On the road, until the troops come home | VailDaily.com

On the road, until the troops come home

Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyJim Ellison of Montana rides on U.S. Highway 6 Thursday from Edwards to Eagle. Ellison has been biking around the country for three years and is not planning on stopping until the troops come home from Iraq.

EDWARDS ” There are some days when Jim Ellison wants to quit, when he wants to ditch his mountain bike and catch a ride back home to Butte, Mont.

But each day, without fail, his two-wheel war protest chugs forward.

“When I get the word we’re bringing the troops home, I’ll finally get to go home,” Ellison said. “It might be tomorrow, it might be two years from now. I don’t know.”

Ellison says he’s been riding his bike nonstop around the U.S. for the last three years to protest the war in Iraq. On Wednesday, he rolled into Edwards, on his mountain bike, his cart of supplies in tow, flying tattered Marine Corps and U.S. flags.

“I’m just basically traveling across the USA to bring our troops home,” he said. “They shouldn’t be there.”

But he supports the troops, including his son, a Marine who’s on his second tour of duty in Iraq, he said.

He’s logged 24,696 miles (he checked his odometer) since he began in 2003, he said, riding at least 50 miles a day.

Ellison, 44, described his route in simple terms: a big loop around the country. He’s finishing up his second circuit.

“It’s like a big NASCAR loop, like racing Daytona,” he said. “You make a big circle all the way around.”

The itinerary is fluid.

“When I hit a crossroads, I flip a coin, or use this,” he said, pulling out his Magic 8 Ball.

On Wednesday, the ex-Marine sat under a shelter at the Edwards rest stop in a torrential rain storm with his Walkman and a Hopalong Cassidy novel, smoking a Pall Mall.

(The cigarettes don’t hinder his biking, he said.)

A hand-written sign on the back of his cart explained what he was doing, and a metal donations can was affixed to the top of the sign. “Anything helps,” the can said.

The Iraq war was begun under false pretenses, he said.

“I’d state my life on it,” said Ellison, who served as a Marine in the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm.

“It’s all political, that’s what it is,” he said.

He sometimes cries when he thinks of the troops who die in Iraq.

“It upsets me every day,” he said.

Soon after the U.S. invaded Iraq ” and as Ellison was going through a messy divorce ” he started his journey. He closed his auto repair shop in Montana and began pedaling. He thought he’d be on the road for a year, a year and a half tops.

Ellison almost always camps ” he carries a tent, a sleeping bag, tools for his bike and three sets of clothes. In the three-plus years, he’s only stayed in a motel about a dozen times, he said.

He’s been hit by a car four times, he said, and without health care, he has tried to treat his own injuries. He shows the scars he’s collected over the years.

For money, he sometimes finds motorists who need repairs and gets a few dollars for his mechanical skills.

Ellison has nine kids, he said, but he doesn’t talk to them very much. He has a cell phone, but he often doesn’t have enough money to buy minutes.

Each year, he takes two days off from biking ” Christmas and Christmas Eve ” and only if he has enough money for a motel room.

His voyage has done some good, he said. He’s met thousands of people and talked to them about his anti-war crusade. Nine out of 10 people agree with him, even if they think he has a “screw loose,” he said.

“I’ve gotten people thinking about it, talking about it, spreading the word,” he said.

On Wednesday, he spent the night at the Edwards rest stop. On Thursday, he took off for Eagle. He’s headed to New Mexico, then toward California, then Oregon, then Washington, then maybe Idaho.

During his last circuit, he passed his house, but he decided not to stop, he said. It would have been too much of a distraction.

He listens to his Walkman radio to hear the latest news on the Iraq war. He still isn’t sure when the troops are coming home.

Until then, he isn’t, either, he said.

“I made myself a promise I was going to see this all the way through,” he said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.

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