Guest blogger Lacey Hameister (29) is a membership services coordinator for a professional association and lives in Des Moines, Iowa. She decided to participate in The Register’s Great Annual Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) to honor her Vietnam vet father and all other servicemen and women who protect our country. The ride took a week and covered 400+ miles across the state. Here’s Lacey’s account of the ride that not only boosted her patriotism to a new level, but changed her life. 

01LaceyBoots8incopy-537f5ec45eddaEver since I boarded the bus to come home from The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), I’ve been trying to figure out a way to describe the past week, and even past few months, that have been this journey. I lost my voice midway through the week talking about my Op and Boot Campaign to those that I met on the road and in towns. I hope I can find the words to tell you all just how humbling this experience has been and how appreciative I am of the overwhelming support.

Being a “planner” by personality and profession, I knew going into this journey there would be known and unknown challenges. Prior to even getting on my bike with the boots on, these were the challenges I anticipated:

  • Pain and blisters from the boots (Thankfully this didn’t happen)
  • Losing pedal power and having a harder time getting up hills from the lack of clips (Unfortunately, this did happen but I didn’t have to walk up a single hill! Every time I felt like it was too hard, someone would yell out “Nice boots!” or I’d see a military branch jersey and I knew I couldn’t let them down.)
  • Possibility of having to figure out modifications to the pedal cranks to accommodate for the boot being wider than a typical riding shoe (Flat pedals worked better than expected but I did bruise up my shin from slipping a few times)
  • Wet feet due to the boots making my feet sweat or not drying as fast as biking sandals. I HATE having wet feet! (My worst “fear” for this Op happened on Friday. Rain, rain, wet boots, rain, wet feet. But I ran into some National Guard members that were also in their soaking wet boots as they handed out water. A great reminder that I had nothing to complain about.)

These are some of the challenges I experienced that I was NOT anticipating:

  • Losing my voice from talking so much, especially on the windy days. A lot of people asked questions or made comments while riding. “Did you forget your biking shoes?” “Nice boots!” and of course “Do those have clips?”
  • The reaction I received from people when I told them about my Op: body language changed, smiles emerged, eyes softened, some voices cracked as they either told me they themselves were veterans or that they had family members and friends that are service members. I knew people would be supportive, it’s for a good cause! But the connection between the military and civilians is larger than I anticipated. I hope any service member reading this knows that there are people and organizations out there that care, that are supportive, that are willing to help and no matter what, you are not alone!
  • How emotional I got thinking about the support I was receiving. I shared this story as a status on my Facebook page, it was one of the most beautiful moments of the trip: “Tonight an older gentleman asked about my boots. After hearing the info he informed me he’s a Vietnam vet, he reached into his pocket and gave me $1 telling me he knows that isn’t enough but he’s barely surviving on social security alone but he was grateful for what I was doing. It really puts into perspective the value of a dollar when someone is willing to give you their last one.”

One night while in my team camp I was talking to a teammate as we discussed my Op and why I was doing this. My simple answer all week had been “My father is a Vietnam vet and many of my friends have served.” The more my teammate and I talked, I realized it’s more than that, veteran support has always been a passion of mine but before now I didn’t feel like I could make a difference. I am not famous, I am not rich, I do not have a large network of powerful people I can call to get things done. I’m a plain Jane who just happens to be patriotic and ride a bike! It’s amazing what the “average” person can do, however, when we set our minds to it and have such overwhelming support from those that believe in a cause. I hope everyone knows that your kind words were heard and that they helped motivate me every day!

Looking back now it’s hard to believe that my ‘Op’ is over, but I hope it has inspired individuals to do something they think they can’t. I also hope it showed our service members that there are people out there that support what they have done and are doing for our country. I know the $4,235 donation we made to Boot Campaign will go towards some fantastic resources and support to those that need them.

These boots and I were fortunate to stand in front of the stone memorial walls that housed the names of those that gave all, as well as stand next to some of our brave men and women that answered the call to serve our country. This is a week and 400+ miles I will never forget. Thank you all for your support!