As Samuel Conner flies down the interstate on his Kawasaki Voyager motorcycle during long roadtrips, he’ll prop his feet up on the “highway peg” pedals, stick the bike on cruise control, and occasionally sip from a coffee cup with one hand.
After he retired in 2011, Conner crossed the country with thousands of other bikers in a trip called “Run for the Wall” to remember prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action, riding from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. to Washington D.C. in 10 days.
The trip was so life-changing for Conner that he authored a 50-page book narrating his story, “My Motorcycle Ride Across the Country.”
He repeated the trip in 2013, and he’s ready to do it again.
But this year, he’s riding solo.
Instead of changing his own life this trip, Conner is striving to impact the lives of veterans through meeting with them, donating copies of his book and swapping stories.
On April 18, Conner was sent off by a small community of bikers, a pastor’s blessing and a singer’s well wishes.
He packed his saddlebags full of several hundred copies of his booklet, snacks donated by local organizations and bungee-corded a sleeping bag and tent to his second seat.
During the two-week trip, he will visit eight veterans hospitals, many of which have already prepared for his arrival.
He will be sporting his vest decorated in patches that commemorate each location he has visited, arriving on a motorcycle that has been carefully painted with tributes to Vietnam and his fallen comrades.
Since deciding in November to make the journey again, he prepared mentally and physically by working out four times a week and reminding himself that other veterans were awaiting his visit, so he needed to follow through.
“Each of these places are waiting on me,” he said with a smile. “And I’m just an average guy.”
He even researched appropriate snacks and rain gear to sustain him through 7,000 miles of both desert and mountain climates.
Conner, 64, is a Vietnam War veteran who returned from war to his native home of New York City in 1971, only to receive a vehement reaction against his uniform.
He’s seen his share of life’s hurricanes. For a long time, he let bitterness simmer regarding the angry reactions of citizens, his friends and even his family toward his being a black veteran.
Since then, through the encouragement of communities that he has met on these trips, he has healed, and in the meantime has published six booklets – with two more in the works – that share his journey.
Conner treasures his favorite compliment, that he “knows no strangers, only friends.” That, he believes, will make the effort all the sweeter.
Track Conner’s trip:
April 20 - Chicago, IL
April 21 - St. Louis, MO
April 22 - Topeka, KS
April 23 - Oklahoma City, OK
April 24 - Amarillo, TX
April 25 - Alburquerque, NM
April 28 - Flagstaff, AZ
April 30 - Loma Linda, CA