Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Melinda's Ride of a Lifetime

This post has nothing to do with diabetes. Rather, it's about inspiration. About what's important and how you can achieve your dreams if and when you truly want to.

The main character in this story is Melinda Dennis, a Michigan native that I had the honor of becoming friends with back during our first year of college at Oakland University in 1997-98. She was one of the first people I'd met when starting college, and we had a close-knit group of friends living in the same dorms that had a lot of fun that first year. Though we kept in touch a bit through the years, mostly we lost touch as our own lives progressed and took us to new places and adventures.

But this story isn't about me, our friendship, or our time in college. Rather, it's about Melinda's newest adventure - an amazing "ride of a lifetime" that everyone should have a chance to hear about.

Her journey is the American Ride 2010,  a three-month solo trip that takes her along the country's scenic roads by motorcycle and to 51 of the total 58 national parks. Through 38 states and into Canada. On a 2003 Heritage Softail with some basic camping gear, she's traveling off the highway as much as possible and using the national parks as a guide on her journey that may change based on the moment. No GPS. Only paper, maps, and direction of the moss on the trees.

She writes on her blog: "From the wilds of Alaska to the fall colors of the East Coast, each day is an opportunity to discover something new, meet fascinating people that are guaranteed to become friends, and experience the culture of the unique country that is my home."

WOW. I tell you, that's pretty awesome. If I rode a motorcycle, I might be all over participating in some way. But I don't, so I'll live vicariously through Melinda and her online accounts of the adventure.

As a way to give back something for the opportunity, Melinda is raising money for two worthwhile organizations: 1.) the National Wildlife Federation, which is the largest conservation organization in the country that helps protect wildlife and our beautiful land; and 2.) Patriot Paws Service Dogs, which provides service dogs to disabled American veterans.

"Without the sacrifice of our military men and women through the history of our nation, I would not have a chance to explore this amazing country," she writes on her web page about PPSD, adding that the NWF helps protect not only wildlife but also the lands so that everyone can enjoy these magnificent outdoors.

Even more awesome, I'd say.

How did this ride come to be, you might ask? Well, Melinda's blog tells us about that, too:

"Sometimes, the moments we never expect inspire us to do the things we've always dreamt about. For me, that moment was December 25, 2009, when on Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit, a stranger had attempted to decide my future for me. Being able to walk away from that gave me a clearer perspective and challenged me to do something more adventurous in 2010 on my own terms."

In case you aren't aware of that flight and the circumstances, what Melinda is referring to is the highly-publicized "Christmas Day Bomber", the Nigerian man who tried but failed to detonate plastic explosives hidden in his underwear while on the Detroit-bound airliner. Melinda was one of those 289 people aboard the plane. I recall that day clearly, not only because it was Christmas and because of the wide news coverage of that account, but also for seeing my old college friend on CNN and MSNBC talking about this experience.

Just that summer before, I'd decided to reach out to a few of the former first year college friends and try to reconnect. I knew Melinda was living overseas, but didn't have any contact details for her. So, I called her parents' house up in northern-central Michigan and from there, we connected and exchanged a few emails. It was great to hear she was doing well, with a great job overseas that would bring her back to the U.S. before long, and that she was likely soon-to-be engaged to be married. Another friend doing great, and that made me smile.

Then, Christmas came and this happened. It made me personally appreciate how short life is, and be so incredibly thankful that Melinda was OK.

As she writes on her web page, the experience opened her eyes and set in motion what would become this American Ride 2010.

"With some free time available in the fall, I started listing all of the things I've wanted to do: spend more time with family, go camping, buy a motorcycle, see some U.S. National Parks, and make a positive difference in people's lives... (Those) were the top items on my list. From those reflections, a concept was born, although I must admit the challenge of 51 U.S. National Parks was the genius idea of my fiance."

Just from reading about her adventures in the first weeks, it sounds like a truly great time. She's seen some incredibly beautiful landscapes and scenery, met some generous people, and even had a chance encounter that led to her being part of a historic moment honoring 9-11. While waiting for her bike to have some 20k mainteannce done on Day 18, Melinda started talking with a man there about her ride and soon discovered he's a leader with the Patriot Guard Riders, who would be escorting a shipment of World Trade Center steel beams traveling from NY to Washington, to be used in a 9-11 Memorial in Kitsap County. By luck of running into this man at the shop, Melinda got the chance to be a part of this historic escort on the last leg of the across-country transport. You can read her account of it here.

These are the kinds of life-changing experiences that everyone should be blessed to have in their lives. But while awesome in what it is for Melinda, this adventure also symbolizes to me how much we can embrace our dreams when we really want to. When we find in our hearts what's important, and set out to achieve those dreams because we know we can.

With that, I invite you to visit Melinda's web page or blog. You can keep tabs on how her national ride is progressing, see the bike, and even learn how you can participate in some way. There's a way to buy some cool American Ride 2010 coins that give proceeds to the two charities, and even links to allow you to connect to Melinda if you want to. Don't forget the Facebook page, too! Truly, Melinda is good people. One of the kindest souls you could ever have the privilege of knowing. So, if you have a Harley or are at all motivated to be inspired or even seize the day, reach out and say hello. Or give a little loose change to some charities. Or just dream your own little dream, and find the courage and inspiration to embrace whatever lies in our heart.

Carpe diem!

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