Honoring fallen soldiers, veterans on 170 mile bike ride
A group of bicyclists hit the road this weekend to raise money for a veterans memorial project.
65 bikers began their trek on Friday. Despite different backgrounds, they're united in purpose -- to raise money for The Highground, which is a veterans memorial project.
"All the fundraising is easy," said Christine Wetzel, whose son died in Iraq. "When people find out why we're riding, they just hand over money. I hardly even had to ask for money. Most of the time, they're just offering it to me."
Two Gold Star Mothers -- who lost their sons in the service -- are riding this weekend. Wetzel is one. Thinking of her son, Paul, gives her the strength to keep pedaling.
"Paul was such a live wire as a child. I had my hands full trying to keep up," said Wetzel. "He was killed right after his 21st birthday in Iraq."
The second Gold Star Mother is Jan Altmann, joining the ride for the first time this year. Her son, Joe, died in Afghanistan last year on Christmas day.
"We have some children doing it, elderly people doing it. The skill sets are very varied. Yet it's a family-friendly atmosphere here," said route coordinator Tom Kingsbury. "We help everybody out and get down the road where necessary."
The group started riding in Hayward and will finish 170 miles away in Neillsville.
"It gets to be like a family reunion after a while because we keep coming back year after year and you get the same people and new people," said Mike Gleisner, who lives in Chili.
Supporters cheer them along the route, making sure everyone stays safe.
"You have to be careful. You have to watch out for foliage on each side of the road," said Vietnam veteran Charles Isensee.
The riders find joy in the journey, remembering the ones they love -- who are watching over them now.
"I didn't personally have to go to war and I thank all our veterans who have gone to war for us," said Wetzel.
Those riders make up one of the groups heading to Neillsville. All four groups will meet at The Highground on Sunday around noon.