Run for the Wall bikers pass through Santa Fe

There were hundreds of black leather vests pinned with memorabilia and patched with nicknames such as “Ironhead,” “Captain America” and “UTurn.”

Men with wiry gray beards and women with leather chaps had parked their motorcycles in clustered rows at the Harley-Davidson store near the Santa Fe Place mall around noon Friday and swarmed tables set up under tents to eat and rest from the road.

The wind caught fumes and the scent of hot rubber.

A sense of pride spread through the crowd.

“The motorcycle is just a tool we use to honor our veterans,” said Jackie “Best Man” McKinney, the mayor of Gallup and a road guard for the Run for the Wall.

The annual event — in which military veterans, soldiers and supporters from across the country and around the world gather for a 10-day ride from Ontario, Calif., to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., to pay homage on Memorial Day — was passing through Santa Fe.


Run for the Wall bikers pass through Santa Fe

Jerry Eibert, aka ‘Evo Red,’ earned his road name because in 1989 — the first time he did the Run for the Wall — he had a red, soft tail motorcycle. Olivia Harlow/The New Mexican

About 430 riders and drivers along one of three cross-country routes had stopped for lunch at the Santa Fe Harley-Davidson dealer.

The 30-year-old Run for the Wall initially was held specifically in honor of Vietnam War veterans. Dan “Papi” Eckstein, a Navy veteran stationed in Vietnam from 1968-70, said the event is like a homecoming parade the vets never got.

“We are greeted by thousands and thousands of people with flags … that welcome we never got when we came home,” Eckstein said. “Going to the wall is part of the healing process.”

As the years pass, the ride also seeks to pass on the tradition by drawing younger riders. Participant Courtney Naber, 22, said it’s important to keep the past alive.


Run for the Wall bikers pass through Santa Fe

Motorcyclists depart the Santa Fe Harley-Davidson for the Run to the Wall. Olivia Harlow/The New Mexican

“These people gave up so much for us,” Naber said.

Recruiting younger riders is part of Kirk “Pretty Boy” Olson’s mission. As the director of public relations and communications for Run for the Wall, Olson said the organization also wants to expand the ride into a wider tribute to U.S. veterans.

“We welcome them all to ride with us,” Olson said. “We want anyone who believes in supporting our vets.”

An estimated 1,600 people registered for the ride, he said, but he expects that as the groups arrive in D.C., the riders will number some 2,000.

“We’re the most organized motorcycle event in the country,” Olson said.

Run for the Wall is split into three routes, two packs to a route. Within the packs, there are platoon leaders heading the way and tail runners closing the rear. Medics and chaplains ride with the platoons. The fueling team and staging crew, who organize stops, leave ahead of the rest.

“It’s absolutely chaotic,” said Barbara “Rocky” Bell, a medic. “But it’s organized chaos.”


Run for the Wall bikers pass through Santa Fe

Victor Martinez of Albuquerque laughs with friends Friday during a lunch break for Run to the Wall outside of the Santa Fe Harley-Davidson. Olivia Harlow/The New Mexican

Bell, a veteran of the Iraq War, directed incoming motorcyclists at the Santa Fe Harley store as part of the advance team. New Mexico is a bright spot on the route, she said, because of the support the riders get from the New Mexico State Police.

For the three days the group spends riding across the Land of Enchantment, a dozen state police officers volunteer to escort the pack, clearing roads and intersections.

“New Mexico really comes out and does an absolutely wonderful, wonderful job,” Bell said. “It makes a difference for the participants.”

State police Officer Anthony Perez called the riders “a good group” and said, “they know what they’re doing.

“It’s the other drivers that we’re worried about,” he added.


Run for the Wall bikers pass through Santa Fe

Gallup Mayor Jackie McKinney, left, laughs with Bernadette Staples on Friday. ‘Gallup was incredible. What their people did was phenomenal,’ said Staples, from California, adding that students cheered from curbs, residents held posters and tribes performed dances in the streets. ‘I dropped tears through all of that.’ Olivia Harlow/The New Mexican

Ron “Wrong” Grittman and his wife, Cecilia, participated in the Run for the Wall for the first time this year, riding to support their daughter, who is enlisted in the Air Force. While the ride is intense and exhausting, Ron Grittman said, it has been fabulous.

“When ever have you gotten to ride on I-40, I-25 with no other cars around?” he asked. “Rolling into all the different towns, you’re showing support and that it still matters.”

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About Craig Ballantyne 16228 Articles
I love anything to do with Harley Davidson and have two beautiful children and a beautiful partner. In my spare time i like building websites and love anything to do with the internet.

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