Reflections from a Harley-Davidson dad about the 2008 Ride Home
Every five years, a seemingly endless wave of brilliant colors, flashing chrome and constant thunder converges on the city of Milwaukee. It becomes a city of motorcycles. Home to Harley-Davidson Motor Company, Milwaukee plays host to enthusiasts from all over the globe to celebrate the birth of the greatest motorcycles ever made.
This year, Harley-Davidson turned 105. Celebrations to commemorate all things Harley took place throughout the greater Milwaukee area. While each Ride Home celebration has its own unique character, all of this year’s events had two major similarities: awesome weather and more motorcycles than anyone could accurately count.
The granddaddy of all the 105th celebration activities was an epic motorcade of bikes through the heart of downtown Milwaukee called the MDA Parade of Heroes. Some 7,500 lucky riders were led by 105 of MDA’s top fundraising bikers through city streets lined with hundreds of thousands of locals who graciously rolled out the red carpet to greet the thunderous barrage. This celebration was the culmination of hard work for all those who dedicate themselves to helping MDA. As with any journey that involves a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, half of the fun was “gettin’ there.”
This journey began back in February with participation in another awesome Harley-Davidson/MDA event much closer to my Pennsylvania home, when I picked up my MDA Ride For Life (RFL) pledge packet from Schaeffer’s Harley-Davidson in Orwigsburg, Pa., and prepared for another year of MDA RFL fundraising. One of the fundraising incentives this year was a place in the MDA Parade of Heroes at the 105th celebration for all riders raising at least $6,400.
The cornerstone of my fundraising efforts for the last eight years has been the creation of a unique letter sent to friends, family, business associates and steadfast supporters of this awesome cause. My goal this year was to raise twice the requirement set forth in the RFL packet.
Ask anyone who has ever raised money for the MDA why they do it, and almost every person says, “It’s for the kids!”
My “kid” is 16-year-old Shane Burcaw, my inspiration and my son. An 11th-grade honors student, Shane lives life on his own terms even though type 2 spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) has required him to use a powered wheelchair since age 3. Quick witted and easy going, he inspires everyone he meets. One look into his beautiful brown eyes and my fundraising goals become clear.
Past fundraising letters highlighted Shane’s accomplishments or something he and his brother Andrew, now 13, did together. This year, the highlight was a very special motorcycle designed to carry our whole family. Schaeffer’s Harley-Davidson owners Carol and Dennis Schaeffer loaned us a 2004 Harley-Davidson Road King with a specially equipped sidecar so we could all ride around our neighborhood together. A picture of this bike with us all aboard appeared at the bottom of the letter. Recipients must have liked what they saw. When all the counting was done, we surpassed our $12,800 goal, and went all the way to $16,814 — a personal best.
A committed dealership
The next part of my journey was made possible with the help of the Schaeffer’s dealership as well. For more than three generations, the Schaeffer family has been selling motorcycles. For the last 21 years they have made fundraising for MDA a life’s calling. Everything they do, they do with a personal touch and a deep, heartfelt passion. Since the Eastern Harley Dealers Ride for Life began, the Schaeffers have raised over $1.2 million for MDA. Their dedication to the cause is rivaled only by their passion for riding.
Each Harley-Davidson anniversary year, the Schaeffers shepherd great numbers of riders to Milwaukee. This year, over 90 people loaded up their bikes and headed out to the birthday bash. To ensure I was part of the journey, the Schaeffers generously equipped me, free of charge, with a 2008 Candy Apple Red Ultra Classic Electra Glide, the heavy touring workhorse of the Harley-Davidson fleet of motorcycles.
I now had transportation, a destination, and most of all a lot of inspiration, and I had locked in one of the 105 exclusive lead spots in the Milwaukee MDA Parade of Heroes. Months of planning and preparation came to fruition on the morning of August 26, when small groups of riders left the Schaeffer’s dealership parking lot. Our group was the last to leave. My wonderful family was very supportive of my desire to make the trip. They bid me fond farewell and stayed behind. With the signature rumbling exhaust sound in our wakes, 14 bikes began the two-day journey to Milwaukee.
|Author Jon Burcaw proudly helped lead the Parade of Heroes.|
Part of the fun of “gettin’ there” was the banter that took place on the CB radios on all the bikes so equipped. The radio serves several important functions on a road trip. It’s a great way to safely pass information to a large group of riders. Upcoming road hazards are quickly identified, and changes in plans and upcoming stops can be easily relayed. When safety announcements are all finished, the CB is used for entertainment or to inform all those not required to watch the road of any interesting sights near the highway.
