WE HAVE ALWAYS RELIED ON THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
After the Arctic Circle we all eventually returned back to the Eagle Plains Lodge where we were now roomless since all their rooms were booked. Tenting was still a possibility, but Cathy the ambulance driver/road maintenance Forman knew how exhausted we were after our awful ride up the day before. She took some of us in her apartment, others she housed in her RV. Her employees gave up their rec room and laundry room for the rest of us to unfurl our sleeping bags. So for one more night we were warm and dry. The manager of the Lodge, Eleanor, herself a breast cancer survivor, put together a banquet for our dinner at a majorly reduced rate. We gathered for dinner and then our nightly Medallion Passing Ceremony.
It’s easy for bikers to get together and verbally re-ride the day’s events. But we weren’t here just for a ride. We were here to honor our pledges and raise money for the Susan G Komen Foundation so every morning after we’re fed and we’re geared up and ready to go, we start by passing around the Inukshuk, each of us touching it to give it our energy. Then we stand in a circle holding hands and we scream out the immortal words of our late friend, Woody, “I’m Alive! I’m Awake! And I Feel Great!” Then it’s Kickstands up and Throttle on!
In the evening we have the more extensive remembrance of our motive. The Medallion Passing Ceremony.
The Medallion is actually like the old puzzle rings from the 70’s, but not confusing or difficult. It’s 4 bronze pieces that fit together to make the one design. Each piece is symbolic of a different aspect of our cause. There’s the horseshoe that symbolizes our survivors of the disease; the ring of memory that fits into a groove in the horseshoe and that symbolizes all those we have lost and hold in our hearts; another horseshoe to hold the hope of the future free and clear of cancer and that piece sits snugly right on top of the survivors’ horseshoe, sandwiching and protecting the ring of memory; and finally the heart. The heart is the piece that fits inside the ring and makes it solid, strong and whole. The heart symbolizes the worldwide community we need to put an end to Cancer.
Each piece becomes an individual pendant worn around a rider’s neck by a strong purple ribbon about 1 1/2” wide. The pieces have some solid weight to them so you’re aware you’re wearing it. When you ride a motorcycle it becomes easy to just stay in your head, allowing your thoughts to whiz by with the scenery. If you’re the bearer of a piece of the medallion for that day it helps anchor you to the cause and you think about that piece and its meaning…. and most important what it means to you. And For you.
So we gather in the evening and the four pendant bearers stand together in front of us all. Each one gives a synopsis of how it made him/her feel that day and the thoughts that went through that rider’s head associated with those feelings. Then we reassemble the Medallion in a special box and pass it around, all of us giving it our energy. That pendant bearer then passes on his medallion piece to the next day’s bearer and that person says a few words about what it personally means or whatever thoughts it evokes in whatever direction. It’s actually quite an emotional passing of time. This one night there was a busload of tourists from Australia. We didn’t know it, but as we were doing our ceremony they were passing the hat and collecting money to donate for our cause. Along with that, Cathy’s employees were moved to their wallets. $205 dollars was donated that night. We were so touched and honored. It’s those moments that kept us going.
Now we must get going back down. Back down the Dempster. Another bike was brought out for me and I was ready to face my nemesis, that muddy highway. All of us had a slight trepidation about the trip but we were warriors on a cause. We shouted our motto in our heads as we faced our tires south. “A bad day in the mud is still better than laying in a hospital bed with chemo going through you,” reverberated in my helmet.
ANNNNND WE’RE OFF! (But we’re only ‘off’ enough to make us interesting)
What a difference a day makes. The road was dry and a dream. The sky, blue. Still rutty and gravely, but we can deal with that. Totally a beautifully uneventful ride back. We slept at a Dawson Hostel and were ready in the morning for….
Top Of The World. Damn. I was trying not to remember that we had to do it again to return. Ok. A day on a mountain with a drop off is still better than laying in a hospital bed with chemo. Uhhhhhhhhh. I think I need a new mantra right now.
The weather was drizzly and the worst of conditions existed. Fog. Total fog. 10 to 20 feet visibility would be optimistic. At one point I had to pull over to the side of the road to lift my visor and remove my glasses as they were both fogging up. I THOUGHT I moved to the side. My co-riders, who had to swerve around me, tried to educate me on that maneuver that evening but they laughed and understood when I said, “I thought I WAS at the side of the road!”
And I think we most all agreed that the return trip on Top Of The World was the worst. But at least I couldn’t see the drop now. Too much fog. So was the glass 1/2 full or 1/2 empty?
We arrived in Chicken and as soon as I landed I had tears in my eyes. Joy? Nope. I think tears of terror. But I am still so proud of myself for my accomplishment. I faced my fear and……cried. But I faced it. I might have arrived a little more frazzled than my cohorts, but we all did arrive.
