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August 30, 2012

I was fifteen years old the first time I climbed on the back of a motorcycle. When the engine roared to life and we sped off down the road, I felt a thrill race through my stomach. It was like flying! I knew that very moment that I loved to ride motorcycles.

Luckily, that was not the end of my motorbike love affair. Years later when I got married, my husband was the proud owner of a few motorcycles, including a small one just my size, and I learned to ride my own bike. In time, my husband and I parted ways, and the motorcycles went with him. But I missed the thrill of riding, so I bought a used Harley Davidson and found friends to ride with. Often I was the only woman in the crew, but that never bothered me much—I just loved to ride.

In 2003, I read about a group of Vietnam veterans that rode to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC every year. This annual event, which takes place every Memorial Day weekend, is called “Run for the Wall.”  Since I grew up during the 60’s and experienced the tragedies and triumphs of the war, I wanted to show support by joining the ride. Shortly after I learned about it, I read that the World War II Memorial was scheduled to be dedicated that same Memorial Day weekend. My father had served during World War II, so I asked my parents to fly to Washington, DC.  I would ride my motorcycle with the group and join my parents at the dedication when I arrived. 

But just two months before that special Memorial Day weekend, on Easter morning, my father passed away at age eighty-four.

With my mind filled with thoughts about my father’s honorable life and my heart filled with grief at his passing, I determined to re-plot my route. Instead of joining the 350,000 “Run for the Wall” riders, I would make the ride solo, and dedicate every inch of it to my father. On the way I would visit several temples between Salt Lake City and Washington, DC. I left a week before Memorial Day weekend and rode to the temples at Winter Quarters, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, Palmyra (before the temple was dedicated), and Washington, DC. 

As I pulled into each temple’s parking lot, I exchanged my dusty leather coat, chaps, helmet, and gloves for a clean blouse and skirt. Out of respect, I would ask for an area to change my clothes before I actually entered the temple. (One of the temples didn’t have a bathroom in the lobby, so the janitor’s closet worked just fine!)

Having left my road-weary things in the bustle outside, I entered the quiet, brightly-lit rooms of each temple, filled with love and gratitude for my father. In the stillness of each room, I prayed for those men and women who had served alongside him in whatever decade, those who had fought or were fighting for my freedom.

When I arrived at the war memorial pavilion in Washington, DC, I was humbled to see so many veterans there, many the age of my own father.  As groups of soldiers who had served together gathered around the memorial, I felt strongly that my father was among their ranks in spirit. I stood at the World War II Memorial for Michigan (my home state) and bowed my head, silently thanking those who served, those who never made it home, and those families that sacrificed everything—for me. 

Five thousand miles, two and a half weeks, and eleven temples later, I pulled into my own driveway in Salt Lake City. I thanked the Lord for watching over me as I completed my ride, and for letting me honor my father. I offered thanks for those who lived and died for me during the wars, and for all those who sacrificed to build the temples I visited. And most of all, I expressed gratitude for the knowledge that their love and sacrifice had paved the way for my life’s journey—so that I could enjoy the ride.