The Legacy Run lost a dear friend a week before it started this year when longtime Chief Road Guard Verlin Abbott was killed in a motorcycle accident.
Legion Rider David Heredia, a member of Post 128 in Aberdeen, Md., also suffered a personal loss. His mother passed away last Saturday. But on the ride, Heredia has felt both comfort and support from his fellow Riders.
“What these Riders, once they found out, how they came to me to give their condolences, that’s something that you don’t get anywhere else,” said Heredia, who serves as one of the ride’s chief tail gunners. “Not only are we doing it for the children … somehow we’re doing it for ourselves to give back to them. All the friendships that I’ve made throughout all the (ride) is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.
“The fellowship that I get from all the Riders – my brothers and sisters – is something that I had … when I was in the military.”
Weathering the weather
At the start of Wednesday’s leg the temperature was sitting at 59 degrees. It stayed in the 60s most of the way but began heating up as the Run got closer to Austin, Nev., hitting 77 in the Toiyabe National Forest area.
That was nothing. Midway between Austin the final stop in Fallon, Nev., the temp had risen to 91. It was 94 when the ride arrived at Post 16 – a 35-degree difference from the start.
Days like that require preparation, said Alabama Legion Riders Adjutant Tony Berenotto. On his fourth Legacy Run, he has learned what to do and not to do in preparation for weather shifts.
“That is one of the biggest challenges, especially with the elevation changes,” Berenotto said. “You need more coverings because of so many different climates. The topographic of it: With the elevation changes, the temperatures can even change on one leg, which is a big thing.
"The biggest thing to prepare for it is to pack as much as you can in what limited space we have. And (use) layers: jackets that can be multipurpose. Use your rain jacket as a windbreaker. And then remember that you’ve got to take that off at the next stop, because even if you’re chilly for 20 minutes, you don’t want to sweat and overheat by the end of that leg, which is a distinct possibility – especially on a day like today. The temperature changes are going to be drastic. When all of us got up this morning it was in the 40s. So I’ll wear the jacket. A lot of guys have got their chaps on. By that first stop they’re going to want to remove them."
Berenotto’s first Legacy Run was in 2014 to Charlotte, N.C. Torrential downpours plagued the ride over its first two and a half days. It was a learning experience for the Legion Rider. “I found that I had stuff in my bags I didn’t need,” he said. “What else did I learn on that ride? Listen and cooperate. And from that ride on I wanted to do it every year.
“Talk about wanting to do this: I’m supposed to have some pretty major back surgery, and I asked my neurosurgeon to put it off until after this. So I am having some pretty significant reconstruction done on the lumbar spine Sept. 27.”
For Jim Sigmond, a member of Post 32 in Greenville, Miss., the heat was nothing new. “It gets hot in the Mississippi Delta where we’re from, too,” Sigmond said. “As long as you’re moving, everything is all right.”
Warm welcome in Fallon
Post 16 rolled out the welcome in a big way for the Run’s night stop, standing outside to greet the Riders as they parked and then served a spaghetti dinner. Watching 230 motorcycles pull up – and knowing why they are riding – was powerful for Auxiliary Unit 230 member Kathy Lancaster.
“It makes me want to cry,” she said. “It’s very emotional for me. I didn’t know what The American Legion was all about until I came to work here five years ago. It’s very emotional.”
Post Commander John Ezzell said the post’s Legion family had been preparing food since Monday and had also been busy cleaning up the post in preparation for their guests.
“It’s really an honor, and I think my post members would agree,” said Ezzell, who still currently serves in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. “To be able to be a part of one of the national fundraisers like this, it’s been a little tiring the past couple days. But the end result is worth it.”
More than $27,000 was donated to The American Legion Legacy Fund at the post, including $15,000 combined from the Legion Riders and the post from Kenneth N. Dowden Wayne Post 64 in Indianapolis.
This year's ride has brought in more than $467,000 so far for the Legacy Fund.