By: Kevin Lilley
The “Loneliest Road in America” is about to get some company — for a good cause.
About 500 motorcycle riders and support staffers will take part in the American Legion Legacy Run, leaving Fort Dodge, Kansas, on Aug. 12 and arriving in Reno, Nevada, on Aug. 17, the day before that city hosts the Legion’s national convention. The ride is the signature fundraising event for the Legacy Scholarship Fund, which pays for need-based scholarships for children of fallen post-9/11 service members and, as of last year, for children of post-9/11 veterans with disabilities rated 50 percent or higher by the Veterans Affairs Department.
More than $1.1 million in scholarships has been awarded since the program launched in 2002. The fund sits at nearly $13 million, Legion officials said, with more than $1 million more expected this year thanks largely to the American Legion Riders, who raise money at the local level in addition to the national ride, the first of which took place in 2006 with about 60 bikes.
“One of the key things that doesn’t get mentioned enough … is that 100 percent of the money goes [to the fund],” said Bob Sussan, national ALR chairman and chief planner for the Legacy Run. “There is no overhead, it’s 100 percent. There are very few scholarships that can say that. Our membership dues pay for the admin of it.”
Sussan, an Army veteran, has planned the ride for the last three years, he said. This time, the degree of difficulty has gone up a bit — riders will go through the Rocky Mountains, battling high altitudes and temperature swings of up to 40 degrees in a day.
And once that part’s done, they’ll cover Nevada on a stretch of U.S. Route 50 dubbed by Life magazine as “The Loneliest Road in America,” where riders will be greeted with scenic views … and not much else.
“I’ve got to be able to get 500 motorcycles off a highway and off a road into some sort of pre-staging area, then into a gas station,” Sussan said. “Even if you hit the gas station, they’re obviously not going to have enough water or food for 500 people. And they have a challenge with the restrooms, to be honest. Small gas stations, even the big ones, don’t have enough restrooms. We have to bring in port-a-potties or make alternate arrangements”
After 1,400 miles, riders will reach Reno in time to lead a parade that’s part of the Legion convention. That event will be the last of several patriotic receptions on the route.
MAKING AN IMPRESSION
Mike Kirchoff, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant, rode in every one of the Legacy Runs until last year, when an injury kept him off his bike for the trip to the convention in Cincinnati. He and wife Tina will be back on the road in August, riding up from Florida — “Trailer a bike? My biker buddies will kick my butt!” — for the 2017 ride.
While the effort brings in big money, Kirchoff enjoys the small-town appreciation.
During the 2015 ride to Baltimore, he said, “We stopped in these small, small rural communities. The kids were lining the street, the parents were lining the street. You’d come into a town, there’d be nothing but people standing out there waving American flags at you. They’d line the whole street. …
“It’s pretty special. Everybody turns out and knows what we’re doing and supports us tremendously. … You have 350 bikes riding through a small town, everything’s going to stop.”
Sussan’s team tries to orchestrate such stops along with visits to local veterans’ homes and memorials. And while receiving donations and adulation from fellow Legion members and others along the route can be moving, he especially remembers visits from local schoolchildren, stopping to thank the riders — mostly ALR members — for their service.
“You had all these big guys — I’m a Vietnam veteran, most of us are combat veterans — and these hardened combat veterans are near tears,” Sussan, 65, said. “The kids are just amazing.”
Organizers break the ride into groups of about 25 or 30 motorcyclists, Sussan said. Experienced riders take on “road captain” or similar duties, and support trailers offer mobile assistance.
“When we plan this ride, we plan it for the least-experienced rider,” he said.
His advice for newcomers: Stay hydrated, give the bike a thorough check before the ride starts, and listen to the more experienced in the group. Eventually, riders likely will experience a role reversal, finding themselves in the role of advice-giver.
“Once they go on the ride, they always come back,” Sussan said. “It’s for the kids. It’s all about the kids.”
Kirchoff, a member of the ALR’s advisory committee, had a few other words of wisdom: Use Ziploc bags for your packing needs, supplement your wardrobe by purchasing souvenir T-shirts along the road, and be ready to feel the pain of a marathon bike session.
“You have to be prepared for something like this,” he said. “Some days we ride 400 miles. You ride 400 miles for four, five days, you’re butt’s getting a little sore.”
For more details on the American Legion Legacy Run and links to the Legacy Scholarship Fund, including application and donation information, visit the run’s website.
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