Dozens of American flags flew taut in the gusting wind, as supporters lined the street, and somewhere between the whipping West Texas dust, a sun sinking on a sweltering ride, and a police escort to their night’s stop, the riders on the Run for the Wall received their warm welcome to Odessa.
Over 400 motorcyclists rumbled through Odessa on Friday night and roared their way out east on Saturday morning, as part of the 30th Run for the Wall event, which is bringing together 1,601 registered riders to push from Ontario, Calif. to Washington, D.C. in 10 days — all on an annual mission to promote healing among veterans and push for the support of military personnel.
Friday evening, riders pulled into Crossroads Church in Odessa after a day-long ride from their last stop in Las Cruces, N.M. on the event’s most southern of three routes, which all carry bikers across the country through different states before funneling together into the nation’s capitol.
For those riders, who pushed through southern Arizona and southern New Mexico on their way to powering across Texas end-to-end, Odessa plays a crucial role, Ray Wyatt said.
“This is one we look forward to,” Wyatt said of the stop, standing outside Crossroads Church Friday evening during his 12th consecutive coast-to-coast ride with Run for the Wall.
“It is a huge piece of the Southern route,” he added.
Wyatt, of Arlington, serves in the role of ‘mentor’ with the organization, as well ‘road guard’ during the event, helping to herd the group. He said he served in the Army from 1974-77, then in the National Guard until 1983, and that between the church opening up to the riders for a meal Friday night, the local American Legion Post sending them off Saturday morning, and more support like the tangible tokens of appreciation at sites like the Chris Kyle Memorial Plaza, the Odessa stop is a tent pole among the 10 stops along the Southern route.
“It’s a community that really supports the veterans,” he said, echoing the sentiment of fellow riders.
It’s also one that helps make the ride logistically possible. With the cooperation of Odessa law enforcement agencies and organized police escorts, getting in and out of Odessa can be less of a concern for riders braving what can at times be a fun ride, but is also an endurance challenge.
“We look forward to it from a ‘road guard’ perspective, because of the law enforcement support that we have here,” Wyatt said. “When you start trying to move 400 motorcycles through a town of nearly 100,000 people, at six o’clock on a Friday evening, it’s a challenge.
“We’ve got great support from highway patrol, and great support from Odessa PD. We appreciate it.”
Putting it all together, Odessa plays a pivotal role.
The Run for the Wall event started in 1989 when two Vietnam veterans rode from California to Washington, D.C. in 10 days, and it has ballooned from there, now becoming an organization veterans can be a part of and heal with — and the support the ride gets in cities like Odessa, Wyatt said, is priceless.
“Anyone that served in the 60’s to the mid-70’s did not get a welcome home,” Wyatt said. “The Run for the Wall finally gives the veterans the welcome home they didn’t get.
“When we have communities like Odessa that just open the doors and say, ‘What do you need?’ and make it happen when you tell them what you need … it’s really the ‘thank you’ that we didn’t get when we came home, wherever we served.”
For Wyatt and the other riders who rumbled out to the east on Saturday morning with their mission in mind, the stop in Odessa was invaluable.
“It means the world,” he agreed.