For many motorcyclists saddling up is more about the journey not the destination. So, why not make it about both?
In many respects that's exactly what Steve and Dave Brooks accomplished with their Tour of Honor ride that is both Iron Butt approved and AMA sanctioned. Tour of Honor raises money for the Fisher House Foundation, Operation Comfort Warriors or Police and Fire: The Fallen Heroes and invites riders to spend their summer riding to various veteran memorials and monuments in 49 states.
Designed in a way to be truly "A Ride to Remember" the Tour of Honor is held April 1 through October 31 and designates seven memorials in every state (except Oregon for 2014) or region for riders to visit. But this is not some gimmick, there's a competition going on.
Each year, the seven targeted memorials change and the first three riders to visit all chosen memorials in a state (or region) get a trophy. The rider who visits the most receives the "Jack Shoalmire Achievement Award." There's only been one rider to visit all 300 targeted memorials in a season, read about him below.
Of course, motorcyclists need little incentive to mount up. But what better way to make a weekend run with friends into an actual destination that takes you to a place honoring and remembering those who gave you the freedom to ride.
Flight 93 National Memorial
Name: Tour of Honor
Year Founded: 2010
Who Founded: Steve & Dave Brooks
Average number of yearly participants: 400
Average number of finisher certificates given: 250
Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cost: $75, $65 for pillion riders
Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Memorial Museum
1. What is the Tour of Honor and why was it started?
Tour of Honor is a season-long, self-directed ride to more than 300 memorial sites each year. There are seven selected in each state except for smaller states, which make up regions, have four each. The sites change every year and are revealed on April 1.
The memorial sites are mostly for military veterans, but some honor fire and safety personnel that pay the ultimate sacrifice in their service to others.
Trophies are awarded to the first three riders to visit all seven memorials in a state, or all memorials in a region, like New England. To achieve finisher status, riders must visit seven memorial sites in any state, and they will receive a finishers pin and certificate.
Other rides include "Searching for the Lost Generation," visiting as many Doughboy statues as possible; and "Sea-to-Shining-Sea," visiting all 12 Madonna of the Trail statues from Maryland to California. Riders can also combine Tour of Honor (TOH) visits on Iron Butt Rides, 1000 miles in less than 24 hours, for instance, and submit to the Iron Butt Association (IBA) for a special TOH/IBA certificate from the IBA.
It was started after I discovered in the Iron Butt Rally how meaningful and moving visits to some of these memorials were. One of the themes of the 2003 Rally was "Memorials and Monuments" on the East Coast and several were related to 9/11. The memory of visiting the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania still brings chills, and since then I wanted to create an experience that others would appreciate. I have IBR rallymaster Michael Kneebone to thank for planting the seed, and why our slogan is, "A ride to remember."
Ten dollars from each registration goes to a charity of the rider's choice: Fisher House Foundation, Operation Comfort Warriors, or Police and Fire: The Fallen Heroes. A number of riders are veterans, all are patriots.
2. What's the idea behind incorporating trophies?
The trophies bring a competitive aspect to TOH and encourages riders to travel further than they have before. Trophy recipients seem to appreciate them and some trophies end up in personal collections of military service medals, for instance.
3. How does a rider "check off" a memorial visit and prove they were there?
Riders submit their photos to the scorers who verify the visits and each visit is recorded on a spreadsheet that is shared on the TOH website.
Photos should include the memorial site in the background, motorcycle, and rider's unique TOH participant flag. If the motorcycle can't be ridden to the memorial, then a second photo is submitted with the flag and the motorcycle "nearby."
USS Arizona Memorial
4. Have you had any riders visit all memorials in all the states in one season?
Yes, in 2012. There are many riders who share their story, but this is one of the most moving. The inaugural year, 2011, had seven states participating, 49 memorial sites total. Jack Shoalmire, decorated Vietnam Veteran, winner of more Iron Butt Association awards than anyone else, wanted to visit all of them. He only had the last state, Hawaii, to finish and had just made his plane reservations when he was killed in an auto accident. In 2012, his son-in-law Barry Bennett, set out to visit all of the sites (triple the number from 2011), with Jack's ashes in his tail trunk. He is the only rider to visit all of the sites in a year.
5. Does Tour of Honor have mapped routes available for those who want to be fast and efficient?
No, riders come up with those themselves. But someone always generates a GPX file of all sites each year to share with everyone, which can help with route planning.
6. Why is Oregon the only non-participating state?
This was unfortunate because the state sponsor for Oregon had a family emergency at the last minute and it was too late for someone else to take over. Next year, we hope to have all 50 states participating.
7. So what exactly does it mean that the other 49 states "participate" on the Tour of Honor?
It's actually the state sponsors who are participating. State sponsors are individuals who want to contribute to TOH by researching 10 sites and providing write-ups about each one. We make the final selection of seven, based on proximity to each other and TOH guidelines. We look for sites with meaningful historical significance, sacrifice, artistic merit, off the beaten track (preferably off the super slab), and near a good eatery. A lot are in small towns where riders wouldn't normally stop.
Veterans Memorial Plaza in Dubuque, Iowa
8. This event sounds like a great opportunity for group riders - is this the norm or is it more of a personal trek for most?
It can be a great opportunity for groups and we encourage riders to do that. For instance, there may be a number of riders in a HOG chapter that are veterans and it can be a special bonding experience to visit the memorials together. We've heard that over and over.
Conversely, a number of people are endurance riders used to only traveling by themselves.
9. Do you get a lot of repeat riders who make it a goal to visit all 300 memorials over the course of several years?
The sites change each year with a couple of "permanent" sites: the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Angel Fire, New Mexico; the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennyslvania; all of the sites in Hawaii. Some of the sites are recycled, but 90 percent change.
10. Why participate in the Tour of Honor?
We've heard several times, "This is the best reason to ride I've ever had."
It brings together the following:
- A good excuse to get the bike out
- Riding further than many have ever ridden
- Riding roads that they wouldn't normally ride
- Sometimes surprising emotional reactions at the sites
- A chance to ride in honor of someone
- Some of the money going to veterans charities
The $75 registration includes t-shirt, rally flag, trophy/pin/certificate, if won, and donation to charity of rider's choice.
Interview with: Steve Brooks
Written By: AndrewT