Availity End to End 25 days on a motorcycle to help kids

Scott’s Ride to benefit at-risk kids

One Availity rider’s road trip from Key West to the Arctic Circle

James LeatherwoodAvaility is proud to support the countless ways our employees give back to their communities. Some volunteer through Big Brothers Big Sisters, many support their local United Way, and others run or cycle for a cause. Only one (so far) has chosen to ride a motorcycle from Key West to the Arctic Circle to raise awareness and money for Our House, a charity that benefits at-risk youth.

From July 17 through August 11, keep up with Availity employee James Leatherwood for 11,000 miles in the saddle of his Harley Davidson Road King. James is participating in Scott’s Ride, a group of motorcyclists from Columbus, Georgia, riding for charitable causes. These posts are his dispatches from the road.

You can learn more about Scott’s Ride and the men who make the journey at www.scottsride.com.

 

One month later...

It’s hard to believe that less than a month ago I was wrapping up one of the best motorcycle trips I’ve ever taken. People still ask, “How was your trip?” and my stock answer is, “Everything I hoped for, and not as bad as I feared.”

Numbers tell part of the story: Just over 12,000 miles on my Harley in 24 days, plus another two days and 500 miles on a rented BMW adventure bike. Just over 315 gallons of gas. Sixteen states (including my 48th and 49th visited) and four provinces.

As for the most important number, we raised $135,688 to help repair the house that’s home, for a while, for kids who desperately need a safe place and loving support through tough times.

What numbers can’t do is tell the stories of the people we met, like Connor. Connor raised money for the Miracle Riders for three years in his small South Dakota town—all before he’s old enough to get a driver’s license. Or like the nameless flagger with flowers on her helmet who works the roads during the Canadian summers, then travels over the winter with her earnings. Or the Jamaican waitress working in the Chinese restaurant in Destruction Bay, Yukon, in the middle of nowhere, Canada.

Some people ask me, “Would you ride to the Arctic Circle again?” Probably not—the Alaska Highway, and the Dalton Highway that stretches out after, aren’t very motorcycle-friendly roads. But I’d ride another 12,000 miles with the Miracle Riders in a heartbeat, especially if it meant we could raise money to make a difference in a child’s life.

I’m grateful to my wife, my employer and sponsor, my teammates in the office, and to the other sponsors and donors who made it all worthwhile.

And finally, after nearly a month, I’m almost caught up on the emails I missed.

Mission Accomplished

James Ride Welcome HomeThis experience has been an amazing ride. Tonight (Friday), will be my first night in over three weeks going to sleep without having to wake early for kickstands up. I can sleep in!

Sadly, I probably won’t sleep much at all. While the official trip is over, I still have almost 300 miles to go before I am safely at home with my lovely and talented wife. Who, by the way, has been praying for me and holding down the fort since I left for Key West over three weeks ago.

Exploring our beautiful country was so much fun, but coming home is always the best part of the ride. Seeing so many people come out for the welcome home party, and finding out how much we raised from our generous sponsors and donors while we were riding makes it all worth it. It looks like Arabella will get the foundation work their house needs, and Carpenter’s House will continue to have a positive effect on the kids in the community.

For those who rode with us, followed our blogs, donated to the cause, and prayed for our safety – THANK YOU.

As legend has it, the first year Scott did his Ride for Miracles, at the end of the ride he swore he’d never do it again. That was nine years ago. If you asked me right now, “Would I do it again?” I’d have to say not right now. I need to get my oil changed and buy a set of tires.

It’s been a wild ride. And Monday, it’s back to work. I wonder if I have any emails waiting.

James Ride Map Route

This feels like home

When people ask me where I’m from, I usually talk about growing up as an Air Force brat—the son of an enlisted man. Or I talk about my own time in the Navy, and how that meant I moved around a lot.

But I did most of my growing up in Nebraska and Iowa—and the air here just smells and feels different.

A couple of hours after we leave here tomorrow, we’ll ride within a stone’s throw of where I went to junior high and high school. Maybe some of the folks who still live around there are reading this, and can catch up with us.

