AMARILLO - George W. Bush slowed up his mountain bike and looked around.
The former president saw many of the 19 wounded veterans riding in the the Bush Institute's Warrior 100K Ride still holding strong. But with only a mile left to go on the final leg of the three-day event, he didn't see them all.
So Bush paused the lead group in the middle of Palo Duro Canyon State Park and waited until every last veteran made their way to the front.
"Team ride," he said. "We're gonna ride it in together."
Bush and and the group of veterans then powered up the last hill and crossed the finish line early Saturday afternoon with an American flag in tow. The effort drew out thunderous applause from volunteers and a clutch of patriotic fans.
It even brought a few in attendance to tears.
"Seeing that flag just raised the hair on my arm," said retired Army Col. Michael Endres, director of the Bush Institute's Military Service Initiative.
If the first two days of the Warrior 100K Ride were focused on friendly competition and fierce survival, then the final day was testament to teamwork. Many riders who had stayed in the front pack on previous rides dropped back to support their comrades farther down the trail.
That included the former president, who spent half of Saturday's 19-mile ride helping retired Army First Lt. Melissa Stockwell and Army Maj. Dan Gade. The two veterans, who both ride despite having one leg amputated, blazed through most of the trails, but needed aid on some of the tougher terrain.
Bush jumped right in, pushing Stockwell and Gade up steep hills and helping the veterans keep their balance. He pulled needles out of Gade's backside after the major fell off his bike onto one of the many cacti around the trail.
And at point, Bush even playfully barked at the volunteers lining the trail to pick up the pace so Gade could hit the hills even faster.
"We having a picnic up there?" said Bush, who later signed the Palo Duro guest log with the inscription, "Awesome."
The former president eventually worked his way back to the front and at about 15 miles in, he led a group of riders up a rocky and twisting incline called Red Star Ridge.
Bush passed another American flag at the top and peered out at the view, arguably the most scenic in the park. With the support of the veterans at his side, he decided the crew would wait and cheer every rider up the hill.
One-by-one the veterans and other riders made their way to the peak. A few muscled their way to the top, but many more got tripped up at a particularly technical spot.
So retired Marine Cpl. Dave Smith and a few other veterans walked down to give the riders a boost. Smith - who talked the night before about his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and how other veterans had helped him - then ran bikes up the hill half a dozen times until everyone made it.
"That's just kind of the way we all are," he said. "We've got a very driven personality, we reach out and help people."
One of the last bikers Smith helped was Gade, who somehow rides without using a prosthetic on his amputated leg. The Army major - showered by cheers - pumped his pedal furiously and made it all the way to the top.
Cooling down after Saturday's ride, Gade reflected on all the support he received - from Bush, from volunteers, from his fellow veterans.
"It's a metaphor for what our veterans need in general," Gade said. "When I need a little help up the hill, I need somebody to boost me up. That's pretty special. That's what America's all about."