My favorite part of the week is the first time the veterans walk out and see the BMW motorcycles they will be riding for the next five days. The veterans come from all branches of the United States Armed Forces, all generations, from our current conflicts to as far back as Vietnam. We’ve even had international veterans from Australia; PTSD, depression, and anxiety do not know country borders and they affect each of these brave warriors differently.
After getting a briefing on what to expect during the week, they walk out to the garage to find the BMW GS motorcycle they have been paired with—bikes are assigned based on the riders’ physical size, riding experience, and preference. The 16 bikes in the Motorcycle Relief Project (MRP) fleet range from the R650GS to a water-cooled R1200GS. Each one has either been donated to MRP or purchased with donations. Right away, the veteran will start to inspect the machine, a task they have done countless times on military equipment that was issued to them at one point or another. The bikes have all already been inspected and maintained by the MRP volunteer staff; this inspection is more to familiarize the rider with the machine they will be riding.
For the next five days, the veterans will ride these motorcycles on some of the most beautiful highways and byways Colorado (and Arizona in the winter) has to offer, including a ride up Pike’s Peak, Skyline Drive, and Phantom Canyon. After a day of enjoying a great mix of paved and gravel roads (nothing overly aggressive and at a pace that everyone can keep up), we pull into a lodge in the middle of nowhere, eat dinner family-style, and then conduct workshops, giving the participants tools to help manage PTSD, stress, and anxiety. While MRP is not staffed with counselors or mental health professionals, one of the keys to the program’s success is relying on veterans with similar experiences to share what has worked for them, letting the participants know they are not alone.
The goal of the program is to provide a safe and non-judgmental environment where participants can talk freely about their struggles with PTSD and other mental health issues. For some, this will be the first time they have ever spoken of the things they have witnessed. The ride is simply an opportunity to get things off their chest. Often, the next morning, some will talk about how this was the first night they have had good sleep in years. Always a sign that MRP’s mission to provide struggling veterans with a moment of relief is off to a good start.
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