They’ll have to be pretty quick, though—we roll down the highway pretty quickly. And Omaha is just a couple of hours away, so we’ll probably stop for gas, and not much else.

Then we’ll ride through a couple hundred miles of cornfields. And wheat fields. And…other fields. One of the things I love about riding the motorcycle away from the interstates and cities is that I’m so engaged with the surroundings. Every field smells different. Even the dirt fields have their own smells. It’s the kind of thing you just don’t get when you’re riding in a car, and it’s a big part of why 500 miles on a bike isn’t as tiring as 500 miles in a car. Every little gust of wind; every slight change in temperature when you ride next to a stream; the difference between a warm rain and a cool one: these are all reasons why I ride.

And, of course, for the kids. This year, I get to ride for the boys and girls at the Carpenter’s House and Arabella—kids who have had a raw deal, and are getting a better deal thanks to the staff and volunteers involved with the Methodist Church in Columbus, GA and across the nation.

So, you know what’s coming, right? Head over to www.scottsride.com and make a donation. Or tune in to the live feed there tomorrow and watch the Riders zip through my old stomping grounds.

Back in the USA – but not quite home

James Ride BlogWe’re back in the USA, and I for one am glad we’re done crossing borders. A lot of the guys in this group are smart-alecks, and I’m always nervous (ok, we only crossed the US/Canada border four times, but that’s “always”) that one of the guys will make some stupid joke about something, and we’ll all wind up in jail.

That might still happen, but at least it’ll be a U.S. jail.

Montana is a land all its own. Remember the best Westerns you have seen—not the ones with the desert and the tumbleweed, but the ones with the beautiful mountains in the background, and the rolling prairie, that’s Montana. And while cities have their appeal (like pizza!) riding through the open like this is the stuff of which motorcycle dreams are made

I might be getting carried away — I mean, we rode through some pretty fantastic scenery to get here. But there’s something about this place that’s special. Maybe it’s just more familiar.

In a couple of days, we’ll be riding around the famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, another high point for riding out here in the middle of nowhere. We’re already seeing more motorcycles on the road.

It’s also pretty great when we stop for gas or lunch, and we get to tell the other motorcyclists why we’re out here. Lots of guys (and a few women) ride their bikes cross-country, but not many can say they’re part of a movement to change lives, one child at a time. So, help us out. Stop on by www.scottsride.com and check out what the rest of the riders have to say. And if you haven’t yet, please hit that donate button.

The end of the line

We made it! While some of the Riders visited the Arctic Circle signpost then turned back for another night in Fairbanks, The rest of us pressed on to Coldfoot, the northern endpoint of our trip. Two of us (shout-out to Ronnie) have ridden from the southern-most point to almost the northern-most point of the US. The road north of here to Prudhoe Bay (usually considered the “End of the Line”) is only 246 more miles, but calling it a road might be a bit of a stretch. If you’ve ever watched Ice Road Truckers on the History Channel, you’ve seen parts of this road – except in the summer, it’s 23 hours of daylight shining on gravel most Midwestern farmers would refuse to drive their tractors on.

So we’re calling this far enough. So far, we’ve been through nine states and four Canadian provinces. We’ve ridden through rain, 100-degree-plus temperatures, and wind that threatened to push us off the road – and through cities, mountains, vast prairies, and over a five-mile bridge 200 feet over a river. And tonight we sleep in glorified Quonset huts – two to a room, with a shared bathroom and shower at the end of the building. And, I’ve enjoyed every minute!

The camp is primitive, but the views are spectacular. We’re set to enjoy steaks cooked on the Goldens’ Cast Iron grill that Vernon and James have been hauling in the chase truck. Goldens’ is one of our sponsors, and this grill is the monster truck of cookouts. At almost 450 pounds (with the cart), it holds heat like nobody’s business, and I have no doubt this beast will outlast a generation’s worth of Alaskan winters.

We’re leaving our mark here (and treading lightly everywhere else). You can make a mark by donating to support Carpenter’s House, a home in Columbus, Georgia, where foster kids between homes and other at-risk boys get unconditional love, structure, and education to help them make the most of their lives. Who knows? Maybe one day, one of these kids will ride 12,000 miles to benefit a charity that changes your life.

