Navy veteran biking across the country stops in Colville

RaeLynn Ricarte

What began as a journey for Mark Gutierrez, 34, to sort out his own thoughts after combat became a mission to thank police and firefighters for their service.
“In the beginning it was more about me,” the Navy special operations veteran said of his 4,200 mile bicycle journey to reach Colville last week. “Then in Akron, Colorado, I started feeling a pull to something more than myself.”
It was a conversation with a woman who thanked him for his service to country, but disagreed with his suggestion that she also thank police for their service, that made him start reaching out to emergency responders.
“I told her that police never get thanked and she said they didn't need it,” he said. “But I told her they did because there is no reprieve for law enforcement. Ever. We (military) come home from deployments but they can't get away from their job unless they leave town.
“It was that conversation that led me to think that I needed to pay it forward to the people who are keeping us safe at home.”
He said emergency responders run into danger to protect others and that is worthy of appreciation.
“I have had officers just start to cry when they share their stories,” he said.
On Thursday, Guitierrez met at the Colville Fire Station with a small group of firefighters, police and veterans. “This is about gratitude,” he said of the visit, thanking each member of the group with a handshake.
He briefed them about Project Hero, the national nonprofit that he is raising money for. Not only does the group build bicycles at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Maryland for amputees, they help firefighters, police and veterans with rehabilitation, recovery and building resilience.
The high-risk job of a bomb disposal technician in Afghanistan and Iraq led to many of his fellow sailors missing one of more limbs, said Gutierrez.
Witnessing Project Hero give them back mobility with specially adapted bikes made him want to support the cause. He said the mission also meshed well with his plans to ride across the country.
Guitterez also shared with local emergency responders a story about biking along Highway 20 and groaning when he espied “brown hindquarters” on the road ahead.
“I came around a switchback out of Ione and saw what looked like the back end of a bear and I thought, ‘I really don't have time for this,’ but it turned out to be a cow,” he laughed.
Guiterrez's journey began in Washington, D.C., in May and he is expected to reach San Diego, California, in November, a trip of nearly 6,500 miles when his side trip to North Carolina is factored into the mix.

Find more on this story in the Oct. 2 issue of the Statesman-Examiner.