A warrior’s wheels | VailDaily.com

A warrior’s wheels

AVON, Colorado – Jim Ellison is a Marine to his very marrow, so 71,000 miles on his bicycle is just a matter of commitment.

Ellison is determined to keep riding his bicycle until the U.S. troops are brought home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

He’s been at it for nine years and 71,000 miles, and is going to keep pedaling until the troops come home. He was last through the valley in 2007 and was 26,000 miles into his journey.

He doesn’t know when, or where it will end, only that he’ll keep pedaling until he no longer can.

“A lot of people have told me I’ll be at this until the day I die. Well, so be it. Once I make a commitment I stick with it until the day I die, if that’s what it takes,” he said.

He was through the valley more than five years ago, when he had “only” 26,000 miles behind him.

“I’ll stay with it until the mission is accomplished,” he said.

Austin Akin, his 21 year old nephew, joined him around a year ago. Akin’s goal is a little more concrete – five miles for everyone killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The goal is serious; but it’s the trip not the destination that keeps him going.

“I’m enjoying life. Not everyone has this opportunity,” he said.

A warrior

Ellison served 16 years, 1974-94, in the Third Marine Division, Recon and Special Ops, he said. He was a gunnery sergeant when he left the service, he said.

He fought in Desert Storm and Desert Shield, and some other dustups that remain classified, so he knows what it is to volunteer to walk in harm’s way.

“The public will never know about some of those engagements,” Ellison said.

He’s not bashful about sharing his opinions about what are now the longest wars the United States has ever been involved with.

“We should never have been in Iraq. We entered that war under false pretenses. We should have been out of Afghanistan five years ago,” he said.

Why we’re still there is obvious, he said, the same way it’s obvious that you can support the troops but oppose the war, as he does.

“It’s political,” Ellison said. “The troops don’t have a choice. They have to go where our idiot leaders tell them to go.”

Support and stupidity

It doesn’t take long for the former Marine to start showing off scars. There’s the bullet wound on his arm, a scar where he was shot in the leg. He had some shrapnel in his head.

The scars on his legs are from cars and trucks running him off the road or knocking him off his bike. Not everyone is supportive.

“Over 90 percent of the people are supportive, but we get a few jerks,” Ellison said. “People drive by and shout encouragement and give us the thumbs up. It’s helps keep us going.”

A kid in New Mexico shot him in the chest and bike helmet with a paintball gun.

People, mostly young guys, sometimes ride buy and flip him off and shout obscenities.

“They never served and they don’t know what they’re shouting about,” Ellison said.

He keeps a donation bin on the back of his bike. It’s their only means of support and sometimes the support is day to day.

“Some days we eat, some we don’t,” he said.

A few corporate sponsors started out with him but they “wimped out,” after a few years. They don’t have his staying power.

The Vail Daily published an article about Ellison in 2007. Bill Manson read it and called Ed Stoner to ask which way they’d gone.

“West,” Stoner replied.

Manson jumped in his car and drove all the way to Rifle, stopping along the way to ask everyone he saw if they’d seen Ellison.

“He just seemed to vanish,” Manson said.

Fast forward to this week and Manson was looking out his office window in Edwards and spotted Ellison and his nephew.

“When I saw them I thought, ‘That’s gotta be him!'”

He jumped in his car and headed east on Highway 6 to catch them. He passed them around Arrowhead and waited in the Beaver Creek parking lot.

“For them it’s a great adventure, traveling to all those places and meeting people,” Manson said.

They talked a while and Manson left them with a donation to help them up the road.

Ride on

Ellison is a big man and looks like the gunnery sergeant he was. He not a svelte, skinny bicyclist type.

He goes through tires regularly, and through wheels constantly. He keeps a couple in the trailer.

They wear out camping gear, they wear out tires and wheels, sometimes they wear out each other. But they never wear out their welcome. They move along quickly.

From Eagle County they were headed toward Golden, then they’d take U.S. 40. They weren’t certain which way. They flip a coin, when the have one. Sometimes the coin flips are friendly, sometimes they get to a hill or mountain and want to flip it best-of-three to see if they’ll get a more biker friendly result.

But they go on.

These days they stick mostly with the Western U.S., rarely traveling farther east than I-25. The Midwest is full of people who support them and their cause, he said, but it’s not all that safe for bicycles.

“We committed to it. We have to do it,” Ellison said. “There’s no one here doing this. It’s important that we show the troops we support them.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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