RIDE OF A LIFETIME
BAKERSVILLE – It began as motorcycle ride by two lifelong friends. It has become a nearly monthlong journey covering 12,000 miles stretching from the Florida Keys to Deadhorse, Alaska, in the Arctic Circle.
The PALS, or People, Adventure, Love, Service Ride to End Veteran Suicide started when lifelong friends Matthew Ward, 41, of Bakersville, and Matthew Hall, 42, of Seattle, Washington, formerly of Bakersville, depart North Carolina June 28 headed to Augusta, Georgia.
Hall is a 1993 graduate of Mitchell High School and a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Navy with 11 deployments to his credit. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, in 2009 after returning from combat in Iraq and has struggled with recovery and suicidal thoughts. Ward is his best friend. He works in construction and preaches at various churches around Mitchell County.
“During the trip, we will showcase the cities and sights along our route and will focus of our veterans who are claiming their own lives at a rate of 20-plus per day,” Hall said. “In the process, we will be attempting to set a world record for the longest charity motorcycle ride through multiple countries while carrying the message of hope to all veterans suffering from PTSD and who are struggling with thoughts of suicide.”
Hall said the idea began as two friends who wanted to take a motorcycle ride together. But after Hall’s friend and fellow soldier Dave Saxon committed suicide Dec. 6, 2015, the idea began evolving.
Hall admits he struggled with his own thoughts of suicide. Just 36 hours after returning from Iraq in 2009 he checked himself into a mental health clinic where he underwent therapy. He was deployed two more times and when he retired he decided to make the ride something positive.
“I’m currently in group therapy at the local VA in Seattle,” Hall said. “This is a problem a lot of people are having. My support network is great. They all have been there and done that. My family has no clue about my PTSD, but they don’t know what I’ve seen and what I’ve gone through. One of my biggest problems is people’s lack of understanding.”
Ward said Hall was “getting pretty bad,” to the point his family was expressing their concerns to him. So, Ward and his wife, Amy, made a trip to Seattle and stayed for a while.
“My reasons for wanting to do this are different from his,” Ward said. “After we left Seattle he started back down a bad path. I wanted to reach him somehow and I was pretty sure a cross-country ride would open the door. I was getting concerned. I prayed and asked God to give me my friend back.”
It was then when Ward said he got the idea to ride motorcycles from the southernmost to northernmost points with the idea of sharing with people the importance of finding peace.
“I just remember Philippians 4:7,” Ward said. “’The peace of God surpasses all.’ I’m against medicating people with PTSD. Give it to Christ.”
What people suffering from PTSD are lacking is encouragement, Hall said. If there was some type of intervention, the number of suicides could be drastically decreased.
“I’m not going to say I’m cured because I’m not,” Hall said. “I’m still learning on a daily basis what I can do to help myself and others. It’s not just about me. It’s about making things better; making a difference.”
Hall came to Mitchell County in early June to watch his son, Matthew Hall Jr., graduate from Mitchell High School. While here he and Ward laid out the final plans for their trip and prepared their identical Yamaha Super Tenere motorcycles.
“I don’t have a lot of friends, but he is one I love to death,” Hall said. “Yes, I wanted my friend back, but above all else, I want to promote something positive.”
Hall and Ward will document the trip on www.palsride.com as well as on social media outlets available with various resources and links to our sponsors and the charities for which they are riding.
“This is an ever-important issue that is lacking mainstream media attention,” Hall said. “And while we ask that you consider the story, we ask that you do so not for our benefit, but for the
thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines that deploy and have deployed in defense of our great nation who return only to struggle with reintegration into civilian life.”
When they set out on this project, they felt there was a lot of negative emotion surrounding most of the topics in the news, Hall said.
“Lots of complaints about stuff not getting done,” he said. “It was important to show that if there is a problem, the community comes together to do something about it. We didn’t see the need to complain, we just felt the need to act. This country has lost that sense of responsibility. If we all wait on things to get done, then they likely won’t get done.”
The ride ends July 22 in Seattle.