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

Ninety days?? Really? In some ways it seems like we’ve been on The Ride for two years; when I think back about Fallon, Nevada or even Dodge City, Kansas, it seems like a lifetime ago; it’s almost like it was a different experience altogether. A lot has happened, and the spaces in between have been experiences that defy reason, and many of them are hard for even me to believe, and I’ve actually been there. In other ways, though, The Ride ticks away at a rapid pace that can’t be stopped and feels like we’re moving at light speed. Seems like Cedar City, Utah was just last week, when it was actually a mid -June experience. The consistent things for us though are the challenges that we can expect to see on a daily basis as well as the greatness of the people along the way. When telling a story, it’s not the best idea to backtrack or to repeat a story that’s already been told. In this case, we’ll make an exception because I’ve got to piggyback on Kevin’s comments about the Manion family. In meeting these courageous people, all of our lives were enriched. This is a family that’s made of Teflon, and together they’ve grown even stronger than ever. The humility with which they approach their story is amazing; when the people of Doylestown offered to create a monument in honor of their son, Travis, they got an answer that they didn’t expect: they were told that the Manion family, Travis included, would be happier if it were not called the Travis Manion Wall, but instead it should be called the Freedom Wall so that others could also be honored and the bigger picture of what Travis fought for would take center stage. Colonel Manion showed grace and strength at dinner when he, in a subtle way, drew in the attention of the table and then asked for Kevin to tell everyone about his friend, fallen hero Jesse Williams. Great people and I couldn’t be any more proud to have them as friends as well as partners. Day Ninety was, in keeping with the rule that each Day on The Ride has its own challenge, tricky. We’ve been through heat waves, a hurricane, earthquake and three mountain ranges. Why shouldn’t we also experience extreme rains? From the time we woke up on Ninety to the time we went to bed, it rained. Hard. As in, it was a torrential downpour. During the day, we saw every imaginable form of rain, from sideways mist to drops that must have weighed three ounces each. It was heavy the whole time, though, and if often seemed to similar to a Biblical type of wrath. On top of the rain, there were multiple roads closed due to Irene (yeah, she just won’t let go!) and the routes we wound up taking were ad-hoc at best. Several times we had no choice but pedal around the Road Closed signs because there would be no way to get around, otherwise. The black roads were slick and often completely submerged; when we found hills, they seemed to be alive, with water cascading down in thick waves. Often times the rain was coming down so hard upon the already pooled water that a ten-inch tall carpet of water covered the road and all that surrounded it. Leaves took abuse for hours on end as it poured and poured some more. It was loud, too. When it was really coming down, it was tough to hear the person right next to you, which isn’t always the best for safety. Speaking of safety…turns out that this kind of torrential storm doesn’t do the best for natural lighting and subsequent visibility. It was flat out dangerous out there, as the rain cloaked our surroundings (and to drivers, us) much like the fog we experienced on the way into Charlottesville weeks before.

The hardest part about the day was the temperatures. It had gotten much colder, and while temperatures in the high-fifties may not seem like it would make for a chilly day, I’d challenge you to try it while being soaking wet and riding a bike in it for six or seven hours. Into the biting wind. We were all shivering, and riders took showers at the end of the day while fully clothed, as we couldn’t get any wetter and getting warm was more important than anything else. I would be surprised if this doesn’t take a toll eventually, as we’re supposed to have the same weather for a few more days. Even with what they day threw at us, we were not stopped from finishing strong. We crossed the New Jersey State line and got our 13th victory. It rained more, but we know that it’s not Jersey’s fault and we’re not going to hold it against her.

Ninety was Kevin Collins’ last day on the trail with us. He’s shipping out to handle some prior commitments but we’ll see him again in a few days for his moral support and participation in the finale event in NYC. He’ll be missed, and I think he was meant to be here in the wake of Irene, as our primary challenge was navigation. The Chief Route Master in Charge was a big part of Act III.

The final leg will feature only one guest rider, and I also suspect divine intervention when I consider the person that’s filling the role. Mark Larson is joining us for the final stage before the ‘blackout days’ (the final two days of The Ride in which only Kevin and I will be pedaling). Both Mince and I have a tremendous respect and appreciation for Mark. I believe him to be one of the very best, if not THE best, community leaders that I’ve ever met. He is respected by all who know him, and he has a knack for finding solutions and thinking issues through from all sides. He is fair and non-judgmental, and has a realistic approach to human nature. I’m grateful that he’s here during this stage, as I’m sure that it will be an emotional time for Kevin, and getting flanked by a guy like Mark would help just about anybody. I just can’t say enough about the strength of this guy, and what’s really amazing is the sense of humor that accompanies these leadership characteristics. Mark has been heavily involved in the Seattle-area lacrosse community since I’ve known him, and his real job is putting bad guys away, as he is the Chief Deputy Prosecutor for King County, which puts him in service of about 4 million people. Mark will add a sense of level-headed calm to the team, and he’ll do it with a sense of righteousness, if that makes sense. He’s a Golf Charlie (Game-Changer) as we head into the final days. As we go about these last days, we’ll be prepared for more rain, aggressive drivers and also, the unseen challenges that enjoy cropping up to try and thwart our mission. These things drive us, though, and give us purpose. They drive commitment and allow us the opportunity to succeed. Without them, we would simply be riding bikes during the summertime in our beautiful country. But that’s not what this is about; it’s about enduring hardship and committing, willingly, to the sacrifices that need to be made in order to tell the story. The story, by the way, makes even the most difficult of days seem easy and enjoyable.

As miserable as Ninety was (or for that matter, any of her Eighty-Nine sisters have been), it doesn’t hold a sliver of light from a candle’s glow to the pain that’s been felt by so many we’ve me, visited and honored along this journey. For them, we ride in the rain.

For the Families of the Fallen....To the Limit,

Care Creates Community,

Matt Sauri