Ramblings of a motorcyclist
Weds. 18May16 - Day 1 - Ontario, CA to Williams, AZ
Pack and public safety is paramount.
To ensure overall pack and public safety, there was extensive coordination with local and state law enforcement entities (LEOs) throughout the mission as the pack passed through an area. In some areas, we had extensive law enforcement presence and assistance, both in automobiles and motorcycle units. The LEOs would work with our Road Guards to ensure pack and traffic safety as we left one stop, proceeded on the highways and interstates, and finally arrived at our daily destinations. The LEOs and Road Guards would take control of intersections, on-ramps and off-ramps, preventing drivers from endangering themselves and providing a smooth flow of the pack. If there was no LEO assistance available, the Road Guards performed these critical functions with almost identical authority within the pack.
To accomplish that goal, the Road Guards and LEOs would, for example, control the intersections between one stop and the highways/interstates. Once the pack was on the road, traveling slowly in the right lane (where possible) until all elements had gotten together, the Road Guards and LEOs would then race past the pack in the left lane in order to then control upcoming on-ramps, etc. This process repeated throughout each days ride.
Another important part of platoon and pack safety is 'Tapping Out'. If a rider finds that they need to break away from the pack between scheduled stops in order to address a ride or 'biological' issue, they would 'Tap Out'. Using a pre-arranged hand signal, a rider would let their immediate platoon members know that they needed to exit the pack in order to stop on the right shoulder or to take an upcoming exit. The platoon members around the affected rider would make room for them to exit safely, while the platoon and pack carried on. If the rider were having problems with their ride, they would then signal the chase vehicles to stop and assist, else they headed off to the next gas station, etc., and would rejoin the pack at the next scheduled stop.
Once the affected rider exited the platoon, it would, obviously, leave a hole in the platoon formation. To address this, platoon members would shift forward, as needed, to fill in any gap. At NO time were we to cross between tracks, as it would only further exacerbate the issue and potentially put fellow platoon mates at risk. (The importance of this process and practice will be highlighted in later entries.)
Other safety factors included:
- No use of cruise control, if so equipped. We had to maintain manual control of our speed, making continuous adjustments, in order to maintain precise placement and spacing within the pack.
- No stereos, if so equipped. It would be an unnecessary and unsafe distraction, if a rider got involved in music.
- No taking in of the scenery along the route. We, as riders, had to stay focused on our immediate platoon mates positions, as well as 4-6 riders ahead of us.
- No talking on the CB, if so equipped. We could monitor the channel used by the pack leadership and support elements for situational awareness, but not interject unless absolutely critical. The various leadership and support elements used the CB to continuously keep all riders aware of pack speed, lane changes, obstructions, handling construction areas and the like.
Makeup of the pack...
To better understand some of the logistics supporting the smooth operation of this mission, I'll describe the elements of our pack. The pack is broken down into 10 platoons of bikes, plus leadership and support elements:
- Lane breakdown - In whichever road lane we were riding, the lane was split into two 'tracks', left and right. This helped the riders to maintain position within their respective platoons, based on the formations as called out by the leadership. We operated under three main formations:
- Staggered - Riders would ride in each track, with the left track rider setting the gap between bikes, and the right track rider maintaining a short gap behind by keeping their front wheel almost parallel to, and trailing, the left track riders rear tire.
- Side-by-Side - Riders were ride two abreast, one in each track, maintaining a 2-3 second gap between themselves and the bikes ahead in the platoon. Side-by-side was often not observed by platoons 9 and 10, given that the width of bikes and trailers prevented safe riding in such close formation.
- Single File - While seldom used, as it would cause the pack length to grow by a couple of miles, we would travel in single file, as needed, through construction zones, or twisty, windy roads.
- Leadership - Route Coordinator, Assistant Route Coordinator, Law Enforcement Liaison, and other leaders lead the pack on the route.
- Missing Man Formation - A team of 4 riders dedicated to the Missing Man formation, along with a randomly chosen FNG for each leg of the trip, with the 6th position being empty representing the Missing Man.
- Road Guards - These folks were responsible for pack safety while the pack was in motion. They rode ahead of the pack to block onramps, control traffic intersections, etc., so that the pack could proceed smoothly and not get badly split up by cagers (cars, trucks, etc.).
- Platoon Leadership - Each platoon had one leader and an assistant platoon leader, who rode in the front of their respective platoon.
- Platoon Tail Gunners - Each platoon had two tail gunners, who rode trailing their respective platoon. They ensured that each platoon stayed together, rode safely in formation, and would provide feedback to both platoon riders and leaders as needed. This ensured that everyone could improve their riding skills and ensure platoon cohesion.
- Platoons 1 - 8 - Each were made up of 2-wheel bikes, and they made up the majority of the riders in the pack. Throughout most of the run, these platoons would ride 2-up (side-by-side) in the lane.
