Hello, again!

Once in a while, you meet someone who makes an impact on your life. Someone who changes you for the better. My friend Hal Russell is that person for me. My first contact with Hal was in 2015 the first time I did the Tour Divide Race. The race is 2750 miles from Banff, Canada to the Mexico border. While spending very little time, if any, that year with Hal, I got to know him just by being in the same event. Being able to watch a racer online, you really get to know a lot about them.

That first year, I learned that Hal doesn’t have the word "quit" in his vocabulary. He would ride through the night, without sleeping for well over 24 hours to make a run to the finish line. Hal isn’t a youngster. That year, at the age of 70, he finished the Tour Divide for the 6th time. There are two things he knows when he starts something: He’ll start it, and he’ll finish it.

Hal was drafted in the service in 1968 right out of high school. I was fortunate to be just young enough to miss the draft. My exposure to military Veterans mostly was my father who was in WWII. Dad talked about the war some, but when he came back, he continued to carry mail and then joined his father Orie in the family business. Never sensing any emotional scars from dad and his time in the military, I knew it was different with our Vietnam Veterans. I knew they were not treated well upon returning home, and I would guess most, if not all, have suffered emotionally from their time in Southeast Asia. No matter what their duty was. This is what I realized when I got to know Hal.

In his recently published book, “Touch Both Lines”, he tells his story from Vietnam to the Tour Divide and beyond. At the end of his basic training, the recruits were told 3 things by the seasoned Sergeant:

1. Some of them would lose their lives.
2. A certain percent would be wounded
3. A certain percent would come unscathed, unharmed.

Hal shares that wasn’t the truth. Some did come back without physical wounds but the memories, hidden scars, and the ghost of war came back with all of them.

“Touch Both Lines” chronicles Hal Russell’s (AKA Cray Turtle or Smilin’ Hal) adventures through life. From growing up on a small Missouri farm to the many challenges faced in Vietnam. Raising a family, dealing with his Ghost of Vietnam to riding mountain bikes across the country. Smilin’ Hal is the current oldest finisher of the rugged 2750-mile Tour Divide Race, completing his 6th TDR at the age of 70 in 2019. This book gives an insight to the challenges Vietnam vets continue to face and how Hal overcomes his past experiences to truly “Touch Both Lines”.

Touching both lines to me means “to be honest, to be a nice person, and to do your best.” - Cray Turtle

I encourage you to order a copy of Hal’s book here. Hopefully soon, when Hal has time between chemo treatments and deer hunting, he and his sweet wife Linda will come to town for a book signing at the stores. Recently diagnosed with Ampullary Cancer, Hal’s training schedule has slowed down some, and his challenge now is to beat cancer so he can be in Banff next June to do the Tour Divide race one more time.

After reading Hal’s book, I told Hal that I would do my best to thank every Veteran I come across for their service. Thank you, Veterans, on this Veterans Day.

Your friend in the garden,

Marty Johnson
Owner - Johnson's Garden Center