(May 2, 2015) Each Veterans Affairs Medical Center has a different air about it. Some are dour and cold, others bright and positive, but for the most part they all encourage their patients to look forward and not back. The manner in which the various medical centers handle their patients can vary from department to department.
March 11th, 2015 -
Next Monday marks the halfway point of my radiation and chemo treatments for pancreatic cancer. These first 14 sessions represent three weeks of long rides back and forth to the VA Medical Center at Durham, NC; almost five hours of travel time to experience just 16 minutes of radiation therapy. At the end of each day, I clamber from my daughter's car and feel a sense of anti-climax. It is another milestone on my journey from illness back to well health, but why do I feel the other shoe is about to drop at any moment?
Maybe it's because that other shoe has hit the deck so many times before. I've been enduring problems with my pancreas since Labor Day of 1998 - almost seventeen years of frequent in-patient stays for pancreatitis, two major surgeries to remove most of the organ, and a couple of minor surgeries to remove other organs or repair damage created by the major operations. I've now spent time in hospital during almost every holiday except New Years Day and Thanksgiving - I've spent Labor Day weekend in hospital three times. The cycle of getting sick, getting treatment, and then recuperating has managed to slow down my Ride Around America project to a near standstill far too many times for me, but I remain convinced that I will finish the task.
In November of 2008 I enrolled in the Veterans Affairs Health System. The private and community hospitals systems I had been through had done nothing for me except prove that not having a good health insurance plan is a very quick way to bankruptcy and despair. Veterans Affairs was my last resort to finding some definitive help for my problem. While not without some peculiar and sometimes frustrating procedures, the VA has been a salvation of sorts. I frequently tell people that without VA behind me, "I would be dead or living under a bridge somewhere."
Aside from the support of my family, my single treasure throughout the last seven years has been the knowledge that at the end of these various ordeals I would be able to get back upon my Honda and return to my quest - my Ride Around America. No longer do I believe I will be able to ride five hundred miles a day six days a week to finish the last 100,000 miles in a year or two. I turn 65 this summer and the roads ahead now represent a marathon and not a sprint to the finish. The plan now is to run about 1,200 miles each week and if I don't finish the entire thing it will be because somebody has pried my cold, dead, hands from the grips of my handlebars!
The oncologists tell me that at the end of these treatments I should expect to live many more years. I point them toward their own studies that say otherwise, but they insist my malignant cells were discovered very early and the prospect of a wandering metastasis is unlikely. I hope so. Because soon after the last treatment I hope to be back on the road, wandering from county to county, monument to monument, as I ride to fulfill my goal of visiting every county in the lower 48.
This is an expensive project and I have reached the point where I must rely upon the help of others to finish the mission. Can you assist with the offer of a back yard where I may pitch my tent for a night or two? Just send me a note from the CONTACT menu tab. Do the same if you want to ride with me for a few miles or so - I always appreciate another rider showing me the best way to and from another memorial. If you are a potential sponsor I really want to talk you.
I am available to speak to civic groups, veterans organizations, and schools. My presentation runs about 40 minutes and the focus is upon the adventure of touring by motorcycle and learning the history of our republic through the monuments that honor our veterans. I need about 40 days lead time to ensure my route planning matches your schedule. Again, just send me a note using the form on the CONTACT menu tab.
Avon Park, FL - (Dec 18, 2012)
During this last week before Christmas I have been spending a few days in my usual wandering mode, up early and on the road well before dawn. I really enjoy the solitary miles as they roll beneath my foot pegs, feeling a slight chill and gentle warm up as the sun breaks across the horizon, rising into a clear Florida sky. Very few other travelers are on the road at this time of day, and I wonder if they too are looking eastward to the pink glow and wondering what the new day will bring?
Faint shapes visible at the edges of the road, orange trees and memories of a Florida that was once an exotic land to most Americans. The pace of life here meshed perfectly with a two lane road that led from the gentle sand hills to the canals and swamps of south, and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean. It's a good thing there is little traffic, because my mind has slipped into those shadows, exploring old memories from decades past, when I was a younger man with much more ahead of me than what now remains.
I first came to Florida in 1970, sailing into Key West aboard a Coast Guard cutter that was six years older than myself. The ship showed every day of its age in every way imaginable. It was cramped, cold and uncomfortable - and the bright sandy Florida shoreline offered everything the old cutter couldn't. The light green waters of the Dry Tortugas spraying up from the bow gave way to glimpses of porpoises and flying fish as the heavy salt air caked white upon my hat and dungarees. I felt I was coming home and my grin was as broad as any aboard.
A Leadership Lesson . . .
June 29, 2011 - Finally! After another four months of not be able to ride I fired up my ST1300 early Tuesday morning and put 480 miles on the odometer before stopping for the night in Conway, South Carolina. The next morning I again played tag with showers and thunderstorms in the area to clock an additional 388 miles in my quest to find veterans memorials.
The two day effort moved 12 counties into the visited column and only 16 unattended in South Carolina. I suspect I'll be able to finish the state by the end of September, or I may wait until mid-autumn, when the temperatures are not scorching me with middle 90's. The hot weather is bearable, but as we all know, a 90 degree day in the Southern USA ends with thunderstorms everywhere.
(April 9, 2012) – One of my pet peeves is when someone displays an overwhelming ignorance of military traditions. This morning, as I was reading obituary notices from the Coast Guard community, I again saw an incorrect reference to the rifle salute given near the end of the burial ceremony. “He was honored with a 21 gun salute,” is the phrase that grinds my teeth every time I read it. Yes, it fits the full definition of peeve.
A proper usage of the term describing the honor rendered does not make the old shipmates any less dead. Nor does it give one bit of comfort to the mourning family. Often, I am the only one bothered by the error in terminology, and that in itself is truly irritating.