- Platoon 9 - Our platoon, was made up of 2-wheel bikes with trailers. Except for one of our tail gunners, he had a trike with trailer.
- Platoon 10 - Made up of trikes and trikes with trailers.
- Chaplain corps - Self explanatory. They provided riders with emotional and spiritual assistance, as needed, throughout the ride.
- Medical corps - Made up of RNs, EMTs and other medical professionals. The Medical Corp was a fairly recent addition to each of the three packs/routes, ensuring medical assistance could be provided immediately until additional EMS units arrived.
- Communications Team - These riders acted as our up-to-the-minute liaisons, via CB radio, with the professional drivers that encountered the pack along the route. They would advise the drivers of our mission, procedures and processes, in order to keep everyone safe along the way.
- Chase Vehicles / Last Manned Vehicle - Made up of vehicles with trailers. They provided roadside assistance, in the event that a rider had problems with their motorcycle along the route. We also had a much needed 'hydration truck' that ensured riders got water, gatorade, and snacks at stops along the way. And we cannot forget our much needed A/V (sound) truck that provided a stage for the daily briefings, raffles and whatnot. When previously coordinated with LEOs, the chase vehicles would 'close the back door', thus minimizing vehicular traffic from interfering with the pack. Having a back door that was closed was not a luxury that we had at all times.
- Staging Crews - These folks traveled in advance of the pack, each day. Their job was to ensure the various parking areas at each stop were setup to put the pack into formation after fueling, meals, and at the start of each day.
- Fueling Crews - These folks also traveled in advance of the pack. At fuel stops, they would line us up, 2 bikes abreast on each side of the fuel pumps, in order to refuel about 300+ motorcycles in under 30 minutes. It was a sight to behold.
Insight into the community support that we would experience...
As we each prepared for this mission, we were told of the various types of community support we would experience along the route. Today, we got to experience the first bit of that, as we headed towards Williams, AZ.
While each rider brought enough cash, in small bills, to pay for their own fuel, the fuel stops were often donated by various local charities, as were many of our meals. If the fuel stop was not donated, the process for refueling was very streamlined. Riders approached the fuel pumps, under the direction of the staging and fueling teams, with fuel caps removed and cash in hand. The pumps were never shut off between motorcycles, rather the fueling team member manning that pump would tell the rider how much their refill cost, rounded up to the nearest dollar. The rider would then pay, in cash, to at least that amount, and then move off to the staging area for a quick restroom and hydration break. Where possible, riders would round up further, another dollar or two, to help pay for refueling the support/chase vehicles.
Often, our meal stops were similarly donated by our gracious hosts. More details about those in following blog entries.
Fuel and meal stops aside, another form of community support which FNGs needed to get used to was seeing many of the highway overpasses crowded with police/fire/EMS vehicles and folks with flags and salutes. It all contributed to this very, very humbling experience, and served as a reminder of why we were on this very important mission.
The first days ride...
After a great day yesterday meeting folks and otherwise getting ready to start the mission, a night of excitedly restful (?) sleep was had. Our days on the mission started early, so having my infernal internal alarm clock going off at around 0400 every day was a good thing.
This morning, breakfast started, at the host hotel, at 0545, followed by our first mandatory daily briefing at 0645.
I was up far too early, packed what little I had in the hotel room, and rode over to todays' staging area, at the Convention Center parking lot. I arrived as the staging crews were just getting setup. I parked off to the side of the parking lot until they were ready to stage us in our platoons.
A quick video of the parking lot, as things were coming together, can be viewed here: Ontario Staging. You can see the staging crew holding signs for each platoon (numbered) or other elements (TG for Tail Gunners).
Today was the longest of the planned days. 400 miles, over 11 or so hours with 4 intermediate stops, to travel between Ontario, CA and Williams, AZ. It also was one of the most challenging days to ride, as the pack and platoons started dusting off, or further honing, our individual group riding skills.
While our overall distance for the day was 400 miles, each leg between stops ranged from 56 to 101 miles. This ensured no one ran low on fuel, decreased chances of dehydration, and allowed us to see a little bit of the towns through which we passed.
From Ontario, CA, we stopped in both Barstow and Ludlow for fuel. Further on, we had lunch in Needles, CA, which was graciously provided by the Needles Chamber of Commerce, Westside Shell, Dairy Queen, Wagon Wheel Restaurant and others. After departing Needles, we refueled in Kingman, AZ, before heading to our first overnight stop in Williams, AZ.
Our arrival in Williams, AZ was kicked off with a parade in our honor. We paraded through town, arriving at our hosts, American Legion Post 13, for dinner and fellowship.
After dinner, each rider headed for a refueling stop and onward to their respective hotel or campsite for the night.