Have you ever gone to a place to retrieve something that you valued very much, only to find that it wasn’t where you thought it was?   Certainly you have.  We all have at least a dozen times.

In most cases, with a bit of searching and sleuthing, asking questions, memory-reviewing, happenstance, a moderate period of time, dumb luck, or most of the above,…that item of value surfaces and all is well once again.

It happened to me a week or so ago, and the timing was especially good.  It was during the first week of December, at a post-Thanksgiving point in time that most of us identify as the beginning of the annual Christmas “Season of Hope”.  Allow me to explain.

Regular readers of this, my “North by NorthEast” column in The Rangeley Highlander, know that for the past half-dozen years (at least) of the column’s lifespan of a dozen years (or more)…I have ended the column with a quote by a favorite writer/storyteller (and fellow native Minnesotan) Garrison Keillor: “We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are”.

Therefore, regular readers know, among many, many other things, that I was directly involved with about 8 major projects, from 1996-2010, with World T.E.A.M. Sports, an organization that creates and stages major events for individuals with physical disabilities in order to demonstrate their abilities, rather than their disabilities.  Most often, they were bicycling/handcycling events.  They also know that, for me, easily the most memorable and impactful of those major events was The Vietnam Challenge in 1998.

In mid-1997, as a physical therapist, a Vietnam-Era U.S. Army veteran, and at the time, an associate director of practice and research at the American Physical Therapy Association’s headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia (my professional organization, and that which I convinced in 1995 should do what it could to support World T.E.A.M. Sports and its fine goals of inclusion, and especially inclusion of those with physical disabilities)…I was asked to be a part of the team/staff that would take physically disabled U.S. veterans of the Vietnam War to Hanoi, to join with disabled veterans of the old enemy, the North Vietnam Army, to cycle the length of the country from Hanoi in the north, 1,200+ miles to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in the south.  Needless to say, it was a powerful experience on many levels.

Regular readers also know that I appreciate good photography, and enjoy taking photographs.  Regular attendees at the RFA’s Western Mountains Photography Show each September know by now that I have at least a better-than-average photographic eye.  I enjoy taking good photographs.  During that ride through the fascinating countryside of Vietnam in January of 1998, and prior to the popular advent of digital photography, I took a lot of color slides of the people, landscapes, and culture of post-war Vietnam.  This leads me to the misplaced item, (a Christmas card I created in December of 1998) at the heart of this column.

As I noted earlier, that ride was a powerful experience for everyone involved in the journey…about 70-80 cyclists, staff, film crew, and political and interpretive participants representing the People’s Republic of Vietnam.  Everyone.

The rest of 1998 after January was also memorable for a number of activities that followed the impactful ride.  A reunion a couple of months later in Washington, D.C. of those who rode the length of Vietnam on the sometimes very challenging Highway One, including 8 or 10 of the Vietnamese disabled teammates who were flown to the U.S. by our generous sponsors, and the premier, in a New York City’s Times Square movie theatre, of the film of the ride, Vietnam, Long Time Coming that was later shown on NBC Sports that year and won a documentary Emmy in early 1999.

A lot was on my mind as December of 1998 approached…that experience, but especially the many wonderful friends and teammates I made in Vietnam the prior January.  I decided to select an appropriate photograph I made during that ride and make a Christmas-themed card for all of those involved in The Vietnam Challenge.  I refer you to the photo, and text of the card, included with this column.

The photo is of a mother and her son in their thatched home on stilts on the north bank of the Ben Hai River that was the center of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) during the war separating the north and south portions of Vietnam.  The small, simple home was on stilts to withstand the high water mark of the river during the Monsoon season.  I managed to effectively communicate my request of the mother for permission to take the photograph of her beautiful child.  I hope you can clearly see her proud and caring face above and behind her son…(NOTE: She may not be clearly visible in the printed-newspaper version).  For me, and based on the appreciative response of many who received the card in December, 1999, the photo was quite meaningful…and clearly exemplified the beautiful and friendly Vietnamese people in 1998.

My photograph taken on January 5th, 1998 of a proud and caring mother, (in the shadows), and her son, both in thier small home on the north bank of the Ben Hai River in Vietnam

The text of the card is as follows (NOTE: the upper text is in Vietnamese.  I had the wife of one of our riders translate my text for the benefit of our Vietnamese riders and others):

The text (English and Vietnamese versions) of the photo/card I created and sent in December, 1998 to all the participants (American, Vietnamese, and Australian) in the 1998 “Vietnam Challenge” ride that previous January


This Season of Hope…

…actually began last December for each of us.  My hopes for

this holiday season are twofold;  One, that the friendships and

mutual understandings, gained and shared over the course of

1,200 miles of Vietnam’s countryside, will last for many years to

come.  Secondly, that the important messages of our ride will

continue to cause people to reflect and respond in positive,

important ways… as each of us has seen and experienced

throughout 1998.


It was indeed an honor to be part of the team.  To get to know

each and every one of you was the greatest honor of it all.


A Very Blessed and Happy Holiday Season to you and Your Family!

Allen Wicken and Family


Today, in this December of 2019, it is my fervent wish that we, and all Americans for that matter, can put aside our perceived differences and enmities encouraged by the country’s current leadership, and look to the future positively and constructively…and  make December of 2019 the beginning of a truly enduring Season of Hope in America in all of 2020 and beyond.

We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are.

                                                                 Garrison Keillor

I’ll be ridin’ shotgun, underneath the hot sun, feelin’ like a someone…


Per usual, your thoughts and comments are more than welcome.  Jot them down on a 3”x5” card, attach it to a holiday card that expresses wishes for a season of hope, truth, and kindness….and slip it inside the log door on our mudroom on the rockbound west shore of Gull Pond…or simply fire off an email to:  [email protected] 














Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.