This was my first year to participate in Rolling Thunder, the annual event that honors our veterans and call attention to America’s POW/MIA. The demonstration is open to all motorcyclists, and starts at the Pentagon, with a trip around the National Mall. This year, according to “scuttlebutt” floating around at the event, there were about 475,000 participants.
Since I had no previous experience riding in Rolling Thunder, I decided to start the day with the Ride of the Patriots, a “small” group of about 6,500 bikers who meet along Highway 50 starting at Patriot Harley-Davidson in Fairfax, and then ride a police-escorted parade route to the Pentagon.
Line up started at 6:30 AM, with departure planned for 9:00 AM. I managed to make it over to Patriot by 7:00, and already the line of motorcycle stretched back more than a mile.
Walking the Line
I parked my bike, made a few new friends, swapped tales of cross-country adventures and motorcycle maintenance, made use if the facilities (i.e. the woods lining the road, since the line to the Port-O-Potties was a bit long) and then decided to hike up to Patriot to hear the presentation given by even organizers and local officials. I made it within about two-hundred yards of the dealership, but the packed crowd prevented be from moving any further.
On the way back, I decided to take a little video of the line of motorcycles stretching down the road and over the next hill.
The video stops at my bike, but the line of motorcycles goes on at least another mile.
There was a lot of waiting that morning, but when a parade of bagpipes marched by, I knew it was time to saddle up.
The Road to the Pentagon
I’ve ridden in small groups of riders, but never more than four a five, each of whom at had ridden with before. This was my first time meeting these people, and it was my first time riding in parade lines. I knew riding out to Fairfax that morning that I was in for a challenge, but the scope of this ride was pretty intimidating. I felt confident I could maintain formation and ride my lane, but I had no clue as to the experience level of the riders around me. One wrong move from anyone ahead could be disastrous for me and the few thousand people behind me.
Fortunately, I didn’t bite it or make any stupid mistakes to create a hazard for those behind me. I did see a few riders nearly wreck trying to give high-fives to onlookers, and I nearly ran over a jay-walker. Seriously, who tries to illegally cross a road while thousands of police-escorted motorcycles stream by? It was like Frogger, but I was the log about to crunch the frog. I won’t say I was’t tempted to hear what kind of crunch he’d make, but I knew the rest of the crunch would include me and a few hundred close friends.
Regardless of the one or two morons, the test of the ride was awesome.
The cheers from the people lining the parade route was extremely uplifting, and I grinned the whole way from Patriot Harley-Davidson to the Pentagon north parking lot.
We joined hundreds of thousands of other bikers, parked tire to tire in quarter-mile long rows, shut down our engines, and baked for the next few hours.