Men in Plaid

BY ROBERT SWEENEY, PHOTOS BY MONIKA SWEENEY

At one time, a story about two grown men riding motorcycles across the country while dressed in skirts would have only seen the light of day in one of the seedier tabloids. Today, in our “anything goes” society, it could very well pass without notice. But on the other hand, it might also attract enough attention to be used to promote awareness about a very rare congenital disease and maybe, just maybe, help raise the necessary funds to research said disease and find a cure!

Well, sure, why not?

Such must have been the reasoning behind Colin Read’s and Iain Whyte’s decision to travel to America from their native Scotland and then cross our continent on a pair of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, clad the entire way in the traditional Scots garb; the kilt.

Riding whilst attired thusly brings a whole new meaning to the expression “Whatever blows your skirt up” and is probably frowned upon by the safety mavens who permeate today’s “nanny state,” but hey, these guys are Scotsmen! They toss cabers! They eat haggis! They go off to war and fight bloody battles in their kilts! The remote possibility of incurring a little road-rash is not about to deter a couple of burrrly (gotta roll at least 3 R’s into that burly) Scotsmen from achieving their goal, although Iain did say that the extremes of heat and cold they encountered en-route, as well as the vibration of the Harleys while stopped in traffic, did bring a certain level of discomfort to his “wee beastie”.

It should also be noted that, while Iain wore the traditional wool plaid kilt, Colin chose a more “biker friendly” black leather kilt. Which brought up the subject of what they actually wear under those kilts? When I asked Iain that question he responded; “A Harley-Davidson Electra Glide”. Ooookay… So what happens if the wind blows the kilt up and “Nessie” peeks out? “Then donations usually go up,” says the big Scotsman. I decide it’s time to change the subject.

So let’s talk about their cause. Colin’s 5-year old son, George, was born with Moebius Syndrome, a very rare disorder that immobilizes the face and can lead to difficulty chewing and swallowing, speech impediments, uncontrolled drooling, as well as hearing difficulties and eye irritation. Since the 6th and 7th cranial nerves are missing in the Moebius sufferer, the victim can’t blink or move their eyes from side to side. Life becomes an endless tennis match, as the person afflicted with Moebius Syndrome must turn his head back and forth to take in his surroundings.

The victim also can’t smile or show their emotions, as the face becomes an emotionless mask. Imagine a 5-year old who can’t smile, no matter how much joy he is experiencing.

Colin and Iain took to their Harley’s — accompanied by their families, including wee George, following along in a rented motor home — in hopes of creating world-wide awareness of Moebius Syndrome and raising £200,000 (about $382,000 US) to fund research for treatment or a cure. Their fundraising excursion has been given the title: “Kilts Across America”.

They began their journey of America in New York on the 20th of June and I met up with them when they arrived in Las Vegas, after 3,500 very breezy miles, on July 12th. From Vegas, the two lads and their entourage were to head for L.A. and from there back home to Edinburgh. Along the way they had many adventures and met many interesting and friendly people. Their US of A trip went so well that a “Kilts Across Europe” tour may be in the offing.

Videos of their trip have been posted on You Tube and you can find them — along with more information about Iain, Colin, George, Moebius Syndrome, and yes, kilts — at their website: www.kiltsacrossamerica.co.uk. You can also make an online donation through the website.

After interviews with the press, a brief parking lot demonstration of proper be-kilted riding technique and a few bagpipe solos, members of the local HOG chapter escorted our Scots friends to the California border for the final leg of their journey to Los Angeles. One can’t help but admire their boldness, good humor and determination for their cause, and I certainly wish them Godspeed and that their efforts in this enterprise will one day put a smile on wee George’s face.

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