A Run to the Wall
All the prior week I was getting things ready on my 2011 FLHTP (Harley Davidson Electra Glide Police Model). I went over my bike, front to back, checking oil levels, tires, brakes, and fasteners and hardware; I did not want anything to interrupt my planned ride to “The Wall”. I also made sure that I had my cameras ready.
As I cruised up I-95 North, I started to see their silhouettes on the overpasses, around the Woodbridge exits. On the overpasses with pedestrian walkways and fences, they were holding American flags, and waving to every rider heading north. They were few at first, but multiplied with each overpass I encountered. I had seen them before, every time I made this run, but it still triggered a rush of emotion in me this day, even more so because I was alone.
I was here for a reason, and so were they. And, I could not help but think that without knowing me, they appreciated my presence there as much as I did theirs. They knew our purpose, and to where we headed. It was comforting to know that they cared enough to be there and wave to us.
By this time, I had been on the road for 1.5 hours. I was up at 5AM, on Sunday, 2019–05–26. I left Richmond, VA at 6AM, for a trip to the Pentagon, and subsequent ride to The Wall in Washington DC. For those unaware, the Sunday before Memorial Day is when hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists take part in the Rolling Thunder DC 1st Amendment Demonstration Ride, and the rally point is the Pentagon north and south parking lots. Like Memorial Day, the ride serves as a salute to, and reminder of, lives lost in service to our country.
The ride from Richmond to the Pentagon is approximately 2 hours, and at 6AM on Sunday, there is little traffic. I rode alone, or at least that is how I started. I kept a good pace, and as it often happens, I encountered other riders, some alone, some not, making the same annual pilgrimage. Bikes fell in and out, behind me, albeit a few lengths behind. Together we dodged what little traffic there was. By the time I hit Springfield, I was alone again, a formation of one. There were plenty of other riders, heading to the same destination, but we were not formed to ride together.
Riding for two hours, alone, with no radio, provided considerable solitude. I thought about the meaning of my ride; I knew why I needed to make this ride. There was never a question. My wife knew before me that I would be here. In retrospect, it’s an easy decision. Though I was cognizant that many don’t share my opinion. That is their business; what matters is what I was doing, and not what others thought I was doing.
I am not overtly patriotic, but I feel a deep sense of gratitude to those who serve and who have served, and I feel indebted to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Even if I weren’t a combat Veteran myself, I would like to think that I would still honor their sacrifices, accordingly, with this ride. Many Veterans are drawn to riding. It’s almost a subculture within a subculture. And, this day, I would be surrounded by thousands of folks that felt the same way, some even more so than I. Soon I would again be among my fraternity.
I thought about how events would unfold that day. I knew it would be ridiculously hot and humid, sitting for hours in the parking lot, on that scorching asphalt. My bike’s air-cooled 103 cubic-inch v-twin would be going into partial shutdown mode (the front cylinder would shutdown) to reduce the overall heat, as we were marshaled to our parking lines. I would be fine; I packed plenty of water.
I knew that I would soon be mixed in with hundreds of thousands of other riders, some bikers, some not, many Veterans, many not. I new that even though I would get there at 8AM, to park, I would most likely not start the actual ride until 2PM. It’s simple logistics; they need to meter the riders in a safe manner to depart the parking area, and that takes time. No one wants to see anyone hurt on this day.
As I arrived at Exit 8B on I-395, I had to stop to allow a precession of hundreds of bikes to pass in front of me. I was so close to the Pentagon, yet I still had to wait for access. It’s part of the experience. As I sat there, I felt much like a thoroughbred racehorse must feel, waiting to bound from the starting gate; my heart was racing. I was almost there, and I was eager to take my place among the other riders. I knew I would feel the same feeling hours from now, when we were staging to leave the Pentagon for our ride through DC.
All morning, after parking, I wandered among the parked bikes, catching snippets of conversations, and taking pictures. Some folks were just sitting on their bikes, others were seeking what little shade the Pentagon had to offer. There was plenty of free water to be had, and as always, the lines to portable johns were already long.
Like past years, there were fire trucks stationed in the parking lot, providing a water spray to help folks cool down. I stopped there for a while and watched the folks take their turns, much like birds do in their baths. Some would stand just at the edge of the spray’s reach, while others threw caution to the wind, so to speak, and immediately became soaked by the spray. I guess all had their needs met.
I stayed there longer than I had expected to; I was watching a black dog enjoy his time in the water.
When we finally got ready to ride, again the racehorse feeling welled up inside of me. I knew that I had to temper my excitement with caution and yield plenty of room to other riders. That is the single biggest issue with this ride; there are so many unknown riders, with whom I had never ridden. It is just self-preservation to be leery of everyone and everything around you. To not be cautious is to invite danger, and I already have a titanium rod, plate, and screws in my right leg to attest to that. Even with that level of vigilance, I still thoroughly enjoyed my ride. I always do.
It’s a combination of being on the bike in DC, among the hallowed monuments, and riding past all the folks waving hands and flags. There is a sense of astonishment, every time I make this ride. I am amazed at how many people show their support for our ride. I am equally impressed by how we are given complete right-of-way to traverse DC.
The overall ride began when the first bikes left the parking lot at around 12PM. I sat on, or stood around, my bike for almost another 2 hours before it was my turn to scoot. I knew this would be the case; we all did. Based on where we parked, and our past experiences, we were betting on when we would finally leave the Pentagon. I knew it would be at least 1:30PM; as it turns out, it was almost 2PM before we egressed the parking lot. And, it felt so good to finally be on our way. We stopped for traffic just outside the parking lot; this was a harbinger of things to come.
Although the ride was slow, with continuous starts and stops throughout, as always, it was satisfying. The majority of folks that lined the route were supportive of our mission. The few that were not were ignored by most of the riders. We were there for a positive message and experience. There was simply no time or use to pursue any negativity, not this day.
Spending all the time in the parking lot, before the ride, gave me time to talk to strangers. In point of fact, I look forward to this, almost as much as the ride itself. I regaled folks with my stories, and they regaled me right back with theirs. I met many folks that, more than likely, I will never see again, or remember, even if I did see them again. However, for several hours on a Sunday in late May, we shared a desire to honor those who served and are no longer among us, those that never made it back to their homes and families. It’s humbling, and sobering, and part of who I am. It probably always will be.
Regardless of who we are, or our differences, that day we were there for a common reason, and I cannot think of a better way to spend that Sunday.