WEST GARDINER — In the ordinary course of her life, Christeen Christensen might never have heard of Marine Master Sgt. Ryan C.C. Love.

They won’t ever meet, but on Saturday, Love became a part of Christensen’s story, and she became part of his.

She was one of about 36 motorcycles riders to take part in a convoy Saturday from Portland to Millinocket that stopped in West Gardiner for a short break at 10 a.m.

Standing under the bright morning sun behind the service plaza off interstates 95 and 295, Christensen pulled a drawstring bag emblazoned with a U.S. flag from a saddlebag on her motorcycle. Inside was an ordinary but extraordinary rock, bearing Love’s initials and the years of his birth and death.

Love is one of more than five dozen service members whose lives are remembered through The Summit Project. Each of those service members, who were from Maine or found their way here during their lifetimes, have died since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

David Cote, a Bangor native who served in the Marine Corps, is the founder of The Summit Project. This is year is its sixth convoy and tribute trek to northern Maine. His goal was to create a living memorial that would serve the service members whose lives were lost while serving their country. He was inspired by a 2012 hike he was invited to join by friends on a Navy SEAL team, who were carrying 10-pound stones to the top of Mount Whitney to honor SEALs who had died in the previous 12 months.

With the Summit Project, Cote has created a program that allows volunteers to honor the service members who have died through meaningful action, community involvement and physical exertion.

“Our model of how we operate is learn, launch, letter,” Cote said. “We serve the families, the faithful and the fallen.”

Volunteers who sign up to carry a stone, as the motorcyclists were doing Saturday, learn about the service member whose rock they are carrying. Those rocks would be handed off later in the day to the 48 volunteers who would carry them on a Sunday hike to a summit in the Baxter State Park area. And once the hike is complete and the stones returned, those who carried the stones write letters to their service members’ families.

“It’s figurative and literal,” Cote said. “They are feeling the weight. Imagine the weight that the Gold Star family feels. They’re bearing the weight of having that sacrifice.”

The Summit Project means different things to different people for different reason, he said, and that’s the beauty of the program.

And it puts the service members, whose lives were cut short, out into the world. Stones have accompanied volunteers on travels to Denali in Alaska, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Mount Everest in Nepal and Mount Katahdin in northern Maine, as well as to parades, marathons and marches across Maine and across the country.

Christensen, who lives in Sanford and rides with the Chrome Angelz, came to Maine when her husband was stationed at Loring Air Force Base, near Limestone in northern Maine.

“When we split,” she said, “I stayed.”

Susan LaPlante holds a stone commemorating Army Sgt. Blair Emery, from Lee. He was killed in 2007 while deployed in Iraq. LaPlante was part of a convoy of motorcyclists who stopped Saturday at the West Gardiner service plaza on the Maine Turnpike while en route to northern Maine. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

The need to participate in a Memorial Day weekend event such as The Summit Project’s tribute trek is driven in part by the death of her own father, a Navy veteran, in 2014. His ashes were scattered on the Pacific Ocean, and she was not able to be there for that.

“This is a special thing for me. Since his passing, it’s become a little bit more personal,” she said.

Love, himself a motorcycle rider, grew up in Frankfort. He died unexpectedly in July 2012 in Twenty-nine Palms, California. His rock, which is shaped like the state of Maine, was found by a family member on a beach in Bar Harbor.

Love, she said, was a father and quite a character, who had to be prompted by his mother-in-law to buy his wife roses.

Susan LaPlante holds a stone commemorating Army Sgt. Blair Emery, from Lee. He was killed in 2007 while deployed in Iraq. LaPlante was part of a convoy of motorcyclists who stopped Saturday at the West Gardiner service plaza on the Maine Turnpike while en route to northern Maine. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

“He would tell on himself, because the daughter would call the mother, and he would say he had to be reminded,” Christensen said.

She has printed out a picture of Love and his daughter and will include it in the letter that she will write when the ride is completed.

Greg Moreau, who was stationed in Germany when he was in the Army, is a member of the Patriot Riders. He said he had considered traveling to Washington, D.C., to take part Sunday in what’s expected to be the final Rolling Thunder ride, from the Pentagon to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. That ride is intended to call attention to those who served who were prisoners of war or who are listed as missing in action and organizers say they won’t plan another one.

Instead, Moreau, who is from Acton, was carrying the stone of Army Sgt. Christopher Gelineau, who was killed by an improvised explosive device while deployed in Iraq. He said Gelineau’s father got his stone from the Gorham campus of the University of Southern Maine.

“This means a lot,” he said. “These are all Maine soldiers that were killed. I lost a son, not in the war, but after that. He was a combat veteran.”

Sue LaPlante, from West Bath, has done three or four stones, never the same one. Early on, there were more riders than stones. This year, she’s carrying the stone of Army Sgt. Blair Emery, from Lee. He was killed in 2007 while deployed in Iraq.

“It’s just very near and dear to me. These heroes gave everything, and we want to represent them and show our gratitude to their families,” LaPlante said.

Just as The Summit Program creates community between the families and those who carry their stones, it also creates community among the people who agree to carry the stone, spreading information by word of mouth.

By 10:40 a.m., the convoy of motorcycles, for the first time led by six Maine State Police troopers on motorcycles, lined up and rumbled north to its next stop — for lunch at Dysart’s, in Hampden, where more riders were expected to join the convoy for the last leg to Millinocket.

And when the weekend is done, the stories of these servicemen who died will carry on in the lives of the people who have come to know at least a little about them and have carried the weight of their service.

 


Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.