The Northern Hills welcomed riders in the military veterans' Long Road Home Project this week en route toward stopovers in Rapid City Friday through Sunday at Ellsworth Air Force Base and then to Kyle and Martin.
They're riding from Washington state to Washington, D.C.
They stopped at Belle Fourche Wednesday and Sturgis Thursday to meet small groups and to see the sights.
The military veteran bicyclists are working to raise funds for their 90-day coast-to-coast journey of healing - and to raise awareness of challenges veterans face when they return home.
Funds will go to direct-service veteran's charities as a partner with Operation First Response. First Response is designed to help veterans heal physical and mental scars with financial help for their return to the civilian world.
The five official bicyclists and a pick-up elder veteran statesman stopped in Belle Fourche Wednesday after a strong western wind gave speed to their ride from Alzada, Mont.
Casey Miller, the organizer of the ride and project, took a few minutes to greet the first of the riders' arrival at the Center of the Nation Visitor Center. Then he dropped the headquarters travel trailer at a local campground to head west for a rescue one of the riders halted by a flat time on U.S. Highway 212.
Miller said, "Last year I rode my bicycle around the country for some personal issues."
His trip brought him to write a book, "6 and a half," that he calls a story about roads, rashes and redemption.
"Heartbroken, jobless, and without a place to live," he took the cross country ride to in search of what a meaningful life looks like.
The healing power of long-distance cycling brought the idea of bicycle-riding veterans on this year's Long Road Home Project.
Some 60 miles a day is no picnic for the riders.
Nelson Baker, 76, a retired Marine and civilian airline pilot, joined the group while he was on a ride of his own. He pedals to Rapid City where he planned to meet his wife for a vacation. He rejoins the ride in Kentucky for the leg into Washington, D.C.
Baker, who's nearly three times the age of the youngest riding veteran, said, "My motto is, if you're not suffering on a daily basis, you're doing something wrong."
Ryan Creel, 31, was an Army combat photographer with multiple deployments to the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Balkans. His 13 years of service ended with chronic post traumatic stress syndrome.
His job was to record images of war and suffering.
"I cycle and I fish," he said. "I pretty much help out any organization that helps veterans with the same transitional concerns."
Constantly photographing images with few parallels in civilian life meant learning to separate himself from the scene in order to tell a story.
"It changes your whole outlook on things," he said. "Life is exciting downrange in a combat zone … then you come home and it's incredibly boring."
Colleen Bushnell, 39, was a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant with service in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
After what's called a Military Sexual Assault in 2006, Bushnell said she experienced homelessness and post traumatic stress syndrome. She even considered suicide.
It's not just women, she said. Her blog notes that half the Veterans Administration clients treated for military sexual assault are men.
She's now an advocate for all assault victims and rides to bring awareness about women in the military and single-parent veterans.
Bushnell shook her head when she learned she had ridden within blocks of the only homeless women veterans' residential job training center on the Northern Plains. It had closed that Monday after painfully slow enrollment brought financial collapse.
Homelessness for women, she said, is especially difficult.
Family and friends usually will help, she said. But when a woman has mental problems brought by experiences during military service and efforts to readjust to civilian life, even family and friends' are lost.
"I learned that when I was homeless in Virginia," she said. "By the time a woman gets into a homeless shelter, she's pretty bad off."
Marie Tracy is the youngest of the regular five bicyclists at 27. Her six years in the military closed with service as a logistics advisor in Afghanistan. Her photo on the ride's web page shows her armed and in full infantry battle uniform.
She said she hopes to highlight diversity in the military, especially the LGBTQ community after the end of the don't ask, don't tell policy. LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bixexual, Transgender and Questioning.
Steve Taylor, 59, spent 26 years in the Air Force in conflicts around the world. After an injury left him partially paralyzed in 2004, he spent many years in recovery and now rides a hand cycle that lets him pedal with upper body strength.
Glenn Fretz, 41, served during Desert Storm and is another hand cyclist. After an accident in 1994, he struggled to rebuild his life. He has participated in 10 wheelchair games since 2002.
The official sponsor of the bike tour is Team Red White and Blue (www.teamrwb.org). It is a nonprofit helping to reconnect veterans who carry invisible wounds and their communities through physical fitness and bringing back military and unit pride.
Sponsors also supporting Long Road Home and Team Red, White and Blue are Penn Mutual, the Pigeonme ap, the American Academy of Physicians Assistants, T, Starcraft, Protect Our Defenders, Paralyzed Veterans Racing, Brackett Maps, Good Threads and Good PR.
The ride began July 15 in Ocean Shores, Wash, and ends Oct. 14 in Washington, D.C.
For more information on the ride, or to make a donation: http://longroadhomeproject.com/
Or on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/longroadhomeUSA
Source: Rapid City Journal
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