American Legion Social Media Manager Steve B. Brooks is following The American Legion Legacy Run, sponsored by USAA, for the fourth year.
7 a.m. – Get the donation totals so far. After the more than $13,000 collected at Post 639 in Springfield, Mo., and Post 15 in Muskogee, Okla. – and throwing in the more than $101,000 donated prior to the start of the Run, the amount for the Legacy Scholarship Fund now sits at more than $233,000.
7:07 a.m. – With temperatures expected to climb into the high 90s during today's leg, Chief Road Captain Dick Woods offers up advice: "This is where it gets hot, so stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water." Woods also offers guidance on how to ride through the many small towns on the route today, as well what not to do when fueling up. "Stay in line, even if you don't need fuel," he says.
8:20 a.m. – We stop at an overpass just past Lake Eufaula in Oklahoma so Derek and Amy can work their artistic magic with video and film. The lake actually is beautiful. Amy gets bit by an ant – not a red one, we realize – and I try to remember if it's a potato bug or pill bug that rolls up when you touch it. The temperature is approaching 80.
9:06 a.m. – People stand on an overpass waving flags and cheering on the Run. The exit for the overpass? Electric Avenue. Cue Eddy Grant.
10:05 a.m. – Riders arrive at Love's Travel Stop in Atoka, Okla. The temperature is now at 86 degrees. For Post 442 Legion Rider Mark Gosney of Brookston, Ind., it's not too bad yet. "It's the first leg," he says. "It's not that hot yet."
10:15 a.m. – National Commander James Koutz will have no part of being a spectator on this Run. He's been riding with Past Sons of The American Legion National Commander Earl "Big Earl" Ruttkofsky for the entire ride, except a trip during Sunday's leg to the Missouri Veterans Home. "Riding on a bike is a lot better than riding in a car or truck," Koutz says. "I love it out here, riding with all these guys and gals who all are out there for the same purpose." Is there a motorcycle in Koutz's future? "Yes. But a trike. A little harder to tip over."
10:20 a.m. – We cross into Texas, a state that stole $175 from me during the 2001 National Convention in San Antonio. Revenge will be mine.
10:34 a.m. – Outside of Pottsboro, motorcyclists are on one side of FM-406 at the Texas 289 interchange holding American and POW-MIA flags. On the other side are a group of children, ages 5-12, also holding American flags. They're from the Pottsboro Kids Club, and they're there to support the run.
11:20 a.m. – Arrive at Post 231 in Pottsboro. The post itself is right on Lake Texoma, one of the largest reservoirs in the U.S., but that's only half of it. The post owns 50 acres of land around the lake; 47 home sites are on the property, and only Legion members can lease space on the property. It's a gorgeous layout and one of the coolest posts I've seen.
12:10 p.m. – Legion family members rush around to get the meal of spaghetti, salad and garlic bread ready for the 200-some Run participants on their way to the post. But there's no panic. "We're pretty much used to this because we host of a lot of big fundraisers here and feed a lot of people," says Auxiliary Unit 231 President Christy Pelley. But to Pelley, this is a little bit bigger than an average fundraiser. "I think it's fantastic that the Legacy Run is putting our little place here on the map," she says. "To be acknowledged like this is amazing."
12:18 p.m. – The Run arrives. The temperature is now 90.
12:48 p.m. – Gary Winters, Post 231's commander, calls being a stop on the ride, "A big honor for us. I don't really know of anything like this ever happening to a small post out in the middle of nowhere. The state commander asked if we would do this, and we said we'd do anything they needed."
1:02 p.m. – More than $9,400 is donated to the Legacy Fund, including $3,034 from Holley-Riddle Post 21 in The Colony, Texas, and $2,500 from ALR Chapter 10 in Manassas, Va.
1:43 p.m. – We hit horse country – show horse country, to be specific – on the way to Stephenville, Texas. Every other house/farm on either side of 82 West is a sprawling horse farm. Meanwhile, the temperature is 95. Poor horses.
2:07 p.m. - The Run pulls into a gas stop in Gainesville before heading on a 127-mile leg of the Run. Temperatures will eventually hit 97.
2:26 p.m. – I keep seeing signs for roads with FM in the name. Puzzled, I ask Amy why. She springs into action, looking it up on her phone. Apparently, FM stands for Farm To Market: roads designed to make it easy for farmers to take their produce to markets. Knowledge is power.
3:37 p.m. – Amy, who once made a living shooting photos on the rodeo circuit, shares a nugget with Derek and me: Jewel ("Who Will Save Your Soul") lives in Stephenville. She's married to Ty Murray, a nine-time world champion rodeo cowboy. More knowledge.
6:58 p.m. – The advance team arrives at Stephenville City Park for dinner and receives a nice welcome from Stephenville Post 240 and other members of the community. Mark Gosney, who earlier wasn't bothered by the heat, said the second half of the day was a little different. "It's grueling," he says. "You just have to hydrate a lot, drink a lot of water, a lot of fluids." This is Gosney's second complete Run; he's completed parts of two others. "This is the hottest," he says, without a moment's hesitation.
7:05 p.m. – The Run coming to Stephenville is a big deal. "It's one of the biggest events that we will have in this town all year long," says Turnbow-Higgs Post 240 Commander Roger Easter. It's just a wonderful thing for Stephenville. I don't know if we'll have anything bigger."
7:10 p.m. – On hand to greet the Run are a handful of World War II veterans, including Brad Thompson, a U.S. Army Air Forces veteran who saw combat in England, France and Germany during the war. He's 90, and a 67-year member of the Legion and very happy to see the Run and what it represents. "I think the fact that this many people have taken their time to ride from National Headquarters all the way to Houston for this reason, well, I take my hat off to them."
7:20 p.m. – The Run begins to pull into the park for a dinner of pulled pork sandwiches, chips, cookies and brownies. The dinner is a combined effort of Post 240, the Stephenville Chamber of Commerce and other community members.
7:46 p.m. – National Commander Koutz wants to clear up any misconceptions. "Everyone keeps coming up to me asking how the AC is in my truck," he says. "This national commander has been riding all three days. I know you can't see me because I'm behind Big Earl (Ruttkofsky)."
7:50 p.m. – More than $2,400 in donations come in, including $1,035 from Post 237 in Beverly Hills, Fla. The total for the Run is now up to more than $245,000.
7:52 p.m. – All of the Legion Riders stand up to give the World War II veterans in attendance a standing ovation. That's damn cool.
7:55 p.m. – July Danley, president and CEO of the Stephenville Chamber of Commerce, emphasizes her city's support for veterans. "You have a community who supports you and appreciates all that you've done."
Today, the Run will make a stop in Killeen, Texas, before ending up at Post 245 in Seguin, Texas.