While checking into our hotel in Williams, Arizona, after the first day of our 16-day road trip, we started talking to a guy named Josh. He told us he and many others from all over the county were in town for the memorial service for a fallen war veteran. Their group is composed of ex-military veterans or ex-military contractors that support and fight against terrorism as patriot Americans.
Later that night while walking back from dinner we passed the memorial gathering and talked to several more members. Both my wife, Sheila, and I gave our condolences, and one guy handed us a prayer card for the fallen vet, Erik T. Mathijssen.
USMC Gunny Sergeant Mathijssen, who had served multiple combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, passed on Monday, July 7, 2015, just one day shy of his 42nd birthday. His last motorcycle ride ended that fateful night when a car making a left turn pulled out in front of him. Erik’s last ride never finished, it stopped!
Maybe it was because he was ex-military and a motorcycle rider that my wife and I felt a deep connection to this man whom we had never met. I read his prayer card several times, and on the back it said “I’m Free.” Isn’t that the feeling we all felt when we started riding? That morning I told my wife we were taking Erik with us for the rest of our 5,000 mile trip, so we clipped his prayer card to the side of the windshield and off we rode.
We were going to take Erik’s spirit with us, a ride to remember, and one that would have a happy ending. We rode up to the Grand Canyon and later to Four Corners, where we ran into four of the guys who had attended Erik’s service. We introduced ourselves and told them we were taking Erik to South Dakota, Montana, Washington and then back to California with us for the rest of our trip. They saw the prayer card clipped to the windshield of my Gold Wing, and one of them said, “He’ll be traveling in style.” We took a few pics with them and we all left in the cold rain.
We traveled through Durango and Pagosa Springs, where we stopped for the night. The next day we visited our son, who is currently based in Canon AFB, and his wife in Clovis, New Mexico.
The following day, the air was hot as we rode up Interstate 25 to Denver. Erik was getting a front-row view. We finally made it to the Black Hills, where we stayed for several days. In town we told our story about Erik and asked a number of people if they would pose for a picture. It seemed everyone could relate and nobody refused.
On to the Beartooth Highway and Yellowstone, the weather was spectacular and the roads dry. Heading north to Glacier National Park and up and over Going to the Sun Road, we had another outstanding day. From Missoula, we turned West on State Route 12 and took the LoLo pass into Kennewick.
The air was heavy with smoke, but we managed to get through the pass before they closed the road. It seemed like someone upstairs was looking out for us too.
Finally making our way to the coast we stopped in Astoria, with a calm sigh of relief as the cool air brushed our faces. Riding south on State Route 101 we drifted over 300 miles of the Emerald Coast, stopping at the Tillamook cheese factory and numerous other places.
We passed more coastline and multiple stands of Giant Redwood trees as Sheila and I continued south with Erik still clipped to the windshield. I must have looked at the back of Erik’s prayed card a hundred times and read the words “I’m Free” because that’s what my wife and I felt. No time schedule, no appointments, no meetings, just being one with nature and the calling of the road.
The date was August 16 when we arrived home in California, 41 days after Erik started his last ride. We stopped by the beach and took several more pictures. This day, both our ride and Erik’s was finished. It was our honor to share this ride with him.
Now you can rest in peace, USMC Gunny Sergeant Erik T. Mathijssen. Your journey is over.
Thank you Paul and Sheila for the honour of sharing Erik’s ride. It was the heart of many of us riders patriot on both sides of our friendly border focused on the same cause of freedom. From Canada, God Bless. Bammer
Thank you so much for sharing. A wonderful tribute to one of our vets.
What a great tribute to a fallen hero. Thanks for helping him finish a spectacular trip.
RIP Erik Matijssen as your mission is complete.
Thank you for sharing that journey with uncle Erik. Thank you for your thoughts and pictures. I think about him everyday.
I love and appreciate this post so much.
Dear Paul & Sheila,
I am Erik’s sister, Linda, and our family cannot thank you enough for this beautiful tribute ride for our brother. I wish i would have had the opportunity to meet you in Williams. What a wonderful journey you took him on .. Erik would have loved all of those places. He was quite the fisherman and hunter, but what would you expect from a Recon Marine?! Thank you again from the bottom of our hearts and may God continue to bless both of you.
Thank you for sharing this, and for taking Erik with you on your ride. Erik is my uncle and he was the bravest man I’ve ever known, a hero. I love that you wrote this blog months ago and that we are just now seeing it… Just in time for Veterans Day! So thank you kind stranger, I’m sure I will never meet you, but your words and what you did have touched my heart.
I never knew my Uncle Erik but I am glad there are still good hearted selfless people left in the world. Renews my faith in humanity and it really means a lot to thise he was closest with that people from all over care. Our vets should be treated like kings and should want for nothing. Bless em!
We are the parents of Erik. Thank you so much for taking his memorial card on your trip and for writing an article about your trip. Erik truly felt free riding his Harley. He always wanted to take the same trip and he finally got his wish. We were truly blessed to have a son like Erik and are so saddened to have lost him at an early age. Erik was the youngest of our six children. Thank you again for writing such a beautiful article.
Please let us know by e-mail how we can purchase a copy of this issue of the magazine. Kay & Arend Mathijssen
We’ve tried reaching out to you via email, but the messages keep bouncing back as undeliverable. We’re sorry, but this article only appeared online and was not in our print edition. Therefore, there are no hard copies to send you – only printouts of what you see on your screen.
I’m truly impressed with the camaraderie I see on Rider’s site, as well as the nice responses from the editors to comments and postings here. This story affected me greatly and reading the responses from Erik’s sister and parents had my eyes watering by the time I finished.
I’m moving to Rider magazine as my primary reading for my favorite pastime. And I’ll be asking my wife for a subscription this Christmas. Thank you for providing a wonderful human element to our sport.
You’re very welcome Diego. We’re thrilled to have you join us as a subscriber!
Thank you Paul and Shelia for this beautiful tribute to my little brother Erik. I know he is looking down from heaven with a big smile on his face. I live in Williams and wished I could have met you both. If you ever come up this way again, please look me up
Much love and respect,
Thank you for your thoughtful and genuine gift. Meaningful just to read about.