is the helmet of a German soldier - defeated and recgonized only as a slight impedement to the 72,000 men that were "The Corps" of his era. The rickety cannons flanking the monument are certainly not impressive - until you realize the effort it must have taken to employ them in battle. There wasn't anything mechanized about those Marines - they just kicked ass and kept on walking forward.
Passing by the parade ground is sobering. How many more thousands, tens of thousands, will march in front of that reviewing stand? How many more generations of worried mothers and proud fathers will see their children step away from the family that raised them to join the family that will forever be their comrades? How many more will gather to dedicate new memorials to those that will not make it to a unit reunion?
A Really LONG Day
Circumstances put me into the Hinesville EconoLodge Wednesday night, so an early start on Thursday was relatively easy. I had the first monument photographed by 7:30 AM and by nine I was looking for the third. A quick stop to ask directions from Officer Middleton of the Lucowici police department brought the first personal connection of today's memorial visits. The friendly officer is the son of one of the men mentioned on the local monument. SSgt Robert V Middleton served in Vietnam in the Army and then served in the Air Force.
The next connection of the day was at Folkston, Georgia. I lived here for several years and I was both surprised and pleased to see that a new memorial area sits in the quickly changing downtown area. As a veteran, I was always dismayed by the fact that Charlton County made no formal recognition of its veteran citizens, except a small display at the now defunct VFW post.
The new memorial area sits on a prominent corner, across from the county courthouse and it was dedicated earlier this year. It doesn't try to promote the names of the sons and daughters; but it does recognize they are here, living in a small community with a large history that sometimes overlooks the little contributions that accent and flavor every life.
Continuing north on US-301 I remember the very first day I traveled that portion of highway. It was forty years ago, after I had left the Coast Guard. The route was more heavily used then and there was a roadside picnic table a few miles north of Folkston. It's gone now, as are most roadside tables of an era long gone. This project is largely about remembrance, but not always related to military memories. This particular moment of reverie makes me remember the smile of my young daughter, our golden retriever, and the pleasant times enjoyed by all young families. Yes, some days this tour becomes very personal when I realize I will likely never again see that old hometown.
Two stops later I'm in Waycross, Georgia, another southern town struggling to keep the downtown identity alive in a world that no longer needs a downtown - much of the commerce previously supported by the traditional downtown merchant is being replace by a computer connection, online payments, and a FedEx or UPS delivery van.
The next veteran encounter is here in Waycross - when I stopped to ask directions and met Alphonso Cecil. He's a retired US Army Sgt 1st Class with 28 years of service, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star to his credit. He served his time in Vietnam and vividly remembers being "on point," leading his squad through the bush. This man with two first names is a joy to know from the first moment of meeting him. He eagerly puts out his hand in introduction and beams a contented smile over a newly found friend.
We talked for nearly 20 minutes about service, sacrifice, remembrance, and race. We both understand that skin color should have nothing to do with service, nor should it adversely impact the monuments of remembrance. He believes the current politically correct movement to take down CSA monuments around the south is misguided. "We all need to learn the real history..." says Alphonso.
He gives me the directions I need and I ride away knowing I've made a friend that will ride with me in spirit however far time and circumstance will allow. Thank you, Mr. Cecil, I'll try to keep in touch.
The long, hot, afternoon wears on for a total of 13 counties - one of the highest one day counts I have been able to reach. I drift off to sleep by 8 PM with the sound of owls hooting across the campground at General Coffee State Park. Hopefully the forecast rain will be light tomorrow.
A Really ROUGH Day
Another rider spent the night at General Coffee, Kirk Schiner from Franklin, North Carolina. He's paddling a boat similar to mine - as two time lymphoma survivor with so many negative after effects that it makes sense to just get out to ride and enjoy life. Kirk didn't serve, but he has a son in the Navy and that allows him to understand my spiel about service and family sacrifice.
We are both packed and gone from the park by 8 AM and I am again pondering my plight and thankful, that I have the opportunity to ride and savor life in this manner. It's not pessimism, it's a reality that we must all embrace and use to our advantage. Later today that philosophy will be tested.
By 1:30 PM I've made progress through the lower tier of Georgia counties and have reached Lakeland, the seat of Lanier County. Obviously this town has seen better days, or maybe it was always small and quiet. The downtown area is about three blocks wide and five or six blocks long. All around the district are painted murals and realistic cut outs that make the unknowning visitor swear that the figures are real as they sit on benches, and stand at doorways - looking out toward the visitor with a smile. I look closer and learn that all of the faces are those of town residents in the 1920's and 30's. The artist and sponsors of the project have made a sincere, and effective, effort to honor and remember those that previously inhabited the town and gave it life. I took time to sit in a sandwich shop and escape the 80 degree heat. My glucometer reading was slightly high and I injected a normal dose of insulin. I didn't factor in the heat.
The weather forecast indicates a possible severe line and my plans change accordingly. My last monument visit of the day will be at Quitman, followed by a run north to Tifton for an overnight stay at the Pines RV Park. If all goes well I should be in Tifton and in the tent for a nap by 5:30 PM.
Ten miles east of Quitman, about 3:30 PM, I begin to feel the effects of low sugar level. I pull to the side of the road and suck in two hard peppermint candies and get back onto the saddle and press into town. Where I stopped was out in a rural area and the candies were the only resource I had to make me feel any better. A smarter and more experienced insulin user would have actually taken a glucometer reading before getting back on the bike.
At approximately 3:55 I know I'm in trouble. The world is becoming a blurry and confusing scene as I dismount, grab another four peppermints, and stumble to a park gazebo about 40 yards from the curbside of the old county courthouse. It's hot, over 80 degrees, and I'm sweating profusely. I should be taking my helmet and jacket off, but there is only enough energy to unwrap the candies - and even that is taking everything I have left.
I'm pretty sure I didn't not slip away for a few minutes, but I can't be positive. All I know is that I started coming around about an hour later - still foggy, but aware enough to take off the jacket and helmet and stumble back to the bike and gobble down four fig Newtons and a half bottle of water. The glucose meter read just 39 at that moment - I can only guess how low it had gone as I sat on the steps of that gazebo, hoping that SOMEBODY would please notice me and check to see if I was okay.
The fact that nobody did check on me is a sobering fact about diabetes. It's possible to quickly fall into distress and from there to coma and death without anybody around you knowing there is a problem. I was lucky, but stupid. It has only been a few weeks since the additional form of insulin was added to my daily routine and I should not have been trying to get my glucose levels down to an "acceptable" level regardless of the circumstances. I took a full measure of insulin with lunch without accounting for the stress of a hot day - and it came close to killing me. The lesson has been learned and I don't think I'll put myself into that situation again.
Another 30 minutes and I was back to a near normal status. I took the photos I needed and headed north toward Tifton and a night of rest. A fuel stop gave me the opportunity to slam down some chocolate milk and that bit of sugar brought me up to a reasonably solid condition.
The Saturday weather stayed clear, but I was still alarmed over what had happened Friday afternoon. I ensured that I ate and drank something at every stop Saturday, and it was difficult to stay in the proper mood to experience the memorials I was visiting.
The next two weeks will be at home so that I can keep some appointments at VAMC Salisbury and Durham. I'll use the time to work on more of the articles and photos. I will also make an earnest effort to get a Medic Alert bracelet and some sort of emergency electronic communications device... I'm thinking the SPOT tracking device is a very good idea.
Keep an eye for memorial updates. Call me or send an email if you know of a specific monument that I should visit.