The Team Jesse Foundation
Mission: To provide education and support for families of fallen soldiers in honor of SSG Jesse Williams


Mission: To provide education and support to families of fallen soldiers in honor of SSG Jesse Williams

It’s Been Hot for Seven Weeks Now, Too Hot to Even Speak Now (Day Thirty-Four)

Janet Manion has a very deliberate communication style.  She is a classy woman and the proud mother of the late hero, Travis Manion.  My guess is that it’s not often that she’s misunderstood.  She will remember your name if you gave it, and she is very good at understanding the disposition of her audience.  It’s probably true that  this can be said of all great communicators.  Still, there was something that didn’t understand as we discussed it in Santa Rosa, CA on June 8th

She had come out to California to show he support for the kickoff of The Ride, as the Travis Manion Foundation is a partner of the Team Jesse Foundation .  We were talking about Travis, and the fact that, depite his All-American Honors at LaSalle High School in the sport of lacrosse, he had elected not to play at the US Naval Academy.  “He needed a different challenge”, she said.  “Travis knew that, while playing lacrosse at a Division I program like Navy would indeed come with its fair share of work, it’s also true that it would be fun, to a degree.  He wanted to do something that was demanding of him mentally and physically, yet something that required the kind of discipline that few sports outside of wrestling can offer.”  (I am paraphrasing wildly, here, though I’m 100% certain that this was the thrust of our conversation).  She was clear, yet I was having a tough time grasping the concept.  I’m familiar with the Navy Lacrosse Program, and the years when he would have played were great years for the program.  Travis would have gotten to play with the likes of ‘Grahambo’, ‘Bucky’ and ‘Sunshine’.  He would have played in the NCAA Finals against storied Syracuse; the team worked hard, because that’s how they won games.  I just didn’t get it.

Janet, because of `The Ride, I understand now.   Each day, we rise to find a worthy adversary.  Whether it’s been altitude, heat, duration, climbing or countless other ordinary, everyday things that stack up when you’re on a bicycle, there’s been an opportunity to succeed, to overcome.  Every. Single. Day.  And, I have to say that it’s grown on us.  To have to set your mind that you’re going to succeed.  To begin with the end in mind, and that which is in between yourself and that goal being crude measures that sometimes  require discipline and always require toughness.  I now ‘get it’, Janet, and I suddenly understand why the logo that your family created in honor of your son, a hero who gave all he had in Iraq in 2007, is of a Spartan Helmet.  I can relate to how Travis felt, because I feel that I need to be doing this.

Today’s course:  Day Thirty Four wound up being 110.4 miles long, and temperatures registered as high as 107 degrees.  Our route, which took us from Hutchinson, KS to Eureka, KS (does every state have a Eureka, BTW)?   Kansas is going through its worst drought since the Dust Bowl, and is undergoing a Federal Severe Heat Advisory Warning. 

For the first hour of the course, we had some guest riders.   They were locals, one of them a professional rider, the other a SGT in the Army Reserves.  They steered our course around the three-mile limestone gravel trail that we were supposed to take.  While the detoured route added a few miles, it would be a welcome change, as it was much preferred to ride on the blacktop than the rocked road, jarring our bones first thing in the morning.  Another incident of note happened within the first thirty minutes of the day.  One of our crew suddenly swerved over, pushing me off the road into the grass.  We were in a neighborhood of the rural sort, and as I found myself dodging a lidless green plastic trashcan, I heard Mince yelling, ‘Matty, GO, GO, GO!’.  I looked to my left and saw wide.  BIG DOG.  Coming in hot.  And snarling.  This was our third canine related incident of The Ride, but I have yet to feel threatened.  Until  today.  This fella was slightly smaller than a Great Dane, but much faster and agile.  Also, I can remember seeing a Great Dane bare its teeth the way this one did as he charged at my leg, looking to bite me, not bark at me.  Well, that will get your heart pumping, let me tell you!  Luckily, it got my legs moving too.  I never looked down at the dog, but instead just got out of the saddle and jammed.  Kevin and the others said that the hound was inches away before he quit. 

Being that we had the formidable heat conditions, we knew we had to have a strategy.  Ours was to outsmart the heat, as opposed to trying to muscle through it.  Turned out to be a sound game plan.  We took very short breaks in order to cut down on total time on the course.  Obviously we drank water often, but we were careful to not take too much at once.  Every chance we could, and at all rest  stops, putting ice on the backs of our necks was helpful.  We conserved energy everywhere we could; we barely said a word from the time that the guest riders dropped off until we took lunch.  Too hot to talk.  By noon, we had crushed 75 miles. 

Pleased with ourselves, we took a lunch break in a shady area.  A thing or two was almost said that was in celebration of our successful morning.  But…we didn’t want to jinx ourselves, so silence prevailed. 

The second half of Day Thirty Four showed us the most vast, endless horizons we had seen yet on the trip.  For as far as the eye could see, there were orange and brown wheat fields, scorched from the sun and eventually they turned into muted blue skies.  One just sort of became the other.   Kevin compared it to the ocean, as you really couldn’t get a grasp on where it ended.  The road was occasionally characterized by a turn or two, but these were only at right angles.    We were lighthearted and joking around a bit, and then the wind and heat picked up.  We jumped back into our earlier stances and took discipline.  We drafted and conserved, knowing that there’s just no arguing with Kansas winds if they really wanted to come and get us. 

We pushed through to the final SAG stop where Papa Bear had pulled over in front house with a shady tree.  This time we were greeted by the Beard family; Robert and his sons Wyatt, Cole and Levi were the epitome of Midwest hospitality, and when we were talking, Robert shared a story about a loss their community had suffered because of the war in Iraq.  We greatly enjoyed the stop, and Act II continues to be about the people.

On the final stretch we saw the biggest hawk we’d seen on the trip.  This creature was magnificent, and its wingspan was easily four feet.  We watched it dance around 800 feet in the air, looking like a speck, then swoop down with intention before pulling up a bit to soar at about one-hundred feet.   I wish I had a photo of her to show you, but I’ll never forget her myself.

With 3 miles to go, we saw a sign for our motel which advertised a pool, which these days is the single best creature comfort to be found.  When we pulled into the hotel with the satisfaction of beating the days odds, and handily, we didn’t bother changing into trunks.  Double cannonballs with full battle rattle. 

Later in the week, Team Jesse will have some opportunities to meet with some Families and also honor the Fallen.  It’s a tremendous responsibility, and one that we’re taking very seriously.  Hopefully we can find the right words.  I can’t help but wonder what Janet Manion would say.

For the Familes of the Fallen…To the Limit!

Care Creates Community,

Matt Sauri

RideMatt S