One well-told joke or story can really revive your energy after many miles of rumbling across the countryside. This combination of communication and machinery makes for a lifetime of memories. At any given point during the ride an uninformed passerby might question a rider’s sanity, as he or she rode by laughing hysterically at seemingly nothing. But we riders all knew better!
After an overnight stop in Ohio, our group continued on to Milwaukee. By the time we reached our destination, the Wisconsin interstates were jammed with motorcycles from all over the world.
Riding in a group in such a crowded situation requires intense concentration. To keep from being separated by traffic, all the bikes squeezed close together. A smaller, tightly bunched group is easier to maneuver through traffic than a group that’s strung out and separated. The spacing between my bike and the rear fender of the motorcycle in front of me became my focus. The Schaeffers are well-seasoned group riders and safely maintained the integrity of the group through potentially dangerous heavy traffic situations, utilizing safe group riding habits and timely instructions over the CB. I particularly enjoyed this intense riding.
After checking into our hotel, we traveled to the brand-new Harley-Davidson museum in Milwaukee for the MDA 105th VIP reception. Luke Christie, the 15-year-old MDA Harley-Davidson 105th Anniversary Goodwill Ambassador who, like Shane, has SMA, spoke to the audience about the pursuit of freedom that we share. Whether it’s the freedom of the open road or freedom from the confines of debilitating disease, we all pursue the same goal. At the conclusion of the evening, guests were granted exclusive access to the museum, a mustsee for any motorcycle enthusiast.
The following day we visited Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, to take part in the Club H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) 25th anniversary party. Over 90,000 people celebrated with motorcycle stunt-and-thrill shows, vendors, great music, food and beverage. MDA had a VIP trailer next to the music stage so we could watch the shows and the crowds in comfort. The perpetual rumble of thousands of Harleys was always in the background.
Day three was tame compared to the H.O.G. event. A small group of us visited two of the Harley-Davidson plants located in Milwaukee and then spent the afternoon riding through the beautiful Wisconsin heartland. Then we washed our bikes to make them sparkle for the parade.
The ultimate destination
Day four — Saturday, Aug. 30 — was the day most of us were waiting for. The day broke clear and cool. The staging for the epic MDA Parade of Heroes began at 6:30 a.m. at Miller Park. Over 50 bikes from the Schaeffer’s riding groups headed down the interstate to the ballpark staging area. As we rode, the sun rose clear and golden above the horizon, Mother Nature’s way of showing her approval. That moment was breathtaking.
After staging our bikes in the parade grounds, MDA treated parade riders to breakfast and another awesome dose of Luke Christie. That young man is a true inspiration.
At 9 a.m., with a whirl of a finger, the parade coordinator gave us the signal to get our bikes started and rolling. Excitement spread throughout the massive group. Two-by-two, we left the stadium grounds and traveled to Wisconsin Avenue, the heart of Milwaukee, where huge throngs of people waited. We waved, hollered and whistled to the crowds, blew our horns and revved the throaty engines. Some parade watchers held up signs that said, “Welcome Home” and “Let’s Hear Some Noise!” One little guy held up a sign that said, “Ride it like you stole it!” It was indeed a proud moment for all those who took part.
And it seemed like in an instant it was over. The parade ended at the famed Summerfest grounds on the Milwaukee waterfront, where we spent the rest of the day. The day ended around midnight, as exciting as it started, with a three-and-a-half-hour rock ’n roll show thrown down by the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
We were called heroes but I rode my Harley with indescribable pride for Shane and Luke and all the rest of the MDA kids. They are the real heroes. This parade was the ultimate destination for this rider. And as surely as the sun rose golden over Milwaukee that parade morning, half the fun was “gettin’ there.”
Jon Burcaw, Bethlehem, Pa., is a production center coordinator for FlexLink Systems and has been a Harley-Davidson rider since 2003. He has participated in the MDA Ride For Life for the last eight years, raising more than $70,000. Burcaw wrote a Quest article about his sons Shane and Andrew earlier this year (“Burcaw Boys: A Dynamic Duo”).