By Kevin Young, the CannoneerMay 27, 2008
Visitors at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge Visitor's Center west of Lawton-Fort Sill, Okla. were surprised to hear the roar of Fort Sill's Freedom's Thunder Motorcycle Ride May 9.
Three oriental businessmen, complete with suits, presented a portrait of confusion when they left the center. When they walked into the center, it was quiet and tranquil, and there were just a few cars in the lot.
When they walked out, the parking lot was filled with bikers.
The roar of the motorcycles echoed off the mountains surrounding the center.
An elderly couple in a car with Texas plates grinned at the unexpected invasion of shining metal thoroughbreds.
The motorcycle mass obviously lent a humorous contrast to their expectations of the wildlife refuge.
The motorcycles visited the wildlife refuge as part of the Freedom's Thunder Motorcycle Safety Rally, Fort Sill's annual day dedicated to motorcycle safety.
This year's event revolved around a 68-mile road rally. The rally route took the bikers through four checkpoints on the south and north boundaries of the post, to include the refuge. The route took bikers past local landmarks like the Holy City, the Prairie Dog Village, Meers Store and Restaurant and Lake Lawtonka.
The riders took the cruise to reinforce safety rules of the road. One group of riders put that knowledge to the test as they passed several longhorn cattle and buffalo. The group slowed when they saw the buffalo approach the road.
First one and then a second buffalo wandered out into traffic. The group, led by 1st Sgt. Mark Rackley and his wife, Karen, had to put on the brakes to avoid a close encounter with local wildlife.
No one reported any other incidents on the road.
"I do it for the love of riding - the brotherhood, the camaraderie," John Ladson, a member of the Rough Riders motorcycle club, said. Ladson's one of the many Army retirees who participated.
Eddie Hill of the 1st Battalion, 40th Field Artillery, has been riding motorcycles since 1986. He said the most important safety lesson of the day was wearing the right equipment, especially, "always wear eye protection and a helmet."
Willie "Big Wheel" Lloyd, an Army retiree, said it's a great opportunity to get riders together and actually let people see how much impact the motorcyclists have in this area.
"A lot of people don't know how many bikes there are around here because you very seldom see them," Lloyd said.
He gave the post leadership credit for getting bikers together and incorporating motorcycle safety with a chance to ride.
Lloyd said the route through the refuge makes for a great ride thanks to the landmarks like Mount Scott and the nature of the road itself. "A lot of guys like to hug the curves," Lloyd said with a broad smile.
Most riders echoed the opinion of David Richardson, a biker from Snyder, Okla. and civilian employee on post. Richardson's wind screen was decorated with stickers that proudly proclaimed his status as a Vietnam veteran. His bike's decorations included 1st Cavalry Division and combat infantry badge stickers.
"I ride every year at Thunder Run," Richardson said. He said he most enjoyed the brotherhood of the event and reminded veteran bikers to look out for new riders. "Too many Soldiers are being killed by not being safe," Richardson added.
Before bikers took to the road, they heard from several speakers about motorcycle safety. Brad Henry, governor of Oklahoma, even got into the act. He signed an official proclamation, read to the riders by John Purcell, mayor of Lawton, proclaiming May 9 as "Motorcycle Safety Day" throughout the state.
This year, MWR was the official sponsor for the event. The WR touch showed at the Polo Field as it took on a carnival atmosphere that day. Event sponsors brought in a range of booths, which included a "bucking bike"(it looked like a mechanical bull apparatus with a dirt bike substituted for the normal padded saddle).
Another sponsor offered free tickets for a drawing for a new chopper. The bikers also got an early preview of Fort Sill's Independence Day concert.
Bobby Dale and his band, the opening act for Lynyrd Skynyrd at Fort Sill July 4, performed a set of what Dale called "Red Dirt Music" while the bikers fueled up on food brought in from the Main PX Food Court after their ride.
Bikers could also hitch their bikes to a high tech dynamometer to analyze their bike's performance. That machine analyzed the bike's performance (such as the horse power and torque it had) and could adjust the air flow on some bikes for peak performance.
Maria Hayes, administrative management specialist for MWR, organized the Thunder Run this year. She said MWR's expanded role led to more sponsors and more events. She said she felt it was important because in previous years, riders, "went out, rode, came back, drew prizes and left."