Ah, and Chicken. Susan owns the restaurant there and is pretty much the sole reason why Chicken is a thriving little area. We were so disappointed when we were there the week prior that she was out of Chicken Potpie. She remembered that we were returning and had ready 16 chicken potpies for us to warm our souls. Remembering our return date might have just been good business for her, but it became a memory for us all. A warm caring memory. I was carrying the ring of memory that day. We had her in tears as we left with our show of appreciation.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS….IS BETTER LEFT OUTDOORS
Back to Tok. We were supposed to stay at Vanessa’s Eagle Claw campground again and Vanessa and her friend Lanys had a b-b-q feast waiting for us as a gift but we were all so cold and wet from Top Of The World. Gina moved on ahead of us and scouted out some possibilities. She did find some showers at one location which would help us ease our cold bones, but the majority of the group needed more as some of the riders’ raingear didn’t hold up. The local motel was decided on. Vanessa fully understood our need for solid shelter and the owner of the motel offered to shuttle us the 2 miles to Vanessa’s campground and then return after our bellies were full to bring us home. These were all a few of the angels we met on our journey.
And our final location, Gracious House Lodge. Located remotely on the Denali Highway about 72 miles from Denali National Park (Mt. McKinney to you Sourdoughs) owned by Carol and Butch. We’re not allowed to tell any of you, but these two strong people gave us such a break on the price to tent or lodge there and for our meals. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone because that discount ain’t gonna happen again. Many of us tented the first 2 nights but we all had to take a room for the last night to allow our tents time indoors to dry out fully since this was it. We were going home after. But not until we enjoy this area for 2 days.
3 of us went up in Butch’s little 4-seater airplane and he flew us over a few glaciers. Indescribably beautiful. I took photos aplenty, but trust me. They won’t do it justice. Then we flew low over the flats looking for animals. Caribou, moose, sheep were all over. Suddenly a brown bush took the shape of a bear and stood on its hind legs, raising its paws at us in warning. We flew over an eagle’s nest with the mother and father’s watchful eyes on us. Some of the others got back on their bikes and had a fun day doing a creek crossing. They all returned wet and laughing; all of them dropping the bikes at one time or another in the water. Unfortunately we also had another medical emergency when 4 of our riders decided on a personal side trip to Denali for the day . The Denali Highway is not a paved road. Again it had rained and there was road construction about. That usually consists of lines of gravel and mud that can grab your tires and redirect you off your desired path. About 30 miles from the lodge, first Rita felt herself go off the side of the road, down the burm, but she got herself back up. Nancy wasn’t so lucky. The pile of grit caught her tire and she went down, breaking her arm up by the shoulder. Eldonna rode fast back to us at the lodge and we called an ambulance. Brendon drove Jethro to them with Walt, Nancy’s partner. Nancy was taken to Fairbanks hospital but she and Walt were able to rent a truck and continue the final day back to Anchorage with us.
So, the next day was the last. A rainy ride back to home base. As we were riding down the road, all of a sudden Gina zoomed around me to our group leader, Roy. I saw her gesture to him and they pulled over to the shoulder, all of us pulling over behind them. They dismounted and started running back to me. I had no idea what was happening! “You’re on fire!“ they yelled as the two of them and Mike started pulling my small trunk bag off my bike. It appears that a loose battery in the bag might have made contact with some other piece of metal in there and caught fire. My external hard drive burnt and melted as did my hat and my brand new Ugg boots. Later on we all were laughing hysterically as Roy stated that he had heard the term, ‘Flaming Homosexual’ but didn’t know there could also be a Flaming Lesbian! I am proud to be the bearer of a new moniker!!
We finally arrived in Anchorage at 6pm and got settled in various motels. Michelle and Todd, my anchorage friends and hosts, had a b-b-q ready. Bless them for opening their beautiful house and home to 13 wet, tired and muddy riders. Kathy and her husband, Dale, who had flown in after the accident excited us all by showing up to this final time together. She was in pain, but we needed her with us and she needed to be with us.
Then that night, Kathy and Dale flew home to Nebraska.
A few hours later Eldonna caught her flight to Southern California and Laurie to New Hampshire.
The next day, Walt and Nancy jetted to Norco, Ca and later that night we felt the separation as Cindy, John and Rita left us, winging their way back to Long Island.
The day after, Anchorage lost out as Gina and Mike departed to the airport, headed for the Boston area. Then the following day Roy and Shirley took to the air towards North Carolina.
And now, Sue, Gin and I are in the RV again, motoring back with all the bikes in tow. We say goodbye to Pink in Washington and go on to SoCal where Gin and Sue drop me off in Los Angeles. Then they turn to the east and head back to upstate New York. But meanwhile as we drive we remember our angels along the way.
And we had so many of them. So many people we met were moved by our cause and moved us with their stories and their empathy. From the store keeper in Teslin, Ada, who gave us our first Inukshuk; Campers who were tenting near us who gave $20; Campsite owners and restaurant managers who heard we were coming and were ready to aid our comfort; the pizza girl who gave us her day’s tips and the tourists who dug in their pockets. We pray we don’t have to ride for any of them. But the truth is we ride for all of them. And for ourselves. And for you.
Gin and Sue have raised a collective 2.4 million dollars for cancer research, organizing these motorcycle events. Let’s put them out of business and let them retire.
So far we have raised $35,000 dollars on this ride alone. The website will be open for a bit longer for your donations. Please join us in reaching for the cure.
In health and peace
Marna (Trapper) Deitch