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The end of the trail

Big Ride 22

Day 12

Needles to Santa Monica

“And Alexander wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.”

Today marked the official end of the Big Ride for 2022, with having reached Santa Monica.

The ride began in Needles, CA, just across the Colorado River from Arizona. Needles is a little farming and railroad town with about a half a block of what one might consider a “historic district.”

By 0800 when I departed the motel, it was already 84 degrees and clear. My ride would take me through miles and miles of desert, the Mojave desert, which looks unreal, as if from another planet, like Mars or something.

The only thing that is worthy of note regarding the Mojave is that it is home to the US Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin, where they have miles and miles and miles and miles of desert in which to play a multi-billion dollar game of laser tag designed to prepare our army for desert warfare.

They have a unit of the US Army out here, the 3d US Armored Cavalry Regiment that resides here and provides visiting units with an opponent, or, as the army calls it, an OPFOR (opposing force). The 3d ACR has an alias, as they are meant to portray a foreign aggressor, they are known as the “666th (a very auspicious number) Krasnovian Motorized Rifle Regiment. They use Soviet-bloc vehicles and equipment, and they dress in desert uniforms complete with their own insignia and distinctive black berets.

And we all hate them.

They live out there in the desert and train units who “rotate in” 48 out of 52 weeks a year. They know the desert like the back of their hand and they use that knowledge and the sharpness that comes with so much field time to methodically sniff out any weakness a unit might have and then ruthlessly punish them with swiftness and elan.

Officially, it’s called having a defense “penetrated,” or in layman’s terms, having them blow through us like crap through a goose.

They call it “the OPFOR drive-by.”

The humiliation doesn’t stop there, however. After every “battle” one gets to go to a thing called the AAR (After action review), where they use radio recordings, photographs, video, and even satellite imagery to show mistakes (because it really is about learning, after all), and one gets to admit in front of one’s colleagues what he forgot, or underestimated, or just plain didn’t think of that got his unit “killed.”

Every leader has what is called an OC-T (Observer, controller-trainer) who is there to help you learn by asking you questions during planning and prep – all designed to make you second-guess every decision – all in a wonderful high-stress, sleep-deprived, elementally-harsh environment.

The OPFOR’s business is to kick your rear end until your nose bleeds, and on most days, business is good. It’s designed to be harder than combat, and having experienced both, it is very close.

When a unit gets there, they all get an “entrance brief” in which the training objectives and operating procedures are explained and they always end the brief with the phrase “have a good rotation.” If it’s anything after your first rotation, you take the phrase almost sarcastically.

I’ve been on a couple of those little field-trips.

Later on, in 2005, when I was in Iraq, I bumped into a good buddy of mine, Bill, who was a good ol’ boy from Alabama, and who at the time was the commander of one of the squadrons from the 3d ACR. Apparently someone in the army had the idea that since we were fighting in the desert and since the 3d ACR was our most well-trained desert unit, it made sense to “rotate’ them out of Fort Irwin and into the fight in Iraq.

Where, by the way, it is tackle – not touch. No lasers.

Bill and I talked for a minute before going our separate ways, but before we did, I couldn’t resist the temptation of telling him as we parted “have a good rotation.”

Anyway, as I rolled through the California desert, there were several bikers out enjoying the beautiful day.

There were also a lot of trains running. Out here, the trains are huge, because with towns so far apart, they don’t have to worry about impacting city traffic. I saw one train with 149 double-stacked cars. Incredible.

From Barstow, it was on to Victorville, the former home of Roy Rogers, the famous singing cowboy, and his possibly even more famous horse, Trigger. Trigger could dance, count, and do all kinds of tricks. When he finally passed away, Roy had him “stuffed” and put on display in his museum, which is no longer there (another victim of the interstate over Route 66, I suppose). The joke was that when Roy passed, he would be “stuffed” too and he and Trigger would finally be together again.

From there it was down through the mountain passes of the Santa Monica National Forest, through a blanket of clouds (the temperature dropped from 102 to about 68 in minutes).

Finally, I arrived at the pier in Santa Monica, marking the end of Route 66. It’s a beautiful place, full of beautiful people – definitely NOT Tybee Island. As opposed to everyone else, in my dusty, well-worn biker attire, I looked kind of homeless. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. I had a vanilla malt and a chili-burger at Big Dave’s on the pier. There was a nice guy from South Carolina behind the counter and he was happy to hear my accent.

This is the end of the trip, really. Now it’s just a long slog on the interstate to get home. I have been blessed to have been able to take up riding, to get a great bike with some great support from some great guys at a great bike shop, and I have had the support of the World’s Greatest Wife – all allowing me to be able to go on these trips and to add a purpose to them of helping to spread the Good News and to maybe help some folks who really need it. This will make my 6th time across the country and I will have visited all of the lower 48 states, as well as Mexico. There are no more worlds to conquer for me. This may well be my last run…

for a while, anyway.

Last night I met a young lady, my Uber driver, Naomi, from Africa, who came here with her kids to the US as a refugee. She and folks like her are why I ride. They need our help, because without it, they have no hope. When I told Naomi what I was doing, and handed her my card and told her “God loves you,” she looked at me and smiled and said “I sing in the choir! He loves YOU too!”

Thanks to all who have prayed, who have shared, and who have donated. There is still time and need for all three, as I will be on the road about six days on the trip back. God bless all y’all!

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