Stop by www.scottsride.com to read what the other Riders think about being on top of the world, and while you’re there hit that donate button.

Next stop: Destruction Bay

Destruction Bay--that sounds ominous.

By mileage, we’re just short of the halfway point – we should hit that milestone tomorrow. We front-loaded the mileage so we’d have some softer days during the last half of the trip – and by softer, I mean all but three days from here out are less than 500 miles. Funny how your perspective shifts during an experience like this.

I remember my first complete Ride for Miracles – we rode just over 9,000 miles through 48 states in 21 days. Before that trip, I thought 300 miles was a long day’s ride. In the years since, I’ve ridden that far just for lunch. However, now the bar is raised to 500 miles. But make no mistake, that’s still a long way.

Speaking of long distances, it’s funny how Canada’s use of the metric system makes the distance feel even longer (555 miles = 893.2 kilometers). With few towns along the way, and no internet access (so no Spotify!), it’s easy to get lost in your thoughts. Like trying to calculate miles per gallon when I’m buying liters per kilometer, which is ridiculously tricky.

But even with all the fantastic views and the challenging calculations, the boys and girls at Carpenter’s Way and Arabella are on my mind today. Without contributions from you and our generous sponsors, this Ride is just a strange way to take a vacation. With your support, the girls at Arabella will be able to use their kitchen again, and the boys at Carpenters House will have a chance at a better life.

So stop on by www.scottsride.com, watch the miles go by, track our progress, and hit that Donate Now button. If you’re the praying type, offer up a prayer for our safety out here in the wilderness, and for the kids in Methodist homes across the nation to have some joy.

Bridges are longer than they seem

You don’t really think about bridges when you’re in a car. Suspension bridge, drawbridge, covered bridge—it’s just a way to get across a body of water. But on a bike, when the bridge is 5 miles long and the roadway is open metal grating, you begin to really pay attention. We crossed the Mackinac Bridge today—from the Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. All 17 of us were in a line, but I think we each saw it from a different perspective. For the other Riders’ crossing stories, go read the blogs on ScottsRide.com—and while you’re there, take a second to share the ride on your Facebook or Twitter or Instachat or Linkedgram page, or whatever.

Mackinac BridgeBut back to the bridge. Five miles long. Two hundred feet in the air. Metal grating as the road surface, and ½-inch wires as guardrails so you can see the water below, and (with luck) avoid falling into it. Look at the palm of your right hand—no, seriously, look at your hand. That 16 square inches is about what we call the “contact patch,” the part of the tire (ok, 16 square inches is BOTH tires) that’s actually touching the road, while we roll along at 60 miles per hour. And when the road is actually metal grating, you’re looking at less than 2 square inches of rubber actually in contact with the only surface between me and 200 feet of air—with 295 feet of water below that.

Keep in mind, a strong gust of wind can push a motorcycle a foot or two toward the guardrail, or toward the oncoming traffic.

James Rainy WindshieldWhen we left the solid earth and started up the world’s fifth-largest suspension bridge, the metal was wet—making it even more slippery. And the rain reduced visibility, and frankly it’s no fun to ride in the rain on regular roads. Fortunately for all of us on two wheels, they've paved the right lane, so once we got off the open grate, it was just another very nice bridge. It took longer than we planned, but eventually all of us made it across the strait that connects Lake Huron to Lake Michigan and safely down the other side to what the locals call the UP. No worse for the wear (but maybe a bit more tired than usual) we pulled into the hotel for the night.

Go check out what the other Riders had to say about the day at ScottsRide.com and tell a friend about what we’re doing. And if you can, make a donation so we can help fix the cracks in the foundation of the Arabella house, so the girls who live there can think about school, and boys, and music—instead of whether or not the stove and bathrooms are working today. Yes, it’s that rough for these kids, and that’s why we’re on this crazy ride.

Check in with you in a day or two.

All the Riders – together again

Today is the official start of Scott’s Ride to the Arctic Circle, and the send-off was, once again, almost surreal. The city of Columbus shows its support in so many ways—from the sponsors’ donations, to people buying t-shirts and other souvenirs, to the city council and mayor joining the executives of Synovis Bank to wish us well and send us on our way.

