May 17, 2013

These are the Honor Riders


Read about their mission here:


Divine Providence has had a hand in many aspects of this trip. Meeting the Navajo/Hopi Honor Riders while I was eating my breakfast in Cameron, Arizona, on the morning of May 15th on my way to Zion National Park in Utah was certainly divine intervention. It was a blessing. I had just finished my eggs and Navajo fry bread when I looked through the back windows of the restaurant and saw a large group of motorcyclists circle into the parking lot. They looked like they had a purpose. Many of the bikes were donning American flags. I didn’t see a white face among the group. Most wore leather jackets with large patches sewn on them. I had to go ask what this gathering of Indians on motorbikes was all about.

I walked up to a tall man who looked like he was organizing the group. Here’s what he said:

He refers to Gold Star families in this recording. A Gold Star family is one that has lost a son or daughter in military service. A Blue Star family, which you’ll hear a reference to in future recordings in this post, is a family that currently has a son or daughter serving in the military. This was their second day of a three day annual ride to visit thirteen families on the expansive Navajo reservation where I was currently located. The trip is always done this time of year, the route remains mostly the same and it is always done in a clockwise direction according to native tradition used in other spiritual ceremonies like the sweat lodge or teepee ceremony. I started talking to some of the other riders. Divine Providence had spoken. Zion National Park, my intended destination for the day, could wait. I was going to join these men and women on their journey through towns and villages across the reservation to honor the families of their fallen Navajo and Hopi warriors.

Not only was I welcomed with open arms and hearts, they asked me to talk a little bit about my time in Afghanistan before we departed from Cameron. One older gentleman riding a Harley Davidson took the pleasure of welcoming me into the group by offering a wry question as I mounted my bike.

“What kinda pony you riding there, white man?”

“This here’s a Harley,” he indicated with a nod of his chin. “Made in America!”  He smiled and told me to mount up. Obedient, honored and humbled, I took a place near the end of the pack among the dozens of motorbikes readying to ride to the next destination – a small community north and east of Cameron on route 98. This is a map of the route we took.

NHHR_May 15 16

Before we departed a few more men spoke. Listen to this short acknowledgement of one of the soldiers who had come to greet the bikers on their stop in Cameron.

Here’s a picture of him. I regretfully forgot to get his name. If any of the Honor Riders read this post and know his name, please email me at either Stephen@heart-sign.com, or gilbertislands@gmail.com.

We Were Soldiers

At our first stop after Cameron I witnessed the deep conviction and patriotism of these men. I silently stood back and observed with surprise how dedicated these men and women were to serving our country and how proud they were to be Americans. Here I stood, only one of three white men among a group of 50+ riders and dozens of other Navajo community leaders, organizers, military veterans and citizens of the reservation who came together to honor their fallen brothers and sisters and support their families. There were people whose ancestors had been beaten, lied to and cheated by the White Man from across the ocean. They had their land stolen and were often forcefully uprooted to make way for the new white settlers moving west. And yet I stood among some of the most patriotic people I had met in my life. Many of the bikers were themselves returned veterans. Every one of them were proud of their service to “their” government, as they stated in their words. All of these riders had given up three weekdays to ride a clockwise loop around the reservation to show support for their Gold Star families.

At our first stop a 92 year-old World War II veteran and Navajo Code Talker, gave a speech. If you’re unfamiliar with the Navajo Code Talkers, click here. Here’s an excerpt of his talk.

Dan Akee

Other speeches were given by veterans, representatives of the veterans office and Blue and Gold Star families. Often times speakers switched fluidly between English and Navajo. Here’s a short recording for you to hear Navajo spoken.

Following a large buffet “second breakfast”, we mounted up and rode to our next destination. This continued throughout the day with each community feeding us. I felt like a Hobbit, if you’re familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved Shire folk. They love to eat. They eat a first breakfast, second breakfast, elevensese, lunch, second lunch, tea, supper and dinner. I may have missed a meal or two in there. I’ve started a weight-loss program since departing from the group yesterday.  😉

Riders assemble in Cameron, AZ

Joe Campbell welcomed me warmly into the group. He walks around today with shrapnel still lodged in various parts of his body. He served in Iraq.

Joe Campbell

The Flame

Greeting the veterans

I believe the highlight of my ride with the Honor Riders was our next stop. We rode through a small town in single file where hundreds of school children, teachers and administrators lined the street. We backed our bikes up to the curb diagonally, dismounted and greeted the children and adults as they walked down the line of bikers and shook our hands (or slapped them as some of the more spirited children did). I’ve been riding with my Nikon camera strapped to my neck. When some of the children saw my camera they asked me to take a picture. These are among my favorite.

Photo May 15, 7 02 58

Photo May 15, 7 02 58

Photo May 15, 7 03 46

Photo May 15, 7 04 23

Photo May 15, 7 06 22

Photo May 15, 7 06 33

At the end of the day we landed in Kayenta, a town I had passed through on my way west two days before. Here we were greeted by the community school where we honored several Gold Star families pictured in the line to the left. Speeches were given and the riders lined up to shake the hands or hug each of the mothers and fathers. A drum group sang the Honor Song, which is recorded on audio and video, below.

Kayenta Ceremony

Here are a few last images from my day and a half of riding with these proud, passionate, patriotic and humble men and women. If you’re a motorcyclist, consider joining them on their annual ride. Check out the web site link, above.

Providing comfort to a Gold Star mother

Providing Comfort

Sunset over Monument Valley, Kayenta, Arizona

Sunset in Monument Valley, Kayenta

The morning of my second day of riding with NHHR. We were always well-fed by the communities we visited.

Preparing for the morning ride, day 2

More riders join us at a stop in western New Mexico.

More riders in New Mexico

Saying goodbye to some of my riding mates.

Goodbye friends

It’s off to Zion National Park today, then through Nevada and up to Sequoia National Park in California. I won’t pick up the coast highway until north of San Francisco. Sending my many blessings to all of you.


All content Copyrighted ©  Stephen Tavella

5 thoughts on “HONOR RIDERS!

  1. This was my favorite post so far Steve. Sounds like a really amazing experience. I learned a lot from it as well. Thanks for writing about it so eloquently.

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