And, of course, the law enforcement community. There are five or six current or former LEOs in the group, and with the support of the police leadership, we got an escorted ride out of town. Along with a hundred or so other motorcyclists, we rolled away from Columbus without stopping for lights or traffic. And as we hit the highway, our escorts started turning off, until only the 17 Riders and our chase truck were left.

The first official day was everything I expected it to be: long, hot, and mostly interstate. There’s not much more to it than that—from the superslab, pretty much every Midwestern state looks the same, and there are no appreciable differences in the gas stops.

For most of the guys, this is Day One, so there are the usual grunts and groans as 17 50-year-old (plus!) guys get off their bikes at the stops. It’ll take a day or two for the rhythms to settle in, and then another day to get really comfortable. But in the meantime, we’re working out the kinks of riding in such a large group.

While we do, take a few minutes to check out what the other Riders had to say at scottsride.com, and check out the live stream and GPS tracker to see where we are. You should also go visit the Arabella House—the girls’ home we’re supporting with your donations.

Long journeys start with small steps

To quote Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, “The journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step.” Or in my case, 12,000 miles. You wouldn’t believe the preparation that goes into planning something like this before it ever “starts,” but here we are at the southernmost point of the United States. Mile 0 in Key West, Florida. Margaritaville.

There’s just a few of us to start. This Friday we’ll meet up with the rest of the crew in Columbus, Georgia. In Columbus, we’ll hold a press conference and have a law enforcement escort as all 17 Riders—and two guys in a chase truck—ride out of town headed for the Arctic Circle. (I encourage you to tune in and experience the roar of 17 motorcycles rumbling through town.)

I’m not going to kid you – the first day will be brutal: Columbus, Georgia to Cincinnati, Ohio: 646 miles (plus detours) in the Midwestern summer heat. Fortunately, most days won’t be wide-open-throttle rocking down the interstate; they will be riding on scenic two-lane country roads where we’ll average 500 miles a day for 21 days. I’m hopeful that most days won’t be as hard as the first two.

From inclement weather to traffic and construction, from border crossings to wildlife, we have no idea what we’ll face, but we’ll figure it out as we go. One of my favorite phrases for this trip is, “I just follow the guy in front of me.” I don’t plan the route, deal with the headaches, or try to manage 19 motorcycle riders – that’s the job for Mama Cat Karen Cook. I just get on my bike in the morning, ride till it’s time to stop, and then do it again the next day.

It’s AWESOME! Follow us with the live video stream at www.scottsride.com and check our progress on the map that updates every 15 minutes. And please, donate. I could write a check for the cost of gas, hotels, tires, food, and sunscreen – but this ride is for you, too.

Make a difference in Aaron’s life. Donate toward the cost of a decent kitchen, clean clothes, regular meals, and most of all love for the kids in Our House Ministries of the Methodist Church. Go to www.scottsride.com and donate now.

From the road.

James

You’re doing WHAT?

“You’re doing WHAT?” That’s the most common reaction I get when I tell people I’m going to ride a motorcycle from Key West, Florida, to Coldfoot, Alaska—inside the Arctic Circle. The next question is always, “Why would you do that?”

The short answer is, I’m lucky enough to know a bunch of guys who have figured out how to combine two of my passions, riding motorcycles and helping people.

Inspired by the wacky idea of riding from one end of the country to the other, almost a hundred sponsors (including Availity, where I work #LoveMyJob) and untold individual donors were eager to give to the cause. When they heard that all of the donated funds go to benefit at-risk and disadvantaged children through the Our House ministries of the Methodist Church, they began to understand the “Why” behind this crazy ride.

So, here’s the deal: Most of us will be using Twitter and Facebook from the road (#ScottsRide). You should also follow me here, on the Availity “End to End” blog, and get to know the rest of the Riders (and our support team) at www.scottsride.com. While you’re there, you can actually join the trip (when we have cell service) via our live stream from the lead bike (thanks, Verizon!), and track our progress on a map that gets updated every fifteen minutes or so (thanks, Spot!)

For the long story, check out www.scottsride.com.

Russ, Molly & James